The Time When Dharma Comes to an End


 Wang Lixong


I. Current Situation of religion in Tibet

1. Regarding explosions orchestrated by a reincarnated lama

On the surface, monasteries and temples are now everywhere in Tibet. There worshippers are packed and busy in making their offerings of butter lamps and incense. When there are many monks and nuns, the lay people are free to worship and to do their circumambulations. Quickly traveling through Tibet, many Chinese and foreigners commonly conclude that Tibetans now have complete religious freedom. Having become aware of this kind of tourist impression, the Chinese government has changed its defensive closed-door policy and begun more actively allowing outsiders to visit Tibet. It has invited more foreign reporters and politicians to visit Tibet. We are just beginning to see the effect expected by the government of such a shift in policy.

However, in January 2003, in Nyagchu (Yajiang in Chinese) County in Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (KTAP) under Sichuan Province, Lobsang Dhondup, a common Tibetan, was executed following a death sentence. At the same time, Tibetan monk A’ngag Tashi was also given a death sentence (but with a suspension of two years). A’ngag Tashi (well known in English media as Tenzin Delek Rinpoche) is a reincarnated Gelugpa lama, who is highly respected by the locals in the region. The authorities accused him of plotting and instructing Lobsang Dhondup to carry out a series of terrorist explosions. He was hence arrested and sentenced.

       Back in January 2001, a bomb was set off on a bridge across the Zheduo River in Dhartsedo, the capital city of KARP. The explosion did not hurt anyone, yet it shocked the entire city. It was in Dhartsedo again on August 1st, 2001 that the gate of KTAP Party Office was bombed. Two armed policemen who were on duty that night were injured. On October 2nd the same year, once more in Dhartsedo, another explosion took place right at the gate of KTAP’s Traffic Police Division. The old watchman of the building was killed at the site.

       The authorities claimed that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Lobsang Dhondup were responsible for all of these bombings. I have written somewhere else questioning the suspected evidence that had been used to prosecute them. Instead of repeating myself here, I want to raise another question that I have on the case: If Tibetans had enjoyed the religious freedom claimed by the Chinese authorities, how could these bombings have happened? I am not convinced by the official charge that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was behind these incidents. Yet, as many people in KTAP do, I accept the hypothesis that Tibetans were involved in these bombings and that these bombings indeed had their religiously related cause. Right after these explosions took place, the locals in Dhartsedo did not associate them with Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Instead, they were thinking of Serta Buddhist Academy in Larung Valley, which was several hundred kilometers away from where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche lived.


2. What happened to the nuns in Larung Valley?

Larung Valley is about twenty kilometers from the headquarters of Serta County, where the Nyingma lama Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok once established his Buddhist Academy. The Academy had only thirty something students in the 1980s. By the late 1990s, it had gathered nearly ten thousand pupils, among whom there were monks, nuns, and lay people. Thousands of Han devotees joined. People were from everywhere, and the number of the participants in the Academy kept increasing.

       The Chinese authorities fear and do not trust any institution that is not completely under their control. When I was traveling in Kham with a plan to visit Serta Academy in August 1999, I heard that the authorities were launching a purge of it. The rumor was spreading that the police had already controlled the Academy. Because I had just been released from a jail in Xinjiang and my travel companion did not want to invite further trouble, we had to give up the idea of going there. Apparently, the authorities’ goal was to reduce the enrollment number of the Academy, and in turn to restrict its influence. As demanded by the authorities, only 10% of the four thousand Tibetan female students and 25% of the same number of the male Tibetans were allowed to stay; meanwhile, all of the one thousand-odd Chinese pupils were ordered to leave.

       In the beginning, the authorities expected the assistance of Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok and other tulkus and teachers in the Academy to send the students away. Together, they refused the government’s demand, because to tell others to disrobe themselves is a serious violation of their own monastic vows. The authorities thus hired Chinese labors to demolish the huts built by the students. Most students in the Academy lost their shelters and were forced to leave. July 1st, 2001 was the climax of the authorities’ action; 1,700 houses were knocked down on that single day. I heard from some witness that while the noise and dust were everywhere at the scene, the loud crying of thousands of nuns seemed to have made the earth shake. For a while, clustering in groups, wandering nuns were seen in the surrounding hills. They camped out to avoid the government’s chase.

       Please pay attention to the dates – twenty days after the climax of demolishing the residential huts of the Academy, the gate of KTAP Party Office was bombed. Furthermore, the three bombings in Dhartsedo that I just mentioned all occurred in 2001 when the purge of Serta Academy reached its extreme.

       Of course, I am not suggesting that the high lamas of the Academy participated in or ordered these explosions. Yet, the purge had forcefully removed thousands of its population. As soon as they were chased away, they were no longer under the discipline of the Academy. On the other hand, many of them might not have yet reached the level of Buddhist practice that committed them to patience and being free from anger. If a bystander like me could have been upset by thinking of those harmless women who were forced into fear and a homeless state because of their religious beliefs, why should we expect the victims of the case to remain calm and not to react? It is not impossible for some of them to come up with the idea of protest through bombing.


3. Is there religious freedom in Tibet?

Any given religion can have its more apparent attributes – such as monastic architecture, mantras and other texts chanted and recited by monks and nuns, and the worship, offerings and pilgrimages of the devotees. A religion also has its less visible elements, which include the religion’s philosophical foundation, monastic lineage, institutions, and educational system. The former is the form of the religion, and the latter is its substance. Since the form mediates the substance, a religion which is merely sustained by it forms but loses its substance can no longer be considered as religion. It becomes superstition.

       At the current moment, religion in Tibet seems to have been granted a large degree of freedom at the formal level. The hurried tourists rarely notice any limitation imposed upon Tibetans’ freedom to practice their religion. Yet, one only needs to go one step further to realize that religious confinement not only exists, it is actually prevalent.

       Besides the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), the Kham area which falls into KTAP under Sizhuan Province has the largest Tibetan population. However, the two tulkus (reincarnated lamas) who were most accepted by their Khampa followers, Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok from the northern part of the region and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche from the south, were both in trouble with the authorities. The mass student body of Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s Academy was dismantled, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche himself was locked up facing his death sentence. Why had the authorities done this to them? Religious freedom will be the focus when we try to comprehend their troubles. The authorities could not accept the kind of religious freedom that they needed.

       For instance, what happened to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was clearly relevant to the difficulties that he had had for years with the local government. The KTAP authorities had long seen him as a heretic. Back to July 1997, the KTAP Religious Affairs Bureau acted out the will of the Party and released a document of criticism targeted at the Rinpoche. The document accused him of having (1) converted a tent temple into a permanent infrastructure; (2) enlarged the size of the temple; (3) set up a gathering place for chanting; (4) confirmed two tulkus’ reincarnations; and (5) intervened in another monastery’s relocation.

       Apparently, all of these points of the authorities’ blame are about religion. If there had been decent religious freedom, the government should not have come out with any of these accusations. However, not only did the government do so, it went on to take the following actions: (1) Cancel his tulku status, order him only be a normal monk; (2) deny his confirmation of those two reincarnated boys; (3) suspend his participation in the events held in other monasteries; (4) withdraw his seat from Nyagchu County People's Political Consultative Committee. Among these four measures, only the last one falls into the realm of politics and can be decided by the authorities. All of the other three no doubt represent the injection of politics into religion. Furthermore, there is another problem regarding the legitimacy of the authorities’ intervention. According to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche himself, he was recognized by the Dalai Lama as a tulku when he studied in India. Since the recognition of reincarnated lamas matters to the succession within the religion, it can only follow the internal rules of the religion. How can a local division of an atheist political party step in to decide who is or who is not a tulku? Such a decision was not acceptable to either the Rinpoche himself or the local believers. His tulku identity is about the principle of the religion and cannot just be changed by political power. In reality, it turned out that people still viewed him as a tulku and his reputation went higher than before the charge. The government was really embarrassed when over ten thousand of the commoners signed the petition to support their Rinpoche. The government issued the formal charge in the first place, but it then had trouble to implement it. The government felt its authority had been neglected and challenged. Certain officials even took the development of the event as personal humiliation. The government might deserve the self-invited embarrassment. However, it considered Tenzin Delek as the one to be blamed.

       In a society where power is believed to be everything, those who have power would not just stop because of people’s refusal. They have to raise the level of the tension. If they can not win in the first round, they would return for the second one. It would go on like this until they can prove their final victory.


II. Social function of religion in Tibet

4. Bandit shot to death

I had paid attention to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche before he was imprisoned. Because of my earlier searching for the ways in which social security can be maintained in the Tibetan areas, I was once interested in studying his experience.

       Kham – particularly the KTAP part of Kham – is an area where violent crimes frequently occur. I had my own experience on this. One time I reached the seat of Karze County when the sun was still high. It was a little bit too early to check into the hotel. Yet, if I wanted to arrive in the next urban area, I would have to do half of the driving in the darkness. I had long ago heard about the danger of driving at night in this area, but I was one of those who would not cry until seeing the coffin and decided to keep driving. Shortly, when the sunset was approaching, I began to notice that there were no longer other cars on the road. Right after it became completely dark, I bumped into a huge trunk lying in the middle of the road. I knew it was the customary trick of the bandits. As soon as the car stops, they would jump out of the darkness for robbery. Fortunately, there was a narrow path between the trunk and the ditch next to the road, which was just wide enough for my car to squeeze through. I escaped from being ripped off.

