The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says his people should have a role in finding his successor.
The Dalai Lama says Tibet would reject a Chinese-picked successor
Speaking in Amritsar, northern India, he told the BBC that Tibetans would also have to decide if the institution should continue at all after his death.
The Dalai Lama's successor is usually chosen by senior Buddhist officials.
Analysts say the 72-year-old is considering breaking this centuries-old tradition in order to reduce the influence of China in the process.
Traditionally, Buddhist elders congregate after the death of the current leader and identify a young child to succeed him, after being guided by dreams and signs.
The Dalai Lama warned that when he dies, China would try to promote its own candidate.
But he stressed, in an interview with the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, that ultimately it would be up to the people of Tibet to decide who they accepted, if anyone at all.
"The Tibetan nation is 2,000 years old. The Dalai Lama institution is relatively recent - only a few centuries old," he said.
"If I die, it will be a setback for the Tibetan people for some time. But then the struggle will continue.
"If the Tibetan people decide that the Dalai Lama institution is no longer relevant, then it will automatically cease to exist."
'Violation of tradition'
Beijing claims sovereignty over Tibet, which it has controlled since invading in 1950. However, many Tibetans remain loyal to the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959.
And the spiritual leader reopened a war of words with Beijing by criticising the way it rules Tibet.
"Stability and genuine harmony - that is the Chinese government's top priority. But you cannot have harmony under the gun," he said.
Beijing responded by accusing the Dalai Lama of violating his own religious traditions.
"The reincarnation of the living Buddha is a unique way of succession of Tibetan Buddhism and follows relatively complete religious rituals and historical conventions," China's foreign ministry said in a statement.
Beijing has denounced the Dalai Lama's many foreign trips, including recent visits to the US, Germany and Japan.
It says he should stay out of politics and restrict himself to a religious role.
Buddhists believe the current Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of his predecessors.