Join our Mailing List

"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?"

CTA's Response - V

December 19, 2009 [Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:05]
Beijing Wanting to Choose Tibet's Spiritual Leaders is a Political Tool


 From the onset of China's occupation of Tibet, the Chinese Communist
Party's outlook towards Tibetan Buddhism has been of extreme suspicion
and fear. Tibetan people's way of life and their outlook towards the
world is inextricably linked with fundamental precepts of Buddhism. This
common philosophical thread and a shared culture bind Tibetans into a
unified entity giving them a sense of national identity. For Tibetan
people this basic identity is inseparable from their belief in Buddhist
principles, which "encompasses the entirety of their culture and
civilization and constitutes the very essence of their lives. Of all the
bonds which defined Tibetans as a people and as a nation, religion was
undoubtedly the strongest."1

On the other hand, such unifying power and spirit become definitive
threats to Beijing's authority and survival. As a result the Chinese
rulers have been at pains to hammer down and eradicate Tibetan faith and
identity from within their hearts.

In recent years China has increasingly involved itself in controlling
and manipulating Tibetan Buddhism. In July 2007, the State Religious
Affair Bureau issued a so-called Order No. Five ? which is a set of
"management measures for the reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan
Buddhism." This is an ultimate interference in the centuries-old Tibetan
spiritual practice and a gross violation of the freedom of religion as
enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also
mentioned in the constitution of the People's Republic of China.

History of Reincarnation

Tibetans believe in rebirth, which brings about universal love for
living beings. Highly realized spiritual masters use the vehicle of
rebirth to come back in another human form with "the innate wish to help
others." 2 The root of the reincarnation goes back to the theory of
'three buddha bodies' in Buddhism ? the body of reality, the body of
perfect rapture, and the emanational body."3 The emanational or
reincarnated body has many different terms in Tibetan such as lama,
tulku, yangsi, kyetul, latul etc. The Chinese term ?Living Buddha? does
not exists in Tibetan Buddhist parlance.

Tibetans have adapted reincarnation into a unique system of successive
rebirths of spiritual masters. Thus when a lama passes away, his
reincarnation is recognized through centuries-old traditional methods.
This uninterrupted lineage is essential for the spiritual practice to
transmit the accumulated wisdom of the lama to the new reincarnation,
who in turn will teach them to the faithful.

The first reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism dates back to the 12th
century. Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193) was a great scholar and an
accomplished meditation master. Before he passed away at the age of
eighty-three, he presented Drogon Rechen, with a prediction letter,
detailing Düsum Khyenpa's future incarnation. Karma Pakshi (1204-1283),
who was born in Eastern Tibet, "was recognized as the reincarnation of
Dusum Khyenpa by Pomdragpa Sonam Dorje. Karma Pakshi received the entire
cycle of the Kagyü teachings and became a famous siddha with
extraordinary powers and accomplishments."4

Since the reincarnation of the first Karmapa, more than seven hundred
years have passed and the current Karmapa Ugyen Trinley Dorjee is the
17th reincarnation. The selection, recognition and enthronement of the
successive Karmapa reincarnations have been a spiritual affairs
performed by experienced practitioners of the Kagyu school of Tibetan

Panchen Lama lineage started when Sonam Choklang was recognized as the
reincarnation of Khedup Gelek Palzang (1385-1483), the foremost student
of Je Tsongkhapa, who founded the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
"Sonam Choklang was the second Panchen Lama and the first reincarnation
in the Gelukpa school."5 The institution of the Panchen Lama, based in
Shigatse, was created by the 5th Dalai Lama in recognition of his
esteemed teacher, Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, who became the first in line
to assume the Panchen Lama title.

The Dalai Lama institution began when Gendeun Drup's reincarnation was
found after an intense search and a series of rigorous tests. Gendun
Gyatso was the second Dalai Lama, who established the Gaden Phodrang.
Altan Khan of the Tumat Mongols offered the title Dalai Lama to Sonam
Gyatso, who was the third in line. The relationship with China under
Qing and the Dalai Lamas as Tibetan spiritual and temporal leaders began
with the 5th Dalai Lama's Beijing visit of 1653.

"The 5th Dalai Lama established a standard manual of titles and ranks
for reincarnate lamas and tulkus. The Dalai Lama based this guideline on
the traditional ranks and positions of each lama and tulku in their
respective monasteries and set a standard benchmark. This effectively
managed recognition of tulkus and avoided selecting them out of
preferential treatment."6 No Chinese emperor had authority in Tibetan
religious matters.

