China attempts to legitimize its Panchen Lama through a major speech as the real Panchen Lama’s birthday approaches

  • On April 25, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama, will turn 26. His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized Gendun Choekyi Nyima, from Lhari, Nagchu (Chinese: Naqu) in Tibet, as the 11th Panchen Lama on May 14, 1995. A few days later, Chinese authorities abducted him and despite numerous enquiries for access from the international community, have not revealed information about his whereabouts or welfare. His plight remains of deep concern to the Tibetan people.
  • Chinese authorities then installed, in November 1995, Gyaltsen (Chinese: Gyalcain) Norbu, 25, as Panchen Lama, violating Tibetan religious traditions and practices concerning the reincarnations of lamas. Tibetans feel he has been selected by the Chinese authorities to ensure control of Tibet and assert their authority over a future incarnation of the Dalai Lama.[1]
  • On March 4, 2015 Gyaltsen Norbu delivered a speech in Beijing at a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in which he addressed a variety of issues related to religious policies in Tibet, and stated that Tibetans “enjoy religious freedom.”
  • With these public comments and other activities, including visits to Tibet, authorities in Beijing are trying to present the China-selected Panchen Lama as a legitimate figure with respect to religious policies in Tibet, continuing to disregard the fact that Tibetans do not recognize him as the Panchen Lama.
  • In what is probably an effort by the Chinese government to present their Panchen Lama as credible, Gyaltsen Norbu criticizes the imposition of quotas restricting the monastic population. Ironically, the comments, which, to date, the authorities have not corrected, are an unlikely admission by a religious figure controlled by the State that quotas restricting the number of monks exist in Tibet.

Gyaltsen Norbu’s speech, translated into English by ICT in full below,[2] is framed carefully in accordance with the Party line on religion, stating that in the “glow of the Party’s ethnic and religious policies,” Tibetans and other ethnicities enjoy “freedom of religious belief”, normal religious practices the and preservation of culture.

In his speech, Gyaltsen Norbu outlined the role of monks and nuns as follows: first, transmitting the Buddhist heritage; second, taking care of and protecting temples, halls, and cultural relics; and third, providing religious services to the masses. He then said that the current monastic population is not large enough to play these roles and gives three main reasons for the insufficient number of monks in Tibet. First, he said, with the development of society, and with more career choices, society is more attractive and some monks have returned to secular life; second, as life improves, and birthrate decreases, some families do not want their children to become monks; and third, he said, “it’s very important to mention that many monasteries have limited quotas, and there’s a phenomenon of many monasteries seeming to be at full strength or even above that.”

Chinese authorities do not openly admit the existence of “quotas” on monks in monasteries and nuns in nunneries. The government line is that the correct number of monks varies according to the monastery’s capacity to support them. Buddhist associations and monastic management committees are the proxies for the government in approving or reviewing such matters. In effect, this represents a government-approved “quota.”[3]

Gyaltsen Norbu’s comments are noteworthy since he is being groomed and managed by the Chinese authorities as part of Beijing’s political agenda, with control over the Dalai Lama’s succession a major focus. Historically, the Panchen Lama has been one of Tibet’s most revered religious figures, with a unique relationship to the Dalai Lama. Some Panchen Lamas have previously played a role in the recognition and subsequent education of Dalai Lamas, and vice versa, which is why control over the institution is considered to be so crucial by the Chinese leadership.

On February 12, Gyaltsen Norbu was pictured by the state media with Sun Chunlun, the head of the United Front Work Department, who is also in the Politburo.[4] Gyaltsen Norbu’s March 4 speech before members of China’s top leadership[5] would certainly have had to been officially approved beforehand.

Most Tibetans revere Gendun Choekyi Nyima, recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama.[6] On May 17, 1995, the 11th Panchen Lama disappeared. Suspicions that he had been kidnapped were confirmed in 1996 during questioning by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, when the Chinese government admitted to holding the boy and his family in “protective custody.”[7] He has now been missing for two decades.

