Atheist Chinese Government Demands that Dalai Lama Reincarnate

This story absolutely cracks me up. The officially atheist government of China is absolutely throwing a fit because the Dalai Lama says he isn’t going to reincarnate if they don’t relinquish control of his native Tibet. The whole thing is kind of surreal, isn’t it?

The Dalai Lama was denounced Monday by the Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet after suggesting that he will not be reincarnated. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the souls of their leaders are reborn in children upon death, and the People’s Republic of China — an officially atheistic regime — has said the religious tradition must continue.

“If the central government had not approved it, how could he have become the 14th Dalai Lama? He couldn’t. It has a serious procedure,” said Tibet regional governor Padma Choling, an ethnic Tibetan himself, according to Reuters. “I think that, in fact, he is profaning religion and Tibetan Buddhism,” he said on the sidelines of an annual meeting of parliament, adding that the Dalai Lama was trying to usurp Beijing’s right to decide.

“If he says no reincarnation, then no reincarnation? Impossible. Nobody in Tibetan Buddhism would agree to that. We must respect history, respect and not profane Tibetan Buddhism,” Choling said. His statements were some of China’s strongest comments on the topic of Dalai Lama’s succession to date.

China: You better reincarnate, young man, or you’ll be going to bed without dinner.


Uh, guys…reincarnation is bullshit. He couldn’t reincarnate if he wanted to.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • D. C. Sessions

    They’re just arguing over the rules of their role-playing game.

    Sort of like Dungeons and Dragons — sometimes you get a rules lawyer who spoils the fun for everybody.

  • John Pieret

    There is, naturally, a geopolitical aspect to this. The Chinese government wants, through its puppets within Tibetan Buddhism, to select who the next Dalai Lama will be and raise him to be just another good puppet. The present Dalai Lama is trying to call the legitimacy of any successor the Chinese create into question. It’s actually quite clever on his part, even if it is all bullcrap. Bullcrap has a long history of having real effects on geopolitics.

  • theschwa

    In a related story, Jesus announced that if we continue to press for jail time for pedophile priests, he was stop transubstantiating bread into HIm.

  • daved

    Uh, guys…reincarnation is bullshit. He couldn’t reincarnate if he wanted to.

    Yeah, I thought that too, last time around.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    The DL could threaten to reincarnate as a child of a high Chinese Communist Party official and cause all sorts of family crises among the Beijing elite as part of his legacy.

    Or he could announce his intentions to return in California, which would certainly set the New Agers of the Golden State into a fine frenzy.

    Perhaps he could expand his interfaith efforts by saying he’ll come back in a line of royal succession – in the Windsor or al-Saud dynasties, he’ll make up his mind posthumously…

  • Modusoperandi

    Uh, guys…reincarnation is bullshit. He couldn’t reincarnate if he wanted to.

    Wrong. If there’s no such thing as reincarnation, why do babies look like tiny old people?*


    * This Moment in Stoner Philosophy provided by; Pot®.

  • hrafn

    According to Buddhist teachings, is it actually possible to refuse to reincarnate? If so, what happens to the non-reincarnating soul/whatever? Does it remain in limbo? Is it annihilated? Somebody really needs to get out the Official Buddhist Rulebook and adjudicate this.

  • D. C. Sessions

    hrafn, the idea is that the Lama has achieved enlightnement and is free of the Wheel: he no longer needs to reincarnate. However, being such a swell guy he chooses to return to mortal life so that he can serve others.

    So, TTBOMU, he’s totally free to tell the world that he’s done, he’s getting off at the next stop.

  • Marcus Ranum

    It’s important because he’s claiming to derive secular authority because of his reincarnated status. In effect the chinese are saying “put up or shut up.”

  • Marcus Ranum

    I don’t wish ill on anyone but I bet the Chinese are tempted to push the old con artist in front of a bus, “OH YA? Reincarnate THIS!?”

  • 4ozofreason

    No, it really is the Chinese government wanting everything to go smoothly when they try to install their Lama. They tried to claim they had the true DL decades ago when the last one died, but nobody really bought it because, hey, obvious power grab is obvious.

  • hoku

    I guess I don’t understand Tibetan Buddhism, but if you believe in reincarnation why would it be up to the central government who he reincarnates into? Is there a bureaucracy in the afterlife that needs the proper forms?

  • A Masked Avenger

    hrafn, as Sessions said, Tibetan Buddhism is of the mahayana (greater vehicle) variety. Mahayana traditions go the Buddha one better, and say that while enlightenment is awesome, it’s even awesomer to postpone nirvana in order to guide others to enlightenment. More or less the defining difference between mahayana and older forms of Buddhism is taking a vow to be a “guide to enlightenment” (boddhisatva), deferring your own nirvana for the sake of others.

    The brilliance of the Dalai Lama’s move is that he is effectively destroying Tibetan Buddhism as it exists today. This terrifies China because (a) they lose the ability to control the populace through a puppet Dalai Lama, and (b) the effect in Tibet will be severely destabilizing. All for the low, low price of announcing, “I’ve decided not to reincarnate.”