The special bond between the Panchen and Dalai Lamas has been that of
teacher and student with each performing the critical role in the
recognition of the reincarnation of the other. The elder of the two
plays a crucial role in the education of the other, passing on special
initiations, transmissions and other spiritual heritage. There were no
Chinese interventions in the selection process; and whenever there was
interference Tibetans had thwarted it.

One of the major Chinese propagandas is that the selection of
reincarnation of lama and tulku is done by using golden urn lottery
system. In 1792 "after the Gurkha war, the Chi'en-lung Emperor tried to
institute a new system by which the reincarnations of high lamas, such
as Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, would be determined by lottery."7
However, about a decade later in 1805 "although there were two
candidates for the ninth incarnation of the Dalai Lama, the golden urn
system was ignored and the selection made by the Tibetan officials
themselves."8 Moreover, the Manchu army General Fu K'ang-an told the 8th
Dalai Lama that this was a mere "suggestion" and that Tibetans should
"decide for themselves as to what is in their favour and what is not."9

After the 9th Dalai Lama passed at the tender age of ten, Chinese Ambans
demanded that golden urn be used to select the reincarnation. Once
again, "the regent, members of the Kashag, and representatives of the
three big monasteries confirmed him [a child from Lithang] to be the
tenth Dalai Lama."10 The 10th Dalai Lama too passed away at young age of
27 and when his reincarnation was found the 7th Panchen Lama recognized
and gave the name Khedrup Gyatso. Khedrup was the 11th Dalai Lama.

It is historically clear that Tibetans carried out their spiritual
practice independently without being ordered or forced by outside
powers. A point made clear by the 9th Panchen Choekyi Nyima: if an
"advice ran counter in any respect to their [Tibetan] national
prejudice, the Chinese Emperor himself would be powerless to influence

In 1995, through a carefully manufactured performance using the golden
urn lottery system Beijing chose six-year-old, Gyaltsen Norbu, as
'their' reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. As soon as the selection
was done the boy was "ushered into the room in golden robes and a yellow
silk hat. Norbu was hailed by the monks and by a man dressed
incongruously in a Western-style suit: Luo Gan, a senior Chinese
official dispatched to oversee the ceremony. Luo later bent forward,
shook the boy's hand and said, "Love the country and study hard."12

Systematic Suppression

The "17-Point Agreement" signed by the Tibetan under duress in 1951
explicitly stated that "the policy of freedom of religious belief laid
down in the Common Programme of the Chinese People's Political
Consultative Conference will be protected. The Central Authorities will
not effect any change in the income of the monasteries."13 Three years
later during his final meeting with His Holiness Dalai Lama in 1954, Mao
Zedong edged closer to His Holiness and whispered: "... but of course
religion is poison. It has two great defects: it undermines the race,
and secondly it retards the progress of the country. Tibet and Mongolia
have been both poisoned by it."14 This was an undeniable precursor to
subsequent violation of the provision of the 'agreement' and eventual
destruction of religion and religious institutions in Tibet.

Early on Chinese leaders realized that religion was the biggest hurdle
to their control over Tibet. Hence Beijing had launched a series of
systematic policies, directives and campaigns to undermine religion and
its inherent influence on the Tibetan people.

In 1950s and 60s under so-called 'democratic reforms' land and other
assets were seized from the monasteries. "Attacks on religion became
more violent. Lamas were assaulted and humiliated; some were put to
death. The ordinary people who refused Chinese orders to give up the
practice of religion were beaten and had their good confiscated."15 By
1959 the Chinese occupying forces have killed a large number of monks
and civilians and numerous religious structures were demolished,
prompting International Commission of Jurist to comment that "they
[Chinese] have systematically set out to eradicate this religious belief
in Tibet," and that "in pursuit of this design they [Chinese] have
killed religious figures because their religious belief and practice was
an encouragement and example to others."16

In 1959 "there were more than a total of 6,259 monasteries with about
592, 558 resident monks and nuns. These religious centres also housed
tens and thousands of statues, [and] religious artifacts."17 When Mao's
convoluted Cultural Revolution was over in 1976, "Chinese government was
responsible for the destruction of more than 6000 monasteries in Tibet.
The contents of these monasteries ? religious images and statues ? were
destroyed or looted, and millions of ancient and priceless manuscripts
burnt."18 The entire Tibetan way of life was fractured.

The destruction of religion, however, did not stop with end of the
Cultural Revolution. It got more subtle and insidious. The various
policies on religion are overseen and authorized by China's highest body
the Central Committee and Politburo and the State Council. The Party
sits at the top of a tightly controlled system that implements policies
and directives in Tibet.

