Beijing (AsiaNews) - "The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government, which has hundreds of years of history. The (present) 14th Dalai Lama has ulterior motives, and is seeking to distort and negate history, which is damaging to the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism," said Hua Chunying, a Chinese government spokeswoman in a curt statement.
Ms Hua, a Communist and an atheist, not a Buddhist theologian or scholar, spoke in reaction to a statement made by the current Tibetan Buddhist leader, who suggested that he might be the last in line.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th reincarnation of the Buddhist holy man of compassion, Avalokiteśvara, told a German newspaper that the role of Dalai Lama does not make much sense anymore.
"We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries," he explained. "The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us then finish with a popular Dalai Lama".
Although some Tibetan officials noted that the statement was taken out of context, the succession issue remains important for Beijing. In fact, Tibetan Buddhism is still very much alive and practiced in Tibet and in Tibetan parts of mainland China.
The stature of the current spiritual guide has grown since he was forced into exile to India in 1959. Since then, the Chinese government has tried to undermine his authority without success.
In order to seize control of the situation and break the link between the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama (the second highest rank in Tibetan Buddhism), China abducted the 11th Panchen, who had been recognised by the Dalai Lama. In his place, Beijing picked its own puppet monk, and hopes to do the same for the leader of the 'yellow hat' sect.
According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, monks charged with recognising the incarnation of the "living Buddha" deputies must find a child with the signs that identify him as the reincarnation of the last spiritual guide. The monks start from the direction of the last gaze of the late Dalai Lama, looking for supernatural signs involving infants and children in the indicated area.
Once they have identified a possible heir, they subject him to a series of tests such as recognising objects that belong to his predecessor. In the case of the current Dalai Lama, the young Tenzin Gyatso immediately picked out his predecessor's slippers amid thousands.
According to a more recent but still valid tradition, the search involves a complicated religious ritual that can only be done within the Lama Temple in Beijing. The latter holds a golden urn a gift of a Manchu emperor to Tibet's regent. Based on this precedent, theoretically abandoned with Mao's revolution and the birth of the People's Republic, Beijing now wants to select the next reincarnation.
In recent years, the 14th Dalai Lama has speculated about breaking with tradition, noting that he might choose his own successor before his death, or that the choice might be made among Tibetans in exile, or by an election.
At that time, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei gave China's official point of view."I would like to point out the title of the Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government and is otherwise illegal," Hong said. "There has never been a practice of the Dalai Lama identifying his own successor."