The Dalai Lama has told a German newspaper that he should be the last in his line of Tibetan spiritual leaders, ending a centuries-old religious tradition from his Himalayan homeland. “We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries. The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us then finish with a popular Dalai Lama,” he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper in an interview published on Sunday . According to the interview, the 79-year-old said his spiritual role could expire with his death. “If a weak Dalai Lama comes along, then it will just disgrace the Dalai Lama,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview, which was conducted in English. “Tibetan Buddhism is not dependent on one individual,” he reportedly said. “We have a very good organisational structure with highly trained monks and scholars.” A spokesman for the Dalai Lama did not immediately answer emailed questions about the interview’s accuracy. Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University said it was important to distinguish between the Dalai Lama’s political and religious roles. “It’s more likely that in this interview he was being categorical that there will be no return to the political role of the Dalai Lamas ("the institution"), while expressing conventional modesty and uncertainty about returning as a spiritual figure,” he wrote in an email. Apart from his spiritual role, Dalai Lamas have exercised political power over Tibetans since 1642. The Dalai Lama fled across the Himalayas to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. He continued his political claim to power in Tibet with a government-in-exile in Dharamsala in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. In May 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize winner abdicated his political claims to assume a purely spiritual role. At the same time, he strengthened the role of the prime minister of the Tibetan exile government and maintained a figure head position in the exile government. Also in 2011, he said only he and authorities of his lineage, but not Chinese authorities, could recognise his successor. At the time he said he hadn’t decided whether there should be one at all. “When I am about 90 I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not,” he said at the time. Despite his abdication of political power, the Dalai Lama remains the most powerful rallying point for Tibetans, both in exile and in their homeland, and is the universally recognised face of the exile movement. On the question of whether he may ever be able to return to Tibet, he said in the interview: “Yes, I am sure of that. China can no longer isolate itself, it must follow the global trend towards a democratic society.” Asked by Welt am Sonntag how much longer he may carry on his advocacy duties, he reportedly said: “The doctors say I could become 100 years old. But in my dreams I will die at the age of 113 years.” “I hope and pray that I may return to this world as long as sentient beings’ suffering remains. I mean not in the same body, but with the same spirit and the same soul.” In a separate interview with the German state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle , the spiritual leader said Tibetan Buddhism was becoming more popular in China. “Even a number of Chinese Communist Party members, officials, even high officials are showing interest in Tibetan Buddhism,” he said. He also said: “Already there are some signs that Chinese leaders or intellectuals now raise questions whether the existing policy is really helpful in the long run to the interest of the People’s Republic of China. So things are changing.” The Dalai Lama used the interview to contrast China with Russia under President Vladimir Putin. Unlike China’s leaders, Russia’s ruler was too egocentric and seeking isolation, he reportedly said. The Dalai Lama visited Hamburg in northern Germany in late August, where he gave lectures and met scholars. It was his 38th visit to the European nation, according to Tibetan exile media outlet Phayul .