The 14th Dalai Lama is about 80 now. How will the next one be chosen or elected? Does the Dalai Lama himself decide, and has this already been decided? Are they, like the Catholics, 'voting' on candidates? Is it like the different sects take "turns", so for example now it's the Nyingmas turn to have the Dalai Lama? If someone is picked, can he refute?

And is there any chance for the Tibetans to get a female Dalai Lama?


3 Answers 3


The reincarnation of a lama isn't chosen or elected. He or she is found.

Man or woman

Historically the Dalai Lama has always been a man, but it has been my understanding that there is no rule that the next Dalai Lama can't be a woman. In fact, according to this news article the Dalai Lama once said that

If a woman reveals herself as more useful the lama could very well be reincarnated in this form.

This is confirmed in this interview where the Dalai Lama:

... also said half-jokingly that if the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is female, she must be very attractive. The reason is so that she will have more influence on others. If she is an ugly female, she won’t be very effective, will she?

No reincarnation

In recent years, the Dalai Lama has also mentioned that he might be the last one. According to this BBC news article:

Whether another Dalai Lama came after him would depend on the circumstances after his death and was "up to the Tibetan people"


"The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease," the Dalai Lama told the BBC.

These remarks were most likely politically motivated, because China very much wants to find the next Dalai Lama so they can 'control' him/her, just like they did with the Panchen Lama.

Finding a reincarnation

Suppose the Dalai Lama decides to come back after all. When a great Bodhisattva dies he1 can control the time and place of his rebirth. This is called the Tulku system and it makes sure that knowledge from a certain lineage is passed on. After his death a committee of high-ranked lamas of the same tradition as the deceased will gather with the task to find the reincarnation. This process can take several years and the committee will generally use a variety of sources.

In the case of the Dalai Lama it's customary to start with consulting the Nechung Oracle. If the Dalai Lama is cremated the direction in which the smoke goes is also an important sign. It's possible for a prominent lama to have a vision or dream that reveals important details that help in finding him (e.g. certain characteristics of the location). Sometimes the deceased has left clues (e.g. a letter or specific personal objects) as to where he will be reborn.

Once a reincarnation is found, he will be tested to confirm that the right person has been found. For example, the 14th Dalai Lama was found at age 2 and one of his tests was to identify which items belonged to his predecessor.

If you are interested in this, there are a few films and documentaries that show how finding a reincarnation works. For example the (somewhat) popular movie Kundun starts with this IIRC, and I can recommend the documentary Unmistaken child, but that one may be harder to find.

1 for ease of reference I will use the words 'he/him' from here on, but as I mentioned earlier it can be a she/her.


See the Statement of the Dalai Lama on the Issue of His Reincarnation at http://www.dalailama.com/messages/statement-of-his-holiness-the-fourteenth-dalai-lama-tenzin-gyatso-on-the-issue-of-his-reincarnation.

  • 1
    I voted this up because of the link to the article. Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 10:49

If someone is picked, can he refute?

Someone was picked (found) when very young. This Dalai Lama Biography says,

After several months of searching for a successor to the 13th Dalai Lama and following many significant spiritual signs, religious officials located Lhamo Thondup, at age 2, and identified him as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.

I don't know whether the parents could refuse (e.g. if monks come to the house and say "We've come to test whether your son is the Dalai Lama" whether the parents could say "Oh I'm sure he couldn't be because etc.").

There may be some kind of trial period. This article about Dalai Lama says,

The monks knew they had found the reincarnation of their leader. Lhamo was two years old at the time.

The monks took Lhamo to a monastery in Kumbum, Tibet. For two years he was given the basic education he would need to lead his country both spiritually and politically. After this he was brought to the Potala palace in Lhasa, the capital of the country. The Potala palace is a structure of over one thousand rooms built into a mountain. There he took his place on the Lion Throne, a richly carved, wooden throne covered with jewels. He was only four years old on February 22, 1940, when the monks declared that he was the new Dalai Lama.

The article At Home With the Dalai Lama says,

I also know that he wasn't a particularly good student when he was young. He had a mercurial temper and was impulsive. Monastic disciplines like meditation and scriptural study did not come naturally to him.

"Around seven or eight," the Dalai Lama told me in an earlier meeting, a mischievous gleam in his eyes, "I had no interest in study. Only play. But one thing: my mind since young, quite sharp, can learn easily. This brings laziness. So my tutor always keep one whip, a yellow whip, by his side. When I saw the yellow whip, the holy whip for holy student the Dalai Lama, I studied. Out of fear. Even at that age I know, if I study, no holy pain."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .