State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5

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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,[1] 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, based on the prior Religion Work for Some Questions《中共中央、国务院关于进一步做好宗教工作若干问题的通知》published in 1991[2], that reincarnated lamas must be approved by the Central Government.


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."[1][3]

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.[1][3][4]


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.[3]

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".[3]


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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[4] Over 1,000 living Buddhas have been reincarnated through this legal channel in Tibet and other areas in China since 1991.[5]

Historical precedents[edit]

The Golden Urn was established by the Qing Qianlong Emperor to allow the Qing dynasty Emperor of China to determine the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama in case of a dispute. There are two Golden Urns issued by the Qianlong Emperor. One is enshrined in Jokhang Temple in Lhasa for choosing Dalai and Panchen Lama reincarnations, the other is in Yonghe Temple in Beijing for choosing Mongolian Jebtsundamba Khutughtu reincarnations.[6] The 7th Panchen Lama, Palden Tenpai Nyima, used the Golden Urn for the first time in 1822 to choose the 10th Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso.

In 1936, Golden Urn was also institutionalized in the Method of Reincarnation of Lamas《喇嘛轉世辦法[7]》 by Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission of the Central Government.

Most recently, in November 1995 the Golden Urn was controversially used to name Qoigyijabu (Gyancain Norbu) as the 11th Panchen Lama. This action was approved by the Chinese government, but opposed by the Government of Tibet in Exile. In May of the same year, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso had named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama.[8]

The Khalkha Mongol nobles' power was deliberately undermined by Qianlong when he appointed the Tibetan Ishi-damba-nima of the Lithang royal family of the eastern Tibetans as the 3rd reincarnated Jebtsundamba Khutuktu Lama instead of the Khalkha Mongol which they wanted to be appointed.[9] The decision was first protested against by the Outer Mongol Khalkha nobles and then the Khalkhas sought to have him placed at a distance from them at Dolonnor, but Qianlong snubbed both of their requests, sending the message that he was putting an end to Outer Mongolian autonomy.[10] The decision to make Tibet the only place where the reincarnation came from was intentional by the Qing to curtail the Mongols.[11]

The 10th Panchen Lama Choekyi Gyaltsen was born Gonpo Tseten on 19 February 1938 in today's Xunhua Salar Autonomous County of Qinghai, to Gonpo Tseten and Sonam Drolma. When the Ninth Panchen Lama died in 1937, two simultaneous searches for the tenth Panchen Lama produced two competing candidates, with the government in Lhasa (who had selected a boy from Xikang) and the Ninth Panchen Lama's officials (who picked Tseten) in conflict.[12] The Republic of China government, then embroiled in the Chinese Civil War, declared its support for Tseten on 3 June 1949. Guan Jiyu, the head of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, joined Kuomintang Governor of Qinghai Ma Bufang in presiding over Tseten's enthronement on 11 June as Choekyi Gyaltsen at Kumbum Monastery.[13] The Dalai Lama's government in Lhasa still refused to recognize Gyaltsen.[14]

The Panchen Lama supported China's claim of sovereignty over Tibet, and China's reform policies for Tibet.[14] Radio Beijing broadcast the religious leader's call for Tibet to be "liberated" into Tibet, which created pressure on the Lhasa government to negotiate with the People's Republic.[12] In 1951, the Panchen Lama was invited to Beijing as the Tibetan delegation was signing the 17-Point Agreement and telegramming the Dalai Lama to implement the Agreement.[15] He was recognized by the 14th Dalai Lama when they met in 1952.

The 7th Dalai Lama Kelzang Gyatso was born in Lithang of Eastern Tibet, in the present-day Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of present-day Sichuan province. At that time, the Dalai Lama's throne in Lhasa was occupied by Ngawang Yeshey Gyatso, who had been installed by Lha-bzang Khan as "the real 6th Dalai Lama" in place of Tsangyang Gyatso. Ngawang Yeshey Gyatso still held this position (though most Tibetans did not consider him to be a legitimate Dalai Lama) when a monk at Litang monastery, spontaneously channeling the Nechung Oracle, identified Kelzang Gyatso as the reincarnation of Tsangyang Gyatso. Since this presented a contradiction of Lha-bzang Khan's Dalai Lama, it was a controversial matter and potentially dangerous to the child. Subsequently, the Tibetan leader of a delegation from Lhasa covertly confirmed that the child was Tsangyang Gyatso's reincarnation. The child was quietly taken into Litang monastery for protection and training. In 1715, the Kangxi Emperor sponsored Kelzang Gyatso's entrance into Kumbum Monastery. This entrance was marked by formal ceremonies due to a Dalai Lama and thus signified a public challenge to Lha-bzang Khan's Dalai Lama.[16] He was ordained by Ngawang Lobsang Tenpai Gyaltsen.[17] His reign started when he was 12.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 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. n.d. Retrieved May 4, 2014.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d "Reincarnation of living Buddha needs gov't approval". China Daily. August 4, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2007.
  4. ^ a b c "Buddhas' reincarnation red tape". Melbourne Herald. August 4, 2007. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008.
  5. ^ a b "Rule on living Buddhas aids religious freedom". Xinhua News Agency. China Daily. 27 December 2007. Archived from the original on 1 January 2008. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  6. ^ Foster 2008, pg. 171
  7. ^
  8. ^ Goldstein 1997, pp. 102-9
  9. ^ Berger, Patricia Ann (2003). Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China (illustrated ed.). University of Hawaii Press. p. 26. ISBN 0824825632. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  10. ^ Berger, Patricia Ann (2003). Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China (illustrated ed.). University of Hawaii Press. p. 17. ISBN 0824825632. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  11. ^ John Man (4 August 2009). The Great Wall: The Extraordinary Story of China's Wonder of the World. Da Capo Press, Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-7867-3177-0.
  12. ^ a b Lin, Hsiao-ting (2010). Modern China's Ethnic Frontiers: A Journey to the West. Taylor & Francis. pp. 116–118.
  13. ^ Parshotam Mehra (2004). From conflict to conciliation: Tibetan polity revisited : a brief historical conspectus of the Dalai Lama-Panchen Lama Standoff, ca. 1904–1989. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 87. ISBN 3-447-04914-6. Archived from the original on 25 February 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  14. ^ a b Melvyn C. Goldstein, in McKay 2003, p. 222
  15. ^ "The Tenth Panchen Lama" Archived 10 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Mullin 2001, pp. 276-82
  17. ^ Seventh Dalai Lama Kelsang Gyatso