State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5
State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 (simplified Chinese: 国家宗教事务局令第5号; traditional Chinese: 國家宗教事務局令第5號), officially named Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas (simplified Chinese: 藏传佛教活佛转世管理办法; traditional Chinese: 藏傳佛教活佛轉世管理辦法), is an order from the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the People's Republic of China's agency charged with keeping religion under state control. Order No. 5 states that a Reincarnation Application must be filed by all Buddhist temples in that country before they are allowed to recognize individuals as tulkus (reincarnated teachers).
Tibetan Buddhists believe lamas and other religious figures can consciously influence how they are reborn, and often are reborn many times so they can continue their religious pursuits. These tulkus are referred to in sources translated from Chinese as living Buddhas. In 2007, the Chinese government passed a decree, to take effect September 1, that each of these people who plan to be reborn must complete an application and submit it to several government agencies for approval.
On August 3, 2007, China's State Administration for Religious Affairs issued a decree that all the reincarnations of tulkus of Tibetan Buddhism must get government approval, otherwise they are "illegal or invalid". The decree states, "It is an important move to institutionalize management on reincarnation of living Buddhas. The selection of reincarnates must preserve national unity and solidarity of all ethnic groups and the selection process cannot be influenced by any group or individual from outside the country." It also requires that temples which apply for reincarnation of a living Buddha must be "legally-registered venues for Tibetan Buddhism activities and are capable of fostering and offering proper means of support for the living Buddha."
Reincarnation Applications have to be submitted to four governmental bodies for approval, specifically the religious affairs department of the provincial-level government, the provincial-level government, State Administration for Religious Affairs, and the State Council.
The regulations are composed of 14 articles, including the principle, conditions, approval procedures, the duties and responsibilities of religious groups for reincarnation as well as punishment for those violating the regulations. They allegedly guarantee normal religious activities of Tibetan Buddhism and protect the religious belief of Tibetan Buddhism followers according to law.
The State Administration for Religious Affairs said, "The government only administrate religious affairs related to state and the public interests and will not interfere in the pure internal religious affairs".
The official Xinhua News Agency said the new rules are "an important move to institutionalise management of reincarnation of living Buddhas". Tulkus are indeed an important element in Tibetan Buddhism, forming a clergy of influential religious figures. It is believed they are continuously reincarnated to take up their positions anew. Often there is more than one candidate competing to be recognised as the actual reincarnation, and the authority to decide who is the true claimant carries significant power.
The decree was implemented in response to clergy's protests about the reincarnation of living Buddhas "against religious ritual and historical convention", according to the Chinese government. The most high-profile dispute about living Buddhas happened between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government about the selection of the 1995 Panchen Lama, whose influence in Tibetan Buddhism is second only to the Dalai Lama. Over 1,000 living Buddhas have been reincarnated through this legal channel in Tibet and other areas in China since 1991.
- "国家宗教事务局令（第5号）藏传佛教活佛转世管理办法" [State Religious Affairs Bureau Order (No. 5) Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas] (in Chinese). Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China. Undated. Retrieved May 4, 2014.
- "Reincarnation of living Buddha needs gov't approval". China Daily. August 4, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2007.
- "Buddhas' reincarnation red tape". Melbourne Herald. August 4, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2007.
- "Rule on living Buddhas aids religious freedom". Xinhua News Agency (China Daily). December 27, 2007. Retrieved July 12, 2010.