CCP is trying to occupy Tibetan Buddhism from within. But Tibetan people’s resistance remains the greatest obstacle for President Xi Jinping to enthrone himself as the ‘New Buddha’ of Tibet.


(Author is a senior journalist, a veteran Tibet-China watcher and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement, New Delhi)

So effective is China’s administrative grip, the surveillance and control over the flow of information in Tibet that even the news of the death of a prominent Tibetan Buddhist leader can take months to reach the outer world, or even to his own local devotees inside Tibet. Venerable Choktrul Dawa Rinpoche, the 5th reincarnation of a senior Tibetan Tulku died on 30th January this year at the age of 86 in Lhasa. But it took nearly two month for his devotees across the world to know that their revered Guru had died months ago. The monk belonged to the famous Shag Rongbo monastery in the Nagchu area of northern Tibet.

At the time of his death the monk was forced to live in a secluded home in Capital Lhasa after serving a seven year jail sentence since 2010 for the ‘crime’ of contacting the Dalai Lama in India. He had to pay this price for seeking guidance of the Dalai Lama for the search of the reincarnation of Rongpo Choejo who was the head of his monastery in Nagchu and had died some time ago. In 2013 when Dawa Tulku was serving his sentence, the local communist authorities of Nagchu forcibly enthroned a Tibetan child of the Communist Party’s choice on Shag Rangbo monastery as the ‘new incarnation’ of Rongpo Choeje. The imposition of a new incarnation of China’s choice did not go uncontested from the local population. The event was preceded by many public demonstrations against the Communist indoctrination of the monks of the monastery; arrest of over 50 monks; closure of the monastery for some weeks; and suicide by an elderly monk in protest.

Ever since 1990s when Tibet’s Chinese rulers decided to occupy the Tibetan Buddhism from within, hundreds of such reincarnate Lamas, selected and approved by local communist authorities, have been enthroned and imposed on their respective monasteries across Tibet. Since 2007 the Chinese government has passed a law which has handed over all rights of selection, approval and enthronement of all incarnate Lamas, known as ‘Living Buddhas’ in the Chinese parlance, into the hands of Chinese Communist Party. Citing this very law President Xi Jinping has repeatedly announced that the next incarnation of present Dalai Lama will be selected and enthroned by the CCP alone and no one else.

According to limited details coming out of Tibet since last week of March, the Chinese authorities severely restricted the number of devotees and monks who could enter the home of deceased Dawa Tulku to pay their last respects to him. Not only mobile phones and personal cameras of the devotees were confiscated before their entry into the house, each one of them was also strongly threatened against sharing the news of death or even just posting the old photos of Dawa Tulku on the social media. According to details shared by Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international body who keeps watch of human rights violations inside China, even old photos of the Tulku were removed from the internet inside China.

In a statement on this event,  Sophie Richardson, the China Director of HRW said, “ With their handling of Tulku Dawa’s funeral and of the Rongpo Chöje’s reincarnation, Chinese authorities have seen fit to use force, intimidation, and intrusive supervision to remove the Dalai Lama’s influence over Tibetan Buddhism and enforce the state’s absolute control over religion. It is a precedent that promises further violence, persecution, and travesties of the tradition.”

Latest events in Nagchu once again prove that despite all high claims about development and prosperity inside China ruled Tibet, President Xi and his predecessor rulers of Tibet have failed miserably in winning the heart of their Tibetan colonial subject over past seven decades. Their over enthusiasm towards imposing total control over the Tibetan Buddhism and its institutions only shows that all massive communist indoctrination of past three or four generations of Tibetan people has failed to erase their faith in Buddhism or even allegiance to their deposed ruler the Dalai Lama.

This Chinese policy started In July 1994 at the third ‘Tibet Work Forum’, the highest policy conference of Chinese leadership on Tibet which is held every few years and is attended by the President and General Secretary of China himself. Held under the leadership of President Jiang Zemin it was acknowledged first time that the Party and the governments have not been able to erase the Tibetan people’s faith in Buddhism. Hence the need of a new approach to control the Tibetan religion from within.

It was following the adoption this new policy that the Beijing government officially conducted search for new incarnations of the Panchen Lama and the Karma Pa and organized well publicized official events of their respective enthronement. Chinese leaders’ main target behind these stage managed jamborees is to finally install the 15th incarnation of Dalai Lama after the demise of the present one – the 14th Dalai Lama – with the hope that the new Dalai Lama of China’s choice will solve the Tibetan issue forever. However, since China’s adoption of the new law on reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist monks in 2007 the opposition from ordinary Tibetan people too has gained momentum. A spate of self-immolation by Tibetan monks, nuns, youths and even elderly citizens has already touched 160. The latest two self-immolations happened on 25th February and 27th March this year. This shows that Tibetan people’s resistance remains the greatest obstacle for the CCP to enthrone itself as the ‘New Buddha’ of Tibet.

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