Tibet’s quiet revolution

It’s been startling to witness mass demonstrations in countries across the Middle East for freedom from autocracy, while, in the Tibetan community, a die-hard champion of “people power” tries to dethrone himself and his people keep asking him to stay on. Again and again the Dalai Lama (who tends to be more radical and less romantic than most of his followers) has sought to find ways to give up power, and his community has sought to find ways to ensure he can’t. It could be said that almost the only time Tibetans don’t listen to the Dalai Lama is when he tells them they shouldn’t listen to him. Now, on the eve of an important election for Tibet’s government-in-exile, he has announced he is relinquishing formal political authority entirely—and the Tibetan government has accepted his decision, even as the move has alarmed many around the world and struck some as the end of an era.

In truth, the Dalai Lama’s statement was merely a continuation—and a stronger expression—of what he has been saying for years: that political leadership for the Tibetan people (in exile at least) belongs with the democratically elected government-in-exile he has so painstakingly set up over decades in Dharamsala, in India (elections for a new prime minister are to be held March 20); that he will function only as a “senior advisor,” helping to oversee the transition to a post-Dalai Lama era; and, most important, that the spiritual and temporal sides…

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of Tibetan rule will at last be separate. As he noted in the speech that mentioned his “retirement”—his annual state-of-the-nation address, in effect, delivered on March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the People’s Republic of China and a frequent day of protest—he has believed, since childhood, that church and state should not be one and that the fate of Tibet should be in the hands of all Tibetans.

Democracy, as the Dalai Lama sees it, is perfectly in tune with the Buddha’s central principles of self-rule and responsibility; it is one of the features of the wider world that long-isolated Tibet can and should now learn from; and it only stands to reason that the voices of all Tibetans be more important than that of just one—a logic that appeals to the scientist and the natural Everyman in him. Besides, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama will be 76 this July and the Dalai Lama institution cannot function as it did now that Tibet’s exiled leaders are separated from the 98 percent of Tibetans—some six million people—who live within the People’s Republic of China in circumstances of general repression and deprivation of political rights. Beijing has already “banned” reincarnations without government approval and all but announced that the finding of a “Fifteenth Dalai Lama” will lie under its jurisdiction as soon as the current, fourteenth, Dalai Lama dies.

Almost from the moment he arrived in Indian exile in 1959, the Dalai Lama drew up new constitutions for Tibetans both within Tibet and outside it, with one clause (over his people’s protests) allowing for the impeachment of a Dalai Lama, if necessary. Since then, he has carefully overseen a steady devolution of authority, setting up in Dharamsala first a parliament, then an elected Cabinet and, since 2001, a popularly elected prime minister (or Kalon Tripa, as Tibetans call it). In both the elections held so far—in 2001 and in 2006—the runaway winner has been the gentle monk Samdhong Rinpoche, whose Gandhian principles clearly meet with the Dalai Lama’s approval.

The Dalai Lama has constantly urged the Tibetan prime minister—and other government officials—to represent the political face of Tibet around the world, but none of them, of course (in a tiny exile community that numbers only 150,000 or so) possesses his natural charisma or standing in the eyes of the world. In that regard, Tibet as much as China has been a victim of the current Dalai Lama’s unusual charm and authority. And the many members of the Tibetan Youth Congress have traditionally presented a kind of loyal opposition, calling for a more forceful stance toward Beijing than the forbearance that the exile government, following the Dalai Lama, has always recommended.

But as exile Tibetans, especially in the West, see the urgency of gathering their resources now instead of waiting for the Dalai Lama’s death, there are indications that the exile government may get more involved in some of the official discussions with Beijing, which heretofore have mostly lain in the hands of the Dalai Lama’s representatives. The Dalai Lama’s hope, clearly, is that with each passing season, his exile government will be more and more of a self-sufficient body (chosen by Tibetans from around the world). In the run-up to the March 20 election for a new prime minister, there has been an extensive and eagerly contested campaign, with 17 candidates (among them three women) now whittled down to three finalists. Two of the three, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, 62, and Tashi Wangdi, 64, are decades-long veterans of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile and the third (and current favorite) is Lobsang Sangay, 43, a Fulbright Scholar who holds a doctorate from Harvard Law School and has been more open to calls for Tibetan “self-determination,” a subject the Dalai Lama has avoided but that is popular with more radical members of the younger exile generation. (Sangay’s dissertation, in fact, was on the very subject of democracy and the Tibetan government-in-exile.)

