In the mid-1980s, unsuspecting tourists to Lhasa suddenly found Tibetans thrusting crumpled pieces of paper into their hands requesting them to pass them onto the United Nations. Sometimes these documents contained names of prisoners and others, written in florid style, detailed human rights abuses and appealed for the UN’s intervention. Such appeals barely made the news and were often seen as no more than naive and misplaced hope on the UN.
High Peaks Pure Earth received a copy of a petition submitted to President Hu Jintao by a monk from Sera Monastery in Lhasa. The petition is the first detailed account of the incident of 10th March at Sera Monastery and refutes Chinese media coverage of the protest. The Tibetan version of the petition can be found on the Tibetan language website Khabdha. More information on Sera Monastery can be found here: http://www.thlib.org/places/monasteries/sera/
I am a very ordinary student of the central seats of Sera and Drepung [monasteries], a centre for traditional Tibetan education that has become a blissful realm for the core psyche of all Tibetans. I have the desire to honestly express some of the present problems faced by the Tibetan monasteries that I have seen, heard and experienced. That is because I am a citizen of the nation and you people are the leaders who work for the welfare of the citizens.
Are we entirely responsible for the events of March 14th?
This year in March, trouble arose everywhere in Tibetan areas, principally starting in Lhasa and, through a series of tragic events, caused great loss of life as well as property for both the protestors and those protested against. I believe that the statement by the authorities that the cause of the incident is solely due to the instigations of the “separatists” is an incomplete one. That is because such an approach of stubbornly laying all blame upon the Tibetan people is widely seen as being irresponsible among the intellectuals within the country as well as among the international community.
Otherwise, it may be asked why is it that the so-called “Splittists”, for their own selfish ends, disregarding the actual fate of the Tibetan people, were able to orchestrate the Tibetans both in and outside Tibet with such ease; and why were the Tibetan people who, according to the central government, are supposed to be enjoying a happy and enriched life that is akin to a change of heaven and earth, thought nothing of risking their very lives to be so ready and receptive to such separatist activities being promoted. Moreover, even though the government claims that under the instigation of the Dalai Lama, the leaders of the present protests were the monks of Tibetan monasteries led by Sera, Drepung and Ganden, yet in reality the real cause is the desperation we experience in our daily life, on account of oppression, fear and restrictions. It is a cry for freedom.
In the minds of senior monks who have been long term residents of monasteries studying the scriptures, and particularly the bulk of monk students, the causes and conditions of the current or the past and presently unfolding events need to be looked at from two perspectives.
The bullying and forcible expulsion of students:
For a monk to study Buddhism is the only way to seek one’s ultimate goal. As it is clear from many hundred years of history, for us the large monasteries, with deep foundations in traditional education, like Sera, Drepung and Ganden, are the best educational institutions even in the present time. But for any monk, whether coming from far away or living nearby, the opportunity to study in these large monasteries is very rare because of governmental restrictions. Even for the small number of monk students in these monasteries they have been facing restrictions on their stay and experiencing expulsion campaigns even to the extent of their beddings being thrown out of their quarters by the officials. Such incidents are not a one-time matter. For example there have been many such incidents in the central seats of Sera, Drepung and Ganden monasteries, Serta Larung monastery in Kham (Sichuan), and Ngaba Kirti monastery in Amdo (Qinghai). Likewise the monastery management officials, assigned specifically by the government, randomly enter the monks’ quarters for inspection. They not only whimsically search the quarters, but also indulge in countless acts that are irritating and insulting to us, such as stepping on beds and even beddings with their shoes on.
