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China Bans Buddhist 'reincarnation' Without Government Permission

August 24, 2007

Notwithstanding the inherent absurdity of the action, China has banned Buddhist monks from 'reincarnating' without government permission.

As of Sep 1, China's State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) will begin managing reincarnation, in a barely concealed move to try and checkmate the 14th Dalai Lama.

'This move indicates that China will increase legal support toward the administration of the Living Buddha. The head of SARA, Ye Xiaowen, said in his statement that the regulation was passed on July 13, and will enter into force as of Sep 1,' a statement quoted on the official Chinese government website said.

'There are three principal conditions for the Living Buddha. Most local religious followers and Lama temple administrative organisations should require his reincarnation; the reincarnation system should be valid and passed on up to date; the temple requiring Living Buddha's reincarnation must be a unique and legal temple suitable for nurturing and supporting the Living Buddha,' the site said.

'The regulation also states that the Living Buddha has to be initially approved by the religious affairs department of the autonomous region or province. If the Living Buddha has great impact on Tibetan Buddhism, he will be examined and approved by the government of the autonomous region or province. If his influence is significant, then he has to be approved by the SARA and the State Council. The regulation also states that upon approving such an application, governments should solicit opinions from relevant Buddhist associations,' the site said.

In a significant assertion, the statement said: 'If there is any self- claimed Living Buddha without government and religious affairs department approval, this said reincarnation would be illegal and invalid.'

The issue of reincarnation goes to the very heart of Tibetan culture.

Although since the 1959 exile of the Dalai Lama, Beijing has taken complete control of Tibetan life. Since 1991 it has approved some 1,000 living Buddhas, including the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama, this is the first serious move to institutionalise the process of managing reincarnation.

Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, special envoy of the Dalai Lama in Washington, said: 'These stringent new measures strike at the heart of Tibetan religious identity. They will only create further resentment among the Tibetan people and cannot override the Party's lack of legitimacy in the sphere of religion.'

The move is perhaps the most direct challenge till date to the authority of the Dalai Lama over Tibet's religious and spiritual affairs. With the 14th Dalai Lama getting in on years at 72, the Chinese decision is a well thought-out one keeping in mind the inevitable happening to him in the years to come.

It shuts out the possibility of the Dalai Lama reincarnating within Tibet without government permission. Although non-believers around the world have viewed the issue of reincarnation with a great deal of scepticism and amusement, in the context of Tibet it remains the centrepiece of spiritual life.

The Dalai Lama has said that after this life he is likely to reincarnate outside Tibet for obvious reasons.

So far Beijing had stayed away from usurping the power to arbitrate Tibetan tradition's most important aspect. With this decision, it has all but removed the person of Dalai Lama from the discourse.

The International Campaign for Tibet quoted Tibetologist Gray Tuttle as saying: 'Why is the atheistic government of China involving itself in the controversial issues of authorising Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations 50 years after forcibly annexing Tibet? The communists may have felt that raising a generation of Tibetans without religion during the Cultural Revolution would put an end to the need to work with and through the religious elite, but the revival of Buddhism in the period of reforms made it clear they were wrong.'

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