DHARMSALA, India -- The Dalai Lama said Saturday if he is to be reincarnated he will leave clear written instructions about the process, but that the matter is unlikely to come up for a number of years.
The Tibetan spiritual leader said in a statement that when he is "about 90" he will consult Buddhist scholars to evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue at all. He is 76.
The statement came after a meeting between the Dalai Lama and the leaders of the four Tibetan Buddhist sects, the first since he transferred his political role earlier this year to an elected prime minister.
China reviles the Dalai Lama as a separatist, although the Nobel Peace Prize laureate insists he is only seeking increased autonomy for Tibet. Beijing has left little doubt that it intends to be deeply involved in choosing the next Dalai Lama. That concern has led the current Dalai Lama to contemplate ideas that break with the ancient system in which each dead Dalai Lama is reincarnated in the body of a male child.
In May, the Dalai Lama formally stepped down as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, giving up the political power that he and his predecessors have wielded over Tibetans for hundreds of years. Though he remains the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, his decision to abdicate is one of the biggest upheavals in the community since a Chinese crackdown led him to flee Tibet in 1959 into exile in India.
China insists that religious law requires that the Dalai Lama's reincarnation be born in a Tibetan area under Chinese control. However, the Dalai Lama has said his successor will be born in exile and has even floated the idea of choosing his own successor while still alive – perhaps even a woman.
In his statement Saturday, he said if the institution of the Dalai Lama were to continue, then he would leave behind "clear written instructions about it."
"Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People's Republic of China," he said.
The Dalai Lama has lived in the Indian hill town of Dharmsala since fleeing Tibet. China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries.