China omits Dalai Lama from database of “verified” living Buddhas

[22 January 2016] The Chinese government has published a database of “verified” living Buddhas in what it says is an effort to crack down on fraudulent monks. However, the omission of the Dalai Lama from the list, indicates its true purpose of exerting even tighter control over Tibetan religious activities.

Screenshot of living buddhas dalabaseThe online database of 870 “verified” living Buddhas (screenshot pictured right), availabale in both Tibetan and Mandarin, was published on 18 January on the website of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. 

The publication followed an announcement in December by the Chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee, Zhu Weiqun, who said the government planned to regulate and certify living Buddhas in order to deter those who fraudulently attracted followers for unscrupulous means. He also said fake living Buddhas were a national security threat who collected money to fund “separatist activities”.

At the launch of the database, the Vice-President of the state-sanctioned Buddhist Association of China (and officially certified living Buddha) Drukhang Thubten Khedrup said, “In recent years, some people in Tibetan areas and other parts of China have posed as living Buddhas to show off and swindle others, harming the interests of the masses, and damaging the reputation of Tibetan Buddhism and living Buddhas. Now with the living-Buddha database, people will know at a glance if they’re dealing with a real living Buddha.”

However, the list does not include the Dalai Lama, which will be a particular affront to the Tibetan people, given he is considered a living deity, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. The omission is no surprise given the atheist Chinese Communist Party’s distrust of the current Dalai Lama and their previous announcements that they alone have the right to acknowledge and confirm living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama.

Amnesty International said the new database and Beijing’s policy towards reincarnation is “clearly a pre-emptive move to control the appointment of the 15th Dalai Lama.” The NGO’s spokesman added, “They want to get ahead of the issue and prepare the ground for when the [current] Dalai Lama dies.”

Dorjee Tseten, Students for a Free Tibet’s Asia Director, said, “The Chinese government may have claimed [the database] to eradicate the fake lamas. However, we see it as a politically motivated step to intervene with the reincarnation selection of the 14th Dalai Lama.”

Further reading: BBC | TIME | Wall Street Journal | Phayul

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