Founder Master Lobsang Dechen (Wang Xingfu) was sentenced to 25 years as a “cult” leader guilty of fraud and sexual abuse. His disciples continue to be arrested.
by Ding Bohai
Members of a group called Institute of Tantric Buddhism or Institute of Esoteric Mind Cleansing (密宗洗心学研究所) continue to be arrested in China after their leader, Wang Xingfu, who called himself Master Lobsang Dechen (not to be confused with other Tibetan monks known under the same name), was sentenced in 2021 to 25 years in jail. His Institute was called a xie jiao (a banned “heterodox teaching”) and Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code, making organizing and being active in a xie jiao a crime, was applied against Wang. However, the heavy penalty also resulted from charges of sexual abuse and fraud.
Bitter Winter tried to reconstruct the story of this comparatively new entry in the list of the xie jiao by interviewing Buddhists who knew Wang. We collected different opinions. Some told us that Wang, although a charismatic Buddhist master, was a womanizer, and that accusations that he used his position to sleep with multiple female disciples are believable. Others insist that he had been framed by the police and did not commit any wrongdoing. A woman who maintain the latter version insisted that respected Buddhist teachers had endorsed Wang. His opponents say senior teachers and monks were bribed to sign endorsements.
One respected and popular monk who supported Wang and the Institute was Master Gongzhi of the Oruo Temple in Sêrxü (Shiqu) county, Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. The authorities claim that it was one of Gongzhi’s disciples, Lu Rong, who persuaded the master to accept Wang as a disciple and recognize him as a tulku, i.e. a reincarnate custodian of a Tibetan Buddhist lineage. Eventually, Lu Rong cooperated with Wang’s activities in the Institute, and was arrested with him. When Wang was sentenced last year to a jail term of 25 years by the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court, Lu Rong got in turn six years.
According to the trial’s reports and documents, Wang was born in Shandong province on January 4, 1955, and worked as a prison guard. He was also a qigong enthusiast, who supplemented his income by teaching qigong classes, which eventually became his main profession. In 1996, he founded the first nucleus of his Institute. After the 1999 crackdown on Falun Gong, which led to the repression of other qigong schools as well, Wang used “esoteric Buddhism” or “Tantric Buddhism” to designate his teachings rather than “qigong.”
It was thanks to the endorsement of the popular Master Gongzhi that, as the tulku Lobsang Dechen, Wang was able to expand his Institute, gathering thousands of followers and opening centers in at least twenty Chinese cities. He also published several books.
In 2016, a woman accused him of sexual abuse on social media. The Oruo Temple issued a press release defending him, but he was arrested on June 23, 2017.
One crime he was charged with, was having proclaimed himself a tulku without the authorization of the Communist Party. China, in fact, has a paradoxical law under which the CCP, an officially atheist organization, should authorize the reincarnation of Buddhist masters, and recognize who is the reincarnation of whom. The State Administration of Religious Affairs in Tibet and the government-controlled China Buddhist Association have established a web site where Buddhists can check whether a “living Buddha” is or is not certified as such by the authorities.
Besides operating a xie jiao, Wang was also sentenced for having accumulated significant wealth at the expenses of gullible followers, and induced several female disciples to sleep with him. We have no way of knowing whether these accusations are true. We know they are often used against religious leaders the CCP disapprove of. On the other hand, Chinese Buddhists know that incidents of sexual abuse by Buddhist masters, both recognized and non-recognized by the official China Buddhist Association, do happen.
However, as a follower of the Institute, who maintains Wang is innocent, told Bitter Winter, “the CCP says that only Master [Lobsang Dechen, aka Wang] was guilty of sexual crimes, but they keep arresting his followers. What crime did they commit?”