China expands website for religious workers in latest move to tighten control

International Desk
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China has expanded a website listing details of religious workers so that it now covers all five state-sanctioned religions – Beijing’s latest move to tighten control over their activities.

The website was launched in February, giving the public access to information on Buddhist and Taoist monks and clerics. The Communist Party’s United Front Work Department – which oversees religious activities in China – said at the time that the website could help to expose fraud being carried out by rogue Buddhist and Taoist monks.

It was expanded on Tuesday to cover all priests, nuns, pastors, clerics and other workers in government-approved Catholic, Protestant and Islamic institutions.

Their details – name, gender, photo, religion and denomination, position within the organisation and a government-issued registration number – are all publicly available on the website. Users must provide a telephone number to search for information on the site.

Religious workers who have not been approved and registered by the government are not listed.

The United Front Work Department in February said releasing this information was a way to make religious organisations more self-disciplined. It said the move could help to crack down on fake nuns and monks, amid reports of extortion and sexual abuse by impersonators.

The website is part of a broader campaign by China’s officially atheist ruling party to step up control over religious workers through the use of big data and cadres at the grass roots.

Since 2018, cadres have been assigned to units set up by township and street village committees to surveil the activities of people in religious organisations in their area. That move came after an overhaul that saw the former State Administration for Religious Affairs absorbed into the party system.

Authorities in some areas have also started using big data to help grass-roots officials control and monitor religious activities – including giving them access to information such as the venues, staff, activities and finances of religious groups in their area.

Laohekou, a city in the central province of Hubei, is one example. Its local government in February said hundreds of cadres had downloaded an app to keep track of the finances, security and activities of places of worship and their followers. The cadres are also tasked with disseminating government propaganda to visitors and staff of the temples and churches in their area.

Cameras have also been installed at some places of worship in Laohekou, and elsewhere in China, so that authorities can monitor them in real time. The cameras are connected to Xue Liang, or Sharp Eyes – a vast surveillance project aimed at public spaces in all villages, towns and counties.

Authorities in Xiangyang, which oversees the Laohekou government, said it wanted to expand the use of Sharp Eyes cameras to more religious premises.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Meets with Participants in Tibet House’s Nalanda Courses

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This morning, despite the continuing unseasonable cold and wet weather, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with almost 500 students who have recently graduated from or are currently studying in the Nalanda Masters Course, the Nalanda Diploma Course or the Nalanda Diploma course offered by Tibet House, New Delhi. At present there are more than 4000 students from 98 countries enrolled in courses run by Geshé Dorji Damdul from Tibet House

Dr Kaveri Gill introduced the students and staff of Tibet House to His Holiness and thanked him for sending them a teacher of such calibre as Geshé Dorji Damdul.

Geshé Dorji Damdul then offered three statues and a framed poster related to the Nalanda Courses to His Holiness. He expressed heartfelt respects to His Holiness, to the Sikyong, Penpa Tsering, and to Vice Chairperson of Tibet House, and former Indian Foreign Secretary, Dr Nirupama Rao.

“All of us are your students,” he told His Holiness. “We seek to learn from you. In the last century Mahatma Gandhi was the champion of non-violence—‘ahimsa’, but in the present century His Holiness, is the champion of compassion—‘karuna’.”

He paid tribute to everyone who has helped create the programmes at Tibet House and mentioned Tempa Tsering, Jetsun Pema and Doboom Rinpoché in particular. He also acknowledged that nothing would have taken place without the generous support of the Government of India’s Ministry of Culture and expressed gratitude.

“We are trying to carry forward the torch of compassion and wisdom that His Holiness has held high by promoting fundamental human values. With the help of Telo Tulku we have also recently extended activities related to the Nalanda Courses to Russian-speaking people.

“It is to our hope that universal ethics will be adopted by the United Nations. We pray that world leaders may learn from His Holiness as we aim to achieve peace, freedom and security. May the world continue to enjoy the sunlight of your leadership.”

Mr Deepesh Thakkar, Chief Coordinator of the Nalanda Courses, saluted the chief guests and explained that Tibet House had set up long, medium and short courses of six years, 14 months and one and a half months respectively, to suit their students’ needs. The first group to complete the Nalanda Masters’ six-year course have recently graduated.

Thakkar remarked that Geshé Dorji Damdul had been a guiding light. He noted that among the students there are twice as many women as men and the students’ ages range from 14 to 80 years old.

