Monday, March 9, 2015

The ‘Ethnic’ Religious Faces of China

Dupkang Rinpoche received the 'Atisha' Award
In continuation with my posts on the ‘ethnic faces’ in the PLA and the Communist Party, I will today deal with the ‘ethnic religious faces’ who help Beijing in its endeavor to progressively takeover the leadership of the Buddhist World (in Asia at least).
On March 5, China Tibet Online reported the visit of a ‘Buddhist’ delegation from Tibet to Bangladesh. Can you believe it?
Quoting the Chinese Embassy in Bangladesh, the website said: “At the invitation of the Buddhism Association of Bangladesh, the China Tibetan Buddhism delegation, led by Rinpoche Dupkang Tupden Kedup, visited Bangladesh from February 21 to 25.”
I have often mentioned this ‘political’ rinpoche on this blog (particularly the rinpoche's visit in Kalmikya Republic of Russia).
Dupkang, who is close to the Communist Party, is vice chairman of the CPPCC Tibet Committee and Chairman of the Tibet Branch of Buddhist Association.
It appears that he has been awarded the ‘2015 Atisha Peace Gold Award’ by the Buddhism Association of Bangladesh (BAB).
The fact that Dupkang is not a monk does not seem to have bothered the BAB.
Dupkang Rinpoche in Bikrampur
Atisha Dipamkara Srijana was a Buddhist teacher from Bengal, who lived during the 11th century (at the time of the Pala Empire). He was one of the major saintly figures who spread Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in Asia and particularly in Tibet; he is still revered as one of the great religious gurus in Tibet and India (and apparently in Bangladesh).
The Dupkang delegation from Tibet is said to have exchanged views with local Bangladeshi Buddhists and visited the Atisha Memorial Hall and the Buddhist ruins in . A reception was hosted for the Tibetans by Ma Mingqiang, the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh.
China Tibet online says that Buddhism is the third largest religion in Bangladesh with about 0.7 percent of the population (they mainly live in the Chittagong hills); they followed the Theravada tradition.
This visit raises a very serious question and the Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala should ponder upon it.
Why has the Dalai Lama been unable to visit Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand (he went once in the 1970s, I think) or Sri Lanka? Most of these countries (apart from Bangladesh) have a large Buddhist population? Why should a Communist rinpoche like to Dupkang, relatively junior in the Buddhist hierarchy, be ‘honoured’ with the ‘Atisha Award’, when the Dalai Lama has never been able to visited Bangladesh.
One should not also forget that that the Tibetan Army (SSF) actively participated to the Liberation War in 1971; and this, at the cost of many Tibetan jawans’ and officers’ lives.
Why the Dalai Lama is not welcome in all these countries?
It is often due the Chinese political pressure, but also inter-school rivalry (the Drukpa Kargyu tradition in Bhutan, for example) or the great Mahayana/Theravada divide.
But are the differences so insurmountable?
An intra-Buddhist dialogue seems the need of the hour.
The time has perhaps come for Dharamsala (the Central Tibetan Administration or the Office of the Dalai Lama) to create a South Asian Bureau for Buddhists Affairs. A respected Buddhist figure (Tibetan or India) could visit the South Asian countries (including Baltistan in Pakistan) and start establishing contacts with local Buddhists.
This could eventually pave the way to a visit by the Dalai Lama. It is something that the Modi Sarkar should strongly support, (the Prime Minister could start discretely mentioning this during his forthcoming visit to Sri Lanka).
Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama

In the meantime in Tibet, Beijing is fully using Gyaltsen Norbu, China’s Panchen Lama for its political purpose.
On March 4, Xinhua reported: “As the youngest member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, the Panchen Lama, donning a red cloak, joined in discussions among religious members of the Third Session of the 12th CPPCC National Committee.”
The young Lama (25) spoke about "Cultivating talent, making Tibetan Buddhism better adapted to a socialist society."
He quoted Yu Zhengsheng, the CPPCC chairman, saying: “China supports the religious members to continue to play a unique role in carrying out targeted work in Tibet and Xinjiang and actively guide religions to adapt themselves to the socialist system."
Gyaltsen Norbu, who is the main ethnic face of Buddhism in today’s China, commented: "[Yu’s] remarks on religious work delivered clear expectations. In my opinion, Tibetan Buddhism can play an important role in national economic and social development, social harmony and maintaining stability."
There is no doubt that Beijing will continue to fully play the ‘Panchen Lama card’ in the years to come. For the purpose, in March, 2013, Norbu had been elevated to the ‘important’ (but ceremonial) post of member of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC National Committee.
On the side of the CPPCC meet, Gyaltsen Norbu explained that he daily devotes most of his time and attention “to cultivating a religious spirit in the Tibetan people. There's an urgent need to cultivate talent, which is important for Tibetan Buddhism in the present and future."
He added: “I hope to see a batch of Tibetan Buddhist talents who will unswervingly follow the path to a socialist society with Chinese characteristics." The last sentence is pure political propaganda, but has the young Lama the choice to speak differently?
Like the other ‘ethnic’ faces, probably not!

Religious ceremony at Kumbum Monastery
In the meantime, photos and videos have appeared on the social media showing heavy security presence at the annual Monlam Prayer Festival at Kumbum monastery, in Qinghai province.
Voice of America reported: “The heavy security presence with armored vehicles and troops with automatic weapons doing drills and marching through one of the major Tibetan monasteries appears to have deeply hurt the feelings of the Tibetan people in the area. In rare acts of expression on the heavily policed Chinese social media sites, one person asks, ‘Are we supposed to watch the army or watch the prayer festival’, while another laments, ‘I was so afraid that I forgot to pray’, and one person puts the armed intimidation of prayer goers in the context of China’s repeated calls for social stability by posting, ‘With this many soldiers at a prayer festival, are you working for harmony or war?’”
The 500 year old Monlam Prayer Festival is traditionally dedicated to teachers of all religious traditions, social harmony, and world peace.
In Beijing, the Chinese leaders speak of a ‘New Normal’ for China.
Is the military presence in Kumbum another ‘New Normal’?

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