The Beijing-appointed leader of Tibetan Buddhism has called on monks to love the country and the Communist Party during a speech at the annual “two meetings.”

Gyaincain Norbu, China’s official Panchen Lama, also criticised the commercialisation of the religion. He lamented that some monasteries have been turned into “cash cows” and “shopping malls.”

The Panchen Lama. Photo: Voice of America via Wikicommons.

On Saturday, he called on the country to spend more resources on nurturing young and middle-aged monks: “[We need to] spend energy on nurturing a group of outstanding talent who love the party and love the country, are spiritually clean, and care for all living beings,” he said.

He added that Buddhism and socialism could be compatible “if [Buddhist figures] explain their religious doctrines in ways that are appropriate in the national context, and are appropriate for the demands of societal development.”

The Panchen Lama’s call for the nurturing of patriotic monks came after buildings at the prominent Tibetan Buddhist institute Larung Gar were destroyed last year. Beijing ordered the 10,000-strong population of the institute to be reduced by half.

Last year, HKFP reported that there have been as many as 144 self-immolation protests in Tibet since 2009.

Commercialisation of Buddhism

The Panchen Lama, a member of China’s top political advisory body, added in his speech that Buddhism has been negatively impacted by commercialisation.

National People's Congress npc beijing great hall
The “two meetings”. Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

“Some places treat monasteries as cash cows, turning them into family temples and shopping malls,” he said. “Some fake ‘living Buddhas’ and fake monks use seemingly real theories to ‘spread Buddhism,’ and defraud others of money.”

“Chaotic scenes like this cannot represent mainstream Buddhism, but they have… polluted the serious and merciful image of Buddhism.”

He called on the relevant authorities to strengthen enforcement and increase the regulation of illegal activities in monasteries.

The 27-year-old government-appointed Panchen Lama grew up in Beijing, and is China’s official leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

The exiled Dalai Lama is considered the real religious leader by many Tibetans, but is seen as a separatist by Beijing. In 1995, he proclaimed another individual, then six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as a rival Panchen Lama. Nyima has not been seen in public since.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.