       Another time I actually stayed in an inn which was a few kilometers away from the seat of Nyagchu County. Over the butter tea I was drinking the next morning, the Tibetan owner of the inn pointed to something outside the window that he wanted me to see. It was a dead body covered by a piece of cloth. The inn owner told me it was the body of a bandit shot by the police at the previous night. According to him, the bandits were two Tibetans who were believed to have robbed a truck from Chengdu. The truck driver ran into town to report to the police. The police came to where the inn was to search for the bandits. They were about to pull out their knives when the police opened fire. One was killed and the other ran away and vanished into the mountains. The inn owner sounded regretful. He said that the bandits wanted to check into his inn. Because they could not show their identification cards, he turned them away. They were caught by the police as soon as they left the inn. “If I had let them stay, no one would have been killed.” Yet, the inn owner continued: “It’s ok to kill a robber like this. There was another one who was killed a few years ago. It gave us peace for a while. The robberies have lately increased. To have one killed means another while of peace.”

       Soon after our conversation, several police cars from the county seat showed up to check the scene. I chatted with one policeman. He said that this kind of crime has been increasing. Ten years ago when he just joined the County’s Police Bureau, it had only about thirty policemen. There are now more than seventy. Yet, there are still more crimes than they can handle. The main problem is that the Tibetan areas are vast but low in population. Road conditions in these areas are usually bad and traffic is often difficult. People sometimes have to be on horseback for days to report a crime. Then, it can take days for the police to arrive at the crime scene, also by horse. By the time the police get to the site, whoever committed the crime would have gone long before. There is no way to find individuals on the endless grasslands and mountains. The policeman thought that the method of Mao Dayeh (Elder Mao, his way of referring to Mao Zedong) was still the best in dealing with the security issue in Tibet. For him, people were in charge in Mao’s time. Everyone was on alert and watching each other. The local organizations served the function of maintaining social order. Even without the police force, no one would want to run the risk of being caught. Even if a crime was committed, the criminal would not be able to run too far before being arrested. Nowadays, the local organizations have lost their function. When something happens, everyone pretends not to see. No one wants to get involved. The police force becomes the only way to maintain social order. Wherever is out of the reach of the police force, criminals can do whatever they want.

       Nevertheless, Mao’s time has gone and things will not be reversed. Relying on the class struggle to maintain social order can only be temporary; it would not guarantee anything. Since Mao’s style of ruling is no longer effective, what might be the long-term solution for the issue of social security in Tibetan areas? I assume the issue is not only for Mao’s era or our time. How was it handled in Tibetan history of the past thousand years?  


5. How have tulkus become the community leaders?

Nyagchu is one of those counties that is very close to the area occupied by Han people. It is a part of the frontier where Tibetans’ encounter with modernity, commercial economy, market value, and migrants is intense. However, compared with the deteriorated social order in the region, the condition in the rural and nomad areas west from Nyagchu County is a totally different story.

       I stayed once in the house of a Khampa man named Karma. Karma had two very close friends, Ribu and Chodrak.[1] They were all the typical Khampa men – tall, well-built, and warrior-looking. Meeting them for the first time, I was surprised that none of them drank or smoked. (A good number of Khampa men are passionate about drinking.) Noticing my surprise, Karma explained that they had been heavy drinkers in the past. Like the surrounding Tibetans, they were addicted to the bad habits of smoking, gambling, fighting, hunting and stealing. I saw a knife scar on Karma’s forehead. He also admitted that he had hacked someone else’s head. (I can imagine the brave Karma getting into serious fights.) At one point, he lost more than thirteen thousand yuan on the gambling table. His life was a mess – getting drunk, going wild, fighting, handing money to whomever he ran into. Sometimes he and his drunken friend could spend hours going back and forth to escort each other home, and then would still remember to beat their wives. However, they had not touched alcohol for years and had quit smoking, gambling, stealing, robbing, fighting or killing. They were not alone. More than 90% of the locals in the nearby villages had done the same.

       What had made such a change in their lives? Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was the answer. The Rinpoche was sent to the monastery when he was seven years old, and was recognized as a tulku in India when he was thirty. He returned to Kham in 1987 and participated in the religious affairs in the areas between Nyagchu and Litang. Karma told me that there had been other tulkus who came to the region before Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, but they did not care about the lay people. They left as soon as they received the lay people’s offering. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was different. He did not keep the offered money for himself; instead, he used it for the public. He supported about sixty or seventy widowed elders and fed the needy ones. He paid for road construction in the remote villages and even physically joined the construction work. His school gathered about 130 students who were orphans, disabled kids or the children from poor families. It cost about thirteen thousand yuan per month to run the school. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche took it upon himself to pay the cost.

       Being trusted by people, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche became influential among them. People accepted when he suggested that they should quit the bad habits of drinking and gambling. After enough people followed his advice, it became a fashion to do so, and more people joined in. Every year he went from village to village to give teachings which usually lasted two weeks at each stop. He would call people’s names during his teaching. He knew everyone in the village and everything that happened there – such as who and who got into a fight or who the thieves were. He would single them out and scold them in front of the crowd. They would not be allowed to join when he led the chanting. To Tibetans, this kind of punishment is a humiliation, but it well demonstrates the lesson of karma. It is thus psychologically effective. While the guilty ones were made to confess publicly, they usually took their promise for change very serious.

       I asked Karma what was left for fun after he had quit cigarettes, alcohol and gambling. Karma said there were many ways to have fun, such as dancing, having good food, and chatting with friends. He was very sincere about his realization that there is really not too much fun in drinking, smoking, or gambling. Or, in his words, “They are just small pleasure for a short while. I would feel regretful afterward.” As I have mentioned earlier, he is a big guy who, I believe, can easily get a mountain moved. Yet, I could see the child-like honesty in his eyes. That night I went ahead to sleep, when Karma, Ribu, and Chodrak were still chatting next to the campfire. I was half sleeping and heard them laughing outside. It was a kind of laughing from someone’s heart, completely joyful, pure, and touching. I could not understand why, after seeing each other everyday, they still had that much to talk and laugh about together. Their laugh of one hour was probably more than I would have for a whole year. They were really happy, and their happiness had nothing to do with material wealth or sensual enjoyment.


6. Where does joy come from?

Chen Kuiyuan, the President of the Chinese Academy of Social Science and the most powerful figure in the field of social science in China, was the Party Secretary in Tibet Autonomous Region for 10 years. He used to say: “Religion cannot bring to people real freedom or joy in any country at any time.”[2]

       Whoever has the minimum common sense knows Chen’s words are not true. Yet, it is predictable that Chen would argue that those who believe in the joy from religion are after all deluded by the so-called spiritual opium. His definition of joy is based upon pragmatism. However, what is “practical” joy? Can one reach joy by just being practical? Is there something on the earth named joy that we can put on a plate? Are we going to become happier if we can have more of it to eat? It is true that material satisfaction can bring a certain degree of joy. But the issue involves different stages of development. The social scientists have proved that before the minimum need is fulfilled, any minor increase of income can enhance our sense of satisfaction. In contrast, after the fulfillment of the basics, the happy effect of the increased income begins to decline. The higher the income goes, the lighter the effect can be felt. At one point, the increased income can just be completely ignored.[3]

       The realm of spirituality makes human beings different from other species. Spirituality is the essence of humanity. While the basic needs for such as food, clothing, and shelter are fulfilled, the condition of human existence is fundamentally decided by the satisfaction in the spiritual realm. Then, one might ask what else constitutes the foundation and the core of our spiritual life, besides the sense of meaning that we can give to our lives and our value judgment. Without a focus on meaning or value, the unsettled spirituality that flows around in the emptiness and nothingness can only be scattered. In other words, for the human beings who are incapable of generating and maintaining a spiritual world, life would stay in (or regress to) the animal state of the material world. Since the human mind was first enlightened, the biggest effort has been the long journey of searching for spiritual meaning and value.

       While the core mission of religion is to provide meaning to life, religion itself is a complete value system. The so-called joy is in fact the continuous processes through which meaning and value are realized. As far as the basic human needs are no longer the issue, religion becomes one of the most important resources for making mankind feel joyful. It is no surprise that Tibetans have relied on their religion to survive and to experience joy for thousands of years.


7. Feather of “Khampa Eagle”

The saying of Deng Xiaoping that “development is the true ration (fazhan caishi yingdaoli)” is now a motto in all of China. Even on the grasslands in the Tibetan areas, this kind of rhetoric is made into slogans written on billboards everywhere. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) places its entire hope on the concept of “development” for building stability in the Tibetan areas and even other minority regions. The Party believes that as long as the economy keeps developing and the living standard is improving, people will feel settled and happy. In the meantime, the conflicts over nationality would be reduced.

       Would this really be the case? Would development and generation of wealth necessarily lead to stability? Let’s return to Karma’s story one more time. In recent years, there have been those annual events in Kham to “stage culture and perform economy (wenhua datai, jingji zhangxi).” One important program out of these events is to select the “Khampa Eagle.” The program is similar to a beauty pageant, but its goal is to select the real Khampa man who has to be physically well-built, good-looking above average, and dressed-up in a lavish fashion. While Karma has all of these conditions, his rough manner and curly long hair make him more like a hero. Every year, he would be elected to represent Nyagchu County for the Prefecture-wide competition. He actually had successfully won the prize of “Khampa Eagle” several times. The title was such an honor for Karma. Every time he took very seriously the preparation for his outfits, which usually included silk chubas brocaded with tiger or leopard skin, expensive and complicated ornaments, a waist knife inlaid with gold and silver, and the must-have good gun. Nothing but a gun can bring out the masculinity of a Khampa man. However, as soon as he returned home from the pageant last year, Karma was arrested and detained by the Public Security Bureau.

