NPR

Who Will Decide On The Dalai Lama's Successor — His Supporters Or Beijing?

"The Dalai Lama's reincarnation is a civilizational struggle between China and Tibetans over who controls Tibetan Buddhism," says Amitabh Mathur, a former Indian government adviser on Tibetan affairs.
Flanked by Buddhist monks, the Dalai Lama, 84, greets visitors in September at a prayer ceremony at his monastery in Dharamsala, India. Source: NPR Photos

Thousands of Buddhists from all over the world made a pilgrimage this fall to a monastery high in India's Himalayas. Orange-robed monks with shaved heads huddled cross-legged on the floor, as Tibetan opera singers in multicolored gowns teetered under the weight of giant silver headdresses. They carried fruit baskets as offerings and chanted in unison, all praying for the same thing: the Dalai Lama's longevity.

Tibetan Buddhists believe their spiritual leader, now 84 and ailing, will be reincarnated when he dies. He is the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's traditional high priest — the same being, faithful believe, that has been reincarnated for more than 600 years.

Traditionally, the Dalai Lama himself gives instructions before he dies. He's supposed to tell aides where to look for a child who will next embody his essence. But this time, politics may complicate the search.

"The Dalai Lama's reincarnation is a civilizational

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