It's my understanding that the belief in Tibetan Buddhism is that when a Lama is reborn he (not meaning to be sexist, but I know of no female Lamas - please let me know if I'm wrong) becomes that same Lama again. From a western viewpoint, it might be said his soul is put into a new body and he returns as the same Lama in the new body.

However, recent comments by the Dalai Lama have me wondering about this. It seems he wants to be reborn in order to continue helping others, but without becoming the Dalai Lama again. (It has been speculated that there may be political motivation to this, as the Chinese want to designate the next Dalai Lama.) However, wouldn't the 14th Dalai Lama become the 15th Dalai Lama if he is reborn? Would a Lama be able to end a series of Lamas even though he is reborn? (I have heard of Lama lines ending, but it's my understanding that the belief is that the Lama chose not to reborn.)

Or is my understanding here completed off base?


4 Answers 4


Because Buddhism denies the notion of "self", it does not have a concept of Avatar, as someone literally being a reincarnation of the same "self".

Tibetan Buddhism does have a notion of Tulku though, which is similar. Tulku is a new person that inherits the life stories and experiences of a previous person. This is done through teaching this person to deliberately identify with their predecessor, to learn predecessor's history, and to carry on his or her work.

Because the new person's life is so heavily influenced and inspired by the predecessor, we can say that the new person is an embodiment of the abstract energy of the previous one.

The case with your specific question, any person, and even multiple people, regardless of status or title or role, could be designated as Tulkus of Dalai Lama, but to truly qualify as such, the person would need to seriously work on their identity as an embodiment of Dalai Lama's heritage.

  • that's a really interesting post, thanks, i haven't read much on tibetan buddhism, and it hadn't clicked that's what 'Tulku' means. does your comment apply to all buddhism, the idea of abstract energy rather than series of dharnas?
    – user2512
    Jul 30, 2017 at 22:09
  • I think so. Different schools would have different interpretations, but this is how I see it.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jul 31, 2017 at 1:58
  • maybe i misunderstood, seems like what is reborn is "the continuity of subtle clarity and awareness", which is what i thought in the 1st place
    – user2512
    Jul 31, 2017 at 5:27
  • but i don't wnt to sound skeptical, what you said about the nirmanakaya of buddhas being reborn in the abstract is EXACTLY what i believe. what is the best scholarhsip on that, where did you get it from, etc.?
    – user2512
    Jul 31, 2017 at 5:42

Actually, the person is empty of inherent existence. It is also empty of being a car or a boat, and so forth. However, a person is not empty of being a person. In the same way, John is empty of inherent existence, but is not empty of being John.

Far from being contradictory, it is precisely because a person is empty of inherent existence that a person is able to perform the function of a person.

We believe that after death, John's continuum (which is neither inherently existent, nor John, but just one of the basis of designation of John) is going to take on new bodily aggregates. To come to understand better this issue, you will have to ascertain the [meaning of] the object of negation.

I know even of monks who argue that "H.H. the Dalaï-Lama was reborn as a Tibetan for at least 14 times, whereby he mastered Tibetan every time, so that makes him an authority, not only with regard Dharma, but also in relation to Tibetan language itself. The normalization of Tibetan language should thus consider H.H. the Dalaï-Lama's use of Tibetan language the valid use."


There's a Statement of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, on the Issue of His Reincarnation (September 24th 2011), which includes a description of "Tulku".


Metempsychosis (Greek: μετεμψύχωσις), in philosophy, is the transmigration of the soul, especially its reincarnation after death. The term is derived from ancient Greek philosophy, and has been recontextualised by modern philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer2 and Kurt Gödel;[3] otherwise, the term transmigration is more appropriate. The word plays a prominent role in James Joyce's Ulysses and is also associated with Nietzsche.[4] Another term sometimes used synonymously is palingenesis. ~ Wikipedia


@Tenzin Dorje's answer is interesting. The Western concept of reincarnation (soul transmigration) is easier on the mind than the Buddhist one; the latter is, to say the least, rather counterintuitive and hence the question I suppose.

We might need to discuss identity. For instance what makes the Dalai lama XIV the Dalai lama XIV and what is it about the Dalai lama XV that connects him/her to the Dalai lama XIV?

  • This doesn't look like an answer to the question. Is this an answer to the question or is it a comment? Or do you intend to create a new question?
    – ruben2020
    Dec 14, 2022 at 8:57
  • If it's irrelevant, I'd be happy to delete my post. Do let me know. It was meant to further the discussion by pointing to relevant concepts (identity) and differences in Eastern and Western ideas on reincarnation. I tried creating a new question but it was rejected (duplication).
    – Hudjefa
    Dec 14, 2022 at 9:26

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