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China Regulates the Reincarnation of the Living Buddha
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National religious affairs administrators revealed a new regulation regarding the reincarnation of the Living Buddha in China's Tibet Autonomous Region yesterday. The regulation will enter into force as of September 1.

The regulation by the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) contains 14 articles, stating the principles, conditions, and procedures concerning the reincarnation as well as the penalties for those who disobey regulations, according to SARA's website.

This move indicates that China will increase legal support toward the administration of the Living Buddha. The head of SARA, Ye Xiaowen, said in his statement that the regulation was passed on July 13, and will enter into force as of September 1.

There are three principal conditions for the Living Buddha. Most local religious followers and Lama temple administrative organizations should require his reincarnation; the reincarnation system should be valid and passed on up to date; the temple requiring Living Buddha's reincarnation must be a unique and legal temple suitable for nurturing and supporting the Living Buddha.

The regulation also states that the Living Buddha has to be initially approved by the religious affairs department of the autonomous region or province. If the Living Buddha has great impact on Tibetan Buddhism, he will be examined and approved by the government of the autonomous region or province. If his influence is significant then he has to be approved by the SARA and the State Council. The regulation also states that upon approving such an application, governments should solicit opinions from relevant Buddhist associations.

If there is any self-claimed Living Buddha without government and religious affairs department approval, this said reincarnation would be illegal and invalid, the regulation states.
The Living Buddha, also known as tülku or sprul-sku, is a Tibetan Buddhist lama who has consciously decided to be reborn many times in order to continue his or her religious pursuits. The most powerful tülku lineages by far for the past several hundred years have been the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. Since Tibet became one of the administrative regions of Yuan Dynasty (1279 -1368)  in the 13th century, China's central governments have paid great attention to the administrations and approvals of the living Buddha of various lineages in Tibet. Emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) recognized both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama nationwide.

A preview article posted on the SARA website yesterday welcomed the new regulation, stating that the regulation was made in accordance with the demands of Tibetan Buddhists. The article said that the SARA had done in-depth research during past years. They took into consideration the various suggestions from diverse parties and totally respected the foundation of the Tibetan Living Buddha systems. The article said that regulating the reincarnation would influence how China will protect religion freedom, specifically regarding Tibetan Buddhism.

SARA said that governments would only intervene in religious issues related to national and societal interests. They will not intervene in any internal affairs of a religion. According to the administration, the Tibet Autonomous Region and the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan have approved almost 1,000 Living Buddhas since 1991, including the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama in 1995.

( by Zhang Rui, August 3, 2007)

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