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Religious Freedom Today


Following the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the broad masses of Tibetans and partriotic members of the region's upper-class people called on the Central People's Government to immdiately expel imperialist forces and liberate Tibet. In January 1950, the Bainqen Kampus Assembly cabled Chairman Mao Zedong and Commander-in-Chief Zhu De saying: "The fact that Tibet is an integral part of Chinese territory is known to the world. All Tibetans regard themselves as members of the Chinese nation....Speaking with the greatest respect on behalf of the Tibetan people, we request that you dispatch troops to liberat Tibet, eliminate reactionaries and drive out imperialist forces, consolidate national defense in southwest China, and emancipate the Tibetan people." Famous patriot Yexei Cuchim presented a speech in Xining condemning the imperialists for perpetrating crimes such as invading Tibet and inciting pro-imperialist elements to murder patriotic Razheng. He demanded that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) be sent to Tibet. The Living Buddha Geda went to Lhasa to expound the respect of the Central Government and PLA for religious belief. Unfortunately, the patriotic Living Buddha was mudered by the British imperialists plotting "Tibetan independence." Their pervasive act touched off strong condemnation throughtout China.

Soon after the 14th Dalai Lama came to power, he dispatched, on January 27, 1951, emissaries to the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, India, asking the embassy to deliver a letter to the Central Government. They explained the Dalai's emergence to power and, at the same time, expressed the Dalai's willingness to enter into peace negotiations with the Central Government. On February 28, the Dalai Lama dispatched Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei and four other delegates to Beijing for negotiations. The 17-Article Agreement of the Central Government and the local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was signed on May 23, 1951.

Following the signing of the 17-Article Agreement, the Dalai Lama cabled Chairman Mao Zedong. He stressed that the local government of Tibet and all Tibetan people, monks and laymen would unanimously support the May 23, 1951 agreement signed by representatives of the Central Government and the local government of Tibet on the basis of friendship. "We will actively assist the People's Liberation Army entry into Tibet to consolidate national defense, drive imperialist forces out of Tibet, and safeguard the unified state territory and sovereignty under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Central Government." While Tibet had suffered from inperialist invasions for close to half a century, all plots to tear Tibet from the motherland suffered ignominious defeat.

On the eve of the founding of New China, the Central Government, which carefully considered the customs of various nationalities and religions, endorsed the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The said document was held as the temorpary Constitution of China. Article 53 in Chapter Six stipulates, "Various minority nationalities enjoy freedom for developing their own language and writing, maintaining and reforming their customs and habits, and developing their respective religious beliefs."

Article 7 of the 17-Article Agreement signed on may 23, 1951, includes the clause "The policy of freedom of religious belief laid down in the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consulattive Conference shall be carried out. The religious beliefs, customs and habits of the Tibetan people shall be respected, and lama monasteries shall be protected. The central authorities will not effect a change in the income of the monasteries." On the afternoon of May 23, Chairman Mao Zedong listened to a report on the negotiatins and advised that representatives be sent to Tibet with the instructions:"Representatives must always bear in mind nationality and religion issues when carrying their duties in Tibet."

Acting in accordance with the Common Program, the 17-Article Agreement and the instructions of Chairman Mao Zedong, the PLA forces and workers sent to Tibet strictly implemented the Central Government policy of respectingthe religious freedom enjoyed by the Tibetan people, and respecting and protecting the belies and traditions of various Tibetan Buddhist sects. The PLA formulated Manuals for Work in Tibet prior to dispatching its troops. The Manuals included clauses for protecting the religious freedom enjoyed by the Tibetans and protecting lamaseries. it strictly banned touching religious objects out of curiously, speaking against the superstitions of the masses, or curiosity, speaking against the superstitions of the masses, or expressing discontent over religion. No one was allowed to live in monasteries or sutra halls without special permission. Even during wartime, the PLA strictly prohibited from stationing troops in monasteries or to permit visits to lamaseries. Advanced arrangements were required prior to any visits to monasteries, teries, with visitors prohibited from touching statues of Buddha at will, spitting or various other common acts. The PLA troops were required to follow the Manuals for Work in Tibet to the letter during the journey to the region. No one was allowed to live in monasteries, even during the bitterly cold winters. Troops approaching Mani stone mounds were required to follow the local tradition of turning left, and no one was allowed to shoot birds or animals Tibetans consider holy.

