TOKYO, Japan (AP) — The Dalai Lama says he may appoint a successor or rely on an election before his death in a break with tradition, a Japanese newspaper reported Tuesday, following recent orders that China must approve Tibet’s spiritual leaders.
According to centuries of Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the search for the reincarnation of spiritual leaders, or lamas — including the Dalai Lama — has been carried out by Tibetan monks following the leaders’ deaths.
“The Tibetan people would not support a successor selected by China after my death,” the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying on a trip to Japan by the Sankei Shimbun, a national daily.
“If the Tibetan people wish to uphold the Dalai Lama system, one possibility would be to select the next Dalai Lama while I am still living,” he was quoted as saying in an interview.
“Among options being considered are a democratic selection by the high monks of Tibetan Buddhism, or the appointment of a successor by myself,” he said.
The exiled leader also accused Chinese authorities of stepping up persecution of Tibetan monks and civilians, and called the region’s relations with the Chinese government “the most tense in recent years,” according to the newspaper.
China’s new order, which came into force in September, states that all future lama appointments related to Tibetan Buddhism “must get government approval,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
It also prevents any outside source from having “influence” in the selection process, the agency reported.
The order has led to concerns that the central government may forcibly select a pro-Beijing leader once the current popular Dalai Lama is dead.
China has ruled Tibet with a heavy hand since its Communist-led forces invaded in 1951, and it has accused the Buddhist monk of defying its sovereignty by pushing for Tibetan independence.
The Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, regards the Chinese order as an attempt to further repress and undermine the religious culture of the Himalayan region.
In 1995, the Dalai Lama chose 6-year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama, the most exalted figure of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. The boy and his family disappeared soon after and have not been heard from since.
China’s communist-led government later named Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama and said Nyima and his family were being kept in a secret location for their protection.
The Dalai Lama says he wants “real autonomy” for Tibet, not independence. He has lived with followers in exile in India since fleeing Chinese soldiers in 1959.
He arrived in Japan last week for a nine-day visit. He has been snubbed by Japanese officials, who are working to improve relations with neighboring China.
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