In April 2011, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances issued a statement on enforced disappearances in China, and mentioned the longstanding case of the 11th Panchen Lama. The Working Group stated that “While the Chinese authorities have admitted taking him, they have continually refused to divulge any information about him or his whereabouts, making his case an enforced disappearance. A number of human rights mechanisms including the UN Committee Against Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, have all called for his whereabouts to be revealed, to no avail.”[8]

In October 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child once more expressed its concern about the situation of the 11th Panchen Lama. The Committee stated that it was “deeply disturbed” that China “has not allowed any independent expert to visit and confirm his whereabouts, the fulfillment of his rights and his well-being,” and called on China “to immediately allow an independent expert to visit” him.[9] The Committee asked again, as it had in 2005, if China’s contention that the Panchen Lama had received higher education and was living a happy life had been confirmed by an independent authority. The Chinese official refused to respond to this question, vaguely stating that an answer would be provided at a later stage.[10]

Gendun Choekyi Nyima’s predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama who died in 1989, was an outspoken advocate for the preservation of Tibet’s unique cultural heritage, religion and language.[11] The 10th Panchen Lama’s “70,000 Character Petition,” remains the most extensive internal criticism of Chinese Communist Party policies ever submitted to the leadership.[12]

The context of the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama’s comments is a deteriorating environment for Tibetan Buddhism. In particular, after overwhelmingly peaceful protests swept across Tibet in March and April 2008 – a result of the worsening situation in Tibet at that time — the Chinese authorities responded by intensifying an already established anti-Dalai Lama campaign, issuing further sweeping regulatory measures that intrude upon Tibetan Buddhist monastic affairs and implementing aggressive “legal education” programs that pressure monks and nuns to study and accept expanded government control over their religion, monasteries, and nunneries. Officials have detained, imprisoned, or beaten to death a number of monastic leaders, interfered with identification of reincarnations, and imposed a ban on travel, even for religious purposes to Mount Kailash.[13] A harsh new ‘rectification’ drive in one area of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Driru,[14] last year, led to the adoption of regulations, according to which monasteries deemed ‘illegal’ will be torn down and Tibetans who possess images of the Dalai Lama or place traditional prayer (mani) stones will be severely punished.[15]

There has also been an expulsion of monks and nuns from many monasteries, particularly in the Tibet Autonomous Region. After monks from the ‘Great Three’ monasteries in Lhasa of Sera, Drepung and Ganden took to the streets in March 2008, the monastic population has been subject to intensified suppression and the strengthening of control mechanisms.[16] Hundreds of monks have been expelled and arrested from these three monasteries, leading to serious fears for their survival as religious institutions.[17]

Consequently, at present, monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region that once housed thousands of monks are now reduced to a few hundred whose main responsibility appears less to undertake religious study and more to tend to the buildings and tourists.

Chinese authorities have been characterizing Tibetan language, culture and monasteries as sources of instability. In his speech, Gyaltsen Norbu re-frames the issue by depicting them as a source of “stability,” saying: “Tibetan Buddhism is capable of playing a huge role in national economic and social development, and social harmony and stability.”

Interestingly, Gyaltsen Norbu gives a higher number of monks and nuns in Tibetan areas than acknowledged in official statistics. He refers to 1,787 religious venues with 46,000 resident monks and nuns in the Tibet Autonomous Region, plus 783 monasteries and 68,000 monks and nuns in Sichuan, and 660 monasteries and 44,500 monks and nuns in Qinghai. This is a total of 158,500, not including the Tibetan areas in Gansu and Yunnan. The figure of 46,000 resident monks in the Tibet Autonomous Region has been standard in official representations since the 1990s.[18] In 2012, the then United Front Work Department official Zhu Weiqun gave the figure of 140,000 monks and nuns in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas.[19]

