Since going into exile from Tibet in 1959 when he was just a teenager, Tenzin Gyato, the man we know as the Dalai Lama, has become an international celebrity and the highest of all high-profile supporters of Tibetan autonomy. A “Dalai Lama” is the leader of the “Gelug” school of Tibetan Buddhism. Each Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Tenzin Gyato is the 14th; there may or may not be a 15th.
If there is a 15th Dalai Lama, and if the Gelug Buddhists use the traditional method of finding his reincarnation, Buddhist monks led by the Panchen Lama will recite Buddhist scripture at Khamo Latso, the Oracle Lake, waiting for a vision that will direct them to a place where they should look. Once they have the vision they’ll go to that place, find babies born when the Dalai Lama passed away, and observe each to see if his particular characteristics that may indicate he is the Dalai Lama’s “soul boy.” For example, a monk will provide the potential young child with a variety of objects. The real “soul boy” will pick the former Dalai Lama’s objects and discard the rest. Once the Panchen Lama is pretty sure he’s found the right child he’ll bring him to the central government where other monks will test him again to confirm. If there are several potential soul boys and all pass the preliminary tests, the monks will conduct a “gold urn lottery.” Literally, they’ll write each of the boys’ names on a scrap of paper, put the scarps in the urn, shake it up, pick one, and…voila! We’ll have the next Dalai Lama.
For a fascinating in-depth look at this procedure, rent the documentary “Unmistaken Child: The Search for a Reincarnated Lama,” which follows a monk who is given the job of finding the reincarnation of his deceased teacher.
What is a Dalai Lama? | The 14th Dalai Lama’s official website | The 14th Dalai Lama’s Facebook Page — almost a million friends! How to find a reincarnated Lama | The kidnapping of the Panchen Lama| Even more amazingly interesting facts about the Dalai Lama