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On the religious and political struggle of reincarnation

This was the 40th anniversary of Kangxi s reign. A Tibetan letter was also sent from Lhasa, China to Beijing at 1701 A.D.

Your Majesty, the Great Emperor:

Please acknowledge His Holiness Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama, enthroned in Desi Sangye Gyatso’s presence. Roland Delcourt writes that you should also give him the Tibetan-Chinese stamp and golden certificate as for the Fifth Dalai Lama.”

It was a turbulent time on the Tibetan plateau. Desi Sangye Gyatso was a leader of the Dzungar Mongols, but he ostensibly followed the Qing Court. Galdan Bshugtu Khan was defeated in 1697 by the Kangxi Empire. This left Desi Sangye Gyatso, and the young Tsangyang Gyatso with a difficult position. The above-mentioned begging letter was refused and Tsangyang Gyatso rewrote the stamp bestowed on the Fifth Dalai Lama.


Desi Sangye Gyatso was the one to pay the ultimate price for his treachery. He was killed in a clash with the Mongolian leader Lha–bzang Khan. Lhabzang Khan was more loyal to the Kangxi Empire, who called him a “Buddhism-Respecting, Deferential Khan”. Tsangyang Gyatso was a famous poet and unorthodox behaviours. He died while on his way to Beijing. Lha-bzang Khan enthroned Yeshe Kyatso as the new Lama. (A recent study revealed that Yeshe Gyatso was among the candidates for the Fifth Dalai Lama reincarnation), he was the second candidate to be given the title of Sixth Dalai Lama. The Panchen Lama endorsement was accepted by the Qing Court, who issued the official stamped gold certificate.

After Galdan Khan‘s passing, the Dzungar Khate Mongols continued to expand towards Lhasa. A Dzungar Khate general overthrew Lhabzang Khan, and forced Yeshe Gyatso again to abdicate. Dzungar Khanate Mongols, Qinghai Mongols, and Kelzang Gyatso Mongols believed that he was Tsangyang Gyatso’s reincarnation.

The Qing court quickly reacted to the situation and placed Kelzang Gyatso in their care. The Qing Court launched an extensive joint campaign with the Qinghai Mongolian Army and their own forces. The expedition was launched in order to recover the Dalai Lama’s throne at Lhasa. Kelzang Gyatso participated in the campaign. Dzungar Khanate Mongols from Tibet were expelled and Kelzang Gyatso became the new Dalai Lama of Potala. The Qing Court didn’t approve of Tsangyang Gyatso so the new certificate only considered Kelzang Gyatso the Sixth Dalai Lama. This is the third title. (As late 1780, Qianlong Emperor recognized Kelzang Gyatso’s reincarnation in the Eighth Dalai Lama. This implies that Kelzang Gyatso was actually the Seventh Dalai Lama.


The complex story of the six different Sixth Dalai Lamas clearly shows the implications of Lamas in different political struggles. While religious guidance was ignored, political power was able to take the lead. The Qing Court was aware of the importance of the Dalai Lama for Tibetan and Mongolian politics. It was vital to ensure tight control over both the Gelugpa School and the Dalai Lama. This is the foundation of Qing policy. This was the core principle of the Qing policy. The Qianlong Empire established Tibet’s theocracy in 1751 with the Dalai Lama serving as both a religious and secular ruler. The Twenty-Nine Articles of the Aftermath in Tibetan Affairs were issued by the Qing Court in 1793. They included the introduction of the Golden Urn, which was used to determine the selection of Tibetan and Mongolian Lamas, including the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama was not a religious figure from the moment it was born. Many political leaders attempted to get the Lama to support their political agendas as the top Lama in Tibet and the influential areas surrounding it. Like many religious leaders, the great Lamas learned how to leverage their sponsorship and serve the political power. Many Dalai Lamas were often short-lived and became puppets for powerful Tibetan noble families.

Although it might surprise us that a secular government interferes in spiritual affairs, this is not cultural exceptionalism. Henry the Eighth, King of England would have approved one of China’s core policies regarding religion: to reject and expel foreign influence. This includes influence that has political implications. Power struggles between the church and monarchies were a common feature of medieval Europe’s history. They were often violent and sometimes bloody. Western society began to separate the church and the state as Europe became more modern. This is illustrated by the old saying, “Give Caesar what belonged to Caesar, but give God what belonged to God.” Theocratic systems in Tibet survived the Qing Dynasty, and lasted until 1959. The rich tradition of the Lamas means that they still have an active role in politics and secular life. Similar to the Qing Court, a high-ranking Lama who is not trusted can be a threat to China’s rule and order. Even though the Chinese government may not be concerned about who the Dalai Lamas are, it would be wrong and especially ignorant to suggest that it did not have any say in the matter.

The Chinese Communist Party did not invent the current reincarnation process. Any Tibetan high-ranking lama must be recognized and granted the blessing by the government, as Tibet is part China’s territory. The history of the Lamas living in exile in India is complex. However, any foreign Lama with a great deal of influence over China’s territory would be too ridiculous and impossible to imagine for any Chinese government. An observer’s view is that it is in China and the Dalai Lama’s best interests to reach a tacit agreement regarding the reincarnation process. This could be a way to resolve the Tibetan issue. Due to past issues, including the tragic end of the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation in the Panchen Lama, there is very little trust between the sides. This would make it extremely difficult for them to reach an agreement. Tenzin Gyatso the Fourteenth Dalai Lama must carefully consider the legacy he wants to leave for Tibet.

The actions of the Chinese Communist Party toward Tibetan Buddhism are much more moderate than those of the Qing Dynasty. The Chinese Government didn’t deprive Tenzin Gyatso his Fourteenth Dalai Lama title, unlike the Qing Court of 1904 and 1910. China entered an era of reform in 1980s. The government changed its Tibet policy and began funding Buddhist monasteries through monetary assistance from both the central and local governments. The Chinese government did not go as far as the Qing Court in closing or removing Tibetan monks, even when they were faced with rebellions in the 1990s.

China has the longest-running secular system in the world. Today, China is still developing its own principle of separation between the church and state. The Tibetan Lamas have always sought political sponsors to increase their influence in the religious realm. The Tibetan Lamas must now leave politics and the secular domain in order to refocus their attention on the religious domain. At the same time, secular governments should adjust laws to regulate religious activities and reduce their involvement in religious affairs.

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