Allotted Lamas

It turns out that allotting lamas has been a state sanctioned system since 1792, and the modern day Chinese are adherents:

As the Dalai Lama ages, speculation swirls around the mystery of his reincarnation – and the question of who will assume religious and political leadership of the Tibetan diaspora after he dies.

The Dalai Lama has played with the idea of controlling his reincarnation and possibly designating his successor before he dies, in order to pre-empt Chinese efforts to control the selection of the next Dalai Lama, as they did for the current Panchen Lama.

Regardless of what novel methods the Dalai Lama adopts, conflict instigated by China – and divisions that dilute the authority and prestige of the exile religious establishment headquartered in Dharmsala, India – are inevitable.

The new governor of the Tibetan Autonomous Region declared that designation of the next Dalai Lama would strictly adhere to the state-controlled model dating to the Qing Dynasty: selection by lot from a golden urn under government supervision.

The Dalai Lama has apparently been grooming the young leader of the Kagyu or Black Hat sect – the Karmapa – as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism in exile.

3 Responses

  1. This is a tricky one! Gataker is adamant that the lot should not be used to pick priests etc., yet here we have Bhuddists doing just that. I came across a similar report from Tibet 2 years back as follows: (this from my website)

    103 Abbots to be chosen by drawing names from a traditional golden urn
    China revives a Buddhist tradition in Tibet
    BUDDHIST HISTORY is being embraced by communist China in a move which is likely to enhance its control of Tibet. A remarkable 18th-century method of choosing senior religious figures within Tibetan society has recently been reintroduced on a larger scale by the Chinese authorities as a way of appointing influential religious leaders in Tibet.
    Until now, Tibetan monks have chosen most of their religious leaders (abbots, etc) by combing the land for children who are believed to be reincarnations of previous incumbents. Now the Chinese government has said that all reincarnates have to have state approval and that senior ones have to be appointed through a system that was used back in Manchu limes. The system for senior appointments sees names of reincarnated candidates placed in a 2011-year-old golden urn from which the winning “ticket” (an ivory stick with an individual’s details written on it) is drawn. The Chinese government plans to use a golden urn to help choose all Tibet’s most senior religious leaders. However, there are two golden urns. One is kept in Lhasa in Tibet and the other is in the Chinese capital, Beijing.
    The tradition of using a golden urn as an ostensibly divinatory device was introduced by the Manchu dynasty Chinese emperor Qianlong in 1793. However, in many cases, the system wasn’t divinatory at all, because the monks often saw to it that the name of the particular child they had selected appeared on all the ivory sticks in the urn. Despite this, the appearance of central Chinese power was enhanced by the fact that it was the imperial government’s representative who presided over the drawing of the “ticket” out of the urn.
    By once again becoming involved in the selection of ostensibly reincarnated religious leaders in Tibet, China’s otherwise totally atheist government is massively expanding the scale on which it engages with a religious system of inheritance-through-reincarnation that goes back even further than the original golden urn ceremony. The tradition began in 1283 when a top Tibetan religious leader died leaving a will stating that, despite death, he would continue as their leader through reincarnation. The leader also left detailed instructions as to where exactly his reincarnated self could be found.
    Report by David Keys in BBC History Magazine p9 February 2008


  2. I would assume the Chinese endorse selection of Tibetan religious leaders by lot for more or less the same reason that Darius argued for using a “natural lottery” to select the king of Persia–because of the obvious potential for manipulation and “stacking the deck.” (Darius proposed that the king be whichever Persian general owned the first horse to neigh during a particular ride, and then ensured that his own horse would surely do it first. Or so says Herodotus.)


  3. […] another example where religious organizations use a lottery to choose leaders. Previously we heard of Tibetan Bhuddists who chose their Abbot by a similar procedure. So it’s good enough for […]


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