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Robert Thurman

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China Is Attempting to Wipe Out Buddhism

Posted: 03/19/10 03:42 PM ET

"They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace," The Dalai Lama said on March 10, accusing Chinese of working to "deliberately annihilate Buddhism."

I, for one, was proud of His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he spoke strongly about the Chinese Communist Party's oppressive treatment of Tibetan Buddhist monks in Tibet [the whole of Tibet, being all the Tibet Autonomous Prefectures and Counties as well as the Tibet Autonomous Region]. Chinese Communist officials constantly revile His Holiness in the most scathing and inappropriate language, and while conducting talks with his representatives, simultaneously denying that they are doing so, speak of him insultingly, and accuse him of all sorts of preposterous things.

His Holiness has been so carefully mild in his speech about the Chinese, until the last year or two, that when he simply reports the fact that Chinese Communist policy and practice is to treat Tibetan Buddhism as seditious, the international press calls it "lashing out!" I was actually present in the crowd this year, and His Holiness' tone was measured and calm, reporting the deplorable facts without any invective.

Since 1993 when the Communist Party held its "Third Work Forum" on Tibet, the party boss of the time, Chen Kuiyuan, put forward the proposition that Tibetan Buddhism itself was "splittist" or "separatist," since Tibetan Buddhists considered the Dalai Lama to be an incarnation of Tibet's guardian angel, the celestial bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, and so their loyalty to him was unshakable. Hence, it simply became the established policy of the Chinese Communist Party - which is one and the same as the Chinese government - to destroy Tibetan Buddhism, in order to block the Tibetan peoples' love of the Dalai Lama and force them to identify themselves as loyal citizens of the Chinese "Motherland."

In setting such a policy, they were embarking on an impossible task, as the subsequent 17 years have shown. The first thing they did was renege on their initial back-channel request to the Dalai Lama to help with the discovery and recognition of the Panchen Lama, who had died suddenly in 1989. When the time came to seek his reincarnation, the Tashi Lhunpo committee was authorized to consult the Dalai Lama, since the former handlers of Tibetan symbolic matters wanted to use the new Panchen Lama as a new figurehead puppet, and they knew full well that the Tibetan people would never accept any Panchen Lama candidate who was not chosen by the Dalai Lama. However, when it came down to the final stages of the recognition process, the CCP proclaimed that it and it alone had authority to recognize the reincarnation, and they purposely denied the choice of the Dalai Lama (and arrested that young lad, Gendun Chokyi Nyima, and his family and tutors and have held them in disappearance ever since), and anointed a boy of their choosing.

Observers have not noticed that this policy change was a result of the plan to destroy Tibetan Buddhism. Why? Because they knew full well the Tibetan people and Tibetan monks would not accept their choice, so instead of a puppet Lama who would mouth their message to believing Tibetans, they erected a built-in, long-term litmus test to root out monks and nuns and lamas who were sincere Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, since when they were forced to pledge allegiance to the Communist choice of reincarnation, the sincere ones would refuse, and so could be kicked out of their monasteries, imprisoned, tortured, and branded for life as "splittists." In other words, this scheme, enacted from 1995 onward, was a clear change of direction by the CCP. Formerly, since the end of the cultural revolution, the policy was to accept the indestructibility of Tibetan Buddhism in the hearts of Tibetans and try to manipulate it to co-exist with the Communist Chinese state. From 1993 on, the policy became to decry Tibetan Buddhism as itself "splittist," demonize the Dalai Lama, drive sincere Buddhist practitioners out of their monasteries, and create a new generation of Communist, secularist, "Chinese," Tibetans. In a very clear sense, this policy has been a return to a more subtle form of "Great Cultural Revolution," for Tibet only, while the word down in lowland China was that the cultural revolution had been a disaster. In fact, certain lead cultural revolutionaries, such as the infamous Ragdi and others, who had been saved for just such an occasion, were "rehabilitated" and put back in charge of Tibet!

If you look at the larger picture within the whole of China, the timing of this change in policy in Tibet and the return to the vain attempt to force Communist ideology on its spiritual people is quite in parallel with Jiang Zemin's paranoid crusade against the Fa Lun Gong within China proper. Of course, Fa Lun Gong has nothing to do with Tibetan Buddhism, being an eclectic mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga, but it is similarly unacceptable to the Communist autocrats in that it is a broad based spiritual movement that holds spiritual values above allegiance to the party and the Communist state. In thrall to the corporate myth of the commercialization of China and its total conversion to capitalism, Western observers have forgotten the fact that Mao set up a quasi-religion of Communist state worship with himself as the presiding deity, to maintain which he had to eradicate by force: all pre-existing religious ideologies and institutions. After his death and the pragmatism campaign of Deng, this religion of the state lost its grip on the Chinese people, but oligarchic capitalism could not be advanced officially as its ideological and institutional replacement, since the Chinese people have a strong spiritual side, and the vast majority of them still remain the slaves of that oligarchy. So the Communist leadership is rather desperately using aggressive nationalism to excuse its embrace of capitalist institutions and lifestyles and deflect the resentment of the excluded masses. But, aware of the limits of this strategy, they feel they cannot allow spirituality, the religious richness of China that is burgeoning underground, to emerge in all its pluralistic glory, since then the deification of the state they relied on from the beginning of the revolution would no longer be possible. And as one may observe from their 60th year military parade celebrating the founding of the Communist state, the God Mao was once again very much in evidence amid all the goose-stepping and the show of hardware.

So there is nothing very controversial about the Dalai Lama's statement that the Communist Party of China continues to direct the party bosses of all Tibetan regions and prefectures to proceed with the destruction of Tibetan Buddhism. It is not a "lashing out," or an incendiary statement. It is a simple statement of fact, a noting of the CCP's formally stated policy and 17 year long practice. Fortunately, this policy and these practices will fail to accomplish their aim, just as the intense and violent Maoist campaign of "thought-reform" brainwashing and cultural destruction from 1959 to 1979 failed to eradicate the Buddha Dharma and the love of the Dalai Lama from the Tibetan heart.