China Aid Association
Tibetans in monasteries under crackdown hold prayer ceremonies for earthquake victims: message of reconciliation from monastery under repression
ICT report, May 21, 2008
As the death toll of the earthquake in Sichuan exceeds 40,000, Tibetan monks in monasteries across the plateau have held prayer ceremonies for those who died and have donated money to relief efforts. Many of their monasteries are still under lockdown in the crackdown that has followed protests across Tibet since March 10 against Chinese rule. Monks at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, where at least 10 Tibetans were shot dead during protests, applied for special permission to hold prayers for the Chinese quake victims. They also sent a moving and bold message from inside the monastery expressing compassion for those who died, and explaining that their protests had not been aimed at the Chinese people, but at the government.
The monastery is in the same Tibetan prefecture as the epicenter of the earthquake, which was in Lungu County (Ch: Wenchuan), Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Chinese: Aba) in Sichuan Province, in the Tibetan area of Amdo. Tibetans have died in other earthquake-affected Tibetan areas, including Rongtrak (or Tenpa, Chinese: Danba) County in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Prefecture and Zhouqu (Drugchu) County in Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu province.
Kirti Monastery has been surrounded by Chinese security forces since March 16 and the local community has not been allowed access after large public demonstrations were held there that resulted in mass detentions and the deaths of at least 10 Tibetans, including monks and three high school students. Images of those who were shot dead were broadcast on news wires across the world. Since March, the monks at Kirti have not been allowed to conduct their usual Buddhist rituals, but on May 15, they received special permission to make an exception, according to sources at Kirti Monastery in exile, in Dharamsala, India.
A monk at Kirti gave the following message to a monk in exile: “At 2:28 PM on May 12th, 2008, there was an earthquake in China, affecting Sichuan province and other areas, and resulting in tens of thousands of lives lost, with others badly injured or bereaved. Some people trapped under the rubble cried over their mobile phones. It is still unknown whether some of those who were trapped are dead or alive. In Lungu County, all the roads were damaged so that it was impossible for vehicles to pass through, and the only way to travel was by airplane or helicopter. Seeing such wide-scale destruction, I strongly request permission to help with whatever is needed and to do whatever is helpful to those who are in need…I request to perform religious ceremonies, if there is a way. If not, to merely say mantras such as OM MANI PADME HUNG, etc. [the mantra of the Buddha of Compassion] for the most beneficial effect for the needy and for those who have passed away.”
Although the statement, which was translated by ICT from Tibetan, is phrased in the first person, it was stressed that it represented the views of other monks at Kirti too. On the day the message was sent, special religious ceremonies were held to help alleviate the destruction wrought by the earthquake. A further message passed on from Kirti to the same source in exile referred to the need to heal the rift created between the Chinese and Tibetan people following the Chinese representation of the protests across Tibet: “Since March 10, in all places covering the three main regions of Tibet, Tibetans protested against the Chinese authorities. The Chinese Communist Party sent in personnel in an organized fashion, and marked every Tibetan, especially monks, as criminals. Bloody killings and beatings that were completely inhuman took place – too much for our hearts to hear about, and too much for our eyes to witness. Innocent Tibetans were labeled as criminals in the minds of the Chinese, with whom we have shared thousands of years of history as neighbors. But because of these negative views, Tibetans, especially monks, are treated more like enemies by ordinary Chinese people. But from our side, we are making it clear that we are not protesting against ordinary Chinese people but against the policies of the Chinese government towards Tibet.”
The statement concludes: “Everyone can see that no matter what happens with the Tibetan issue, Tibetans and Chinese have to live side by side as neighbors.
We are seriously stating our hope for the improvement of the relationship between both peoples.”
A full transcript of the statement, translated from Tibetan, is enclosed below.
Spontaneous prayer gatherings across the Tibetan plateau for quake victims
Spontaneous prayer gatherings have been held in monasteries across the plateau for victims in the earthquake affected areas. The temples have also collected money and donated materials for the relief work.