  • llewelly


    Is there a bureaucracy in the afterlife that needs the proper forms?

    I don’t think the Tibetan Buddhists believe in a bureaucratic afterlife, but in the rest of China, belief in a bureaucratic afterlife has a history going back over a thousand years. And the current government may not literally believe in any afterlife at all, but clearly they think the tradition is politically useful.

    The Chinese government has a long history of legislating reincarnation in order to cynically manipulate those who believe in it. In that respect, they are akin to the atheists Dave Silverman keeps trying to recruit at CPAC.

    I guess the Tibetan Buddhists who remain in China don’t have much choice but to co-operate with the illusion that the legislation controls reincarnation. Perhaps they think the legislation is absurd, but they don’t dare say so on the internet.

    And the Dalai Lama has a long history of trying to use theological propaganda to de-legitimize the Chinese legislation.

  • Modusoperandi

    You’re missing the bigger picture.

    This is due to issues in Bejing, not Tibet. The Chinese Legislative branch is threatening to defund the DHS unless Chairman Obama rolls back his Executive Order putting illegal reincarnators at the back of the line for de-reincarnation.

  • John Hinkle

    Reminds me of this oldie:

    Reintarnation – to die and come back as a hillbilly.

  • Trebuchet

    Nothing new. See also the Panchen Lama, of which there are currently two: One backed by the Chinese Government, and the other (who has been disappeared by the Chinese) by the Dalai Lama.

  • michaelbusch

    @4ozofreason @11:

    You have confused things a bit. Lhamo Dondrub / Tenzin Gyatso was selected as the current Dalai Lama by a search group of other Lamas in 1939, when he was 2 years old. He assumed authority in 1950; despite the objections of various Chinese leaders at the time. The Chinese government took over Lhasa and control of Tibet in 1951; which was disputed by many Tibetans, leading to the 1959 rebellion – at which time Tenzin Gyatso fled south to India.


    You are likely thinking of the case of the Panchen Lama, who was arguably the second-most-senior lama in the Tibetan government prior to the Chinese government taking over the place. The selection of the 10th Panchen Lama, in 1937; was contentious. The Tibetan government endorsed one kid, a group of lamas tasked with the selection endorsed another – Choekyi Gyaltsen; who eventually assumed the position. Choekyi Gyaltsen supported the Kuomintang and later the PRC government (which then imprisoned him for a while). Later in his life, Choekyi Gyaltsen gave up his vows as a Buddhist monk, married a Han Chinese woman, and had a daughter. He died in 1989.


    The selection of the 11th Panchen Lama is disputed. The Dalai Lama, working by representatives, endorsed one Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in 1995. At that point, the PRC government charged the Dalai Lama’s chief representative with treason; and Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family disappeared. The PRC government states that the family was relocated only for their protection and privacy, but has denied all requests by third-parties to meet with them. A PRC-approved committee then endorsed Gyaincain Norbu, who was selected by lottery from an unknown group of kids, as the 11th Panchen Lama. The Tibetan government-in-exile has roundly rejected this.


    As well as the early Panchen Lamas having power in the Tibetan government, one of the Panchen Lama’s traditional duties has been selecting the next Dalai Lama. So the PRC government’s interest in having interfered with the Panchen Lama selection is clear. It also disappears if the Dalai Lama is pleased to discontinue the entire game.

  • Synfandel


  • busterggi

    It must be boring to reincarnate into the same job forever.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Neither side has any interest in reincarnation – that’s something for the idiot public to play with.

    The Dali Lama is threatening revolution: “If you don’t give me what I want I’ll encourage the Tibetans to revolt against you.” (by ending the run of Dali Lamas)

    The Chinese government is responding: “Don’t threaten us with revolution. (and don’t try to start one by telling the Tibetans there will be no more Dali Lamas)

  • Acitta

    It is incorrect to say that Tibetans believe that the souls of their leaders reincarnate. Buddhist teaching is that there is no soul (doctrine of anatta or anatman). Rebirth happens through the mechanism of “dependent origination” which is the idea that everything is a product of previous causes and conditions and are in turn causes of other things. There are no self existing entities in Buddhist teaching.

  • lorn

    It is a bit of ‘inside baseball’ but I suspect that the real discussion is not to reincarnate or not, but rather it is the nature of the claim surrounding the mythical event.

    The Dali Lama could chose to speak of reincarnation in a well regulated manner within a Chinese dominated but unoccupied Tibet, or to assert that his spirit may pop up randomly somewhere in the much wider area. The former would minimize disruption to the Chinese political system. The later could be quite disruptive. Assertion of a local boy being the Dali lama could result in existing resentments coming to fore and local ethnic minorities demanding more control and resisting Communist Part leadership. Also there may be multiple claims scattered across the Chinese continent.

    The potential for internal conflict and turmoil is not welcomed by the central government.

  • Danny De Jayeff

    It’s times like this that I’m glad I’m an Atheist (though the nice kind!).

    The Believers must be absolutely apoplectic over this.

    I guess some of the Chinese government officials (NOT the nice kind) too.

    The Buddhist faith is often idealized by Western Liberals, but in the end its just a kinder, gentler version of B.S.