A Conversation with the Dalai Lama

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I understand you're going to meet with a group of Tibetan spiritual leaders in November to discuss your succession. What issues will be on the table?
On the last few occasions when we get religious leaders together, I raised this issue. Chinese Communists are very much concerned about my reincarnation! [Laughs] So we need to discuss.

The concrete decisions are not yet finalized. One thing is quite sure. After all, the Dalai Lama reincarnation means my reincarnation, my rebirth. So logically, this is a matter of my decision. No one else — even spiritual leaders. My next life is entirely up to me.

But the Chinese government says they get to decide on all reincarnations, including yours. This is quite controversial. The Communists are not only nonbelievers, but they also consider Tibetan Buddhism poisonous. So they deliberately try to minimize Tibetan Buddhism. Should people who try to minimize or eliminate Tibetan Buddhism interfere about rebirth? It's quite strange, really. Quite funny. They are only thinking about political power in Lhasa. That's silly. I think it is better for them to remain completely neutral. Or it would be more logical for the Chinese to say, "There should not be any reincarnation."

Does it bother you that people speak so much about your death?
No, not at all. In Newark last month, a French journalist raised the issue. I took off my glasses and ask him, "According to your judgment of my face, the reincarnation question is rather a hurry or not?" And he said, "No hurry!" [Laughs]

Do you find yourself leaning toward a more traditional method of selecting the next Dalai Lama — your reincarnation — similar to the way you were discovered?
At this moment, I feel I can wait another 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. Then we'll see the situation. If the Tibetan people still want to keep this institution, and want to follow the traditional way, then they will use past experience: a search for a young boy who has some special significance.

As far as where the boy is born, that I have made clear. If I die as a refugee, one still carrying the Tibetan struggle, then the reincarnation logically must be found outside of Tibet. The very purpose of re­incarnation is to carry on the work started in the previous life. So logically, if the previous person dies outside of Tibet as a refugee, the reincarnation must be found that way. Otherwise, it creates more trouble.

Can you foresee the challenges your successor, the 15th Dalai Lama, might face?
By my resignation, I already made the role separate from the political world. So it will be much safer for the next Dalai Lama. Now, if the 15th Dalai Lama is not fit to be head of government, no problem. Whatever he can do as a spiritual leader, he can do. Not very smart? OK! [Laughs]

Some traditions of Tibetan Buddhism suggest that a boy born before the death of a high lama could actually be his reincarnation. Do you believe that the 15th Dalai Lama could already be alive today?
It is possible. At least two modern lamas before their death said, "This boy who already is alive is my reincarnation." If it fits, after some investigation, then it is possible.

If in fact this boy is alive today, would you take part in his training?
If I'm too old, then I don't know! [Laughs]

You've been keeping a close watch on the uprisings in the Middle East. Do you think that the Arab Spring movement could have implications for Tibet?
That's difficult to say. Authoritarian systems are the same around the world. But in China, economic development really brings some benefit to large number of Chinese people. That is the difference.

Immediately after the crisis in Tunisia and Egypt, there was some sort of impact in the minds of young Chinese intellectuals. So the Chinese government has become very, very nervous. They see danger from within. But the Chinese authoritarian system is quite tight. Their domestic-security budget is more than their budget for national defense.
Many people believe that the coming generation of leadership in China — because of their young age, because of the Internet, because of large number of Chinese students studying abroad — that their knowledge about the outside world is much better. I think definitely things will change. Definitely. That is our view. And also many Chinese have that view.

Do you remember where you were the moment you heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed? What was your reaction?
Long Beach, California. I felt, of course, sad. Then, not that simple. Very complex.

Since my childhood, I feel very bad about the death sentence. In 1945 or 1946, when I was 10 years old, they hanged German leaders at the Nuremberg war-crime trials. I saw pictures in Life magazine. I felt very sad. Then some Japanese leaders also. These people were already defeated. Killing them was not as a sort of a precaution, but simply revenge.

Then when Saddam Hussein hanged, I saw the picture. Very sad. No longer a threat. Old, defeated person. Give mercy rather than kill, I really think.

So the same thinking with bin Laden, also a defeated person. Since the tragedy of September 11th, I express that if handling this problem goes wrong, then today one bin Laden, after some time, 10 bin Ladens, then 100 bin Ladens could be possible. On September 12th, I wrote a letter to President Bush, since I had developed close friendship with him. I expressed my condolences, sadness. Meantime, I also express that handling this problem, I hope nonviolent.

Of course, I know thousands of Americans were killed. Unexpected, in peaceful times. Really, very bad. I know. I can feel what they are feeling. So ordinary person, in the name of justice and also some kind of feeling of revenge, they feel very happy to some extent [about bin Laden]. Another way to look at it, a defeated person has been killed.

The best way to solve these problems is in the spirit of reconciliation. Talk. Listen. And discuss. That's the only way.

Does evil exist in the world?
The seed of evil, from my viewpoint, is hate. On that level, we can say that everyone has that seed. As far as sort of potential of murder is concerned, every person has that potential. Hatred. Anger. Suspicion. These are the potentials of negative acts.

There is also the potential for mercy. Forgiveness. Tolerance. These also, everyone has this potential.

Evil means that the negative potential has become manifest. The positive remains dormant. Those people who actually love hatred, who deliberately always practice anger, hatred — that's evil.

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