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By Jennifer Koons, Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) Against the backdrop of celebrations to mark the one-year countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government has angered religious freedom activists by attempting to assert greater influence over the successor to the Dalai Lama.
“The so-called reincarnated living Buddha without government approval is illegal and invalid,” Beijing said in a 14-part order purporting to regulate the reincarnation of Tibet’s Buddhist leaders.
Tibetan Buddhists believe their lamas are reincarnated from departed lamas dating back to the 12th Century.
The Aug. 3 order implements a provision that was put in place as part of the Chinese government’s 2005 regulations on religion, said Scott Flipse, a senior policy analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“The system of reincarnation is one of the core beliefs of the Tibetan religious tradition,” said Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet. “These new measures are nothing less than a violation of one of the fundamental tenets of Tibetan religious life. It is a source of deep resentment among Tibetans that an atheist state has claimed the legitimacy to preside over a centuries-old religious practice.”
This is not the first time the Chinese government has involved itself in the theology of reincarnation.
In 1995, Beijing rejected the Panchen Lama, believed to be the second-highest spiritual leader, chosen by the exiled Dalai Lama; Beijing later admitted to taking him away to an undisclosed location.
The Chinese government then ordained its own Panchen Lama.
“What happened last time with the Panchen Lama is the catalyst for all of this,” Flipse said. “That’s why they have their own Panchen Lama, who will play an important role in selecting the next Dalai Lama.”
Flipse said the rules represent an attempt by the Chinese government to assert control over the search for the next Dalai Lama.
“The process cannot be influenced by any group or individual from outside the country,” the rules state, in a likely reference to comments that the present Dalai Lama had made about the possibility of finding a successor in India or elsewhere.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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