Buddhism's allure fading for some young Tibetans

Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:08pm EST
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

TSEDANG, China (Reuters) - Mima Tsering can call on over a millennium of religious learning and several priceless relics to help tempt young would-be monks into taking their vows, but lately he worries their attractions may be waning.

Abbot of one of Tibet's oldest temples, his prayer hall is full and the youngest recruit is only 20.

But after centuries in which monasteries offered a chance of education and relief from the tough life of a peasant farmer on the Himalayan plateau, they now compete for youngsters who grew up with television, schools, the Internet and other job options.

"I am a little concerned about it, and hope that more young people can take an interest in the monastic life to keep our religious traditions alive," Tsering told Reuters in a corner of the Trankdruk monastery alive with chanting, drums and gongs.

Religion is central to both Tibetan identity and to Beijing's years of conflict with the restive mountain region. Since Chinese Communist troops marched on to the plateau in 1950, most major bouts of unrest have started with protests by monks.

And anger at China's control of the "land of the snows" has been sharpened by constraints imposed by Beijing on monasteries and its denunciation of the exiled Dalai Lama, ultimate spiritual leader for many Tibetan Buddhists, as a scheming separatist.

There are still peasants with religious duties handed down in the family or who prefer a life at a temple to one in the fields.

The ticket collector at one of Tibet's oldest palace-shrines, the Yumbu Lhakang, is among them.   Continued...

<p>Monks recite religious scriptures at the Yumbu Lhakang Temple in Shannan County, Tibet February 13, 2009. REUTERS/Emma Graham-Harrison</p>