The Dalai Lama told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in a recent interview that he sees no need for a successor to follow him. The Tibetan leader told the paper:
"We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries. The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us then finish with a popular Dalai Lama."
The institution of the Dalai Lama as the head monk in Tibetan Buddhism is fairly recent in the scope of the religion, as the current Dalai Lama is only the 14th in history with the first Dalai Lama born in 1391.
Perhaps none has held the position with as much popularity and esteem as the current Dalai Lama does, which is another reason he noted for discontinuing the tradition.
“If a weak Dalai Lama comes along, then it will just disgrace the Dalai Lama," he said.
In addition to his position as the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama plays a major role as the political voice of the Tibetan people, who have suffered decades of conflict with the Chinese government. Ganden Thurman, Executive Director of Tibet House US, told The Huffington Post that by denying the need for a successor, the Dalai Lama may also be charting a course for a more democratic Tibet moving forward.
"His Holiness is looking for the resolution to the China issue and for [the Tibetan people's] own governance," Thurman said. "Both of those issues are looking for what's best for the Tibetan people."
Thurman went on to explain how the Tibetan government had, in the past, looked to the Dalai Lama to make most political decisions. But Thurman feels that if Tibet is to flourish beyond the life of its prominent leader, a more democratic system may be needed.
"I have understood that the Tibetan government in exile has, lead by the Dalai Lama, taken pains to democratize and have a representational form of government," Thurman told HuffPost.
Although the search for a new Dalai Lama typically begins immediately after the death of the previous one, Tibetan Buddhism is characterized by a substantial network of lamas and monks who nurture spiritual education in the community, as the Dalai Lama pointed out.
"Tibetan Buddhism is not dependent on one individual. We have a very good organizational structure with highly trained monks and scholars."
Thurman echoed that, for many Tibetan Buddhists, the relationship that holds most daily significance is the one between practitioner and teacher. With his extensive travel schedule and political duties, the Dalai Lama has difficulty maintaining close teacher-student relationships.
The Dalai Lama, who said he hopes to live to be 113 years old, was born in 1935 and identified as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of two. Thus his entire life has been spent in the spiritual discipline of the role, with the last half century characterized by his exile from and political discord with China.
At 79, the Dalai Lama told the newspaper he hopes to reincarnate into the world after dying in order to continue his work serving humanity.
"I hope and pray that I may return to this world as long as sentient beings' suffering remains. I mean not in the same body, but with the same spirit and the same soul."
If he is succeeded by a 15th Dalai Lama, after all, the Dalai Lama said in 2013 that he would not be opposed to a woman successor -- and even thought it could be the better option for Tibet.
"I think it would be good," the Dalai Lama told an interviewer with the U.K.'s Channel 4 News. "Now we are in the 21st century… Females have more potential regarding the promotion of human compassion."