By Ben Westcott, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN)A decade ago, the Dalai Lama set himself a significant deadline.The best-known living Buddhist figure in the world said that when he turned 90 years old, he would decide whether he should be reincarnated — potentially ending a role that has been key to Tibetan Buddhism for more than 600 years, but in recent decades has become a political lightning rod in China.

While the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is reportedly still in good health, he is now 85 and questions over his succession are growing, along with fears that his death could spark a religious crisis in Asia.

After an unsuccessful revolt against the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India where he established a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, leading thousands of Tibetans who have followed him there. While the Dalai Lama had originally hoped his exile would only be temporary, Beijing’s control of Tibet has only tightened, making a return unlikely anytime soon.

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