Gyaltsen Norbu has visited a number of Tibetan monasteries in recent years and makes specific reference in his speech to particular areas, for instance, to the western area of Tibet where the sacred Mount Kailash is situated, stating: “I went to Ngari, and I learned: Ngari [Chinese: Ali, Tibet Autonomous Region] has 75 monasteries, and not one of them can hold a Buddhist meeting [in accordance with proper religious procedures and protocols.]”[20]

There is stringent oversight of Gyaltsen Norbu’s activities and management of his public appearances by Party officials. Although Chinese authorities have been making great efforts to make the Tibetan people revere Gyaltsen Norbu, there is little evidence that they have succeeded. After arriving in exile in India, a monk from Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse, the main monastery of the Panchen Lama, told ICT: “Since Gyaltsen Norbu was chosen as the Gya Panchen Lama, the majority of monks have lost their trust in the monastery, as well as lacking loyalty to the Chinese choice. When Gyaltsen Norbu visits [our monastery], you are not allowed to leave for two days before and after his visit, or it will be considered a political act. Usually young monks don’t display his photos in our rooms but elderly monks, for example my teacher, they always tell us to display it but they say, ‘Don’t worry. Just do whatever they say. If you don’t accept him from your heart then it doesn’t make any difference whether you display his photo or not.’”[21]

Similarly, in the Chinese community, Tibet’s religious culture is inspiring millions inside the PRC; increasing numbers of Chinese people are becoming practitioners, with many making devout pilgrimages to Tibet, or following Tibetan lamas. In January, a former Chinese Communist Party official Xiao Wunan invited the BBC into his home in Beijing and showed the reporters evidence of his own practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and video footage of his audience with the Dalai Lama. Today, some popular Tibetan lamas have tremendous influence and following among Chinese, but Gyaltsen Norbu does not figure among them.

Overall, the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama’s comments are made in the context of a complex, changing picture in Tibet. Beyond the stringent measures of state control, there are other social and economic factors involved in the decline in numbers of monks at many monastic institutions. Those factors are beyond the scope of this report but have been the subject of some scholarly research.[22]

The Chinese Panchen Lama’s speech: translation into English

Beijing, March 4, to the Third Session of the 12th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee. Translated from Chinese into English by ICT.

Distinguished Chairman Yu,[23] honorable leaders, and honorable members:

As we all know, in recent years the Tibet Autonomous Region’s social situation has enjoyed long-term stability, with people’s lives becoming more prosperous, economic development progressing steadily, and rapid advances in various undertakings. In the glow of the Party’s ethnic and religious policies, each ethnic group enjoys freedom of religious belief, traditional culture has been fully protected, and religious activities are carried out normally. We can say that this is extremely important. These remarkable achievements and steps forward have been made under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important Three Represents thinking,[24] the concept of scientific development, and [Party] Secretary Xi Jinping’s series of important speeches. The implementation of the important strategic thinking of “ruling the country starts at the frontier, ruling the frontier starts at Tibet,” “striving to achieve Tibet’s sustained stability, long-term stability, and overall stability,” and “ensure long-term stability in Tibet, ensure the safety and stability of the border region,” and Chairman Yu’s implementation of “rule Tibet according to the law, develop Tibet over the long term, win people over, and set a solid foundation” has made requirements and instructions for the joint efforts of people of all ethnic groups, sectors, and classes in the Autonomous Region. I am deeply proud and pleased.

Tibetan Buddhism has also developed and progressed during all of these years of progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Since the year 2000 the central government has invested 20 billion yuan, implementing protection and maintenance on a series of key cultural relics, including the Potala Palace [the Dalai Lama’s former home and center of the former Tibetan government], the Norbu Lingka [the Dalai Lama’s former summer palace in Lhasa], and Sakya monastery – with these three key cultural relics alone receiving an investment of 3.8 billion yuan, this fully reflects how Tibetan Buddhism is cared for by the central government.

