Standing up for religious freedoms
In defiance of the deeply held wishes of the Tibetan people, China's government plans to appoint its own candidate as the next Dalai Lama. The role has historically been filled by identifying the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama after his death. The current (14th) Dalai Lama has made clear that no Chinese appointed Dalai Lama will be the legitimate leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
China already punishes Tibetans for practicing their religion as they choose. Beijing has been scheming to take control over Tibetan Buddhism by trying to marginalise its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and take over its monasteries. Its aim is to force a puppet Dalai Lama on Tibetans to neutralise Tibetan Buddhism's independence and cement its hold on Tibet.
The Chinese Communist Party, an avowedly atheist regime, also hopes to undermine worldwide support for the Tibetan cause by introducing to the world a "pro-China Dalai Lama". Interfering in the selection of the Dalai Lama is a political act, a profound insult to the Tibetan people's culture, desires and beliefs and a gross abuse of their religious freedom.
China has done this before. In 1995 China kidnapped a six-year-old boy who had recently been identified as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama (the second most important figure in Tibet Buddhism) and replaced him with their own appointee. Now, in order to further increase their control over every aspect of Tibetans' lives, they intend to do the same with the Dalai Lama.
It is vital that China understands that its plan will fail. The Tibetan people will not accept this and neither will we.
Calling upon religious leaders of all faiths
The people have spoken: Over 14,000 of you signed our Beyond Belief petition, demanding that governments recognise the right of Tibetans, not the Chinese government, to decide the future of Buddhism in Tibet.
We want to take this campaign to the next level. We want to build a religious coalition of people from different faiths to help us take our message to governments. And to do so, we need your help.
We are calling on leaders of all faiths to support the Tibetan people in their plight for religious freedom in Tibet. We can only be successful if we send out a clear message to the world, showing that religious representatives of all faiths are standing in solidarity with the Tibetan people and their inherent right to practice their religion freely.
We would like to ask you to sign your name to the statement written below. This statement, and the list of names, can then be taken to governments, asking them to make this firm commitment.
We the undersigned are leaders, members and believers of different faiths. We are writing to urge governments around the world to speak out against plans by the Chinese government to force its will upon Tibet’s Buddhists. Despite its officially atheist position, the Chinese Communist Party has declared its intention to impose its own choice of Dalai Lama, the highest position in Tibetan Buddhism, on Tibetans as part of a wider process of trying to control and co-opt Tibetan Buddhism. We urge you to issue a statement expressing your opposition to state interference in an independent, peaceful religion.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is recognised in the constitutions of countries around the world, including the People’s Republic of China. The protections this provides are vital to preventing governments from ever enforcing a system of religious beliefs on its people.
No such guarantees exist in Tibet, which has been under Chinese military occupation since 1950. The Chinese authorities have introduced a raft of restrictions with the aim of exercising tighter state control over Tibetan Buddhism, with a tragic impact on Tibet’s unique religion, culture and way of life. Many Tibetan monasteries that survived destruction during the Cultural Revolution are now under the management of Communist Party officials. Chinese flags are compulsory and surveillance cameras have been set up within their walls to monitor the resident monks and nuns. At Tibet’s pilgrimage routes and religious ceremonies, Tibetan worshippers are monitored by large deployments of police and soldiers.
Tibetans are also punished for any public show of support for their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since being forced to flee Tibet in 1959. As the most important figure in all of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is vilified by the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Under its rule, Tibetans have been arrested, tortured and imprisoned for displaying portraits of him, calling for his return to Tibet and organising gatherings to celebrate his birthday. In order to more tightly regulate Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese officials have even stated that, when the time comes to choose the next Dalai Lama, it will be the Chinese Communist Party, not the Tibetan people, that will make this decision.
Such a move would ride roughshod over Tibetans’ freedom of religion. The process of identifying a Dalai Lama is hugely important to Tibetan Buddhists and is based in a tradition going back hundreds of years. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has made clear his concern that the process of choosing his successor could become politicised and has stated that “no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.”
He has further stated that, when the time comes, he will consult with Buddhist religious authorities and Tibetans on whether there should in fact be another Dalai Lama after him. If the institution is to continue then he will leave clear written instructions regarding the course for it to take, which should be overseen by officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust.
China has neither the authority nor the right to politicise this process by imposing its own candidate on Tibetan Buddhists. No state should attempt to force a political agenda on peaceful religious practitioners nor seek to influence religious decisions, especially not decisions of such fundamental importance. However, it is particularly inappropriate in China where the ruling Communist Party promotes atheism, forbids any religious practice by its own members and explicitly rejects the basic tenets of the religion it is seeking to control.
As the Dalai Lama has said:
“Such brazen meddling contradicts their own political ideology and reveals their double standards. Should this situation continue in the future, it will be impossible for Tibetans and those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to acknowledge or accept it.”
Such intrusion by a government in the affairs of a religious group cannot be justified, nor permitted. Tibetans must be allowed to decide how they practice their religion. For this reason, we, as people of different religions and faiths, call on your government to declare publicly and unambiguously that you will not recognise the legitimacy, nor status, of any Dalai Lama appointed and imposed on Tibetans by the Chinese government. At the same time, we urge you to state that the process of identifying the Dalai Lama and maintaining this position is the right of the Tibetan people, and one that they must be allowed to exercise without fear of interference or coercion.