When The Sky Fell To Earth:
The New Crackdown On Buddhism In Tibet
Report by the International Campaign for Tibet - Undated 27mar2008
Tibetans sometimes refer to the Cultural Revolution as a time ‘when the sky fell to earth’. The legacy of the Cultural Revolution still affects religious life in Tibet today.
Religious policy in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Tibet is shaped by the ideology of the ruling Communist Party and its political imperative of maintaining power. Although China’s Constitution states that citizens of the PRC have ‘freedom of religious belief ’, the Communist Party defines what is ‘acceptable’ religious behavior and religion is only tolerated as long as it does not interfere with or challenge the legitimacy and status of the Party. Over the past 50 years, practical measures to handle religion in China have varied from a pragmatic tolerance to complete repression and persecution. Current policy dictates that religion should be accommodated and utilized, but kept firmly under Party control. This has led, during the past 10 years, to the development of administrative and legal mechanisms that enable the authorities to clamp down on any religious activities viewed as a threat to social stability and national unity, while claiming they are operating according to a ‘rule of law’.
The measures used to implement state religious policy have been particularly harsh in Tibet because of the close link between religion and Tibetan identity. Tibetan Buddhism continues to be an integral element of Tibetan identity, and is therefore perceived as a threat to the authority of the state and unity of the PRC. The Chinese leadership views the Dalai Lama as the main obstacle to political stability in Tibet, a ‘wolf in lama’s clothing.’ The very practice of Buddhism and the display of a picture of the Dalai Lama have become, for many Tibetans, a means of expressing their Tibetan identity, and in some cases, their opposition to the Chinese Communist Party. Hence issues relating to religion are perceived as being highly relevant to political control and the suppression of ‘separatism’ in Tibet – both factors underpinning China’s strategic concerns and development aims in Tibetan areas of the PRC.
A new low point was reached in the last few years with the imprisonment of several senior religious figures known for their loyalty to the Dalai Lama and their religious and social activism - one of whom, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, is serving a commuted death sentence. The Chinese authorities’ control over religious expression has been extended to control over monastic influence in general and local community leadership by respected religious teachers. In particular, there have been severe restriction of movement imposed on prominent and popular religious leaders such as Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok and Acho Khen Rinpoche, among others.
This report documents the following trends in Tibet:
• From the mid-1990s onwards, China’s position towards the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s leader in exile, has become more hostile.
• A wide-ranging patriotic education campaign has been carried out in monasteries and nunneries throughout Tibetan areas with the aim of undermining the Dalai Lama’s influence, indoctrinating monks and nuns in Party policy and ideology and identifying defiant monks and nuns.
• Democratic Management Committees established in large monasteries are now being strengthened, and set up in all monasteries, in order to assert greater state control and surveillance over the daily life of monks and nuns.
• Limitations imposed on the numbers of monks and nuns in each religious institution remain in place and are selectively being enforced more than they were a decade ago.
• Beijing is more aggressively asserting control over the search and identification of Tibetan reincarnate lamas.
• The demolitions of homes and expulsion of monks and nuns in the religious institutes of Larung Gar and Yachen Gar show a new determination to enforce state-specified limitations on monastic life and control the activity of influential and charismatic spiritual leaders like the late Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, the founder of Larung Gar.
• Obtaining a complete religious education remains extremely difficult or impossible in Tibet.
• Imprisonment for terms of 5 – 10 years or more, and brutal torture continues to be a likely consequence of dissent for monks and nuns in Tibet.
This report also documents factors that have contributed to a situation in which many Tibetans feel they have no choice but to escape into exile if they are to pursue their religious vocation. These factors include the decimation of the older generation of senior teachers and scholars inside Tibet and the generation gap between older and younger generations due to death, exile or the absence of opportunity; the material devastation of the network of monasteries, Buddhist libraries, texts and artifacts, and pilgrimage sites; the systems in place to control and manage religious institutions; the political campaigns, obligatory political study sessions and forced denunciations of the Dalai Lama; and restrictions on pilgrimage imposed in various areas by PRC authorities.
The attached Sourcebook of Current Chinese Documents on Religious Policy, reveals scores of rights violations that China systematically tries to hide from the West. The four documents explain in detail the current Party policy on religion in Tibet and conclude that the Party still has along way to go to fully bring religion under its control.