Responding for the first time with energy and evident excitement to their new opportunities, exiled Tibetans have held debates among the candidates, in New York and Washington and Toronto and elsewhere; flashy websites have been set up, with tributes to the candidates (“Kasur Tashi Wangdi is like Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series”); and none of the final candidates is a monk. (The Tibetan Charter calls for a maximum of two terms for any prime minister, so Samdhong Ripoche, beloved of elderly Tibetans, is stepping down). Democracy has come to neighboring Bhutan—after its king likewise imposed it on a reluctant populace four years ago—and it is showing signs of arriving in Nepal. The Dalai Lama clearly feels that the process can wait no longer and that he must push his people into full self-governance, at a time when he’s around and can, if necessary, offer encouragement and the fruits of his experience.

It’s easy to understand why Tibetans have clung for so long to the Dalai Lama’s leadership as if to their sense of themselves. He’s the only ruler most of them have known, for seventy-one years now, and pretty much the only Tibetan who can recall dealing with India’s founding statesman, Pandit Nehru, and spending a year traveling around China and talking to Mao Zedong. He is one of the last remaining symbols of the Tibet that existed for three hundred years, until the Chinese crossed Tibet’s eastern border sixty years ago. And, of course, for Tibetans the Dalai Lama is regarded as an incarnation of Chenrezig, their god of compassion, and few devout believers are likely to listen to a political candidate—even one they have elected—over a god.

Yet the Dalai Lama’s gift as a political leader has always arisen from his no-nonsense pragmatism and his monastic habit of looking to the long-term (in part, of course, because he’s never been hostage to electoral cycles, even as he’s no mere ceremonial monarch). When he tells the world that his concern is not with the Dalai Lama but with the welfare of Tibetans, he’s being characteristically precise: this Dalai Lama may not last many decades longer and, as he often stresses, the Dalai Lama institution may have outlived its usefulness. But Tibetans are going to be around for a long time, one hopes, and unless they have some experience at governing themselves, they will not begin to be effective even if those currently in exile can one day return to Tibet.

Spiritually, of course, the Dalai Lama can never retire, and can no more renounce his incarnation than any one of us can try to erase his blood or his DNA. So long as he’s around, it’s hard to imagine any Tibetan prime minister overruling him (though, of course, more and more Tibetans have been agitating for a more forceful, even confrontational approach to the deadlock with Beijing, criticizing his “Middle Way” policy even if they never criticize the man). But it’s part of his clear-headedness to see and acknowledge that political leadership may require a very different kind of training from the spiritual kind, and the conflation of the two can make for confusion. When I said to him—three years ago—that to some of us it seemed refreshing to have someone with a monk’s larger vision and moral clarity in the realm of politics, he acknowledged that it could work well, but in principle should not be encouraged.

One of the curious aspects of this global Dalai Lama’s life is that his every political statement is usually addressed to many audiences at once, not least the 6 million Tibetans in Tibet he can barely meet and the government in Beijing that he has not been able to see face-to-face. In announcing his “retirement” ten days before Sunday’s election, he was telling fellow Tibetans to seize the moment, and he was reminding the Chinese government that however much it tries to hijack or neutralize the Dalai Lama institution, political leadership among at least exiled Tibetans will remain firmly out of reach, in Dharamsala. He managed to be, in equal measure, a parent telling his charges, “I’m leaving soon (so start taking care of everything yourselves)”; and a seasoned strategist telling those who distrust him in Beijing, “If you think I’m a threat to you, or an obstruction to better relations with Tibetans, I’ll relinquish all my official power right now. Will you talk more productively to us now?”

China is never likely to worry very much about a government-in-exile in an Indian hill station representing only 2 percent of Tibetans. But the Dalai Lama’s official relinquishing of political leadership was one way of underlining to Beijing that the Tibetan problem will not go away when he dies, and that there will still be Tibetans pressing for a (probably peaceful, negotiated) settlement to the issue, to counter the more confrontational firebrands often featured in the press. Meanwhile, those in Tibet itself continue to wait for the most basic human rights, transparency and real democracy to come to them from Beijing. On March 16th, according to a report from Dharamsala, a 21-year-old Tibet monk in Sichuan Province set himself fatally alight in his monastery, both to protest Chinese rule and, perhaps, to try to spark uprisings akin to the ones seen recently in Egypt and Tunisia.

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Dalai Lama to retire from political life

The Dalai Lama has announced he will retire from political life within days.

In a speech posted on the internet and delivered in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamasala, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader said he would ask the Tibetan parliament in exile to make the necessary constitutional changes to relieve him of his “formal authority” as head of the Tibetan community outside China.

The assembly, which meets early next week, is expected to approve his request. Though long-anticipated, the move away from the limelight by one of the world’s best known political figures signals a dramatic change.

Analysts and supporters have described the decision of the Dalai Lama, whose office traditionally combines spiritual and temporal roles, as historic.

Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, said the decision meant that “at a perilous moment in the history of Tibet” the Dalai Lama was “expressing his faith in the Tibetan people”.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has progressively distanced himself from a direct political role and expressed a desire to live as a simple monk.

