The Dalai Lama tells Cathy Newman why he would be pleased if a woman was his successor and how they may do a better job than the male contenders.
Religion and gender politics is often a toxic mix. First, the Church of England tied itself in knots over the ordination of women bishops. And then, Pope Francis got in trouble with the traditionalists by washing two young women's feet over Easter. Apparently, the liturgies dictate he should only have washed the men's feet.
So when I sat down to interview the Buddhists' spiritual leader for last night's Channel 4 News, I half expected His Holiness to hum and hah when I asked him if he'd be pleased if his successor as Dalai Lama was a woman.
"Yes," he said, without hesitation.
"I think [it would be] good because you see, biologically, female[s] have more potential to develop affection or love to other. Some scientists, they tested two person, one male, one female looking at one sort of movie. Female [was] more sensitive: response is much stronger. So therefore…now we are 21st century…female have more potential so should take more active role regarding promotion of human compassion."
Let's leave aside for a moment the obvious problem with sweeping generalizations. Last time I looked, women didn't have a monopoly on compassion.
But the bigger problem is the Dalai Lama doesn't get to choose who takes on his Buddhist baton. In fact, I also asked him if he could "do a Pope", and quit when he gets too old and frail. The answer was no.
A new leader emerges after a search by the high lamas. Traditionally, they search for a child born around the same time as the current Dalai Lama dies. It can take several years, and involves looking out for a number of mysterious signs. They might have a dream about where the next Dalai Lama comes from. Or if the current incumbent is cremated, the high lamas might watch which direction the smoke blows in, or go to a holy lake - Lhamo Lhatso - in central Tibet and watch for a sign from there.
But in theory, whereas Catholic women are categorically excluded from becoming Pope, Buddhism is rather more enlightened. The Buddha himself was the first religious founder after the Jains who allowed women into his order, and that was more than two and a half thousand years ago. In practice, though, women weren't given the same opportunity to educate themselves as men, so the idea of a woman being installed as Dalai Lama was as notional as the sign from the lake.
Perhaps the 14th Dalai Lama's comments signify the prospect of a real change. He points out that some of the high lamas - who will after all be the ones looking out for his successor - have been women. In her book, Dakini Power, Michaela Haas observes that more and more Buddhist women are rising up the ranks as teachers, and are demanding recognition for the roles they're performing.
The Dalai Lama even calls himself a feminist, and his views may well carry weight with the high lamas when they're divinely tasked with finding a successor.
He's said in the past that women and men are equal in "education, intelligence and reason", and as a result "we have entered the age of equality between men and women". In fact he's gone further, suggesting that the woes of the world, and "the need to promote a more altruistic society" mean that "we might be entering the 'age of the woman'".
Try telling that to Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis.
I'm glad he talked about this, cause it should be discussed, maybe then other religions will follow
YOU KNOW WHO.