       Why was he arrested? I have to detour to tell the other two parts of Karma’s story. Part one of the story goes like this. Several years ago, in order to “stabilize” the society, the authorities ordered the locals to turn in their guns. Tibetans love guns. Also, in order to keep their livestock protected from wild animals, guns are the necessity for the nomads. For years, Tibetans were allowed to own guns. When they were asked to hand them in, everyone brought in the shabby ones. No one was willing to give up the good ones. When Karma was on his way to the Khampa Eagle competition, of course, he would not want to go with a poor gun. So, he borrowed a good one from his friend.

      Neither Karma nor the friend who lent him the gun could have foreseen that the gun might invite trouble from the PSB, since the “Khampa Eagle” pageant had been an event organized by the government and Karma had been officially elected to represent Nyagchu County. To carry a gun on the occasion is really no different than having the props for a play. Nobody could have thought it was a mistake. Even if the gun was noticed, it would be thought of as permitted by the government. Unless the gun was intentionally singled out as an illegal possession yet to be confiscated, who would really care? Unfortunately, someone made such a report on Karma to the PSB.

       In order to know who did this to Karma, we have to know the second part of the story. The Tibetan areas are not an exception to all of China’s current zeal on developing tourism. Karma’s village had been chosen to be invested into a tourist spot in Nyagchu County. By means of the project called “Tibetan Home Stay (Zangjia Jiedai),” the village was designated to receive tourist groups in the houses of local Tibetans. The tourists sent by the project would directly pay the host families. In the beginning, there were not many tourist groups, and their stays were usually arranged by the county’s Tourist Bureau. In order to gain a good impression from the incoming groups and to further promote its business, the Bureau favored those who were more sociable, had big houses, met higher sanitary standards, and could prepare better meals. Karma and his family were the best on all of these accounts. More tourists were sent to stay with them than anywhere else in the village. Naturally, Karma made some profit out of the project.

       In theory, the tourist development has brought new wealth to the entire village. Overall, everyone has become richer than before. The village used to have less wealth, but people usually got along with each other. Particularly, for those years when Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was around, everyone wanted to behave well and conflicts were rare. Even when arguments occurred, they would quickly find the Rinpoche, their “Big Lama,” to settle the issue. Now, everything has changed. The good number of tourist groups hosted by Karma’s family helped to attract jealous eyes. When the head of the county’s Tourist Bureau visited the village, its residents went to complain and demand a fair share. The head told them to go home to look at themselves in the mirror of their own urine! Out of frustration, someone who was unhappy about seeing Karma becoming Khampa Eagle again and at the same time profiting out of the local tourist development, decided to make his gun an issue. 

       Karma was thus arrested. While that gun was confiscated, he was also fined and locked up. Worse than all of these insults, the police decided to shave his head. He had worn long hair for his whole life. The long hair had been a part of Karma. To shave his head would be really no different than chopping off his nose. Out of desperation, he offered to pay an extra fine of ten thousand yuan to save his hair. The PSB people ignored his appeals and insisted on shaving his head. By the time he was released, Karma looked like a naked eagle. He could no longer move around with his showy appearance. He became a joke in people’s gossip. Last year I went back to Nyagchu and was looking for him. He was not home. People told me he had sat home for a long time and then left. I did not see him and could not guess how he had been feeling about all of what had happened. But I can imagine the fear that the one who reported Karma’s gun to the PSB might have felt. Originally, he probably just wanted to give Karma a lesson by making him lose a gun and pay some fine. If the humiliation that Karma has experienced is even beyond the expectation of the jealous one, how might the featherless Khampa Eagle eventually react? Remember that Khampas are very hot-blooded! Furthermore, while Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is still imprisoned, who can possibly constrain Karma from his old self, the one who was used to speaking through his knife? Karma has been quiet for the time being. Yet the longer he keeps his silence, the more the fear of the plotter of Karma’s trouble increases. When Khampas make up their minds for revenge, they do not care about time. It could take generations to get the issue settled. Besides sharpening his knife and carrying it around all the time, what else can the plotter do now?

       I am not the only one who has these concerns. The locals in Nyagchu County are also asking why the improved living standard has made the human relationships in the community worse. They also wonder how the tradition of revenge would eventually be stopped. From this perspective, development is not the “true ration,” that Deng Xiaoping asserted. Even only for the sake of maintaining political stability or softening the ethnic tensions, depending on economic development alone is apparently not enough. While it might solve some older tensions, it could also create newer and more complicated conflicts. Thinking of the earlier mentioned bandit who was shot to death by the police, Karma’s hair shaved also by the police, the imprisoned Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Lobsang Dhondup who has been sentenced to death, and the family members and other social ties of these people, I ask what kind of final outcome should one expect. Would the situations exemplified by their experiences all be solved by developing the country’s economy?   


8. How would the ecology in Tibet be protected?

Songrong, a kind of wild fungus, is to certain degree responsible for making Kham more prosperous than other Tibetan areas. By the 1970s, songrong was mainly for domestic consumption. One person could collect a back-basket load in a half day. It cost less than a quarter yuan per kilogram to buy it in the local markets. Now, songrong is exported to Japan. The price of the gourmet quality has gone up to one thousand yuan per kilogram. It seems that everybody in Kham is now involved in collecting and/or selling the fungus. In the places where songrong grows more intensively, it can add one thousand yuan per capital to people’s annual income. It constitutes 60% and even larger proportion of the local annual income. I heard that some Tibetans have added the health of the Japanese into their wish-list to the Buddha. To ensure the well-being of the Japanese population is to guarantee the prosperity brought by the songrong business at home. However, the maintenance of the physical health of Japanese is a different issue. The real problem is in Kham itself. A county cadre told me that in his county approximately one thousand tons of the fungus were annually gathered in the late 1990s. By year 2000, the number dropped to seven hundred, and it went further down to four hundred in 2001. Improper gathering is the major cause of such a sharp decrease in the quantity. The problem is that songrong cannot reproduce itself until the spores grow mature. However, once spores reach their maturity, the fungus starts to get old and can not be sold for a good price. Hence, people rush to gather the fungus before spores begin to ripen. It necessarily brings down the quantity of total collection. Furthermore, attracted by the increased price, more people join the hunt. They dig everything, including those baby ones which are still under the earth. To overturn the surface dirt causes the exposure of and damage to the under-earth. Nothing is left to allow the new fungus to come out. While everyone knows that these problems are leading to a short life of the business, no one is willing to stop.

       In comparison with the songrong business in Kham, it is very popular in TAR and Amdo to dig out “winter insect summer grass.” It is a different kind of fungus. Its spores are parasitic inside the baby worms in the winter and grow out of the dead body of the worms when the summer comes. Insect-grass is believed to have some great health benefit, and is primarily consumed by the wealthy inland Chinese. Similar to that of songron, the price of insect-grass has also jumped – from less than twenty yuan per kilogram to about one thousand yuan per kilometer now. The way to collect unbroken pieces of insect grass is to dig up the surface dirt to twenty centimeters in depth. Yet, twenty centimeters is already the average depth of surface dirt in most of the mountain areas in Tibet, which is usually the accumulation of several thousand (if not ten thousand) years. It is not uncommon to see acres of land that should be covered with short grass which are now completely destroyed. They are the aftermath of digging insect-grass and can easily cause landslides during the rainy season.

       The quantity of collectible insect-grass is also dropping. An adult could gather two to three kilograms of the fungus within a month in 1980s, and the number now drops to less than a half kilogram. A similar kind of situation has also happened to other wild medicinal herbs. With the investment into Tibetan medicine in the Tibetan areas doubling in the last three years,[4] the intrusive diggings and purchases have caused a large scale of extinction of the herbs growing on the plateau. When there are more people joining the digging, there is less left for them to gather. The less the total collection becomes, the higher the price goes. In turn, the raised price attracts more people to join the hunt. The entire business has been shaped into a counter-productive cycle.

       The balance of the ecological system in the Tibetan areas is much more fragile than in many other locales. It is common sense that biological diversity is the foundation for a balanced ecosystem. There are relatively fewer species which can survive under the tough natural conditions of Tibet Plateau. Since the degree of biological diversity is much lower there, there is only a single food chain which connects the limited species on the plateau. The entire balance can be damaged by having a very few links disconnected. It is different from the ecology in the tropical rainforests, where the multiple food chains form a complex web to support each other. The break down of a few links would look more like holes in the web that can be fixed by the existing diversity. To argue further, Tibet Plateau is the origin of several major rivers in China. When these rivers carry downstream the negative effects of the destroyed eco-balance, the problems can only become doubled and even tripled once the rivers reach the plains. Thus, the destruction of the ecosystem is not only a disaster for the Tibetan areas; its influence spreads to inland China.

       It is fair to say that the Chinese government has noticed the problem. After the serious flood of the Yangtze River in 1998, it finally accepted the relevance of the upstream ecology to the downstream environment that the experts had discussed for years. The government thus ordered a ban on the lumber business and set up the conservation projects in the upstream areas in the country. Nearly all of these areas are predominantly inhabited by Tibetans. However, we can not merely depend on the government’s orders to protect the ecosystem. On the one hand, in a remote place like Tibet where the police already have difficulty to capture the criminals, how easy might it be for those who violate the environmental regulation to avoid punishment? On the other hand, as we discussed earlier, the food chain is very fragile in the Tibetan areas. Any single damage can lead to the inbalance of the entire system. Would the government be able to regulate each of the links of the system and always keep them under watch?

       In this regard, nothing could be more effective than religion. The meaningfulness and value system generated through religion can not only adjust the inner balance of individuals, but also assist the harmony between human beings and nature. This is a very important “pragmatic” function of religion. Usually, a religion growing out of and popularized in a given region brings the best adjustment between people living there and their environment. In return, an excellent relationship among the ecosystem, the people, and their belief can be achieved. Even though the believers of a religion would not necessarily perceive their religion in this way, from the perspective of sociology and functionalist analysis, we can still argue that it is the needed balance between culture and nature that forms the conditions under which a given religion is born and spread in the specific environment. 

