Possible Shift in China Re: Buddhism

In 1959, during the invasion of Tibet by China, the 14th Dalai Lama fled and has lived in exile ever since.[i] While there has been no change in China’s official stance towards the Dalai Lama, there are indications that tensions in China may be relaxing towards Tibetan Buddhism.

While corrupt business practices have been ensconced, for some of the super-rich in China there is a search for new ways to be even more successful. This longing has manifested itself as a desire for good karma through practicing Buddhism, and spending their resources promoting Buddhism, and providing for Buddhist monks.

In a New York Times interview[ii] with John Osborn, author of Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich, Osborn stated,

Now that every Shanxi coal baron’s mistress can afford Louis Vuitton, in order to differentiate themselves, other new rich are moving on to other pursuits and tastes.

I think this is part of what’s driving this interest in spiritual and moral cultivation. Some people are genuinely interested in spiritual transformation. But there’s also an element of social distinction that’s feeding this trend.

Osborn explained that some of the wealthy donating to monks and temples call it their “spiritual protection money,” but found that others have been more serious about applying Buddhist teachings to their lives. He said, “. . . I’ve encountered several people whose lives have been radically transformed by Buddhism.”

In a recent BBC article, “China’s Super-Rich Communist Buddhists,”[iii] BBC Journalist John Sudworth described being invited into a former senior Communist Party official’s home. There he witnessed Xiao Wunan sitting with Buddhist monk Geshe Sonam and beneath a portrait of the Dalai Lama and a Buddhist shrine. He explained that the idea of seeing a former official doing this would previously have been “preposterous” or “laughable,” yet it was exactly what Xiao was doing.

Further in the article, another wealthy Chinese businessman, Sun Kejia, said, “I was once confronted with great difficulties and problems in my business. I felt they couldn’t be overcome by human effort and that only Buddha, ghosts and God could help me.”

Thirty-six year old Sun’s fortune is estimated at over $100 million. He runs a chain of clubs, and he pays for Buddhist gurus to come and teach his clients. Sun said, “I desire influence.”  He describes his friends coming to his club as being “attracted to this place. I can use the resources they bring to do my other business. From that angle, it is also my contribution for spreading Buddhism. This brings good karma and so I get what I want.”

According to the Cultural China website[iv], Chinese worship the Tibetan Gods of Wealth, such as the:

  • Heavenly King of Wealth
  • Yellow Wealth God
  • Black Wealth God
  • White Wealth God
  • Umbrella Heavenly King

In addition, “Each time of the Spring Festival, every family will hang a picture of the god for blessings of great luck and large wealth.”

It is unknown when China as a nation might officially recognize the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism, but it is evident at this time that the people of China have already begun to do so, and in particular many of the super-rich are in pursuit of karmic blessing and transformation.


[i] “Dalai Lama,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalai_Lama, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[ii] Ian Johnson, “Q and A with John Osburg on China’s Wealthy Turning to Spiritualism,” New York Times. (December 18, 2014), http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/q-and-a-john-osburg-on-chinas-wealthy-turning-to-spiritualism/?_r=1, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[iii] John Sudworth, “China’s Super-Rich Communist Buddhists,” BBC.com. (February 7, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30983402, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[iv] “Tibetan Buddhist Gods of Wealth,” CulturalChina.com, http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/html/en/Traditions29bye115.html, retrieved February 10, 2015.