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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Essay: Reincarnation Sutra Retold

January 28, 2010

Claude Arpi
Pioneer (India)
January 27, 2010

Beijing is becoming increasingly nervous. The
fact that China is today a recognised world power
(the Middle Kingdom has become the second largest
economy and the largest exporter) may lead you to
conclude that the leadership in Beijing lives in
peace with itself, enjoying its newly-acknowledged position.

But that would be a wrong conclusion. For,
despite their status, the Politburo members in
the walled-enclave of Zhongnanhai are trembling.
As in the famous Asterix comic books, some
indomitable tribes continue to refuse the rule of
the most powerful empire of its time. Though the
tiny Armorican village could not be captured by
the Roman Empire because the villagers managed to
acquire invincible strength by drinking a magic
potion brewed by their druid, in this case the
tribe does not use magic potion, but non-violence.

The Empire does not really know how to strike
back. A meeting of the all-powerful Politburo of
the CCP was held on January 8 to deal exclusively
with the situation in the Tibet Autonomous
Region, which represents about a third of
historical Tibet. China’s President Hu Jintao,
who between 1988 and 1992 was posted as CCP’s
Tibet party secretary, spoke during the meeting
of two objectives: “To seek a breakthrough in
(economic) development and maintain long-term stability.”

Mr Hu said that the Chinese Government would help
Tibet in four ways: Boosting investment,
transferring technology, and sending in more
qualified officials as well as “experts and
talents”. The new motto suggested by the Chinese
President is “going down the road of development
with Chinese characteristics and Tibetan flavour”.

Unfortunately, this will not apply when it comes
to the Lamas’ most sacred institutions: The
reincarnation tradition. "Keeping a living Buddha
under control means keeping a temple under
control, and keeping a temple under control means
keeping a district under control.” These words,
conveniently put in the mouth of an unknown
supporter of the ‘separatist Dalai group’,
appeared in The People’s Daily on January 7. In
fact, this is what the CCP realised a long time ago.

The People’s Daily article, headlined "Dalai
Lama’s reincarnation tale indicative of
separatism," is most offensive and reflects great
nervousness on Beijing’s part. The People’s Daily
has argued that a few months back the Dalai Lama
had declared he could very well be reincarnated
in the form of a woman. Beijing says that this is
“an eye-popping thing to say”.

Several years ago, I had the occasion to ask the
Dalai Lama to elaborate on this point. He had
then explained: "In Tibet, the tradition of
having reincarnated teachers is almost 700 years
old. Among them, we had one instance of a female
reincarnation. In case a female Dalai Lama is
more useful to Tibet in future, then why not have
a woman as ‘reincarnation’? If a Tibetan female
Dalai Lama comes, every male will become her follower!”

He had gone on to add, "I feel that education
alone cannot solve all our contemporary problems.
More emphasis should be given on ‘compassion’.
Women are basically more sensitive and
compassionate. But men are not. They are more aggressive”.

The Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be the
reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva
of Compassion and Patron Saint of Tibet. His
‘job’, as the present Dalai Lama puts it, is to
make sure that the Buddhist tradition flourishes in the Land of Snows.

Beijing has now reacted violently (and belatedly)
to the idea of a female Dalai Lama. "A living
reincarnation, reincarnated as a girl or a
bronze-haired foreigner… all these absurd
arguments by the 14th Dalai Lama on his
reincarnation have made people in the Tibetan
Buddhist circle feel furious,” says the People’s Daily.

The daily, which truthfully reflects the thinking
of the Communist Party of China, which has
apparently gained great expertise in the Buddha
Dharma, argues, “According to the basic teachings
of Tibetan Buddhism, (the Dalai Lama) ‘may be a
woman’ is simply an outrageous remark.” It then
adds: “In the eyes of many Tibetan Buddhists, it is a blasphemy.”

What a sexist remark! Did not Buddha ordain his
own mother? But one cannot expect the Communists
in Beijing to have read the sutras.

A couple of years ago, the Chinese Government had
announced new ‘Measures on the Management of the
Reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan
Buddhism’. Beijing has clearly been preparing for
the Dalai Lama’s departure (and return); the
‘measures’ targeted the Tibetan leader. If Karl
Marx could read some of the 14 articles of the
‘measures’, he would be turning in his grave.

The ‘measures’ describe in great detail how
"reincarnating living Buddhas should carry out
application and approval procedures." The Chinese
Government threatened: “No group or individual
may without authorisation carry out any
activities related to searching for or
recognising reincarnating living Buddha soul
children.” The Communist Party of China, which
has always treated religion as ‘poison’, has
suddenly become an authority on the centuries-old tradition of ‘reincarnation’.

The People’s Daily refers to the ‘measures’ to
state that "the reincarnation of Living Buddha
shall not be interfered or dominated by any
organisation or individual abroad”. It is another
way of saying that the Dalai Lama has no business
in deciding his own reincarnation.

In Tibet, the lineage system has never been
rigid. For example, during the 13-14th century,
the hierarchs of Sakya monastery ruled over the
Land of Snows. Their succession was set up by way
of ‘transmission’ from father to son or uncle to
nephew. Further, historians believe that at the
beginning of the 17th century, two Dalai Lamas
were alive at the same time (the Sixth and the
Seventh). There was no fixed place about where a
Dalai Lama could be reborn. The Fourth Dalai
Lama, Yonten Gyatso was born in Mongolia while
the Sixth, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in India
(in Tawang district of today’s Arunachal Pradesh).

Through Tibet’s history, the interregnum between
two Dalai Lamas has been a weakness of the
reincarnation system. The 19th century saw a
succession of five Dalai Lamas. The Chinese,
through their Ambans (or Ambassadors) in Lhasa,
made full use of this weakness. Many surmise that
the premature deaths of the Ninth up to the
Twelfth Dalai Lamas were not a mere coincidence
and the Chinese Ambans certainly took great
advantage of their ‘timely departure’. It is
clear that the problem is not only a spiritual
issue, but also a political one and this explains
the meddling of the Chinese Communists in what
seems at first sight to be a religious affair.

Writer is an author of several books on Tibet, and journalist
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