       The humble attitude of Tibetan Buddhism towards nature and its emphasis on compassion towards all of the sentient beings are helpful in protecting the fragile ecosystem on Tibet Plateau. According to Tibetan Buddhism, all of the sentient beings are equal. Human beings do not have the right to assert any special power or to satisfy their own desire by sacrificing other species. Buddhists do not share the Christian viewpoint that God grants human beings the superiority to overcome nature and to exploit other species. In contrast, Buddhism respects and wishes to maintain the status quo of a balanced world. To ensure a harmony among sentient beings is the goal of the religion. Traditionally, Tibetans would not take killing of even one ant lightly, because according to the belief in karma, the ant could have been one’s father or mother in a previous life. By the same token, Tibetans should have been unwilling to damage the grassland in any aggressive manner, because they themselves would still have to depend on the grassland to survive in the next life time – no matter to be reborn as human or animal.

       The Chinese authorities are keen to promote the idea that nothing beyond the mundane exists. Accordingly, since there is no beyond-ness to work on, why should one not just try to satisfy the desire at the present? Why should one worry about the flood that might happen after one’s death? Occasionally, people who think this way also like to sound rational and environmentally sensitive. They often claim their concern over the environment where their offspring would have to live. However, what they say usually sounds more like lip-service about their self-sacrifice. It is not reliable. They can simply drop their environmentalist stance as soon as the issue comes to their self-interest. On the contrary, to protect the environment through the karmic logic of Tibetan Buddhism is not for the offspring. It is for oneself, since the price that one is unable to pay off in this life would still have to be looked after in the next.

       In the Tibetan areas, the lands next to monasteries often have the best-protected environment. You would be surprised by the traditional ways through which the monasteries act out the modern environmentalist concerns. The monastics and their monasteries are everywhere on the Tibet Plateau. They represent the authority in the mind of common Tibetans and are a close part of the local life. They should have been a helping force in the society for the environmental responsibility promoted by the government. Unfortunately, the Chinese government could not see the picture from a wider perspective. From its vision, only the potential challenge and transgression of its power posed by the monastery exists. When the KTAP authority launched on its second purge of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, one of the charges was that he had encouraged the locals to stop the Forest Bureau from cutting trees. Even if the charge was true, what he had tried to do should have no discrepancy with the environmental policy of the state. It was made into a criminal charge against him only because, as a monk, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had presumably intended to mobilize people. He had transgressed the authority and power of the government. 


9. Religion and helicopters

The head of a PSB office in Tibet once spoke about his idea on solving the security problem in the region. He thought that the most effective way was to equip the police force with helicopters. Because each prefecture in the Tibetan areas is vast, only helicopters can overcome the geographic barriers and reach the crime scene in a timely manner. While the idea sounds like some sort of “weapon-only theory (wei wu qi lun),” there must be some true realization derived from his practical experience. However, the real issue is the high altitude of Tibet Plateau, which is in average four thousand meters above sea level. It is beyond the reach of normal helicopters. Specially designed models for the high altitude would be needed. China has not been able to produce this kind of specialty. Currently, all of the helicopters serving on the Plateau are “Black Eagles” imported from the USA. A single Black Eagle costs more than ten million US dollars (equivalent to one hundred million yuan). This number is up to ten times larger than the annual income of any single prefecture in the Tibetan areas, and I have not included in the calculation the costs of shipment and maintenance.

       The Chinese authorities have for years criticized religion as a waste and the monastics as the parasites of society. The attitude shows the problematic of the authorities’ calculation. While religion can help to reduce people’s involvement in criminal behavior, the money saved from the investment in public security can be tangibly counted. Even without a consideration of the joy, love, and inner peace that religion can bring, merely from the perspective of maintaining social order, we should not see religion as something useless.

       The PSB head is not the only one contemplating helicopters. Those who are in charge of Kekexiili (Changtang Rishi Rimar), which has become internationally famous because of the controversial issue of chiru, have also considered using helicopters to stop illegal hunting. The Chinese government has in recent years heavily invested in protecting the natural environment. However, the effect of its efforts has so far been very limited. One should ask why, when historically there was no official attention to wildlife preservation in Tibet, the ecosystem there used to be well protected. Apparently, it must have had something to do with the religion, and even with some superstitious elements of the religion. For instance, insect-grass used to be seen as the intestines of the mountain gods. Therefore, no one should dig the dirt to search for them. Also, the discrimination that hunters used to face in Tibetan society sounds perhaps not quite right by the human rights standard. Yet, it did have some effects on natural protection. In this regard, the solution of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was even better. Rather than discriminating against or condemning the hunters, by buying sheep and yaks and giving them to the hunters, he made them give up hunting and become nomads. If we can have more lamas who try to do what Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has done to educate people and initiate grass-roots efforts on environmental protection, the government would be able to save a lot from its investment, and we would likely see very different results.

One time when I traveled in Markham, I was very impressed by an image I saw on the road. It was a residential house of Tibetan style. The house was built along the hill next to the road. On one side of the walls of the house, someone had written a giant Chinese character “FU (WEALTH)” in white paint. From a distance, the character looked shocking. It suggested the house owner’s eager wish to become rich. I felt I was punched by his desire for overnight new wealth. Meanwhile, it occurred to me that where the character was written used to be the place for religious symbols or pictures to be drawn. Tibetans used to be the people living on the principle of happiness, which is, compared with the principle of pursuing self-interest, closer to the essence of life. However, once the regulation set up by the moral principle gets lost, going downhill is easy for everyone. Religion is the foundation of the Tibetan moral system. Once the omnipresent restraint of religion stops functioning, the future of the Tibetan people can be a worry.

If Tibetans have forgotten their religion and only insist on gaining wealth in the mundane world, what could they possibly rely on for satisfaction? In order to earn more money and to have desires further satisfied, they can only keep increasing the numbers of their livestock. Larger stocks of animals consume more grass. It leads to the desertification of the grassland. Less water will get accumulated at the upstream of those rivers that flow down to the plains. While water shortage itself is a problem, the drying rivers in turn help to induce the large-scale sand and dust storms in inland China. How much would the government have to invest in dealing with these problems?

In contrast, religion would not require the government’s investment or organization. As long as the government does not suppress religion and allows religion an actual freedom, religion would automatically take care of the issues that we have just discussed. From the perspective of investment, it is a matter of great profit and one requiring no endowment. Nevertheless, the Chinese authorities today have gone in the opposite direction. On the one hand, they spend a huge amount of resources to crush Tibetans’ religion. On the other hand, they have to, in the name of “helping Tibet (yuan zang),” bring in more resources from inland China to satisfy the increased material desires among the Tibetan population. Another cycle is forming: when religion becomes less important, people’s material desires and appetites increase. The financial support that TAR receives from Beijing has become a customary practice for a half a century. Not mention the prospect of actually stopping the support in the future, even the idea of cutting it back can immediately challenge the country’s stability. Where might be the end of this kind of support? How could such support create a foundation for real stability?


10. Police from within one’s heart

       Regarding a balanced ecosystem and stabilized social order, the greediness of human nature is the major destructive force. While the greed of individuals helps moral deterioration, that of mankind delivers natural and social catastrophe. Stealing, robbery, hunting, damaging nature…. Which is irrelevant to the greedy desire within one’s heart? Yet, no matter how strict the law is, how strong the police force can be, how expensive helicopters might be, they would not be able to completely control people’s hearts. To deal with the hearts, we need morality to function as “the police from within (xin zhong de jing cha),” and religion is often the major source for morality. 

       Capitalist society is a society which has profit-making as its highest goal. The words of Karl Marx are right, that “when capitalism arrives, bleeding is everywhere.” The original capitalism is the manifestation of the greedy and evil demon in every society. Religions were historically respected and protected by the state power in European countries and the USA. Their countries are thus fortunate to have moved from the demonic to the more refined capitalism. Today’s China is just moving onto the primitive stage of capital accumulation. However, what the nation-state has done is not only to tolerate and even manipulate the greediness permeating the society, but also to mobilize all of the resources it has to destroy religion, the only mechanism that can prevent the society from going down to an absolute deterioration.

The missing police force of a society can be re-established in a relatively short period of time. It would take much longer to bring back “the police from within” of individuals. For an entire nation which has lost its “police from within,” that is, its religion and moral system, the recovery project requires the effort of generations. Except in Lhasa, “police” was barely a concept in traditional Tibetan society where religion was popularly practiced, and where criminal behaviors were also rare. The phenomenon can only be explained by “the police from within” that regulates Tibetans’ conduct.

       From another perspective, laws and police forces are even less effective than religion in their social effects, because they are preemptive, operated through the principle of punishment, and not too helpful in generating or promoting goodness in the society. At the current moment, China has millions of policemen and national guards plus all kinds of joint forces for national security and neighborhood protection. Yet, the crime rate continues rising, and the annual budget for fighting crime keeps increasing. If police and law are the only way to keep people behaving themselves, would it mean that they can do whatever they want as far as they are beyond supervision? No matter how many more policemen are added, they are still many times fewer than the population that, supposedly, they should keep watching. How would they be able to look after the vast areas in a place like Tibet?

       To compare the two kinds of police we just discussed, it is impossible to only rely on the external police to stop crime without the guardian of “the police from within.” On the other hand, if “the police from within” is with everyone, then the external police would become unnecessary. Of course, it might sound too idealistic to completely depend on people’s consciences. To combine the two, that is, to make them complementary to each other, is probably the most feasible way to achieve a balanced social order. From this angle, it is the mistake of the nation-state to treat religion as an enemy. Today’s China is making such a mistake.


