The Dalai Lama said Saturday he will decide at age 90 whether he will have a reincarnated successor, but added that Beijing will have no say in who will succeed him as Tibet's spiritual leader if he decides the tradition should continue.
"When I am about 90 I will consult the high lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not," the 76-year-old spiritual leader said in a statement.
His announcement, which followed a gathering of Tibetan Buddhist leaders in India's hill town of Dharamsala last week, hinted that he could choose to end the 600-year-old tradition of selecting a succeeding Dalai Lama through reincarnation.
But he said that if the tradition does continue, he will draw up clear guidelines before his death so that China will have no say in choosing his reincarnation.
"Should the concerned public express a strong wish for the Dalai Lamas to continue, there is an obvious risk of vested political interests misusing the reincarnation system to fulfill their own political agenda," he said.
"Therefore, while I remain physically and mentally fit, it seems important to me that we draw up clear guidelines to recognize the next Dalai Lama, so that there is no room for doubt or deception."
"Apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People's Republic of China," he said.
No say from China
Rizong Rinpoche, a senior leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, said that Tibetans would not accept a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama selected by China.
"Any person who does not believe in religion cannot recognize a reincarnate. Tibet is a land whose people are very closely linked to Buddhism," he told RFA in an interview.
"Moreover, they have a close connection with Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, and his followers."
"So, the Himalayan Buddhists and I can never accept Chinese authorities recognizing the Dalai Lama's reincarnation."
China last year introduced a law that requires Chinese government approval for all reincarnations, called "Living Buddhas" in China, of senior religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism.
Some fear that Beijing will attempt to split Tibetan loyalties by appointing its own successor as a rival to the one chosen according to guidelines approved by the current Dalai Lama.
In 1995, Beijing rejected the Dalai Lama's chosen reincarnation of the Panchen Lama—the second holiest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, detaining him and appointing its own Panchen Lama in his place.
The current Dalai Lama has previously said that he will refuse to be reborn in Tibet as long as Tibet is not free.
"The person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized," he explained in Saturday's statement.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation, has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan freedom struggle for more than five decades.
But in recent years he has taken steps to prepare Tibetans for governance without his leadership and to make the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala more democratic.
In May, he relinquished his political role as the leader of the government-in-exile, ending the 369-year old tradition of the Dalai Lamas holding both spiritual and political authority.
Now most of the administrative and political powers rest with an elected prime minister known as the Kalon Tripa—currently the 43-year-old Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-educated lawyer.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service and Rachel Vandenbrink. Written by Rachel Vandenbrink.