The recent Kalachakra teachings held in Bodhgaya, India, were followed online by a record number of people online, including Woeser. According to the website of the Central Tibetan Administration, the main organiser of the teachings, the live streams of the teachings on Facebook Live reached over 3 million people.
Readers may want to go back to these two articles from 2012:
These articles talk about the restrictions imposed on Tibetans attending from inside Tibet and what they faced upon their return. These restrictions were repeated this year as well.
“Discussing the Meaning of the Kalachakra Teachings Again”
Five years ago, also around this time of the year, in my article “Discussing the Meaning of the Kalachakra Teachings”, I referred to master filmmaker Werner Herzog’s documentary “Wheel of Time”, in which he included footage of the Kalachakra initiations held in Graz, Austria in October 2002 and in Bodhgaya, India in January 2003. Monks wearing solemn Buddhist robes and carrying sacred Buddhist objects were spending days meticulously preparing for the event. In Graz, they used coloured sand to precisely recreate the Kalachakra mandala. Upon completion, devotess took turns to worship and pay respect to it; at the end, His Holiness the Dalai Lama used a sharp vajra to destroy it, transforming the Kalachakra mandala back into colourful sand; actually, it was no longer sand when it was poured into a precious bottle and later slowly emptied into a foreign river, taken away by the current to the sounds of His Holiness’ beautiful voice: “All religions and devotees advocate love, mercy, forgiveness, tolerance, happiness and self-discipline, these people possess humanity’s most essential characteristics, it is unrelated to whether you believe or not, because all of this is the source of happiness.”
Five years ago, in 2012, the 32nd Kalachakra initiations were held in Bodhgaya. Among the over 200,000 attendees, 10,000 were from inside Tibet; there were also around 1000 Chinese devotees from different places in China. This is why His Holiness emphasised at the beginning of the ceremony that Tibetans from within Tibet and Chinese were the main target audiences. In my essay I wrote: “If Tibetans from Tibet could obtain a passport as easily as the Chinese, the number of Tibetans in Bodhgaya would have far exceeded 10,000. And yet, the fact that after the 2008 uprising, this many Tibetans could actually get hold of a passport to make the pilgrimage was not easy. The majority of them were elderly from Kham and Amdo; there were more from the Dechen Autonomous Region in Yunnan than from Kardze. In any case, the fact that local governments gave these elderly Tibetans permission to listen to the Dalai Lama was considered an act of kindness.”
The Tibetans had worn themselves out just to get passports and their route had been plagued with hardship, until finally they obtained the nourishing nectar of the buddha dharma at the sacred site. They experienced a brief moment of happiness, never imagining that there would be a later “settling of scores;” that this would set in motion an experience of mental and physical torment: they were interrogated and searched, their possessions were confiscated and they were taken into detention. They still remember in shock how they were gathered together and completely shut off from the outside world; they were put into different “study groups” in different places where they were “educated” for weeks and months, some of them were already 80 years old. The content of the “education” included “patriotic education”, “legal education”, education on national religious policies etc. They were also requested to publicly report what they had learnt during their “studies”, reflecting on their feelings, providing a comparison of before and after, condemning the past and embracing the present, while also showing their most profound thankfulness to the Party. Most tormenting were the repeated and constant questionings, the carrot and stick methods adopted. These “study groups” were particularly unbearable for those who had lived through the Cultural Revolution and other political movements. At the end, everyone was recorded in a book and thus added to a special group of people whose freedom would be heavily restricted.
