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‘Only Dalai Lama will decide his reincarnation; no govt has any right to interfere in his selection’

The president of the Central Tibetan Administration (Sikyong) Dr Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan parliament in exile tells The Indian Express that reincarnation is a matter of faith and no government has any right to interfere in the selection process of the Dalai Lama.

Written by Varinder Bhatia |
November 29, 2019 12:50:48 am
 President of the Central Tibetan Administration (Sikyong) Dr Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan parliament in exile.

Around 200 Tibetan religious leaders, including nine high Lamas, or heads of the monasteries spread across the globe, have unanimously decided that the institution of the Dalai Lama must continue. At the 14th Tibetan Religious Conference in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala, a unanimous decision has been taken that only the (incumbent) Dalai Lama has the right to choose his reincarnation and he shall be the sole authority to decide its timing and place. The conference also adopted a resolution that the Tibetans will not recognize any candidate chosen by the Chinese government. The president of the Central Tibetan Administration (Sikyong) Dr Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan parliament in exile tells The Indian Express that reincarnation is a matter of faith and no government has any right to interfere in the selection process of the Dalai Lama.

What is this religious conference all about and what is its significance?

Normally, such religious conference is held every three-four years, where we discuss general religious and monastic issues such as curriculum discipline, health etc and anything else that comes up. This year (issue of) reincarnation too was added as an agenda. In 1969, His Holiness The Dalai Lama (HHDL) had made it clear that whether or not the institution of Dalai Lama should continue, depends on the Tibetan people. Now, as Tibetans, we have to make it very clear, spiritually and socially… as followers, you pray that your spiritual teacher should continue to bless the Tibetan people. So, you want the institution to continue. This is a spiritually true too that if you want the Guru to continue, all the Chelas (followers) should say that ‘Guru you are so good, please come back’. Now, spiritual leaders are praying to the HHDL that the institution of Dalai Lama should continue. That is the main issue this time in the religious conference.

Was there any particular reason why specific agenda of reincarnation was added to this religious conference?

In 2011, the office of HHDL issued a report on his decision that he could come [back] by any of the three means – reincarnation, emanation or selection and that he will decide it at the age of 90. He had made it very clear. Media and people at large are raising the issue…Now, people have to speak and make their desire known. Obviously, Chinese government issued Document No. 5 in 2007 where they said that the Communist Party will decide on the authentication and certification of the high Lamas. It is ridiculous. An atheist organization that says religion is poison….since the occupation of Tibet, all they have done is destroy our monasteries, disrobe our monks and nuns. The demolition of monasteries continues even today. All kinds of institutions are being destroyed. And HHDL is vilified everyday in Tibet. Recently, the Chinese Ambassador to India also wrote an opinion piece about how Tibet has been transformed under Chinese rule. Also, a piece on reincarnation. So, these are the general issues. But, based on 1969 statement, we have to make our voices and aspirations clear.

Did (17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje) Karmapa also attend the conference?

No, he sent his representative. Karmapa is in retreat. The retreat normally is for one year or three years. Once in retreat, you are in seclusion. Karmapa is in Europe these days. That’s what I have heard. He does not want to be disturbed.

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Recently, there were reports from China that Panchen Lama has completed his university education and got a job and he does not want to be disturbed. Do you think, there will be a similar claim made in case of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama as well?

Regarding Panchen Lama, whether it is a fact or fiction, we do not know. He completed college…he has taken up a job…The whole script is being written by them [China]. Nobody has seen him. Nobody has met him. So, you really can not trust what the Chinese government is saying. As far as HHDL is concerned, he had made it very clear. He will be reborn in free world. If the Tibet issue is not resolved, if he is not been able to return to Tibet, then obviously he has to continue from where he left. So, he will keep working from exile in the free world to continue the mission and vision of the previous Lamas. That’s the whole idea of the reincarnation.

Reincarnation is a matter of religious faith. Do you think modern science supports this belief?

There is modern science and there is spirituality…you have to choose. If you believe in modern science, then you have to go by what they call scientific objectivity and empirical evidence and things like that. If you believe in spirituality and religion, you go by faith. If you don’t believe in faith, there is no point of even having a discussion. We are not trying to convince anyone. It is based on faith…not just reincarnation, for that matter, any religion…is based on faith. There is no empirical scientific evidence to prove whether God exists…So, its all faith. Once you have faith, you have your own practices, traditions, customs and you go by that. Now, 800 years ago, Tibetan Buddhist world said reincarnation is tradition we want to adopt, we invented it, we practice it and we believe in it and we continue to believe in it. India has over 2 crore gods and goddesses…ultimately, the question is are you a believer or not? The idea of reincarnation is not that different…if you believe in rebirth, which normally Hindus and Buddhists believe. If you believe in rebirth, then reincarnation is not that far away.

Has there been any kind of interference from Indian government on the issue of reincarnation?

No, not at all. As this is a matter of religious freedom, I am sure that Indian government and Indian people also believe that religious matters should be left to religious people and religious leaders. When we talk about the reincarnation, we are talking about the reincarnation of all the Lamas. The idea of reincarnation was invented 800 years ago and based on it, we have had several hundred reincarnated Lamas. That process of recognizing reincarnated Lamas should continue. Lamas should decide their reincarnation and no one else. Believer should practice their belief and no one should interfere. Hence, Chinese government should not interfere. For that matter, no government should interfere. American government…Ambassador said we support the resolution of Special General Body of Tibetan people. Here it is not interference. We must make a distinction. Chinese want to interfere in selecting the reincarnated Lamas. They have already selected 300. Now, they say they have a list of 1300 that they have selected, given certificates as Lamas. So, Communist Party is interfering in selecting the Lamas. But, American government is saying that ‘no, we will not interfere in the selection process’. What they are saying is that this is a religious matter, it should be left to religious leaders. I feel the Indian government will also feel the same.

You have travelled across the globe seeking support for Tibetan cause. How much have you achieved in your 8-year tenure?

First five years were very difficult, because my position was political. So, all the meetings were also political. For the first five years, China was too influential economically and politically. Even the scheduled meetings used to get cancelled. In the last three years, a dramatic shift has taken place in the international community’s attitude towards China. Growing skepticism. So, for example, we have formed the largest parliamentary support group in Japan. At least 92 members of the Japanese Parliament, of which 60-70% are from ruling party, have signed up to the support group. Fifteen years ago, Tibet was hardly discussed in Japan. In Czech Republic, 51 members of Parliament and senators have formed the Tibetan Support Group, which is largest in whole of Europe. I just returned from Brussels. Thirty European parliamentarians have signed up to be Tibetan Support Group. German Bundestag had a formal hearing on Tibet and three members of the Human Rights Committee of the German Bundestag came to Dharamshala as official delegation and we have six members of US Congress, both from Republican and Democratic party, come to Dharamshala as official guest invited by the CTA. Then the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback recently visited Dharamshala on my invitation. On March 10 , the 60th anniversary of our exile, we had members of parliaments from 13 countries, all invited by the CTA. You can see the signs…international community is speaking about Tibet at various forums and coming to Dharamshala and showing their support. Earlier also, members of parliaments used to come but that was in their private capacity. The recent ones were official delegations. Next year, we will have couple of more countries coming to Dharamshala as official delegations. We will be observing 2020 as Thank You Dalai Lama year.

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