High tech monks

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By HUY­ONGQI huy­ongqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Join­ing a Ti­betan Bud­dhist or­der doesn’t mean giv­ing up the web

Ti­betan Bud­dhism was ini­tially a prod­uct of the “roof of the world” and ini­tially un­der­scored the cul­tural, lin­guis­tic and spir­i­tual dif­fer­ences be­tween the peo­ple of the plateau and their coun­ter­parts in China’s coastal ar­eas. How­ever, the re­gional re­li­gion be­gan to spread dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271-1368) and is now prac­ticed in many other parts of the coun­try.

Bei­jing’s long history has re­sulted in the cap­i­tal play­ing a ma­jor role in boost­ing the re­li­gion, with thou­sands of be­liev­ers mem­o­riz­ing clas­sic scrip­tures and chant­ing su­tras in the city’s monas­ter­ies or in their homes.

QinHon­grong was born into a Han fam­ily in the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion, but she now has a new name, Tong­drimtso, given to her by a “Liv­ing Buddha” — an el­derly, deeply revered monk — at the Wum­ing Ti­betan Bud­dhist In­sti­tute in Sichuan province.

As a child, the 30-year-old singer-song­writer fol­lowed the form of the re­li­gion her par­ents prac­ticed, which orig­i­nated in China’s in­land re­gions and is quite dis­tinct from Ti­betan Bud­dhism, but she never felt a strong con­nec­tion.

How­ever, she was en­chanted by Ti­betan Bud­dism when she vis­ited the in­sti­tute in Wum­ing in 2009, while she was a stu­dent at the Bei­jing Con­tem­po­rary Mu­sic Academy. The trip inspired her to in­cor­po­rate el­e­ments of Ti­betan cul­ture into her mu­sic, and she be­gan learn­ing about Ti­betan Bud­dhism on the in­sti­tute’s web­site, which pro­vides Chi­nese ver­sions of the scrip­tures.

She was ad­vised to read the five clas­sic texts for be­gin­ners 100,000 times each, and de­vised a count­ing sys­tem to help her do so. The task took three years.

Ev­ery morn­ing, she burns in­cense and wor­ships at her home shrine, then sound­lessly mur­murs su­tras to her­self sev­eral times a day. Chant­ing and pray­ing have be­come ha­bit­ual ac­tiv­i­ties and sources of strength in ad­ver­sity.

“Nowa­days, young­peo­ple are so ea­ger to chase af­ter wealth that they can­not en­joy in­ner peace. But Ti­betan Bud­dhism is another world: Ev­ery­thing you are bound to have will come sooner or later, as long as you pur­sue hap­pi­ness and do good for hu­mans and na­ture,” she said. “Be­cause of my be­liefs, I re­frain from money and de­sire, but­many ofmy peers can­not.”

She plans to learn and sing Ti­betan songs, so she takes lan­guage classes and prac­tices at week­endswith­Ti­betan­friends.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2009 book Ti­betanBud­dhis­man­dBei­jing, the re­li­gion was in­tro­duced to Bei­jing, then called Dadu, whenKublaiKhan­found­edthe Yuan Dy­nasty. He ap­pointed Phagpa, his for­mer teacher, to over­see af­fairs in Ti­bet and its neigh­bor­ing ar­eas, andthe cap­i­tal’s first Ti­betan-style monas­ter­ies were built.

Af­ter the col­lapse of the Yuan, the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dy­nas­ties con­tin­ued to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of Ti­betan Bud­dhism in Ti­bet and its out­ly­ing ar­eas, and a large num­ber of lamas and monks moved to prac­tice in Bei­jing.

Li Decheng, di­rec­tor of the Re­li­gious Re­search Depart­ment at the China Ti­betol­ogy Re­search Cen­ter, said an­cient monas­ter­ies re­main in cities such as Wuhan in Hubei province and Xi’an in Shaanxi province, but Bei­jing has al­ways been the lead­ing cen­ter for the prop­a­ga­tion of the re­li­gion be­cause the city em­braces many eth­nic tra­di­tions.

The city was once home to more than 100 Ti­betan-style monas­ter­ies, although there are now just 54.

Li, who has re­searched Ti­betan Bud­dhism for more than 20 years, said the Lama Tem­ple, the res­i­dence of the Qing Dy­nasty em­peror Yongzheng, has al­ways been a pop­u­lar place of wor­ship, and at least 70,000 to 80,000 peo­ple gather there to pray on Ti­betanNewYear’s Day.

Liv­ing Bud­dhas in Bei­jing pray for the coun­try or for those af­fected by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters — the 11th Panchen Lama held a me­mo­rial ser­vice for the dead and in­jured af­ter the 2008 earth­quake in Wenchuan, Sichuan province, he said.

In many ways, the cap­i­tal has acted as a bridge that con­nects Ti­betans with peo­ple from other eth­nic groups, such as Tong­drimtso from the Han eth­nic group, whose per­for­mances of Bud­dhist songs at monas­ter­ies have led her to a deeper un­der­stand­ing of Ti­betan cul­ture.

“I’ve been look­ing for a Ti­betan singer to form a new band and com­pose songs in Ti­betan and Man­darin. That way, I can help to pro­mote in­ter­ac­tion be­tween both eth­nic groups,” she said.

Con­tact the writer at huy­ongqi@ chi­nadaily.com.cn


Qin Hon­grong / Tong­drimtso

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