Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dalai Lama's statement on reincarnation and its significance

It might seem a bit odd to post about this on a Chinese law blog, but the matter concerns religious law and its interaction with secular law in a territory under the control of the government in Beijing, so why not? Just as important, I'm posting an explanation of what it's all about by Tibetologist Robbie Barnett of Columbia. Those who don't understand the finer points of Tibetan Buddhism - that is to say, most of us - are going to miss important aspects of this announcement if we don't read Professor Barnett's Cliff's Notes (which I post here with his permission). I doubt if this level of understanding is accessible to the layman anywhere else, so here it is.

Here is the Dalai Lama's statement

Here are Prof. Barnett's notes on this statement; below are the first three paragraphs:

On September 24 2011 The Dalai Lama issued a statement on “the issue of his reincarnation”. The full text is at It was issued following a meeting of the leaders of the main schools or sects of Tibetan Buddhism in Dharamsala, Northern India.

The timing is in part a response to the series of announcements by the authorities in Beijing in recent years that only they can select the next Dalai Lama. This claim was formalized in a legal document known “Order No. 5” issued by the State Administration of Religious Affairs in August 2007 (see and

It also relates to the decision by the Dalai Lama this March, formalized on May 29th, to end the “Ganden Phodrang” system. That term had referred to the government led by the Dalai Lamas in Tibet since 1642 and in exile since 1959. Since May, it refers just to the private estate or office of the Dalai Lama. Technically the Dalai Lama is now just a religious figure, and his announcement relates to this new role, addressing the future continuity of his lineage if indeed it is decide that it is beneficial to continue it. But in practice his statement is much greater significance than that, because he remains the symbolic heart of Tibetan nationhood – a role noted in the exiles’ new constitution – and of far greater importance to Tibetan people, and therefore to Chinese policy-makers, than the government.

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