The Political Importance of the Dalai Lama’s Reincarnations

by Apr 17, 2023Defence & Foreign Policy0 comments

Reincarnation’ is the fascinating topic for the media for several reasons, the main one being that it has a mystic aura, at a time when we live in a world where everything is ‘scientifically’ decided (soon by Artificial Intelligence).

When a Mongolian US-born boy was named as the reincarnation of the head Lama of Mongolia, the world media reported that he was the third most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism, though traditionally this type of classification did not exist.

According to The Times: “The faith’s spiritual leader [the Dalai Lama] has been pictured with the eight-year-old boy taking part in a ceremony in Dharamsala in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh – where the Dalai Lama, 87, lives in exile – recognising him as the 10th Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa [or Dampa] Rinpoche.”

It later emerged that the child is one of twin-boys born in 2015 in a very rich Mongolian family.

At the end of February, the boy was enthroned as the Tenth Jetsun Dampa in a ceremony attended by the Abbot and the high Lamas of the Gandantegchinlen Monastery in Outer Mongolia.

The Dalai Lama is said to have confirmed the authenticity of the reincarnation. Already in 2016 during a visit to Ulaanbaatar, the Tibetan leader had hinted that the Ninth Jetsun Dampa had already come back to this world.

At that time, China reacted furiously to the Tibetan leader’s visit and threatened Ulaanbaatar with diplomatic repercussions; some sanctions were eventually imposed.

The Tribulations of a Lama: the Ninth Jetsun Dampa

It is interesting to look at the life of the Ninth Incarnation.

In 1958, at the age of 25, he renounced his monastic vows, married and had two children. Fearing for his life (or to be used by the Communists for their propaganda) if he stayed in Lhasa, he followed the Dalai Lama in exile.

In India, he took various jobs; he worked in the Tibetan language section of All India Radio and later at Tibet House in New Delhi. After the death of his first wife, he remarried and eventually in 1975, with his seven children, moved to Karnataka. It was only in 1990 that the Dalai Lama issued a statement revealing the identity of the Ninth Incarnation.

In July 1999, while visiting Mongolia on a tourist visa, he was enthroned at the Gandantegchinlen Monastery; soon after he returned to India.In November 2011, he went back to Mongolia where he passed away in March 2012.

All this shows the vicissitudes of a ‘great incarnation’, often just a ping-pong ball between greater political interests.

One can of course wish the Tenth Reincarnation to have a smoother life than that of his predecessor.

But let us remember that in 2007, Beijing released its ‘Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism’, stipulating that all reincarnations of Living Buddhas should not be interfered with or manipulated by any external forces (i.e. US or India). In other words, only the atheist Communist regime is entitled to find a reincarnation? A sad joke indeed…

That is probably why The Times commented: “The development [the recognition of the 10th Incarnation] was reportedly met with a mixture of excitement and apprehension in Mongolia, with the likely animosity of Beijing considered cause for concern.”

The Dalai Lama’s Succession

More important for India is the succession of the Dalai Lama.

A few years ago, the Dalai Lama had jokingly told Reuters: “China considers the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation as something very important. They have more concern about the next Dalai Lama than me,” before adding: “In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas, one from here (India), a free country, (and) one chosen by the Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China). So that’s an additional problem for the Chinese! It’s possible, it can happen.”

Today, China is actively preparing for the post-Dalai Lama period.Already in March 2019, a panel discussion took place during the People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing; the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu presided. Apart from the young lama considered as ‘fake’ by the Tibetans, a few lamas, mostly unknown to the Tibetans, met to discuss the future of Buddhism; it included, Dupkang Thupten Kedup, vice-chairman of the Buddhist Association of China, Tsemonling, a former regent of Tibet in his previous reincarnation, Gomangtsang Rinpoche, Rinchen Namgyal Rinpoche, from Qinghai province and Lodro Gyatso Rinpoche from Sakya Monastery. China would like these lamas to lead the process to find the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Is it not a contradiction when an atheist regime deals with soul-reincarnation? But it does not seem to disturb the apparatchiks in Beijing.

The Problem of the ‘Minority’

Governance by incarnation has always been an extremely weak point in the history of the Tibetan State, as it leaves the Tibetan nation with a gap of 20 years or so without proper governance.

This gap, (that the British called the ‘Minority’) manifested in the past as a lack of political, temporal and spiritual leadership.

During this period, no major decisions could be taken, with consequences that we can see today for the Tibetan Nation. One could compare it to a ship sailing around the oceans without a captain.

As mentioned in a previous article, the Dalai Lama has the choice between an ‘incarnation’ and an ‘emanation’. It is up to the Tibetan leader to decide, but for India, the most vital issue is what will happen in the interregnum, during the ‘Minority’.

Today, we are living in a world which is moving faster and faster (it was even acknowledged by Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping during their recent encounter), a captainless ship is ominous and does not augur well for the future of Tibet. At this critical time in its history, Tibet could face a serious leadership issue when it most needs a mature guide.

In November 2011, the Dalai Lama had issued a long statement giving some directions to find his successor; it unfortunately does not deal with the interregnum.

Once the choice of the new incarnation is agreed upon, the interregnum will start, but whether it is a single-person Regency or a Collegium (or Council of Regency) and though their duties will be restricted to the running of the religious affairs linked with the welfare and education Dalai Lama, their actions could be vital for India’s security.

Why is India concerned?

It is clear that Delhi does not want a ‘Chinese’ Dalai Lama as this is bound to create problems on its borders (in the Himalayan Belt).

This is a very serious issue which should be taken note of by Dharamsala.

Further, India has a long border with Tibet and for decades, Delhi has had to face China’s aggressiveness not only in places like Chumar and Demchok in the western-most sectors of Ladakh, but also in Arunachal Pradesh (see recent border clash in the Yangtse sector), in Sikkim (Naku-la) or in Uttarakhand (Barahoti), all bordering Tibet.

India’s concerns need to be conveyed in clear terms to Dharamsala, as they are vital for India’s security.

The Tibetan leadership should support India and openly state that it agrees with India’s perceptions of the border alignment in the Central Sector and in Eastern Ladakh (particularly in the Demchok sector). It has never been done so in the past (except for Tawang).

This should be communicated by high–level Indian officials who should articulate India’s position in terms understandable by the Tibetan leadership.

The Tibetans have to realize that no permanent solution can be found to their problems without India’s full support and participation. The present tragedy of migration of Tibetans living in India towards the West will not ultimately help the Tibetan cause. This should be explained and if actions are required from the Indian Government to remedy this problem, they should be looked into expeditiously.

The Case of Tsona Rinpoche

Another case which should concern India is the reincarnation of Tsona Gontse Rinpoche who passed away on May 17, 2014.

The body of the Rinpoche was found hanging from the ceiling fan in his sister’s house in Delhi. Apparently a suicide note was found from a diary in the room. The police suspected that he was depressed over the defeat of a cousin in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly elections; however, the Rinpoche was one of the most dynamic young lamas of his generation.

The particularity of the Rinpoche was that he carried the name of Tsona, Rinpoche’s main monastery located in Southern Tibet, north of the McMahon line. The young Rinpoche never visited Tsona in his life, and remained a strong Indian nationalist. His demise was indeed a great loss for the Monpa people of Tawang, for India and for the Buddhist world.

The Chinese would certainly be delighted to find his reincarnation first in Tibet. For Beijing, it would be a formidable card to claim Tawang again.

It is perhaps time for Delhi to seriously look into this issue too; it is not just a spiritual concern.

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