“As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need…

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a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect,” the 76-year-old told an audience at his traditional appearance to mark the anniversary of the Tibetan people’s 1959 uprising against communist Chinese authorities in Lhasa, and his own escape to India.

Next week the Tibetan community in exile will vote to elect a new Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, who will, depending on the constitutional changes, take on the Dalai Lama’s political functions.

The Dalai Lama, who is revered by his followers as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha Avalokiteshvara who achieved spiritual enlightenment, said many of his supporters had asked him not to take the step.

“Since I made my intention clear I have received repeated and earnest requests both from within Tibet and outside, to continue to provide political leadership,” he said. “My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run.”

The speech, analysts said, was particularly aimed at the 6 million Tibetans living in China. The Dalai Lama and his senior aides have been concerned in recent years about a gulf opening between the views and values of the two communities.

In Thursday’s speech the Dalai Lama spoke of recent events in the Middle East, describing them as “remarkable non-violent struggles for freedom and democracy”.

“I am a firm believer in non-violence and people power and these events have shown once again that determined non-violent action can indeed bring about positive change,” he said. “We must all hope that these inspiring changes lead to genuine freedom, happiness and prosperity for the peoples in these countries.”

The Dalai Lama also reminded his audience of the importance of preserving Tibet’s environment, a key theme in recent years.

The move has been flagged up on a number of occasions. Last year the he told a conference in Delhi that a new set of political leaders were emerging among exiled Tibetans. Since 1960 an assembly has been elected by voters in exile but only since 2001 the office of prime minister has been elected too. For the coming polls, 80,000 voters have registered in India, Nepal, Bhutan, US, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.

As unrest rippled through Tibetan areas in 2008, the Dalai Lama threatened to resign as leader of the administration in exile if violence continued.

Two years ago, the German news magazine Der Spiegel asked him whether it was possible to resign his position, given that Tibetans believe him to be the latest reincarnation in a long line of religious leaders. He told them he would “no longer play a political role or a pronounced spiritual role”.

The question of the spiritual succession is highly controversial and has the potential to spark serious fractures within the Tibetan community. Chinese authorities are likely to exploit any opportunities offered by the transition of power.

The Dalai Lama is considering ways of averting any succession crisis, possibly through the unprecedented step of seeking his own reincarnation.

The Tibetan emigré community is keen to anticipate the moves Chinese authorities are likely to make when the Dalai Lama dies.

Beijing insists it has the right to approve the reincarnations of the senior Tibetan monks and has said the next Dalai Lama will be born in China.

But the Dalai Lama has suggested that since he is likely to die in exile, he will also be reincarnated there.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said the Dalai Lama was playing “tricks to deceive the international community”, the news agency Agence France Presse reported.

Supporters suggest the retirement may, paradoxically, increase the Dalai Lama’s influence on behalf of his community. China has repeatedly warned the leaders of other countries against meeting him.

“Up until now [foreign governments] have often sought to overcome the perception of dealing with him as a political leader … there’s a possibility that they may find it easier to have a formal relationship with him as an eminent religious leader,” said Saunders.

But she added that the Dalai Lama would continue to be regarded by the Tibetan people as their free spokesperson: “In a sense, [he] cannot retire,” she said.

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Falun Gong and rival group battle for Chinese hearts and minds in Flushing

On the bustling thoroughfare of Chinese immigrants that is Main Street in Flushing, Queens, countless people hand out fliers for massage parlors, calling cards, English classes, money-wiring stores and other services.

But one group of regulars that offers fliers from its daily spot is not commercially minded. Its message is an ideological one: to disparage Falun Gong, the spiritual and meditation movement founded in China. It’s a movement, Falun Gong organizers say, that has found its largest following outside Asia in Flushing.

The group denounces Falun Gong as a cult, and it incorporates this charge into its name: the Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance. The alliance set up a small folding table in the summer of 2008 on Main Street near Sanford Avenue, not far from the numerous tables staffed by Falun Gong volunteers who hand out literature lambasting the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government, which has banned and persecuted Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa.

For two years, the two factions have staked out their turf on Main Street like rival gangs, and they have waged a bitter ideological battle nearly daily for hearts and minds. They have created a scaled-down version of the tension between Falun Gong and the Chinese government.

Falun Gong members are convinced that this opposition group is an arm of the Chinese government and that its members are working as political operatives to oppress Falun Gong here.

“They are secret agents for the Chinese Communist Party,” said Rong Yi, 45, a Falun Gong organizer in Flushing. “They are puppets for…

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the Chinese government. The Chinese Communist Party is paying them to suppress Falun Gong.”

Ms. Yi’s nemesis on Main Street is Huahong Li, 49, chairwoman of the anti-Falun Gong group, who has become a well-known and polarizing figure in Flushing. Ms. Yi said Ms. Li’s group was trying to keep Falun Gong from publicizing the mistreatment of many of its members in China by the government.

Ms. Li calls the spy accusation laughable and says she is simply motivated by the need to warn the public that Falun Gong is an “evil cult” that has “severely damaged the image and reputation of the Chinese people.”

Ms. Li has gotten into countless confrontations with Falun Gong members. She has been arrested, sued and vilified constantly in The Epoch Times, the free daily newspaper that supports Falun Gong. She keeps scores of clippings from the paper on display at her booth, along with a poster-size collage of snapshots of Falun Gong followers she has argued with. She claims the members have come to her table to harass her, seize her camera and strike her with objects.

Ms. Yi said, however, that these members were approached by Ms. Li. She also accused Ms. Li of orchestrating the distribution of “hate material” against Falun Gong, instigating attacks on members and routinely gathering up and destroying copies of The Epoch Times in sidewalk boxes. Ms. Yi claims Ms. Li has been seen — videotaped, in fact — entering the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan.

Ms. Yi is president of a group called the Global Service Center for Quitting the Chinese Communist Party, whose mission is to find immigrants who were party members in China and persuade them to swear off their membership. The center’s headquarters are above a Chinese bakery on Main Street, two blocks from where Ms. Li sets up her table, and they double as the main offices for Falun Gong in Flushing.

Ms. Yi said that despite Ms. Li’s efforts to thwart her group, about 80 people a day shed their party affiliations with the group’s help. These people sign a list and agree to have their identities entered into a database on a private page on The Epoch Times Web site, she said.

Ms. Yi said she told immigrants that even if they planned never to return to China, it was crucial to quit the party officially in protest of its oppressive actions. To remain a member is to essentially condone all this, she says, but to quit is to obtain freedom from the bottom of their hearts.

“We tell them that God or Buddha will punish you in this life or the future if you still follow them,” Ms. Yi said. “It will be bad luck for you and your family. We tell them that if they quit, their future will be secured and God will bless them.”

Several blocks away, Ms. Li, urges immigrants to quit the “Quitting” party.

“Departing from cult resuscitates oneself,” one of her signs reads.

The two sides have been feuding since the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province that killed more than 60,000 people. Groups of Flushing residents accused Falun Gong of disrupting fund-raising efforts on Main Street for victims by demonstrating with lively music and attacks on the Chinese government.

Ms. Li calls Falun Gong disingenuous and insulting to Chinese immigrants. Her literature charges that Falun Gong practices “anti-human and anti-society practices” and irresponsibly advises members to eschew conventional medicine for daily exercise and meditation for health.

Her main charge is that Falun Gong paints itself as a peaceful, persecuted group, but behind the scenes it is highly disciplined and ruthless, and burnishes its image with its media outlets, political alliances, ubiquitous demonstrations and lobbying tables.

Ms. Li said she lacked the political, strategic and English-language skills to defend herself against Falun Gong’s attacks on her. She said her anti-Falun Gong group had grown in two years to more than 100 people, though its numbers are dwarfed by the thousands of Falun Gong members in Flushing. Last month, for the first time, her group gained a spot in the annual Chinese New Year parade on Main Street, marching near Falun Gong members.

Ms. Li’s most prominent run-in was with a well-known Falun Gong member named Wenyi Wang. In June 2009, Ms. Wang accused Ms. Li of destroying copies of The Epoch Times and approached her with a camera. Ms. Wang said Ms. Li seized the camera, and Ms. Li was arrested and charged with fourth-degree grand larceny. She is now under an order of protection forbidding her to approach Ms. Wang.

All this was reported extensively in The Epoch Times, where Ms. Wang is a contributor and somewhat of a celebrity among Falun Gong adherents for her actions at the White House in 2006 when she gained admittance with Epoch Times press credentials and shouted against Chinese President Hu Jintao while he spoke. She was quickly escorted away, and President Bush later apologized to Mr. Hu.

Ms. Li and her supporters roll their eyes at the idea that their sidewalk spot is a front for cloak-and-dagger espionage.

“Who knew it was that easy to become a government agent?” said one of her colleagues, Zhu Zhirou.

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Tibetan Lama cleared in cash inquiry, report says

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Associated Press: Indian authorities cleared one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most revered lamas on Friday in an investigation into $1.35 million in cash discovered last month at his headquarters in northern India, a news report said. Rajwant Sandhu, the top civil servant in Himachal Pradesh State, said the money found during a raid on the monastery of the Karmapa, above, Tibetan Buddhism’s third most important leader, had been donated by his followers, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The Karmapa had no links to the money…

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since the affairs of his trust are managed by his followers, Ms. Sandhu said. “The Karmapa is a revered religious leader of the Buddhists, and the government has no intentions to interfere in religious affairs of the Buddhists,” she said, according to the P.T.I. Last week, the state police said the Karmapa’s followers violated Indian tax and foreign currency laws in collecting the donations.


