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What Happens When the Dalai Lama Dies

Tibetan Buddhism

In the mid 6th and mid 4th centuries BCE (Before Common Era), a distinct form of religion and philosophy developed in Nepal and northern India, which was against Hinduism that largely dominated the Indian subcontinent. The teacher was Siddhartha Gautama and he was called the Buddha, literally the Awakened One, and his faith became known as Buddhism.

When Buddhism reached Tibet, a distinct form of religion developed which was quite a blend of Bon, the religion that dominated the Tibet, and the Buddhist thought. Tibetan Buddhism evolved between the 7th and 10th centuries.

Reincarnation is widely held belief in Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama are the most sanctified reincarnated Lamas.

The first in the line of the Dalai Lama was Dge-'dun-grub-pa (1391–1475). The current Dalai Lama was born Lhamo Thondup in 1935 and recognized as the incarnation of the thirteenth Dalai Lama (Thub-bstan-rgya-mtsho (1875–1933)) in 1937. Lhamo Thondup was enthroned as Bstan-'dzin-rgya-mtsho (Tenzin Gyatso), the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, in 1940, and became the head of state in 1950.

The Dalai Lama is the head of the Gelukpa (also called Dge-lugs-pa, the Yellow Hat) branch of Tibetan Buddhism, which dominates religious life in Tibet.

Like the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama is also the line of reincarnated lamas in Tibet. Before the Chinese occupied Tibet, Panchen Lama used to be the head abbot of the Tashilhunpo Monastery, second to the Dalai Lama in spiritual authority in the Gelukpa branch of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Dalai Lama's message to the Tibetans

The Buddha

The Buddha

Who is the Dalai Lama?

The Dalai Lama is considered the physical manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, one of the Buddhist deities, the infinite and merciful. Until 1959, the Dalai Lama was spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet.

Despite all those allegation of cathartic alchemy of violence and separatism, the Dalai Lama has always maintained that the Tibetan people belong to China, and what they are seeking is peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect preserving historical and cultural heritage.

Tibet had been under Chinese occupation since 1949, but in 1959 the situation reached climax. Chinese invited the young Dalai Lama to talk, one of the preconditions’ was he should come without his body guards.

On March 10, Tibetans surrounded Norbulingka palace, trying to prevent the Dalai Lama from attending the talks. On the night of March 17, the Dalai Lama secretly left his palace. He crossed the Himalayas and went to India. China had great influences in Nepal at that time so the Dalai Lama did not stay in Nepal. China invaded India in 1962.

On March 21, the Chinese stormed Norbulingka palace and killed thousands of men, women and children. The Dalai Lama bodyguard regiment was disarmed and publicly machine gunned. According to the Tibetan government in exile, Chinese killed more than 86 thousand Tibetans.

More than 90 percent of the Tibetan population had participated in demonstrations in 1959, but Beijing maintains that it is not a historical truth and they were just bandits. After the occupation, Chinese did not allow Tibetans to practice their religion which they had been practicing for centuries. Beijing always blamed ‘Dalai clique’ for the backwardness of Tibet, saying they eliminated serfdom and paved the way for democracy in Tibet.

On March 10, 2008, 500 monks of the Drepung monastery marched to Lhasa to commemorate 1959 uprising. Over the days, resentment against Chinese occupation intensified as thousands took to street. More than 200 casualties were reported. Like in 1959, Beijing blamed ‘Dalai clique’ for the violence. The party Chief in Tibet even called the Dalai Lama ‘a wolf in monk’s clothing’

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For the past 52 years, China is bringing more Han people and replacing Tibetans from their homeland. The Han authorities are aggravating the situations in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama now lives in Dharmashala, in the Himachal State of India. He was awarded Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989, for his commitment to peaceful settlement of Tibetan crises.

The scroll painting of the First Panchen Lama

The scroll painting of the First Panchen Lama

Gedhun Choekyi was selected as the eleventh Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama in 1995, but disappeared few days later. It is believed he languishes in Chinese prison.

Gedhun Choekyi was selected as the eleventh Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama in 1995, but disappeared few days later. It is believed he languishes in Chinese prison.

