TCHRD deplores China’s new religious measures on reincarnation

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) deplores the government of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) new religious regulatory measures on the selection of reincarnates that come into force from today.

The China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) official issuance of 14-article measures on reincarnation which came into effect from today, clearly demonstrates the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPC) adamant attempt to undermine and tarnish the centuries-old Tibetan tradition of religious practice. It also attempts to weaken the authority of legitimate Tibetan religious leaders including the Dalai Lama. The new measure bars any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation for himself or recognizing a “living Buddha” thus effectively ending the centuries-old Tibetan Buddhist practice.

According to the official statement issued by the China’s state Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA), ” All the reincarnations of living Buddha of Tibetan Buddhism must get government approval, otherwise they are ‘illegal or invalid'”. It is understandable from this new measure that the centuries-old traditional Tibetan system of recognizing reincarnate lamas is irrelevant from now on and the Chinese CPC decides the legitimacy of the reincarnate figure.

In addition, according to the new measures, “All the reincarnation applications must be submitted to the religious affairs department of the SARA, and the state council, respectively, for approval in accordance with fame and influence of the living Buddha in the religious circle.” The new measures intend to bypass and completely deride the traditional procedure of selecting reincarnate lamas which does not require the application being submitted to any religious department or the state council for approval and completely violate the right to freedom of religion.

In a subtle yet conspicuous message, emanating from the new measure issued by the SARA, reincarnates, after following centuries-old tradition of selecting reincarnate lamas by their religious heads including the Dalai Lama in exile, can no longer considered valid unless approved by the Chinese authorities. The statement further articulates that, ” the selection of reincarnates must preserve national unity and solidarity of all ethnic groups and the selection process cannot be influenced by any groups or individual from outside the country.” This new regulation measure is a striking display of the PRC government determination to tighten control over Tibet’s centuries-old religious tradition of selecting reincarnate lamas who are most revered by the faithful Tibetan Buddhist followers. The new measure tries to assert that the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) is the sole arbiter in the selection of the reincarnates and commands citizens to respect the authority of the Party thereby completely bypassing traditional procedure.

Apart from the implementation of the new measure, the Chinese authorities continue to reinvigorate the “patriotic re-education” activities for monks and nuns on a regular basis at monasteries and nunneries. There were several credible reports in the recent times about ‘work teams’ conducting mandatory political training for monks and nuns at specific religious sites in advance of important anniversaries and other events. For example, the recent intensification of prohibition of religious activities during the holy month of Saka Dawa in Lhasa city. The government continued to oversee the daily operations of major monasteries in Tibet. The government, which did not contribute to the monasteries’ operating funds, retains management control of monasteries through Democratic Management Committee (DMC) and local Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB).

Prior to this measure, a new “Measures for the ‘Regulation on Religious Affairs'” with 56 articles was issued by the 11th Standing Committee of the “Tibet Autonomous Region” (“TAR”) People’s Government on 19 September
2006 and entered into force on 1 January 2007. Such measures instead of providing protection of religious affairs are aimed at enforcing compliance with government regulations and policies on religious organizations, religious personnel, and religious citizen. These regulations and new measures empower the officials with legal backing to intensify restriction and exercise state control and repression.

China maintained that freedom of religion is protected by its constitutions, in the legislation, and that these legal safeguards are consistent with the spirit and main provision of international agreements.
However, the latest official measures requiring reincarnate lamas a state approval, once again demonstrate that constitutional, legal and administrative provisions operate to restrict rather than protect religious freedom and act as a means to hurt the religious sentiment of Tibetan Buddhist followers. TCHRD urges the Chinese authorities to conform to international human rights obligations, commitments that were reaffirmed on the occasion of her election as member of the new United Nations Human Rights Council.

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