Anxiety over reincarnation and succession surrounds hopes for replacement figurehead for Tibetan Buddhists.
The Dalai Lama‘s announcement that he could retire within six months may do more to confuse than enlighten listeners because of his overlapping religious and political roles. He has described himself as “semi-retired” and, as unrest rippled through Tibetan areas in 2008, threatened to resign as leader of the administration-in-exile if violence continued.
Might he go further than giving up that position one day? Perhaps. Two years ago, Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, asked him whether it was possible to resign as Dalai Lama, given that Tibetans believe him to be the latest reincarnation in a long line of religious leaders. He told them he would “no longer play a political role or a pronounced spiritual role”.
Some would like to see the Karmapa Lama, 26, succeed him as the figurehead of Tibetan exiles. Others believe it is time for a more fundamental change. Earlier this year, the prime minister of the government-in-exile told the Guardian: “The age of the old monks is passing and we are looking forward to a young, energetic, lay leadership.”
The Dalai Lama has blurred the issues of succession and reincarnation. Asked if he would be the last, he told Der Spiegel: “The key factor should be the will of the Tibetan people … Everything is possible: a conclave, like in the Catholic church, a woman as my successor, no Dalai Lama anymore, or perhaps even two, since the Communist party has, astonishingly enough, given itself the right to be responsible for reincarnations.”