Said the Dalai Lama in 2019…

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

On October 25, 2019, during an interaction with college students in his residence in Dharamsala, India, the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s stated his current position on the (un)desirability of continuing the Tibetan system of formally instating (re)incarnations:

‘Dalai Lama: “Basically, different cultures of different people of different communities, the culture I think through some kind of evolution and so on, a way of evolution, so it’s suitable, according to the environment in a particular area. But then also traditional cultural heritage… Now, for example, in India the Buddhist community [has] no tradition of reincarnation or lama institution. It developed in Tibet. I think [there is] some connection with the feudal system.

So that, now today, the world [practices] a more democratic principle: the country is owned by people, not individuals. So, therefore, [with regard to] like my own institution, the Dalai Lama institution, I felt that there is some connection with the feudal system. So, as early as ’69, [in] one of my official statements I mentioned [that if] this very institution of Dalai Lama should continue or not [is] up to the concerned people—the Tibetan people. So [it is] not necessary to keep this as our tradition.”

Now, for example, as far as Buddhists are concerned, [there is] no Buddha’s institution, no Nagarjuna’s institution. These institutions, I feel, are very much related to the feudal system.

So, in Tibetan history, some lamas [were] really wonderful, but some lamas [are a] disgrace. I think.. [continues in Tibetan].

Translator: “So, this master Chösang Rinpoche, has said that when someone is recognized as a reincarnation of some high lama, of a predecessor, it seemed that there was some wisdom in it, in recognizing the reincarnation. But when this reincarnation actually proves to be a disgrace, then I really feel very sad from the depth of my heart.”

Dalai Lama: “So there are cases now, frankly speaking, [in which] the individual lama utilizes the name of reincarnation, but never pays much attention to study and practice. So, these lamas disgrace the Buddhadharma. So, I feel we should return [to] the original Indian tradition: no reincarnation, no lamas institution. So, a certain tradition, it’s a tradition, but [it’s] very much related with the feudal system and old thinking, that [must be] gone. We should be, as I mentioned earlier, twentyfirst century Buddhists. Not the orthodox way.”‘

Source: Dalai Lama. (2019). Interaction with College Students. (at ± 1 h. 11 mins.)

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.