I. Current Situation of religion in
1. Regarding explosions orchestrated by a reincarnated lama
On the surface, monasteries and temples are now everywhere in
However, in January 2003, in Nyagchu (Yajiang in Chinese) County in Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (KTAP) under
Back in January 2001, a bomb was set off on a bridge across the
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
2. What happened to the nuns in
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
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.
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
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
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
Besides the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), the Kham area which falls into KTAP under
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
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
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
Another time I actually stayed in an inn which was a few kilometers away from the seat of
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
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
I stayed once in the house of a Khampa man named Karma. Karma had two very close friends, Ribu and Chodrak. 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
8. How would the ecology in
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
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
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, 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
It is fair to say that the Chinese government has noticed the problem. After the serious flood of the
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
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
One time when I traveled in
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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. 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
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
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.” 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.
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
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
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
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
I never met with Kenpo Jigme Phuntsok. But I know why people in
Comparing the different fates that the two kinds of tulkus are facing, it is fair to say that in
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.” 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.” 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?
A lama from
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,
Therefore, from a long-term perspective, to destroy religion in
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
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
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
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?
 In order to avoid inviting trouble to Karma and his friends, I have decided to conceal their real names here.
 See the speech Chen gave at the meeting of mobilizing
 See Wang Shaokuang, “Market, Democracy, and Sense of Joy,” Sky Edge Magazine (Tianya Zazhe).
 In 1999, there were 34 Tibetan medicine companies in
 I read these numbers in Anchu Monastery held by the KTAP Buddhist Association.
 See the speech Jiang made on Work Meeting of CCP Department of United Front in 1993.
 Jiang’s speech on National Religious Work Meeting on
 Shenzun Tequbao,
 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.