Will the Dalai Lamas of Tibet Become Extinct?
In Tibetan Buddhism, reincarnation is a deep-rooted tradition as exemplified by the continuing legacy of the Dalai Lama. Tibetans believe eminent teachers reincarnate because of compassion to lead other people to enlightenment. These conscious reincarnations are called tulkus.
Identifying a Dalai Lama
A new Dalai Lama is identified at a young age through a laborious process that includes the child’s ability to recognize the deceased’s attendants and belongings. The child thus selected is made the new Dalai Lama with much fanfare and celebration. Then, he is rigorously taught philosophy, scriptures and spiritual disciplines. With increasing maturity and understanding the young Dalai Lama takes over his predecessor’s responsibilities.
It can be said that any child who is put through rigorous spiritual training will become wise. This is true, but the young tulkus also show aptitude for meditation, metaphysics and scriptural study. Their concentration, balance and equanimity are exemplary. The present Dalai Lama says he is open to scientific scrutiny of the reincarnation theory and practice.
To understand conscious rebirth, we need to mull over the motivation of a bodhisattva, who having attained liberation still chooses to be reborn because of their compassion for others. Thus, the bodhisattva delays his ultimate release from the cycle of birth and death to help others. This helping attitude and compassion are inculcated into a Dalai Lama, who also strives for the wellbeing of others.
Uncertain Future for the Dalai Lamas
The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959 has massively impacted the Dalai Lama tradition. The present Dalai Lama is concerned that after him, the Chinese will play politics with the selection of his successor and choose a puppet for their political ends. Therefore, the present Dalai Lama is even thinking about ending the Dalai Lama tradition after him to prevent its subversion. He will consult with other elders at a later stage to re-evaluate continuing the Dalai Lama institution.
Open to Innovation
The present Dalai Lama has thus decided to hand over the decision of continuing the Dalai Lama tradition to other elders in the true spirit of Bodhisattva sacrifice. He is open to new ideas, willing to forego obsolete aspects and keen to embrace fresh possibilities. There is no doubt that the hoary Dalai Lama tradition faces grave danger. But, as true bodhisattvas they still convey the valuable message that compassion and understanding can win over materialistic greed and alleviate the misery of sentient beings.