On Wednesday, the 14th Dalai Lama made surprising comments during two scheduled appearances. In the afternoon, he presented a speech at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Chicago. The same evening, he participated in an interview with Piers Morgan, which was televised on CNN.
During a speech at the summit, the Dalai Lama, 76, urged people to promote peace in their communities, a common theme for him. But speaking at a news conference afterward, he engaged a touchier subject: his successor.
He noted that a 15th Dalai Lama might not be selected for another 10 or 15 years; he even hinted that it's possible no successor will be chosen at all. It depends on whether people really feel it is important, this institution. If it is no longer relevant, it will not exist, he said.
According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama will be chosen by monks after the current Dalai Lama dies. The monks must choose a young boy who seems to embody the necessary qualities and passes tests identifying him as the next incarnation. This time around, there are worries that the Chinese government will step in to appoint its own Dalai Lama, which would fly in the face of Tibetan custom. Such a move would be an attempt by China to impose stronger control over the long-disputed Tibetan territory.
The Dalai Lama's current North American tour, which includes stops in Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Diego and Ottowa, Canada, has heightened international awareness of struggles within Tibet, the Himalayan plateau that has sought greater autonomy since it was seized by China's military more than 50 years ago. Responding to increased Chinese repression of Tibetan Buddhism and cultural traditions in recent months, many young Tibetans have protested by setting themselves on fire.
More than 30 Tibetans have engaged in self-immolation so far this year; most have died.
The 14th Dalai Lama was chosen as a young boy and formally announced in 1950, when he was 15. He grew up in Tibet but fled to India in 1959, during a Tibetan uprising. He opted to retire from politics last year, but remains the nation's spiritual leader.
Last week, he said that the Tibetan struggle is a very sensitive political issue. If I involve that, then retirement from political power is meaningless. Whatever I say, the Chinese government immediately manipulates. ... They do not understand what's the real Tibetan feeling.
Though he doesn't want to serve as a leader for the Tibetan independence movement, the Dalai Lama did have some comments about politics. Sitting across from Piers Morgan on Wednesday evening, he said with a smile that elected officials are sometimes a little bit shortsighted; they are mainly looking for the next vote.
He also surprised Morgan by saying that he loved President George W. Bush -- as a person, that is. As a president of America, sometimes his policy may not be very successful, said the Dalai Lama with a wag of the finger. But as a person, a human being, very nice person... I love him.
Things took a more humorous turn when the Dalai Lama responded to a question about whether he was ever tempted by women.
Oh, yes, he said, adding that he quickly reminds himself not to dwell on that which is forbidden. Even in my dream, which is some sort of... dreaming [of] some women like that, immediately I remember I am monk.
The Dalai Lama also voiced his support for the Arab Spring, arguing that Middle East revolutionaries are fighting for a just cause.
Obviously, I [am] always expressing: [the] world belongs to humanity, he said. Not this leader, that leader, the kings or queens or religious leaders. [The] world belongs to humanity, and each country essentially belongs to its people.