Will 81-year-old Tenzin Gyatso be the last Dalai Lama? The question has been haunting millions of Tibetan Buddhists, the Chinese Communist rulers, and the international community ever since the religious leader hinted a few years ago that he might not reincarnate at all.
British comedian John Oliver recently flew to the north Indian town of Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama has lived in exile for more than five decades, to get the latest answer. The interview was made public in the March 5 episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
The 14th and current Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, and established the Tibetan government in exile there, after Chinese troops crushed an attempted uprising in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. For decades, the Dalai Lama advocated for Tibet’s full independence. He has since moderated his stance to seek autonomy under the People’s Republic of China.
Beijing criticizes him as a “wolf in a monk’s robes” trying to separate Tibet from the motherland. Now speculation is mounting that it will appoint a new Dalai Lama who favors the ruling party when the 14th dies, just as it installed the current Panchen Lama, the second-highest figurehead in Tibetan Buddhism.
In his temple at the foot of the Himalayas, the Tibetan spiritual leader told Oliver it’s “very possible” that he’ll be the last Dalai Lama, though he didn’t give a definite answer. Asked whether he worries Beijing would appoint its own Dalai Lama, he quickly rebuked the idea (starting at the 16:15 mark below):
“May I say so? That’s also, you say, one of the foolish acts. Short-sighted. Without using the human brain properly. It’s harmful… Our brain usually, you see, [has] the ability to create common sense. The Chinese hardliners, in their brains, that part of the brain is missing.”
“I’m happy to sit here to criticize China with you, because the consequences for me are not necessarily as bad as they are for you,” Oliver said.
That drew hearty laughter from the Dalai Lama, who added, “They call me a demon… I want another demon, so you become a demon.”
“No, no, no, you can’t reincarnate the demon into me,” Oliver protested.
“Yes, yes,” insisted the spiritual leader jokingly.