All Tibetans who had attended the Kalachakra teachings had to surrender their passports. And the passport nightmare was to become even worse. In April 2012, the Tibet Autonomous Region’s government issued a new passport approval law, making the application procedures extremely complicated, strict and almost impossible for anyone to cross a border. Plus, those Tibetans who had originally had a passport, including those who did not attend the Kalachakra teachings, had to surrender their passports, regardless of whether they had expired or not and everyone was subject to investigation and screenings. Even though the local authorities said that they would issue a new passport, until today this has not happened. These new laws were adopted in all four Tibetan provinces. In a different article, I once wrote: “According to China’s administrative subdivisions, the Tibetan area spreads across five provinces (including Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan Provinces and the TAR); each province differs slightly in terms of local policy arrangements, but regarding passport applications, there is no difference; all Tibetans are basically not allowed to obtain one. Of course, there are some who manage to successfully apply, but the number is vanishingly low and the procedures are highly complex and full of outrageous unwritten rules and regulations.” This also means that the vast majority of Tibetans are facing a passport dilemma, which has already been repeatedly reported on by foreign media.
Treating the Kalachakra teachings, an event to teach and promote Buddhism, in this way is disturbing. Over the last five years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama held the 33rd Kalachakra teachings between July 3 and 14, 2014 in Ladakh, in the north Indian Jammu and Kashmir area. It was also the year of most important holy mountain, Mt. Kailash, a very important year for Tibetans when they fulfill their lifetime dream to circumambulate the mountain. Yet, they did not only have access to a passport, they were even disallowed to go on a pilgrimage to a mountain within the country, because they could not obtain a “border permit”. Mt. Kailash lies in the Tibetan Ngari Prefecture which borders Ladakh on the Indian side and has become a particularly sensitive area. As if Tibetans when circumambulating would suddenly attach wings and fly off to the not actually too faraway city that is, however, heavily guarded by mountains and water to meet their spiritual head?! Are the valiant authorities lacking so much confidence that they believe in this?
Let me add some black humour here. At the time, the head of the religious institute of the China Tibetology Centre, a Party member called Li Decheng boasted that the “Dalai is acting contrary to the stately and pure characteristics of ‘the Kalachakra teachings,’” he even pretended to be a Buddhist, explaining the meaning of the “so-called wheel”, copying a few sentences from Buddhist texts; he asserted that “the fact that 14th Dalai Lama holds the Kalachakra teachings abroad each year … has a bad impact upon the healthy development of Tibetan Buddhism”. A netizen responded sarcastically: “to make sure that the teachings are indeed stately and pure, I strongly advise to have any future religious events directly organised by the local Party committee; in countries where the Party has not established itself, the events can be held by the Chinese embassy or the Confucius Institute, hereby once and for all eradicating Tibetan separatist forces that damage the healthy development of Tibetan Buddhism.”
It may perhaps be good to provide this Mr. Li with some information. I used all accessible information to publish a “list of all the Kalachakra teachings held by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (1954-2017)” on my blog, including date, place and the number of devotees. From this we can see that the first teachings were held at Lhasa’s Norbulingka in 1954, when His Holiness was 19 years old. The second Kalachakra was held in 1956 also at Norbulingka, His Holiness was 21. Both times, 100,000 devotees attended. In his autobiography “Freedom in Exile” (the Chinese translation was published in 1991 by Linking Books in Taiwan), the Dalai Lama described how when he studied the Kalachakra teachings he came to understand the following: “This is one of the most important teachings in the Tantric tradition, with special significance for world peace.” So His Holiness had the following realisation regarding his mission. “I felt extremely privileged to be participating in a tradition performed over countless generations by successions of highly realised spiritual teachers. Whilst chanting the last verse of the dedication prayer, I was so moved that I choked with emotion … I now see it as being premonitory of my being able to give many more Kalachakra teachings than any of my predecessors, and in all parts of the world.” Indeed, until today, His Holiness has already given 34 Kalachakra teachings, most of them held in India and in the Buddhist areas of the Himalayas, but also in the US, Switzerland, Spain, Mongolia, Australia, Austria, Canada and others.
