Monday, March 2, 2015

China's political use of Rinpoches

The 7th Reting Rinpoche recognized by China
Two years ago, I raised an interesting and disturbing issue ('The Rule by Incarnation outdated?').
I wrote: “With or without the Dalai Lama as a temporal leader: the ‘rule by incarnations’ arrangement, specific to Tibet, is not a sustainable system of governance.”
I thought about it again when I recently saw an article in China Tibet Online.
It says ‘Panchen Lama extends New Year greetings to Tibetan compatriots’.
Beijing has been increasingly using ‘their’ Panchen Lama to deliver religious sermons and messages to the Tibetans.
On February 19, the first day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, the Tibetan Language Program of China National Radio broadcast the message of Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-selected 11th Panchen Lama. The young Lama delivered his New Year greetings to 'Tibetans at home and abroad', said the website affiliated with Xinhua, which reminded its reader of Gyaltsen Norbu's political role: he serves as Vice-President of the Buddhist Association of China and a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, China's top political advisory body.
The Lama told the ‘Tibetan People’:
As the 17th sexagenary cycle of the Tibetan calendar - the Year of Wood Sheep approaches, I'd like to extend my New Year greetings to our Tibetan compatriots at home and abroad.
I hope you continue to have faith in the Triratna (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and Karma, scorn the wrong and choose the right, and carry forward ethnic Tibetans' fine traditions and morality.
On every inch of this vast land, I hope you will all be freed from disease, disaster, war and hunger.
Wishing you all good health, success and happiness in the New Year!
Nothing wrong, except for the 'political' exploitation of a monk, who has not been recognized by the Dalai Lama, as the tradition requires, and perhaps more importantly, for the fact that the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama lives for nearly 20 years under house-arrest somewhere in China.
Interestingly, Ms. Sun Chunlan, one of the two most powerful ladies in China today and who has recently taken over as the Head of the United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China met the young Gyaltsen Norbu on February 12 in Beijing (see my post on the subject).

The 'Reting' Rinpoche
Gyaltsen Norbu is not the only Lama 'politically' used by the Communist authorities in Tibet. Sonam Phuntsog, supposedly the reincarnation of the former Regent, Reting Rinpoche has recently been propelled on the political stage.
“The annual two local sessions of the Tibet Autonomous Region saw the participation of the Seventh Reting Living Buddha,” says Xinhua.
The Chinese news agency affirms: “Sonam Phuntsog, 19, is the youngest member of the political advisory body of the Tibet Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) whose mission is to advise on major issues of State policy and play a role in democratic supervision by proposing suggestions and voicing criticism. He was enthroned as the spirit child of the Sixth Reting Living Buddha at the age of 4 and also holds the title of Reting Rinpoche, once a religious regent in Tibet.”
Yes, the Communist Party of China believes in 'spirit child'!
During the Conference, the young monk apparently asked the government to “provide cultural classes for the monks of his monastery, and called for better protection for the environment surrounding his monastery.”
Sonam Phuntsog would have told the Regional CPPCC that subjects such as Tibetan Chinese, English, computing, law and sciences should be compulsory and that it was essential for monks to learn more about social sciences besides Buddhist teachings. He would have also said: “High literacy among monks can contribute to them providing better services to the country and its people."
The young monk mentioned juniper trees which made Reting monastery famous. Prayer beads made from junipers seeds are sacred all over Tibet. The ‘rinpoche’ made a politically-correct statement: "The junipers around my monastery are holy trees, and I oppose anyone cutting down trees. However, the seeds for prayers beads form part of the cultural heritage of the monastery."
He advised the devotees to collect them and use them for their malas (without cutting the trees).
More interesting, he expressed his concerns about the Governments’ plans to develop the area around Reting into a tourist attraction. He said that it will affect the environment.
This might be true.
What is however worrying is the extensive use by China of ‘its’ Rinpoches/Living Buddhas to further their political rule over Tibet.
As mentioned at the beginning, it is the drawback of the system of rule by incarnations, it can always be (and often is) manipulated. The result today is there are two Panchen Lamas, two Karmapas, and probably one day, two Dalai Lamas.

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