Communists Declare Dalai Lama Cannot Reincarnate Outside of China

Dalai Lama

The Chinese Communist Party’s quest to dominate Tibetan Buddhism continued this week with a press conference on Thursday to assert that the communist regime will control the death of the Dalai Lama and not allow him to reincarnate outside of China.

The state-controlled China Tibetology Research Center and the All-China Journalists Association assembled pro-communist “experts” to claim that the Chinese government has controlled the reincarnation of the living Buddhas since ancient times and that the Dalai Lama himself, living in exile in India since China’s colonization of Tibet in 1959, should have no role in the process. Tibetan Buddhists believe in the Dalai Lama as the foremost of several living Buddhas, who have reincarnated in various men throughout the ages to lead the faith.

The Chinese Communist Party considers Tibetan Buddhism a direct threat to the regime, which demands full allegiance to and worship of dictator Xi Jinping. As it has done with Christianity and Islam, Beijing has attempted to eradicate Tibetan Buddhism through a ban on children adhering to any faith and the practice of imposing communist “Sinicization” of the faith, placing trusted Party members in leadership positions.

The Han Chinese government has also attempted to erase Tibetan identity wholesale by imposing the Mandarin language in the region – even renaming Tibet with the Han name “Xizang” – and eroding the use of Tibetan written language in schools. The government has also forced thousands of Tibetan children into “boarding schools” in which they are indoctrinated into communism, learn Mandarin, and are kept from learning their culture or religion.

The human rights organization Freedom House ranked occupied Tibet as the least free region in the world in its 2023 Freedom in the World report, published in March.

The state-run Global Times newspaper described “Xizang” as a vibrant region benefitting tremendously from communist totalitarianism in its report on the Tibetology Research Center event Thursday, insisting that reports of any human rights abuses in the region were Western “misinformation.” It also claimed, citing the “experts” at the press conference, that thousands of years of tradition require the Communist Party to choose the Dalai Lama’s successor. The Communist Party seized control of China in 1949.

“Experts on Xizang affairs pointed out that massive misinformation about Xizang is circulated in the Western world, but the fact is that the human rights progress in China’s Xizang Autonomous Region is of epoch-making significance in the history of human rights progress in the world,” the state propaganda outlet claimed.

It asserted, citing the experts, that “the reincarnation of the Living Buddhas must be approved by the central government” and “the successor must be searched within China” were “norms” that had been respected for centuries. The Global Times went on to condemn the actual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, and his supporters for opposing communist intervention in his faith.

“In recent years, given that the 14th Dalai Lama is getting old, the 14th Dalai Lama clique has published various absurd statements such as ‘stop reincarnation,’ ‘reincarnate as a foreigner’ or ‘blonde woman,'” the Global Times narrated.

“The 14th Dalai Lama has claimed that he could reincarnate as a foreigner, a bee and others, treating the convention as a joke,” one of the experts on the panel, researcher Zhang Yun, was quoted as saying. “But this is a very serious matter, it is not up to any one person.”

Zhang insisted that Tibetan Buddhism had allowed the Chinese government to decide its leaders since the 1200s and “the influence of the central government in Chinese history over the convention has not been interrupted.” He did not note that the current Chinese government, unlike in Imperial China, is explicitly atheist and anti-religion, presenting a different scenario than in the medieval era.

The current Dalai Lama is 87 years old; his advanced age has increased the frequency with which the Chinese government has asserted its authority over his reincarnation. Beijing has at least one major precedent in usurping authority from Tibetan Buddhist leaders in recent memory: the disappearance of the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is a living Buddha on par with the Dalai Lama, who the Dalai Lama had identified shortly before the Chinese government disappeared him in 1995. Beijing has insisted for the past two decades that the government took the six-year-old boy, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, out of the public eye and granted him a “normal” life because the Dalai Lama had defied custom when choosing him – doing so without government approval. The Communist Party has since identified a pro-government figure, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the Panchen Lama, who most Tibetan Buddhists reject. Many Tibetans who oppose communism fear that the regime will similarly appoint a pro-communist figure as the “Dalai Lama,” disregarding the current Dalai Lama’s authority.

The U.S. Congress asserted in 2020 – in the middle of a 5,000-page-long appropriations bill – that America would not recognize a Party-identified Dalai Lama.

“It is the policy of the United States that … decisions regarding the selection, education, and veneration of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders are exclusively spiritual matters that should be made by the appropriate religious authorities,” the bill read. “[I]nterference by the Government of the People’s Republic of China or any other government in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama and any future Dalai Lamas would represent a clear abuse of the right to religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists and the Tibetan people.”

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