Living Buddha finds voice in region’s political life
Sonam Phuntsog, 19, also known as Reting Rinpoche, fights for the monastery
Religion plays an important part in life in Tibet, and the annual two local sessions of the Tibet autonomous region saw the participation of the Seventh Reting Living Buddha.
Sonam Phuntsog, 19, is the youngest member of the political advisory body of the Tibet Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference whose mission is to advise on major issues of State policy and play a role in democratic supervision by proposing suggestions and voicing criticism.
He was enthroned as the spirit child of the Sixth Reting Living Buddha at the age of 4 and also holds the title of Reting Rinpoche, once a religious regent in Tibet.
This year, the new political adviser suggested that the government provide cultural classes for the monks of his monastery, and he called for better protection for the environment surrounding his monastery.
“It is essential for monks to learn more about social sciences besides Buddhist teachings,” said the Reting Rinpoche, adding that subjects such as Tibetan Chinese, English, computing, law and sciences are compulsory.
“High literacy among monks can contribute to them providing better services to the country and its people,” he said.
Reting Monastery is the ancestral monastery of the Kadampa School of Tibetan Buddhism and home to 108 ordained monks. It dates from 350 years before the founding of the other three key monasteries of Tibet’s Lhasa — the Drepung, Sera and Gandan.
The monastery’s location differs from most places in the high land of Tibet in that it is surrounded by thick juniper forest, and many Tibetans believe juniper trees are enriched with spiritual power.
Prayer beads made from junipers seeds are produced in Reting and welcomed by Tibetans all over the plateau.
While some oppose the collecting of junipers seeds to make the beads, the Reting Rinpoche supports the collectors.
“The junipers around my monastery are holy trees, and I oppose anyone cutting down trees,” he said. “However, the seeds for prayers beads form part of the cultural heritage of the monastery.”
Given the cultural and environmental importance of the juniper forest, the Rinpoche is eager to see it safeguarded.
He also has concerns that plans to develop the area surrounding the monastery into a tourist attraction will affect the environment, hence the emphasis on environment and environmental protection in his proposal to the CPPCC.
Last year, he called for the renovation and preservation of the monastery.
“My proposal has resulted in the monastery becoming listed as a cultural site under State protection,” the Rinpoche said. “Benefiting others is the most important thing for me.”
Reting Rinpoche, the youngest member of Tibet’s political advisory body, attends the 2015 session.