LOS ANGELES – The Dalai Lama said Monday he would have no misgivings ending his centuries-old spiritual position if Tibetans so choose amid worries that China would try to pick a pliant successor.
The Dalai Lama, who fled his Chinese-ruled homeland in 1959, turns 75 in July and has increasingly focused attention on the search for his successor, although he is believed to be in good health.
"Ultimately up to people, I made clear, whether this very institution should continue or not," the 14th Dalai Lama told National Public Radio on a visit to Los Angeles.
"If majority of Tibetan people feel the Dalai institution is no longer much relevant, then this institution should cease — there is no problem," he said.
"It looks like the Chinese are more concerned about this institution than me," he said with a laugh.
The Dalai Lama has developed a global following for his spiritual teachings and won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.
But China, which sent troops into Tibet in 1950, has vilified the Dalai Lama and sought to isolate him, last week summoning the US ambassador after President Barack Obama received the Dalai Lama at the White House.
In a possible sign of controversies to come, China in 1995 rejected the Dalai Lama's choice to be the Panchen Lama, another high-ranking Buddhist leader, and installed its own boy in a ceremony overseen by the Communist Party.
The Dalai Lama's choice as Panchen Lama has since disappeared from public view, with rights groups calling him the world's youngest political prisoner.
The Dalai Lama has previously voiced willingness to break tradition in finding his successor, floating the idea of identifying the next spiritual leader while the current Dalai Lama is still alive or selecting a girl.
The current Dalai Lama was born to a modest village family. When he was four, traveling holy men spotted signs that he was the latest incarnation in a line of spiritual leaders dating from the 14th century.