When the current Lama dies, various holy sorts will try and figure out what child his soul has been reincarnated in. Using signs and portents like only veteran signs and portents pros can, they narrow it down to just a few boy babies born about the time the last Lama died. Then they show the child various possessions of the deceased Lama (car keys, cigarette lighter, cufflinks, for example) and if the child seems to recognize them, say by picking them and putting them in his mouth, the child is recognized as the next Lama.
It used to be that being the Lama came with a job—ruling over Tibet. The current Lama started doing that in 1950, at the age of fifteen. Possibly he was not very good at it, because the Chinese took the job away from him in 1959 and they’ve kept it ever since. The Dali Lama has lived in India since then, except for a few years in his young adulthood when he was rumored to live in Paris and make a different French girl scream “Oh, holy man!” every night.
At the age of 85, though, all he has to do is be old and serene. He and the current Pope get together for holiness and serenity competitions once in a while. He has to say wise things, which may be ghostwritten for him, for all we know, and look good in orange. Looking good in orange means keeping your weight down. All overweight people resemble pumpkins when they wear orange, and nobody wants a pumpkin Lama.
The real pressure on the Lama comes after he is dead, which is when most of us are finally relieved of all duties. But the Lama has to reincarnate. The problem is, his Buddhist bros in India get to determine the next Dali Lama and they surely will pick one that doesn't care for dim sum. However, the Chinese will certainly want to pick a Lama as well, for political reasons, even though they are nominally atheists, like rancid American politicians bowing their heads at a prayer breakfast after stealing all day and cheating all night. They’ll have their own signs and portents guys who will pick a kid who will grow up to think Tibet being ruled by the Chinese is totally okay.
So, when the Lama’s soul hits the wheel of reincarnation, it’s going to come out as two different boys, one who will peacefully and serenely tell Tibetans they need to accept being governed by foreign despots, and the other who will, equally tranquilly, urge that they return to being ruled by a clan of medieval monks.
It’s not much of a choice for Tibetans, but it’s a black eye for Buddhism, which, at least from a distance, doesn’t seem to involve as much organized mayhem as any of the big players on the Judeo-Christian-Islamic axis, although those whiny Rohingya would beg to differ.
The conflict may be years away, depending on the current Lama’s cholesterol, but it’s going to happen. One day there will be a fight for the soul of Tibetan Buddhism, and it may rage across the high plateaus of all Tibet.
Or the two Lamas could just fist it out in the octagon. That’s my choice. Theology should always be sport. That’s the motto over here.