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  • 27 Mar, 2024
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Mongolia appointment of new buddhist leader signals renewed commitment to Tibetan Buddhism and escalates tension with China

According to reports, a Mongolian boy born in the US has been recognized by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, the third most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism. This announcement is significant because Mongolia is the largest free country where Tibetan Buddhism is the main religion, with more Tibetan Buddhists living in Mongolia than anywhere else in the world, including Tibet. Moreover, one of the only two Dalai Lamas who came from outside Tibet was in Mongolia.

Jebtsundamba Khutuktu is the third most important figure in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The title "Jebtsundamba Khutuktu" means "Precious Master, Teacher" and is given to the reincarnation of the previous Jebtsundamba Khutuktu. The first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu was recognized in the 18th century.

The Jebtsundamba Khutuktu plays a crucial role in recognizing the next Dalai Lama, and China aims to install its own pro-China Dalai Lama, making the 10th Jebtsundamba's role in the succession crucial. In 2016, the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia despite objections from China, which led to a strain in relations between Mongolia and China.

Mongolia is significant in His Holiness the Dalai Lama's reincarnation debate because it has a historical and cultural connection with Tibet and the Dalai Lama institution. Mongolia is a predominantly Buddhist country and shares a common religious and cultural heritage with Tibet. Moreover, historically, the Dalai Lama has played a significant role in Mongolia's religious and cultural development.

In 2019, the Mongolian government issued a statement reaffirming its support for the Dalai Lama and stating that the issue of reincarnation is an internal matter for Tibetan Buddhists to decide. This statement was seen as a significant rebuke to China's claims of control over the process.

The recognition of a Mongolian boy as the reincarnation of the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu is expected to further strain Mongolia's relations with China, which has been asserting its authority over the Dalai Lama's reincarnation process. It remains to be seen how China will respond to this development, and whether it will escalate the tensions between the two countries.

The Chinese Communist Party views His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a "splittist," and President Xi Jinping is pursuing a Sinicization of Tibet policy, which includes abrogating the power of official reincarnations of high lamas. However, the Dalai Lama managed to announce the reincarnation of the third most senior lama, the head of the Gelugpa school in Mongolia, despite the regime's efforts to control the process.

Mongolia has played a key role in the Dalai Lama Institution as it was the Mongolian King Altan Khan who offered the title of Dalai Lama (Ocean of wisdom) to third Gelugpa Lama Sonam Gyatso, who in return conferred the title of “Brahma”, the king of religion, on Khan. The fourth Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso was born in 1589 in Mongolia to the Chokar tribal chieftain Tsultrim Cheje, who was the grandson of Altan Khan and his second wife PhaKhen Nula.

While New Delhi has left the religious matter to be sorted out between the Dalai Lama, China, and Mongolia, it is only a matter of time when Beijing starts mounting pressure on Ulan Bator for getting caught unawares. The appointment of Tenth Khalka Rinpoche means that Tibetan Buddhism gets a new lease of life in Mongolia and shows that the 14th Dalai Lama has not backed down in his fight against the Chinese Communist regime and remains a politico-religious force to reckon even in occupied Tibet. That the eight year leader of the head of Buddhist faith in Mongolia was formally anointed in India is also a message for Beijing as the battle for Tibetan plateau continues 73 years after Lhasa fell to Chinese communist forces.

Clearly the tussle between the 14th Dalai Lama and CPC will intensify after this development as the 87 year old has made it public that he will not be reborn in occupied Tibet, leaving the option open that the 15th Dalai Lama could emerge from either the Himalayan Belt or anywhere outside China.

The anointing of the Tenth Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche has significant implications for the ongoing battle between the Dalai Lama and the CPC and the survival of Tibetan Buddhism. Mongolia has historical and cultural connections to Tibet, and the appointment of the Tenth Khalkha Rinpoche means that Tibetan Buddhism has a new lease of life in Mongolia. This development intensifies the conflict between the 14th Dalai Lama and the CPC, who will likely put pressure on Ulan Bator for allowing the anointing to occur.

The appointment of the new leader of the Buddhist faith in Mongolia took place in India, which is seen as a message to Beijing. It shows that the Dalai Lama remains a significant politico-religious force, and that the battle for Tibetan independence continues. The 87-year-old Dalai Lama has publicly stated that he will not be reborn in occupied Tibet, leaving open the possibility that the 15th Dalai Lama could emerge from anywhere outside of China.

Edited and collated by Team TRC