One particular night, the PLA troops established camp outside a remote monastery in the wilderness. The rain fell in torrents and the cold and shivering troops were soaked to the bone. Nonetherless, no one sought shelter in the monastery. Lamas in the monastery were deeply touched, and offered hot tea and invited the wounded and sick into the monastery. The PLA troops finally arrived in Tibet, with commanders Zhang Jingwu and Zhang Guohua arranging talks with upper-class lamas in the Zhaibung, Sera, Gandain and Jokhang monasteries. On October 18, 1951, they issued alms to the three major monasteries, as well as the Jokhang and Ramoge monasteries and the Upper and Lower Tantric Seminaries. They also issued alms to all lamas attending the Grand Summons Ceremony in 1952.

The broad masses of lamas and laymen in Tibet spoke highly of the behavior of the PLA troops and workers, fondly referring to them as "soldiers sent by Buddha."

In September 1954, the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Bainqen Erdeni attended the First Session of the First National People's Congress (NPC) in their capacity as NPC deputies. In his speech to the NPC session, the 14th Dalai Lama said: "Of all the dissension sown by our enemies, the most vicious rumor is that the Communist Pasty and the Central Government are destroying religion. The Tibetan people, who are devoutly faithful, are upset with the rumors. The rumor that the Communist Party and the Central Government are destroying religion is a fallacy, and the Tibetan people truly feel that they enjoy religious freedom." The 14th Dalai Lama presented several gifts to Chairman Mao Zedong, including the 1,000-Spoke Gold Prayer Wheel. The gifts are currently in the collection of the Cultural Palace for Nationalities in Beijing.

In 1959, those in Tibet's ruling upper-class, who opposed the Democratic Reform, staged an armed rebellion. They did so in a vain attempt to permanently retain savage and cruel serfdom and defend their established interests. The conspirators cast aside the 17-Article Agreement and, proceeding with the support of foreign forces, accelerated efforts to split the motherland. On the evening of March 17, Galoons soikang, Leushar, Zhazur and various other rebel leaders spirited the 14th Dalai Lama out of Lhasa, fleeing to India follwing suppression of the armed rebellion. Thereafter, the Dalai Lama, a leader besieged by foreign reactionary forces and Tibetan separatists, betrayed his avowed patriotic stand and himself stepped up efforts to split the motherland. Unlike the religious leader he professed to be, the Dalai became a political leader engaged in separatist activities. The Central Government has followed the following consistent policy with respect to the Dalai Lama: Tibet is an inseparable part of the Chinese territory, with absolutely no room for bargaining on the issue. The Central Government has repeatedly expressed its willingness to hold talks with the Dalai Lama if the latter refrains from engaging in activities geared to split the motherland and changes his stand on "Tibetan independence." All issues with the sole exception of "Tibetan independence," as issue that brooks no negotiation, are open to negotiations.

The Central Government continues to follow the policy of respecting the religious beliefs, customs and habits of the Tibetan people, as well protecting lamaseries, cultural relics and historical sites. In 1960, the 10th Bainqen Erdeni introduced the following five methods for the reform of monasteries in Tibet: First, abandoning exploitation; second, engaging in democratic management; third, implementing the statutes of the Central Government and implementing the Chinese Constitution in monasteries; fourth, allowing lamas to engage in production; and finally, the government be responsible for caring for the well-being of elderly lamas and lamas assigned with the sole responsibility of reciting Buddhist sutras.

All methods were eventually put into effect. As a result of reform, all Tibetan people enjoy the freedom to become lamas and all lamas enjoy the freedom to resume a secular life; various sects of Tibtan Buddhism are treated equally without discrimination; and various monasteries have established Democratic Management Committees or Democratic Management Groups in democratic elections. The committees or groups are responsible for the management of religious affairs and Buddhist activities. All the aforementioned innovations point to the fact that the broad masses of lamas and lay people enjoy true religious freedom, and have established appropriate means for protecting the basic human rights of the broad masses of destitute lamas.

While moving to suppress the armed rebellion and conducting Democratic Reform in monasteries, the Central Government placed great efforts on properly protecting cultural relics, historic sites and monasteries. The State Council listed the Potala Palace, three major monasteries in Lhasa, and the Jokhang and the Tahilhungpo monasteries in Xigaze as cultural relic units subject to special state protection. In March 1961 alone, more than 110,000 cultural relics were catalogued and over a dozen historically significant sites were repaired. Beginning in 1962, the Central Government each year allocated substantial funding for repair of the Potala Palace. In additional, in November 1963, the Central Government allocated funding to refurbish the Gandain Monastery, the largest project of its kind in the history of the monastery.