With the establishment of monastic management committees, full play has been given to their role as a bridge between monasteries and the government, better managing and resolving a variety of issues in the monasteries and giving a more complete picture of the specific difficulties that monasteries, monks, and nuns face. Carrying out activities to help poor monks, repairing the roads and bridges leading to remote monasteries, doing charity work, and taking care of practical issues; monks are concerned with these kinds of things.

In yesterday’s report Chairman Yu [Zhengsheng] pointed out: “Supporting China’s Religious Peace Council continues to function as a unique platform, doing targeted work on Tibet and Xinjiang-related work.” He also pointed out the need to adapt religion to socialism. Chairman Yu’s expressions on this religious work put forward clear expectations for religious circles, I think; Tibetan Buddhism is capable of playing a huge role in national economic and social development, and social harmony and stability.

While I rejoice in these developments and progress, and in Chairman Yu’s attention to religious work, at the same time I would also like to raise some issues that require our attention. If they aren’t properly resolved, these issues could constrain the future development of Tibetan Buddhism.

My sense is that one of the most prominent is that the quantity of monks isn’t enough to meet the growing requirements and needs of the people of faith, and is directly impacting the training of Tibetan Buddhist personnel.

To put it simply, right now in Tibet the monks of many monasteries feel that their numbers are too few and there is no small gap keeping them from being able to satisfy the needs of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the needs of the people of faith.

I will explain the concrete manifestations of this problem, its causes and measures that can be taken, and I will use three points to illustrate my point. I hope that present Tibetan Buddhist community members can add more.

#1, monks are responsible for a heavy workload.

First, transmitting the Buddhist heritage:

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which must both rely on religious tradition and adapt to society, must advance with the times while explaining the religious doctrines and texts. Tibetan Buddhism makes a solemn commitment to “loving the country and loving religion, protecting the country and benefiting the people,”[25] with a doctrine characterized by “compatibility with the esoteric and exoteric,” and a universal spirit of “preaching the Dharma to benefit people’s lives, and compassion for all living beings.” Saying this is very simple, but it takes a long time to study and thoroughly understand. If you don’t carefully study the Buddhist scriptures, you won’t have a deep understanding of the Dharma, and you will find it impossible to advance with the times and explain the religious texts and doctrines. If we don’t understand Buddhism ourselves, we cannot deliver its benefits to the masses of religious believers, publicize the Party’s ethnic and religious policies, enable the masses to understand the various policies, maintain the situation of social harmony and stability, or play a positive role in guiding the masses of religious believers.

Second, taking care and protecting temples, halls, and cultural relics:

Monasteries have many cultural relics with great value, needless to say. This daily work is very onerous.

Third, providing religious services to the masses:

Tibetan Buddhism is the faith of the majority of the people of Tibet. Over the years Tibetan Buddhism has become integrated with every aspect of Tibetan society. As such monks have a custom of frequently going to the people’s homes to provide religious services, such as when people are born, grow old, become sick, and die, during festivals and weddings, for agriculture and livestock, and other special occasions – this is known as “performing Buddhist rituals.” The masses have very serious requirements for Buddhist rituals, but due to the small number of monks in a large number of the monasteries we cannot satisfy them. Some people living in very distant locations request monks, [which requires travel] along very inconvenient roads, causing financial hardships for the masses; some request monks from other townships and counties, which the monks must traverse while arranging the formalities, causing occasional delays; and sometimes nearby monasteries belong to a different monastic sect, meaning monks must be requested from afar, leading to sectarian issues.

In short, the clergy is a specialized profession, and it takes many years to go from being a “young monk”[26] to getting basic training and becoming capable of meeting the needs of believers in the faith and transmitting the religious heritage.

#2, the reasons for the low number of monks.

There are many reasons for the insufficient number of monks, and the situation of each place and monastery is different. Generally there are several reasons:

First, with the development of society, there are more and more kinds of work that young people can do, so the proportion of monks is lower than before. As society is more attractive, some monks will return to secular life.[27] Speaking of Tashilhunpo monastery [in Shigatse, Tibet Autonomous Region: the seat of the Panchen Lama], each year usually around 20 new monks arrive, while about 20 other monks return to secular life. While those numbers look about even, the ones who return to secular life have been training for years and working, while the newly arrived monks need a few years of study before they can undertake work. Some elderly monks also pass away. It is a huge loss for the monastery that after training for a long time monks with some knowledge of Buddhism return to secular life.

