The succession of the 14 manifestations of the Dalia Lama is one of the most unique processes of selecting a new leader after the death of the current one. The process does not depend on continuing a family line (like royalty) and not on voting nor by armed force. Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation. The currently living Dalai Lama decides on the time for his death, chooses geographic areas where he will not reincarnate, and leaves instructions to find his new incarnation. That information is joined by other steps to find the new one: an oracle and high lamas are consulted about visions they may have had and a lama team searches to find the distinctive features of the visions and instructions… and thus to find the new incarnation.
Upon finding a youth candidate, the youth is presented with items the previous Dalai Lama used daily. The correct child immediate identifies the correct items. Then, that child’s birth circumstances are researched for auspicious signs and the lamas also consider the correctness of the child candidate.
Once the child is fully identified, the child is invited (with his parents) to begin his studies with master lamas. The child will study Buddhist texts and beliefs, world history, governance, and proper conduct of many ceremonies and teachings. All this prepares the child to grow up and take on the Dalai Lama position and duties. While growing and studying, a regent lama, high lamas, and the Panchen Lama superintend and stand in for needed activities.
Because Buddha nature is inside all living beings and the chance that there are many human Dalai Lamas living undiscovered anywhere at any time, children of either gender or in any location could be a reincarnation. To date, all Dalai Lamas have been male and found in Asia, but that is more a function of the availability of world awareness by the searching lamas and the history of all males before. Thus, the 15th Dalai Lama someday could be a female and could be born anywhere. While the current Dalai Lama has welcomed the idea of a female being found next, he has stated categorically that he will not reincarnate in Red China nor anywhere people are not free. He has even suggested that a vote of Tibetans be used or that he may see, yet, that he need not reincarnate again, at least for now.
It is possible for a person to attain Dalai Lama-like wisdom and awakening without this selection process, and many say that in any one time, there may be any number of spontaneously awakened people with qualities like the Dalai Lama. The special position of governmental leader make the selection of one important. The current Dalai Lama has, however, turned his governing position over to the Tibetan Government in Exile, and HH’s role is now advisory and as a spiritual leader and teacher.
The proper way to refer to him is “His Holiness, the Dalai Lama” or “HH Dalai Lama.” He is a man, not a god and is not worshiped by his followers, although is deeply loved as a symbol of loving kindness, compassion, and deep wisdom.