Just like other parts of China, Tibet reeled from the impact of the chaotic "Cultural Revolution" which lasted from 1966 to 1976. Following the ordeal, the Chinese Government moved to correct mistakes and set about implementing various policies including the policy for religious freedom.

As part of an effort to recoup losses resulting from the "Cultural Revolution" and despite being faced with financial problems, the Central Government has since 1980 earmarked more than 200 million yuan (US $24 million) for the repair of Tibetan monasteries, holy stupas and memorial halls. The three major monasteries in Lhasa, as well as the Tahihungpo, Sagya, Jokhang, Samye and Xalhu monasteries, and various other facilities, which were either damaged or had been in disrepair for years, were refurbished to varying degrees. In 1985, the Central Government allocated more than 6.7 million yuan (US $810,000), 108.85 kg of gold, 1,000 kg of silver and 665 kg of mercury to repair the holy stupa for the 5th-9th Bainqen Erdenis. Construction of the Zhaxi Namgyal Holy Stupa for the Bainqen was completed in the Tashihungpo Monastery in 1988. The 10th Bainqen Erdeni presided over the consecration ceremony for the holy stupa and the memorial hall, which stands 33.17 meters in height and covers 1,9333 square meters. In June 1990, shortly after the death of the 10th Bainqen Erdeni, the State Council approved the construction of a holy stupa and a memorial hall for the late master in the Tahihungpo Monastery. The Central Government earmarked over 64 million yuan (US $7.71 million) and various materials for the project, including more than 600 kg of gold and over 500 kg of silver. The construction project was completed in three years and a consecration ceremony was held in the Tahihungpo Monastery on September 4, 1993. The actions truly reveal the Central Government's great respect for outstanding leaders of Tibetan Buddhism.

In October 1988, the State announced its decision to provide funding to repair the Potala Palace, a massive complex consisting of Tibetan monasteries, places of historical interest and ancient palaces. The massive 53 million yuan (US $6.39 million) project, the most expensive repair project in the history of the People's Republic of China, got underway with the establishment of a leading group consisting of specialists and religious figures. The five-year repair project was carried out under the principle of respecting science, tradition, national style and religion, with efforts centering on preserving the original appearance of the complex. The resplendent Potala Palace now shines brightly on the Roof of the World. In 1994, the Central Government annouced its decision to allocate 20 million yuan (US $2.41 million) for ongoing repairs to the Gandain Monastery, the most extensively damaged monastery in Tibet.

Over 1,400 monasteries and other religious centers are now open to the public, with the number of resident monks and nuns approaching 34,000. As part of an effort to guarantee normal religious activities, religious affairs departments of the people's government of Tibet Autonomous Region and the Tibet's Branch of the Buddhist Association of China (BAC) are attempting to recover gold and silver statues of Buddha, religious objects, jewelry, tangka paintings and scrolls, and Buddhist scriptures removed from monasteries during the chaotic "Cultural Revolution." Thus far, some 30,000 bronze statues of Buddha and various other religious objects weighing well over 370 tons have been recovered and returned to appropriate monasteries. In addition, 526 sets of sutras, including the Ganyur written in the Tibetan language in gold dust, have been returned to their rightful home in the Gandain Monastery. Efforts have also been made to collect and collate Buddhist scriptures belonging to the Potala Palace. Folk calligraphers have been organized to copy the Dangyur on high paper with ink prepared from gold, silver, copper, iron, jade, coral, white conch shell and pearl powder.

Various monasteries have joined government efforts and are currently restoring statues of Buddha, copying tangka paintings and scrolls, and printing Buddhist scriptures. In 1984, the people's government of the Tibet Autonomous Region earmarked 500,000 yuan to finance the establishment of Lhasa Sutra Printing House of the Tibet Branch of the BAC. In the last few years since its establishment, the printing house has printed more than 1,000 volumes of the Gangyur in the Tibetan for lamas in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries both inside and outside the Tibet Autonomous Region.

