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China: The Patron of Global Buddhism?

By Elizabeth Pond

China is making its strongest bid yet to establish a reputation as the patron of global Buddhism. It will follow up its third World Buddhist Forum in Hong Kong (April 25-28) by sponsoring an international peace conference in the Gautama Buddha's Lumbini birthplace in Nepal (April 28-30).

Beijing faces a formidable hurdle, however, in explaining to international Buddhists why more than 30 young Tibetan monks and nuns have set themselves on fire in the past year to protest Chinese rule.

Back in the old days, it was easier for Chinese Communists to deal with the opiate of the people. Founding father Mao Zedong could simply outlaw religion during and after the Cultural Revolution and jail or kill adherents at will. 

In the post-Mao era of globalization, things are more complicated. The party had no qualms about repressing the new Falun Gong movement in the 1990s and banning it altogether in 1999. Today's China wants to exercise soft as well as hard power, though, and it sees an opportunity in the estimated 350 million Buddhists worldwide. Half or more of this number live in China and provide a critical mass to attract others.

Domestically, the Beijing government has become tolerant and even appreciative of Buddhist temples' social charity and the current boom in Chinese religious tourism. It rehabilitated Buddhism in 2006, dropping its earlier suspicion of the religion as an ideological rival and for the first time describing it as a peaceful "ancient Chinese religion." Buddhism quickly came to enjoy pride of place among the five religions that are formally registered and allowed to preach, on the condition that the recognized Buddhist, Taoist, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim elders respectively accept government influence in naming their top officials.

In 2006 the first World Buddhist Forum—and indeed China's first international religious conference of any kind since Communist rule was established in 1949—opened in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.  The second followed three years later in Wuxi and, in outreach beyond the People's Republic, in Taiwan. This year's third Forum will stress the familiar themes of peace and harmony, mount the first public showing of what have been identified as relics of the Gautama Buddha's skull excavated in eastern China two years ago—and once again showcase the controversial Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, the holder of the second-highest rank in Tibetan Buddhism.

The highest-rank 14th Dalai Lama, revered by Mahayana Buddhists and global admirers as a religious leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was not invited to any of the three Forums. Nor is he invited to join the peace conference in the UNESCO and World Heritage town of Lumbini, 500 miles southeast of his exile headquarters in Dharamsala, India. He fled the Dalai Lama's Potala Palace as a young man in 1959, a decade after military conquest by the People's Liberation Army ended four decades of Tibetan independence. The Chinese have never allowed him to visit Tibet or China since then, despite his express wish to do so, and despite his insistence that what he seeks for his countrymen is real autonomy rather than independence from China.

The other notable absentee from the Lumbini conference will be the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. The organizers had originally listed him as a co-chairman of one session along with Prachanda. This most famous leader of the Nepalese Maoist guerrillas who helped dethrone the Nepali king in the mid-2000s is China's partner in hosting the conference and also in the $3 billion Chinese-funded project to develop Lumbini for mass tourism. Nepali Buddhists and representatives of the 20,000 Tibetan Buddhists living in exile in Nepal appealed to Ban not to endorse the Lumbini meeting by his presence, and Ban's press office now says that he does not plan to travel to Nepal this April. Various Buddhist spokesmen in Nepal are also objecting to what they fear will be the Chinese commercialization of Lumbini—so far to no avail.

Participants in the Lumbini conference will have no opportunity for a side trip 500 miles to the northeast across the Annapurna range to visit the majestic Potala Palace in Tibet. The Chinese would prefer not to give monks and nuns in Lhasa any occasion for further protests, and they would prefer not to let foreign Buddhists see the increased presence of Han Chinese living in Tibet, the strong deployment of security forces, or the continued resistance to them by what is now the third Tibetan generation after the Chinese re-conquest of Tibet.

Chinese authorities similarly discourage Tibetan pilgrimages to Buddhist holy sites in India and punish any attempts by those who do get travel permits to make contact with the Dalai Lama or his followers. In January, several hundred Tibetans who visited India and heard the Dalai Lama speak there were arrested when they returned home. Moreover, the Chinese have recently sealed their south Himalayan borders much more effectively than in the past, in large part by compelling tiny Nepal in 2011 to drop its earlier ambiguous stance and impose harsher control measures on Tibetan residents and refugees. Fewer than a thousand Tibetan escapees a year now manage to slip over the borders with India and Nepal.

