Sunday, August 05, 2007

No reincarnation without a license

The authorities in China have forbidden reincarnation without a permit from the officially atheist government.
Tibet’s living Buddhas have been banned from reincarnation without permission from China’s atheist leaders. The ban is included in new rules intended to assert Beijing’s authority over Tibet’s restive and deeply Buddhist people.

"The so-called reincarnated living Buddha without government approval is illegal and invalid," according to the order, which comes into effect on September 1.


It is the latest in a series of measures by the Communist authorities to tighten their grip over Tibet. Reincarnate lamas, known as tulkus, often lead religious communities and oversee the training of monks, giving them enormous influence over religious life in the Himalayan region. Anyone outside China is banned from taking part in the process of seeking and recognising a living Buddha, effectively excluding the Dalai Lama, who traditionally can play an important role in giving recognition to candidate reincarnates.

For the first time China has given the Government the power to ensure that no new living Buddha can be identified, sounding a possible death knell to a mystical system that dates back at least as far as the 12th century.

While a first glance at this announcement might make you wonder whether the Chinese have an equivalent of April Fool's Day, the intent is very real and sincere, but not necessarily intelligent or unstupid.

The key concept to understanding totalitarian governments is the application of the root "total." Governments like those in modern China, Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, Medieval Europe, or Puritan Massachusetts claim the right to be involved in all political activities and believe that all activities are political. If a group af people get together to play chess, they must first form a club, file incorporation papers with the state, and wait for state approval of their group before actually playing chess. Religion is treated the same as chess.

Soviet Russia tried to control religion in this way. The Orthodox church was required to get state approval for its activities. The state claimed the right to approve of the hierarchy of the church as the officers of a "religion club." They hoped to control the church by only allowing politically dependable citizens to hold high offices in the church. China treats religion in the same way. Every time a bishop dies, Rome and Beijing engage in a conflict over who gets to appoint his replacement. The only thing they agree on is that it won't be a woman.

After 1918 the Russian Orthodox churrch abroad became a separate church. Moscow appointed a metropolitan for the Soviet Union and the exile church appointed its own. While this didn't end the existence of the chuch in Russia, it di divide the locals from the exile community. China is attempting the same in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is not an exile because he is the religious head of the lamanistic Buddhists of Tibet; he is in exile because he is the head of state of the Kingdom of Tibet, which is not recognized by the Communist government in Beijing. For the Buddhist "church" of Tibet, the Communist government in Beijing wants to claim the same power that Stalin claimed over the Orthodox chuch of Russia. They want to have the power of approval over new officers of a "religion club" in Tibet.

If their attempt is successful, the best they can hope for is that in a generation, they might have split the local "legal" Buddhists from the "illegal" exile community. More likely, they will only manage to create a caste of Quisling priests who have legal ownership of the Buddhist properties, but no authority. At the same time, their "reincarnation permits" will make a joke of those same Quisling priests. That in itself might serve to undermine Buddhism in Tibet, but Clever Wife has her doubts. Are the Communists of China really that forward thinking and oblivious to globalization trends or is this a sign of some internal struggle within the Party? Is this merely a concession to some senile old git by a younger cadre who don't expect to have to enforce the ruling?

Only time will tell what the intention behind this ruling was, but, for now, it deserves nothing more than contemptuous laughter.

No comments: