For centuries, each Dalai Lama has been succeeded by a young boy who is considered to be the previously leader's reincarnation, following his death. But the current 72-year-old Dalai Lama is suggesting that the Tibetan people chose their next leader through a vote while he is still alive.
"He's always been a modernistic sort of person and he wants to modernize the instition," says Robert Thurman, a Buddhist studies professor at Columbia University. He's not saying that reincarnation can be controlled by a ballot, Thurman adds, instead he's calling for a more democratic approach to Tibet's political figure-head.
China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking independence for Tibet, condemned the Nobel Peace Prize winner's proposal. Ironically, the atheist communist government's main objection is that the move subverts Buddhist tradition.
The Tibetan spiritual leader says it is up to the Tibetan people to decide.
"If people feel that the institution of the Dalai Lama is still necessary, it will continue," he says.