High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on July 21, 2015 for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on July 30, 2015.
A long term supporter, friend and advocate on behalf of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Woeser previously wrote many blogposts about him but this one is particularly sad as it concerns his passing away in prison last year, an incident that provoked international outcry.
Woeser relates the events surrounding Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death in prison, cremation and the days that followed.
Our Recollection Becomes A “Tombstone in the Air”
In this world, there will probably never be any situation where the ashes of a deceased are forcefully taken away from the affected family, let alone emptied into the raging current of a river. This happened to the ashes of a senior Buddhist monk who had been wrongly locked up in prison for 13 years and who suddenly passed away!
According to reports by foreign media, on July 16, local authorities, backed up by heavily armed military police, forced four Tibetans to hand over the ashes of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche; two of them were senior monks and the other two were Tenzin Delek’s relatives, taking back his ashes to Kham. They had been permitted to remain at the site where the Rinpoche’s dead body was cremated, as instructed by the prison. They were completely cut off from the outside world until the evening of July 17, when the shocking news spread that Tenzin Delek’s ashes had been forcefully taken away.
The relatives were informed of the death of the Rinpoche late at night on July 12. It was an unexpected message. At the time, they had been waiting in Chengdu for ten whole days to be granted permission to visit the prisoner. When they learned about his shocking death, they naturally wanted to pass on the news to the many followers who had been waiting and hoping for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to return. Of course, they had to be informed; the devout followers had every right to know about the death of their Buddhist teacher.
On July 13, these followers went to Tenzin Delek’s hometown and monastery to request an explanation for the reasons of his death. But the military opened fire, injuring more than 20 people who were subsequently treated in hospitals in and around Chengdu.
On April 7 this year, Tenzin Delek’s unjust imprisonment had lasted exactly 13 years. In an essay commemorating him, I wrote: “Accused of ‘starting an explosion and trying to overthrow the system’, he was first sentenced to death, which was later changed to life. Responsible for this was the then-head of the Public Security Bureau, Zhou Yongkang.” For the past few days, the governments of the US, the UK, and of Canada as well as international organisations such as the EU came out to denounce the Chinese government’s behaviour. Reuters, the Associated Press, BBC, and the New York Times all wrote articles in support of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.
But how did the authorities react to the wish to return his body and prepare for a traditional Tibetan funeral ceremony in Sichuan province, in this sink of iniquity where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had been persecuted? According to the “prison law” of China and the newly launched “regulations for handling criminals who die in prison”, “the dead criminal, including ethnic minorities, must be handled in accordance with ethnic traditions and respective regulations”. This is written in black and white; this is the law.
And yet, the truth really outrages people; it is impossible to believe that this is the conduct of a country that claims to be “ruled according to the law”.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was forcefully cremated three days after his death; and the cremation was by no means carried out at an official funeral parlour, but at the secret prison where Tenzin Delek had been serving his sentence and under the gaze of hundreds of heavily armed military police. Tenzin Delek’s younger sister appealed to the prison to be granted the wish to return his body home; she also requested the delay of the cremation and obtain a clear explanation as to what caused his death; but they ignored her. She was only allowed to take a final look at her brother’s dead body and she noticed that his mouth and fingernails were all black. After the cremation, the authorities initially promised the four Tibetans waiting at the cremation ground to take the body back, but when they were on their return journey accompanied by police, the ashes were forcefully taken away from them by officials at gunpoint and thrown into the nearest river. How is this kind of behaviour different from the desecration of a grave that is so despised in Chinese culture?!
The French writer Claude Mouchard condemns fascists in his “œuvres-témoignages dans les tourmentés du XXe siècle”, “They will destroy you, even in your own grave. No one will know that you ever existed on this earth.” “In the state of political terror … the most important task of the destruction machinery is to erase any possible traces, including traces of casualties and traces of massacres.” And yet, the words of witnesses are “a tombstone made from air, suspended high up in the air. Every time, a piece of writing mentions the nameless deaths, this tombstone will reveal itself.”
The omnipotent evil did not allow Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to live on; they imprisoned him, let him die, burnt his body to ashes and as if that was not enough, they even made his ashes disappear in the river so that countless Tibetans will forget him. But this is merely the wishful thinking of materialists. In reality, our recollection will become a kind of “tombstone in the air”. As long as words, images, feelings, and indeed humanity exist, our recollection will outlive this evil; and there will be one day when this evil is once and for all destroyed.
July 21, 2015