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Tibetan lama faces scrutiny and suspicion in India

His daring escape from Tibet seemed out of a movie. Then only 14, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most revered incarnate lamas, and his journey through the icy passes of the Himalayas was viewed as a major embarrassment for China. The youth arrived in India in early 2000 to a euphoric greeting from Tibetan exiles.

India, though, was less certain about what to do with him. Intelligence agencies, suspicious of his loyalties and skeptical of his miraculous escape, interrogated him and tightly restricted his travel. He remains mostly confined to the mountainside monastery of a Tibetan sect different from his own. And that spurred an idea: He wanted his own monastery. Eventually, his aides struck a deal to buy land.

Now, the 17th Karmapa, as he is known, has seen his quest for a monastery unexpectedly set off a national furor, fanned by Indian media that have tapped into growing public anxiety about Chinese intentions on their disputed border.

The Indian police are investigating the Karmapa after discovering about $1 million in foreign currency at his residence, including more than $166,000 in Chinese currency. Flimsily sourced media accounts have questioned whether he is a Chinese spy plotting a monastic empire along the border.

“Monk or Chinese Plant?” asked an editorial in The Tribune, a national English-language newspaper.

Many Tibetans scoff at the spying allegations. But the episode starkly exposes the precarious position of the Dalai Lama and the exiled movement of Tibetan Buddhism he has led since he fled China in 1959. The Tibetan cause depends heavily on Indian good will, particularly as China has intensified efforts to discredit and infiltrate their exile organization.

Tensions are rising between India and China over a variety of issues, including…

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Tibet. Sophisticated hackers, traced to China, have penetrated computer systems in Dharamsala and at Indian government ministries. China has long blamed Tibetan exiles in India for fueling instability across the border in Tibet. But now India, too, seems more wary of Tibetan activities; the Indian police are investigating new Tibetan monasteries near the border for possible ties to China, a police official said.

Meanwhile, Chinese leaders are betting that the Tibetan movement will fracture after the eventual death of the Dalai Lama, who is 74; they have even declared their intent to name his successor.

Indian suspicions about the Karmapa are a particular problem. He has a global following and, at 25 years old, he is viewed as a potential future leader of the movement — a possibility deeply compromised if Indian authorities consider him a foreign agent.

“What Tibetans must address is the idea that Tibetans could be considered a security threat to India and not an asset,” said Tsering Shakya, a leading Tibet specialist. “But the idea that a boy at the age of 14 was selected as a covert agent by a foreign government to destabilize India — and the assumption the boy will assume leadership of the Tibetan movement and eventually work against India — is worthy of a cheap spy novel.”

For the past week, Tibetans have rallied behind the Karmapa, with thousands of monks holding candlelight vigils at his residence. Tibet’s political leaders, including the Dalai Lama, have called on the Karmapa’s aides to correct any financial irregularities but have dismissed any suspicions about the Karmapa’s being a Chinese agent.

“Baseless, all baseless,” said Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile. “Not a fraction of anything that has a base of truth.”

Many Indian intelligence agents have distrusted the Karmapa from the start. He was a unique case, since both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government had endorsed him. He would explain his escape as an act of principle; he was being pressured to denounce the Dalai Lama, and Chinese officials also were forbidding him to study with high lamas outside China. Many investigators were unconvinced, wondering how such an important figure could slip so easily over the border.

On Wednesday, when the procession of monks arrived to offer support, the Karmapa described the current controversy as a “misunderstanding” and expressed confidence in the fairness of Indian authorities.

“We all have taken refuge and settled here,” he said. “India, in contrast to Communist China, is a democratic country that is based on the rule of law. Therefore, I trust that things will improve and the truth will become clear in time.”

Within Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa ranks third after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, with each man believed to be reincarnated through the centuries. After the death of the previous Karmapa, a bitter feud broke out between the high lamas charged with identifying his successor: at least two other people now claim to be the Karmapa, though a majority of Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, recognize Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

But this dispute has complicated efforts by the Karmapa to claim the monastery built by his predecessor in the Indian border region of Sikkim. Indian officials have blocked him from taking ownership until claims from rival Tibetan factions are resolved — which is why, given the uncertainty over the duration of the legal fight, the Karmapa sought land for a new monastery, his aides say.

The land deal led to the current controversy. On Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, police officers apprehended two men at a highway checkpoint after discovering about $219,000 in Indian rupees inside their car — money they said had come from the Karmapa. The next day, the police raided the Gyuto Monastery and found boxes of cash from more than 20 countries, including China; officers arrested the financial officer overseeing the Karmapa’s charitable trust and continue to investigate the Karmapa himself.

