Tibetans believe that when the Dalai Lama dies, his spirit reincarnates in a newborn’s body, carrying on the lineage. But for some years now, Tenzin Gyatso, the 79-year old current Dalai Lama who has lived in exile since 1959, has been saying that the line might end with him. “I do not want to reincarnate in Tibet because of the Chinese repression there,” says the leader of the Tibetan government in exile. Beijing and the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala have failed to reach an agreement on a larger spiritual autonomy of the region, and the Chinese government never allowed the Dalai Lama to visit his native Tibet.
Afraid of his presence, Beijing is now also upset about the Dalai Lama’s possible disappearance. “The reincarnation of the Dalai Lama has to be endorsed by the central government, not by any other sides, including Dalai Lama himself,” the Communist Party said in an obvious move to pretend authority over the Dalai Lama’s future lives. The Dalai Lama, known for his ironic statements, recently shot back at Beijing, saying that he is still a Marxist, while the leadership in Beijing is now capitalist.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for Beijing is the Dalai Lama’s conviction that only Tibetan people should have right to decide about his reincarnation. As Robert Barnett points out in his essay, the Dalai Lama’s plan of retirement worries Chinese authorities, who are afraid of Tibet deceiving them, as happened almost 400 years ago, when Tibetans were able to select the sixth reincarnation of Dalai Lama without Beijing’s knowledge.