This year, between January 2 and 14, 200,000 Buddhists came together in Bodhgaya to attend the Dalai Lama’s 34th Kalachakra initiations. So did any Tibetans from inside Tibet attend? According to many foreign media reports, several thousand of them, defying the difficulties of getting a passport, arrived in India. But last month the Chinese government requested them to immediately return and refrain from attending this important Buddhist assembly. From Tibetans from inside Tibet I heard the news that the government threatened that should they not return and insist on attending the event, their passports and household registrations would be cancelled and they would be expelled from their position as monks, “blacklisted” and subject to other punishments. The local authorities even issued an “information notice” to families in all villages, severely warning them: “In line with the spirit of the Central Government’s Tibet conference, the ‘Kalachakra teachings’ held by the Dalai Clique abroad is an illegal Buddhist gathering; according to relevant laws and regulations, using the internet to compile, broadcast or forward any related audiovisual material, pictures and texts or organising or instigating others to organise any events or celebrations related to the content of the teachings” is a crime and people will be detained, sentenced, even to severe punishments. The household head had to sign this document, which was even reported on in foreign media.”
For this reason, the Dalai Lama went to specially meet with some of the sad and devastated Tibetans who had no choice but to return to China, giving them blessings and comfort, while also using media to send a message to all Tibetans within Tibet: “All those who cannot attend the Kalachakra initiations, don’t be too disappointed. On the 13th, 14th and 15th day of the 11th month according to the Tibetan calendar, we will hold the opening, closing and empowerment ceremonies. At the time, you take a vow and I will include you and give you blessings during the ceremonies.” His Holiness added: “At the same time, there are also many Chinese Buddhists who would also like to receive blessings, so I will also include them in the teachings.” He further uttered some words of encouragement: “We Tibetans living inside and outside Tibet have already been separated for 57 years; the courage and devotion of Tibetans inside Tibet, including those who are not so interested in Buddhism, to our people has not changed. Everyone’s efforts have brought the cause of justice in Tibet to international attention. So I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the many Tibetans in Tibet and I also hope that you will continue with your efforts.” On Facebook, I followed the livestream of His Holiness commencing the 34th initiations and what really stuck with me was this part: “Distance cannot dampen the sacred ties between a lama and a disciple. You can all pray from the far-flung areas in Tibet and I assure you that you will receive the Kalachakra empowerment, so don’t be disappointed or sad.” I, living in far-away Beijing, thus spent four days following the stream on Facebook Live, participating in the 34th Kalachakra teachings being held in Bodhgaya from a distance, receiving the precious empowerment from His Holiness, just like one of my friends who was present said: “Under the hazy moonlight, we can still use our own methods to find sunlight.”
“Emptiness still exists, reincarnation is not the end, willing to remain in this world, and save it from suffering”. As a Buddhist, I put my palms together to thank His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the materialisation of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, for his compassion for the suffering people. The Kalachakra teachings are part of the Tantric tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, they are the most important Tantras of Vajrayana Buddhism. In the age of Dharma Decline (Third Age of Buddhism), to save and relieve all sentient beings living during this period, Buddha had already begun to pass on Kalachakra tantras before his death. The further we move into the age of Dharma Decline, the more widespread the Kalachakra teachings become. On New Year’s Day of 2017, for instance, the smog in the mighty imperial capital Beijing was severe, people were depressed. While glancing out of my window into the dark and poisonous air, I read aloud The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows in a low voice; I could deeply feel this world’s five impure poisons as pointed out in Buddhist texts; however, the Bodhisattva who comes and saves all sentient beings from their misery has been destroyed. They are continuously forging evil, and it seems they are not afraid of the toxic retributions. — “If someone should shed the blood of a Buddha, ridicule the Three Jewels or fail to respect the sutras, he, also, will fall into Avici Hell, where he will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should encroach upon or steal the property of some Buddhist establishment, slander bhiksus or bhiksunis, indulge his carnal lust in a sangharama, or kill or harm others, then he or she will fall into Avici Hell and remain there for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release…” I pray to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to be merciful, to continue to free all sinful beings, to eliminate all evil creatures and to abandon suffering and obtain happiness.
January 13, 2017
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)