Second, as life improves, and the number of children in Tibetan households decreases, some families do not want their children to go to the monasteries to become monks.

Third, it’s very important to mention that many monasteries have limited quotas,[28] and there’s a phenomenon of many monasteries seeming to be at full strength or even above that.

I would like to provide Sera monastery and Sakya monastery as examples.[29] Sera has a limit of 600 monks, and right now there are already 620 there, so it’s already overstaffed. Sakya monastery is the principal monastery of the Sakya sect, and it enjoys a high reputation across the world. Every year it’s flooded with pilgrims and tourists from China and abroad. Because of the many precious cultural relics, it’s known as “the second Dunhuang;”[30] the monastery has 108 temples and 300 scripture chanting halls occupying roughly 70,000 square meters. The monastery’s monks not only take care of and protect the cultural relics and carry out Buddhist events, they also have to learn the scriptures and nurture their talent. Their quota is only 120 monks, while currently there are 130, so they’re already overstaffed. But the monks’ workload is still high, and they’re unable to complete the three kinds of work. This situation has been ongoing for quite some time, and it may have an impact on their cultural relic protection and religious heritage transmission.

As far as I know, many small and medium monasteries in Tibet have small clergies of just seven or eight or ten or so, people. Their main difficulty is that the quota is too low. And the problem of low quotas in small and medium monasteries is generally widespread. In 2013 and 2014 I went to more than 20 monasteries to perform field research. I also contacted the representatives of 50 or 60 monasteries, and these monasteries had very strong responses, mentioning that most of their problems are caused by quotas that are set too low.

When the quota is too low, and the number of monks too few, it will affect the development of Tibetan Buddhism itself, in addition to the problems with serving the masses. Without time to study, the training of personnel has become a huge issue, and the transmission of religious teachings will become an issue.

I’m going to use “monastic precepts”[31] to illustrate this problem. Buddhism has specified that where four or more monks have formed a group, they should regularly hold Buddhist meetings. This basically means that everyone should come together to discuss and inspect their adherence to the precepts. Because this provides a systemic guarantee for both the Buddhist precepts and the development of Buddhism, and because it’s a concrete manifestation of Buddhist ideology, it holds a very special role and significance. As the Dharmagupta Vinaya says, “If the monastic precepts live, the Dharma[32] will also live, if the monastic precepts die, the Dharma will also perish.” The meaning is: “As long as the precepts are practiced, Buddhism will exist; if they aren’t, Buddhism will disappear.” But I went to Ngari, and I learned: Ngari [Chinese: Ali, Tibet Autonomous Region] has 75 monasteries, and not one of them is able to hold a Buddhist meeting.

From this perspective, there’s a danger of Buddhism existing in name only.

#3, the measures that can be taken:

Master Zhao[33] once earnestly asked: “What is the principal contradiction in Buddhist work? I see a contradiction in the acute shortage of competent, qualified personnel carrying out the construction and development of Buddhism. A number of contradictions along the periphery over a considerable period in present and future Buddhist work would be solved by addressing the principal contradiction… And in the present and future period of Buddhist work, the most important and urgent matters are first, the training of qualified personnel, second, the training of qualified personnel, and third, the training of qualified personnel!”

In reviewing his words, I very much agree. Training qualified personnel must now be put on the agenda. Training qualified personnel requires excellent talented people to do the training, and also talented people in general. These two issues are closely linked. It has the same relationship as the one between university admissions and the cultivation of postgraduate students. Today I would like to address the most fundamental issue of increasing the quotas: as quotas are increased, an increase in quality is guaranteed; and without an increase it will be difficult to have a qualitative improvement. In Tibet I saw that the relatively small number of monks was a difficulty for the monasteries, and a large part of that problem is that the quotas are set too low.