“He ran from China,” said P. L. Thakur, the police inspector general in Dharamsala. “Tibet is under China. Why and how has this currency come here? For what purpose? Why was it being kept there?”

Naresh Mathur, one of the Karmapa’s lawyers, said the money was from the devotees who for the past decade had come from around the world for the Karmapa’s blessing. By custom, they leave an offering, usually envelopes of cash; the Chinese renminbi, he said, are from Tibetans or other Chinese who have made a pilgrimage to Dharamsala.

Mr. Mathur said the Karmapa’s aides were unable to deposit the money because they were awaiting a decision on their application — made several years ago — for government approval to accept foreign currency. In the interim, they say, the money is stored where the officers found it — in boxes kept in a dorm room shared by monks.

Mr. Mathur also denied any suggestion that the land deal was secretive or illegal, and he said that it was the seller who demanded cash.

On Friday, the Karmapa offered blessings to devotees who lined up to meet him in his fourth-floor reception room. Among them was a group of Chinese followers from the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen. Aides say that bookkeeping mistakes may have been made in recording the donations, but that the intent is to handle the money the right way.

“We will be making changes,” said Deki Chungyalpa, a spokeswoman for the Karmapa. “Like hiring a professional accountant who is not a monk.”

For many Tibetans, the broader concern is about the future of the Tibetan movement itself. Tenzin Tsundue is a Tibetan activist who once unfurled a “Free Tibet” banner at an appearance by President Hu Jintao of China. He says India has always been a steadfast friend of Tibetans, providing a home for as many as 120,000 Tibetan refugees, yet now he worries its support may be wavering.

“This country that we are so grateful to is alleging the Karmapa is a spy for China,” he said. “And we can’t understand that at all.”

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Falun Gong practitioner to tell about persecution

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In his native China, fellow practitioners of Falun Gong are persecuted for the same practice, said Xie, an assistant professor of marketing,

He will speak Wednesday about religious persecution of Falun Gong at a meeting of the CSRA Peace Alliance.

Falun Gong, a meditation practice centered on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance, came to be seen as a threat to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Amnesty International has recorded nearly 1,600 cases of detention, arrest or sentencing of Falun Gong practitioners since China outlawed the belief system in 1999. The human rights organization reports that tens of thousands of practitioners have been arbitrarily detained, tortured, ill-treated or pressured to renounce their beliefs.

“All the while, the president of China is coming to visit, and our economy is tied up in China’s,” said Denice Traina, co-chairwoman of the Peace Alliance, which was established in Augusta in 2008. “We have to educate ourselves about that relationship. It seemed like such a timely issue to look at.”

Xie is thankful the topic is garnering attention. He’s traveled to universities in New York and Geneva to speak on Falun Gong persecution, and says too many Americans are still unaware.

“When I get the chance, I must speak up,” said Xie, who moved to the United States more than 20 years ago. “Americans are always shocked. Everyone is shocked.”

He studied science in China, and, in 1986, came to the United States to continue his education at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. While he was away at school, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the subsequent government crackdown shook China.

“We couldn’t go back,” he said. “We had to stay.”

Xie, who was born in Anshan, China, worked as a chemist before deciding it wasn’t for him. He got his master’s degree from Georgia State University and worked in finance instead. Xie earned his doctorate in marketing, and began to teach. After working in classrooms at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Xie moved to Atlanta.

“We like the South better,” he said with a laugh.

He lives in Atlanta with his wife and commutes to Aiken mid-week to teach. He also writes a column for The Epoch Times , a multi-language international newspaper founded by supporters of Falun Gong.

It was there that Xie said he read of some of the gravest human rights abuses — such as organ-harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. A 2006 independent investigation by Canadian human rights lawyers and politicians found circumstantial but persuasive evidence in support of the claims of systematic organ harvesting.

“The government has turned persecution into a lucrative business with the buying and selling of organs,” Xie said.

Because of the hours Falun Gong practitioners spend meditating, Xie said, many have better-than-average health, which makes them targets for government organ harvesting. Practitioners also abstain from drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, premarital sex and homosexuality.

Since Xie began meditation in 2001, he says he’s had good health.

“I’ve had no sickness, no problems. Not one doctor’s visit for 10 years,” he said.

Falun Gong helped him in other ways, too, Xie said.

“I’m a better person. I’m more truthful, compassionate and tolerant,” he said.

Xie didn’t learn about Falun Gong until well after leaving China. He says he didn’t grow up with any particular faith.

“We were indoctrinated, everyone in China was, to be an atheist,” he said. “Everyone was. I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t believe in Buddha. I didn’t believe in anything.”

Even as a chemist, Xie said he knew there was plenty that couldn’t be explained by science.

“I knew something was there. I came to this country and started searching. I went to all the churches I could find,” he said.