Through this chain of unbroken command the Democratic Management
Committee (DMC) that China set up in each of the monasteries throughout
Tibet implements the policies. It is the lowest operating unit. "The
Committee receives guidance and support from relevant government
departments in charge of religious affairs, and keeps them informed of
any problems in implementing state policies..."19 Through it the
government "provide maximum economic and political control over
monasteries"20 and one of its important roles is "to inform the PSB of
the identities of counter-revolutionaries."21

The local DMC also functions in collusion with 'work team' whose prime
responsibility is to conduct political education and investigation. The
'work teams' routinely move into monasteries and nunneries sometimes for
months "to carry out investigations, hold meetings, conduct surveillance
and identify candidates for arrest."22 Thus traditional role of abbot is
undermined and the entire religious establishment is turned into a
political battlefield to bend monks' and nuns' loyalty towards the Party.

Article-36 of the Constitution of PRC, which was adopted in 1982, claims
that "citizens of the PRC enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state
organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe
in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate
against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion."23
Yet the same year Document 1924 was released. This was the "most
authoritative and comprehensive statement ever issued by the central
government on the permissible scope of the religious freedom."25 It
"declared religious tolerance to be a necessary step in the path towards
eradication of religion."

Beijing had launched a wave of campaigns such as 'Strike Hard' and
'Patriotic Re-education' through which the government heavily interferes
in the religious institutions and introduces "Marxist outlook to
Buddhism or reshaping of Buddhism to suit the needs of socialist China."26

China's systematic polices to stamp out Tibetan religion have led to
executions, destruction of religious institutions, political
indoctrination, expulsion of monks and nuns, imprisonment, banning
religious ceremonies, restricting on number of monks in monasteries and
enforcing loyalty to the Party. But no matter how hard the Chinese
suppression is or how severe the reprisals are when caught "Tibetans
stubbornly refuse to abandon their religion and culture. On a daily
basis they find ways to rebel, hiding banned images of the Dalai Lama
close to their hearts, lighting banned incense, whispering banned

Persecutions only drive the Tibetans further from the Chinese. The rift
has grown larger, thus denying Beijing the approval, the respect and the
allegiance of Tibetan people that it needs to legitimately meddle in
religious affairs.

Political Tool

"Religious tenets and practices which do not comply with socialist
society should be changed"28 Beijing declared in A Golden Bridge Leading
to a New Era, a high-level official guideline on religious policies in
Tibet established during the Third National Forum on Work in Tibet 1994.
This has always been the central focus of China's policy on Tibetan
religion ? forcing the monks and nuns 'to love the Communist Party of
China; to love the motherland; to love socialism; and to love people.'

The most recent, and probably the most ludicrous policy on religion, is
the so-called Order No. Five issued by State Religious Affairs Bureau.
This guideline requires recognition of all reincarnate tulkus or lamas
be authorized by Beijing, which is a clear, direct and undisguised
interference the fundamental right of Tibetan people.

China is a socialist state that firmly believes and adheres to
Marxist-Leninist Mao Zedong Thoughts. For this trio of socialism's
placard religion is a social toxin. "Religion is the sigh of the
oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of
soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people,"29 wrote Marx.
"Religion is a spiritual oppression ... [a kind] of spiritual booze,"30
Lenin added. Mao was vehemently direct. "Religion is a poison," he said.
If indeed religion is such a loathsome poisonous affair, then why is
Beijing so keen to involve itself in Tibetan Buddhism?

The answer is simple ? Political Tool.

During a brief policy relaxation in the early 1980s, Tibetans
voluntarily rebuilt a number of monasteries in occupied Tibet leading to
resurgence in Tibetan national identity, which in turn led to a series
of demonstration calling for Tibet's freedom and the return of the Dalai
Lama. "The revival of Tibetan culture, religion, and nationalism was a
surprise to the Chinese, who had imagined that thirty years of
repression and propaganda would have eliminated Tibetan separatism."31
Upon realizing that total suppression alone does not bring the desired
result, Beijing chose to employ religion as a tool not only "to
transform Tibetan national identity and loyalty to the Dalai Lama into
Chinese national identity and loyalty to China" but also as a kind of
legal measure which constitute means to put their people in positions
that control Tibetan people's spiritual realm.

"Religion must be of no concern to the state, and religious societies
must have no connection with governmental authority,"32 wrote Lenin. But
of course these words of wisdom from the socialist founding father do
not ring any bell in the minds of Chinese comrades.

