IN recent months, China has visibly stepped up efforts to ensure that Tibetan Buddhist monks in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) comply with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) directives on religion. It has simultaneously enhanced efforts to get Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. In addition to the regular campaigns and increased frequency of inspections of the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in TAR, the China-appointed Panchen Lama. too. has become active in this effort. He has visited TAR each year since 2017 and is at present there. Chinese efforts are now visible in Nepal too.
There have been some recent initiatives by Beijing that aim at undermining the influence of the XIVth Dalai Lama and spreading Chinese influence within the Tibetan community in Nepal. An instance is the 37th birthday celebrations of Uyghen Thinley Dorje, recognised by Buddhists as the Gyalwa Karmapa and head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, in Kathmandu. Organised by the Karmapa Service Society, based in Nepal, at the Dapsang monastery in Boudha on June 30, 2022, the celebration was attended by around 400 people, including Sanga Rinpoche, who was the chief guest, and representatives of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office. Interestingly, and possibly suggesting implicit Chinese approval, neither the Nepalese police nor the police in civilian clothes appeared to have been deployed at the venue and there were no disturbances during the event.
The Chinese authorities have also been trying to weaken the cohesion of the Tibetan Buddhists and have reportedly been supporting the Karma Kagyu sect in TAR and within China. Reports of such support surfaced when controversy around the Dorje Shugden issue was a serious issue within the Tibetan community in India. Reports now claim that the Chinese have resumed extending financial support to Dorje Shugden worshippers in Nepal. Dorje Shugden-affiliated organisations have been registered in Nepal for some years, but it is uncertain whether and how active they are. Some Tibetans suggest that China is supporting the Nyingma sect in Nepal. They cite the return to Tibet of the reincarnation of the Penor Rimpoche, after his second ‘enthronement’ in Nepal, as indication.
In contrast to the birthday celebrations of the Gyalwa Karmapa, there was heavy intimidatory police presence at different places in Kathmandu during the 87th birthday celebrations of the XIVth Dalai Lama on June 6. There were armed policemen at the Chinese consulate and the Chinese embassy, and a force of 20 armed personnel, 20 policemen and many policemen in civilian dress at the Samdupling Tibetan settlement. The District Sub-Inspector of Police of Satdobato, Lalitpur, was present outside throughout the programme. Among those who attended were the Chogye Trichen Ngawang Rinchen Paljor Rinpoche, head of the Jamchen Lhakhang Yigha Choeinling monastery, Boudha, Kathmandu, and US and European diplomats. More than a thousand guests attended the programme.
Efforts by the Chinese embassy officials to persuade Nepal’s Tibetans to return to Tibet have also resumed. They had begun contacting Tibetans resident in Nepal in 2019 to persuade them to return to Tibet with the assurance that the Chinese government was making arrangements to facilitate their return. An office was opened in Kathmandu and more were to be established. The outbreak of the Covid pandemic, however, stalled this initiative. China has now recently opened an office in Kathmandu, with more proposed to be opened in other places in north Nepal, to assist Tibetans wanting to return.
They are asked to give their personal details as well as the contact details of their relatives in Tibet and told that once these are verified, they would be provided the necessary papers to return. A few have already returned. This initiative would be aimed at reducing the number of Tibetans residing abroad, especially in the neighbouring Nepal. With the Chinese authorities preventing Tibetans from coming across the border into Nepal, the Tibetan diaspora — at least in countries neighbouring China — will reduce.
A part of this initiative is the publicity being given by the Chinese official media to the activities of Gyaltsen Norbu, the China-appointed Panchen Lama. In a bid to gain wider acceptance of the Tibetan Buddhist community in TAR and the Tibetan areas adjoining it, he has been visiting TAR for almost three months each year since 2019. The official TAR media publicises his activities and reports that a large number of Tibetan Buddhists come to seek his blessings.
On July 26, a Tibet Daily article, captioned “Panchen Rinpoche’s presence is a blessing for everyone”, was more explicit when it told Tibetans: “It is a blessing for everyone to visit Rinpoche in person.” Referring to the monks waiting to receive the Panchen Lama at the Zhago monastery, the article pointedly stated that among them was the sixth Dezhu Kayang West Rabtan Rinpoche, who was selected from among other candidates through a draw of lots. Gyaltsen Norbu had given him the Dharma name Dezhu Kayang West Rabhandan. The system of drawing of lots was promulgated by Beijing as the “approved” method of selecting ‘Living Buddhas’, or ‘Tulkus’ and ‘Rimpoches’ and the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, too. These references are intended to try and afford legitimacy to the Panchen Lama’s authority to fulfil the traditional role of tutor for the reincarnate Dalai Lama.
These efforts to bring the ethnic Tibetans within the fold of the Han majority are accompanied by efforts to replace Tibetan with Chinese Mandarin as the primary language in all ethnic Tibetan schools and introduce the Chinese Communist Party-approved “Encyclopedia of Ethnic Unity and Progress (Tibet Volume)” — China’s version of the history of Tibet — in schools and colleges in Tibet.
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