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[All Politics is Global] Amid Joy and Fear, Dalai Lama Identifies 3rd Highest Buddhist Spiritual Head in Mongolia

Watchfulness of China prevails after the Dalai Lama announces the Jebtsundamba, considered the third-highest spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism globally.



President Barack Obama meets with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House, Feb. 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

One of the most significant announcements for Buddhists around the world was made in March 2023. The highest spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness the 14th (current) Dalai Lama identified and announced the new head of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia.

The announcement happened on March 8, 2023 during an event in Dharamsala, a Himalayan town in the northern hills of India. It has been the seat of the Dalai Lama in exile from Tibet since 1960. The reincarnated 10th Jebtsundamba Khutughtu (also called Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoché) of Mongolia was present in person and presented to the world by His Holiness. 

Following the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, the Jebtsundamba is considered the third-highest spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism globally.

The Missing Panchen Lama

Similarly in 1995, the 14th Dalai Lama cited and named a very young Tibetan boy as the 11th Panchen Lama. That child "disappeared" soon after – allegedly having been abducted by the Chinese authorities. 

It has been 28 years, and to date there is no clue as to the 11th Panchen Lama's whereabouts or well-being. Besides, the Communist Chinese regime announced its own handpicked candidate as the "next Panchen Lama" – whom the Dalai Lama refused to recognize.

On many occasions, the Dalai Lama has said

If the present situation regarding Tibet remains the same, I will be born outside Tibet away from the control of the Chinese authorities. The very purpose of a reincarnation is to continue the unfinished work of the previous incarnation. Thus, if the Tibetan situation remains unsolved … I will be born in exile to continue my unfinished work.

spy balloon Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tibet (© March 2022 Reuters)

China's Campaign of Interference

In this backdrop, the announcement of the 10th Jebtsundamba Khutuktu reincarnate in Mongolia becomes even more crucial. In case of the Dalai Lama's passing on without naming or identifying his successor, the role or opinion of this Jebtsundamba will be extremely crucial in the Dharamsala-backed institutional search for the next Dalai Lama. 

Moreover, most Tibetan Buddhists outrightly refuse to acknowledge the China-selected Panchen Lama. And this further complicates the situation.

Following the death of the ninth Jebtsundamba in Ulaanbaatar in 2012, the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia in 2016. While there he announced that the Jebtsundamba's reincarnation had been born in the country. This initiated the search. 

An infuriated Communist China penalized landlocked Mongolia. Beijing blocked a vital border entry point and imposed revised fees on commodity exports from Mongolia. 

Surely, Beijing's pressure worked almost immediately. The government in Ulaanbaatar announced its decision of not hosting the Dalai Lama again. Mongolia, it appeared, was made to pay a very heavy price in economic pressure for putting religious freedom ahead of economic requirements.

China has warned Mongolia against allowing the Dalai Lama to intervene in the identification of the heir to the highest position in Mongolia's Buddhist hierarchy. 

Meanwhile, we will have to wait and see how the Mongolian clergy will react to the Dalai Lama's announcement. The 10th Jebtsundamba needs to be endorsed, and thereafter enthroned, by the Mongolian clergy for acceptance by Mongolia's Tibetan Buddhists, who make up the largest chunk of Mongolia's population.

Exile Tibetan children wait to perform a traditional dance. Tibetans are mark ingthe anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in 1989. In Dharamshala, India, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

Destruction of Tibetan Culture and Religious Sites

These developments in Dharamsala and Mongolia notwithstanding, in 2007 China banned "unauthorized reincarnations" inside Mainland China and occupied Tibet. Instead, it has mandated governmental approval before announcing "any reincarnation of Buddhist Lamas." 

Meanwhile, China has established barbaric authority and control in annexed Tibe. It has destroyed thousands of Tibetan monasteries and Tibetan cultural sites.

Tibetans residing inside Tibet have resisted the ban on displaying the Dalai Lama's photo. Chinese authorities in Tibetan-populated regions in its western and eastern provinces, however, continue their campaign against possession of photos of the exiled spiritual leader. 


Monasteries inside Tibet are highly surveilled. Schools do not teach the Tibetan language, culture and history. And dissenting voices often "disappear" to never return.

Xi Jinping TG Arya Dalai Lama
Members of Japanese Flame of Hope at Bodhgaya pay respects to HH the Dalai Lama in December 2022. (Photo: THJ)

Guiding Role of Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism guides the religious and spiritual lives of millions of Buddhists in India, Japan, and the rest of Asia. And it is at a critical juncture following the identification of the 10th Jebtsundamba in Mongolia. 

Issuing a sharp message to China in January 2023, the Japanese Buddhist Conference for World Federation called on China to back off from interfering in the succession process of the next Dalai Lama. It placed on record the Conference's position that the Tibetan people, and not China, must decide the successor of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. This decision, it added, must be based on Tibetan culture and history. 

The Japanese Buddhist Conference for World Federation is an umbrella organization. It brings together several sects of Japanese Buddhism, with millions of followers in Japan and other countries. It recognizes that the safety, security, and well-being of the Mongolian Jebtsundamba are of prime importance. 

Meanwhile, China's brutal and blood-stained occupation of Tibet, and established interference in the long-standing traditions of Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations, raise fears for his future.


Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated. Follow her column, "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on Twitter @MonikaChansoria.