China bans reincarnation without government permission.
August 29, 2007 6:18 AM   Subscribe

China bans reincarnation without government permission.
(Coming soon: right to exist first requires government permit.)
posted by PsyDev (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is almost exactly equivalent to saying that the Catholic Church can't appoint priests without government permission; it sounds stupid, but is nonetheless a power play to destroy Tibetan Buddhism.
posted by Malor at 6:21 AM on August 29, 2007


Related Matt Bors cartoon.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:24 AM on August 29, 2007


I am glad, because next time around I was supposed to reincarnate into a flea.
posted by dov3 at 6:24 AM on August 29, 2007


Recent surveys by the Barna Group, a Christian research nonprofit, have found that a quarter of U.S. Christians, including 10 percent of all born-again Christians, embrace it as their favored end-of-life view.

I have serious trouble believing that 10% of all born-again Christians embrace reincarnation as their favored end-of-life view. Maybe I'm way off the mark here, but I was under the impression that 'born-again' connotes a certain level of fundamentalism and, consequently, biblical literalism. I'm no New Testament scholar by any means, but up until now, I'd never heard of Christian reincarnation.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:34 AM on August 29, 2007


This opens up several new branches of international ectoplasmic law. Can an American reincarnate in China? A Chinese person reincarnate in Denmark? Is the locus of reincarnation the place of death, the place of rebirth, or some intermediate limbo? Would there be a Russian submarine flag-planting expedition to such a place? Where would the flag go? Would it be possible for one nation to declare that all reincarnations occur within their borders, regardless of point of origin and exit? Can there be a reincarnation tourism industry? Will there be special "soul hotels" where one can go to reincarnate beyond the reach of certain laws? Can I put one in my backpack? How will you pay? How do I have you evicted if you trash my backpack soul hotel? Are there planes of existence on which dwell migrant souls with poor prospects who will work at my soul hotel on the cheap? Would there be cable? If there wasn't, how would you know?
posted by phooky at 6:39 AM on August 29, 2007 [11 favorites]


So, what does the PRC know about the Dhali Lama's state of health that we don't?

Like Malor said, obviously the law is intended as a means to control Tibetan Buddhism, which in turn means chosing the next Dhali Lama. Is it just that the current Dhali Lama is getting old, or is there a specific health problem that makes them think he's going to be dying soon?
posted by sotonohito at 6:42 AM on August 29, 2007


right to exist first requires government permit

Isn't this the one-child policy?
posted by GuyZero at 6:42 AM on August 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


Like dov3 said, this is a boon for those of us with crappy karma. Yet another example of much the People's Party really cares!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:44 AM on August 29, 2007


ObTheGreat$SOMETHINGWallOfChina
posted by DU at 6:48 AM on August 29, 2007


They already did this with the Panchen Lama.

Buncha Jerks.

In retaliation, the Dalai Lama, and one can assume other Lamas, won't be reincarnating in Tibet anymore. Brilliant. Effectively saying we are not land, we are not a place you can occupy. We are supra national... redefining the idea of nation-state out of their reach...
posted by From Bklyn at 6:51 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


In a previous life, I was Chinese president Jiang Zemin, and I secretly gave myself special pre-emptive dispensation. So I've got that going for me.
posted by Western Infidels at 6:53 AM on August 29, 2007


Has anything like this happened before? The logic behind a ploy like this seems like something that could easily have been executed at other times as a way of guiding (or declawing) a religion's influence.
posted by hermitosis at 6:54 AM on August 29, 2007


"I am glad, because next time around I was supposed to reincarnate into a flea."

