On Monday night’s Late Show, Stephen Colbert took three minutes to recap the ongoing reincarnation dispute between China and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said that he may have no successor (to which Colbert quips, “I see what’s happening here. Someone wants to go out as Undefeated Lama Champ.”). In response China has insisted that the Dalai Lama must reincarnate. “The Dalai Lama not reincarnating would foil China’s plan to engineer the succession of a Dalai Lama who accepts China presence in Tibet,” explains Colbert — before a bit of a jab at actor and Buddhist activist Richard Gere (read our classic profile of Gere, which describes the work he is doing for Tibetan autonomy).
Jokes aside, Colbert’s summary is quite accurate. For more on the Dalai Lama’s relationship with Tibet (and much more) you can visit our Dalai Lama section.
Colbert, though, does make two notable inaccuracies: the “Buddha” seen at the beginning of the segment is actually Hotei, or Pu-tai, a tenth-century Chinese monk who is often mistaken for Gautama Buddha. Later, Colbert says that the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a monk who lived 700 years ago. Each Dalai Lama is considered to be a reincarnation of his predecessor, a tradition that emerged in 1578. More commonly, the Dalai Lama is considered an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.
For more Buddhist perspectives from our favorite comedians, check out George Takei’s six best Buddhist posts, Colbert’s “Boom! Dalai Lama out,” and Rod Meade Sperry’s essay on Buddhism in comedy, Wise Fools.
Correction, September 18: An earlier version of this article said that the Dalai Lama is the head of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism. The head of the school is the Ganden Tripa. Thanks to Andrew Quintman for the catch.