Religion & Culture

Religion Policies in Tibet

Updated: 2011-11-16 16:59

Religion Policies in Tibet


Deputy Director of the Committee for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of the Tibetan Autonomous Region

Respecting and protecting freedom of religious beliefs is a basic and long-term policy of the Chinese Government. During the 60 years after peaceful liberation of Tibet, especially after the democratic reform in Tibet in 1950s and the adoption of the reform and open-up policy throughout China in 1978, Tibet has been fully implementing the policy of free religious beliefs in an all-round way, sticking to the fundamental principles of separating politics from religion., clarifying different religions, supporting self-development of lamaseries and, religious personnel democratically and independently administrating lamaseries. The implementation of these principles has fully protected the rights of religious groups and religion followers, guaranteed the freedom of religious beliefs and has met the religious demands of religious people.

I. Basic Information

Currently, there are four religions in Tibet: the indigenous Bon religion, Tibetan Buddhism, Islamism and Catholicism. Tibetan Buddhism has many sects, including the major sects such as Nyingmapa, Kagyupa, Sa-skya-pa and Gelugpa. So far, Tibet has more than 1,700 venues of religious activities, and more than 46,000 religious faculties. Of them, there are more than 1,600 activity venues for Tibetan Buddhism, more than 110 activities venues for Bon religion, four mosques and one Catholic Church. Except for more than 9,000 Muslims and 700 Catholics, most of the religious people in Tibet are Tibetan Buddhists and Bon religion followers.

II. Religious Policies after Peaceful Liberation

(I) The Central Government implemented protection policy in the preliminary stage after peaceful liberation. Before the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1950, Chairman Mao Zedong instructed that ethnic affairs and religion should be given priority in dealing with any issues in Tibet and that “we should earnestly implement ethnic and religious policies and respect religious beliefs and the customs and habits of the Tibetan people.” After peaceful liberation, the Central Government and cadres who were sent to work in Tibet followed the instruction of Chairman Mao Zedong. The Central People’s Government signed Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (hereafter referred to as 17-Point Agreement), and adopted the policy of “protecting freedom of religion, respecting religious beliefs, customs and habits of the Tibetan people, protecting lama monasteries and not effecting a change in the income of the monasteries.” The policy won warm acclamation and supports from the vast Tibetan people. (II) After democratic reform, the policy of separation of church and state was adopted. The democratic reform of lamaseries in 1959 is an important part of democratic reform of Tibet. After the democratic reform of lamaseries, the feudal privileges of lamaseries and the oppressive and exploitative system were eliminated and the democratic management commissions of lamaseries were democratically elected by all the lamas. The feudal subjection relations among lamaseries were dismissed to separate religions from the state administration, jurisdiction and education. Tibet adopts genuine freedom of religious beliefs and all religions and sects are treated equally without discrimination to avoid religious conflicts and disputes among different sects. Since then, religions and lamaseries do not serve the minority of high-level lama class and religious belief is now the private affair of citizens.

(III) After the adoption of the reform and open-up policy, the freedom of religious beliefs has been fully guaranteed. After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in 1978, the policy of the freedom of religious beliefs has been fully implemented in the new historical condition. A series of laws and regulations such as Regulations of Tibet Autonomous Region on the Democratic Management of Buddhist Temples (trial), Interim Measures of Tibet Autonomous Region on Religious Affairs Management and Measures of Tibet Autonomous Region on the Implementation of Regulations on Religious Affairs (trial) have been issued to pragmatically protect the legal rights and interests of venues for religious activities, religious faculty members and religious people and put the management of lamaseries on the law-based track.

