Day 5 – Lama Temple and Religious Freedom

August 5th, 2007 § 6

Paul and I visited the “Lama Temple” today, a Tibetan Buddhist temple and monastery right in the heart of Beijing. Strange, right? Well it has a long history going back to the Qing dynasty, when some Manchu emperors became spiritual students of the Dalai Lamas. It was shuttered for many years after the Communists came to power (reopened in 1980), and supposedly saved from destruction during the Cultural Revolution only by the intervention of Zhou Enlai himself.

It’s hard to go to the Lama Temple without thinking of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. We witnessed this firsthand today when we entered one of the first buildings in the temple complex and stumbled upon a group of foreign tourists asking their Chinese guide about the situation concerning the Dalai Lama. The guide hesitated for a second and said, “Oh, there are two great teachers in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. One is the Dalai Lama and the other is the Panchen Lama.” But this answer didn’t satisfy the group.

One man clarified the question, “No, what is the problem between the Dalai Lama and China that we hear about?” So the guide, feeling very uncomfortable, went on to say that the Dalai Lama “wanted to separate Tibet out of China and this kind of behavior makes the official government quite angry” and how he now lives in exile in India, adding that “now Dalai Lama is getting old, so of course he is thinking about his next life” but that “without the permission of central government of China, maybe he cannot get re-life.” Uh… okay.

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Is there anything more ridiculous than the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party leadership, infamous for denouncing religion as poison, playing a role in choosing the reincarnations of Buddhist teachers?

In 1995 the Chinese authorities intervened in the selection of the 11th Panchen Lama and replaced the 6 year old boy approved by the Dalai Lama with their own candidate. They trot this boy out on national television on certain occasions, while the real Panchen Lama, now 18 years old, remains under house arrest.

And then, a couple of days ago the Chinese government announced new rules that will require official approval for the selection of any reincarnated lama. There was an article in the August 4th Telegraph newspaper (UK): China demands veto on Tibet’s ‘living buddhas’.

Richard Spencer writes: “In a striking display of Beijing’s determination to tighten control over Tibet, a 14-chapter notice published by the state religious affairs bureau set out “approval procedures” for new living buddhas and said monasteries that did not follow them would be punished.”

So this is the improved human rights situation that the 2008 Olympics is helping to bring to China and Tibet? Just one year before the Games begin, the Chinese leadership is cracking down in Tibet, all the while proclaiming that China shares “One World One Dream” with the rest of us.

From inside the belly of the beast we demand a free and independent Tibet. For Ronggay A’drak, the Tibetan nomad from Lithang, who was arrested for leading a protest during the recent Lithang Horse Festival in eastern Tibet. For Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who is serving a life sentence for being nothing but a champion of Tibetan rights. For the Panchen Lama who has lived most of his life under house arrest. For the 14 Tibetans on hunger strike in New Delhi. For all Tibetans living under occupation or in exile, separated from their loved ones and condemned to wander as strangers in foreign lands. And finally, for future generations of Tibetan children who must know what it is like to live in freedom in their own nation.

Bhoe Rangzen.

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