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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

In This Life, Or The Next

January 11, 2008

By Melinda Liu

7 January 2008
Newsweek U.S. Edition

Autocrats worry about Buddha power. In much of Southeast Asia, monks
occupy the loftiest of moral high ground. According to the Buddhist
concept of reincarnation, misdeeds in past lives affect problems in the
current one. Do something bad in this life and you’ll probably come back
as a “sentient being” in your next onebut not necessarily a human.
During Burma’s bloody crackdown in September, some soldiers tried to
“defrock” monks prior to detaining them, in a bid to soften their own
karmic crimes. In 1988, I saw a Burmese soldier trying to give alms to
Buddhist monks, who refused him by turning their begging bowls upside
down. The guy seemed upset. He didn’t want to be reincarnated as a toad,
I suppose.

Authorities in Beijing, who’ve been criticized for supporting the
Burmese junta, have reason to be queasy about monk-led protests both at
home and abroad. Opposition to the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1951
erupted first in Buddhist monasteries. Resentment still simmers. On Nov.
19, two teenage Tibetan monks quarreled with a Chinese shopkeeper and
were detained. Some 200 sympathizers protested and five were arrested
for “fanning the riot,” according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
After the Dalai Lama was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in
October, clashes broke out between Chinese security forces and Buddhist
monks. Celebrations were quashed and 3,000 police reportedly surrounded
the Drepung Monastery near Lhasa, where monks learned of the award
through Web sites and YouTube.

Tibet’s “living buddhas” are a special case. Revered as reincarnated
deities, they are said to exert an unusual amount of control over their
future lives. Which led to the recent spat between Beijing and the
exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama over the politics of reincarnation.
It began when Beijing authorities decreed that reincarnated deities must
be Chinese citizens authorized by the religious-affairs bureau, meaning
no reincarnations in exile.

The exiled Dalai Lama responded by suggesting a variety of novel ways he
might come back. At 72, Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama; he once
told me he could return as two Dalai Lamas. Later, he said he might help
choose his own successor, or come back as a woman, or have his power
pass to a legislative body. Buddha power at the ballot box? That sounds
like double trouble for Beijing.
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