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Tibetans fume over China rules on reincarnation

Monday, 3 September 2007 - 9:30am IST

Tibetan activists are seething in rage and despair over “absurd” new regulations from the Chinese government, which came into force on Saturday.

HONG KONG: Tibetan activists are seething in rage and despair over “absurd” new regulations from the Chinese government, which came into force on Saturday, under which Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations require Communist Party approval. 

The new “management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism” are widely perceived as a desperate move by the Chinese government to undermine the influence of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist leaders who oppose Chinese rule in Tibet. 

The new regulation bars any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, and effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama.

“These stringent new measures strike at the heart of Tibetan religious identity,” says Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, a special envoy of the Dalai Lama. “They will only create further resentment among the Tibetan people and cannot override the Party’s lack of legitimacy in the sphere of religion.”

The measures have also been sharply criticised by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China as having the potential to transform Tibeten Buddhism “into a less substantial, more completely state-managed institution.” They would “empower” the Communist Party and government to “gradually reshape Tibetan Buddhism by controlling one of the religion’s most unique and important features” — lineages of teachers that Tibetan Buddhists believe are reincarnations that can span centuries.

“As elderly reincarnations pass away, the measures authorise government officials to decide whether or not a reincarnation is eligible, and if one is permitted, the government will supervise the search for the subsequent reincarnation, as well as religious education and training,” the Commission noted.

Likewise, the US Commission on International Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that the regulations “are clearly designed to undermine the influence of the Dalai Lama… and constitute continuing state violation of internationally guaranteed religious freedoms in China.”

For his part, the 72-year-old Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he will not be reborn in Tibet as long as it’s under Chinese control, and has even said Tibetans themselves were free to decide whether to continue with the institution of the Dalai Lama. 

According to the International Campaign for Tibet, the new regulations are a reflection of the “political difficulties” faced by Chinese authorities following their “failure to secure the allegiance of some senior reincarnate lamas in Tibet in recent years.”

Indicatively, it noted, the 17th Karmapa, who was being groomed by the Chinese as a ‘patriotic’ figurehead, escaped from Tibet in 1999, and is now living in exile in India. And Arjia Rinpoche, the abbot of Kumbum monastery in Qinghai, defected to the US in 1998. Both made statements afterwards about the lack of genuine religious freedom in Tibet.

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