India-China relations to see a rockier turn with Dalai Lama unveiling US-born reincarnation

The Dalai Lama’s move to anoint the 10th Khalkha has caught Beijing by surprise; experts say the decision is an internal affair of the Dalai Lama-led Tibetan religious order

The Dalai Lama

Tibetans have always zealously guarded their religious hierarchy, something China considers to be its private preserve.

In a recent interview with Japan’s Kyodo News, Penpa Tsering, president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, warned China not to interfere in selecting a successor to the Dalai Lama, the current spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. “No government should have a role in this spiritual matter and I think it is much wiser for China not to interfere,” he cautioned.

Tsering’s words could well have been prophetic. On March 27, the 14th Dalai Lama, the frail 87-year-old, announced the reincarnation of the third-most-senior Lama or spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the head of the Gelugpa school in land-locked Mongolia.

The tenth Khalkha, Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche, was anointed by the Tibetan spiritual head in a ceremony attended by some 600 Mongolians, who travelled to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh to attend an event that has huge ramifications in this running battle between the Dalai Lama and the Communist Party of China, and for the survival of Tibetan Buddhism.

While India may have no role to play in this decision, Beijing believes that by giving shelter to the Dalai Lama, New Delhi is interfering in Beijing’s internal matters. China openly meddles in all matters related to the Dalai Lama and Tibetans, and an already strained bilateral relationship between India and China may get even bumpier.

“I don’t think the Chinese would be surprised by this decision. His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) has said different things about his successor, including a lady successor, at different times, so it is not for anyone to decide who will be taught the scriptures, other than the head of the order,” Gautam Bambawale, former Indian ambassador to China, told Moneycontrol.

Calling the Dalai Lama’s decision on Monday an ‘ace of spades’, the ex-Indian envoy to Beijing said that neither the Indian government nor the people of India have any role to play in the choice, which is strictly speaking, not tantamount to announcing a successor. “I don’t think there is any reason for either China, the US or any other country to object because it is purely an internal decision of the Tibetan Buddhist order,” he said.

The Dalai Lama believes that he will live up to the biological age of 113 and has no immediate plans to announce his reincarnation as head of the influential Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Communist Party of China has traditionally called him a ‘splittist’ as President Xi Jinping pursues his policy of Sinicisation of Tibet with Beijing abrogating the power of official reincarnations of high lamas of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Yet, at this advanced age, the cancer survivor managed to stump Beijing with his decision to anoint the tenth Khalkha this week.

US-born Lama

According to unofficial reports, the eight-year-old boy, who was born in the US in 2015, was anointed as the Tenth Khalka in a ceremony at Mongolia’s Gandantegchinlen Monastery, the country’s biggest monastery, at the end of February. It was attended by the Abbot of the monastery and the high Lamas of Mongolia.

However, experts state that the eight-year-old was accorded legitimacy after he was declared a reincarnation on March 8, at the culmination of the exercise that the Dalai Lama undertook when he visited Ulan Bator in 2016.

The tenth Khalkha is one of the twin boys named Aguidau and Achiltai Attanmar. He belongs to one of the richest business and political empires in Ulan Bator. The Dalai Lama institution in Dharamshala declined to comment over the real identity of the new Mongolian Tibetan leader as they feel he would be targeted by the Chinese regime.

Sandwiched between allies Russia and China, Mongolia has played a key role in the Dalai Lama Institution — often under intense pressure — as it was the Mongolian King Altan Khan who offered the title of Dalai Lama (Ocean of wisdom) to the third Gelugpa, Lama Sonam Gyatso, who in return conferred the title of `Brahma’, the king of religion, on Khan.

Former Indian ambassador to China Vijay Nambiar believes the nomination of the Khalka is a natural decision. “Given that China has taken unilateral decisions regarding Tibet, the Dalai Lama’s decision is to be expected. It is an essential part of the autonomy of the Tibet religious hierarchy,” he told Moneycontrol.

Nothing to do with New Delhi

Asked if it could lead to worsening of already-strained bilateral relations between India and China, he said that while “it would tighten relations between India and China, New Delhi has nothing to do with this decision, which is an independent one.”

China, Nambiar said, has nominated its own Panchen Lama as the man to succeed the Dalai Lama, “but let us also remember that the Dalai Lama has in the past said that he may not have a successor so let us not see this appointment as necessarily his successor.”

Tibetan exiles have traditionally worried that China might just simply appoint its own successor. In 1995, after the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama, the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, China put that boy under house arrest and installed another in his place. Many Tibetans spurn the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as a fake.

That the Dalai Lama’s decision could have surprised China is being attributed to the fact that Beijing is yet to offer a reaction a full 24 hours after the anointment.

News Desk

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