Observing historical convention: reincarnation of Tibetan living Buddhas under central govt jurisdiction

Publish Time: 2021-01-03 Author: Li Decheng From: Global Times

On December 27, US President Donald Trump signed the so-called "Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020" - a bill grossly interfering in China's internal affairs. The bill claimed that the person who reincarnates has "sole legitimate authority" over "where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized and if there is a need for a 15th Dalai Lama." It also smeared the Chinese government's handling of the reincarnation process, which is in accordance with the law, as a violation of so-called "religious freedom."

It is well-known that the reincarnation of the living Buddhas is by no means a purely religious affair, let alone an “authority” of those who reincarnate claimed by those with ulterior motives. 

Golden urn lot-drawing

The reincarnation of the living Buddhas initially appeared to settle the problem of the succession of leaders of Tibetan Buddhist sects. In old Tibet, which adopted a "theocratic" system, the Tibetan people who believed in Buddhism obeyed religious leaders. Due to the prominent and leading role of the influential living Buddhas, various political and religious forces in Tibetan society vied for dominant power and control over the reincarnation of the living Buddhas. This has led the reincarnation system to gradually lose its original meaning and cause great harm to the Dharma as well as endangering social stability and national security. Therefore, the then central government adopted the system of lot-drawing from a golden urn in 1793 to improve the reincarnation order of the living Buddhas. The system not only helped to prevent malpractices in the reincarnation of living Buddhas, but also showed respect for the principles and traditions of the reincarnation of living Buddhas as well as the sentiment of believers. Moreover, it shows the authority of the central government over the reincarnation process.

The ceremony of lot-drawing from a golden urn for the reincarnation of the Fifth Living Buddha Dezhub is held in Lhasa on July 4, 2010. The young living Buddha, whose secular name is Lobsang Dorje and born in Shannan was selected as the reincarnation of the Fifth Living Buddha Dezhub, who passed away in March 2000. Photo: Xinhua

To eliminate corrupt practices in the reincarnation of living Buddhas, Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) responded to the request of the Eighth Dalai Lama and ordered officials in Tibet to discuss the regulations after the victory of expelling the Gurkha invasion in 1792. In the following year, the Qing government issued an imperial decree - the 29-Article Ordinance for the More Efficient Governing of Tibet. Article one of the Ordinance clearly stipulates that "in order to ensure the Yellow Sect continues to flourish, the Grand Emperor bestows it with a golden urn and ivory slips for use in confirming the boy possessing the reincarnated soul of a deceased living Buddha. For this purpose, four major Buddhist Guardians will be summoned; the names of candidates, as well as their birth years, will be written on the ivory slips in three languages - Manchu, Han Chinese and Tibetan; the ivory slips will be placed into the golden urn and the prominent living Buddhas will pray for seven days before various Hotogtu Living Buddhas and the resident minister of the central government officially confirm the boy with the reincarnated soul by drawing a lot from the golden urn in front of the statue of Sakyamuni in the Jokhang Monastery." As for the confirmation of the boys with the souls of the Dalai and Panchen, "the same practices should be conducted and they were designed to allow the flourishing of the Yellow Sect and to avoid cheating from the guardians."

After the ordinance was released, the Tibetan regional government translated it and relevant documents into Tibetan and promulgated and implemented them as the most important legal instruments at that time. Meanwhile, the Eighth Dalai issued an official statement stipulating the specific methods of conducting lot-drawing from the golden urn. 

After the issuance of regulations regarding the lot-drawing from a golden urn, the central government of the Qing Dynasty also included them into its legal documents as a historical convention of the central government's management of the reincarnation of the living Buddha. The fundamental purpose of this system is to eliminate malpractices and manipulation during the confirmation of the boy with the soul and the system fully conforms to the basic idea and universal value of the rule of law, emphasizing equality and opposing privilege.

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