In China, A Different Brand of Buddhism

While Tibetan Buddhists are reported to be chafing under constraints imposed on them by authorities who fear another outbreak of violence, more and more Han Chinese are becoming followers of their Buddhist faith, the Washington Post reports:

While statistics are hard to come by, monks, followers and experts say that growing numbers of middle-class Chinese are turning to Tibetan Buddhism, driven by the perception of a spiritual vacuum in society and aided by the voluminous information available on the Internet. Communist Party officials and celebrities alike have embraced Tibetan Buddhism, despite having to worship at home, meet their lamas at night and run the risk of attending officially unauthorized events, such as the fish release and “fire sacrifice” at Huangsongyu Reservoir.
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China’s Communist Party tightly regulates religious activity, especially the banned Falun Gong sect, but allows wide latitude for many law-abiding Catholics and Protestants who meet in unofficial house churches. Tibetan Buddhists however, are in a different category.

[…] “Out of protection for my followers, I said they were only some new friends,” recalled Dorje, a lama from Sichuan province who said he was chatting with followers in a hotel room in Wuxi, in coastal Jiangsu province, last year when officials from the local religious affairs bureau barged in and announced that it was not permitted to promote Tibetan Buddhism among Han Chinese. “I knew this was ridiculous, so I asked which central government regulation said so,” Dorje said. “They could not answer, and they eventually left.”

On a visit to some of his 600 followers in Shanghai last month, Dorje, who asked that his monastery’s name and his Chinese name not be published, said he was turned away from four hotels until he finally changed out of his monk’s robes. He has 10,000 followers in various cities, 6,000 of whom are women, he said. Most are concentrated in Beijing, Wuxi and Shandong province and have helped him raise $88,000 in the past three years toward the cost of a new sutra hall, he said.

February 18, 2009 10:11 PM
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