“I found Falun Gong and knew the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance were true. If we all followed those, society would be much better.”

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Buddha’s not smiling: examining knee-jerk reporting about the Karmapa

‘Is the Karmapa a Chinese spy?’ ‘Is the possible successor to the Dalai Lama a Chinese mole?’ ‘Is this another clever ploy of China to take control of the border regions?’ The media have gone berserk with speculations about the Karmapa Lama. Sadly, the coverage has failed to do any groundwork research. This episode not only exposes the way the Indian media works but also jolts the Tibetan faith in Indian democracy and harms India’s long-term interests in Tibet.

The police raid found a few crore (100,000) rupees worth of cash. At most, this may be a case of financial irregularity or non-transparent dealings by the managers of the Karmapa’s monastery for which they should be held accountable. Raising questions about a person being a spy for another country is a serious matter. It destroys his or her reputation. The news stories reflect a witch-hunt and betray the lack of an understanding of Tibetan life in India.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa, the oldest lineage in Tibetan Buddhism and the head of the Karma Kagyu sect. He is one of the rare lamas recognised by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. There is nothing conspiratorial about it. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, China was more accommodative of Tibet-based religious figures, consulting and coordinating the choice of reincarnations with the Dalai Lama and other lamas in exile. This accommodativeness came to an end with the crisis over the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation in 1995.

The Karmapa’s selection after the demise of the 16th Karmapa was not without its own controversy as there is a rival candidate, Trinley Thaye Dorje, who had the backing of a senior Karma Kagyu figure, the Shamarpa. The Shamarpa is reputed to have close connections within the Indian security establishment and bureaucracy. But most Tibetans have accepted the Dalai Lama’s choice. In fact, within China-controlled Tibet, veneration for the Karmapa is next only to that of the Dalai Lama. Even within the Gelug (the sect of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama) monasteries in Tibet, one comes across the Karmapa’s picture and it is clear that for ordinary Tibetans, the Karmapa’s proximity to the Dalai Lama adds to his sacredness.

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It is true that the Karmapa has avoided making anti-China political statements and Beijing has therefore not denounced him. Again, there is nothing suspicious about this. The Chinese had refused to openly criticise even the Dalai Lama in 1959 until he made a public statement after his exile. Beijing does not want to denounce the Karmapa and thus contribute to the creation of another globally recognised figurehead around which the Free Tibet movement will mobilise. Moreover, in recent history, Karmapas have avoided overly political positions since in the traditional Tibetan State, the Gelug sect was dominant. By focusing solely on religious affairs, the present 17th Karmapa is following the footsteps of his previous reincarnation.

It is unfortunate that without appreciating the nuances of sectarian politics within Tibetan Buddhism and Sino-Tibetan relations, the Indian media portrayed the Karmapa’s apolitical stance as suspicious. Continuing speculation about the Karmapa’s escape from Tibet in 1999 reminds me of a Japanese conspiracy theory film where the filmmaker argued that he was ‘sent’ to Sikkim to get control over the ‘Black Hat’ kept in Rumtek monastery in Sikkim. Interestingly, this film was given to me in Beijing!

Decades of repression during the Cultural Revolution has not been able to shake the belief that Tibetans have in their lamas. The Indian media’s onslaught on the Karmapa will only reaffirm Tibetan respect for the Karmapa. But it will certainly backfire for India as followers of Tibetan Buddhism in exile, in the border regions, in Tibet and in the rest of the world, will resent this humiliation of the religious figure. Had it been the Shahi Imam or Baba Ramdev, would the media have taken such liberties in going to town with such an unconfirmed story?

Hardline officials in China must be laughing their heads off at the Indian media circus. They know that this will not only create confusion in the exiled Tibetan community in India, but will also create a disenchantment about India among Tibetans inside China. India has let the Tibetans down on many occasions since the late 1940s when the latter sought help and support in making their claims for independence internationally and in 1954 when the Panchsheel agreement was signed with China over the old Tibetan State. India has provided refuge to more than 100,000 Tibetan exiles. But we must not forget that the exiled lamas provide a stability and keep the people in the borderlands pacified in a manner more effective than the Indian military. Tibetans are over-generous with their gratitude to their Indian hosts and are hesitant in reminding India of a small inconvenient truth: until 1951, the disputed border regions were neither Chinese nor Indian but Tibetan. In return, the very least Indians could do is not malign Tibetan religious leaders before they are even proved guilty of their misdemeanour. Is that too much to ask?

Dibyesh Anand is an associate professor of international relations at Westminster University, London and the author of Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics
The views expressed by the author are personal

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Indian police question Buddhist spiritual leader

Dharamsala, India: Police say authorities are investigating the source of a large amount of money found in a northern Indian Buddhist monastery, the headquarters of Tibetan Buddhism’s third most important leader.

