The rule on the management of reincarnations of Tibetan living Buddhas issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) on July 18 came into effect on September 1.
The rule, an important move by the government to safeguard religious freedom of citizens according to law, has won staunch and extensive support from the Tibetan Buddhist circles and believers in China.
To maintain the validity and purity of all living Buddha reincarnation and uphold the solemnity of the law, it is necessary to reiterate the key principle already enshrined in the new rule that any reincarnated living Buddha, appointed against the rule, is illegal and invalid.
The government has attached importance to the reincarnation of living Buddhas in line with law after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and especially after the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in 1978. The location, confirmation and enthronement of the reincarnated soul boy of the 10th Panchen Lama were completed in 1995 in line with historical convention and and religious ritual of Tibetan Buddhism. Since 1991, nearly 1,000 living Buddhas have been approved in Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan, which satisfied followers' needs. The rule is based on past and present experience, thorough investigation, opinions from various circles and respect for the ways of living Buddhas' succession. The rule demonstrates the government has further legalized its governance of living Buddha reincarnation. The rule is bound to have significant impact on standardizing governance on living Buddha reincarnation, protecting people's religious freedom, maintaining the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism and the building of a harmonious society.
Firstly, religious freedom is a basic right endowed by the Chinese Constitution. China has more than 100 million religious followers including the Tibetan Buddhism followers. To protect religious freedom is an important indication of the protection of people's interests, respect for and protection of human rights. To enact and implement the rule, which represents the government's religious freedom policy, will help protect the religious features of Tibetan Buddhism followers and normal religious activities of Tibetan Buddhism in accordance with the law.
Secondly, the religious ritual and historical convention of living Buddha reincarnation established throughout the history is an essential feature and indispensable part of Tibetan Buddhism. They are important measures taken by the central government to administer Tibet region and Tibetan Buddhist affairs, and must be respected. Meanwhile, it has been proved by history that Tibetan Buddhism can only enjoy sound development through adapting to the social environment. The policies and regulations on governance of Tibetan Buddhism should be improved constantly to fit in with developments of society and changes of Tibetan Buddhism itself.
Thirdly, to implement administration guided by law in an all-round way is an important part of the rule of the country by law. The management of living Buddha reincarnation, as a way of practicing administrative power, must be conducted in accordance with the law. Article 27 of the Regulation on Religious Affairs prescribes "The succession of living Buddha should be carried out under the guidance of religious groups and conform to religious ritual and historical convention. The succession must be approved by departments of religious affairs or governments above municipal level." The rule adds more details to the relevant articles of the regulation and makes them easier to follow.
Fourthly, there are still problems with the reincarnation of living Buddhas although it has been generally well observed to date. Some reincarnated soul boys were appointed against religious ritual and historical convention, and without the government's approval. This violated the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism and undermined the internal integrity of Tibetan Buddhism. The personages of the Tibetan Buddhist circle strongly protested against such practice and asked the government to strengthen its governance. Implementation of the rule regularized living Buddhas' reincarnation and met the demand of the Tibetan Buddhist circles and aspiration of the followers.
The rule is composed of 14 articles, including the aim of the rule, the principles, the prerequisites, the approval procedures, the duties and responsibilities of religious groups for reincarnation as well as punishment for those violating the regulations. The regulations have the following features:
Firstly, the rule was issued by the SARA as a ministry rule. In 2004, the State Council issued the executive "Regulation on Religious Affairs", which prescribes related procedures for living Buddha reincarnation in Article 27, Section two. The rule by SARA is made based on the Regulation on Religious Affairs. It has more details in the reincarnation governance and demonstrates that China has further legalized its management of living Buddha reincarnation.
Secondly, it regularizes the government's role in living Buddha reincarnation. The government only administers religious affairs of State and public interest and will not interfere in the pure internal affairs of religion. The authority prescribed by the rule includes:
- Accepting, verifying and approving applications for reincarnation.
- Approving requests for exemption of such ritual as a boy candidate can only be enthroned after he draws the lot with his name on it from a golden vase.
- Approving living Buddha succession.
- Approving the candidates for master interpreter and chanter of Buddhist scripture for the living Buddha and other related issues formed throughout history.
The government does not interfere with the pure internal affairs of religion: Such as the composition of groups for locating reincarnated soul boys, organizing activities of trying to find the soul boys, and identifying the soul boys. All these pure internal affairs of religion will be handled by the Buddhist association or monastery administration organizations according to religious ritual and historical convention.
Thirdly, the rule prescribes prerequisites for living Buddha reincarnation. Based on the strong demand from Buddhist representatives and aimed at maintaining the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism, the third article of the rule lists three prerequisites for the reincarnation:
- Most of the local followers and monastery administrative organization demand the reincarnation.
- The reincarnation system is real and successive.
- The monastery applying for reincarnation of a living Buddha must be the monastery at which the incumbent living Buddha is registered and the monastery is the legally registered venue for Tibetan Buddhism activities and is capable of fostering and offering proper means of support for the living Buddha.
- Fourthly, the rule made clear the duties of religious groups in the reincarnation. It said the main duties of religious groups are:
- Local Buddhist organizations should put forward their opinions on the approval and sanction of reincarnation of living Buddhas.
- After the reincarnation application is approved, relevant local Buddhist organizations should guide the locating of the reincarnated soul boy.
- The administrative organ of the reincarnated Buddha's monastery or relevant Buddhist organizations should organize the searching group and arrange the location affairs.
- The Buddhist group at provincial level or the Buddhist Association of China will organize the confirmation of the reincarnated soul boy in line with religious ritual and historical convention.
- When the reincarnated soul boy is enthroned, the relevant Buddhist organizations should grant a certificate to the living Buddha.
- Local Buddhist organizations should verify the training plan for the enthroned living Buddha and choose suitable master interpreter and chanter of Buddhist scripture for the living Buddha.
In addition, the rule only provides general principles for some specific affairs. Since there are many Tibetan monasteries and religious sects of Tibetan Buddhism with varied practices in the living Buddha reincarnation, provinces and autonomous regions concerned can frame detailed regulations based on the rule according to their own situation. The copy of the detailed regulations need to be submitted to the SARA for putting on records.
The rule has presented new demands for Buddhist organizations and set higher requirements for related departments to govern in accordance with the law. The departments concerned must study and implement the rule earnestly so as to protect the religious freedom of citizens and the legitimate rights of the religious circle. The validity and purity of living Buddha reincarnation must be guaranteed in accordance with the law and the solemnity of the law must be safeguarded. Any so-called reincarnated living Buddha, appointed against the rule, is illegal and invalid.