Beijing is becoming increasingly nervous. The fact that China is today a recognised world power (the Middle Kingdom has become the second largest economy and the largest exporter) may lead you to conclude that the leadership in Beijing lives in peace with itself, enjoying its newly-acknowledged position.
But that would be a wrong conclusion. For, despite their status, the Politburo members in the walled-enclave of Zhongnanhai are trembling. As in the famous Asterix comic books, some indomitable tribes continue to refuse the rule of the most powerful empire of its time. Though the tiny Armorican village could not be captured by the Roman Empire because the villagers managed to acquire invincible strength by drinking a magic potion brewed by their druid, in this case the tribe does not use magic potion, but non-violence.
The Empire does not really know how to strike back. A meeting of the all-powerful Politburo of the CCP was held on January 8 to deal exclusively with the situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which represents about a third of historical Tibet. China’s President Hu Jintao, who between 1988 and 1992 was posted as CCP’s Tibet party secretary, spoke during the meeting of two objectives: “To seek a breakthrough in (economic) development and maintain long-term stability.”
Mr Hu said that the Chinese Government would help Tibet in four ways: Boosting investment, transferring technology, and sending in more qualified officials as well as “experts and talents”. The new motto suggested by the Chinese President is “going down the road of development with Chinese characteristics and Tibetan flavour”.
Unfortunately, this will not apply when it comes to the Lamas’ most sacred institutions: The reincarnation tradition. “Keeping a living Buddha under control means keeping a temple under control, and keeping a temple under control means keeping a district under control.” These words, conveniently put in the mouth of an unknown supporter of the ‘separatist Dalai group’, appeared in The People’s Daily on January 7. In fact, this is what the CCP realised a long time ago.
The People’s Daily article, headlined “Dalai Lama’s reincarnation tale indicative of separatism”, is most offensive and reflects great nervousness on Beijing’s part. The People’s Daily has argued that a few months back the Dalai Lama had declared he could very well be reincarnated in the form of a woman. Beijing says that this is “an eye-popping thing to say”.
Several years ago, I had the occasion to ask the Dalai Lama to elaborate on this point. He had then explained: “In Tibet, the tradition of having reincarnated teachers is almost 700 years old. Among them, we had one instance of a female reincarnation. In case a female Dalai Lama is more useful to Tibet in future, then why not have a woman as ‘reincarnation’? If a Tibetan female Dalai Lama comes, every male will become her follower!”
He had gone on to add, “I feel that education alone cannot solve all our contemporary problems. More emphasis should be given on ‘compassion’. Women are basically more sensitive and compassionate. But men are not. They are more aggressive”.
The Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and Patron Saint of Tibet. His ‘job’, as the present Dalai Lama puts it, is to make sure that the Buddhist tradition flourishes in the Land of Snows.
Beijing has now reacted violently (and belatedly) to the idea of a female Dalai Lama. “A living reincarnation, reincarnated as a girl or a bronze-haired foreigner… all these absurd arguments by the 14th Dalai Lama on his reincarnation have made people in the Tibetan Buddhist circle feel furious,” says the People’s Daily.
The daily, which truthfully reflects the thinking of the Communist Party of China, which has apparently gained great expertise in the Buddha Dharma, argues, “According to the basic teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, (the Dalai Lama) ‘may be a woman’ is simply an outrageous remark.” It then adds: “In the eyes of many Tibetan Buddhists, it is a blasphemy.”
What a sexist remark! Did not Buddha ordain his own mother? But one cannot expect the Communists in Beijing to have read the sutras.
A couple of years ago, the Chinese Government had announced new ‘Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism’. Beijing has clearly been preparing for the Dalai Lama’s departure (and return); the ‘measures’ targeted the Tibetan leader. If Karl Marx could read some of the 14 articles of the ‘measures’, he would be turning in his grave.
The ‘measures’ describe in great detail how “reincarnating living Buddhas should carry out application and approval procedures”. The Chinese Government threatened: “No group or individual may without authorisation carry out any activities related to searching for or recognising reincarnating living Buddha soul children.” The Communist Party of China, which has always treated religion as ‘poison’, has suddenly become an authority on the centuries-old tradition of ‘reincarnation’.
The People’s Daily refers to the ‘measures’ to state that “the reincarnation of Living Buddha shall not be interfered or dominated by any organisation or individual abroad”. It is another way of saying that the Dalai Lama has no business in deciding his own reincarnation.
In Tibet, the lineage system has never been rigid. For example, during the 13-14th century, the hierarchs of Sakya monastery ruled over the Land of Snows. Their succession was set up by way of ‘transmission’ from father to son or uncle to nephew. Further, historians believe that at the beginning of the 17th century, two Dalai Lamas were alive at the same time (the Sixth and the Seventh). There was no fixed place about where a Dalai Lama could be reborn. The Fourth Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso was born in Mongolia while the Sixth, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in India (in Tawang district of today’s Arunachal Pradesh).
Through Tibet’s history, the interregnum between two Dalai Lamas has been a weakness of the reincarnation system. The 19th century saw a succession of five Dalai Lamas. The Chinese, through their Ambans (or Ambassadors) in Lhasa, made full use of this weakness. Many surmise that the premature deaths of the Ninth up to the Twelfth Dalai Lamas were not a mere coincidence and the Chinese Ambans certainly took great advantage of their ‘timely departure’. It is clear that the problem is not only a spiritual issue, but also a political one and this explains the meddling of the Chinese Communists in what seems at first sight to be a religious affair.
Writer is an author of several books on Tibet, and journalist