The Dalai Lama said Tuesday that TibetanBuddhists will vote in a referendum before he dies to decide whether to break with the tradition of reincarnation and adopt a new system of leadership.

What form the referendum will take was not specified, but the proposal would be a key change to Tibetan Buddhism's centuries-old practice of monksselecting the embodiment of the spiritual leader, or lama,once the previous one is dead.


The Dalai Lama, centre, with Sikh leaders in front of the Golden Temple, the Sikh's holiest shrine, in Amritsar, India, on Tuesday. ((Aman Sharma/Associated Press))

"If people feel that the institution of the Dalai Lama is still necessary, it will continue," the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, told reportersat a gathering of religious leaders from around the world in Amritsar, India.

He said the vote would be held among all traditional Tibetan Buddhists along the Himalayan range including China, Nepal and India.

"When my physical condition becomes weak, then serious preparations [for the referendum] should happen," he said.

Butthe 72-year-oldadded that "according to my regular medical checkup, I am good for another few decades."

The Dalai Lama has recently been musing about possible ways to prevent China from taking control of the search for his successor.

There are rising fears of China's heavy handafter Beijing enacted newlegislation in September that all future lama appointments by Tibetan Buddhists must receive government approval and be selected without outside influence.

If Tibetan Buddhists decided in a referendum they want to continue with the Dalai Lama tradition, Gyatso says he would either be reincarnated after death outside of China or would choose a new leader before his death.

"The very purpose of reincarnation is to carry out the tasks of the previous life that are not yet achieved," the Dalai Lama said. "If I die while we are still refugees, my reincarnation, logically, will come outside Tibet, who will carry out the work I started."

Gyatso has also raised the possibility of naming a new Dalai Lama himself during an interview in Japan last week.

He said there is a precedent for one incarnation naming another while still alive; one of his teachers, the Lama Trogye, was selected while his predecessor was still alive.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile with his followers in India since fleeing Chinese soldiers in 1959.

China has ruled the Himalayan nation since Communist-led forces invaded the region in 1951.

China's government has condemned the Dalai Lama's proposal, saying it subverts centuries of Buddhist tradition.

With files from the Associated Press