The Dalai Lama, self-proclaimed feminist and Spiritual leader of Tibet, recently sat down with British journalist Cathy Newman. “I would be pleased if my successor was female,” the Dalai Lama said.
But the bigger problem is the Dalai Lama doesn’t get to choose who takes on his Buddhist baton. In fact, I also asked him if he could “do a Pope”, and quit when he gets too old and frail. The answer was no.
A new leader emerges after a search by the high lamas. Traditionally, they search for a child born around the same time as the current Dalai Lama dies. It can take several years, and involves looking out for a number of mysterious signs. They might have a dream about where thenext Dalai Lama comes from. Or if the current incumbent is cremated, the high lamas might watch which direction the smoke blows in, or go to a holy lake – Lhamo Lhatso – in central Tibet and watch for a sign from there.
But in theory, whereas Catholic women are categorically excluded from becoming Pope, Buddhism is rather more enlightened. The Buddha himself was the first religious founder after the Jains who allowed women into his order, and that was more than two and a half thousand years ago. In practice, though, women weren’t given the same opportunity to educate themselves as men, so the idea of a woman being installed as Dalai Lama was as notional as the sign from the lake.