BANGKOK, Thailand -- In a surprise reversal, the Dalai Lama said his
Tibetan Buddhist tradition of reincarnated dalai lamas "should end
now" because the hierarchy created "a feudal system," a description
echoing decades of communist China's condemnation.
The Dalai Lama's public statement comes amid attempts by Beijing to
control who can be legally recognized as a reincarnated lama in Tibet
and what laws they must obey.
"Institutions need to be owned by the people, not by an individual,"
the self-exiled 14th Dalai Lama said in a speech at his residence in
McLeod Ganj, a small town on the outskirts of Dharamsala, India.
"Like my own institution, the Dalai Lama's office, I feel it is linked
to a feudal system. In 1969, in one of my official statements, I had
mentioned that it should continue...but now I feel, not necessarily.
"It should go. I feel it should not be concentrated in a few people
only," he told college students from Bhutan and India on October 25.
"The tradition should end now, as reincarnation has some connection
with the feudal system.
"There have been cases of individual lamas who use reincarnation [for
personal gains] but never pay attention to study and wisdom," he said,
according to the Times of India.
The Dalai Lama did not express doubt about the concept of
reincarnation. Buddhism claims all people are reincarnated even if
they are not Buddhists.
Meanwhile on October 28, U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom Samuel
D. Brownback and his delegation met the Dalai Lama in McLeod Ganj.
"The U.S. government supports the Dalai Lama and supports for the
succession of the Dalai Lama to be done by the Tibetan Buddhist
leadership," Mr. Brownback said, criticizing China's interference in
"The role of picking a successor to the Dalai Lama belongs to the
Tibetan Buddhist system, the Dalai Lama, and other Tibetan leaders. It
does not belong to anybody else, not any government or any entity,"
Mr. Brownback said.
Beijing swiftly responded to the U.S. ambassador's remarks and visit.
"We strongly urge the U.S. side to stop any form of contact with the
Dalai clique, stop making irresponsible remarks, stop using
Tibet-related issues to interfere in China's internal affairs, and do
more to advance China-U.S. mutual trust and cooperation," China's
foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters.
The current 14th Dalai Lama fled his majestic Potala Palace in Lhasa,
Tibet in 1959 along with 80,000 Tibetan refugees to escape invading
communist Chinese troops. They secured sanctuary in India's Himalayas.
Since the 1950s, China repeatedly said Tibetan Buddhism and the
institutional power of dalai lamas and other senior clergy was one of
the main reasons Tibetans lived in "feudal" poverty, often treated as
serfs by Tibetan officials, nobles and lamas.
Tibetan historians said the centuries-old system of reincarnated dalai
lamas, panchen lamas and other clergy contributed to repression in
Tibet, but Tibetans should have been allowed to fix their homeland
instead of submitting to anti-Buddhist Chinese.
"For centuries, Tibet was ruled by feudal serfdom under theocracy,"
China's State Council Information Office reiterated in March.
"Millions of serfs were subjected to cruel exploitation and oppression
until [China's] democratic reform in 1959," it said in a report
titled, Democratic Reform in Tibet, 60 Years On.
"Even as they were aware that feudal serfdom under theocracy was
coming to an end, the 14th Dalai Lama and the reactionaries in Tibet's
upper class had no wish to conduct reform.
"Instead, they tried to maintain the system for fear that reform would
deprive them of their political and religious privileges, together
with their huge economic benefits," the report said, according to
Beijing's official Xinhua news agency.
Also beginning in the 1950s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
trained and financed Tibetan guerrillas to conduct scattered assaults
against China's powerful People's Liberation Army.
The CIA secretly trained ethnic Khampas and other Tibetans in Colorado
state's Rocky Mountains before giving them supplies and parachuting
them into Tibet.
The CIA manipulated that small, bloody insurgency until 1972 when
President Richard Nixon abruptly ended U.S. armed support and traveled
to Beijing to improve ties with Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong.
China's communists destroyed most of Tibet's monasteries and shrines
during the 1960s and 70s. Thousands of Tibetans reportedly perished
from persecution, economic disruption and other policies.
The Dalai Lama repeatedly said he is a Marxist and would accept
autonomy for Tibet under China's domination. But Beijing suspects he
is a "splittist" conspiring to achieve independence.
Buddhism arrived in Tibet from India during the seventh century.
"Dalai Lama" is a Mongolian title meaning "Ocean of Wisdom." Followers
also refer to him as, "His Holiness" or "Wish-Fulfilling Gem."
Dalai lamas and others senior lamas are revered even though they have
not achieved the spiritual enlightenment and nirvana of a Buddha.
Instead they are described as incarnations of Avalokitesvara the
Bodhisattva of Compassion, who delays achieving nirvana to
altruistically help others.
The first dalai lama was born in 1390. Tibetan Buddhists believe this
same person has been reincarnated 14 times.
The current Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935 shortly after the 13th died.
Two years later, a delegation of high lamas searched Tibet for the
Dalai Lama's reincarnation and conducted traditional tests with
several children born amid "prophetic signs."
Clergymen selected an infant named Lhamo Thondup. He picked out, from
among various items, things which belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama and
performed other feats which they interpreted as evidence of
Today, the 84-year-old Dalai Lama appears jovial and spontaneous,
frequently traveling abroad.
Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia
University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three
non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!'
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60
Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News
Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies
and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in
Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor
Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental
patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco
His online sites are: