The Dalai Lama said He should Be the Last One.

Via Daniel Scharpenburg
on Sep 11, 2014
get elephant's newsletter



Update (via New York Times):

China’s Tensions With Dalai Lama Spill Into the Afterlife


A few years ago I traveled to the University of Arkansas to see the Dalai Lama speak.

He’s never come here to Kansas City.

It was a great experience. He is a great spiritual teacher and I really felt like it could be sensed when I was in the room with him. I just wanted to share that personal story. I’m not that into a lot of the trappings of Tibetan style Buddhism, but seeing him was really special.

The same year that I made that journey, the Dalai Lama retired from his political duties. He was the political leader and the religious leader of the exiled Tibetan people, but now he’s just the religious leader. He had been saying for years that he wanted Tibet to become a democracy if they ever got their homeland back. In 2011, I suppose he proved it by giving up political power and having the Tibetan people elect a Prime Minister.

That could have been a clue for what would happen this month: in an interview with a newspaper he said that he should be the last Dalai Lama.

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

He also said: “Tibetan Buddhism is not dependent on one individual. We have a very good organisational structure with highly trained monks and scholars.”

Is this a position that doesn’t have meaning in the modern world? That’s a good question. Do the exiled Tibetan people need a holy being to lead them? I’m not sure.

What does this mean for the future?

Who knows. There are other figures that are said to be reincarnated leaders, like the Karmapa, but none nearly as famous and beloved as the Dalai Lama. One wonders if this will lead others to follow his example.

Will this be a trend?

The famous Zen Monk from Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh has thus far declined to name a successor.

Perhaps the future of Buddhism won’t be so attached to things like “Lamas” and “Masters” and “Tulkus.”

Imagine a Buddhism that doesn’t include authority figures.

I think it could be a good thing, if this is the way things are going in Buddhism.

I’ve argued in the past that the Buddha didn’t intend to leave behind a Master/Disciple system, but rather a Teacher/Student system. A great teacher could have many wonderful things to teach you, but we must remember that we all have Buddha nature. Although we may not have the same knowledge, all human beings have the same ability to engage the Dharma.

When I saw the Dalai Lama in 2011 he said this, “Some people call me a god-king. That is nonsense.”

That’s important, I think. In every religious tradition, putting people on a pedestal can cause problems. The Buddha didn’t seem to put himself on a pedestal, nor did his early followers. They gave up their wealth and material comforts to essentially wander around like homeless people, the opposite of what the Tibetan culture has done with the institution of the Dalai Lama.

I love the Dalai Lama. I think he’s a wonderful and amazing person who has worked tirelessly to benefit the world.

And I think he’s right.



The Meaning of Life according to the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama’s favorite Daily Prayer.


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!



Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wiki Commons




About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City with two kids and two cats. He teaches classes in Buddhist studies at the Rime Buddhist Center, where he's starting a Zen meditation group in the near future. He's studied with a wide variety of different Buddhist teachers and is a dedicated follower of the Zen tradition. He received personal instruction from Shi Da Dao, in the Caodong (Soto) tradition, and he has served as jisha (personal attendant) to Karen Maezen Miller on a Zen retreat. He's the writer of Notes from a Buddhist Mystic Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook and  Twitter.


16 Responses to “The Dalai Lama said He should Be the Last One.”

  1. nickribush says:

    "I’ve argued in the past that the Buddha didn’t intend to leave behind a Master/Disciple system, but rather a Teacher/Student system." It's a little presumptuous to think we know so clearly the Buddha's intent in this regard. As it is for somebody outside the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition to dismiss the guru-disciple relationship, the essence of Vajrayana practice and, in terms of the lam-rim, the stages of the path to enlightenment, the root of the path. See .

  2. Pancho Ruiz says:

    I think you might be missing the bigger point: he is trying to pre-empt the chinese from selecting an illegitimate heir (if that's the right term) to the position.

  3. Chin Yew says:

    Interesting. Prophet Mohamad also said he's the last Prophet. Is there an end in a circle?

  4. Ananda says:

    Personally, i don't think a successor should be named until a leader has passed to the next life. Setting a successor before death can lead to jealousy and discontent among others against the one chosen as they are prepared for that time. The 14th Dalai Lama has said more than once that he should or that he will probably be the last Dalai Lama. My own view is that all things change. The nature of the Tibetan nation is irrevocably changed forever. The nature of the leadership for the Tibetan nation should also change. That may mean the ending of the Dalai Lamas.

  5. Sattvic Sage says:

    This may have something to do with the fact the boy chosen by The Dalai Lama to seek out the next Lama after his death has been killed by the Chinese Army. He knows what the consequences will be as the fabric of the system breaks down.

  6. Padma Kadag says:

    Daniel…You are soooo right! I am glad to see that you struck off the Vajrayana mention on your Bio. That wouldn't fit so well with your general "mystic" philosophy. "trappings of Tibetan Buddhism"…now that's an interesting statement. You are a very funny fellow. If we are to imagine a buddhism without teachers (authority) then all of us would have a very distorted view as prescribed by you.

  7. Gary Marlowe says:

    unfortunately, the citation of the Dalai Lama here is misleading as it is taken out of context. his words, as appearing in the German newspaper "Die Welt am Sonntag", were already officially clarified by his office in Dharamsala (original info in German here below): "The end of the political function of the Dalai Lama does not mean there will not be a successors"

    Tibet Initiative Deutschland:
    "Sicher haben viele von euch den Artikel in der Welt am Sonntag (07.09.2014) zur Nachfolge des Dalai Lama auch gelesen – jetzt gibt es eine offizielle Richtigstellung aus Dharamsala. Es wird bestätigt, was wir auch schon dachten: Die Zitate von Seiner Heiligkeit sind aus dem Kontext gegriffen und falsch interpretiert. Ein Ende der politischen Funktion des Dalai Lamas bedeutet noch lange nicht, dass es keinen Nachfolger geben wird. Denn am Ende sollen die Tibeter über die Zukunft des Dalai Lama entscheiden."

  8. Padma Kadag says:

    In re-reading your article I am sure that your misunderstanding of the Dalai Lama's view on his own incarnation has led you to further an idea that you use to try and support your disdain for Lamas and the Secret Mantrayana. Because you see the Guru/disciple tradition as a "trapping" you would want to see that disappear from the earth. You are asking all of the Dalai Lamas to go away. All of the "masters" to go away because you don't understand it. You practice your "authentic" form of Buddhism authentically…what else do you need? Certainly calling for the demise of all of the precious teachers from Tibet in articles isn't so skillful. Because you know better?

  9. Mark says:

    Humans are flag planters. If Jesus came to church and sat in a chair we would worship the damn chair. I agree that the Buddha probably didn't want what we have today, that is just more levels of distractions, more form identity to struggle through. I do think that there has to be enlightened teachers to help people find their way.

  10. bex0r says:

    I think the truly wise and enlightened teachers see what we are doing to this planet and how pointless it is to try and help the human race any longer. I wouldn't blame them for not coming back!

  11. JoBE says:

    in that case they help even more, its never pointless they say, otherwise where would be the point of enlightenment

  12. Tom gerlach says:

    Imagine a culture without a leader…..just like AA and the 12 step program…

  13. Michael says:

    really reincarnation is not dictated by the person dead unless he is enlightened who is the Dali Lama to say there is to be no more holy beings ?

  14. Padma Kadag says:

    HH Dalai Lama did not say there would be no more "holy beings".

  15. Keith Taylor says:

    Dalai lama is by far probably my favorite living teacher. he is full of humor and also this most commen sense spiritual leader i have ever heard speak.

  16. Tim says:

    I do have to say that Dalai Lama is a head of only one lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. There are at least 7 more major lineages. All of which offer wisdom conducive to personal growth.