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Tibet Lamas Enjoy Their New Freedom

Baima Namgyai, a 21-year-old Tibetan monk, feels oppressed to have to help with kitchen duties in his temple - they interfere with his religious studies.


"I hate cooking not because I fear hardship, but because it occupies too much of the time that I would otherwise devote to Buddhism studies," the monk of the Tashijapa Temple in Xaitongmoin county of Xigaze said. It is Namgyai's turn to work in the kitchen this year.


The example of Baima Namgyai was cited as an example of new religious freedom and openness in Tibet.


Officials said, however, that despite his piety, he should be versed in the ways of the world, learn some Chinese and English, obtain practical knowledge and scientific learning in order to better spread the spirit of Tibetan Buddhism. The cloistered life no longer is consistent with the modern era in a modernizing Tibet.


"A monk who can only recite sutras but cannot find cohesion between Buddhism teachings and the mundane life will not be able to pray from the bottom of his heart for the bliss of all the living beings," said a senior lama of the changes in Tibetan Buddhism.


The young monk's dream is to obtain a religious degree in Gexe from the yellow sect Gelugba school of the Tibetan Buddhism.


Namgyai said that the degree, which is like a religious doctorate, has been a popular topic among his fellow monks since the examination system for it was restored last year, in another example of religious openness in Tibet.


"We all hope to become masters of Buddhism studies, and I am afraid that I will lag behind my fellows due to cooking," the monk said.


Examinations for Gexe were suspended in 1987 after a riot in Lhasa, timed to coincide with that year's examination.


In the Tibetan language, Gexe means knowledgeable. Six lamas received the honor of Lharampa, the highest of the four ranks in the Gexe system, this June.


They had to defend their dissertations before a 16-member panel, comprised of high-ranking lamas from different monasteries and Tibetan Buddhism experts, at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.


The ceremony was launched by Zongkaba, the founder of the Gelugba sect, in 1409.


Jigme Chagba from the Gandan Monastery in Lhasa, the birthplace of the Gelugba school, the yellow sect of the Tibetan Buddhism, was one of the six laureates of Lharampa Gexe.


The 73-year-old monk was gratified that the Buddhist academic system was restored.


"My lifelong wish to obtain the degree was fulfilled," he said. "I believe many other monks now have a clearer aim in their daily Buddhism studies."


(Xinhua News Agency September 13, 2005)

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