III. The Policy of the Freedom of Religious Beliefs in Five Aspects

First, respecting and protecting Tibetan Buddhist culture. The Central Government and the Tibet Autonomous Region always regard Tibetan Buddhist culture as an important part of traditional culture of the Chinese nation and provide effective protection under the condition of limited financial strength. In 1956, Tibet Branch of China Buddhist Association was established; in 1980, the autonomous region established Buddhist Association organizations in seven places (cities) of Tibet, launched Tibetan-language journal Buddhism in Tibet and established Tibetan sutra printing centers. After 1990, Tibetan Bstan-vgyur and Bkav-vgyur were published. With the financial supports from the government, nearly 2,000 traditional Tibetan sutras such as Bstan-vgyur and Bkav-vgyur were printed. Various lamaseries and traditional handicraft shops also widely print offprint of sutras of Tibetan Buddhism such as ritual procedures, biographies and works of Tibetan Buddhism to meet the demands of the vast lamas, religious people and researchers in their religious studies.

Second, attaching importance to the repair and maintenance of lamaseries. More than 100 venues of religious activities such as Jokhang Temple, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Ganden Monastery, Tashilhunpo Monastery, Sakya Monastery, Samye Monastery, Great Mosque and catholic churches were listed as the cultural relics and put under State protection. After the 1980s, the Central and Tibetan local governments earmarked more than 300 million yuan to maintain the temples of various religions. Between 1989 and 1994, the Central Government allocated 55 million yuan and large quantity of gold and silver for the first-phase repair of Potala Palace. Starting from 2001, the State earmarked special fund of 330 million yuan to repair the three great cultural heritages of Potala Palace (phase 2), Norbu Linka and Sera Monastery. In 2007, the Central Government allocated 570 million yuan to maintain and protect 22 cultural heritages.

Third, living Buddha Reincarnation System progressing in order. The Living Buddha System, which is unique to Tibetan Buddhism, is respected by the State and governments of various levels in Tibet. In 1992, the State Administration for Religious Affairs approved the succession of the 17th Karmapa Living Buddha; In 1995, China concluded the search for and identification of the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama and the title-conferring and enthronement of the 11th Panchen Lama after lot-drawing from a golden urn according to the established religious rituals and historical conventions of Tibetan Buddhism, and with the approval of the State Council. After the democratic reform in Tibet, more than 60 new Living Buddhas were approved by the state and Tibet Autonomous Region. In 2007 the State formulated and issued Management Measures of Living Buddha Reincarnation System, putting the system into the legal based track.

Fourth, sutra learning system of Tibetan Buddhists being improved constantly. As the advanced religious universities of Tibetan Buddhism, Beijing High-Level Buddhist College and Tibet Buddhist College recruit and foster faculty members of Tibetan Buddhism. More than 60 lamaseries in Tibet have their own sutra-learning classes. and conduct religious degree and title examinations and promotions totally according to the tradition. In 1986, the State restored the system of Geshe Lharampa degree promotion through examinations for Tibetan Buddhists. In 2005, the government also allocated funds to organize examinations for Geshe Lharampa degree of Tibetan Buddhism twice a year, in winter and summer, in Jokhang Temple and other three great temples in Lhasa. So far, a total of 65 lamas have gained Geshe Lharampa degree of Tibetan Buddhism.

Fifth, religious life in Tibet being respected and protected. The Tibetan and other ethnic minorities have their religious life and conduct social religious activities according to their religious traditions. In the Tibet Autonomous Region, traditional celebration activities of various religions are held regularly. More than 40 important religious celebrations of the masses such as Sakadawa Festival, Thangka Festival, Cham (Lama Dancing), paying homage and Christmas are protected and inherited. All the religious activities in lamaseries such as sutra studying, sutra discussion, ordainment, abhiseka and Buddhism practice are conducted with harmonious religious orders. The vast religious people have sutra halls or niches for Buddha statues at home. In Tibet, you can see prayer flags, marnyi stones carved with sutra and people practicing Buddhist rites.

In general, the 60-year history after peaceful liberation of Tibet has proven that though the Communist Party is antitheist, it does not contradict the freedom of religious beliefs; it sincerely respects and protects the freedom of religious beliefs. The religious policies of Tibet suit the reality of Tibet, which can help maintain freedom of religious beliefs and religious harmony and protect the legal rights of religious people. People of various ethnic groups in Tibet are enjoying the unprecedented and veritable freedom of religious beliefs.

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