|Milan, Italy, 7 December 2007 (By Richard Spencer, The Telegraph) - The next Dalai Lama could be a woman, it emerged yesterday.|
Although there are female lamas, - or living Buddhas - men are predominant and it is rare for reincarnated lamas not to share the sex of their predecessors.
However, at the start of a 10-day visit to Italy, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama, said: 'If a woman reveals herself as more useful the lama could very well be reincarnated in this form.' The comment follows his surprising remarks last week that he might choose his successor before his death, or even hold a referendum on whether he should be reborn at all.
'If people feel that the institution of the Dalai Lama is still necessary, it will continue,' he said.
Traditionally, the Dalai's successor is chosen by a committee of monks who find a young child born after his death, who is supposed to show a spark of the dead leader's spirit. The question of his succession is of increasing importance to the Dalai, who is 72.
There is a growing determination among the Chinese authorities to exert their control over Tibetan Buddhism.
The Chinese will want to oversee the appointment of his successor, aware that he is a figurehead for Tibetan aspirations for greater autonomy or even independence.
In the summer, they demanded that all reincarnations of lamas had to win prior approval from the government's religious affairs bureau before being reborn. This is in line with the principle that all religions must operate within a framework controlled by the Communist Party.
It had been expected that the Dalai Lama would meet the Pope during his Italian visit, as he did last year.
But after it became clear that this would not happen, he said: 'I'm sorry I won't meet him. Given that I'm here, I would like to have seen him.'
There has been speculation that this was linked to the ordination last week in Guangzhou, southern China, of a bishop who was first approved by the state.
The Holy See is recognised by China only as the spiritual head of the Catholic Church, and Beijing asserts the right to appoint all bishops.
Asked by Sky Italia TV if his presence in Italy appeared to be causing embarrassment, the Dalai Lama insisted his visit was not political. 'I'm only a visitor,' he said.
Yesterday, Qin Gang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said: 'Wherever the Dalai Lama goes, or in what name, the issue is not personal or religious.
'He represents a clique trying to split the country and seeking Tibetan independence, to which the Chinese government and people are firmly opposed.'
In response, Tsering Tashi, a spokesman for the Tibetan government in exile, said the Dalai wanted to give more freedom to people to choose, adding. 'He's saying it's up to the Tibetan people.'