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100 Q & A about China's Tibet Part V
    Date:02-16-2009 Source: Author:    

V. Religious Beliefs and Human Rights in Tibet

83. Are all Tibetans Buddhists?

A: Since it was introduced to Tibet in the 7th century, Tibetan Buddhism has exerted a profound impact on the Tibetan people, in terms of their mentality, attitude towards the world, outlook on life, method of working, and customs and traditions. Its impact is also reflected in Tibetan history, politics, economics, culture and education, and has become the main religious belief of local Tibetans. But not all Tibetans believe in Buddhism. The Tibetan Buddhist followers explore and try to connect the relationship between humankind and Buddha, and all issues concerning human life and society, with the eventual attainment of enlightenment. This mode of thinking that guides their behavior and actions bears the inevitable stamp of Tibetan Buddhism.
Some scholars believe that the Bon religion also occupies and important position within the religious beliefs of the masses. On the one hand, Tibetan Buddhism has been formed through long-term struggle and blending of Buddhism and Bon; on the other, Bon still has great influence in some remote areas of Tibet.

84. What are the main characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism?

A: Tibetan Buddhism, commonly known as Lamaism, is a branch of Buddhism practiced mainly in areas inhabited by Tibetans and Mongolians. It emerged during the late 10th century. It was during the mid-13th century that Lamaism intertwined with political power in Tibet, and that later, with the support of the central government of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), it spread to areas inhabited by Mongolians.
Tibetan Buddhism has the following characteristics:
First, for a long period of time it took the form of a long period of time it took the form of a theocracy, whereby religion and politics combine. Second, most of the Tibetans are devout believers in Tibetan Buddhism. Third, it has a strong aura of mystique, particularly the reincarnation system of the Living Buddha, which is a unique characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism. Fourth, it emphasized self-cultivation according to rules and doctrines of Buddhism. Fifth, it has formed several sects, the major ones being the Ningma (Red) Sect, Kargyu (White) Sect, Sagya (Variegated) Sect and Gelug (Yellow) Sect.

85. Some people claim that the Chinese government does not respect or protect the religious activities of various religious sects in Tibet. Is this true?

A: No. It is the basic policy of the Chinese government to respect and protect freedom of religious belief. According to China's Constitution and laws, all citizens of the People's Republic of China have the freedom to believe or not believe in religion. They enjoy the freedom to follow any religion they choose to believe in, or to follow whatever sect within that religion. Those who had no religion in the past now have the freedom to adopt one, and former believers also have the freedom to renounce.
All religious organizations in Tibet enjoy the freedom to conduct religious activities under the protection of China's Constitution and laws.
Data indicates that the Tibetan Branch of the Buddhist Association of China has established a Tibetan Buddhist Institute, and opened sutra-learning classes in the monasteries of various sects. Every year, the Tibetan Branch recommends a certain number of Living Buddha candidates and monks to the China Advanced Institute of Tibetan Buddhism, for further training in Beijing.
In 1984, the government of Tibet Autonomous Region donated the Lhasa edition of Tibetan Canonical Collection of Buddhist Scriptures to the regional Buddhist Association, and set up its Indian Script Publishing House in Lhasa. It supplies copies of the Tibetan Canonical Collection of Buddhist Scriptures as needed by monasteries in the region and other places throughout China.
In 1985, the Tibetan Branch of the Chinese Buddhist Association initiated the Buddhist Journal in Tibet, published in the Tibetan language. In 1990, the Tibetan Branch finished engraving the Lhasa edition of the Tibetan Dangur Sutra that the 13th Dalai Lama intended to do, but failed.
During 1992, activities such as the search for and verification of the reincarnated sol boy of the 10th Panchen Lama, the drawing of lots from the Golden Urn, and the enthronement ceremony, fully reflected the central government's respect for respect for religion in Tibet. These facts are known the world over.
Personages from local religious circles and delegates from local Buddhist organizations have traveled abroad for academic exchanges and study tours. Meanwhile, the region has received delegations and individuals for visits or pilgrimage purposes from several dozen foreign countries.

