The majority of Tibetans believe in Tibetan Buddhism. There are also about 2,000 Muslims and 600 Catholics in the autonomous region.
Respect for and protection of freedom of religious belief is a basic policy of the Chinese government. After the peaceful liberation of Tibet, organizations at all levels in Tibet earnestly carried out the policy, gaining the appreciation of both monks and lay people. Protected by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China and state laws, the Tibetan people now enjoy full freedom to participate in normal religious activities. Almost every religious family has a small sutra recitation hall or a niche for a Buddhist statue. More than 1 million worshipers make the pilgrimage to Lhasa each year. Sutra streamers and Mani stone mounds put up by devout believers can be seen everywhere in Tibet. Inside and outside famous monasteries such as the Jokhang are crowds of worshipers either prostrating in prayer, turning their prayer wheels or bowing to Buddhist statues.
During the period of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), however, in Tibet as in other parts of China, the policy on freedom of religious belief was disrupted, and sites and facilities for religious activities were seriously damaged. After the "cultural revolution" ended, the policy on freedom of religious belief began to be implemented again in Tibet in an all-round way. Since 1980, unjust, false and wrong cases have been redressed in Tibet and religious institutions have been reinstated or established, and a great deal of work has been done to ensure freedom of religious belief for all citizens. Over the past decade and more, the Chinese government has appropriated more than 200 million yuan in special funds to implement the religious policy in Tibet. The funds were used to renovate the Jokhang Monastery built in the 7th century, the Samye Monastery built by the king of the Tubo Kingdom in the 8th century, and the four famous monasteries of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism -- Zhaibung, Sera, Gandan and Tashilhunpo. For the renovation of the Potala Palace alone, the central government allotted a lump sum of more than 40 million yuan. In 1984, the central government provided 6.7 million yuan in special funds, 111 kg of gold, 2,000 kg of silver and large quantities of jewelry for the renovation, under the direction of the late 10th Bainqen Lama, of the holy stupas and the memorial halls for the 5th to the 9th Bainqen Lamas. To date, more than 1,400 religious centers have been renovated and opened to the public, meeting the needs of the religious people for their normal religious life. The government has also exerted every effort to locate those Buddhist statues, instruments used in Buddhist services and other religious articles that got lost during the "cultural revolution" and distributed them to the various monasteries and temples, to the welcome of monks and lay people.
In recent years, various religious organizations have organized religious activities on their own. The Tibet branch of the Buddhist Association of China established the Tibet College of Buddhism in 1983 and opened sutra studying classes in some monasteries and temples of various religious sects. There are a total of 3,000 monk students. Every year, a number of Living Buddhas and lamas are sent to the China Tibetan Language High Institute of Buddhism in Beijing for advanced studies. In 1984, the autonomous region's people's government presented the Lhasa edition of the Gangyur of Tripitaka in Tibetan, which used to be kept in local archives, to the Tibet Buddhist Association. It offered 500,000 yuan to the latter for the establishment of the Lhasa Sutra Printing House which, in recent years, has printed more than 1,000 volumes of the Gangyur of Tripitaka in Tibetan for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples located both inside and outside the autonomous region. In 1990, with another 500,000 yuan proffered by the government, the Tibet Buddhist Association started the carving of printing blocks for the Lhasa edition of the Dangyur of Tripitaka in Tibetan in Lhasa's Muru Monastery. The 13th Dalai Lama had intended to commission the work, but the plan never materialized. The journal Tibetan Buddhism was launched by the Tibet Buddhist Association in 1985. Today, the region has more than 34,000 lamas and nuns. A total of 615 people from religious circles have become deputies to the people's congresses and members of the people's political consultative conferences at various levels, as well as directors of the Buddhist associations and government officials. They participate in the management and discussion of government affairs and devote themselves to Tibet's construction undertakings together with other local citizens.
The government respects and protects traditional religious activities and the rites of the various sects. According to the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism and historical traditions, after a Living Buddha passes away his position should be inherited by his incarnation through traditional methods. On June 25, 1992, the central government confirmed the incarnate soul boy of the 16th Living Buddha Garmaba. Government department officials attend such religious activities as the annual Grand Summons Ceremony in Lhasa, the pilgrimage to Snow Mountain in the Year of the Horse, the pilgrimage to the Holy Lake of Nam Co in the Year of the Sheep and the Walking-Around-Religious-Rock Festival at the Razheng Monastery, and offer alms each time. Wedding and funeral customs with religious links also receive full regard.
Thanks to the earnest implementation of the policy on freedom of religious belief, different religions, sects, monasteries, and both religious and secular people in Tibet respect one another and live in harmony. China's Constitution also clearly stipulates that no one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens and hamper the country's educational system. Those who carry out law-breaking and conduct criminal activities under the guise of religion will be prosecuted according to law. In recent years, some monks and nuns in Tibet received legal retribution because they infringed on the law. They were involved in riots that endangered social security and disrupted public order, engaged in beating, smashing, looting, burning and killing and carried out other criminal activities. None was arrested and declared guilty because of religious belief.
Buddhist organizations and religious circles in Tibet have actively carried out friendly exchanges with their counterparts abroad. Since China introduced reform and opening up, the Tibet branch of the Buddhist Association of China and some monasteries and temples have organized religious groups to go on friendly tours, visits, inspections and academic exchanges abroad. They have also hosted more than 10,000 people from several dozen countries who came, either in groups or individually, on pilgrimage, or for sightseeing or inspection tours.
Since the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, many noted religious figures have worked in co-operation with the Chinese Communist Party and the government, and participated in the management and discussion of government affairs. They have played an active part in the construction of the country and Tibet, earning the admiration of the people and winning the respect of the government. For several decades, the late 10th Bainqen Erdeni Qoigyi Gyaincan, co-leader of Tibetan Buddhism with the Dalai Lama, constantly adhered to a patriotic stand and made great contributions to the peaceful liberation of Tibet, to the struggle against separatism, to the safeguarding of the unification of the motherland and to the strengthening of the unity of various ethnic groups. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, he served as a vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee and the honorary president of the Buddhist Association of China. He passed away in January 1989. The government decided to build a holy stupa and memorial hall for the remains of the 10th Bainqen Erdeni Qoigyi Gyaincan in the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigaze, and hold memorial ceremonies, preserve his body and look for and choose the reincarnated soul boy to succeed him according to Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Currently, structures of the holy stupa and the memorial hall are basically completed, and the search for the child is proceeding smoothly under the charge of Living Buddha Qazha Qamba Chilai of the Tashilhunpo Monastery.
Excerpts from Tibet -- Its Ownership And Human Rights Situation published by Information Office of the State Council of The People's Republic of China