China Compiling Database of Living Buddhas, Says Government Official
A senior Chinese official has announced that the central government is building a database of “legal” living Buddhas, which it will eventually make public. Speaking on state television on Saturday, the official said that some “fake” living Buddhas pose a threat to national security as they use the money they have collected from donors to sponsor illegal or even separatist activities in Tibet.
Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the Committee for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Chinese government’s top advisory body, called on local governments in Tibet to cooperate with their counterparts in eastern and central China to “take joint action to contain the phenomenon of fake living Buddhas.” (Reuters)
Zhu said the database would enable followers of Tibetan Buddhism to distinguish between real and fake living Buddhas, or incarnate lamas. In his televised statement, Zhu made no mention of recent media reports of Baima Aose, a self-proclaimed living Buddha in Hong Kong who has recently come under heavy criticism from practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. A video that has been circulated widely in social media shows Baima Aose “ordaining” mainland Chinese actor Zhang Tielin as a living Buddha at a ceremony in Hong Kong in October, circumventing the traditional process of identification.
Baima Aose, 39, originally from Quanzhou in China’s Fujian Province, claims that he was ordained as a living Buddha in Hong Kong in 2012 by a lama from Katok Monastery in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. The monastery on Sunday denied his claim, saying Baima Aose had altered the contents of a letter in the Tibetan language addressed to him from a lama at the monastery in order to deceive people into believing the letter certified his status as a living Buddha.
Li Decheng, director of the Religious Research Department at the China Tibetology Research Center, said people claiming to be living Buddhas were often able to deceive followers of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibetan areas as they had limited understanding of the religion, such as the process required to recognize an incarnate lama, or tulku—in Tibetan Buddhism, one who has been identified as the incarnation of a deceased great master or teacher.
Traditionally, the identification of the incarnation of a living Buddha such as the Dalai Lama is a complex procedure involving divination, dream interpretation, prayer, and an oracle. The Chinese government has said that it alone has the authority to approve the rebirth of the current Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since fleeing Tibet in 1959. According to a white paper released in September by China’s State Council, there are 358 officially recognized living Buddhas in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
In 2007, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs decreed that all Tibetan Buddhist lamas who plan to be reincarnated must complete an application and submit it to several government agencies for approval. Recognition of tulkus must also receive government approval, otherwise they are considered “illegal or invalid.” Reincarnation applications must be approved by four different governmental bodies.
Chinese government adviser denounces fake living Buddhas in Tibet (Reuters)
Steps taken to combat fake Living Buddhas (China Daily Asia)
State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 (Wikipedia)
China Reasserts Authority on Dalai Lama Reincarnation (Buddhistdoor Global)
Tibetan Government-in-exile Cautions China Against Plan to Pick Dalai Lama’s Successor (Buddhistdoor Global)