86. What are the main monasteries in Tibet?

A: Tibet boasts numerous monasteries and temples. The famous ones are the Jokhang Monastery, the Zhebung Monastery, the Sera Monastery, and the Gandain Monastery in Lhasa; the Zhaxi Lhunbo Monastery in Xigaze; the Sagya Monastery in Sagya County and the Baiqoi Monastery in Gyangze county.
The Jokhang Monastery: This is a well-known monastery of the Yellow (or Gelug) Sect of Lamaism, built in the 7th century. It is believed that its location was chosen by Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty, the wife of Tibetan King Songtsan Gambo. She designed the layout, and the king's other wife, a princess from Nepal, supervised its construction. In this monastery, a statue of Sakyamuni was enshrined, brought there by Princess Wencheng from Chang'an, capital of the Tang Dynasty. Before the monastery stands a stone tablet commemorating the Tang-Tubo alliance.
The Drepung Monastery: This was built in 1416, and is now the largest monastery constructed by the Yellow Sect. It houses a large number of Buddhist classics and cultural relics. In 1653, when the fifth Dalai Lama was appointed by Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty as local political and religious ruler of Tibet, the monastery began to serve as the headquarters of the local government of Tibet.
The Sera Monastery: First built in 1419, this is also one of the major monasteries of the Yellow Sect. A great number of historical relics are housed here, including the world-famous Tibetan Tripitaka (a series of Buddhist scriptures) written din powdered gold, and scrolls of calligraphy and painting from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Zhaxi Lhunbo Monastery: Built by the first Dalai Lama, it is the main Yellow Sect monastery in eastern Tibet. Its construction started in 1447 and took 12 years to complete. It was repaired and expanded to its present dimensions by the Panchen of succeeding generation. It houses numerous Buddhist classics and historical artifacts, notably the largest statue of Qamba Buddha, at 26.2 meters tall.
The Sagya Monastery: Standing on the banks of the Zhongqu River 150 kilometers southwest of Xigaze, this is the main monastery of the Sagya Sect of Lamaism. It includes two sections: the northern section was first built in 1079. During the mid-13th century, whey Pagba, the leader of the Sayga Sect, was entrusted the power to administer political and religions affairs in Tibet by the Yuan emperor, the monastery began to be extended into a group of palaces. The southern section was built in 1268 and has been kept in good condition. The monastery's construction reflects a blend of Tibetan, Han and Mongolian architectural styles. The main building is the hall for sutra chanting. The monastery houses a great number of hand-written Buddhist classics, as well as gifts and tokens bestowed by emperors of the Yuan Dynasty, and there is also a large mural depicting Pagba being received by Kublai Khan, emperor of the Yuan Dynasty.
The Chinese government has designated the Potala Palace, the three monasteries of Jokhong, Zhebung an Sera in Lhasa, and the Zhaxi Lhunbo Monastery in Xigaze as important cultural relics units under national protection. The state has allocated substantial funds towards reconstruction of the Gandain and other monasteries, as well as for renovating a number of famous monasteries in need of repair, including the Sagya, and the Qambaling Monastery in Qamdo.

87. Are Tibetans' rights of freedom of religious belief respected and protected in Tibet?

A: The majority of Tibetans are believers in Tibetan Buddhism. China's Constitution stipulates that it is a basic right of Chinese citizens to enjoy freedom of religious belief. The provisions on freedom of religious belief as stipulated in the Constitution have been actively implemented in Tibet. Protected by the Constitution and other state laws, the broad masses of Tibetans have the freedom to conduct normal religious activities.
At present, there are more than 1,700 monasteries and religious centers of Tibetan Buddhism. Almost all Tibetan homes have niches for Buddhist statues or small scripture-chanting halls. Each year, over one million Tibetan pilgrims converge on Lhasa to burn incense in the monasteries. In addition, there are colorful sutra streamers openly displayed and piles of Mani stones engraved with lines of Buddhist scriptures everywhere in Tibet. There are always continuous streams of Tibetan worshippers inside and outside the Jokhang Monastery, prostrating, praying, and chanting scriptures.
Since the 1980s, the central government has allocated substantial funds, including gold silver, every year for renovating, rebuilding and protecting monasteries in Tibet, and at the end of 1997, the state had thus spent about 100 million yuan. In addition, funds earmarked by the state have made it possible to publish numerous Buddhist scriptures, including Dangur, the China Tripitaka, and the Tibetan Canonical Collection of Buddhist Scriptures, to meet the demands of Tibet Buddhists and monks and nuns.
In 1992, the enthronement ceremony for the 17th Living Buddha Karmapa was held in accordance with religious procedures, and with the approval of the State Administration of Religious Affairs of the State Council. The enthronement ceremony of the 11th Panchen Lama was held in accordance with Tibetan Buddhist rituals in 1995, when the reincarnated soul boy of the 10th Panchen Lama was identified and approved by the central government.