Could be worse. Could be a kiedis.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:54 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


phooky: Perhaps Lonely Planet will publish its own guide. The original just doesn't have enough sidebars or budget hotel recommendations.
posted by cal71 at 7:00 AM on August 29, 2007


Um, don't Buddhists believe in rebirth rather than reincarnation? Because the doctrine of no-self means that there's no immutable soul that's being passed from one incarnation to the next? I smells me a loophole!
posted by RokkitNite at 7:01 AM on August 29, 2007


Hermitosis: organized religion and politics have been intertwined from the start; we Jews still refer to the Torah as "the law". As From Bklyn points out, this is not even the first time this Chinese government has attempted to regulate reincarnation and the selection of lamas; heck, this isn't even the first Chinese government to do so. Many Popes were selected for political or economic reasons. So yeah, this stuff goes on all the time, and it only seems silly because the foundations of religious practice are, almost by definition, themselves silly.
posted by phooky at 7:02 AM on August 29, 2007


I thought we were all agreed that theocracy was a Bad Thing?
posted by empath at 7:31 AM on August 29, 2007


Dalai Lama has historically been a highly political office, as it typically controlled temporal political and military affairs of Tibet as well as the religious establishment. Other incarnate lama positions have wielded considerable political control and thus been subject to similar political constraints at times. In order to reduce the influence of the Jibzundamba Khutughtu, the head Mongolian incarnate lama, Qianlong, the Qing ruler in phooky's link, at one point decreed all future reincarnations would be in Tibet, not in Mongolia [and, shocker, he was right!]. For more reincarnation politics see: Fifth Dalai Lama Wiki - Tibetan officials kept his death a secret for 15 years so they could act in his name and maintain control of the country and the succession process.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:48 AM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Um, don't Buddhists believe in rebirth rather than reincarnation? Because the doctrine of no-self means that there's no immutable soul that's being passed from one incarnation to the next? I smells me a loophole!

I think the idea is that the self keeps coming back until you understand its illusory nature; once you truly understand there is no self, you stop coming back.

One of Buddhism's central tenets is that life is suffering, so reincarnation is no blessing.

(I'm not a Buddhist, so this is likely somewhat inaccurate.)
posted by Malor at 7:54 AM on August 29, 2007


So the dictatorial rulers of one country are acting against the dictatorial ruler of a country they regard themselves as having conquered?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:54 AM on August 29, 2007




Tangential, but highly recommended regarding reincarnation: A conversation with Krishnamurti
posted by Burhanistan at 7:59 AM on August 29, 2007


solipsophistocracy: I was also amazed at that. I think though, that we are making the mistake of underestimating the illogicality of [some] U.S. christians.
posted by agentofselection at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2007


One of Buddhism's central tenets is that life is suffering, so reincarnation is no blessing.

Except, in the case of incarnate lamas, they have certainly attained enlightment but choose to forgo nirvana/extinction so they can stick around and guide others to enlightenment. Or something like that.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:17 AM on August 29, 2007


I thought we were all agreed that theocracy was a Bad Thing?

China was too busy killing its own citizens to read the memo.
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 8:54 AM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hello China? I have something you want....that's right.....ALL the tea!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:49 AM on August 29, 2007


empath It is, and I'm not a Dhali Lama fan. Moreover conditions in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion were hardly what I'd call optimal.

OTOH, the PRC is pretty much the big bad at the moment so I'll take the Dhali Lama over them. Also, if by some chance, the various liberal groups doing what they can to get Tibet independent succeed they'll have some influence on the free Tibetan government and I kinda doubt they'd be all that fond of letting the Dhali Lama set up a theocracy.

But mostly I think limiting and/or annoying a Fascist [1] state (ie: the PRC) is a good thing.

[1] You can't really call the PRC a Communist state anymore, and it looks more like a genuine Fascism than anything else at the moment.
posted by sotonohito at 10:12 AM on August 29, 2007


So it turns out that you CAN come back as a Yangtze dolphin.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:22 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Saying "Buddhists believe..." is much like saying "Christians believe...". With the latter we must know are we talking about Baptists? Catholics? Pentacostals? With the former we should distinguish whether we are talking about Tibetan, Free Land, Theravada, Mahayana, and so forth. Some believe in reincarnation/rebirth, and most believe in the idea of enlightened entities (often called Bodhisattva) that are born as humans with the specific purpose of helping the rest of us poor slobs along. The Dalai Lama is thought to be such an entity, and of course he is a focal point of the issue at hand. Clearly he shall have to reincarnate elsewhere. It is worth mentioning that other sorts of Buddhists believe the enlightened go to a place remarkably like Heaven (the "Pure Land") when they die. Buddha himself said little on the subject, and in fact side-stepped as many theological questions as feasible; he preferred to focus on what could be done to help real people in the real world than speculate about the unknowable.