In 1990, the Central Government allocated an additional 500,000 yuan to engrave the Lhasa-edition printing block fro the Dangyur in the Tibetan language in the Moru Monastery in Lhasa, a project which the 13th Dalai Lama planned but failed to complete.

In 1985, the Tibet Branch of the BAC launched the Tibetan journal entitled Tibetan Buddhism, a publication which carries research papers on Tibetan Buddhism and the histories of various monasteries. The branch has also collected and collated numerous Buddhist masterpieces, including Origin of Buddhism by Dewu; The Exoteric and Esoteric Sutra Treasures and Major Contents; The Self-Comment on the Work of the Three Vows; A Collection of Works on Hetuvidya Sastra; The Origin of Buddhism by Nyang; Tibetan Buddhist Calendar and Pancavidya; Collected Works on Practicing Buddhism; Catalogue of Ganygur; and History and Doctrines of Different Buddhist Sects. A contingent of famous scholars and Buddhist masters have been organized to collate the Tripitaka, with the Central Government providing substantial funding for the comprehensive project.

Famous monasteries of various Buddhist sects offer 164 sutra classes attended by some 2,900 diligent lamas studying under the guidance of sutra teachers. Each study class sponsors several large-scale public lectures and debates on Buddhist scriptures throughout the year. The Tibet Branch of the BAC founded the Tibetan Buddhism College in 1983. In February 1987, the 10th Bainqen Erdeni founded and served as president of China's Tibetan Language High Institute of Buddhism in Beijing. Following the master's untimely death, the Living Buddha Qoggyi from the Tar Monastery and the living Buddha Nacang from Garze were assigned joint teaching responsibilites. Dozens of knowledgeable Living Buddhas and those holding the highest Buddhist Geshi degree have taught at the institute over the past few years. The institute has also extended great effort to expand exchanges with overseas Buddhist organizatins. The Tibet Branch of the BAC sponsors religious figures for academic exchanges and fact-finding tours in other contries. In addition, it has hosted more than 10,000 people from overseas religious circles visiting Tibet in groups or individually for pilgrimages, tours or fact-finding missions.

In addition to engaging in routine studies research of Buddhist classics, various monasteries hold ceremonies marking famous religious festivals and historical traditions. Tibetan Buddhism has numerous religious festivals, including Ritual Walk Around Sow Mountain in the Tibetan Year of the Horse, the Ritual Walk Around Holy Nam Co Lake in the Tibetan Year of the Sheep, the Sagya Dawa Festival (held to mark the birth, attainment to Buddhism), and the Sunning-the-Painting-of-Buddha Festival sponsored by a number of famous monasteries. The Sorcerer's Dance Festival held by the Samye Monastery, the oldest religious festival in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, was first held some 1,000 years ago to mark construction of the monastery. The annual festival, which features numerous religious rituals followed by mass singing and horse races, has a magnetic pull on devout Buddhists, as well as domestic and overseas visitors. The Grand Summons Ceremony sponsored by the three major monasteries in Lhasa is the grandest of all religious festivals celebrated in Tibet. The ceremony was introduced in 1409 during Zongkapa's reformation of Tibetan Buddhism, but was suspended during the chaotic "Cultural Revolution" (1966-76). The ceremony was reintroduced in 1986, with the local government granting alms to lamas and maintaining order. The 10th Bainqen Erdeni presided over the 1988 Grand Summons Ceremony, money, which ,however, was interrupted by Tibetan separatist factions. Since then, various monasteries hold the Grand Summons Ceremony of their own independently.

The reincarnation of Living Buddhas constitutes a unique method in the succession of monastery abbots of Tibetan Buddhism. The reincarnation system, a unique tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, was introduced by the Garma Gagyu Sect in the 13th century and was soon adopted by various other sects. The tradition was reintroduced to Tibet in 1976 following the end of the chaotic 10-year "Cultural Revolution." Various monasteries conducted searches and confirmed the reincarnated soul boys of a number of the Living Buddhas, and in turn reported the results to governments at various levels for examination and approval.

The 16th Living Buddha Gamaba of the Black-Hat Line of the Garma Gagyu Sect passed away in the United States in 1981. His overseas disciples, including the Living Buddha Situ and the Living Buddha Gyaichao, informed the Curpu Monastery, Gamaba's resident monastery, that they had found the will of the late master, and requested that the monastery search for his reincarnated soul boy in accordance with religious rituals and contents of the will. The Central Government approved the search and provided support. In June 1992, the abbot of the Curpu Monastery, the Living Buddha Situ and the Living Buddha Gyaichao found the soul boy of the 16th Living Buddha Garmaba in Qamdo, Tibet. The Central Government approved the boy, O'gyain Chilai, as the reincarnated soul boy of the 16th Living Buddha Garmaba on June 25.

In August 1992, the Saizong Monastery held a grand ceremony for the enthronement of the 4th Living Buddha Arabcang of the Huiyuan Monastery in Sichuan. The Living Buddha A'gyai presided over the ceremony.

The 7th Living Buddha Xarcang of the Lungwo Monastery in Qinghai Province was officially enthroned on October 29.

The 10th Bainqen Erdeni passed away in Tibet on January 28, 1989. A short time later, on January 30, 1989, the State Council promulgated the Decisions on the Funeral Arrangements and Reincarnation of the 10th Bainqen Erdeni. The document stipulated that the search and confirmation of the reincarnated soul boy the 10th Bainqen Erdeni Qoigyi Gyaincain were to be carried out in accordance with established religious rituals and historical precedence, and that the results were to be reported to the State Council for approval.

On November 29, 1995, following a six-year effort, six-year-old Gyaincain Norbu, born in Jiali County in northern Tibet, was determined as the reincarnated soul boy of the 10th Bainqen Erdeni through the traditional method of drawing lot from the golden urn in front of the statue of Sakyamuni in the Jokhang Monastery. The Central Government approved Gyaincain Norbu as the 11th Bainqen Erdeni, and a grand enthronement ceremony was held in the Tahilhungpo certificate of appointment and a golden seal of authority to the 11th Bainqen Erdeni.

Various monasteries have resumed normal religious activities, with the Chinese Constitution and law guaranteeing the rights of the broad masses of religious faithful to engage in religious activities of their choice. Many have in fact established Buddha shrines and sutra halls in their homes for sutra recitation and prayer. They are also free to worship Buddhism in monasteries, ritually prostrate themselves during pilgrimages to holy sites, present alms to lamas and lead a life based on religion.

A case in point is Cering Zhoima, a female farmer in the eastern suburbs of Lhasa. On the third day of the first month of each Tibetan year, Zhoima will send her sons to the mountains to plant sutra streamers in worship of the Mountain God. While her sons are performing their assigned mission, she and her daughters will burn joss sticks by the river to worship the Village God. During the Sagya Dawa Festival in the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, Zhoima visits Lhasa to undertake a ritual walk lasting 10 to 15 days. On October 25, she burns butter lamps and eat dough drop porridge in memory of Zongkapa, founder of the Gelug Sect. in addition, Zhoima joins devout fellow villagers in Buddhist religious activities geared to dispel evil and pray for good luck. People like Zhoima place sutra streamers and pile up Mani stone mounds throughout the mountains and along roads in Tibet.

A constantly improving standard of living and improved transportation systems have also enabled Tibetans to join in religious activites. A case in point is Cering Banzong, a former tralpa serf at the Sera Monastery. Prioer to the peaceful liberaton of Tibet in 1951, Banzong's family of four lived in a small dark room. Despite his diligent labor for the monastery, Banzong lacked the financial ability to build a Buddha shrine in his home. "Now, however, I have enough money to attend religious activities," said a happy Banzong. "I can afford to take the bus to the Zhaibung Monastery, the Gandain Monastery and the Sera Monastery." In 1988, Banzong built and donated two houses to the Purongang Monastery. Another example is Baigar, a resident of Qamdo. While Qamdo is located quite far from Lhasa, Baigar has been able to travel along the Sichuan-Tibet Highway to worship at monasteries in Lhasa, Shannan and Xigaze, including the Samye, Changzhub, Tahilhungpo, Xalhu and Palkor monasteries. The Jokhang, Gandain, Zhaibung and Sera monasteries in Lhasa host numerous people like Baigar who visit for ritual walks, as well as worship and prostrate themselves before the statues of Buddha. These people number as many as 1 million each and every year. As part of an effort to satisfy the needs of such people, the people's government of the Tibet Autonomous Region increases the supply of butter and meat for the city of Lhasa, and establishes camp grounds for worshipers and provides a transportation system which facilitates their pilgrimages to other parts of the region.

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