High Peaks Pure Earth has been following the huge public debate on Tibetan Buddhism and Trulkus (reincarnate Lama) on Chinese social media that has been ignited by the enthronement of Chinese actor Zhang Tielin as a Trulku by a Hong Kong based Chinese (self-proclaimed) Trulku called Padma Woser.
The video of the elaborate enthronement ceremony went viral on social media in early December. Tibetan netizens have been critical of the enthronement as well as responses to it by Chinese officials. During a press conference, Zhu Weiqun, advisor with the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and former executive vice minister of the United Front Work Department, was asked by journalists about Zhang Tielin. Zhu Weiqun responded by saying, “Fake Living Buddhas swindle money from practitioners in eastern and central China and trick women into having sex with them. Some of them then return to Tibet and engage in illegal ‘splittist activities.’ ” and this was reported widely in Chinese state media.
Zhu Weiqun’s statement prompted a huge protest on social media by the Tibetans. On December 13, 2015, Beijing based senior scholar Jamphel Gyatso, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote a commentary piece on his Sina blog criticising Zhu Weiqun’s comments. The piece by Jamphel Gyatso was disseminated widely on Weibo and WeChat and has been translated into English in full by the International Campaign for Tibet. As ICT observe, “Jamphel Gyatso also criticises Ye Xiaowen, the former Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, who was in charge at the time that China introduced new legislation stating that ‘Living Buddhas’ must have government approval and are illegal if they do not.” Jamphel Gyatso’s post has since been deleted from his blog, and also heavily censored, but some re-posts remain online such as on Weibo and this re-post on Sina.
Thubten Phuntsok, a Tibetan Professor based in Chengdu but who spent many years at the Minzu University of China in Beijing, wrote this short piece in Tibetan titled “A Message to All Tibetan Youth” praising Jamphel Gyatso, and adding his own analysis and comments on the issue of Lamas and religious figures in Tibet. The piece is being widely shared on WeChat. Although Thubten Phuntsok is named as the author, the post has only been shared by others. Unlike Jamphel Gyatso’s post, Thubten Phuntsok cannot be clearly identified as the author as the social media sources are other people’s.
In recent years, the Chinese government has been engaged in a campaign to win over monks and Lamas. In the past, they have been seen as the main opposition to Chinese rule. It is clear that Tibetans online now see Lamas and monks as having been seduced by the government and dependent on the patronage of wealthy Chinese people. The Lamas and monks are now seen as colluding with the authorities and pacifying Tibetans.
There are two important points to note about the current social media campaign, this is the first time Tibetan netizens are criticising a named Chinese official and secondly, the Tibetans are seeing traditional religious figures as the main allies of Chinese authority. In this context, it is interesting to note the long tradition of the Chinese regime patronising Tibetan Lamas to rule Tibet.
“A Message to All Tibetan Youth”
By Thubten Phuntsok
With sincerity as white as the hair on your head,
A countenance that smiles with the rays of the sun,
The vajra of your harsh words subdues the challenger,
I pay homage to the learned Jamphel Gyatso.
The right to buy and sell the true dharma,
Is not possessed by the people or cast out assembly.
Courageous guardian of your own people’s truth,
Master of scripture and philosophy, Jamphel Gyatso.
Hated enemy behold the Bodhisattva Vajrapani!
Beloved friend behold the King of Compassion!
Vanquishing opponents and caring for friends is the custom of Tibet,
Brave Jamphel Gyatso.
Whenever we Tibetans suffer tyranny at the hands of another people, only the Tibetan civil servants and intellectuals stand up and fight for the truth by speaking out. Recently a famous actor, Zhang Tielin was enthroned in a ceremony carried out by a Chinese Trulku named Padma Woser. All the media outlets picked up on this story, drew the connection to Tibetan Buddhism and the debate on whether he was an authentic Lama was soon widespread. When Zhu Weiqun, United Front Director of the Committee for Minority and Religious Affairs, responded to media regarding Padma Woser’s authenticity, he was evasive and could not give a straight answer. “Fake Living Buddhas swindle money from the public. Some of them later return to Tibet and engage in splittist activities.” he said, placing all the blame on the heads of Tibetan Lamas. The first person to delineate the issue, through written analysis and reasoning was the learned Jamphel Gyatso, then Dhobo Gyaltsen and Choden (Ch: Li Mao). For the sake of national and ethnic unity, they made plain that Tibetan Lamas were being falsely accused. At the same time, they presented a history of and identified the source of such fake reincarnate Lamas with clear evidence.
Really at this time when all Tibetan Lamas and Trulkus were being besmirched, it was the duty of all the Tibetan Lamas, Trulkus and Abbots to refute such claims to Zhu Weiqun. But not even a single Lama, Trulku or Abbot dared to speak out. Usually they decide between virtue and vice with pomp and grandeur, mete out punishments, wear sectarian hats, and expel those who disobey from the Dharma assembly. Under a dictatorship at odds with both religion and politics, that enforces penalties for eating meat and so on, they are skilled at articulating themselves, each one quicker tongued than the other. Even if they are learned monks they have set out with the wrong viewpoint. They proclaim the “Ten Virtues” to the people like Cultural Revolution slogans. Where have those who enforce strict impositions gone to now? What is the reason they have not opened their mouths. It is only that thinking of their own benefit, they attempted to win the regard of the aforementioned official, and obeyed the orders of his staff. This is the reason why no Lama, Trulku or Abbot wanted to the debate the truth with Zhu Weiqun.
Actually in today’s society, the relationship between Lamas, the leaders and the people has come to look like a triangular fire pit. All the Lamas and Trulkus are afraid of the leadership. The leadership is afraid of the people. And the people in turn are afraid of the Lamas and Trulkus. Under such a situation, the coalition between Lama and leader, has in some Tibetan areas, in a manner contradictory to both religion and politics, become responsible for a certain way of exercising control over the people, that creates suffering for the common person. I think this is the fundamental cause of the lack of stability in society.
If I were to be more specific, governance at some municipal and village level administrations, is not religion being lead by the Party but in fact the reverse, almost as if religion was leading the Party. This is the main reason why all the Protectors have become able to inflict suffering on the people of these regions.
Historically speaking, when the Tibetan people and religion are afflicted with suffering only those older, civil servants are were able to struggle for the truth. For example, the elderly People’s Liberation Army soldier, Tashi Wangchuk, Baba Phuntsog Wangyal, Yarling Dorje and the likes of Jamphel Gyatso. That fact that I have not seen a Tibetan Lama, Trulku or Abbot strive for the truth like the late Panchen Rinpoche is a matter for further investigation.
Written from Minzu University of China, Beijing, by Thubten Phuntsok, a vagabond with pure wishes for his people and culture.
This post is also available in: English