“We aim,” he asserted, “not to propagate Buddhism but to share the knowledge it vouchsafes to help as many people as possible to be happier, kinder human beings. We thank His Holiness from the bottom of our hearts and also express gratitude to the Tibetan people dedicated down the centuries to preserving the Nalanda Tradition. We pray that His Holiness live long and request that we may continue to receive teachings from him.”

His Holiness addressed the audience, smiling. “Good morning my Dharma brothers and sisters. It’s good that we have this opportunity to meet. Thank you to everyone who has worked to organize it. Having been in exile so long I’ve met so many different people on occasions like this and we have learned from each other.

“Regarding the teaching of the Buddha, Jé Tsongkhapa wrote at the end of his ‘Great Treatise on the Stages to the Path to Enlightenment’:

“Wherever the Buddha’s teaching has not spread
And wherever it has spread but has declined
May I, moved by great compassion, clearly elucidate
This treasury of excellent benefit and happiness for all.

“Places where Buddhism has not spread include Europe and so forth. In the past, people living in those countries only paid attention to their own religious traditions, but these days many are taking an interest in other traditions, particularly the spiritual traditions of India.

“The essence of the Nalanda Tradition is not ritual and prayer but being able to transform the mind. We set up Tibet House so people could learn more about it. Tibet was not always Buddhist, but became so in the 7th and 8th centuries when our kings took an interest. King Songtsen Gampo commissioned a new Tibetan script modelled on the Devanagari alphabet. Consequently, when Shantarakshita came to the Land of Snow at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen, he was able to recommend that Indian Buddhist literature be translated into Tibetan. The result is the Kangyur and Tengyur collections.

“King Trisong Detsen also organized a debate between Kamalashila, who was Shantarakshita’s student, and representatives of the Hvashang Chinese monks. He judged that Kamalashila was able to provide extensive explanations of what the Buddha taught, whereas the Chinese monks were largely focussed on meditation.

“Shantarakshita and Kamalashila established an approach to study and training that involved developing understanding by reading and listening, deepening that understanding through reflection, using reason and logic, and acquiring experience of it in meditation.

“In due course, the great monasteries of Sera, Ganden, Drepung and Tashi Lhunpo became centres of learning where monks studied the great treatises and then used logic to explore what they had learned in debate. Buddhism flourishes in several countries today, but only Tibetan Buddhism presents a comprehensive explanation of what the Buddha taught. Moreover, when scientists want to learn more about what Buddhism has to say about the workings of the mind, they take an interest in the Tibetan tradition.

“It’s because we rely on reason and logic that we have been able to contribute something to the welfare of the world in the context of secular ethics.”

His Holiness mentioned how keen he is to encourage inter-religious harmony. He acknowledged that different spiritual traditions may adopt quite different philosophical positions, but what they all have in common is an emphasis on cultivating a good heart. He noted that India is an exemplary nation where all the world’s major religious traditions flourish side by side. He reiterated what had already been said about the Nalanda Courses being much less about people becoming Buddhist and much more about their being able to enrich their own practice and faith with what they are able to learn from the Nalanda Tradition.

Although Tibet House representatives had requested that His Holiness give an oral transmission of Jé Tsongkhapa’s ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’, he announced that on this occasion he would prefer to give the transmission of Jé Rinpoché’s ‘In Praise of Dependent Arising’. He quoted a verse towards the end of this work in which Tsongkhapa expresses his intention:

Becoming ordained in the way of the Buddha
by not being lax in study of his words,
and by yoga practice of great resolve,
this monk devotes himself to that great purveyor of truth. 53

His Holiness revealed that he too feels great gratitude and devotion to the Buddha because it is by relying on his teaching that he has been able to cultivate the aspiring mind of bodhichitta and an understanding of emptiness.

“Even as a child,” he added, “I had a propensity not to simply accept what I was told. I felt a need to question and investigate it. As someone with the name Dalai Lama I can’t make use of conventional weapons, but I can argue. And I can use my intelligence to investigate the teaching of the Buddha and explain it to others. Questioning and investigating are at the heart of the Nalanda Tradition.

“I received the transmission and explanation of ‘In Praise of Dependent Arising’ from the Khunu Lama Rigzin Tenpa.

“Dependent arising defines the Buddha’s teaching,” His Holiness declared. “Of the two syllables of the Tibetan term for this, ‘ten-jung’, the first means dependent and the second, arising. This gives us an insight into reality. Everything is dependent. Nothing is independent. Things arise in dependence on other factors. Since nothing is independent, everything comes about through dependent relationships.”

His Holiness drew attention to two early verses that praise the Buddha:

This teaching is not seen in the works of others,
the title of Teacher, therefore, is yours alone.
Given to others it is but the hollow flattery
of a fox being hailed as a lion. 7

Greatest of teachers! Greatest protector!
Speaker supreme!
Guide supreme!
I bow to the teacher of dependent arising! 8

“We are all followers of Buddha Shakyamuni,” he proclaimed, “and the best way to repay his kindness is to cultivate the altruistic mind of bodhichitta and an understanding of emptiness. This is what I do, and because of these practices I feel at ease.”

His Holiness answered several questions from the audience, who were then gathered in groups to have their photographs taken with him.


Time running out for Imran Khan

International Desk,
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Imran Khan's anti-army narrative has become his albatross. And his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party is disintegrating with the establishment, a euphemism for the powerful Army leadership, in overdrive to destroy the former prime minister's support base ahead of polls.

The resignations--forced or otherwise-- of his hawkish confidantes like Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry have kindled the debate on the Minus Imran formula, Delhi-based senior journalist and commentator, Malladi Rama Rao writes.

The Shehbaz Sharif government and the Army have mounted an orchestrated campaign to tarnish the image of Imran Khan.

The result of this came out in the form of a flood of allegations of serious financial improprieties by him and also morally unacceptable habits in the Islamic nation. The Federal Health Minister has gone to the town accusing Imran Khan of consuming alcohol and drugs and said as a result of this habit he seems to have lost his 'mental balance'.

The targeted tirade has clearly shaken the erstwhile playboy. He, however, continues to put on a brave face. He has slapped a defamation case against the Health Minister. And intensified his battle against the Army and the Nawaz- Zardari clique. But luck appears to be deserting him, Rao writes.

In a way, Imran Khan has to blame himself for the turn of events. The Army had propelled him to political eminence but he tried to become their nemesis. He has alleged that some top Generals want him assassinated, but has tweaked his strategy of squarely blaming the Army for his ouster through a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022. His 'illegal' arrest was set aside by the higher judiciary but that does not preclude another chance of sending him to prison--this time for a period long enough to exclude his participation in the election process whenever it begins.

As the sedate Karachi daily, Dawn, observed editorially, Imran finds himself 'losing a ruthless, one-sided war of attrition'. This is a familiar story for politicians of all hues in Pakistan ever since the country was carved out of British India in 1947 as a home for the Muslims. No political party or leader can afford to cross the red line and take on the country's all-powerful establishment.

Ironically, Imran Khan is desperate to receive US support in his struggle against the powers that be at home. For weeks he went around accusing the US of hatching a conspiracy to throw him out of power because of his 'independent' policies and clubbed the US with India as countries wanting destruction of the Islamic nation.

According to Malladi Rama Rao, the U-turn makes him look weak and vulnerable too. He has hired an expensive lobbyist in the US to get a 'good word' from influential American lawmakers.

The Biden administration is in a fix. It can openly support Imran only if it wants a sudden setback to its efforts to renew ties with Islamabad- Rawalpindi. But Washington cannot come to the rescue of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government either as it handles the maelstrom created by Imran Khan's populist politics backed by a majority of the population.

The rich 'brotherly' friends in the Muslim world also face a dilemma. They cannot put all their eggs in one basket. Because all the combatants in Pakistan--the government, the Army, the judiciary-- are fellow Muslims.

'All-weather friend' China is also in a fix. It stands the risk of alienating a large section of Pakistanis if it sides with the ruling coalition, which has become quite unpopular.

As it is, Pakistan has already created some problems by failing to curb anger towards China in the restive Balochistan province where many feel that the projects being executed under the multi-billion CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) are not going to help them.

On his part, Imran Khan is aware that he may be unable to participate in the elections. Mass desertions and incarceration of PTI leaders and workers will continue along with the trial of his party workers in military courts. Yet, he believes that his anti-American rhetoric coupled with a not-so-oblique praise of Islamic extremism will bail him out in any election. His calculations may be misplaced.

First of all, the possibility of national polls taking place in October does not look certain, given the utterly chaotic conditions in a deeply divided and nearly bankrupt Pakistan.
A lot can change if the polls are delayed as is likely.

To believe that Pakistan has institutions that can override the 'establishment', and combinations of the civilian rulers and the Army, to order elections when they are due, is no more than wishful thinking.

Even if polls are held before the end of the year there is no guarantee that Imran Khan will win a massive mandate that he hopes for.
The 'third umpire', supposedly 'neutral', is clearly poised to thwart Khan's dreams of returning to power.

