The Dalai Lama is the only one who can decide the matter of his reincarnation, a senior Tibetan lama said on Wednesday in an effective rejection of China's insistence that the communist rulers of Beijing have the authority to select the next leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
The 17th Karmapa told RFA's Tibetan Service in an interview that he had "complete belief and trust in the future decision" on a successor to be made by the 79-year-old Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959.
The Dalai Lama speculated earlier this year that he might not reincarnate, thus ending his spiritual lineage. China, keen to engineer a process that produces a pro-Beijing monk as the spiritual leader of Tibetans, reacted angrily to that suggestion, insisting that the officially atheist Chinese government was the only one with the authority to make that decision.
The 29-year-old Karmapa said, however, that the decision rests with the Dalai Lama and he was confident that the globe-trotting Nobel laureate would make the right choice.
“In Tibetan traditions, we don’t talk much about the reincarnation of a living master," he told RFA in an interview in Washington during a tour of the United States.
"However, now many questions are being generated. In my view, it is only the Dalai Lama himself who should decide about his future reincarnation. So I am confident and have full trust in his decision. There are many presumptive statements and guess works, but I am not worried," he said.
The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and one of Tibet’s highest-ranking religious figures, escaped from Tibet into India in 2000. He has since established himself in exile, and is considered close to the Dalai Lama.
The dispute over the Dalai Lama's reincarnation is not the first time China has clashed with Tibetans over their traditional method of identifying future religious leaders.
In 1995, Beijing named Gyaincain Norbu as the Panchen Lama in a retaliatory action after the exiled Dalai Lama identified another child, six-year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyima, as the reincarnation of the widely venerated religious figure, who died in 1989.
But Chinese authorities have had difficulty persuading Tibetans to accept Gyaincain Norbu as the official face of Tibetan Buddhism in China, and monks in monasteries traditionally loyal to the Dalai Lama remain reluctant to receive him. In a tour of Tibet last August, Chinese authorities threatened punishment of Tibetan monks who refused to turn up for his official public appearances.
Reported by Dorjee Damdul for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Paul Eckert.