The Panchen Lama controversy

Who is the Panchen Lama?

The roots of the word Panchen lie in Sanskrit word Pandita (scholar) and Tibetan word Chen-po (great), thus Panchen literally means Great Scholar. The Panchen Lama tradition was started in the 17th century. The Panchen Lama is regarded as physical manifestations of the Amitabha Buddha.

Blo-bzang chos-kyi-rgyal-mtshan (1570–1662) was the tutor of the fifth Dalai Lama. He was the Panchen Lama of the Tashilhunpo monastery. The fifth Dalai Lama announced that when his teacher dies, he will again take birth and guide the Tibetans as Panchen Lama. And thus Blo-bzang became the first in the line of Panchen Lama tradition. The three abbots of Tashilhunpo, who preceded Blo-bzang chos-kyi-rgyal-mtshan, were later included in the list of Panchen Lamas, thus making ten Panchen Lamas so far.

Blo-bzang is believed to be incarnated as Blo-bzang-ye-shes (1663–1737). And he became the fifth Panchen Lama (the three preceding abbots were three Panchen Lamas and the fourth was Blo-bzang chos-kyi-rgyal-mtshan, the tutor of the fifth Dalai Lama, who had actually announced the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama).

The other Panchen Lamas are Blo-bzang-dpal-ldan-ye-shes (1737–1780), Blo-bzang-bstan-pa'i-nyi-ma (1781–1854), Bstan-pa'i-dbang-phyug (1854–1882), and Chos-kyi Nyi-ma (1883–1937). The tenth Panchen Lama Bskal-bzang Tshe-brtan (1938-1989) is considered little controversial figure because, he was declared Panchen Lama outside Tibet by the Chinese officials without following the exact tradition that determines the reincarnation.

In 1923 Chos-kyi Nyi-ma, the ninth Panchen Lama, went to China following the disagreement with the Dalai Lama’s government and Tashilhunpo monastery over tax arrears. After his death in 1937, Chinese government announced Bskal-bzang Tshe-brtan as the successor of Chos-kyi Nyi-ma. The new Panchen Lama was born in 1938 in Qinghai province, from Tibetan parents. He was enthroned as the head abbot of Tashilhunpo by the Communists in 1952.

The Dalai Lama fled to India following the 1959 Tibet uprisings, while the Panchen Lama remained in Tibet. However, he showed his allegiance with the Dalai Lama by refusing to denounce the Dalai Lama as a traitor. Due to his stand over the Dalai Lama, the tenth Panchen Lama had to live in imprisonment for 6 years. He was released in 1970 and died in 1989.

The eleventh Panchen Lama is more controversial figure than his predecessor. After considering the signs and following the religious guidance, the fourteenth Dalai Lama announced Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the eleventh Panchen Lama in 1995. The Panchen Lama was taken into custody and six months later China announced Gyaltsen Norbu as the eveventh Panchen Lama.

Most of the Tibetans do not recognize Gyaltsen Norbu as the Panchen Lama.

Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu

Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu

What Happens When the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Dies?

In 1995, the Dalai Lama chose Gedhun Choekyi, 6, as the eleventh Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of tenth Panchen Lama who died in 1989. The new Panchen Lama disappeared few days after his selection was announced. Six months later, Gyaltsen Norbu was anointed as the eleventh Panchen Lama by the Chinese officials. It is believed Gedhun Choekyi languishes in Prison in mainland China.

In 2011, Chinese government’s handpicked Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, 21, was sent to Labrang Monastery in the town of Xiahe. Labrang Monastery is one of the most sanctified centres of Tibetan Buddhism outside Tibet, and home to more than 1000 monks, most of whom are loyal to the Dalai Lama. Many Tibetans do not accept Gyaltsen Norbu, who has lived in Beijing all his life, as the reincarnation of Panchen Lama.

To keep the tradition of reincarnated Lama alive, after the death of the Lama, a search is made to find a child who shows the signs of the dead Lama. After the serious observations, a young boy is chosen as the reincarnated Lama. This is how the new Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama is selected.

Since the past few years, there is a heated discussion about the successor of the fifteenth Dalai Lama and the future of the Gelukpa (also called Yellow Hats) branch of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the Dalai Lama has made clear there will be the fifteenth Dalai Lama, who will be found amongst the Tibetans in exile.