Because, the Army has suffered major blows to its popularity and even its credibility because of Khan's anti-army narratives, according to Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, Journalist Rao opines.

A wounded tiger is determined to settle scores with Imran.

Realpolitik has already made Imran Khan climb down from his earlier position of no talks with the government to urgent calls for starting a dialogue. He received a snub from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

His tenure as prime minister exposed him as a poor administrator who pushed the country towards financial bankruptcy. He was selective in weeding out corruption as well. He could barely hide his contempt for democratic practices as he gunned for his political opponents with as much zeal as the present ruling dispensation shows towards him. The message is clear, writes Rao.

Despite his popularity among the masses, Imran Khan is running out of friends, who can help him save his PTI from disintegration, and also win his battle against the Army.

The writer, Malladi Rama Rao is a Delhi-based senior journalist and commentator. (ANI)


Government introduces ‘Achiever Award’ to encourage budding talents: Mein

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Arunachal Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein said Thursday that to encourage the budding talents of the state, the government is introducing the ‘Achiever Award’ from this year, for which a provision of Rs 1 crore has been kept in the budget. Attending the Luminous Lummer Dai Literary Award ceremony here, organised on the occasion of the 83rd birth anniversary of Lummer Dai by the Arunachal Pradesh Literary Society (APLS), Mein highlighted the government’s active role in reviving the stories of the state’s unsung heroes and restoring the folklores of the state pertaining to the various indigenous communities.

The deputy chief minister praised the literary contributions of Dai and stressed the importance of promoting literature and education in the state. He also highlighted the achievements of individuals from various sectors, including sports, education, and business, who brought laurels to the state. Born on June 1, 1940, Dai was a renowned literary icon in the state who made significant contributions to the field of literature. His debut novel, ‘Paharor Xile Xile’ is the first novel written by an Arunachalee. After his demise in 2002, the Assam Sahitya Sabha and the APLS have been honouring his lifetime contributions through various awards and celebrations, and the Luminous Lummer Dai Literary Award is one of the most prominent ones.

Mein later handed over this year’s award to Jumsi Siram, who has also remained a recipient of the Vishwa Hindi Samman since the 12th World Hindi Conference in Nadi, Fiji. Mein also released the latest edition of ‘Pravas’, the only literary magazine in Arunachal Pradesh, along with three other books. The event was also attended by APLS President Y D Thongchi, Itanagar Smart City Development Corp. CEO Dahey Sangno, Assam Publicity Board Secretary Pramod Kalita, Cultural Affairs Secretary Tai Kaye, and Sahitya Akademi Awardee Mamang Dai, among others.


Meghalaya Village Joins In Himalayan Clean-Up

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The Meghalaya Integrated Mountain Development Initiative (MIMDI), the state chapter of the Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI), organised The Himalayan Clean-up (THC) 2023 at Mawlingai village under Umsning block in Ri-Bhoi on Saturday.

This was part of a waste clean-up operation held in rural, semi-urban and urban locations across the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), which was also held to draw the attention of the general public, governmental agencies and traditional institutions to the perils of non-biodegradable waste, especially plastic waste in our daily lives jeopardising the environment and health of the people.

The clean-up saw the wholehearted and enthusiastic participation of members of the Mawlingai dorbar, the residents of the locality besides MIMDI office bearers in cleaning up the area by collecting solid waste.

The volunteers then conducted waste and brand auditing of the collected waste in order to identify the major polluting brands attracting the provisions of the Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR) as laid down in the Solid Waste Management Rules.

Subhasish Das Gupta, MIMDI secretary, thanked the Dorbar Shnong for permission to conduct the clean-up at Mawlingai, outlined the objectives of the clean-up and elaborated on the perils of plastic pollution by drawing the attention of the gathering to the increased habit of use and throw resulting in waste pile up in our surroundings. He also referred to ‘Solutions to Plastic Pollution’ being the theme of this year’s World Environment Day, notwithstanding the national ban on single use plastic from July 1, 2022.

He also explained the importance of waste and brand auditing of the collected waste. Daniel Kharbangar of MIMDI read out the pledge towards a zero waste Himalayan region. Fifteen bamboo baskets were handed over to the village dorbar for placement at various strategic locations in the village for use as garbage bins.

The Secretary of the dorbar, Rishan Mawkdoh, called for a greater awareness and behavioural change in tackling the menace of single-use plastic in our day-to-day life. He urged the residents of the locality to shun the use of plastic and help to keep the village clean.