Living Buddha must deal with issues that go beyond religion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2011, 12:00am


Angwen Danbarenqing, the 29-year-old abbot of Jiegu Monastery and a living Buddha, has been busy this week in Jiegu town.

He's been shuttling between meetings with designers for the reconstruction of the monastery, local residents wanting to discuss matters of land use, and his monks to make arrangements for memorial services one year after the earthquake that rocked the area last year on April 14.

'In the past year, we have held many salvation ceremonies for families of the quake victims,' said the man known as Danba to his fellow monks. 'We have also helped out in the reconstruction process whenever we were needed.'

More than 90 per cent of Yushu's population are Tibetan Buddhists and they often go to monks for problems beyond religion. For example, some residents were worried about their lands being confiscated without compensation for road construction, and they sought advice from Danba, who then sometimes felt the need to approach the builders to make sure proper procedures were being followed.

'After all, the people are religious, and we can help facilitate communication,' he said.

The use of Tibetan Buddhism in post-quake Yushu is also apparent in the psychological consultation work carried out by Heilongjiang native Meng Fanlong and his teammate, Malaysian volunteer Dr Rachel Ting Sing Kiat, both of whom also worked in Wenchuan , Sichuan , after the 2008 quake.

'One time we tried to console a very poor mother who lost her daughter, but we weren't very successful. In the end we gave her some money to buy a yak-oil lamp so she could burn the lamp for her daughter, and she was much relieved after that,' Ting said. 'It has proved much more effective when we merge elements of religion into our consultation work.'

The team also set up a small prayer hall in a tent at the biggest settlement area in Yushu, as many of the monasteries were still unrepaired.

In a China where religion remains a touchy topic, this sensitivity came to the forefront last year after the quake.

The Jiegu Monastery was the main monastery in charge of burial services for Yushu's quake victims, and tensions rose when Danba and some other Sichuan monasteries said the number of people killed was higher than the official number: the official death toll is 2,698, but monks said the number could be as high as 10,000.

Tension between government and monks who were active in post-quake rescue efforts also became apparent on the fifth day, when monks from outside Yushu were asked to leave.

Danba said he stood by what he said last year - that at least 2,110 bodies were cremated on the first day - but added that relations with the government had remained cordial.

'I'm quite happy with the government's support for the monasteries since the quake,' Danba said. 'I'm also consulted from time to time on general reconstruction in Yushu, such as how to retain Tibetan culture in the reconstruction.'

The living Buddhas of two other monasteries in Yushu - Changgu and Daji - were invited to become consultants on a reconstruction committee set up by the local government. Danba was not.