The Buddhist Concept
Of Reincarnation

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The Controversy
Surrounding Tibetan
Reincarnation
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The Buddhist Concept of Reincarnation
According to the scriptures, the Buddha taught a concept of rebirth that was distinct from that of any known contemporary Indian teacher. This concept was consistent with the common notion of a sequence of related lives stretching over a very long time, but was constrained by two core Buddhist concepts: annatta, that there is no irreducible atman or "self" tying these lives together; and anicca, that all compounded things are subject to dissolution, including all the components of the human person and personality. At the death of one personality, a new one comes into being, much as the flame of a dying candle can serve to light the flame of another.

Since, according to Buddhism, there is no permanent and unchanging self (identity) there can be no transmigration in the strict sense. Buddhism teaches that what is reborn is not the person but that one moment gives rise to another and that this momentum continues, even after death. It is a more subtle concept than the usual notion of reincarnation, reflecting the Buddhist concept of personality existing (even within one's lifetime) without a "Self". Instead of a fixed entity, what is reborn is an evolving consciousness or stream of consciousness, whose quality has been conditioned by karma.

Buddhism suggests that samsara, the process of rebirth, occurs across five or six realms of existence. It is said in Tibetan Buddhism that it is very rare for a person to be reborn in the immediate next life as a human. This depends on the karmic potentialities (or "seeds") they have created with their actions and upon their state of mind at the time of death. If we die with a peaceful mind, this will stimulate a virtuous seed and we shall experience a fortunate rebirth; but if we die with a disturbed mind, in a state of anger, say, this will stimulate a non-virtuous seed and we shall experience an unfortunate rebirth. This is similar to the way in which nightmares are triggered by our being in an agitated state of mind just before falling asleep.

Tibetan Buddhists also believe that a newborn child may be the rebirth of an important departed lama.
The Controversy Surrounding Tibetan Reincarnation
Despite its officially secular stance, the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) has claimed the power to approve the naming of high reincarnations in Tibet, based on the precedent set by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. The Qianlong Emperor was said to have instituted a system of selecting the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama by means of a lottery which utilized a golden urn with names wrapped in barley balls. Controversially, this precedent was called upon by the PRC to name their own Panchen Lama. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Buddhists in exile do not regard PRC's Panchen Lama to be the legitimate Panchen Lama. The Dalai Lama has recognized a different child, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the reincarnated Panchen Lama. This child and his family have been taken into protective custody according to the PRC, although there has been no mention of what or whom the child must be protected from. All attempts by members of the EU parliament and US government to garner guarantees of the family's safety have been denied by the PRC. In September 2007 the Chinese government said all high monks must be approved by the government, which would include the selection of the 15th Dalai Lama after the death of Tenzin Gyatso. The People's Republic of China may attempt to direct the selection of a successor using the authority of their chosen Panchen Lama.

In response to this scenario, Tashi Wangdi, the representative of the 14th Dalai Lama, replied that the Chinese government's selection would be meaningless. "You can’t impose an Imam, an Archbishop, saints, any religion...you can’t politically impose these things on people," said Wangdi. "It has to be a decision of the followers of that tradition. The Chinese can use their political power: force. Again, it’s meaningless. Like their Panchen Lama. And they can’t keep their Panchen Lama in Tibet. They tried to bring him to his monastery many times but people would not see him. How can you have a religious leader like that?"

The Dalai Lama said as early as 1969 that it was for the Tibetans to decide whether the institution of the Dalai Lama "should continue or not." He has given reference to a possible vote occurring in the future for all Tibetan Buddhists to decide whether they wish to recognize his rebirth. In response to the possibility that the PRC may attempt to choose his successor, the Dalai Lama has said he will not be reborn in a country controlled by the People's Republic of China, or any other country which is not free.

In 2007, two monks from Tashilhunpo monastery of Tibet committed suicide following a campaign of exclusion by Chinese officials. These two monks had recognized the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, and could therefore have been requested to recognize the next Dalai Lama.

On March 10th 2009 Dalai Lama criticized China for oppressing his people and misrepresenting his wish for Tibetan autonomy. He warned Tibetans to prepare themselves “in case our struggle goes on for a long time". The Dalai Lama also spoke of his own exile, and that of the 90,000 Tibetans who followed him, as a period of “unimaginable hardship, which is still fresh in the Tibetan memory.




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