Reincarnation And Realpolitik
Bloomberg Businessweek|April 19, 2021
China, India, and the U.S. are vying to influence the selection of the next Dalai Lama
Sudhi Ranjan Sen, with Jing Li

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama—the spiritual leader of Tibetans, who lives in exile in India— turns 86 in July. The choice of his successor is shaping up to be a struggle between India and the U.S. on the one hand and China on the other.

The Dalai Lama is believed to be a living Buddha who is reincarnated after his death. Traditionally a search for a child reincarnation is conducted, and once a boy is confirmed, he studies to prepare for his role. The current Dalai Lama was identified at the age of 2. There’s no single method of choosing a Dalai Lama, and the process can be long and complicated.

Senior security officials in India, including in the prime minister’s office, have been involved in discussions about how New Delhi can influence the choice of the next Dalai Lama, two officials with direct knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified given the sensitive nature of the matter. India hosts the Tibetan government-in-exile in the city of Dharamsala and only recognized Tibet as part of China in 2003. The prime minister’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

From January through March, along its Himalayan border with China, India convened five separate assemblies of senior monks from various sects and schools in the region—the first time such gatherings have taken place in more than 2,000 years. The government hopes that this group will grant international legitimacy to the current Dalai Lama’s successor and help fill a power vacuum, as it could take two decades or longer for a reincarnation to be identified and to come of age.

In 1959, U.S. intelligence agents helped smuggle Tenzin Gyatso out of Tibet and into northern India to avoid being captured by Chinese security forces. He hasn’t laid out a clear succession plan. A decade ago, he issued a statement saying he’d consult with other Tibetan Buddhist leaders when he’s about 90 on whether the more than 600-year-old institution of the Dalai Lama should continue after he dies.

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