No Dalai Lama at the Second World Buddhist Forum
Beijing is not inviting the Dalai Lama, because he is "a political leader." Great spectacle and pomp, but the delegates complain of the purely political significance, and the lack of genuine exploration. Meanwhile, Tibet will reopen to tourists in April.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Second World Buddhist Forum is about to conclude. It began with great pomp on March 28 in Wuxi (Jiangsu), in the imposing new "Buddha Palace," amid carefully choreographed performances and orchestra music. More than 1,700 monks and experts from 46 countries participated, but no representative of the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, was invited.

The forum, entitled "A Harmonious World, a Synergy of Conditions," concludes today. The work will be resumed tomorrow for another two days, in Taipei. Experts observe that the initiative, organized by the Chinese government, clearly has a purely political meaning.

Jia Qinglin, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told a group of about 100 delegates on March 27 that he hopes that Chinese Buddhists will be able to make an ever greater contribution to economic development in China, to social harmony and to the peaceful development of relations with Taiwan.

On that same day, Ming Sheng, spokesman of the Buddhist Association of China, a state-run organization, explained that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, was not invited because he is held to be an exclusively political leader.

Attending instead was Gyancain Norbu, the Panchen Lama recognized by Beijing but not by the Tibetans, who gave a speech in excellent English. He praised the Chinese government, which allows "social harmony, stability, and religious freedom" in the country. As the legitimate Panchen Lama, the second highest-ranking figure of the Buddhist hierarchy, the Tibetans recognize Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who disappeared in 1995 at the age of 6 and has not been heard from since.

The comments of delegates from other countries are expressing admiration for the perfect organization of the conference, without mentioning any authentically religious features.

Gene Reeves, an international adviser at Rissho Kosei-kai in Tokyo, tells the South China Morning Post that "it really is a spectacle," but laments the fact that it is unlikely that there will be any in-depth consideration of questions.

The Vietnamese monk Thich Minh Nhan, a lecturer at Viet Nam Buddhist University, observes that for China, the "political significance" of the encounter "is more obvious this year than at the first forum in 2006."

From Dharamsala, Urgen Tenzin, director of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, comments to AsiaNews that the meeting is situated within the context of the "constant pressure of the Chinese government on the international community, to have no relations with the Dalai Lama." He observes that Beijing wants to use the Buddhist religion as well for political purposes, indicating that with the Dalai Lama, Tibet was a feudal regime, while in reality "it was an independent country."

Meanwhile it has been announced that in Tibet, essentially under martial law and occupied by the Chinese army, the borders will be reopened to foreign tourists beginning on April 5.

Bachug, the local tourism official, says that "now Tibet is harmonious and safe." The borders were closed in February ahead of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the revolt against Chinese domination on March 10, and of the protests on March 14, 2008, which were violently repressed.

Other tourist sources, however, say that tourists will be able to enter only beginning on April 28, will require a special permit, and will not be able to mix with Chinese groups.

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this report)