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totalitarianism gets bizarre

China Regulates Buddhist Reincarnation
by Matthew Philips
Aug. 20-27, 2007 issue of Newsweek

In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation." But beyond the irony lies China's true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region's Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.

At 72, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since 1959, is beginning to plan his succession, saying that he refuses to be reborn in Tibet so long as it's under Chinese control. Assuming he's able to master the feat of controlling his rebirth, as Dalai Lamas supposedly have for the last 600 years, the situation is shaping up in which there could be two Dalai Lamas: one picked by the Chinese government, the other by Buddhist monks. "It will be a very hot issue," says Paul Harrison, a Buddhism scholar at Stanford. "The Dalai Lama has been the prime symbol of unity and national identity in Tibet, and so it's quite likely the battle for his incarnation will be a lot more important than the others."

So where in the world will the next Dalai Lama be born? Harrison and other Buddhism scholars agree that it will likely be from within the 130,000 Tibetan exiles spread throughout India, Europe and North America. With an estimated 8,000 Tibetans living in the United States, could the next Dalai Lama be American-born? "You'll have to ask him," says Harrison. If so, he'll likely be welcomed into a culture that has increasingly embraced reincarnation over the years. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 20 percent of all U.S. adults believe in reincarnation. Recent surveys by the Barna Group, a Christian research nonprofit, have found that a quarter of U.S. Christians, including 10 percent of all born-again Christians, embrace it as their favored end-of-life view. A non-Tibetan Dalai Lama, experts say, is probably out of the question.
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Just... wow. Either Chinese government is more beaurocratic than imaginable or they are evil and shrewd. You can't have two Dalai Lamas, right? So this could destroy the notion of the reborn Dalai Lama if they impose a reincarnated version different than the one chosen by the current Dalai Lama.

Chris

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
bdkellmer
Aug. 24th, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure that it's aimed at the Dalai Lama -- I think the Chinese recognize control of that portion of Tibetan culture is a lost cause. The Dalai Lama himself has already said that his reincarnation will be outside China.

Honestly, although I think the Chinese government's law is way over the top, I think that Newsweek swings wide of the mark. It overstates the power of the Dalai Lama and neglects the power of other lamas. I think it also is a bit naive in assuming that the Chinese are stupid -- they know that if they say "here's the new Dalai Lama" and put forth their puppet, there will be little acceptance of the candidate inside Tibet. But they can play that game with other lamas less known outside of the region. There are still a lot of lamas inside Tibet and I think that the law is aimed at controlling their influence on the culture, rather than dealing with the Dalai Lama.
mckitterick
Aug. 24th, 2007 07:02 pm (UTC)
That's a good point about the lesser lamas - few outside of their native region will know the new lamas are government shills. And wouldn't it be ironic if the injected lamas took their roles seriously and worked toward doing good for Tibet.
bdkellmer
Aug. 24th, 2007 07:50 pm (UTC)
I'd be surprised if it didn't happen in a few cases -- the old Thomas Beckett syndrome...

"will someone not rid me of this troublesome lama?"

(although I do have visions of Tony the Wonder Llama running in fear over that one)
(Deleted comment)
bdkellmer
Aug. 24th, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
if they're intent is to undermine Tibetan Buddhism in general, certainly it's unwise.

But it seem more likely that it's intended to strengthen internal control -- undermining both Tibetan Buddhism and culture within Tibet. It could be very effective over time in doing that.

And if it makes them look like fools on the world stage, so much the better (for them) -- most people will then simply ignore the move and China will have even more of a free hand in Tibet. Me, I'm voting for the "evil and shrewd" option that Chris mentioned.
(Deleted comment)
the_themiscyran
Aug. 24th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
You know, if it weren't so appallingly oppresive and nasty, I might almost laugh. It sounds like a decree from the Ministry of Magic.

No apparating in front of muggles.
No underage magic outside of school grounds.
No reincarnation of lamas without a license.
No one may cross this bridge without my permission.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )