Exclusive insight into human rights achievements through the growth of young Living Buddhas in Xizang Buddhism Academy
Published: Jun 17, 2024 10:00 PM
Editor's Note: 

China's human rights stories are unfolding in a new era of comprehensive deepening reform and historic changes. It is a great practice of China's poverty alleviation and whole-process people's democracy, a thorough reformation in judicial, medical insurance and other key sectors related to the national economy and people's livelihood, as well as a combination of numerous impressive and inspiring individual stories.

To be nurtured in youth, be educated, secure gainful employment, receive medical care when ill, be cared for in old age, have a place to live, and be supported when weak... these are concrete embodiment of human rights, which explains that the greatest human right is the right to the happiness of the people. 

For a long time, some politicians and media outlets in a few countries have been hostile and prejudiced against China, leading to a lack of understanding among foreign audiences about the concepts and achievements in China's human rights development. But what is revealed in the daily lives of the Chinese people speaks to the most basic truth: Rights to survival and development are fundamental human rights. 

The Global Times is launching a series of articles, telling the vivid stories about human rights protection in the new era. We expect this series to become a window through which more foreign readers will understand how Chinese people recognize human rights and what efforts they have made to fight for and fully enjoy human rights in their daily lives.

The Xizang Buddhism Academy in the suburbs of Lhasa in Northwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region

The Xizang Buddhism Academy in the suburbs of Lhasa in Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region

14-year-old Changpa Khenrab Chokyi Wangchuk hurriedly walked across the campus toward his classroom. 

The scarlet robe contrasted sharply with the white walls of the buildings and the unique pale blue sky of the plateau. This was an ordinary afternoon, and at this moment, Changpa Khenrab appeared just like any other schoolboy.

It is just his long religious name that signifies that the 14-year-old boy is a Living Buddha of Tibetan Buddhism. 

His campus is located in the suburbs of Lhasa in Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region. Approved by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the Xizang Buddhism Academy was established in 2011. Currently, there are over 700 students here, including nine young Living Buddhas, who receive both religious and general education.

Changpa Khenrab quietly entered the classroom and sat down; the scripture debate class had already started. He leaned over to ask the classmate next to him - another young Living Buddha - which page they were on in the textbook. 

The classroom, typical in size by Chinese school standards, had six students. The teacher, an elderly high monk with a kind demeanor, sat on an elevated cushion at the back of the room, speaking rapidly yet rhythmically in Tibetan, explaining the scriptures and frequently posing questions to the students. The small class size allows the students to concentrate and respond to nearly every question.

In another classroom down the corridor, three younger Living Buddhas were attending a similar class, though their material was slightly simpler. 

An hour later, the bell rang, and the students quickly dashed out of the classroom in pairs or groups, crossing the campus again. Each day, they also practice their debating skills in the debate yard, an essential part of mastering the Buddhist scriptures as Tibetan Buddhist monks.

The reincarnation of Living Buddhas is a unique succession system of Tibetan Buddhism, respected by both the national and regional governments. 

The young Living Buddhas at the Xizang Buddhism Academy fully enjoy their right to receive both general and religious education, preparing them to serve their followers and religion. This thoroughly demonstrates China's efforts to protect traditional culture, religious freedom, and human rights in Xizang.

From far left to right: Monks in the Xizang Buddhism Academy enjoy a basketball game in October, 2023. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

From far left to right: Monks in the Xizang Buddhism Academy enjoy a basketball game in October, 2023. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Young Living Buddha's life

Changpa Khenrab is quiet boy.  

When the reporters visited him, he was sitting in his room reading scriptures. Sunlight poured in from the window behind him, giving him a holy appearance.

Changpa Khenrab comes from Nyingchi city in southeastern Xizang, which is at a lower-altitude region. His parents are both civil servants. When he was in kindergarten, several monks came to his home one day, saying he might be a reincarnated soul boy.

In Tibetan Buddhism, it is believed that Living Buddhas and eminent monks return as children after passing away, inheriting the memories and wisdom of their past lives. Through certain signs, a reincarnated soul boy can be identified and confirmed. Many Living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, have their titles inherited in this way.

Changpa Khenrab was eventually identified as the sixth Jilong Living Buddha of Champa Ling Monastery in Qamdo city. And his life changed completely.

Champa Ling Monastery, built in 1444, is the largest Gelugpa monastery in east Xizang and still holds great influence in the Qamdo region. 

After spending several years at the monastery, Changpa Khenrab came to the Xizang Buddhism Academy in 2018, becoming a member of the second cohort of young Living Buddhas.

Here, Changpa Khenrab studies and grows with other Living Buddhas of his age. There are nine students in his class, seven from the Xizang Autonomous Region and two from Shangri-La and Lijiang respectively in Southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Konchok Nyima, the class teacher, explained that the young Living Buddha class offers religious and general subjects, including Chinese literature, mathematics, Tibetan, English, and physical education. Additionally, there are specialized classes in scripture debate and recitation. 

Nyima noted that since these young Living Buddhas' enrollment in 2018, the students have shown dedication and a positive attitude toward their studies, achieving significant progress under the teachers' guidance.

The young Living Buddha class primarily receives nine years of compulsory education and Buddhist studies. In elementary school, Buddhist education accounts for 20 percent and general education 80 percent. In junior high school, the proportion of Buddhist courses rises to 30 percent. 

The young Living Buddhas currently at the academy have completed their elementary education and are now in the second year of junior high. The academy balances innovative and traditional religious education.

Changpa Khenrab's room is filled with various books. Recently, he studied the ancient Chinese prose "Little Stone Pool" by Liu Zongyuan, Tang Dynasty (618-907), in class and learned dialogues for shopping in English class. The teacher is also explaining Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophical ideas to them. 

Recently, he has been working on improving his Chinese essay writing skills and showed the reporters an essay he wrote on his iPad - "My Good Friend," which describes another young Living Buddha living next door in his dormitory.

Konchok Nyima mentioned that the students' daily lives are rich and varied. Besides their daily studies, they engage in physical exercise and evening scripture recitation and debates. 

Changpa Khenrab Chokyi Wangchuk, a young Living Buddha, reads a Tibetan scripture in his dormitory in the Xizang Buddhism Academy.Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Changpa Khenrab Chokyi Wangchuk, a young Living Buddha, reads a Tibetan scripture in his dormitory in the Xizang Buddhism Academy.Photo: Shan Jie/GT

At the academy, the young Living Buddhas' lives are well taken care of. Like every Living Buddha, Changpa Khenrab has a personal attendant who looks after his daily needs, a tradition in the Living Buddha system. Wangyel, a disciple and relative of the previous Jilong Living Buddha, felt indebted to the Living Buddha and decided to take good care of the young Living Buddha. Always smiling, Wangyel manages Changpa Khenrab's life meticulously.

Changpa Khenrab has a one-bedroom dormitory, warmly decorated, with nuts and Tibetan snacks always on the table in the living room. His bedroom walls are adorned with his calligraphy works, and his desk is filled with books. 

In one corner, several boxes of basketball shoes reveal the young Living Buddha's boyish side. "I like Stephen Curry; he's great at shooting three-pointers," said Changpa Khenrab, referring to the NBA star, whose plaster cartoon figure, his recent birthday gift, stands on his windowsill. "Among the nine of us, seven are basketball fans, and two are soccer fans. So those two are forced to play basketball with us," he laughed.

As a Living Buddha, Changpa Khenrab has not been home for a long time. During holidays, he returns to Champa Ling Monastery to perform religious services. His goal is to become a patriotic and religiously devoted eminent monk one day, serving his followers.

When asked about his similarities and differences with his peers, Changpa Khenrab said that being a Tibetan Buddhism Living Buddha "seems to be a difference." 

"The similarity is that we all need to work hard to succeed," he said.

Temple of knowledge

Walking through the campus of the Xizang Buddhism Academy, it is no different from universities elsewhere. 

Students gather in small groups, chatting and laughing as they rush to their next lecture. On the basketball court, several monks take turns making layups. The cafeteria offers high-quality yak meat, curry, vegetables, and fruits such as green grapes, pears, and bananas. On the lawn, a lama sits reading, enjoying the last warm rays of autumn sunshine.

Vice president Kelsang Yangkyi of the Xizang Buddhism Academy detailed the academy's history and educational system. She mentioned that, approved by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the academy opened in 2011 and has since trained 1,882 graduates for various temples across the region. Among them, 838 students were awarded the intermediate academic degree, or "Zhiranba," 1,044 students were awarded the junior academic degree, or "Chanranba," and 45 Living Buddha students were enrolled, with 34 having graduated. In total, the academy has trained 2,640 monks and nuns.

"More than 350 graduates hold positions in various organizations in Xizang, such as the People's Congress, the People's Political Consultative Conference, the Youth Federation, the Women's Federation, the Buddhist Association, and temple management committees. They effectively take on the responsibility of implementing the central government's decisions and requirements on ethnic and religious work, and uniting the strength of the broad masses of religious believers, making positive contributions to promoting religious harmony, social harmony, and ethnic unity," she said.

A young Living Buddha and his personal attendant walk in campus after class. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

A young Living Buddha and his personal attendant walk in campus after class. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Kelsang Yangkyi said the academy's educational system includes courses in politics and philosophy, public education, and religious studies, taught in a 2:2:6 ratio. Most students come from major temples across the region and are admitted through voluntary registration and an examination. 

A significant portion of the academy's students is young people, so the school also focuses on modern technology education and application, encouraging students to use innovative methods in learning and work. 

According to Kelsang Yangkyi, some students, after returning to their temples, use computers to organize ancient texts. They feel that their studies have greatly helped them, and thus have a strong interest in mastering high-tech skills. Some students even proactively ask teachers for extra lessons.

The reporters visited during a campus basketball tournament. That evening, there was a high-stakes match between teams of different grades. After dinner, students and staff gathered in the indoor stadium, with hundreds sitting around the court, creating a lively atmosphere.

The standout star players were easily recognizable by their attire - baseball caps and headphones, Lakers shorts and athletic tights, and brightly-colored basketball shoes. If not told otherwise, one might think they were rappers or NBA stars, rather than monks.

The audience's eyes followed the orange ball back and forth, exclaiming at each shot or foul. They pulled out their smartphones, capturing the joyful moments.

Rights fully protected

The principle that "the greatest human right is the happiness of the people" is deeply reflected in China's management of religious affairs and its protection of religious freedom, serving as a significant example of human rights protection.

In November, 2023, the State Council Information Office of China released a white paper titled "CPC Policies on the Governance of Xizang in the New Era: Approach and Achievements." The document states that Xizang currently has over 1,700 venues for Tibetan Buddhist activities with about 46,000 monks and nuns, four mosques with around 12,000 permanent Muslim residents, and one Catholic church with over 700 followers. 

Over 1,700 religious and folk activities, including the Shoton Festival, Butter Lamp Festival, Saga Dawa Festival and the walks around lakes and mountains, help to preserve the solemn traditional rituals and demonstrate new vitality with modern cultural elements. The reincarnation system of Living Buddhas is recognized and respected by both the national and regional governments.

From far left to right: Monks in the Xizang Buddhism Academy enjoy a basketball game in October, 2023. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

From far left to right: Monks in the Xizang Buddhism Academy enjoy a basketball game in October, 2023. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

In 2007, China issued the "Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism," detailing the principles, conditions, and procedures for applying and approving reincarnations. The regulations specify that major reincarnations, including those of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, must follow domestic search procedures, the drawing of lots from the Golden Urn, and central government approval, ensuring the lawful and orderly conduct of these religious traditions. In 2016, the online database of legitimate Living Buddhas was launched online. By the end of 2022, 93 new reincarnated Living Buddhas had been approved and recognized.

Besides these developments, Xizang has entered a new era of progress across political, economic, cultural, ethnic, religious, social, and ecological fields. 

"Xizang eliminated absolute poverty, which is a remarkable achievement especially on the harsh plateau," Yan Jinhai, deputy secretary of the Communist Party of China Xizang Autonomous Regional Committee and chairman of Xizang autonomous region of the region, stated at a press conference in November 2023 in Beijing.

Xizang is the first in China to establish a 15-year free education system covering kindergarten through high school, with complete school heating coverage. According to the white paper, the average life expectancy in Xizang has increased to 72.19 years, and medical insurance covers all urban and rural residents, with basic pension insurance participation rates maintained above 95 percent. 

For the first time in the centuries-long history of Tibetan Buddhism, monks and nuns in Xizang are covered by medical insurance, pension insurance, minimum living security, accident insurance, and health checkups.

Li Decheng, deputy director-general of China Tibetology Research Center, told the Global Times that the development of human rights in Xizang symbolizes the overall achievements of China's human rights efforts. 

"From a state of 'absolute poverty' where people's rights were not guaranteed, to the era after the founding of New China in 1949 and the peaceful liberation of Xizang in 1951, the people of Xizang began to truly enjoy the right to happiness," he said.

"The people's right to survival and development determines their right to happiness. Especially since the new era, Xizang has achieved great development accomplishments, enabling all people to fully enter a moderately prosperous society and embarking on a new journey of socialist modernization. The well-being of the people is fully protected, and the human rights achievements in Xizang are of global significance," the expert said.