III. Fatal Damage to Tibetan Buddhism

11. Why can Buddhism not be separated from the high lamas?

Monasticism is important in all of the religions. However, in my opinion, Buddhism relies more on monasticism than do other religions. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all have the “text” of the religion (Bible for Christians, Koran for Muslims, etc.). The believers can directly read the text to understand the divinity and the doctrines important to the religion. In other words, although monasteries are important to these religions, they are not an absolute necessity for the followers’ access to their religion. For instance, there has been only one Bible for the past two thousand years. Generations of Christians read it since they are young. Moreover, the Bible is compiled in a style of story-telling. Its language is relatively easy. After reading it for numerous times, everyone can gain some deep understanding of the religion.

In contrast, Buddhism does not have this kind of highest single text. It is a giant system compiled with many texts. It is vast and complex. The language for its texts is often difficult. The logic of its thinking is subtle and full of those “enlightening instances” that are not always comprehensible. The religion has been developed into so many different schools. Each of these schools then has its unique textual tradition. Putting these phenomena together, it becomes clear that even the most diligent student would not be able to master the entire religion within one lifetime. It must be even harder for those average devotees to grasp the religion on their own. Thus, there has always been a strange dichotomy in Buddhist culture. One the one hand, there is the extremely rationalized philosophy (or Buddha’s dharma) housed in the ivory tower. On the other hand, there is the popular dimension of the religion which is primarily based on superstition and blind devotion. Only monasteries of the religion have the ability to narrow such a gap in an organic manner, and to make the two ends mutually understandable within the total system of the religion.

Depending on the centuries-old educational system and hard studies of individuals, Buddhist monasteries gain the competence which allows them to understand the essence of the religion and to clarify the religion for the devotees. They have two sets of mission. One is to protect and develop Buddha’s dharma; the other is to deliver the dharma to the public and to make dharma relevant to common people’s everyday lives. Thinking from this angle, monasteries are the bridge between the two ends of the Buddhist dichotomy, through whom only can the dharma reach people and people receive the dharma. In this regard, Buddhism would not able to survive without monasticism. The emphasis of the religion on the three-in-one necessity of Buddha, dharma, and monasticism indeed has its inner logic. No matter how great Buddha or dharma might be, without the monasteries serving as their messenger, they are still just big buildings in the sky – unreachable and thus irrelevant to the mundane world.

Perhaps we should not make value judgments about different religions. However, one can actually notice some contrast from the domain of practicality. In the case of Christianity, because the common Christians can directly read the Bible, the sole text, the theological authority of the Christian priests is thus less than that of the Buddhist monastery. In turn, the Christian priests are more often subjected to the supervision of the secular sector of the society. On the contrary, the Buddhist repertoire is too large and complicated, full of dialectical arguments and flexibility, and too hard for the average believers to grasp. It is relatively easier for the Buddhist monastery to monopolize the authority of interpreting the religion. Meanwhile, there is no mechanism for the commoners to put any restriction over the monasteries. This was particularly true of Tibetan society in history, where everyone believed in Buddhism and theocracy was practiced. There was just no alternative resource on spirituality that could be deployed to judge the monastery. As a result, the unconditional obedience to the monasteries that the lay people had was largely derived from their superstition.

Under such a context, Tibetan Buddhism has developed a very high standard for its monasticism. According to the logic of the religion, if the monastery can maintain the purity through self-discipline, the superstition and unconditional obedience of the lay people would not be a problem. Monasteries that “follow the dharma (rufa)” ensure the connection between the dharma and the devotees and keep the religion functioning as an ordered entirety that properly fulfills its social function. Amidst all of these, the monastic leadership is the key element. Within the unit of a single monastery, tulkus, kenpos, abbots, and other high lamas constitute the leadership which is responsible for the management of the institution and its members. Such a monastic leadership is a characteristic of Buddhism. As long as the leadership itself “follows the dharma” and dutifully supervises and educates the members within the monastery, a responsible monasticism is guaranteed.

These monastic leaders are usually honored as “rinpoche (great gurus  in English or gao seng da de in Chinese).” Their importance to the religion is unquestionable. Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche are both this kind of revered monks. The goal of Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s Serta Academy was exactly to prepare the next generation of the monastic leadership. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche might not have the expertise on Buddhist philosophy as Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok did. Yet, by serving the lay followers, he acted out another important function of the monastic leadership. Through his regular travels from village to village, he practically used the religion to influence people’s everyday lives. Such a task is most needed from the monastery. Only by means of this kind of efforts, can Buddhism really play out its role in the society.

In contrast, the true nightmare for Tibetan Buddhism starts with the deterioration of its monastic leadership. While the deterioration of individual monastery can be seen and handled as personal issues, that of the leadership itself can cause the entire institution to go out of control and lead to collective damage. Moreover, the monastic leaders are important teachers guiding people on the spiritual path. Since the common followers might not be able to tell the behind-the-scenes motivation, the leaders’ manipulation of the religion for self-interest would really cut off the connection that the dharma ought to have with the commoners. The devotion that the commoners have for the monastery is so blind that it could deteriorate into an ignorance that could be easily manipulated for other purposes.

Buddhism is fully aware of such danger. Therefore, it puts many emphases on monastic vows and teaching lineages. They are the lifelines for the religion. Teaching lineages of Tibetan Buddhism are described as chains made out of pure gold, of which not even one link should be polluted. The transmission that one teacher gives to his disciples is equal to the generations of teaching passed down through that golden chain. Ones receiving such a transmission are blessed and given the potential to succeed on the spiritual path. If a tulku or lama violates his vows, the wisdom accumulated through his lineage would be interrupted, and his disciples would no longer be able to obtain the total transmission. From the perspective of sociology, such a strict rule is intended to dissuade the monastery from violating their vows and going downhill morally. From a religious perspective, the collective deterioration of the monastery would cause the complete interruption of the dharma transmission, which leads to the realization of the Buddhist prophecy that when the time comes dharma will reach its end. Apparently, such a time is first rooted in the total deterioration of the monastic leadership. It then manifests through the corruption of the entire monastic system. 


12. Strict religious rules for monks and nuns

       It is common sense that unlimited power causes corruption. Then, what might be the factor that can exert some kind of regulation over the monastic leadership? It has to come from the inner force of the religion. To expect Buddhism to become “the police from within” of the common people, it first require that “the police from within” permeate among monks and nuns. Many monastic vows viewed by the outsiders of the religion as torturous asceticism actually have nothing to do with supervision or punishment over human beings’ mundane needs. Instead, the vows represent the strong faith of monks and nuns in karma. To violate the vows would not only damage one’s chance to obtain positive results of karma, but also help to invite unwanted negative effects.

       The strength and purity of the faith of the monastic community is to a large degree determined by the purity of the monastic teaching lineage. It is a complex system involving the methods of “listening, contemplating, and practice ” It demands a clean environment and an unbroken continuity. In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, many monks and nuns start their monastic education at a very young age. The purpose of this is to reduce the chance for the mundane desires to be internalized. In order to keep a remote distance from the pollution and temptation of the earthly world, many monasteries are built in hidden-away places in the mountains. The well-known Kagyu and Nyingma retreat of three years, three months, and three days marks the victory of spirituality over material desire. Only those who can pass the trial would be honorifically referred to as lama by the lay population. Only those monks and nuns that have uprooted mundane desires are qualified to become the proper bridge between the dharma and the lay devotees. After reaching the maturity of their practice in an unpolluted environment, monks and nuns are ready to confront worldly distractions, to stand on their own feet, and to concentrate on the mission of spreading dharma and helping people. To sweep away unwanted desires, the crucial element here is the undisturbed surroundings that support the education that the purified teachers can pass on to the unpolluted pupils. On the contrary, total disruption only needs to happen once. It is enough to pollute the entire generation of the monastic community and help the teaching lineage to lose its purity.

       This kind of total disruption happened once to Tibetan Buddhism after 1959. At that time, while forbidding the religion and its hereditary tradition, the Chinese Communist authorities also launched large-scale projects to reform tulkus and other monastic members. It consciously forced monks and nuns to violate their religious vows and to accept the mundane standard of life. The “tulku study group (huo fo xue xi ban)” established in Lhasa in 1964 was a typical example. More than ten tulkus under age twenty were gathered for labor and thought reform. Specifically, it was arranged for them to work as butchers and to hunt wild animals. What some of the tulkus learned from the study group had become a life-long addition that they later had trouble to rid themselves of. By the 1980s, although the religion was somehow recovered, the environment for its continuity had been drastically altered. It is not only about the entire generation of monastic community, who had been polluted and lost the right view on the religion. It also regards the new generations who completely grew up in an atheist environment. Such an unprecedented crisis in Tibetan Buddhism has lasted into the present time. Although the Chinese authorities now allow certain degrees of open practice of the religion and claim that its citizens enjoy religious freedom. There remain all kinds of restrictions over the religion’s teaching lineage tradition. What happened to Serta Academy can better explain the problem. Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok was one of a very few high lamas who had survived the time of catastrophe. If the authorities have left to him sufficient freedom, there might have been a chance to make the interrupted tradition reconnected. Unfortunately, as soon as the authorities noticed that he and other lamas were going to make the Academy successful, they could only think of their threat over their own political power, and had to use tough measures to suppress their efforts.

