Friday, March 11, 2011
Is the Dalai Lama's Reincarnation Nigh?
The 14th Dalai Lama: appears to be making ready for his next reincarnation by relinquishing his temporal, political power.
Disclaimer: My writing on this blog topic in no way is meant to imply or remotely suggest that: a) I "believe in reincarnation", b) accept Buddhism, or c) really think the 14th Dalai Lama is about to die to make way for the 15th in succession. I do agree with Buddhists that the final state of all beings is 'Nirvana' - or Nothingness.
In today's Financial Times the front page story appeared that 'Dalai Lama Relinquishes Political Role and Urges Move to Tibetan Elections'. In many sober quarters this has been interpreted to mean the Dalai Lama may be near death (though his doctors report he is a "healthy 75" ) and is hence relinquishing temporal -political power to make way for his successor.
Technically, this successor would be his reincarnation, and hence the 15th Dalai Lama. This selection is performed generally by Buddhist monks and they use a series of tests of past memory to establish the validity of the new Dalai Lama. For example, the current (or 14th) reincarnation passed all his tests with flying colors including identifying his former eyeglasses from his last life, as well as walking cane. (The monks typically scatter dozens of items across the table from which the candidate must select those exact possessions he had in the previous life. One single miss and he's discounted).
Of course, to the Chinese government, current rulers of Tibet, this is a transparent and cynical political move. They regard the Dalai Lama's announcement as attempting to trump their own authority. According to Stephanie Brigden, an expert on Tibetan Buddhism:
"China is making every effort to control the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama because they believe that is where Tibetan political and religious identity resides"
Control reincarnation? How on earth can anyone or any nation do that? Truth be told, they can't. But since China took over Tibet in 1959 they have erected laws declaring that only they can decide the moment of reincarnation and who the "chosen" will be, thereby taking it out of the hands of the monks. (Btw, for those who wish to see an excellent movie on the Dalai Lama's escape from the Chinese, be sure to rent or watch 'Kundun' on Netflix or elsewhere).
Meanwhile, quoted from his redoubt at Dharamsala, the Indian hill station that serves as a capital for all Tibetans in exile, the Dalai Lama said:
"I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a new leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power"
The word 'devolve' is key here, because it appears to suggest or indicate the Dalai Lama knows his end is imminent. The word 'devolve' is generally only reserved for acknowledging the passage of one's being to one's successor.
It should be noted here, for those who never studied comparative religion, that reincarnation among the eastern religions is never deemed an afterlife end in itself. (Like the Christian fables of "Heaven" and "Hell"). It is not the "final destination" but a way phase. Most holy men, like the 14th Dalai Lama, hope to go through only a minimum of reincarnations - because these are not looked on as pleasant experiences but trials. Each time one is reborn, the pain, conflicts and misdirection of energy start again. The object is not to have to keep enduring it.
To that end, those who make their final reincarnation are finally due to escape its grip via Nirvana. That is, the Nothingness that arrives once the last shuffling of the last mortal coil, aka body, takes place. In this respect, Buddhism and Atheism are very similar, except Atheism leaves out the reincarnations and goes directly to Nothingness.
When one thinks about it, Nothingness is the most logical afterlife result in any case. It is the simplest proposition, and the one least having to be proven, unlike those who propose grandiose (or horrific) afterlife destinations-which they've never been able to elucidate in a rational way.
Whatever happens, we do hope the Dalai Lama (if he must undergo the embodied pain and time of another reincarnation) has experiences that are as rich, and selfless as this past one. and as beneficial to as many followers!