My initial thought is that there could be a program to adjust the monastery quotas. There are two examples: One is like some monasteries in Nyingtri [Chinese: Linzhi, Tibet Autonomous Region] and Ngari, where the quotas have never been reached. It is understood that in the future it will never be filled, either. Looking at it like this, these places can drop the quotas and abolish their capacity restrictions. The other example is in some monasteries where the quota is too low, where it would be possible to plan to increase it. For example, if we can plan on increasing the quota of monks in Sakya monastery, it will make the monastic work a bit better. Being flexible with the quotas would have some benefits, because the elimination of monks because of the limited quotas may have produced a misunderstanding of religious policies.

At present, the Tibet Autonomous Region has 1,787 religious venues, with 46,000 resident monks and nuns; Sichuan has 783 monasteries and 68,000 monks and nuns; Qinghai has 660 monasteries and 44,500 monks and nuns. Proportionally, taking the Tibet Autonomous Region’s specific conditions into account, the number of monks in the Tibet Autonomous Region is relatively low. If the state is able to adopt these measures, introduce the measures, and implement them, then there would be benefits for the development of Tibetan Buddhism, the cultivation of Tibetan Buddhist religious transmission talent, the promotion of adopting Tibetan Buddhism to socialist society, the efforts of united masses of religious believers to build a happy home, and the joint promotion of leapfrog development and long-term stability in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

I have raised this issue today with a clear purpose: it is in the hopes of training Tibetan Buddhist talent which unswervingly takes the road of adapting to socialist society with Chinese characteristics. Only in this way can Tibetan Buddhism continue to carry forward the tradition of protecting the country and benefiting the people, loving the country and loving religion, playing Tibetan Buddhism’s role in national prosperity and the happiness of the people, a positive role in social harmony and stability, in order to return Tibetan Buddhism to its original formation, illuminating the country and benefiting all sentient beings.

Thank you all!

 

Footnotes
[1] Tibetans refer to Gyaltsen Norbu as “Gya Panchen”, meaning Chinese Panchen. In the past some Panchen Lamas have played a role in the recognition and subsequent education of Dalai Lamas, and vice versa, which is why control over the institution is considered to be so crucial by Beijing.

[2] It is published in Chinese here: http://www.mzb.com.cn/html/report/150330384-1.htm To date, there does not seem to be an English translation in the Chinese state media.

[3] The Chinese term used by Gyaltsen Norbu to convey this is bianzhi (编制), which can be translated as “personnel quota.”

[4] Xinhua, February 12, 2015, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2015-02/12/c_133991060.htm

[5] It was at the Third Session of the 12th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee.

[6] Tibetans believe that the Panchen Lama whose title means ‘Great Scholar’, is an important spiritual teacher who has a disposition to fulfill his lineage. Given that Gendun Choekyi Nyima has not, as far as can be ascertained, received religious teachings – and is maybe unaware of the full significance of his identity – it is inevitable that the development of his intellectual capacity for logic and religious debate that his predecessors were famed for has been curtailed.

[7] Tibet’s Stolen Child is Still Missing! http://www.savetibet.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Panchen-Lama-2014.pdf

[8] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “China: UN expert body concerned about recent wave of enforced disappearances,” April 8, 2011. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10928&LangID=E

[9] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of China, adopted by the Committee at its sixty-fourth session (16 September-4 October 2013),” http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/co/CRC_C_CHN_CO_3-4.doc CRC/C/CHN/CO/3-4, 29 October 2013, paras. 41 (c), 42 (d).

[10] China’s rights record scrutinized by UN Committee http://www.savetibet.org/chinas-rights-record-scrutinized-by-un-committee/

[11] ‘A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama’, published by the now closed Tibet Information Network, London, 1997. Mao Zedong reacted by denouncing the report as a “poisoned arrow shot at the Party” and its author as a “reactionary feudal overlord”. Two years later, the 10th Panchen Lama was condemned without trial as an enemy of the people, and spent most of the following 14 years in prison or under house arrest before his death in 1989.