D.S. Minhas, director general of police in Himachal Pradesh state, says police and revenue officials are tracking the source of about $777,000 that was found in the Gyuto monastery where the Karmapa lives.

Minhas said Saturday that much of the money was in Chinese yuan. Police have questioned Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, about the source of the money.

Indian media have been carrying reports that the Karmapa could be a Chinese agent sent to India to become a leader of Tibetan Buddhists who have made their home in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala.

[via Yahoo]
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Curious Indonesian Muslims join peaceful but controversial Falun Gong

Nyoman Suryanata must have greeted at least 100 people at the National Monument complex in Jakarta last Sunday, trying to persuade passersby to sit down with him and try the controversial practice of Falun Gong.

“Please, Ma’am! Try out our meditation. It only takes a couple of minutes. Sir, have a go at meditation! Free of charge,” the 59-year-old businessman called out, offering brochures he had made himself.

Surya, as he prefers to be called, had prepared 100 brochures — at the end of the day there were none left.

From a distance, a young couple observed the practice carefully.

They were intrigued by the group’s slow-motion movements, designed to help members “cultivate” their mind and soul.

However, the couple remained skeptical and hesitant to approach the group.

“Look, some of them are wearing headscarves,” the woman pointed out to her husband.

“That’s interesting. I was wondering whether these people are part of a religion or something,” her husband said.

Falun Gong is a spiritual movement founded by Li Hongzi in 1992.

The practice aims to focus the mind and body through a series of movements and meditative exercises based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.

Its teachings include ideas from Buddhism, Taoism, Qigong and other traditions that date back to Chinese antiquity.

The major difference between Li Hongzi’s spiritual movement and other religions is that Falun Gong does not involve prayer or worship of the divine.

This has been part of the movement’s broad appeal, attracting followers from many different backgrounds, including Indonesian Muslims.

“The main focus is to enhance your own spiritual consciousness. You can pray according to your religion as much as you want, but if you’re not spiritually conscious, all of your prayers will amount to nothing,” Suryanata said.

Falun Gong has been banned by the Chinese government since July 20, 1999, denounced by government propaganda as a cult “that poisons people’s minds.”

Members of the movement have since been arrested, tried without the presence of legal counsel, sent to labor camps and inflicted with physical and psychological torture.

“There is well-documented evidence of the persecution and ill treatment suffered by Falun Gong members,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Philem Kien.

Over the course of just seven years, he said the movement grew to an estimated 70 million people in China.

“The Falun Gong is seen as a threat to the Communist regime, who wish to maintain monopolistic control over Chinese society,” he added.

The persecution of Falun Gong members in China has forced its members to flee abroad and seek refuge in countries across Asia, including Indonesia, as well as in western countries such as Europe and North America.

However, the persecution of the movement has only served to increase curiosity in it among those living outside China.

Sixty-year-old Hertati, who has been practicing Falun Gong for more than 10 years now, was one of its early members in Indonesia.

“I remember it was the year 2000 and Gramedia had just launched a book about Falun Gong,” Hertati recounted.

“I had heard about Falun Gong before on the news. I was intrigued and attended the book’s discussion session. I thought to myself: how can a movement that teaches truthfulness, virtue and patience be dubbed as a dangerous and heretical cult in China? If it was really a cult then they would have drained our pockets dry by now. But no, members are not even allowed to accept payment for teaching others Falun Gong.”

“I have been a member for 10 years and have never been asked for a single cent,” she added.

There are now more than 100 Falun Gong communities spread over fifteen provinces in Indonesia.

In Jakarta, there are about 20 places where Falun Gong members practice, attracting up to 50 people in a single session.

One man at the National Monument on Sunday joined in the movements of the Falun Gong members, but wanted to maintain a good distance from the pack.

“Okay, but promise you’ll join us next week,” Surya said to the man.

“If it is faith, then he’ll come back. I’m sure of it. He took my brochure, we’ll see if he is destined to join us,” Surya said with a smile.

[via Jakarta Globe]
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Qantas loses fight with Falun Gong flight attendant

Qantas has been ordered to reinstate a flight attendant banned from international duties over her practise of Falun Gong.

Sheridan Genrich, from Sydney’s Lane Cove, was demoted to a short-haul attendant after she was threatened by authorities during a 2008 stopover in Beijing and deported because of her spiritual beliefs.

In making his ruling, Fair Work Australia Commissioner Frank Raffaelli said he was unimpressed with the way Qantas had carried out its investigation into Ms Genrich’s case.

“The implication of Qantas’s action is that there is a restriction on the practice of her spiritual beliefs in private, which is contrary to both Australian and international law,” Commissioner Raffaelli said in his judgement, which was obtained by The Epoch Times.

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