This post sheds more light on the mysterious deaths of Tibetan lama Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and his niece Ani Atse in a fire in April 2012. Read a Radio Free Asia report from May 4, 2012 here.
For more posts by Woeser about the differing tallies of self-immolations in Tibet, read previous articles, “Why Are Different Numbers of Self-Immolations in Tibet Talked About?” and “Why Didn’t Kalon Tripa Read Out Tapey’s Name?”.
On the left is Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche (also known as Athub), the Rinpoche of Dragkar Monastery in Lhagang Township, Dartsedo, Kham (today’s Kangding County, Garze Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province). He was 45 years of age, and once held the position of the Abbot of Dzogchen Monastery, and had until now been the Abbot of Lhagang Tibetan Buddhist Institute. Ani Atse, 23 years old, was the niece of Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and a nun at the Serthar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. She was from Longguyi Village in Lhagang Township, Dartsedo, Kham (today’s Kangding County, Garze Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province). On April 6, 2012 (the 15th day of the 2nd month according to the Tibetan calendar), after burning butter lamps and praying for all the martyrs who have self-immolated, the two sacrificed their lives.
The place where Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and his niece, the nun Ani Atse, self-immolated: a simple and crude Tibetan-style wooden, three-room apartment situated on a slope; only a third of their house shows signs of a fire, anyone with a good sense can see that if there had really been an unexpected fire accident, everyone living inside the house would have been able to flee. From this it becomes obvious that Rinpoche and Ani Atse who burned to death inside purposefully self-immolated.
“Why Does the Number of Tibetan Self-Immolators Vary?”
On July 17, the 18-year-old monk, Losang Lozin, from Gedhen Tashi Choeling monastery sacrificed himself through self-immolation. A Chinese media person wrote on his blog: “now the official figures regarding the self-immolations in Tibet are quite chaotic, the authoritative Phayul.com says that there have been 45 cases of self-immolations inside Tibet, Woeser says that there have been 46; the meticulous Woeser even established records for every single one of these heroes, here using Woeser’s own calculations as the norm.”
What I need to clarify is that the reason why I established these records for the heroes is because there have always been incomprehensible mistakes with regards to the number of Tibetan self-immolations. It started by neglecting the first self-immolator, Tapey, who sacrificed himself on February 27, 2009 and now another issue has occurred. Recently, on his fourth trip to the United States in his one-year-long time in office, the Kalon Tripa, when announcing to the world that “the Tibetan people, dedicated to non-violence, have resorted to self-immolations in record numbers this year to protest their treatment at the hands of the Chinese government”, only talked of altogether 44 self-immolators inside Tibet.
So how many cases of self-immolations have there been? 44 or 46? In fact, the reason why it is 46 is related to two particular self-immolators. They are Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and his niece Ani Atse. On April 6 (the 15th day of the 2nd month according to the Tibetan calendar), their bodies went up in flames inside their wooden home in the Lhagang Township of Dartsedo, Kham, (today’s Kangding County, Garze Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province) while burning butter lamps and praying for all the martyrs who have self-immolated; their dead bodies were still in the position of a person praying. Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche, 45 years of age, was the Rinpoche of the Nyigma monastery, Dragkar monastery, once held the position of the Abbot of Dzogchen Monastery, and had until now been the Abbot of the Lhagang Tibetan Buddhist Institute. Ani Atse was 23 years old and was a nun at Serthar Tibetan Buddhist Institute.
Subsequently, even though the Tibetan and Chinese programmes of RFA reported on this, because of the theory that it had been an accident involving fire, the facts were totally unclear and the incident was reported as “doubting the death through self-immolation” and did not receive any further attention. Also, Rinpoche and Ani Atse have never been officially added to the list of martyrs who self-immolated.
Not long ago, on July 4, some photos of Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and Ani Atse were put up on Sina Weibo by Tibetans; it was explained that after the two had self-immolated, the work team and military police stationed in the area tried to conceal the event by making up the story of an accident; simultaneously, they also threatened Tibetan monks and common people that if they revealed this case, their monastery, Buddhist institute and primary school would be closed down. As a result, the monastery management committee had to approve of this fabricated story to avoid such actions. Moreover, Rinpoche and Ani Atse’s relatives who are all nomads living in the countryside, out of fear accepted RMB 10,000 in cash and a few bags of rice from the work group and military police and remained silent.
Today, although the truth has already been revealed at the risk of local Tibetans and the story has been reported once again in great detail by RFA, but the two self-immolators’ family members as well as the local people all hope that Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and Ani Atse can be recognised as heroes who self-immolated and who will be, just like all other self-immolators, acknowledged and remembered; however, the exile Tibetan officials have not recognised this case until now. Of course, it is good to be cautious so as to avoid making mistakes, but the Central Tibetan Administration has so many communication channels and strategical means that as long as they have a sense of responsibility, they could easily find a way to learn the truth.
In June this year, a foreigner who is closely observing the Tibetan self-immolations went to visit Dragkar Monastery in Lhagang Township, Kangding County – the monastery of Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche. Even though the locals did not dare to tell him the truth, they secretly let the visitor film Rinpoche’s photos, which they had saved in their mobile phones and they also took him to the house of the two self-immolators, a simple and crude Tibetan-style wooden, three-room apartment situated on a slope; only a third of their house shows signs of a fire, anyone with a good sense can see that if there had really been an unexpected fire accident, everyone living inside the house would have been able to escape. From this it becomes obvious that Rinpoche and Ani Atse who burned to death inside, purposefully self-immolated.
It is said that this foreigner has already passed the photos on to the Central Tibetan Administration and that he also informed them about the situation. But somehow up to the present day, Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and Ani Atse are still not officially recognised, the official number of self-immolations inside Tibet remains to be 44. With regards to this, all those who are concerned about Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and Ani Atse have the pressing desire to know why this is the case.
August 1, 2012