China has 870 “authentic living Buddhas” or reincarnation of holy men in Buddhism, it was revealed on Monday as the Communist Party of China (CPC) launched an online database to separate genuine spiritual leaders from fake ones.
Last September, the government had said there were 358 living Buddhas. The new system is being seen as Beijing’s attempt to involve itself further in Tibetan religious affairs.
Tibetans living in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) complain of lack of religious and cultural freedom and more than 130 Tibetans have self-immolated in recent years.
But the government projected the move as an effort to prevent people from being cheated by “fake” religious leaders. The State Administration for Religious Affairs is in charge of compiling the list of “living Buddhas”.
The system was announced last December, and on Monday, officials launched two websites with details of the 870 living Buddhas.
“The first group of 870 verified living Buddhas was published on Monday. It is the first time information on the country’s religious leaders is accessible via the internet,” state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The government-run Buddhist Association of China (BAC) has been issuing certificates to the living Buddhas. The new system takes the regulatory process further.
“...the system...publishes detailed, accurate information on living Buddhas, including photos, names, religion names, monastic titles, date of birth, religious sects, numbers of living Buddha certificates and resident monasteries,” Xinhua reported.
“As a living Buddha, I feel genuinely happy about it,” the 7th Drukhang living Buddha, Drukhang Thubten Khedrup from BAC, was quoted as saying at the launch ceremony.
The new system will promote transparency and regulate reincarnation issues involving living Buddhas, he added.
The atheist CPC has never been shy of involving itself in religions affairs, be it in Buddhism or Islam. For example, veils for Muslim women were recently banned in parts of Xinjiang in northwest China as part of the CPC’s fight against terror.
“The Living Buddha reincarnation is proceeding well. Through traditional religious rituals and historical conventions like drawing lots from a golden urn, in 1995 TAR sought out and identified the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Erdeni, and conferred and enthroned the 11th Panchen Erdeni, with the approval of the State Council (China’s cabinet),” said white paper on TAR released last September.