Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chinese Soul Searching

Do you believe in reincarnation?
In Beijing, the Marxists do.
The Dalai Lama had to recently issue a statement to explain to the Chinese leadership (and the general public) the meaning of ‘reincarnation’ in Tibetan Buddhism.
This should have set aside the CCP pretention of being able to decide about the wanderings of a Lama after his death and the location of his return.
It has not. Li Decheng, Director of the China Tibetology Research Center stated: “Generally speaking, there is nothing new in Dalai Lama's statement on reincarnation. He is just using his special identity and influence to deceive and throw the dust in the eyes of the public.” For Mr Li, the Dalai Lama dreams to “destroy the normal state of the Tibetan Buddhism”.
It is not worth commenting on.
The Dalai Lama used the occasion of a high-level conference of the heads of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism (as well as the Bon tradition), held in Dharamsala at the end of September to scholarly clarify the factual position. The Dalai Lama read a statement, later endorsed by the highest Buddhist gurus in exile.
Interestingly, he gave himself some 15 more years to 'decide': "When I am about ninety, 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 explained: “We evolved a unique Tibetan tradition of recognizing the reincarnations of scholar-adepts that has been of immense help to both the Dharma and sentient beings, particularly to the monastic community.”
Though it was the Karmapas who first established a linage by reincarnation some 900 years ago; for 369 past years, the Dalai Lamas have ruled the Land of Snows using this method.
The recent introduction of democracy in Dharamsala will not stop the Dalai Lamas to carry on with their religious duties; future incarnations will continue to spiritually guide the people of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama clarified: “In order to accept reincarnation or the reality of Tulkus [reincarnated lamas], we need to accept the existence of past and future lives. Sentient beings come to this present life from their previous lives and take rebirth again after death.”
It is here that the Chinese have a problem. Do they really believe in the existence of past and future lives? Did Marx ponder over the issue?
For a Buddhist, it is only once he is liberated from the cycle of existence by overcoming his karma that he may not need to reincarnate anymore.
Reincarnation is a world-wide phenomenon said the Dalai Lama: “There are people who can remember their immediate past life or even many past lives, as well as being able to recognize places and relatives from those lives.”
His statement gave details on how rebirth takes place, the meaning of Tulku, the recognition of reincarnations (a practice started from the Buddha’s time), the system of recognizing reincarnations in Tibet (which had its own characteristics) and the different ways of recognizing reincarnations.
Though rich in technical (and historical) details, it makes a fascinating reading. Amongst the traditional ways to find a reincarnation, the Dalai Lama cites the predecessor’s predictive letter and other instructions and indications. Some reincarnations can “reliably recount their previous life and speaking about it [or] identify possessions belonging to the predecessor and recognize people who had been close to him.”
Additional methods are available such as divination by realized spiritual masters, predictions by renowned oracles or visions which appear in sacred lakes (the Lhamoi Latso lake, south of Lhasa, in the case of the present Dalai Lama).
It is only when there is a doubt or too many candidates that the final decision is made by divination employing the dough-ball method [the so-called Golden Urn] before the statue of a special deity. This last method is relatively easy to manipulate, particularly for political or other purposes. The Chinese have mastered it.
The main objective of a reincarnation is to continue the predecessor’s unfinished work and serve the Dharma, insists the Tibetan leader. It is obviously not to serve a Party or a group of individuals.
For the Dalai Lama, the reincarnation business is personal one: “no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her.”
His request to the Chinese leadership is therefore to stop ‘brazen meddling’ in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas.
The Communist leaders are very much aware of the Dalai Lama’s clout over the masses not only in Tibet, but also in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal, Mongolia, and even parts of the Russian Federation.
Several years ago, Beijing has already thought of using reincarnations to control Tibet (the Chinese leaders always plan their moves well in advance!)
On December 8 1995, a Chinese candidate was imposed by the Communist Party and ‘officially’ enthroned as the Panchen Lama in the Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse, the second largest Tibetan town. The ceremony had been kept secret by the authorities until the last moment as they feared a backlash from a resentful Tibetan population.
The candidate, Gyaltsen Norbu had been chosen after a mock ‘Golden Urn’ ceremony organized earlier in the Jokhang Cathedral in Lhasa by the dignitaries of the Communist Party. The parents of Gyaltsen Norbu were Communist Party members. The usual traditional joy expressed by the Tibetan crowds when one of its high incarnates (and specially the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Lama) has come back to this world, was absent.
This time curfew was imposed in Shigatse, Lhasa and Chamdo, the three largest cities in Tibet and the boy had to be isolated under protection in one of the estates of the previous Panchen Lama. The high lamas, officials and monks of the Tashi Lhunpo were informed only on the eve of the event and threatened with dire consequences if they feigned ill heath for not attending the enthronement.
More than 500 soldiers and members of the Public Security Bureau guarded the entrance of the monastery and screened the selected ‘invitees’.
At that time, the eminent scholar and former Prime Minister, Prof Samdhong Rinpoche quoted the previous Panchen Lama who had declared in 1988: “according to Tibetan history, the confirmation of either the Dalai or the Panchen Lama must be mutually recognized.” Four days before his mysterious death in 1989, the Panchen Lama again said: “In the past most of the reincarnates were confirmed by the Father and the Son Aryas (the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama).”
The Chinese leadership nevertheless decided to ignore the candidate recognized by the Dalai Lama and go ahead with its own ‘incarnation’.
At that time already a question was in the mind of all Tibetans: was the Panchen Lama’s ‘recognition’ and enthronement a rehearsal for the future ‘recognition’ of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese are known to create precedents to be able to quote them later as historical tradition.
Today, the Dalai Lama finds outrageous and disgraceful the Order No. Five issued by the rulers in Beijing for controlling the reincarnations of ‘Living Buddhas’.
In the meantime, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the true reincarnation of the Panchen Lama remains a prisoner in China. This is tragic.

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