For them safeguarding their power and suppressing any challenge to the
Party's authority trump over rights of people. This is clear when in
1993 the Chinese President Jiang Zemin said that religion should be
?guided to adapt to socialism.? To fulfil such objective China has set
up heavy regulations on religion at all levels.

The result is that "everything to do with religion in Tibet, including
building restoration, entering orders, monk quotas in monasteries,
festival celebrations, and pilgrimages, has to be authorized by the
Commission of Nationalities and Religious Affairs."33

Beijing sees danger in Buddhism as an increasing number of Chinese come
to receive teachings from Tibetan lamas, including the Dalai Lama. Over
a thousand Chinese joined Larung Gar as students of the charismatic
Tibetan religious leader, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, in Eastern Tibet. In
2001 the Chinese Authorities demolished the entire religious community
and expelled thousands of monks, nuns and other disciples. Such fears
are embedded in Chinese rulers, who in earlier decades declared that
'two suns will not exist in the sky' referring to Buddhism and
Communism. 'There can be only one sun and that is the Communist Party,'
they claimed.

The so-called Order No. Five is an unashamed and ungloved political hand
stretching into Tibetan people's spiritual domain. This 'order' was
categorically repudiated by "the heads of all the religious schools of
Tibetan Buddhism; the monks, nuns, mantra holders and the other lay
followers of the respective schools and the Department of Religion and
Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration"34 based in Dharamsala,
India. The statement notes that "these measures for managing tulkus, is
nothing but a deceitful lie" and that such lie will not be "able to fool
the Tibetans and the people of the world."

A resolution was passed by the heads of all Tibetan Buddhist schools and
Bon tradition on May 3 2008 in Dharamsala. Following the age-old
tradition, the resolution stated that "well-known lamas and tulkus who
have been continuously reincarnating in the respective monastic
institutions" need no consents from the head of each school. However,
"recognizing reincarnations of new lamas and tulkus shall not be done
without seeking consent from the heads of the four Tibetan Buddhist
schools and Bon tradition." It should be noted that the heads of all the
schools of Tibetan Buddhism were exiled by China and live in India. The
most recent one to escape is the 17th Karmapa, the head of Kagyu school,
who stated that one of the reasons for coming into exile was that there
were no competent religious teachers in occupied Tibet. This also
testifies against Beijing's claim that Buddhism is flourishing in Tibet.

The polarity between Beijing's 'order' and the centuries-old Tibetan
traditional methods of recognizing tulkus is not only a question of
denial of religious freedom but more importantly it is a question of

Since its occupation, China has suppressed, imprisoned, killed and
exiled hundreds of thousands of Tibetans because of their faith. China
has also demolished, destroyed and damaged thousands of monasteries, and
burnt, melted and sold millions of religious objects. Based on these and
the fact that its founding father considered 'religion as poison', China
has neither the moral authority nor the legitimacy to interfere in the
affairs that concern Tibetan spiritual practice.

After the 10th Panchen Lama passed away in 1989, Chadrel Rinpoche headed
a team to undertake the search for his reincarnation. Following the
centuries-old methods and through prophecies and visions they found a
suitable boy. As per the tradition, the Dalai Lama performed the final
process of the identification. And on May 14 1995, the Dalai Lama
confirmed 6-year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th reincarnation of
the Panchen Lama.

This left Beijing red-faced and three days later Choekyi Nyima and his
family disappeared. Despite international pressure, China refuses to
acknowledge his whereabouts. In December 1995 the Chinese authorities
installed Gyaltsen Norbu as 'their' Panchen.

Since then Beijing has missed "few opportunities to promote their
choice, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the legitimate Panchen Lama. In April 2006 he
was the keynote speaker at the World Buddhist Forum in Hangzhou ? the
first religious conference held in China since 1949."35

However, in the eyes of the Tibetan people Beijing is still an
aggressor. This lack of legitimacy is clear from the way Tibetans look
at Chinese selected Panchen ? calling him 'Panchen Zunma' or 'Fake
Panchen.' Beijing is forced to send soldiers to monasteries and towns
either to force or to bribe people to welcome 'their Panchen' during his
visits. ?When the Panchen Zunma makes a visit Tibetans are commanded to
go for his blessings. In the schools, the Chinese officials distribute
scarves and badges, and tell everyone to formally receive the Panchen
Zunma. If anyone disregards this, they are punished.?36

Though His Holiness' name is not explicitly mentioned in the 'Order No.
Five', the reference to the Tibetan leader is clear in the directive
which mentioned that "those [reincarnations] with particularly great
impact shall be reported to the State Council for approval." This shows
that at the core of this absurd 'order' is Beijing's real intention to
meddle in the selection of, and to install 'their' Dalai Lama when the
present one passes away. However, the "purpose of reincarnation is to
continue and complete the unfinished work of the predecessor and to help
all living beings."36 To this effect His Holiness emphatically stated
that "if I die in exile...the reincarnation will be born in a free
country. He will not be born under China." Thus any attempt by Beijing
will not only end up in 'false idol' but also create more resentment in
the hearts of Tibetan people.