88. Are there any restrictions in monasteries for local inhabitants to become lamas and nuns in Tibet?

A: Data indicates that during the 1950s Tibet had 2,711 monasteries with a total of 114,103 monks and nuns. During the "cultural revolution" (1966-176), like other areas in the country, religious work in Tibet was also seriously disturbed. After China's reform and opening up, the policies on religion were gradually implemented in Tibet. In 1982 there were only 64 monasteries and religious centers in Tibet. By 1987 this number had increased to 978, and in 1990, it stood at 1,353. The number of monks and nuns was 1,288 in 1982, 14,230 in 1987 and 42,190 in 1990. By the end of August 1994, Tibet had 1,787 active monasteries and religious centers housing 46,380 monks and nuns.
The above figures record a decrease in the number of monasteries, monks and nuns, in comparison with those of 1959. The main reasons are as follows:
First, monasteries and religious centers were opened to the public after having been renovated, and monks and nuns residing in these religious centers were able to meet the local demands in conducting normal religious activities.
Second, rapid economic growth over the past few years in Tibet has provided mores employment opportunities for Tibetans, especially for young people. As a result, locals who choose to be clerics have decreased.
Third, since the 1990s, the state has implemented a special preferential policy on education in Tibet, thereby instituting a comprehensive modern education system. Most young Tibetans prefer to study science or humanities at school than to become monks or nuns in monasteries.
At present, the number of monks and nuns in Tibet makes up 2 percent of the total population of Tibet.

89. What is the reincarnation system of the Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism?

A: The reincarnation system of Living Buddhas was established as a means to decide the succession of religious leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, and it is this characteristic that differentiates it from other Buddhist sects. It combines the Buddhist doctrine of the perpetuity of the soul and the power of karma, with the Buddhist concepts of enlightenment and release from worldly cares, reincarnation, and lifting souls out of purgatory. It has won the acknowledgement of the Buddhist circles. The reincarnation system of the Living Buddhas began with the Garma Gargyu sub-sect of Tibetan Buddhism. When Dusum Qingba Qoigyi Chagba, chief of the Garma Gargyu sub-sect, passed aeay in 1193, he told his disciples that he would "Teturn through reincarnation." Eleven years later, Garma Baxi was born, and at the age of ten was chosen as reincarnated soul boy by Dusum Qingba's chief disciple Bongchagba. After a decade of training, Garma Baxi became the first reincarnated Living Buddha in Tibet. In the mid-16th century, the Dalai and Panchen of the Yellow Sect also adopted the reincarnation system, and by the mid-17th century, reincarnation had become the main hereditary means of determining the Living Buddha within Tibetan Buddhism.
Following the adoption of the reincarnation ssytem of the Living Buddha, fraudulent practices were perpetrated in the search for soul boys reincarnate. To put a stop to any fraud, in 1793 the central government of the Qing Dynasty bestowed a golden urn on the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa (later transferred to the Potala Palace), from which to draw lots when ascertaining the correct soul boy to be Living Buddha above the level of Hutuktu, such as Dalai and Panchen, in Tibetan areas. The central government also granted a golden urn to the Yonghegong Lamasery in Beijing, for choosing Living Buddhas above the level of Hutuktu in Mongolian areas.

90. Why did the Chinese government reject the reincarnated soul boy of the 10th Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama? Who was it exactly the violated the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism?

A: On May 14, 1995, the Dalai Lama, who was in India, suddenly proclaimed a Tibetan child as the reincarnated soul boy of 10th Panchen Lama. It is well known that the titles, the Panchen Lama, leader of the Gelug (Yellow) Sect of the Tibetan Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama, leader of Buddhist Faith Beneath the Sky, were officially bestowed by the central government of the Qing Dynasty. In 1792, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the central government of the Qing dynasty promulgated the system of reincarnating Living Buddhas through drawing lost from a golden urn. Since then, it has become a historical convention to search for thé reincarnated soul boy according to the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, and to draw lots from a gold urn in front of the statue of Skyamuni to identify the reincarnated soul boy of the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Lama. Finally, the result must be submitted to the central government for approval.
Displaying a complete disregard for historical conventions, the Dalai Lama took the liberty of proclaiming the reincarnated soul boy of the 10th Panchen Lama while residing abroad, with the aim of sabotaging religious rituals, changing the historical tradition of the Panchen Lama's love for the motherland, and furthering his own aim of separating Tibet from the motherland. His announcement was invalid, and his actions profaned religious rituals.
The Chinese government respects the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan people's rights to religious freedom. This has made it possible for the search and confirmation of the 11th Panchen Lama has, since his enthronement, been supported and respected by personages from religious circles and the broad masses of Tibetans.

