I found it somewhat amusing that the Pope, while more or less viewed as God on earth, is chosen by democratic vote. The I though to myself, how else could it be done? The Dalai Lama seemed like a good model to use for perspective on other end of the pendulum.
On we go.
What is a Dalai Lama?
The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Dalai means "Ocean" in Mongolian, and "Lama" is Tibetan for "spiritual teacher" . The Dalai Lamas are the manifestations of the Bodhisattva (Buddha) of Compassion, who chose to reincarnate to serve the people.
And who is the current Dalai Lama?
The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual and temporal Leader of the Tibetan people. He was born on July 6, 1935, in a small village called Taktser, in north eastern Tibet. Born to a peasant family, His Holiness was recognised at the age of two, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama.
And how do they find (recognize) the Dalai Lama?
In 1935, the Regent of Tibet went to the sacred lake of Lhamoe Lhatso about 90 miles southeast of Lhasa, Tibet's capital. The Tibetans have observed that visions of the future can be seen in this lake. The regent saw the vision of three Tibetan letters : "Ah" "Ka" and "Ma" followed by a picture of a monastery with roofs of jade green and gold and a house with turquoise tiles. A detailed description of these visions were written down and kept a strict secret.
In 1937, high lamas and dignitaries, carrying the secrets of the visions, were sent to all parts of Tibet to search for the place which the regent had seen in the waters. The search party which headed east was under the leadership of Lama Kewtsang Rinpoche of Sera Monastery. When they arrived in Amdo, they found a place matching the description of the secret vision.
So it takes a few years at least to find a candidate...
And does the interview process work?
Familiarity with the possessions of the previous Dalai Lama is considered the main sign of the reincarnation. The reincarnation is then brought to a monastery to be trained by the other Lamas. The process is not always peaceful; at times rival groups of lamas each "discover" a child and claim it is the true reincarnation. This has historically turned into political struggle to decide who is the real Dalai Lama, in a manner analogous to the Pope and Antipope conflicts in the Christian world.
Ok, so who were the previous Dalai Lama's?
6 out of the 14 were assassinated and/or died young. Sounds like a dangerous job. Only one of Dalai Lama's was non-Tibetan.