When the current Dalai Lama dies, the Tibetan people, both living in Tibet and in exile, will search for a boy showing the signs of the fourteenth Dalia Lama. After the strict surveillance, the high monks will announce the fifteenth Dalai Lama. However, the Chinese officials will surely not recognize the new Dalai Lama. They will stage a drama of anointing another Dalai Lama.

If the present Dalai Lama dies, the Chinese officials are sure to enact the same Panchen Lama drama. China is trying to establish a new leader, who will be their pawn, to the 5 million Tibetans.

China is a powerful country and can easily affect international opinions. Not only the future of Gelukpa branch of Tibetan Buddhism, but also overall Tibetan Buddhism looks very bleak.

The Dalai Lama Interview


Hanavee on May 26, 2015:

Please read this article. I hope it helps people understand the Tibetan cause.


manatita44 on February 01, 2014:

Interesting and informative article, my brother. Some excellent work here. Just one small thing as quoted below:

"... a distinct form of religion and philosophy developed in Nepal and northern India, which was against Hinduism that largely dominated the Indian subcontinent... "

No harm in itself except that in the next line you mentioned the Buddha. God-men, in my viewpoint, accommodates, and are not against anything let alone Hinduism. Shalom.

yangchen pelmo on January 06, 2014:

when it comes to the topic Dalai Lama and Tibet i think why china is so interested in other countries, i get pissed at how China is disturbing other countries peace. We no longer stay in world were every country is fighting to get control over the other so why the hell can't china be in china only?. and i love Dalai Lama more when he is still at peace even if his ground is taken away by china... and ya Dalai Lama we love u and i know he will never die.

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on May 17, 2013:

Hello Thelma,

As a Tibet's neighbor, I have closely watched political and religious upheavals in Tibet. I have sympathy and empathy with Tibetan people.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on May 15, 2013:

Hi, Vinaya. Thanks for sharing this very informative hub. I enjoyed reading it and I learned a lot from this hub. It answered some questions I have in mind about Buddhism. I like Dalai Lama. He represent peace and tolerance.

Have a lovely day!

Paul Johnson on January 13, 2013:

I'm a Chinese student.And I am shocked to find that how could Dalai gains so much votes!Yeah,maybe in region,Buddies is so impressing.However,Tibet belongs to China forever!!! It's just Hawaii belongs to the US,Scotland belongs to UK and Corse belongs to France!

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on October 31, 2012:

Hi Kerry

Thanks for reading and leaving appreciative comment.


Kerry43 on October 31, 2012:

What a wonderful article, thank you for sharing. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hub.

Have a happy day :D


Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on August 10, 2012:

Hello Jainismus, thanks for stopping by.

I appreciate your comment.


Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on August 05, 2012:

Interesting information, thank you for sharing.

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on July 31, 2012:

Hi KenWu, looks like the Tibet crisis will not be resolved in this 14 Dalai Lama's lifetime. Maybe when 15th Dalai Lama arrives, Tibetan's pride will be restored.

Thanks for your comment.

KenWu from Malaysia on July 30, 2012:

That's why 14th Dalai Lama has announced that he will be born in a free world, outside Tibet, namely US or maybe in India itself. I'm not sure how that will change the political landscape for Tibet but for those 'true' Tibetans who oppose the China occupation, whoever that is appointed by the China government will not be recognized, just as the case of the current china appointed Panchern Lama. He is not welcomed in Tibet and no Tibetan would listen to him.

It won't have a big impact on Tibet in short term but over the long term, we can really predict any good.

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on June 27, 2012:

Dear coffeeggnmyrice, thanks for coming back

Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on June 27, 2012:

That is absolutely right, Vinaya! I am glad you mentioned it! I love him!

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on June 27, 2012:

Hello coffeegginmyrice,

His Holiness Dalia Lama is an apostle of peace. He is not only the hope of Tibetan people but also inspiration to the entire world.

Thanks for leaving in depth comment.


Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on June 27, 2012:

Voted thumbs up and interesting, Viyana! I am bookmarking it as well since the Dalai Lama is one of the inspirational people and spiritual leader I give my admiration to. I admire and believe in the simple and humble spiritual teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. They are pure! It is really mesmerizing to watch and listen to the Dalai Lama on video. Thank you for creating this hub. It will truly inspire many hearts!

Thumbs up, voted useful, awesome, beautiful and interesting. Sharing your hub too on FB!

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on June 14, 2012:

Hello Peggy, thanks for reading and leaving a wonderful comment. His Holiness Dalai Lama is very inspiring.

PS: Thanks for following me.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 14, 2012:

What a terrific hub! I had seen that interview in the last video on television but enjoyed watching it all over again. The Dalai Lama has such an infectious laugh and his teachings of peaceful interactions with one another and compassion are all something worth emulating. Many votes up + SHARING.

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on May 16, 2012:

Hi yoginijoy,

I'm also of a view that honor of Tibetan people will be restored in the future.

I believe His Holiness Dalai Lama will guide the world with his message of peace.

Thanks for reading and commenting.


yoginijoy from Mid-Atlantic, USA on May 15, 2012:

Excellent presentation of the Lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. I do hope that the future is not as bleak as you think it will be. The Dali Lama has such a strong spirit of loving-kindness that helps our world! Voting up and awesome!

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on May 04, 2012:

Hi Tammy,

I appreciate your point, we don't have to be Buddhist to apply His Holiness Dalia Lama's teachings in our life.

Thanks for appreciating my work.


Tammy from North Carolina on May 03, 2012:

I learn so much about global issues from reading your work. Though I am not a buddist, I think every human being can learn so much about life from the Dali Lama and his teachings. Exceptional article!

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on April 29, 2012:

Hello poshcoffee,

thanks for reading and taking time to comment.


Steve Mitchell from Cambridgeshire on April 28, 2012:

Great historical article packed full of facts, dates and information. Thanks for sharing this interesting read.

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on April 15, 2012:

Hello LABrashear,

I'm delighted to know that you are aware about the Dalia cult. As a neighbor to Tibet, I'm so much concerned about the Tibetan plight.

Thanks for reading and taking time to comment.


LABrashear from My Perfect Place, USA on April 15, 2012:

The Dali Llama is such an inspiring person. I appreciate your article informing us all of the political implications involved. I knew a bit about how they are chosen, and knew there was some sort of issues but had no clue the extent of the struggle with the Chinese government. Voted up!

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on April 15, 2012:

Dear Angel, I'm not a historian but I love reading and writing on history.

Thanks for your comment.

Angelme566 on April 14, 2012:

Wow only historian can write so broad as this hub... are you writer ? hats off !

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on March 11, 2012:

Hello Missing Link, thanks for stopping by. I will surely check your articles.

Missing Link from Oregon on March 11, 2012:

Excellent hub! I have written articles per this subject area also.

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on March 09, 2012:

Hello SanneL, thanks for your in-depth comment. As a Tibet's neighbor I have always looked on this land of spirituality with awe and sadness at the same time.

SanneL from Sweden on March 09, 2012:

What an enjoyable and educational hub! I have much admiration for Dalai Lama; his kindness, love and his beliefs. It's just so disturbing knowing all the hardship, distress and violence China has brought upon Tibet, and the damage they have made to the Tibetan landscape.

It's very alarming thinking that the Chinese officials may not recognize the new Dalai Lama, when that day comes. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and your hard work, assembling this wonderful hub for us to enjoy.

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on February 24, 2012:

Hello Citizen K, I practice Buddhism and I agree with you. What I'm explaining in this article is what happens when the physical body of current Dalai Lama dies.

Citizen K on February 24, 2012:

The Dalai Lama will never die, he just changes forms!

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on February 17, 2012:

Chinese Communists claim Tibet as their territory, which they had annexed in 1951. If we are to believe Chinese historians, Nepal too, falls into Greater China (Chinese maps published in 1924 and 1954). Refer to Asia Awakes: Dick Wilson, Mentor Book 1971.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on February 16, 2012:

This is a great hub! There is so much detail and information in this hub. I have always admired the Dali Llama. A lot of work went into preparing this hub for us to enjoy. Thanks!

