May 10, 2006

Tibetan temple row highlights religious tensions

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tibetan Buddhist monks loyal to the
exiled Dalai Lama stormed a monastery near Lhasa and attacked
statues of a deity denounced by him, Chinese state media
reported in a rare glimpse of religious dissension in disputed

Seventeen lamas entered the Ganden Monastery on March 14
and tore down two statues, including an image of Dorje Shugden,
a deity criticized by the Dalai Lama since the 1970s, the
Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

Police were mobilized to prevent crowds of Buddhists from
going to the large monastery, government officials told a news
conference in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, on Tuesday.

The dispute between the Dalai Lama and the much smaller
Shugden stream of his Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism is
part of complex doctrinal currents dating back four centuries.

But China's authorities used the latest incident to
criticize the Dalai Lama -- the most senior figure in Tibetan
Buddhism who has been in exile since 1959 and campaigned for
autonomy for Tibet.

He, not they, was restricting religious freedom, the
authorities said.

"What the Dalai Lama has done violates the religious
freedom of believers," Zhang Qingli, the acting Communist Party
secretary of Tibet said, according to Xinhua.

In 1996, the Dalai Lama called on his followers to reject
the Shugden deity, calling it a divisive offshoot. Supporters
of Shugden -- Tibetan and foreign -- have protested the Dalai
Lama's ban as a violation of religious freedom.

The Mayor of Lhasa, Norbu Dunzhub, told the news conference
that the Dalai Lama, who is revered by most Tibetans, was using
the dispute to stir conflict in tightly controlled Tibet.

"The Dalai clique supported by hostile Western forces is
introducing into China the overseas conflict between followers
and opponents of the Shugden deity to provoke conflict between
monks and followers of different faiths," he said.

China took control of Tibet in 1951 and for decades it
exercised harsh, often brutal, rule over its overwhelmingly
Buddhist population. In recent decades, China has restored
temples but tightly controlled their activities and has sought
to install its own hand-selected senior lamas loyal to Beijing.

Tibet now has more than 1,700 places of worship and 46,000
Buddhist monks and nuns, the overseas edition of the People's
Daily reported on Wednesday.