Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said on Saturday that China must first profess to believe in rebirth in the latest round of the debate over reincarnation—the Tibetans’ traditional method of identifying future religious leaders, which Beijing seeks to control.
China is keen to engineer a process that produces a pro-Beijing monk as the spiritual leader of Tibetans in the country’s far-western Tibet Autonomous Region, and insists that the officially atheist Chinese government is the only one with the authority to make that decision.
“For the institution of the Dalai Lama to remain or not will be determined by the Tibetan public,” the Dalai Lama told reporters at a press conference inside Yiga Choezin monastery in the Buddhist town of Tawang in northeastern India’s Arunachal Pradesh state on April 8.
“My visit to Arunachal is purely religious and not political,” he said.
The 81-year-old monk, who is the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, also addressed China’s criticism of his visit to the town’s 17th-century Tawang Gaden Lhatse monastery and said that the time had not yet come to talk about his successor.
“Let China first say it believes in rebirth,” he said, about the reincarnation issue.
After he finished his teaching about a meditation approach by the Indian writer Kamalashila, the Dalai Lama met with about 70 reporters to discuss his travels to different parts of the world.
He said he will organize a conference to discuss the issue of the next Dalai Lama because people in many parts of the world, including Arunachal Pradesh, India’s Ladakh region, and the country of Mongolia respect the Dalai Lama.
During the press conference, the Dalai Lama said that historically the Indians and Tibetans have had a long and enduring relationship as teachers and disciples.
“You Indians are historically our gurus,” he said. “We are chelas [disciples]. We are not only chelas but quite reliable chelas.”
The Dalai Lama then reminded the reporters that they had an important role to play in reporting objectively and informing the public.
He went on to say that the purpose of his visit to Tawang is to promote human values, compassion, religious harmony, and ethics, and to preserve the Tibetan religion, culture, and environment so they can flourish.
The Dalai Lama made the remarks a day after arriving in Tawang—where the Sixth Dalai Lama was discovered in the 1600s. Thousands of followers from throughout the region and neighboring Bhutan had gathered at the monastery to greet him.
The preservation of Buddhist knowledge, including the Tibetan language, is a major concern not only of the 6 million Tibetans, but also of the entire Buddhist community, and in particular the 400 million Chinese Buddhists, he said.
China, which restricts the political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identities of ethnic minority Tibetans, has criticized the Dalai Lama’s current visit to the Tawang Gaden Lhatse monastery.
The nine-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh—which China claims as its territory—has angered Beijing, prompting China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying to slam India for extending the spiritual leader an invitation to the region.
The Dalai Lama has lived in India since fleeing China in 1959 during an uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, and New Delhi has warned Beijing to stay out of its internal affairs in response to criticism over the trip.
India and China have been embroiled in a row over the region for decades as part of a greater dispute over their shared 3,500-kilometer (2,175-mile) border which prompted the brief 1962 Sino-Indian War.
The two sides routinely accuse each other of intrusions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a de facto border that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory in the area.
The Dalai Lama has traveled to Arunachal Pradesh on six earlier occasions since 1983.
Reported by Passang Tsering for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.