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Tuesday, December 8, 2015, 09:24

Steps taken to combat fake Living Buddhas

By Cui Jia, Xu Wei and Luo Wangshu
Steps taken to combat fake Living Buddhas
Living Buddha Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak (left) presents a Tibetan Kha Ta to US-China Partnerships Chairman Charles Foster (right) and while Foster's wife and actress Lily Chen Foster looks on. (Photo by May Zhou / China Daily)

Authorities are setting up a database of legitimate Living Buddhas in China and will publish the information online, according to an official at the country's top political advisory body.

This will enable followers of Tibetan Buddhism to distinguish between real Living Buddhas and fake ones, the official said.

Some fake Living Buddhas have posed threats to national security, as they use money they collect to sponsor illegal or even separatist activities in Tibet.

This was disclosed by Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee to China Central Television during the weekend.

There have been reports of fake Living Buddhas cheating people out of their savings or luring them into sexual activities using religious practice as an excuse.

Zhu's comments follow video footage of Baima Aose, a self-proclaimed Living Buddha, "ordaining" actor Zhang Tielin as a Living Buddha at a ceremony in Hong Kong in October. The footage has gone viral on the Internet.

Baima Aose said he became a Living Buddha after a Living Buddha at Katuo Monastery in Sichuan province's Garze Tibetan autonomous prefecture ordained him in Hong Kong in 2012.

On Sunday, the monastery denied his claim. It also said Baima Aose altered the contents of a letter in the Tibetan language addressed to him from another Living Buddha at the monastery to make people believe the letter certified his status as a Living Buddha.

He deceived Han Chinese followers who don't understand Tibetan and twisted the facts, damaging the monastery's reputation, according to a statement issued by the monastery.

Baima Aose, 39, is from Quanzhou, Fujian province. His original name was Wu Darong and he moved to Hong Kong when he was 8 years old. He is now chairman of the World Trade United Foundation, registered in Hong Kong, and Zhang, the actor, is the first vice-chairman.

Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a Living Buddha is reincarnated in a child. The selection procedure is strict and lengthy, and nearly all Living Buddhas are from the Tibetan ethnic group.

Duoshi Rinpoche, a Living Buddha from Amdo county, Tibet, said the requirements to become a Living Buddha have to be learned during childhood. He said the ceremony Baima Aose performed was "just a joke" and Zhang had made a fool of himself.

Criminal activities involving fake Living Buddhas still occur frequently, Duoshi Rinpoche said.

"I've heard that some monasteries in remote places even put the title of Living Buddha up for sale and trade it with wealthy businessmen," he added.

Xiaba Rinpoche, a Living Buddha in Aba Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Sichuan and executive director of the provincial Buddhist Association, said the database will soon start operating and will be open to the public.

He said the prevalence of fake Living Buddhas can be attributed to people not having access to genuine ones, enabling opportunists to take advantage.

Li Decheng, director of the Religious Research Department at the China Tibetology Research Center, said followers of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibetan areas have limited understanding of the religion, such as the process required to ordain a Living Buddha.

This is why these followers are often deceived by fakes, Li said.

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Certifying a Living Buddha

Living Buddhas, also known as Rinpoches or Tulkus, are deeply revered monks in Tibetan Buddhism, where it is believed that the soul of a senior Buddha is reincarnated in a child on his death.

There are 358 Living Buddhas in the Tibet autonomous region, according to a white paper released by the State Council in September.

The reincarnation of a Living Buddha, which dates to the 13th century, must complete these procedures:

1. After the death of a Living Buddha, a ceremony is held to honor the body and pray for rebirth.

2. A search team headed by a Living Buddha is sent first to Lhamo Latso - the Oracle Lake - in Tibet to seek prophetic visions of the reincarnation.

3. Living Buddhas are then sent in disguise to scour Tibet for special signs of a reincarnation. These include new mothers who have had unusual dreams and children who have special knowledge without being taught. Dozens of candidates are designated.

4. Final confirmation of the reincarnation is decided by the drawing of lots from a golden urn in the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa.

5. The reincarnation process is completed after an enthronement ceremony.

In September 2007, the State Administration for Religious Affairs said all reincarnations of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism must receive government approval.

- Xu Wei

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