The Final Dalai Lama: Religious or Political?

Posted on December 18, 2014 by


By Ashley Steffes

The tradition of the Dalai Lama has been a central part of Tibetan Buddhism for centuries. He is seen as a spiritual leader, not only to Tibetans, but millions around the world. Westerners see the 14th Dalai Lama as a simple man, clothed in red and yellow robes. He is almost always seen laughing or smiling, as if he hasn’t a care in the world. Most people would agree that he fits the “Oriental Monk” image to perfection. Because the tradition of the Dalai Lama has been around for so long, it came as a surprise to many when, in early September, the 14th Dalai Lama made statements implying that he may be the last one. The interview was conducted for a German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag. Journalists around the world took hold of the story.

His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama.

Antonia Blumberg is the writer of an article found at The Huffington Post titled “Dalai Lama Sees No Need For Successor: ‘Let Us Finish With A Popular Dalai Lama.’” The first thing one notices about the article is the Dalai Lama’s quote within the title, giving the impression that it must be accurate because they use the Dalai Lama’s own words. I compared this to an article found at The Independent, with the simple title “Dalai Lama says he might not be born again.” Andrew Buncombe, the Asia correspondent for The Independent, wrote this article. It’s worth noting that under the title of the first article was a picture of the Dalai Lama, waving to listeners before beginning to teach in India, while the second article has a sentence in gray that reads, “14th Dalai Lama looking for ways to prevent China exerting more control over Tibetan Buddhism.” This statement immediately starts a conversation about what the Dalai Lama’s ulterior motives might be for not wanting a successor. The first few paragraphs of the article are composed almost completely of quotes from a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying. Here’s just one example:

“The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government, which has hundreds of years of history. The 14th Dalai Lama has ulterior motives, and is seeking to distort and negate history which is damaging to the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism.”

Hua Chunying, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry

Compare this with a quote from The Huffington Post article and one can see drastic differences. The first paragraph of this story contains a quote from the actual interview with the Dalai Lama done by the German newspapers, where he says:

“We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries. The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us finish with a popular Dalai Lama.”

The article sets the tone that the Dalai Lama sees having no successor as beneficial to the tradition of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism as a whole. The Independent article gives the impression that his words were political, setting a negative tone.


Here, one can see just how much border Tibet and China share.

Another difference I noticed while looking at the two articles was the use of the title “Dalai Lama.” In The Huffington Post, that title is the only way the author refers to him. However, in the second article, the author tells readers:

“The 14th Dalai Lama, whose real name is Tenzin Gyatso, has long been in a battle with China.”

The use of his “real name” makes His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, also believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be the Buddha of Compassion, seem very human and ordinary. The author continues to make the case that the reasoning for possibly ending the Dalai Lama tradition is purely political. He insinuates that the reason behind the Dalai Lama stating that his successor could even be a woman is to keep the power out of China’s hands. Meanwhile, in The Huffington Post, the Dalai Lama is quoted saying a female successor would be a good idea because they could possibly promote human compassion better. There is no mention of China or control.

The two articles presented in my analysis brought very different perspectives. Overall, The Huffington Post article did a great job of respecting the Dalai Lama as well as the Tibetan people by keeping true to what he had stated in his German interview. The article is filled with quotes from His Holiness. The article in The Independent quotes the 14th Dalai Lama once, and it’s a quote from years ago about China. I think the author could have done a better job sticking to the facts, rather than presenting a case based on speculation because of the recent events between Tibet and China. I cannot say with positivity what the Dalai Lama’s reasoning for not wanting a successor could be. In the end, the Dalai Lama himself is the only one with the answer.


Antonia Blumberg, “Dalai Lama Sees No Need For A Successor: “Let Us Finish With A Popular Dalai Lama”, The Huffington Post, 9 September 2014, []

Andrew Buncombe, “Dalai Lama says he might not be born again”, The Independent, 11 September 2014, []

“The Dalai Lamas”, []

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