The spiritual relationship between a teacher and his disciples and forcing one to protest against one’s teacher:
One of the many campaigns like this is the so-called “patriotic re-education campaign”. In general, even though it is a very common phenomenon of life for a country’s citizen and a religious practitioner to cherish one’s nation and love one’s religion, the government, rather than protecting our faith, do not even have respect and forcefully order us to attack His Holiness the Dalai Lama, thus creating disturbances in the minds of the monk community. Consequently there have been many cases of quite a few monks being expelled from monasteries when they refused to write denunciations [against His Holiness]. For a religious community, such pressure is seen as the deliberate destruction of our educational opportunity and faith by the concerned authorities of our nation. What is His Holiness the Dalai Lama or what is our relationship with him? He is the human manifestation of Arya Avalokiteshvara in the form of a monk. He is the wish fulfilling jewel who in every life comes in the form of a human that bestows the elixir of compassion and wisdom in the clean clear hearts of all sentient beings in general, and feeble Tibetans in particular. The Tibetan saying, “If one possesses a wish fulfilling jewel then depending on it all of ones wishes will be fulfilled spontaneously” is quite true. He is truly the victorious wish fulfilling jewel or the Dalai Lama. Why does the government persist in forcefully making us attack His Holiness the Dalai Lama? For what reason is our faith and devotion being trampled like this? Why are obstacles being placed directly or indirectly to our educational facilities?
The Condition of Sera, Drepung and Ganden monasteries before the Cultural Revolution:
The education system of Tibetan monasteries that has at least more than one thousand four hundred years of history is the heart of Tibetan religion and literature (culture). Through a long history of ups and downs it has continued to the present. It has become like a heart jewel of this nationality which is quite backward in terms of material civilization. Moreover, due to the influence of Je Tsongkhapa, who was born in Amdo and studied in central Tibet, the development of Tibetan religion and literature received unprecedented encouragement and inspiration. This doctrine of Lobsang Dakpa or Gelugpa tradition refers to the attainment of extraordinary experience by him who, devoted to his teacher and much more devoted to the meaning of reality than to his teacher, through his profound analytical investigation and in-depth evaluation of this more than seven hundred year old Tibetan Buddhist culture by keeping the profound teachings of the Buddha and the Indian scholars as the base or reference point. He who had accomplished the path of scholars and siddhas, along with his immediate disciples, had newly established the monasteries of Sera, Drepung, Ganden, Tashi Lhunpo etc., which had a huge impact on Tibetan culture. Even at present the popularity of Sera, Drepung and Ganden monasteries is well known not only in Tibet but also nationally and internationally.
The Tibetan monastic educational impact from these three monasteries is not only great in the central U-Tsang area of Tibet. For instance, the all-knowing Ven. Jamyang Shepa Ngawang Tsundue, who established Labrang Tashi Kyil monastry which is famous in Amdo area, had studied at Lhasa’s Drepung monastery. Similarly Kirti Khabgon, who established Ngaba Kirti monastry which now stands in Amdo Ngaba in Sichuan province, had also studied at Drepung monastry. Likewise Shar Kalden Gyatso, who established Rebgong Rongpo monastery in Qinghai province, had studied at Ganden monastery in central Tibet. In brief, for almost all of the famous Lamas and intellectuals of the Gelug sect in all three provinces of Tibet, namely Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang, their main alma maters have been Sera, Ganden and Drepung. Furthermore, even speaking in terms of schools of thought, those who have enrolled in these monasteries for study were not only Gelug tradition holders but also reincarnate lamas and monks from all other traditions such as Sakya, Kagyud, Nyingma, Jonang and Bon. (As I have lived and studied for many years in these monasteries, I am only mentioning Sera, Drepung and Ganden as examples here. Otherwise almost all other monasteries in all three provinces of Tibet, irrespective of their traditions, face similar problems).
The need to implement the policy of real freedom of religion:
To ignore a cultural tradition that accords with the actual interests of Tibetan people, who are spiritually devoted and culturally rich, while limiting the number and expelling the monks and nuns in general, and monk and nun students in particular, are practical evidence that the policy of religious freedom remains just rhetoric and not being put into actual practice.