Those potential Tibetan pilgrims too will be missing at the Buddhist conference in Lumbini.



American journalist and author Elizabeth Pond blogged from Kathmandu last fall on Chinese-Nepali issues.

[Photo courtesy of kwramm.]



Anonymous's picture

"马华是反佛教!" 敬爱的佛教伩徒, 有关马來西亜,吉隆坡,甲洞帝沙再也 (暹寺) 三宝寺 Samnak Sambodhi Buddhist Association No.19-21 Jalan 38 Taman Desa Jaya, Kepong 52100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 所发生的纠纷, 经过阅读了,Venerable Phra Piya Thammo 和尚及叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook) 的双方书信之后, 再经实地旁听了觧,做为中间人,我要客观实事的说: 1.当一个和尚、初出道 (小学生),在修行, 若有缺点, 那是难免.他马华公会鹅唛區会主地席叶金福律师(Yip Kum Fook),却心眼看不顺,就电招警万到耒佛教之圣地要扣畄和尚耒耻唇出家人, 这是绝对不许可, 除非是殺人放火之大罪悪. 2.他身为马华公会鹅唛區会主席叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook),却反其道而行, 在佛寺不依佛法而軽视佛教的精神, 以傲慢的手段,帶领一般黑社会的人耒挑衅和尚打架, 这也是不该有、更不是佛教修行者的行为. 3.佛教的圣地, 其主要的目地, 是让眾生修佛道, 不是政治争執的地方. 他马华公会鹅唛区会主席叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook), 却利用佛教之圣地当政治活动的场所。如此果敢冒犯佛陀的教誨,更是大大的罪悪。 囯有囯章,彿有佛法,家有家规. 如果出家人有何不对之处, 他叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook), 为何不向主持和尚投?让出家人自依和尚的條规处理、却强权一味要显示他是马华公会鹅唛区会及三宝寺理事会主席, 无法无天的应用霸道手段践踏佛教之圣地.为什么。。。。。为什么. 至今, 他叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook),不当不歉愧,还要狡辩, 这又证明了他说一套, 做的又是另一套, 囗是心非, 所谓的两舌, 相当阴险. 身为律师, 受高深教育, 却应用如此悪毒, 横蛮无礼的作风污辱和尚, 相等于是耻辱佛教伩仰者。他叶金福律师(Yip Kum Fook)不向主持和尚投诉, 却自承英雄,电招外耒者.请问,身为將近20年的三宝寺主持和尚兼顾问,也是第一位 自筹建寺的大功臣,在大马南傳泒中,是闻名遐邇的高僧.其脸要放在那裡?同样的,要是台湾星雲大师的佛寺沙彌犯錯, 理事会没有礼貌自作主张,电招警方要扣畄其沙彌.我敢请问!星雲大师的自尊是怎样的感受?他叶金福律师(Yip Kum Fook)是后耒者,担任理会主席也不久, 竟敢应用如此,目无尊長的方式对待住持,间接的就是告大家,强迫住持和尚必远離,雀巢鸠要佔。这种用心不良, 有老千之谋, 的确令人不敢恭维。 縱观以上几项重点,我不是盲目的護持三宝, 而是要坦白的说;他叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook) 身受高深教育, 为律师者,本应通情达理才是,但遗憾的是, 却令人惊觉, 他厡耒就是彿书裡所讲的狡猾且残忍的此颣人。他叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook),利用他的专业知識, 懂得包裝自己的道德守則,以宗教为幌子手,到处募款,商业经营, 政治活动为重, 并没依循佛教宗教守则行事, 也没对人道作出任何貢献, 只不过借宗教之名捞取权和私利而己。 在此, 我奉劝, 他马华公会鹅唛区会主席叶金福律师 (Yip Kum Fook), 好自为之, 免因果報应
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