Tibetan monks walk at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. Photo: Eric Torner
China has announced the creation of an online database to provide information on 870 verified Living Buddhas as part of its efforts to combat the fake ones who have damaged the reputation of Tibetan Buddhism and disturbed social stability.
The database (hf.tibet.cn) provides information about the legally registered Living Buddhas including their names, Dharma names, dates of birth, sects of Tibetan Buddhism, Living Buddha certificate numbers, monasteries and photos.
The information will help the Tibetan Buddhists and the public to tell the real Living Buddhas from the false ones, said Master Qingyuan, vice president of the Buddhist Association of China (BAC).
The Living Buddhas in western China's Sichuan Province, whose information is being checked, and the newly reincarnated Living Buddhas will be added to the database soon, according to Master Qingyuan.
"In recent years, some charlatan Living Buddhas crisscrossed the Tibetan and inland regions to swindle money and property from the believers, staining the reputation of the religion. The database can prevent such crimes and make the religion and real Living Buddhas better understood by the masses. As a Living Buddha, I feel very happy about it," said Drukhang Thubten Khedrup, the 7th Drukhang Living Buddha and vice president of the BAC.
He added that the move would promote the transparency of the BAC and make the reincarnation system for a Living Buddha clearer to the public.
The creation of the database comes after a video footage went viral on the Internet, in which a self-claimed Living Buddha who called himself Wu Darong organized a so-called Living Buddha enthronement ceremony for Zhang Tielin, a famous actor who has frequently played the role of Qing Dynasty emperor in Chinese television dramas.
Later, many prestigious monks, religious scholars and Internet users identified Wu as a fake Living Buddha, saying that the religious ritual performed at the ceremony violates the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
In a personal statement, Zhang denied the ceremony was an enthronement ceremony, a solemn event where a person is seated in state for being crowned as a religious leader. "The ceremony was just a prayer event, at which I was converted to Tibetan Buddhism," said the actor, adding that religious relief is a personal choice and should be treated equally.
In the name of religion, fake Living Buddhas always find it easier to hoodwink the followers, especially those in the entertainment field who are inclined to be vulnerable to the hoax due to the vanity and ignorance about the religious doctrines, columnist Han Fudong wrote in an article published in the Beijing News.
In a television interview in December, Zhu Weiqun, chairman of China's Committee for Ethnic and Religious Affairs, revealed that some fake Living Buddhas had begun to use the illicit money to support separatist activities.
The 14th Dalai Lama, who is regarded as a separatist by the Chinese government, has called for ending the reincarnation system for the Dalai Lama after him. "It is good that the Dalai Lama's seven-century lineage could stop after me. If the 15th Dalai Lama cannot work better than me, my reputation will be affected," the monk, who is based in India, said brazenly. He has previously shown sympathy to the Islamic State.
The Chinese government has repeatedly claimed the right to reincarnate the Dalai Lama, saying that the 14th Dalai Lama has no authority to recognize his successor and that the reincarnation of the religious leader must be endorsed by the central government.
Originated in the 13th century, the reincarnation system for a Living Buddha is a unique tradition to ensure the inheritance of Tibetan Buddhism, which was lawfully and undeniably managed and supervised by the central governments of the past dynasties.
During Emperor Qianlong's rein in the Qing Dynasty, the court enacted a regulation stipulating that the successor of a late Living Buddha must be chosen by drawing lots from a golden urn.
In 2007, China's State Administration for Religious Affairs released a series of rules to normalize the reincarnation of Living Buddhas, which should be endorsed by the central government and carried out in accordance with laws.