The four main political groups in the European Parliament have co-hosted a conference on the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet now living in exile. Representatives of EPP, S&D, Alde and The Greens-EFA expressed concerns about signs of political interference in the selection of a successor to Dalai Lama.
The conference took place on 7 February and follows a resolution in December 2016 when the Parliament condemned the demolition of a Buddhist centre in Tibet by the authorities, leading to the eviction of monks and nuns.
Some of the MEPs had experience of persecutions for their religious beliefs by the former Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. In their opinion freedom of religion implies that the state should not interfere in the internal matters of a religious community and not impose a spiritual leader for political reasons.
Tibetan Buddhism accepts the existence of past and future lives and that a Lama, a spiritual master, can be reborn in another human being. While the Buddhist tradition in Tibet has been influenced by surrounding countries, the belief in “reincarnation” is a unique Tibetan institution, dating back to the Middle-Ages.
Dagpo Rinpoche, born in 1932 in Tibet and a well-known Tibetan Buddhist master who now lives and teaches in Paris, explained the roots and procedures of reincarnation to the audience. The duties of the Lamas are to take care of the monasteries and to serve the people. After Lamas passed way, their disciples naturally wanted a successor who could take over for the benefit of the people.
Thus the institution of reincarnation was born and became anchored in the belief in rebirth. Normally a living Dalai Lama would recognize himself in a small boy and teach him to become his successor. The recognition of a reincarnation could also take place, through different traditional procedures, after a Dalai Lama had passed away.
In his rational approach to an inherently spiritual matter, Rinpoche admitted that not all Dalai Lamas selected by reincarnation had been beneficial to Tibetan society. Asked by The Brussels Times about the intentions of the current Dalai Lama, Rinpoche replied:
“He hasn’t decided yet. You would have to ask him”.
He referred to a statement issued in September 2011 where the 14th Dalai Lama writes that the person who reincarnates has the sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized.
Dalai Lama states that at the age of ninety he will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism to reevaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not.
Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, was born in Tibet in 1935 when the country effectively was an independent country, trying to preserve its status against the neighbouring countries, incl. British India. He was selected by reincarnation at the age of 3 to become the future spiritual leader of Tibet.
The Chinese position is that Tibet historically is part of China. In 1950 China invaded Tibet claiming that it wanted to modernize the country and liberate the peasants living under a feudal system. A rebellion broke out in 1956 and was crushed after four years. Dalai Lama managed to escape from Lhasa in March 1959 and has lived in exile since then.
Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Buddhist leadership in exile oppose reincarnation through illegitimate and bureaucratic methods, foreign to Tibetan tradition and custom. China is of the opinion that the reincarnation procedure is a matter of its sovereignty. The issue of reincarnation is part of a wider problem that concerns Tibetan identity and the future of a unique religious tradition, part of our common world heritage.
Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He has stated that he wishes nothing more than a dialogue with China about the preservation of the Tibetan identity and environment in an autonomous Tibet within the framework of a united China.
In this he has the tacit support of EU that would like to promote reconciliation between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama and his representatives with a view of reaching a sustainable solution that would fully respect Tibetan culture, religion and identity.
Is this possible? Socialism has been replaced by capitalism and religion has become allowed in China. Last Thursday (9 February), the Chinese president took a call from Donald Trump, after the US government had recognized the One China policy.
The Brussels Times