|Living Buddha: Tibetans enjoy full religious freedom|
Freedom of religious belief is one of the basic rights of Chinese citizens, including all Tibetans, a living Buddha of Tibetan Buddhism said Wednesday.
"Whether people believe in religion or not and in which religion they choose to believe are all at their own choices," Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak, a living Buddha of the Kagyu sect, said when meeting with overseas Chinese.
He was the head of a delegation of five Tibetan deputies of the National People's Congress, which is in the United States for a visit.
The delegation came after a wave of attacks on China by the Dalai Lama, who in a March 10 speech said the religion, culture, language and identity of Tibetans "are nearing extinction."
Speaking through a Mandarin interpreter, Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak, dressed in traditional Tibetan costume, said any one who had been to Tibet would be able to tell whether the Tibetan Buddhism is nearing "extinction" or not.
"There are more than 1,700 monasteries and religious sites of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet. And almost all Tibetan families have niches for Buddhist statues or small scripture-chanting halls at home," he said.
"Religious practice is protected by law as long as it is legal and does not harm the interests of other people," he said.
The 59-year-old living Buddha also said that Tibet used to see serious conflicts between different religious sects before 1959, but now all religious sects and religions coexist in Tibet peacefully.
Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak said the Tibetan cultural heritage has been effectively protected, inherited and developed over the past 50 years.
"Taking the Tibetan oral epic tale Life of King Gesar for example, I remember I saw only two or three books on it when I was young. Now I have seen more than 70 books on it," he said.
The lengthy oral epic which was created between the 10th and 16th centuries tells the story of the ancient Tibetan King Gesar who conquered other Tibetan tribes and brought stability to Tibet.
For a thousand years, the tale has been passed down through singing or recitation by ballad singers or lyricists among Tibetans, Mongolians, and Tu and Naxi people living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
The Chinese central government has earmarked special funds for the collection, collation and publishing of the text of the oral epic tale.
Chen Ching-chun, head of a Chinese society in New York, said he visited Tibet in 2007 and was convinced that "there is no such things like oppression of religion in Tibet."
"I think the so-called religious oppression was fabricated by some Western media and politicians for their own interests," he said after the meeting.
Chen's comments were echoed by Hua Chuen-Hsiung, leader of another overseas Chinese association.
Hua, a Taiwanese American, said he visited Tibet in 1984 and 2005 and noticed great changes in Tibet during his second visit. "It's obvious that people's life has greatly improved," said Hua.
But Hua said most Western people know nothing about the achievements that Tibet has made over the last 50 years. "Their knowledge of Tibet is rather one-sided."