[12] When the Petition was sent to Mao Zedong in 1962, the Panchen Lama was the most senior religious leader remaining in Tibet and titular head of the Tibetan Government. Prior to the publication of his Petition the 10th Panchen Lama had often been portrayed as a Chinese puppet, co-operating with the Chinese authorities rather than going into exile. This “patriotic” image was encouraged by both Beijing and the government in Lhasa. He is now seen as having done the best he could, under very difficult circumstances, to safeguard the interests of Tibetans.

[13] For a summary of these issues, see the Congressional-Executive Commission on China annual report for 2014, http://www.savetibet.org/cecc-report-says-increase-in-harsh-security-and-punitive-measures-in-tibet/. Also see ICT report on the prevention of pilgrimage, June 12, 2015, http://www.savetibet.org/china-tightens-control-prevents-pilgrimage-before-major-dalai-lama-teaching-in-exile/

[14] Driru (Chinese: Biru) is in Nagchu prefecture, the Tibet Autonomous Region.

[15] ICT report, http://www.savetibet.org/harsh-new-rectification-drive-in-driru-nuns-expelled-and-warning-of-destruction-of-monasteries-and-mani-walls/. Also see ICT and FIDH report, ‘Chinese Crackdown on Tibetan Buddhism’, https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/en-report-tibet-4.pdf

[16] Numerous reports detail the suffering of monks in custody. Tibetan writer Woeser wrote on her blog: “During the monks’ time in detention, a 22-year-old monk called Jigme Phuntsog who had fallen ill and been seriously misdiagnosed by the military hospital deteriorated suddenly after 20 days and died without being treated. Another monk of around 30 years old simply couldn’t bear it any longer. He started banging his head against the wall and then jumped from the window when he was taken to hospital. He broke several bones and is deaf in one ear.” See ICT report, ‘A Great Mountain Burned by Fire’, https://www.savetibet.nl/fileadmin/images/ictreports/A_Great_Mountain_Burned_by_Fire_ICTReport.pdf

[17] Monks in other areas of Tibet, who traditionally visited these monasteries for period of study, are no longer allowed to do so. The Chinese state media acknowledged that a total of 1200 monks from Drepung and Sera had been expelled in 2008. For full details, see ICT report, ‘A Great Mountain Burned by Fire’, https://www.savetibet.nl/fileadmin/images/ictreports/A_Great_Mountain_Burned_by_Fire_ICTReport.pdf. The Chinese authorities have also singled out other important and influential centres of Tibetan Buddhist culture outside the Tibet Autonomous Region – notably Kirti monastery in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba), Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo), where the current wave of self-immolations in Tibet began in 2009. The situation at Kirti escalated in 2011 when monks from the age of 18-40 were taken away from the monastery under the pretext of giving them “legal education”. Local laypeople who tried to prevent them being removed were violently beaten by troops surrounding the monastery. As with Sera, Ganden and Drepung in Lhasa, the authorities used the pretext of taking monks away “for study” or “legal education” as a means to reduce and control the monastic population at Kirti. A full account of these developments is given in International Campaign for Tibet’s report, “Storm in the Grasslands: Self-Immolations in Tibet and Chinese Policy”, December 2012, http://www.savetibet.org/resource-center/ictpublications/reports/storm-grasslands-self-immolations-tibet-and-chinese-policy.

[18] The figure of 1,787 religious ‘venues’ in the Tibet Autonomous Region has also been given in previous official statistics, such as an article in China Daily on December 24, 2012. The same article referred to progress made in the ‘patriotic education’ campaign in the Tibet Autonomous Region, reporting that: “In 2014, more than 50,000 copies of [patriotic education] documents were distributed [….] to Buddhist monasteries across the Tibet Autonomous Region and more than 100,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns participated the sessions.” The article noted that one of the main subjects of the campaign was for monks and nuns to declare their dissociation with the “Dalai clique”.

