Recently, a high-level meeting was held between the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) party committee, the highest level decision making body in TAR, and religious personnel (read tulku) to discuss and mainly to educate religious personnel about the essence of the 19th Party Congress guided by Xi Jinping’s new philosophy. Xi’s new philosophy titled socialism with Chinese characteristic for a new era which was eponymously enshrined in the Party constitution has become a new guiding philosophy for China in the new era. All religious personnel under the new guiding philosophy, though not new in itself, would hold high the banner of patriotic education and swear unswerving allegiance and love for the Communist Party.
At the same time, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the meeting which was reported in the Party flagship Tibetan language newspaper. Before we go in detail about the report, it is pertinent for readers to know why tulkus (living Buddha in the Party jargon) are co-opted by the Party. We could with little effort understand the intention behind this far-sighted strategy. The strategy of co-option has long played a vital role in modern China’s statecraft.
During its early struggle in nation building, the Communist Party adopted a policy of embracing Buddhism and employing Buddhist elites to serve its political end. The Party went to the extent that they had written the historic meeting in 1936 between Zhu De, the leader of the People’s Liberation Army and Getak tulku, the head of Beri Monastery in Kandze, into the Party’s hagiography and is portrayed in official writing as well as paintings and posters as a symbol of Tibetan and Chinese unity.
The Communists have learned from Chinese history that Tibetan Buddhism is an integral element of Tibetan identity and nationalism. An evidence that Dai Jitao, the Nationalist party leader and a devoted Buddhist, employed Tibetan Buddhism in uniting the modern Chinese nation. Dai argued that Buddhism was the cornerstone not just of Sino-Tibetan relations but of relations throughout Asia.
Given this importance, the Communist Party established an institution called Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) as a means of forming an alliance with non-Party members and organizations, who are separated from the Party because of their class background or ideological orientation. It goes without saying that religious personnel are not allowed to become a member of the Party unless they renounce religion. However, unlike the system practice in the People’s Congresses where members are supposedly elected by universal suffrage, the appointment of the CPPPCC member is a gift solely in the hands of the Party. Having said that, members of the CPPCC must demonstrate unswerving loyalty to the Party and required to exercise some degree of influence in society.
Under the strict guidelines of the CPPCC, eight high standing tulkus who deliver lectures surrounding on four must uphold in the meeting should play a patriotic united front role. All of them hold numerous positions in various level of the CPPCC. For example, Drupkhang Thupten Khedup, the head of Shabden Monastery, concurrently holds five positions all under the aegis of the CPPCC. He is a standing committee member of the national CPPCC, vice chairman of the TAR CPPPCC, vice president of the China’s Buddhist Association, president of the Tibet branch of the China’s Buddhist Association and the director of the Tibet Buddhism Academy.
In the meeting, all the eight tulkus unanimously agreed to study and implement four must uphold for religious personnel. This brings us to examine what four must uphold is. It is a rule bound monitoring and control mechanism utilitarian designed to fit in Xi’s new guiding philosophy for religious personnel. It can also be defined as four golden rules for religious personnel to act in accordance with the spirit of the 19th Party Congress. The four golden rules are:
- 1. Politically reliable
- 2. Religiously high standing
- 3. Morally righteous
- 4. Politically effective
According to Drupkhang’s lecture, study and implementation of the key messages of the 19th Party Congress report is a top priority for religious personnel. Most importantly, he emphasises on upholding the four golden rules for religious personnel in the new era.
Firstly, politics should be considered a top priority and religious personnel must become the vanguard of politics to become politically reliable.
Secondly, religious personnel should be multi-faceted. Apart from religious text, they must study politics, constitution, science and history in order to understand the greatness of the CCP and help them to choose a right path to become religious personnel of high standing.
Thirdly, religious personnel must respect law and order as a responsible citizen. They must also respect their religion, monastery and religious school to become morally righteous and respectable.
Fourthly, religious personnel should be politically effective during critical situation and ready to make contribution in maintaining socio-political stability and harmonious society.
To make the four golden rules short and comprehensive, religious personnel must be patriotic, party loving, law-abiding and influential.
In that sense, the Communist Party is the “living Buddha” and Xi’s philosophy on religion is the modern Buddhist script.
*Tenzin Tseten is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.