CHENNAI, India, 2 December 2018
It is ironic that the Communist Government of China, which views religion as potentially destabilizing as well as contradictory to Communist philosophy, has facilitated the organization of the Fifth World Buddhist Forum in the city of Putian in east China’s Fujian province in October 2018.
The forum is supposed to have been jointly proposed by Buddhist communities in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao in 2005, and it is claimed that the World Buddhist Forum was established as a platform for Buddhists to communicate and cooperate. It was said that the objective of the Fifth World Buddhist Forum was to promote positive roles of religious people in economic and social development, the Belt and Road Initiative, and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
It is surprising and even shocking that around 800 people including Chinese and overseas Buddhists were reported to have participated in this so-called World Buddhist Forum facilitated by the Chinese government, without realizing that the Government of China is committed to negation of established religious philosophies and has no particular commitment to the philosophy and cause of Buddhism.
The fact is that the policy of the Communist government of China is oriented towards denial of the individual freedom for Chinese citizens to follow the religion of their choice in variety of ways. The revised Communist party disciplinary rules demand that the party members who have religious beliefs should undergo “thought education”.
Freedom of religion in China is provided for in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, with an important caveat: The government protects what it calls “normal religious activity”, defined in practice as activities that take place within government-sanctioned religious organisations and registered places of worship.
Though China’s five officially-sanctioned religious organisations, namely Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, are afforded a degree of protection, they are subject to restrictions and controls under the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Unregistered religious groups — including house churches, Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, underground Catholics, and Uyghur Muslims — face varying degrees of harassment, including imprisonment, torture, and forced religious conversion.
Several human rights bodies have criticised such practices as falling short of international standards for the protection of religious freedom.
It is well known that the Chinese government has been suppressing the practice of the Islam religion. It is reported that around one million Muslims are being held in Chinese internment camps, according to estimates cited by UN officials. It is further reported that over the course of an indoctrination process lasting several months, Muslims were forced to renounce Islam, criticize their own Islamic beliefs and those of fellow inmates, and recite Communist Party propaganda songs for hours each day.
Given such a ground reality, Communist China with its dictatorial regime is certainly an unfit location for organizing this forum, which is claimed to be a platform for Buddhists to communicate.
One can clearly see that organization of a Buddhist forum in China is a clever attempt by Chinese government to give an impression that China is friendly towards Buddhist religion, which it is not in fact, and to cover up its misdeeds in the Buddhist country of Tibet.
China has ruthlessly invaded Tibet, a deeply religious Buddhist country, massacred thousands of Buddhists who protested against the Chinese invasion, and has been occupying the helpless Tibet for several decades now.
The very fact that the government of China refuses to permit any foreigner to freely visit occupied Tibet clearly highlights the fact that China has a lot to conceal with regard to its militant administration in Tibet and the freedom-suppressed conditions in which Tibetans live. Certainly, any government committed to the cause of non-violence and truth, which Buddhism espouses, cannot behave in such a manner. Today, Tibet is an iron curtain as far as the Government of China’s Tibetan policy is concerned.
In this connection, one may recall that a bill is before the US Senate for passing the “Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act”, which seeks to ensure the same access for American diplomats and journalists to visit Tibet as the Chinese have to all parts of the US.
While India is the birthplace of Buddhism, and several holy sites for Buddhists are in India, Tibet under the guidance of the revered Dalai Lama represents the heart and soul of Buddhism, adhering to and practicing the concepts and philosophy of Buddhism in letter and spirit, and setting a Buddhist religious model for the entire world. The Chinese government suppressing Tibet virtually amounts to suppressing Buddhism, with the respected Dalai Lama forced to escape from the Chinese military and live in exile in India.
Buddhists all the world should introspect about the role of the Chinese government in Tibet which resulted in the slow suppression of Buddhist culture and practices in Tibet.
It is not clearly known whether Buddhists around the world have protested adequately against this act of the Chinese government in facilitating the Buddhist forum meeting in China and in the process trying to create a false image that China supports the cause of Buddhism.
About the author
NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.