According to the British charity the Tibet Foundation, these monasteries include: Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Longwu Temple in Kumbum County, Qinghai Province, Ger Den Temple in Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, Kumbum (Chinese: Ta’ersi) Monastery in Kumbum County (Chinese: Huangzhong) in Tsoshar (Chinese: Haidong) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province, Lithang Monastery in Lithang County (Chinese: Litang) in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, Xi Busha Temple and Xia Deray Temple, both in Tsekhog County (Chinese: Zeku) in Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Qinghai Province, and Rong-an Temple in Chentsa County (Chinese: Jianzha), Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province, as well as many monks at other temples.
The Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, which the authorities have just reported as being re-opened, also held a service and collected donations. A senior lama in Qinghai, Alak (an honorific title, meaning ‘lama’) Khaso, who had been beaten and injured by police during unrest in Rebgong (Chinese: Tongren) County, donated 10,000 yuan ($1,436) to quake victims. Alak Khaso, the former head of Rongwu Monastery in Tsolho (Chinese: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, had suffered maltreatment after he sought to mediate between police and local monks during an incident of unrest at Rebgong on April 17. Armed police raided Rongwu Monastery and confiscated pictures of the Dalai Lama after monks staged a protest, calling for the release of other monks detained following earlier demonstrations and incidents of dissent in the area in February and March. Monks were seen being taken away from the monastery with their hands tied behind their backs and being loaded onto trucks.
Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of International Advocacy at the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The extent of the prayer ceremonies is remarkable at this time of crisis in Tibet and reminds us of the reason that the survival of the Tibetan Buddhist culture is so important. The extraordinary message from the Kirti monks is one of compassion and reconciliation right from the heart of one of the monasteries that endured the worst of the crackdown.”
Karma Hardy, Director of the Tibet Foundation in London, which has launched an emergency appeal to help earthquake victims, said: “It is part of monks’ practice and traditional role to make offerings and to pray for the souls of those who have died, and these prayer ceremonies are genuine expressions of compassion for the thousands of Chinese affected by this terrible disaster. Tibetan monks in the area may well have been willing to do much more on the ground – during the tsunami in 2004, for instance, Tibetan monks in exile in India participated in practical rescue work. But given the wide-ranging crackdown on the plateau at present and the fact that many Tibetans are prevented from leaving their monasteries, it is unlikely that this would be permitted now in Sichuan.” (http://www.tibet-foundation.org/tf/donate.php <http://www.tibet-foundation.org/tf/donate.php> ).
The Chinese state media sought to convey an impression of political normalcy and unity through reporting on one of these prayer ceremonies, at Kumbum (Chinese: Ta’ersi) Monastery in Huangzhong County, Qinghai. A Xinhua report yesterday stated that: “A 35-by-25-meter portrait of Tson-Khapa, founder of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, was gradually unfurled while nearly 10,000 Tibetans and about 400 lamas prostrated themselves and prayed for peace for the people in Sichuan and other quake-hit regions.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent a message of sympathy to the Chinese people a day after the earthquake struck Sichuan, saying: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of many lives and many more who have been injured in the catastrophic earthquake that struck Sichuan province of China. I would like to extend my deep sympathy and heartfelt condolences to those families who have been directly affected by the strong earthquake on 12 May 2008. I offer my prayers for those who have lost their lives and those injured in the quake.”
Collapse of prisons in quake leads to deaths of prisoners
Deaths of prisoners and prison guards have been reported after a major Ngaba prefectural prison – Maowun (Chinese: Maoxian) in Wenchuan, was partially destroyed in the earthquake. The Chinese press reported that in other prisons in the area, prisoners and staff were killed in the earthquake (Legal Daily, http://news.sina.com.cn/o/2008-05-14/081113872857s.shtml <http://news.sina.com.cn/o/2008-05-14/081113872857s.shtml> ). While it could not be confirmed whether Tibetans imprisoned following the recent protests in Ngaba were among the victims, Tibetan protestors are understood to have been imprisoned in the area, including in detention facilities at Wenchuan, Maoxian and Dujiangyan.