       Several numbers can here help us to see the problem further. Before KTAP was taken over by the Chinese Communist authorities, there were totally six hundred and four Buddhist education institutes in the region. There are only ninety-three now. Only nine out of the ninety-three are officially registered. Theoretically, the remaining eighty-four are all illegal.[5] This means the legal institutions for Buddhist education are now sixty times fewer than they used to be. Even including those illegal ones, the number is still only one sixth of the previous. Therefore, when people are now granted the freedom of burning incense and practicing prostration, the disconnected tradition of dharma study has not been rebuilt yet. From this perspective, the disruption of Tibetan Buddhism has lasted longer than the two decades from 1959 to 1980; it has continued into the current moment. There might have been a hope to repair the disruption of twenty years. Yet, forty-something years is a long time – long enough to exhaust the entire generation of the achieved lamas. Meanwhile, all of their successors grew up in the time when “absolute materialist is not afraid of anything” was the dominant ideology. They were later influenced by the driving force of self- interest that permeated in the society. The possibility of re-establishing a decent teaching lineage tradition of Tibetan Buddhism becomes less promising.

       As mentioned earlier, besides self-discipline, monks and nuns are also regulated by the monastic order. The order can punish and even throw out those who violate their vows. However, because the order is managed by the leaders, its control over the leaders is relatively weak. This is particularly true if a leader happens to be a tulku. One can only be born as a tulku; there is no external force that can deprive him of his status or impose any restriction on him. Of course, there are still the Dalai Lama and other light lamas of different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, who have the higher authority to regulate the monastic leaders below their rank. The theocratic tradition of the religion can also provide some regulation over the monastic leaders. However, all of these conditions are now gone. The highest leaders of the major sects are all in exile and unable to intervene in the monastic affairs inside Tibet. As for the control of the Chinese authorities over the religion, they have strategically cut off the internal connections within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. They treat each monastery as a single unit and prohibit the horizontal associations that allow different monasteries to take part in each other’s internal affairs. (This can be clearly seen in the charges that the KTAP Religious Affairs Bureau made against Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.) As a result, there is neither a vertical system from within the religion to regulate the monastic leaders, nor horizontal mechanism that allows mutual supervision among the leaders. The local political power becomes the only restraining force left. One can very much predict that the demand from such a force is about monks and nuns’ surrender to political power. It has nothing to do with respecting dharma or observing monastic vows.


13. Degeneration of monastic leadership

       The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself is an organization full of religious zeal. With the fundamentalist character of being extreme, passionate, and exclusive, it has to totally deny other belief systems. Only during Deng Xiaoping’s time when the party gave up its ideology and moved towards a practical policy, religion had a chance to come back to life. However, the leaders of CCP still could not see the value of religion.

       When the American President Bill Clinton visited China in 1998, a dialogue between him and the Party Secretary Jiang Zeming was broadcast on TV. In their conversation, Jiang mentioned something about Tibet: “Speaking as the nation-state chairman of PRC, the fact that I am a communist and an atheist has no influence on my respect for Tibet’s religious freedom (laughing….). Yet, I do have a question. Last year when I visited the USA and also some European countries, I found many well-educated people actually believed in the doctrines of Lamaism. I think this is a problem, which needs to be studied. Why? Why?”

       To analyze Jiang’s words, apparently he thinks that for the well-educated population to believe in Buddhism is abnormal and problematic. It reflects that deep down in his heart he does not really admire Tibetan Buddhism. Only because they have not been able to completely get rid of the religion, the Chinese Communist authorities keep tolerating it. However, while the authorities have been tolerating the religion, they also feel the necessity to divide it and to make sure of zero tolerance of any challenge from the religion. Such logic makes it extremely important to control the monks and nuns and particularly their leadership. According to Jiang’s words, this is “to actively direct religion to become complementary to socialism.”[6] He further explained his expectation from the monasticcommunity:

[We are] asking them to love the motherland, to support the socialist system and the leadership of the Communist Party….  Asking them to keep their religious activities in line with and serving the highest interest of the country and the total interest of their nations. [We] support their efforts on interpreting religious doctrines according to the demands of social progress…. Not allowing religion to be used to confront the leadership of the Party and the socialist system.[7]  

It is very evident that all of the concerns here are from the perspective of the Chinese Communist power. They are not measured by any need of religion. (According to the vocabulary of CCP, the Party itself represents “motherland,” “socialist system,” “country,” and “progress.”) Religion can only be one component under the leadership of the Party and function as an instrument needed by the Party. The essence of the relationship between monastic leadership and that of the Party can be concluded with two sentences: “Whoever obeys me would become prosperous; whoever goes against me would get killed.”

       Following are the tangible ways in which the Chinese authorities treat the monastic leaders:

       (1) Not allowing the monastic leaders to become the leaders of people: It is fine for the lamas to satisfy the superstitious needs of the masses. They are free to engage in the activities such as fortune telling, consecration rites, or giving head-touching blessings. However, to really give teachings and use the dharma to influence the local communities and hence become their spiritual leader, as Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has done, can only invite the suspicion of the authorities. Activities of this kind are strictly restrained. Some high lamas even do not have freedom to move around. The authorities keep their watchful eyes on any charity effort initiated by the monastic community. For instance, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was accused of having gone off on his own way to start his school for orphans without permission. The school was confiscated and soon collapsed. The fear is that people’s appreciation of the lamas’ charitable activities can soon turn the lamas from religious to community leaders, who can in turn weaken the government’s authority. Once again, the case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche shows that the energy accumulated through his double leadership was, from the authorities’ point of view, very likely to go out of control. He thus represents a threat of challenging the authorities. The locals participated in his protest against the government-run lumber business. Earlier, when he was concerned with possible persecution by the government and moved away from the region, hundreds of people signed petitions for him. These phenomena no doubt deepened the authorities’ worry.

       (2) Causing “degeneration ” of the existing leaders: In order to warn the rest of the monastic leadership, those who insist on the principles of the religion or refuse to be used as the authorities’ tools, such as Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok, are all under the threat of being purged or even sentenced to imprisonment or death. For instance, because he followed the custom of the religion to report to the Dalai Lama about his search for the reincarnated young Panchen Lama, Chadrel Rinpoche from Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse was sentenced to eight years. To those who have higher ranks in the lineage tradition but keep quiet and avoid trouble, the authorities have the strategy of “stick and carrot.” As for those who are driven by self-interest, opportunistic, and willing to give up the principle of the religion and to be the instrument of the government, they are given all kinds of privileges, positions in People’s Assemblies and even governments. By giving the green lights and providing resources to the activities organized by this type of monastic leaders, the authorities make them the role model for others. For example, a low ranking tulku from Nachu in TAR condemned the Dalai Lama on several public occasions and was granted the title of the standard member of the Political Consultative Committee of PRC .    (3) Controlling the monastic personnel: The authorities want to sanction and even directly select tulkus and abbots of monasteries. Doing so, on the one hand, makes Tibetan Buddhism have to depend on the authorities. On the other hand, it can gradually replace those deceased monastic leaders with those chosen and prepared by the authorities to become their ruling instruments. As a part of the same goal, the authorities also make the important monastic leaders take turns studying in those government-managed Buddhist academies in Beijing and other places – in order to feed them the ways of thinking that the authorities want them to have. In the meantime, Serta Academy and other institutes of Tibetan Buddhist education that are not under the control of the government are systematically sealed.

       It becomes evident that while the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism has lost its force to restrain the monastic leaders, the restriction by the political power is actually enhanced. The authorities’ attempt to manipulate the monastic community can only distract the latter away from the essence of the religion. Theoretically, the religious vows remain. Yet, their power and the authority of Buddha’s teaching come from the believers’ faith. The devotion of those monastic leaders, who have been chosen and educated under the mundane standards of the Communist Party, and the purity of their faith, can be questionable. Moreover, while the “flexibility ” developed through the complexity of Buddhism makes the religion attractive, it can also easily become the excuse of the degenerate the monastic community to cover up their selfish desire and their appropriation of the religion.

       Therefore, although CCP claims religious freedom, the damage that its religious policy does to Buddhism today is not less than during Mao’s era. While Mao had indeed wanted to completely destroy Buddhism, and while the destruction of Buddhism had actually happened in Tibetan history, the religion has survived because of the faith in people’s hearts that violence cannot demolish. In contrast, the degeneration of the entire monastic class caused by the current religious policy of the Party is the most fatal danger that Buddhism is facing. Once monks and nuns are no longer the bridge, the lay followers and Buddha’s teaching would be separated from each other. As a result, the lay people can only indulge in superstition and lose their faith in the dharma. It is said that Shakyamuni Buddha had predicted what would happen in the time when dharma comes to an end: “Those wearing my garment would be the ones destroying my religion.” Of course, monks and nuns today are not the root of their own degeneration. However, the fundamental damage to Buddhism can only be due to the deterioration of the monastic community.   

 14. Reincarnated lamas in the time when dharma comes to an end

       I witnessed once in Kham a homecoming orchestrated by the Party workers of the county. They went thirty kilometers out of the town to welcome a tulku and the wealthy Han Chinese merchants who had escorted him home from inland China. Tents were set up along the road. Police cars were sent to clear the traffic for the group. The vehicles of the group stretched for one kilometer. All of the vehicles were decorated with yellow khata. The manner resembles the Tibetan ritual of receiving important guests. Yet, the county authorities enacted the ritual not only to do their “united front” work on the tulku, but also as a part of the economic development project that prevails throughout China. All levels of the Party and governmental offices in China today are working on the economy – that is, the are busy in converting everything into economic resources. The Tibetan regions are not excepted from the scheme. Wherever there is a famous monastery, it has to be turned into a tourist spot; whoever is a high-ranking tulku, he has to be utilized as an attraction for commercial investment. In the eyes of those rich Han businessmen, the county secretaries of the Party or the county governors are the minor “sesame-seed” officials. Yet, these businessmen are all excited about tulkus. This is how tulkus become a valuable commodity.