Sueswan on February 15, 2012:

Hi Vinaya,

I found this hub enjoyable as well as educational. Did you know that the Dalai Lama is on facebook?

Here is his post from Monday.

"If we can manage to refrain from harming others in our everyday actions and words, we can start to give more serious attention to actively doing good, and this can be a source of great joy and inner confidence. We can benefit others through our actions by being warm and generous toward them, by being charitable, and by helping those in need."

Voted up and away

Take care

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on February 15, 2012:

China has done considerable damage to the Tibetan landscape, through mining activity and the dumping of nuclear waste in former areas of natural beauty.

Thanks for reading and commenting

Shell-Belle from Mesa on February 14, 2012:

What an informative and helpful hub. Thank you! Voted up and useful and interesting.

StevenKingSampara on February 13, 2012:

What Happens When the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Dies?

Nothing could happen....Life move on for everyone. Maybe China does more XXX politics for the Tibet and that could a headache to the Indian Government.

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on February 13, 2012:

Tibet is dear to Nepal. We share boarder, Buddhism and Tibetan race (people of Manang Mustang and Upper Dolpo.) Nepalese princess Bhrikuti was wedded to Srang Sang Gompo in 639. This Tibetan emperor has also won Chinese territories. As a peace treaty, he married Chinese princess, daughter of Tai Sang.

Thank you all for reading and supporting Tibetan cause.


jenubouka on February 13, 2012:

Incredible Vinaya. I always wondered the depth of history concerning how the Dalai Lama came to be and the heated controversy it held among China. Great read and resourceful!

Ruchira from United States on February 12, 2012:

I knew about how they look for a new leader after the demise of the current Dalai but, the history was invigorating. You helped me fill out a lot of blanks in my mind.

Thank you Vinaya.voted up as useful hub.

b. Malin on February 12, 2012:

This Hub of yours was so Enlightening as well as a good History Lesson Vinaya. A wonderful read and Experience into your knowledgeable mind. Thank You.

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on February 12, 2012:

I wonder if the chosen boy could seek political asylum in another country until he is old enough and time has arrived for him to accept hid position.

radhapriestess on February 12, 2012:

Very well written article on Dalai and Panchen lamas. I found it all interesting since I do not know too much about all the political details of the situation. Many Hindus consider the Buddah to be the 9th incarnation of Vishnu and he is very revered by many. Dalai very well respected in the West by many spiritual teachers.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on February 12, 2012:

Love this Dalai Lama drama Vinaya, so much detail. Dalai Lama (Lhamo Thondup) is a remarkable man and revered and respected in Canada. Regards, snakeslane

iamaudraleigh on February 12, 2012:

You are welcome!

Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on February 12, 2012:

For centuries Tibet was the center of Buddhist culture and learning in the world, but the Chinese occupation ended that. Thanks for reading and sharing your views.

I appreciate your concern.

iamaudraleigh on February 11, 2012:

It provided me with a lot of answers. Great Hub!

Audrey Howitt from California on February 11, 2012:

This is such a great hub Vinaya! I am sharing this!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 11, 2012:

This is very interesting. The belief is foreign to me, yet the history is compelling. Reincarnation is a subject matter that i have been reading about, many believe this to be true. I wonder why the modern church does not acknowledge this to be true? I have been reading 'The church of scientology' book, ' The fundamentals of Thought' That teaches reincarnation as a truth. When i hear the Dalai Lama speak, he seems like a loving person..Much we do not know..Much to learn..Thank you for sharing....

Nell Rose from England on February 11, 2012:

Hi, I remember seeing a tv documentary on this. its disgusting how they have completely sabotaged the whole religion. the whole point of choosing a new Dalai lama is based on reincarnation not the choice of the Chinese government. it wouldn't be allowed anywhere else in the world or any other faith. I love the Dalai Lama, my friend met him when he came to England! really interesting, thanks for sharing, nell

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 11, 2012:

The issues involving the Dalai Lama are complex. I'm wondering who the U.S. will support when he dies. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on February 11, 2012:

Thank you VG for sharing this history with us.. insightful, educational and actually opened my eyes to a whole different view :)

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