The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the Tibetan government-in-exile, based in Dharamshala in northern India, has announced that the 13th Religious Conference of the Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition, has been postponed indefinitely.
The summit of senior religions leaders of Vajrayana Buddhism and the Bon spiritual tradition was scheduled to have taken place from 29 November–1 December in McLeod Ganj. More than 150 invitations had reportedly been sent to lineage holders and the heads of monasteries in Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Tibet. Among the expected dignitaries was His Holiness the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who has recently been residing in the United States.
A circular published by the CTA’s Department of Religion and Culture, attributed the cancelation of the summit to the unexpected passing of the supreme head of the Nyingma tradition, Kathok Getse Rinpoche, who passed away in Nepal on 19 November.* In the circular, the Department of Religion and Culture noted that many Nyingma lamas and representatives would be unable to participate in the gathering because of activities associated with Rinpoche’s death.
On 22 November, the CTA organized a prayer service for Kathok Getse Rinpoche, who passed away following an accident in Pharping, Nepal, at the age of 64.
There has also been some uncertainty over the attendance of top-level representatives from major Nyingma monasteries, amid fears that participation by lamas from Tibet could draw the ire of Beijing.
Among the topics to be addressed by the conference’s esteemed participants were the challenges facing Vajrayana Buddhism in the contemporary wold, including recent allegations of abuse and misconduct directed at certain high-profile teachers, as well the highly sensitive and politically charged topic of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s future incarnation.
The Dalai Lama has publicly stated that preparations to determine how his successor would be found will not happen until he reaches the age of 90, in 2025, when he would first consult with Tibetan Buddhist authorities about whether to even continue the Dalai Lama institution. He has more recently hinted that the process would begin as soon as 2018, and has at times sugested that he may not reincarnate at all.
“There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won’t come next, who will disgrace himself or herself,” the Dalai Lama said in an interview with the BBC in 2014. “That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama.” (BBC)
Earlier this month, His Holiness told media representatives in Japan that succession of the office could take place through nomination, instead of reincarnation. “I think sooner or later, we should start that kind of practice,” he was quoted as saying. (Nikkei Asian Review)
China’s government, which accuses His Holiness of being a divisive element, or “splittist,” who encourages violence and separatist activity in ethnically Tibetan parts of China, has previously insisted that only it has the final authority over reincarnation affairs of the office of the Dalai Lama.
In a public statement in 2011, the 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate said, “Reincarnation is a phenomenon which should take place either through the voluntary choice of the concerned person or at least on the strength of his or her karma, merit, and prayers. Therefore, the person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized. It is a reality that no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her.” (The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama)
The next Dalai Lama would be the 15th incarnation over a continuous period of some 500 years. The current 14th Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa in 1959 after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army occupied Tibet, fleeing to India, which is now home to approximately 100,000 Tibetans living in exile.
It is also widely believed that the 33-year-old Karmapa could eventually succeed the Dalai Lama as the principal figurehead of Tibetan Buddhism, and by extension Tibetan communities around the world. Political commentators say that New Delhi has been softening its stance toward the Karmapa in the hope of benefiting from His Holiness’ influence in the global Buddhist community and improving relations with Beijing.
The Karmapa, a vocal advocate for female monasticism, and environmental awareness and sustainability, has been residing in the United States since October last year after extending his stay when a general health check-up revealed some causes for concern.** In August, the Karmapa announced his intention to return to India later this year, saying, “I have no doubt or question that my return to India is absolutely certain,” and noting that he had been discussing his return with the Indian government.***
Since October, His Holiness has been traveling using a new passport issued by the Commonwealth of Dominica, having given up his Identity Certificate, a document issued by the CTA to allow international travel as the Indian government does not issue passports for Tibetan refugees.
* His Holiness Kathok Getse Rinpoche, Seventh Head of the Nyingma School, Passes Away in Nepal (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Karmapa Extends Stay in US, Health Concerns Cited (Buddhistdoor Global)
*** His Holiness the Karmapa Shares Plans to Return to India (Buddhistdoor Global)
13th Religious Conference of the Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition postponed indefinitely (Central Tibetan Administration)
13th Tibetan Religious Leaders Conference indefinitely postponed (ANI)
Dalai Lama says high priests to discuss adult successor (Nikkei Asian Review)
Reincarnation (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Dalai Lama institution ‘will cease one day’ (BBC)