       On the tulkus’ side, for the purpose of individual and/or monastic development, they naturally want the support (or at least the tolerance) of the local political power. Some tulkus work very hard to please the government. For instance, the tulku who had received the homecoming ritual I just described was once asked by the local government to convince the Tibetan peasants to accept the usage of pesticide. He had to come forward to guarantee that he had performed rituals to help the rebirth of the killed insects. Therefore, the peasants could use pesticide as instructed by the government without worrying about violating the vow of no-killing. The tulku was promoted to the position of vice governor of the county. Another tulku from the same monastery was made the vice governor of the Prefecture. Of course, there was then the tulku who was assigned as the vice chairman of Political Consultative Committee of PRC and made to act as “the leader of the country” Nowadays, many tulkus devote much of their time and energy to this kind of triangular relationship among power, money, and religion. They are diverted from their study and practice. Rather than giving dharma teachings to the lay people or serving the well-being of the community, they are more interested in schmoozing with wealthy devotees from Hong Kong and Macau and with rich businessmen from inland China, or in hanging around with officials. They spend most of their time flying from city to city, checking into upscale hotels, and stepping in and out of bars and restaurants. It is a common scene in Maji Ami, a Tibetan restaurant near by the area of foreign embassies in Beijing, that four or five tulkus are surrounded by rich Han Chinese men and women. Such Phenomena imply the simple logic that these tulkus live on the offerings of the rich and the rich expect blessings from the tulkus. Some tulkus now can afford very pricy cars. I have known some tulkus who are eager to step into the movie and TV business and want to become singing or movie stars. Having nearly permanently stayed in inland China, where they become used to various material enjoyments, they can totally disregard their monasteries and home areas. Some tulkus have simply turned themselves into merchants conducting their own business. I have heard that once in a disco bar in Chengdu, a young tulku mingled with a group of noisy and excited young girls. Wearing some sort of neon stickers on his fingers and following the ear-shattering music, he was dancing wildly in the middle of these girls. One can say that the image of his burgundy robe flying in the air is cool. Yet, to the Buddhists, perhaps he looks more like a ghost.

       Besides being seduced by the modern life of material drives, some tulkus are enthusiastic about gaining political power. On the one hand, they act aggressively on their patriotic and anti-separatists stands to gain their political capital; on the other hand, in order to increase individual fame, they appropriate Tibetan myths and mysticism to create all kinds of unbelievable stories. Having targeted on the ignorance of the Han Chinese and their romantic admiration of Tibetan Buddhism, these tulkus go around telling people so and so is a tulku and so and so must be a reincarnation of a dakini. These means are used to enchant people and exchange self-interests; they also give some rich but ill-minded celebrities the opportunities to cheat people and to corrupt the religion.

       Tulkus of this kind often have to find justifications for their conduct – such as religious enterprises needs financial support, or the donations from the rich are necessary for building temples and making statues. In the words of one tulku: “Without the large donations, how am I going to build the monastery? When am I going to gather enough money, if I only rely on small donations of one or two yuan from individual Tibetans? How am I going to make it, if I don’t seek donations in the inland?” Some tried to sound even more justified: “The mission of Buddhism should not be confined to the Tibetan regions. It should be made accessible to the Han Chinese and other people in the world. Therefore, in order to further spread the dharma for more people’s benefits, it is necessary for monks to stay in inland China to study Chinese and English. Also, real hermits should have the self-confidence to stay in the earthly world without being scared by it.” Tenzin Delek Rinpoche makes it clear that he disagrees with this kind of self-justification. He thinks that building temples and stupas, printing sutras, and releasing captured animals are the jobs of the lay people. The merit of the monastic community should not be built upon them. Instead, they should fully engage in their dharma study, contemplation, and practice. As for the so-called “real hermits” who should not be intimidated by the earthly world, the problem is how many among the monastics are truly the real ones, that is, are ready to jump in? If one cannot prove his readiness, who would believe in the purity of his motivation? Why does one want to run the risk of mingling with the lay people? Unfortunately, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s high standard has made his criticism controversial among the monastic community in Kham.  

       I never met with Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok. But I know why people in Ngaychu County love and respect Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. His willingness to forego his personal comfort is an important reason. Through his institutions of public service, he gave people’s offerings back to the community. I visited him once in his residence. Compared with many other tulkus that I knew, his life was just too simple. He used a mat to sleep on the floor. There was one cushion and some Buddhist books on the mat. A soft-drink can sitting on a Tibetan table was his pencil container. The wooden walls were not painted and were without any carving. One poster of the Potala was hung on the wall. He kept me for dinner. Because I was the guest, he offered me some beef and peanuts. As for him, there was only a bowl of dumplings. His chopsticks were no longer a pair, because their colors were different. The only thing in his room which could not be considered as a necessary was perhaps a fresh flower set in an offering vessel.

       Comparing the different fates that the two kinds of tulkus are facing, it is fair to say that in China today religious freedom is the freedom to go downhill. Yet, it does not mean a freedom of transcendence.


15. Religion cannot be reformed by political power

       According to the logic discussed above, the degeneration of the monastic leaders leads to the deterioration of the entire monastic class, which can then bring Buddhism to an end. While such a development has been the result of the religious policy of the Chinese government, it is not necessarily a strategic design with a clear goal. As a matter of fact, the authority appears just not to have the strategic ability to see beyond its own immediate interests. What has happened is merely the combined outcome of short-sighted manipulations of political power by various players.

       There have been some alternative voices coming from within CCP. For instance, Pan Yue, the ex-deputy director of Economic System Reform Office of  the State Council, is well known for his open-minded image. In his article entitled “Marxist View on Religion Must Catch up with the Current of Time,” he states that CCP needs to deploy a new political ideology, that is, “to find a new perspective of functionalism and to re-evaluate the functions of religion.”[8] Having concluded religion’s social function, he suggests that CCP should no long keep a passive attitude in its dealings with religion. Instead, the Party “should turn all of the passive elements of religion into the aggressive ones.”[9] Compared with the Party’s policies of destroying or encouraging the deterioration of religion, some positive significance can be elicited from Pan’s opinion. However, his way of thinking has not gone beyond the official ideology of “preserving the essence of religion and discarding its residue.” I do not intend to be too critical about Pan’s idea. However, the ideology behind his idea would not help to put into practice the functionalism that he has expected.

       Religion is an independent system. While it resides in the mundane world, its agenda regards the transcendent side of life. As a complete system, on the one hand, religion includes everything and everyone in all dimensions of human experience – the mundane vs. the super mundane, or the material vs. the spiritual. On the other hand, it would not be subjected to other viewpoints or philosophical systems. Because of its multidimensional quality, a given religion designates different roles to different figures within its system. This includes monastic organizations and memberships, sects and their leaderships, education and qualification systems, canons and lineages of textual study, teachings to and vows for the lay followers, religious holidays, complicated and sometimes large-scale rituals and practices. Within such a structure, there is no need for every figure to know of the system’s total details or to serve as the manifestation of its total meaning. It is sufficient to have everyone play out a part of its function. The key point is to ensure the complete nature of the system. As far as the system is intact, the total significance of a religion manifests through the combination of the multiple parts; meanwhile, the religion serves its total function. The different parts of a religion are just like a set of dominoes. They support but also define each other. It cannot be an easy task to decide which part is necessary or disposable. To view them separately, some individual elements might look useless. Yet, they are still a part of the entirety and support the entirety. Removing one can trigger domino effect and damage the system’s totality.

       Therefore, it is wrong to judge religion with a pragmatic and opportunistic attitude. It is impossible to only allow its parts that look useful and to prohibit the rest that appear as threats to the authority. The so-called essence and residue of a religious system are just like the two sides of the same coin. The outsiders of the religion might consider retreat, celibacy, and other forms of ascetic practice as strange or even ridiculous. Yet these activities are the different components that have, through a long process of historical accumulation, mutually shaped each other into a complete system. To question them separately is to miss the point. In other words, a vast system cannot be just about one single element; it has to be able to include diverse phenomena. The evaluation and criticism by bystanders reflect only their own value judgment. Even if there is a need for religious reform, neither the initiative of the secular power nor any kind of surgical operation or transplantation would work. Instead, it has to be a movement from within the religion, which would be a spontaneous, balanced, and natural evolution with a total coherence. To repeat myself, only a reform from within the religion would deliver a positive and balanced outcome.

       To sum up, religion does not mean to be instructed, improved, and used by any external force. Its mundane function can only be the natural outcome of its path leading to the transcendent world. Such a relationship is irreversible. Even though one can refuse the religion’s role of leading the mundane into the transcendent, how could it possibly be that the transcendent world is led and transformed by the secular power? Such a view violates the principle of religion; it can only prove one’s ignorance of religion and power holders’ self-assertion. If the secular power really wants to use religion for its own end, the most clever way to do so is to avoid intervention, to leave religion alone, and to give it full freedom. By then, the positive result of religion would naturally arrive in the mundane world


16. The end of dharma and the end of the world

In the old days when Tibetan Buddhism was a complete system, the common devotees of the religion knew how to “obey the dharma (rufa)” – although the level of their education might have been lower than today’s standard. A poor and illiterate old grandma might only have one butter lamp; she might travel thousands of kilometers to offer the lamp to a statue of Buddha. Yet, her prayer started with her wish that all sentient beings be protected, that human beings be protected, that Tibet be protected, that the Dalai Lama have a long life, that her village be protected, that her family, relatives, and friends be protected, and finally that she herself be protected. In contrast, what do we see today? Temples are full of burning incense and butter lamps. Well-dressed people can afford to light a thousand lamps at once, but they only want to ensure that Buddha’s blessings would help them with job promotions and increasing their wealth. They do not mind to act in a mundane fashion to bribe Buddha – by promising to make more offerings if their wishes are fulfilled. Monks in Jo Khang become sick by constantly inhaling the choking air inside the temple. Because too many people want to offer the gold-powder makeup to the statue of Jo Wo, the deity’s face often looks fatty and swollen.[10] In the past, the monks only needed to remove the extra gold powder from the statue’s face once every year. Nowadays, they have to perform the “slimming” procedure four, five times a year to keep it fit. Without a proper understanding of how karma works, some people believe that the consequences of their misconduct can be reversed by paying for butter lamps and incense, releasing animals, or making donations to monasteries. There is no need for them to repent or to correct themselves. Thinking through commercial calculation, they could really consider it a deal to use a tiny part of the money made by sinful means to pay off the negative karma.

