The statement of the Dalai Lama about his successor (ealier post) has of course created some discussion. It is an important topic for two groups. Those who are involved in Tibetan politics and those who believe in reincarnation, rebirth etc.
There is a sharp internal political controversy in the background between different political factions of the Tibetan exile community. There are, as I see it, mainly two factions: those who want a Tibet to be independent without any interference from other countries and those who opt for autonomy within a greater China. The latter option is that of the Dalai Lama but there is strong opposition to this position – all the more because the Dalai Lama still seems to act like an autocratic leader and seems to use his status as an unquestionable religious figure to make decisions. One can get an impression about this discussion from this site – rangzen.net – which is of the Tibetan independence movement.
The statement of the Dalai Lama has it made even to the New York Times. In this article you find a discussion of the implications of the Reincarnation-Statement vis-a-vis Chinese politics. The irony of the Chinese reaction to the Declaration of Independent Reincarnation is that they look now even more religiously conservative than the Dalai Lama.
The other point made in the article is that the rhetorics of reincarnation change a bit and that the Dalai Lama might choose his successor himself before his death. The key term here is „emanation“. The Tibetan sprul sku (the transliteration of the word Tulku from the Tibetan script) can mean just „emanation“. But saying „just“ is dangerous here because there is a thoroughly developed philosophy in the background which one needs to understand to grasp the „meaning“. This philosophy in the background has to do with the so called Trikaya or sku gsum in Tibetan. The trikaya has changed it‘s meaning in western Tibetan Buddhist thinking to one of those empty signifiers which do nothing but inflate jet set lamas with hot air. In a more intelligible rooted thinking it describes how something arises from potentiality – and in this regard it is absolutely nothing mysterious. Everybody and everything in this sense is a Tulku and it is thus that the Dalai Lama righteously can choose his successor before he dies.
One can see also here why the Tibetan Tulku system can be so flexible (or opportunistic, choose yourself).
One can still criticize the Dalai Lama because he on one side insists on the literal meaning of rebirth, reincarnation or whatever and on the other side takes from Buddhist philosophy in a rather eclectic way whatever is needed to make his case. Here this means rebirth is meant literal if is necessary otherwise soembody else is Tulku. The Tibetan Buddhist Mafia in the West then uses this approach to further their case. Then people like Bob Thurman, Sogyal Rinpoche and their acolytes pray the sermon of the eternal I – an I which is nothing but a narcissistic hyperbol – and they are backed by ’His Holiness’ every time he pops by.
The conclusion of this, I think, must be that the Dalai Lama is in a political campaign which might or might not be good but the ramifications in the western Tibetan Buddhist society are a different point. The politics of the Dalai Lama might be necessary or not the literal believe in rebirth they facilitate is nothing but unnecessary – and it is dangerous in its underpining of the narcisstic Buddhist egoinflation. In the end all this serves the exacte opposite of the normalized Buddhist dogma about an ego which has to be cut off. In the end Buddhists who cling to reincarnation might just fear the end of it all.