BEIJING — The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, has said he thinks his traditional religious role should cease with his death rather than a “stupid” successor replace him and disgrace himself.
He told the BBC in an interview on Wednesday that the Tibetan people should decide whether to continue the spiritual line, which dates back to the 15th century.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the soul of a senior lama is traditionally believed to be reincarnated in the body of a child on his death. China says the tradition must continue and it must approve the next Dalai Lama.
In another interview with France24 television, the Dalai Lama said hardliners in the Chinese government were holding back President Xi Jinping from granting genuine autonomy to Tibet.
Beijing accuses the Buddhist leader of being a violent separatist. He denies the charges, saying he only wants real autonomy for Tibet, a remote region ruled by the Communist Party since its troops marched in 1950.
“The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day,” he told the BBC. “There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won’t come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama.”
The exiled Tibetan, 79, said he expected to live for another 15 or 20 years.
The Dalai Lama said he took heart from hearing Xi talking about Buddhism recently.
“This is something very unusual,” he told France24. “A communist, usually, we consider atheist.”
Asked if the remarks led him to believe Xi was ready to discuss genuine autonomy for Tibet, the spiritual leader said there were “some indications.”
“But at the same time, among the establishment, there is a lot of hardliner thinking still there. So he himself sometimes finds it’s a difficult situation,” he said.
Representatives of the Nobel Peace laureate held rounds of talks with China until 2010, but formal dialogue has stalled amid leadership changes in Beijing and a crackdown in Tibet.
Many Tibetans feel their intensely Buddhist culture is at risk of annihilation by Beijing’s political and economic domination and a regional influx of majority Han Chinese. China denies these are risks.
Asked by France 24 if he might be the last Dalai Lama, as he has suggested in the past, the Buddhist leader said the Tibetan people must decide, not a Communist Party made up of non-believers.
“Chinese officials are more concerned about the future Dalai Lama than me,” he added. “I have no concern.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Tom Heneghan; Editing by Andrew Roche)