[19] His comment in 2012 was as follows: “There are 3,542 monasteries and 140,000 monks and nuns in Tibet and other Tibetan-populated regions.” (Xinhua, 7 March, 2012).

[20] In his speech, Gyaltsen Norbu says that Buddhism has specified that where four or more monks have formed a group, they should regularly hold Buddhist meetings in order to discuss and inspect their adherence to the precepts.

[21] The same monk said that even so, ordinary Tibetans recognize the pressures that Gyaltsen Norbu is under given his unique role: “I have heard that Gyaltsen Norbu is smart and recognizes his Tibetan identity and responsibility.” ‘An Insight into the Gya Panchen’, p 53-55, ‘The Communist Party as Living Buddha: The Crisis facing Tibetan Religion under Chinese control’, ICT report, http://www.savetibet.org/the-communist-party-as-living-buddha/

[22] For instance, by Dr Jane Caple from Manchester University, who writes: “Monastic actors are facing serious challenges as they attempt to ‘move with the times’ while maintaining the soteriological and mundane bases of monastic Buddhism in rapidly changing political, economic and social contexts. Thus far, accounts of the revival have largely been framed in relation to the Chinese state, the shifting public space for religion and culture and the ‘Tibet question’. This study attempts to ‘see beyond the state’ to examine other contingent factors in the ongoing process of renewal and development.” (‘Seeing beyond the state: The negotiation of moral boundaries in the revival and development of Tibetan Buddhist monasticism in contemporary China’, Jane Caple, 2011, https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/uk-ac-man-scw:199630.)

[23] Yu Zhengsheng, who is one of China’s top leaders on the seven-member Politburo, and Director of the CPPCC’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee

[24] The ‘Three Represents’ is a CCP formulation credited to the former President and Party Secretary Jiang Zemin, stipulating that the Communist Party of China should be representative to “advanced social productive forces, advanced culture, and the interests of the overwhelming majority.”

[25] The Chinese Communist Party, which promotes atheism, requires its citizens to “love the country”, in other words, to respect the authority of the Party state, above all would-be competing loyalties such as loyalty to religion. Political allegiance is an official prerequisite for registration at monastic institutions and to be considered by the state as a “religious person”. This is an inversion of the priorities of a Buddhist practitioner, whose focus would naturally be to their spiritual path or religious first.

[26] It is not clear why this is italicized in the state media article. Monks under the age of 18 are not allowed to join monasteries according to Chinese policies.

[27] This is certainly a factor, that Tibetans are choosing alternate secular paths. But it is not enough in itself to explain the shortage of monks.

[28] See earlier footnote on the translation of the word ‘quota’.

[29] Sera and Sakya are both very important historic monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Sera, in Lhasa, is one of the ‘great three’ Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) Buddhist school monasteries of Tibet, while Sakya, on the road to Tingri, is the seat of the Sakya or Sakyapa school of Tibetan Buddhism, founded in 1073.

[30] Dunhuang, a city in Gansu on the Silk Route, is a site of ancient and important Buddhist art and manuscripts. This comparison is likely based on Sakya’s great library; a huge library of as many as 84,000 scrolls was found sealed up in a wall 60 metres long and 10 metres high at Sakya Monastery in 2003.

[31] The Vinaya is the regulatory framework for the Buddhist monastic community. This means that he has taken a vow of discipline to follow through on this issue.

[32] The spiritual path, the way

[33] Zhao Puchu, who died at the age of 93, in 2000, was a well-known religious and public figure in China. He was president of the CCP-supported Buddhist Association of China and a famed calligrapher. As a prominent representative of the Party authorities, Zhao Puchu actively supported state-imposed rituals such as the Golden Urn lottery over the 11th Panchen Lama, which resulted in the installation of Gyaltsen Norbu as Chinese Panchen. He was also involved in the tuition of Gyaltsen Norbu.

 

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