91. How did the titles Dalai and Panchen come into being?

A: Dalai and Panchen were two disciples of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. They formulated two hereditary systems. These two titles were granted by China's emperors.
The word "Dalai" first appeared in the Ming Dynasty. In 1578, Altan Khan of the Tumet tribe of the Mongols residing in Qinghai invited Sonam Gyatso, leader of the Yellow Sect, to preach in Qinghai. The two leaders enjoyed mutual respect, and exchanged honorific titles. Altan Khan named Sonam Gyatso "Dalai Lama," meaning "omniscience and great authority." After the founding of the Qing Dynasty, the fifth Dalai Lama was invited to Beijing by the Qing emperor in 1652. In 1653, Emperor Shunzhi formally conferred on him the title "Dalai Lama," and granted him a gold seal and gold album. In 1751, the Dalai Lama was put in charge of the region's administration.
The title "Panchen" first appeared in 1645 when the Mongolian chieftain Gushri Khan bestowed it upon the fourth Panchen. In 1713, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty bestowed upon the fifth Panchen the title "Erdini", and granted him a gold seal and gold ablum. The central government also bestowed on him the right to rule parts of Rear Tibet.
Since the conferring of these titles by the Qing emperors, the reincarnation of the Dalai and Panchen has been under the supervision of the central government. After "drawing lots from a golden urn," the soul boys reincarnate must be approved by the central government before their official investiture. Their tonsure, religious names, and choice of teachers must be reported to the central government for ratification, and the central government sends envoys to supervise the enthronement ceremonies of the Dalai and Panchen.
Before 1959, Tibet preacticed a theocratic system whereby political power was integrated with religion. The Dalai and Panchen were therefore both the religious and political leaders of Tibet. The central government's ratification of "soul boys" reincarnate was significant in two aspects: it granted them political power as the highest leaders in Tibet and recognized their leading religious roles. Ratification and conferment procedures were an important exercise of the administrative authority of China's central government.

92. What is the situation regarding human rights in Tibet?

A: Anyone congnizant of the facts will admit that great changes have taken place in Tibet in this respect which make current conditions contrast favorably with those of the past. Before 1959, Tibet was a society based on feudal serfdom, and the broad masses of serfs, who accounted for 90 percent of the total population in Tibet, were exploited and opperssed both politically and economically. Before the peaceful liberation, Tibet was one of the most backward areas in the world where human rights were severely infringed upon by virtue of the reactionary rule it exercised. After democratic reform, feudal serfdom was abolished, and Tibetans began enjoying their rights of personal freedom, as stipulated in China's Constitution, and other rights as stipulated in the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy. Any unbiased observer will acknowledge that the situation of human rights in Tibet has improved significantly.

93. How many Tibetan compatriots are there in foreign countries?

A: According to incomplete statistics, more than 150,000 Tibetan compatriots reside in 40 countries in the world, including India, Nepal, the United States and Switzerland.

94. What are the policies of the Chinese government regarding Tibetan compatriots residing abroad? Are they allowed to come and go freely?

A: The Chinese government has adopted the policy that, "all patriots belong to one big family, whether they rally to the common cause early or late." Anyone, as long as he or she does not participate in separatist activities or harm the unification of the motherland and the unity of the Chinese nation, is welcome by the Chinese government, whether he or she comes back to visit friends and relatives, or to settle. Those who had participated in separatist activities in the past may also be permitted to return, provided that they cease their separatist activities and change their stance on "Tibet independence."
At the same time, the Chinese government hopes that those who remain abroad abide by the laws of the countries where they reside, and live in harmony with the local people. Since 1979, Tibet and other Tibetan areas have received more than 60,000 overseas Tibetan compatriots who have come back to visit their relatives and friends, or to go sightseeing, and have made arrangements for 2,000 Tibetans from abroad to settle.
Overseas Tibetans who want to come back either to visit or settle may apply and go through the necessary formalities at the Chinese embassy or consulate in the country where they currently live. Those who plan to go abroad again after visiting will be guaranteed their freedom to come and go.

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