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14th Tibetan Religious Conference

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By  Shyamal Sinha

 Tibetan religious leaders  adopted a resolution urging the Dalai Lama to reincarnate according to Tibetan traditions and declaring that Tibetans will never accept a Dalai Lama appointed by China.

The resolution that emerged at the 14th Tibetan Religious Conference also says the Dalai Lama alone has the authority to decide how his reincarnation will occur and that no government has the right to interfere in that sacred process.

The three-day conference, which brings together the heads of major Tibetan Buddhist and Bon traditions,  in Dharamsala, India, the exile home of the Dalai Lama. The conference is organized by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which provides democratic governance to the Tibetan diaspora. In attendance were the heads and senior masters of all the Tibetan Buddhist lineages as well as of the Bon religion.

The Dalai Lama, who is now 84, is scheduled to address the conference on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019.

Sakya Trizin, head of Sakya lineage, (fifth from left) addressing the Tibetan religious conference on November 27, 2019. Others on the stage are heads and representatives of heads of Tibetan Buddhist lineages and Bon religion. Photo from CTA.

The current Dalai Lama is the 14th in his line. Each Dalai Lama is recognized as the reincarnation of their predecessors, and, according to Tibetan Buddhist beliefs, has the sole authority to decide whether to return after death in order to benefit humankind.

Using this authority, the Dalai Lama issued a statement in 2011 saying that Tibetans and the followers of Tibetan Buddhism should decide whether or not to continue the institution of the Dalai Lama after he eventually dies.

Despite this, China—which has brutally occupied Tibet, a historically independent country in the Himalayan region, for the past 60 years—has made it clear it plans to appoint its own successor to the Dalai Lama, who will no doubt serve as a mouthpiece for the regime in Beijing, just as the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama does.

China’s plans not only represent a major violation of international religious freedom but, given the Dalai Lama’s massive popularity around the globe, would also help the Communist Party‘s efforts to use soft power to influence and undermine foreign countries.

Already Chinese officials have warned India that bilateral relations between the two Asian powers will suffer if India does not recognize the Chinese-appointed Dalai Lama.

Thankfully however, many world leaders support Tibetans’ right to select their own religious leaders.

In the US, a new bill was introduced in Congress this fall that makes it official US policy that the succession of the Dalai Lama is something only he and the Tibetan Buddhist community can decide on.

The bill, known as the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, will also sanction Chinese officials who attempt to appoint a future Dalai Lama.

During a trip last month to Dharamsala, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said, “We believe that Tibetans, like all faith communities, must be able to practice their faith freely and select their leaders without interference.”

Brownback added: “The international community must work together now to make clear we stand unequivocally with the people of Tibet.”

Tibetans themselves have also made their views on the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation clear.

At a general meeting in October, Tibetan representatives unanimously passed a resolution stating that China has no right to interfere in the reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders.