Many Americans are waiting for relief checks to come in the mail but few of them realize that the envelopes will be a tiny bit lighter because the bill passed at breakneck speed through Congress included some unusual provisions for non-relief programs including one ensuring that the next Buddhist leader will truly be the reincarnation of the current Dalai Lama and not a cheap Chinese knock-off.
Coronavirus Relief Bill: 5,000 Pages, Passed in a Ruch, Lots of Hidden Surprises
The $2.5 trillion coronavirus relief bill that passed Congress was released for public inspection on Monday. After months of partisan back and forth, the bill was presented to the elected officials in a manner that left them no time to inspect it which is more the pity since even a cursory reading would have revealed many unpleasant surprises hidden within its 5,593 pages: expensive appropriations for purposes that had nothing to do with helping the American people cope with economic hardship. One, in particular, seems quite bizarre, providing for the reincarnation of the Buddhist leader; the Dalai Lama.
Section 342: Policy Regarding the Reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.”
Despite being a bill intended to cope with a domestic problem, section 342 deals with relations with China, focusing on the issue of Tibet. Tibet was invaded by China in 1951 and annexed in 1959. Section 342 describes how, in 1995, six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was declared the 11th Panchen Lama belonging to the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Chinese government attempted to install a substitute, a puppet-leader that would serve their purposes. Failing that, the Chinese government kidnapped Nyima and his family along with other leaders of their sect. He remains in detention and has not been seen in public since his abduction.
Section 342 of the COVID-19 stimulus bill outlines a “statement of policy regarding the succession or reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.” The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th Dalai Lama and the highest spiritual leader of Tibet. In 1959, he fled Tibet after a failed attempt at revolution and currently resides in exile in India.
The current Dalai Lama is 85 years old and in 2019, China declared that they would select the next Dalai Lama upon his death. This would contradict the Buddhist belief that the Dalai Lama is not chosen by man but, rather, is the reincarnation of the preceding Lamas. Tenzin Gyatso has stated that he will not be reborn in the People’s Republic of China, contradicting the possibility of the Chinese government choosing one of its own as his successor.
“Tibetan Buddhism is practiced in many countries including Bhutan, India, Mongolia, Nepal, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, and the United States, yet the Government of the People’s Republic of China has repeatedly insisted on its role in managing the selection of Tibet’s next spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, through actions such as those described in the ‘Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas’ in 2007,” the bill explains.
“Interference by the Government of the People’s Republic of China or any other government in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama and any future Dalai Lamas would represent a clear abuse of the right to religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists and the Tibetan people.”
The legislation directs the Secretary of State to establish a US consulate in Tibet, which would be seen as a challenge to China, implicitly acknowledging that Tibet is a separate entity from China. The bill authorizes the US government to sanction China if it interferes in the Dalai Lama succession process.
“The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom should support efforts to protect and promote international religious freedom in China and for programs to protect Tibetan Buddhism in China and elsewhere,” the section of the bill concludes.