A lama from Serta Academy told me that he knew a young Tibetan who had released all of the two hundred yaks of his family. He assumed that if he did preemptive good deeds first, they would eventually balance the bad conduct or the crimes that he might commit later. Apparently, he was not aware of the karmic principle that the result of one cause cannot be replaced by that of another cause. The seeds that he planted through releasing the yaks are not the same ones that he might plant later through his sinful behaviors. They are different causes that will lead to different outcomes, and that cannot cancel each other. This should just be the common-sense understanding of Buddhism. However, the fact that the young Tibetan Buddhist was so generous to let go of his yaks suggests the degree to which religious education has been missing. While this is the result of the religious policy of the Chinese authorities, it would not bring the outcome that the authorities have anticipated. For instance, when the young guy talked about the sinful action that he might later take, what he had in mind was to go to India to join the military force for Tibetan independence. He was sure that anyone who participates in the struggle for the independence would be reborn in Buddha’s pure land. Are these still the words from a Buddhist? Doesn’t it sound more like something from the militants of Islamic Jihad?

The Chinese authorities should realize that the extremism present in this young Tibetan’s decision is not because of the Buddhism he has learned. On the contrary, it exactly proves that he has not quite understood the religion. The current policy of the authorities disturbs the religion. Its infrastructure and philosophic core gets lost. In turn, it is more likely for the religion to be manipulated, and it is much easier for those who plot to excite the superstitious masses to take action. Once religious faith is no longer relevant to a wider horizon, a diverse space (of thinking – added by the translator), and a complementary balance, it can only become more narrow-minded and closer to the extreme. Religious rites can be confused with witchcraft. Those who have political ambitions can easily pretend to be religious leaders, claim prophecies, and come out with wacky magic to cause social unrest. In theory, Buddhism is the most non-violent religion. However, if we already have one young Tibetan contemplating a different relationship between the religion and the potential violence of the action that he intended to take, it would not be a surprise in the future when we find more youths thinking in the same manner. Has it not been the case that bombs were set off in recent years in Dhartsedo, Litang, Chengdu, Lhasa, and Chamdo?

Therefore, from a long-term perspective, to destroy religion in Tibet will not bring stability to Tibet. The policy that causes the degeneration of the monastic class can only sacrifice those high lamas who still insist on the principles of the religion, and encourage the opportunists among the monastic community. Nevertheless, opportunists are always opportunistic. No matter what might happen in the future, they could immediately switch sides and go to a different extreme to overturn what they have done before. By using material desires to seduce Tibetans into withdrawing from their religious commitment, the authorities might be able to temporarily pull the attention of Tibetans away from the nationality issue. However, the issue would not disappear automatically. Instead, once the compassion and moral principles that Tibetans have had through their religion are gone, it would become more difficult to control exposure in the future. Human beings need to have faith. It might be fine to make the entire society only see economic values within everything. In a long run, negative results will have to be faced. The balance that money can achieve is far less than the imbalance it can cause. Rather than expecting long-term stability to be delivered by economic growth, the real need is to have economic growth be modified by religious belief. Otherwise, the outbreak of crisis can be expected.

In fact, the complete system of a great religion such as Tibetan Buddhism could have been the most effective mechanism for maintaining the stability wanted by the nation-state. This is not only the case for the Tibetan areas, but also it is more needed in the Han Chinese regions. Buddhism has long existed in China. The religion has been very complementary with the Chinese society, even though it has never been made into a state religion in China in the past. However, in China today when Confucianism has been dumped into the garbage pile of history, because of its energy that has survived among common Chinese, Buddhism becomes a rare spiritual resource that can be utilized to reorganize the society. In this regard, Tibetan Buddhism has some advantage that Chinese Buddhism does not have. Firstly, Buddhism has been made into a state religion in Tibet for centuries. Its system has thus been better protected. The interruption of Tibetan Buddhism by CCP in recent decades has been shorter than that of Chinese Buddhism. At the same time, there is the Tibetan exile community which keeps the nation’s religious tradition alive. While the deterioration of monastic leaders and the degeneration of the monastic class are the common problems for both Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism, there are still the Dalai Lama and other leaders of different sects who represent Tibetan Buddhism’s leadership and have the authority and ability to keep purifying the religion. Such a convincing leadership is missing from Chinese Buddhism. Secondly, compared with Chinese Buddhism’s focus on metaphysical understanding of the religion, Tibetan Buddhism’s emphasis on rules and methods of practice are more tangible and accessible to the average people who come close to religion through emotional needs rather than rational comprehension, who prefer more specific instructions, and who anticipate the immediate effects of practicing the religion. Thirdly, the tulku institution of Tibetan Buddhism provides its believers a personified authority. While the followers can feel a more direct reliance, the religion becomes more attractive and gathers more attention. Finally, putting together the global influence of Tibetan culture that has become a fashion and the unique aesthetic character and mystical colors of the culture, it becomes easier for the elite Chinese to identify with Tibetan Buddhism. They in turn would help with spreading its energy.

Therefore, Tibetan Buddhism should have been seen as a precious resource that can repair the vacuum state of the spiritual life of the majority Chinese. Since the Chinese government keeps claiming that Tibet is a part of China, it should treat Tibetan Buddhism as an important national treasure to be appreciated and protected. As for the debate about the necessity of religion among the Chinese population, let me tell a story that a policeman has told me. It was about a criminal case that he had to handle. I believe that this kind of story is a daily happening in China today:

Huang Jiguang has been a folk hero from the time of the Korean War. Recently, there were five brothers from his home village who went to find minor part-time jobs in Chengdu. One day the second brother and the third one were drinking and sighing about their money shortage. They began to talk about the ways to find some. The second brother said that he had a friend who often came from Dhartsedo to do business in Chengdu. “He must be rich,” the second brother said. The two brothers decided that once they had a chance, the second brother would bring the friend to their place, and the third one would murder him. The friend came to Chengdu a short while later. The second brother invited him home to drink. The third brother was made a drinking companion. The two brothers had added sleeping pills into the friend’s alcohol. They kept refilling his glass until he was knocked out by the sleeping pills. The second brother told his younger brother that now it was his turn. He himself went outside to wait while the third brother used a rope to strangle the friend who had by now fallen asleep. The choked friend kept kicking. The second brother could hear the noise the friend was making. He was worried that the third brother was unable to handle the situation alone. He went inside and helped to stop the friend’s kicking. After the friend was killed, they found nine thousand yuan in his pocket. The two brothers hid the body under the bed and went out to drink and divide the money. On the way, they called the oldest brother and offered him two hundred yuan to deal with “the thing” under their bed. The oldest brother rushed to their place and realized that the thing was a body. He knew that he alone could not handle it. Thus, he called the fourth brother and the fifth one to help. The three brothers calculated the costs for a bag, a rope, and a rental car. By the time they finally removed the body from the house and threw it into the river, there were only seventy out of that two hundred yuan left. The money was gone after these three used it to pay for a meal. The victim now disappeared. His family reported him missing to the PSB. Policemen soon caught the second brother, and aside from the third one, the rest were also soon captured. The third brother was the only one who had escaped. The PSB sent its police force to their home village to search for him. Their mother insisted that she knew nothing about the murder and the whereabouts of her third son. One policeman was very smart. He pulled the mother aside and quietly handed her two hundred yuan. The mother immediately told him where the third brother was hiding. Led by the maternal uncle of these guys, the police arrested the third brother.

In theory, this murder case had been perfectly solved. But when the policeman told me the story, he sounded very sad until its end. While I am here retelling the story, I cannot but vent my own sadness: If such a nation still wants to destroy religion, where is its intelligence, where is its conscience, and where will be its future?

Feb – March 2003, Beijing
( Translated by Susan Chen )



[1] In order to avoid inviting trouble to Karma and his friends, I have decided to conceal their real names here.

[2] See the speech Chen gave at the meeting of mobilizing Lhasa residents to participate in constructing a spiritual civilization on July 23, 1996.

[3] See Wang Shaokuang, “Market, Democracy, and Sense of Joy,” Sky Edge Magazine (Tianya Zazhe).

[4] In 1999, there were 34 Tibetan medicine companies in China. The number was getting closer to 100 by 2002. See

[5] I read these numbers in Anchu Monastery held by the KTAP Buddhist Association.

[6] See the speech Jiang made on Work Meeting of CCP Department of United Front in 1993.

[7] Jiang’s speech on National Religious Work Meeting on 12/12/2001.

[8] Shenzun Tequbao, 12/16/2001.

[9] Ibid.

[10] To cover the full body of Jo Wo with gold power currently costs about six thousand yuan; face only make up is about three hundred yuan.


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