Beijing's concern is not for Tibetan people's spiritual affair, but to
manipulate religious practices to meet China's political ends. What
Tibetan lamas and tulkus have is "moral authority and a role as
unofficial community leaders or initiators. Local people turned to them
for help and advice on both religious and secular matters."37 This is a
legitimate danger to the Party's authority, which Beijing does not want
at any cost. This is why the Party is recklessly determined to control
the selection of reincarnations of lamas and tulkus.

Contemporary Tibetan scholar Geshe Lhakdor-la succinctly sums it up: "An
atheist party wanting to recognize reincarnation is a joke. This is a
religious affair, which has to be handled by someone who is well-versed
in spiritual matters. What the Communist Party is doing now is to use it
as a political tool to force its will. That is absolutely wrong."38


1. TIBET: proving truth from facts. DIIR. 1993. p. 64
2. My Land My People by Dalai Lama. Potala Corporation, 1992. p.51
3. bhod kyi sprul sku'i rnam bshad by Ladrang Kelsang. 1997. pp. 2-3
4. The Garland of Moon Water Crystal (Tib. dawa chu shel gyi trengwa) by
Situ Choekyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Kunkhyab
5. bhod kyi sprul sku'i rnam bshad by Ladrang Kelsang. 1997. p. 13
6. ibid. pp. 119-120
7. Political History of Tibet by W. D. Shakhabpa. Potala Publications.
1984. p. 172
8. ibid p.172
9. Talai Lamai Namthar by Ya Angchang. pp. 159-161
10. Political History of Tibet. p.174
11. Diary of Capt. O'Connor. September 4 1903
12. Tempest In A Golden Urn by Anthony Spaeth & Meenakshi Ganguly. TIME
Magazine. Monday, Dec. 11, 1995
13. Facts About 17-Point 'Agreement' Between Tibet and China. DIIR,
Dharamsala. May 22 2001
14. My Land and My People. p. 118
15. A Short History of Tibet by Hugh Richardson. 1962. p. 201
16. Tibet and the Chinese People?s Republic. Legal Inquiry Committee of
the International Commission of Jurists. 1960
17. TIBET: proving truth from facts. DIIR, 1993. p. 64
18. No Faith in the State. Tibet Watch. 2007. p. 10
19. 100 Questions about Tibet by Jing Wei. Beijing Review Press, 1989
20. Forbidden Freedom: Beijing's Control of Religion in Tibet. ICT,
Sept. 1990 p. 26
21. ibid. p. 28
22. ibid. p. 51
23. Constitution of the People's Republic of China; adopted at the Fifth
Session of the Fifth National People's Congress for the promulgation by
the Proclamation of the National People's Congress on December 4 1982
24. The Basic Viewpoint and Policy on the Religious Question during Our
Country's Socialist Period (popularly known as Document 19)
25. Forbidden Freedom: Beijing's Control of Religion in Tibet p.16
26. "Strike Hard" Campaign: China's crackdown on political dissidence.
TCHRD, 2004. p. 27
27. No Faith in the State. Tibet Watch. 2007 p.12
28. A Golden Bridge Leading to a New Era. guidelines on religious policy
announced at the Third Forum and later published by the TAR Party. p.81
29. Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy
of Right by Karl Marx
30. Lenin Collected Works. Progress Publishers, 1965. Moscow. Volume 10
p. 83
31. CHINA'S TIBET? Autonomy or Assimilation by Warren Smith. p. xvii
32. Lenin Collected Works. Progress Publishers. 1965. Moscow. Volume 10.
p. 84
33. Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China's 100 Questions. University
of California Press. 2008. p.187
34. Joint Statement to Repudiate the so-called Order No. 5 of China's
State Administration of Religious Affairs on Management Measures for the
Reincarnation of 'Living Buddhas' in Tibetan Buddhism
35. No Faith in the State. p.45
36. Public Speech on Reincarnation. Dalai Lama. Office of Dalai Lama.
2008. p.33
37. No Faith in the State. p.51
38. Interview with Geshe Lhakdor-la, Director of the Library of Tibetan
Works and Archives. Dharamsla, India.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank