The Dalai Lama has been hospitalized several times since the summer, including a stay in Delhi last week for a pinched nerve, leading to speculation the aging spiritual leader may be ready for retirement.
"Basically, he's better," said Tenzin Taklha, a senior aide to the Dalai Lama. "He's wearing a neck collar to give him a little bit of rest. He has resumed his schedule."
The self-proclaimed "semiretired" Dalai Lama, 73, has led the Tibetan people for the last 50 years and said that he has no intention of fully retiring any time soon.
Still, a confluence of factors in the last year -- the Buddhist leader's illnesses, the meeting of Tibetans in exile in November and unrest in Lhasa -- has forced many to examine what will happen after his death.
Historically, a reincarnated dalai lama has been chosen after the death of the previous leader. A group searches for the new dalai lama, looking for signs of a reincarnation.
"They find several candidates who are tested," said Taklha, who explained that the testing procedure is different each time.
The search team sometimes offers items belonging to the previous incarnation to see whether the child has any connection to them.
"It's very flexible," Taklha said.
The current dalai lama was found in a rural area outside of Tibet. He was born to farmer parents far from his future as Nobel Peace Prize winner and arguably the world's most recognized spiritual leader.
China invaded Tibet in 1950 and the Dalai Lama fled Chinese rule nine years later. He helped establish the Tibetan government-in-exile in the tiny mountainous town Dharamsala. Tens of thousands of Tibetans have followed him there and to Tibetan enclaves around India.
A Female Dalai Lama?
Because of political pressures from China and an uncertain future for the Tibetan people, history will not necessarily repeat itself in choosing the next dalai lama.
Instead of waiting for a rebirth, the next leader may be chosen by a group of senior lamas similar to the way the pope is chosen. Another option is for the oldest living lama to become the new dalai lama.
The current dalai lama has also said he may take the unusual step of choosing his successor, possibly a woman.
"The whole idea is that a reincarnate lama of a certain skill and enlightenment can consciously choose their death and their place of rebirth. I call it, they can do 'a conscious womb shot,'" said Robert Thurman, a Columbia University professor of Buddhist studies.
Thurman added that the Dalai Lama has a sense of humor about the next incarnation being a female.
"He jokingly said…[she] would be much better looking," said Thurman.
The Dalai Lama travels to Italy this week and then to southern India, where he will ordain 1,000 monks.