Since it has already been brought up, the Four Noble Truths are the first real teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. 1) Life is suffering. 2) We suffer because we thirst -- we long for things we do not or cannot have. 3) There is a way out of suffering and thirst into nirvana and enlightenment. 4) It is the Eightfold Path. They're a bit more, uh, nebulous than the 10 Commandments.
posted by ilsa at 10:24 AM on August 29, 2007


Thanks for the link, Skorgu. I recalled reading it, but couldn't remember where.
is lin
The article Charly Stross links to in his entry is well worth the read: Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth, by Michael Parenti.
posted by kolophon at 11:05 AM on August 29, 2007


No problem kolophon. I wanted to elaborate on the esteemed Mr. Stross' point, but I had to run. I hope people read it anyway.

I find it telling that of all the major and minor media outlets covering this, every single one is treating it as "LOLCHINA" with the singular exception of one blog, by a science fiction author no less. Somehow I'm always surprised by the mediocrity of the media.
posted by Skorgu at 11:14 AM on August 29, 2007


This means that the next time around, when the current Dalai Lama dies, there will almost certainly be two of them, right? Like the days with two popes.

I wonder if China will try to find a female Dalai Lama to make it harder for us liberals to deny her authority.
posted by jiawen at 11:48 AM on August 29, 2007


From a Tibetian Buddhist point of view, my understanding is that although China can't literally prevent the Dalai Lama's rebirth, it can muddy the waters and dismantle various procedural elements of Tibetan tradition so that it's almost impossible to verify his new identity. So I think you're right, Jiawen - when the current Dalai Lama dies, there will probably be disputes and multiple claimants.

But, you know, I'd imagine that most Buddhists would concede that the Dalai Lama is as susceptible to impermanence as anything else in this universe. If the lineage were to be interrupted (and it could always resurface later) it's not as if the principles or practices of Buddhism would be necessarily diminished, just as the Taliban's destruction of the giant Buddha statues provided an opportunity to practice peaceful restraint.
posted by RokkitNite at 12:17 PM on August 29, 2007


Skorgu,kolophon those are good links: I guess it's true that most Americans have a very idealized vision of Tibet and all things Tibetan. Surprise!

All the same, the way the PRC is fucking with them is pretty dastardly.

"although China can't literally prevent the Dalai Lama's rebirth, it can muddy the waters..."and by doing this they effectively usurp power as the Tibet is/was a theocracy.

"...most Buddhists would concede that the Dalai Lama is as susceptible to impermanence as anything else..." also true.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:02 PM on August 29, 2007


Somehow, this is all Steven Seagal's fault.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:05 PM on August 29, 2007


Aren't there enforcement issues here?

I can picture some chinese authority running down the road, chasing a cat, yelling "Wen-Li, is that you? Come back here!"
posted by toma at 5:58 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


so what are they going to do? - give them the death penalty?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:18 PM on August 29, 2007


Muddy waters from the Dalai Lama:
"If I were to die in the next few months or before we were able to return to Tibet, there will be a new Dalai Lama," the 69-year-old spiritual leader was quoted as telling the Hindustan Times newspaper on Tuesday.
"But if we cease to be a refugee community and live in democratic Tibet, then I don't think there should be a successor to me after I die," he reportedly said.
"Some reincarnations have not been true," the Dalai Lama told the English-language daily, but he added that he was certain he was the incarnate of the fifth incumbent who held the post for 67 years after being named the Dalai Lama in 1617.

posted by tellurian at 12:03 AM on August 30, 2007


It seems to me that recently the Dalai Lama has backed away from the restoration of old Tibet as a goal. Few people want a return to feudalism, but few people want the Chinese cultural experiment either. The ideal outcome would be some sort of independent government.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:04 AM on August 30, 2007


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