Following the March 14th incident more than a thousand monks from Sera, Drepung and Ganden monasteries – centres of Tibetan Buddhist learning – were forcibly evicted and individual quarters ransacked at night by the hundreds of thousands of military men who forcibly entered into the monasteries by breaking all the doors of colleges and monks’ quarters with weapons such as guns etc. in their hands. There were apparently many instances where pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, cell phones, electronic calculators and money were lost or stolen. I was told that in some other areas of Tibet the military confiscated all the pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spread them out on a ground near the monastery, trampled them with their feet and then went away. Another surprising thing I heard was that vegetable-knives in the kitchen of some monks were also taken away. Later on we realized that those were taken as evidence to prove us as violent. In this way the monks were beaten, arrested and detained for more than six months. Even after their release they were not allowed to return back to their monasteries. While in the prison the monks made several verbal and written requests stating that they don’t mind staying there as long as needed, but later send them back to their monastery where they study. But all their requests fell on deaf ears like stones thrown in the water. How true is the Tibetan proverb that says, “Tibetans are betrayed by hope and Chinese are betrayed by suspicion.” In this manner more than thousands of ordinary monks, without protection and livelihood, suddenly had to stop treading on their chosen-path of life in, on account of fear, hardship and sorrow. Now, where will these monks, who, leave aside other things, were not even able to put their shoes on and just went out with their slippers during the time of their arrest by the military policemen from Sera, Drepung and Ganden, go? There is no monastery in one’s native locality. Even if there is one, there is no facility to study. Where does such an ordinary monk − who has no monastery or individuals to depend on as his family members and relatives have died – go?
The law must not create obstacles but should instead suppport the survival and development of this Tibetan Buddhist tradition:
In this age of information, Tibetan monks also should be provided by our country a universal educational facility (opportunity), according to their choice, and not create obstacles to receive an education. Largely some of these depend very much on the services and opportunities provided and created by the government.
Firstly, the one child family planning policy has not only put the Tibetan nationality, which is small in population and large in area, in danger in terms of numbers, but it has also automatically limited the number of ordained population as well.
Secondly, the law that restricts anyone becoming ordained before eighteen years of age has closed one of the doors for a religious community.
Thirdly, because of the restriction imposed on the number of monks in many of popular monasteries with excellent Buddhist studies environment the opportunity to study has been curtailed for many monks who yearn for learning, just as a thirsty person yearns for water. On the contrary, I believe that counting people permitted to prostrate, to go for circumambulation, and to erect prayer flags as the representation of the enjoyment of freedom of religion (from the disk entitled “Tibet from its Historical Perspective” produced by the government) is a mere external gesture to deceive others but it displays one’s real face rather than help benefit the actual work of our country and nationalities. Even while the path of the foundation of religious activities is becoming smaller and smaller every day as the younger Buddhist followers face problems entering the monasteries and face difficulty in getting opportunity to study even after entering the monasteries, reconstructing a few temples and giving Geshe Lharampa degrees etc., including many other activities, conducted by the authorities in the name of restoration of monasteries, are merely external displays. There is absolutely no definitive guarantee that such activities help sustain and develop this rich and profound Tibetan Buddhist cultural heritage. Compared to the period before the Cultural Revolution the Tibetan monastic population has fallen ten times: Sera had 9900 monks before but has merely 850 monks at present, Drepung had more than 10000 monks before but fewer than 1400 monks at present, Ganden had 5400 monks before but has less than 400 at present. According to the government, the present total number of the ordained population is about 74500 and there are more 1700 religious establishments. This is the figure only for the Tibet Autonomous Region. Compared to the monk population of the region, since not more than only ten percent of the monks are able to receive the opportunity to study, how is it possible for the monks who are ignorant about the philosophical tenets of the Dharma be able to preserve and develop this Buddhist tradition? How can we make this religious tradition in accordance with socialist society?
The Tibetan monasteries are the centres for the practice of Buddha Dharma:
It is a matter of great joy that the government has spent and is still spending a huge amount of money to restore the monasteries. Far more important than that is to help create an effective education facility in the monasteries and not create obstacles, and I will keep waiting with much hope and evidence that the bright rays of the Party’s policy of freedom of religion will shine on the actual life of the common people.
To look at Tibetan monasteries as mere museums is to set the standard too low. If that remains the case, then not only does it betray the conditions for the survival of the monasteries but it also goes against the need of establishing them in the first place. Why is there a need to establish a monastery? Because it is a traditional school or a spiritual practice centre where Lord Buddha’s profound and sublime teachings – brightened by the works of many standard Indian Buddhist scholars and adepts led by the Six Ornaments and Two Supremes and further enriched by a unique Tibetan way of life known as Tibetan Buddhism whose fundamental essence is based on the view of interdependent origination and the conduct of non-violence – are studied. It is also a place where the genuine practitioners of this profound doctrine are nurtured. The external cosmetic displays, such as flying prayer flags, doing prostrations, circumambulating a temple, painting deities and constructing temples that are the outer expressions of some parts of the culture, cannot represent the survival and development of Tibetan Buddhism. Hence if the monasteries remain merely as tourist spots and museums, then there is no need for monasteries as there is no reason why the museums run by the government cannot serve the same purpose?
Distortion and the accusations of splitting nationalities:
We were really greatly hurt and disappointed by the fact that during the March 14th incident the official news media, based on a few people who appeared in the scene wearing monk-robes, propagated, not only nationally but internationally as well, by stating that Tibetan monks had beaten, broken into places, robbed and burned. For example, during the peaceful demonstrations by the monks from Sera, Drepung and Ganden on March 10th, 11th, and 12th,etc. thousands of military men, with lethal weapons, surrounded the monks who were tear-gassed and beaten. Such photos were nowhere to be seen. On the contrary, when the police sprayed tear-gas on the assembly of monks the monks tried to throw water on themselves to wash away the effects of tear-gas, but a distorted photo was shown saying that the monks threw water on the policemen. Similarly a couple of people, getting desperate and threatened by the overwhelming power of weapons, with rocks in their hands, were described as violent and aggressive. Likewise many incidents of March 14th have been distorted and propagated nationally and internationally. Even though such deceptive and short-sighted actions are a matter of real surprise and disappointment, this will be a temporary phenomenon as history will definitely clear everything. What I have heard is that presently whenever Han travelers see monks or even Tibetans traveling in buses in the cities around the country, the Han Chinese get off the buses. Alas, what strong distortion is being created by the government or its propaganda agents whose eyes of wisdom to see the effects of causality are blinded! More than a billion honest and diligent people of China have been deceived in such a way at once! As this ever present talk of national harmony and protection of the motherland continues what purpose is there, while talking of national unity, to spread such rumours and create dissension between the nationalities? Isn’t this the real separatism?
The government must support in practice to fulfill the expectations of the people rather than merely talk about people’s expectations:
In recent times what the government repeatedly expects from religious institutions is that this religion should be in accordance with socialist society. I believe that this is a really good idea. Any culture that remains separate from the service of society becomes devoid of essence. Likewise, religion also survives and develops for the benefit of society, and to adapt to the changing time and society not only has a strong connection with the prospects of religious activities themselves but also relates to the benefit of the general devotees. But it is not enough merely to say that religion needs to be in accordance with socialism. Rather, providing the devotees a meaningful freedom of religion or opportunity to study remains the crucial question of whether the above rhetoric will materialize into concrete action. Therefore, we hopefully await the time when through the farsighted wisdom and pragmatism of the concerned leaders, in the twenty first century bright rays of the central government’s policy of openness and liberalization will immediately fall on our actual cold life.
Finally, I pray that the stability of the Peoples Republic of China and the unity of the different nationalities may sustain without degeneration and the warm sunlight of freedom shines on all of China.
I have honestly and openly submitted the above mentioned problems, practically being faced by thousands and thousands of people like myself, to the higher authorities, working for the benefit of the people, for your reference and consideration. I hope this appeal will enable [the authorities] to see some of our fundamental problems in our actual day to day life. Nevertheless, since I was unable to receive an opportunity to study until I was seventeen years of age and on top of that due to my little knowledge and lack of inherent wisdom I might have been unable to express myself or I might have been unable to put into writing what I intended to write. In brief since this is merely an opinion of an ordinary citizen, please feel free to advise me if the higher authorities deem this an overstatement or if there are any conflicts with the views of the authorities.
Submitted by Ven. Gedun on October 7, 2008. Tashi Delek
Rendered into English by Pema Tsewang Shastri from the Tibetan original.