The US NGO Kham Aid reported on their website, http://www.khamaid.org <http://www.khamaid.org> , that as of May 18, the death toll in Ngaba prefecture was 2871, and nine in Kardze. The counties of Ngaba, Dzoge (Chinese: Ru’ergai or Zoige), Marthang (Chinese: Hongyuan) and Dzamthang (Chinese: Rangrang) in Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture were apparently far enough away from the epicenter to be unaffected. Relief organizations with representatives in Tibetan areas affected by the earthquake told ICT that because mobile, landline and internet access had not been restored, it was difficult to contact individuals in the field to confirm the number of deaths and extent of the damage.
A Tibetan experienced in aid work in Tibetan areas told ICT that he believed the Chinese authorities were initially wary of accepting outside help due to political sensitivities around the crackdown. A foreigner based in Chengdu who had to escape from the 18th floor of a tower block when the earthquake hit said: “The authorities said they weren’t allowing foreign aid workers in because it’s too dangerous and the roads are destroyed, but the foreign aid workers have helicopters. So many people have died because they weren’t able to get to them.”
Authorities continue to emphasise political priorities, enforce crackdown, during disaster relief efforts
Political preoccupations were evident in official statements made in Tibetan areas in the immediate aftermath of the quake on May 12, with local officials stressing the importance of maintaining a robust stance on ‘anti-separatism’ and keeping security check-posts in Tibetan areas manned in addition to disaster relief work. Information about the aftermath of the quake has been limited at least partially due to the closure of Tibetan areas since the protests began. Kham Aid reported that: “One reason that news from earthquake-affected Tibetan areas has been scant is that, since the unrest in March, there have been no tourists at all in these regions.”
On the day the earthquake struck, the Ngaba authorities issued an urgent document entitled: “Combining work on anti-separatism and safeguarding stability with disaster relief work”.
The Kardze prefectural government also issued an emergency announcement to “conscientiously carry out the present task of keeping stability”. The authorities in Rongtrak (or Tenpa, Chinese: Danba) County in Kardze issued a six-point announcement, including the requirement for security personnel and police manning check-points out of the prefecture “to stick to their posts, and not to slacken any aspect of the tasks. They should strictly guard against the separatist forces taking advantage of the situation to cause sabotage, strictly prevent people from spreading rumors and stirring up trouble. If any such incident happens, one must adopt the toughest means to deal with the issue quickly.”
CCTV news bulletins in English warned that those who were found “spreading rumors” about the authorities’ response to the earthquake would be “dealt with harshly according to the law”.
Transcript of statement by Kirti monks, May 15, 2008
The message was dictated in Tibetan to monks in exile. A copy received by ICT today is translated into English below. On the day the message was sent, special religious ceremonies were held to help alleviate the destruction wrought by the earthquake.
NEW MESSAGE: TO ALL THE KNOWLEDGEABLE BODIES
To all the compassionate ones and to those who are working for others, wherever they are on the entire planet, and to all the compassionate beings born from a mother, and to all the venerable monks who give life meaning. To all the developed countries in the world, and all the notable educational centers, and to all others who respect the law of cause and effect (karma) and religious faiths, I have a message to you from the bottom of my heart.
1. At 2:28 PM on May 12th, 2008, there was an earthquake in China, affecting Sichuan province and other areas, and resulting in tens of thousands of lives lost, with others badly injured or bereaved. Some people trapped under the rubble cried over their mobile phones. It is still unknown whether some of those who were trapped are dead or alive. In Lungu County, all the roads were damaged so that it was impossible for vehicles to pass through, and the only way to travel was by airplane or helicopter. Seeing such widescale destruction, I strongly request permission to help with whatever is needed and to do whatever is helpful to those who are in need.
2. I request permission to work hard to allow the dead to pass without fear, to have no suffering in their next life, and to be reborn in lands which are peaceful and prosperous. And for all the ones who are left behind to be relieved from their sadness, and for those who are injured to be relieved from their pain and any other unpleasant conditions so that they may be able to experience a happy life once again.
As Lama Tsong Khapa said, “To all the people who insult me, and speak to others about my shameful deeds, may I, without hatred, forgive them and speak to them only in a positive way.”
I request to perform religious ceremonies, if there is a way. If not, to merely say mantras such as OM MANI PADME HUNG, etc. for the most beneficial effect for the needy and for those who have passed away.
3. How to enjoy complete freedom and to have a good climate, how to be prosperous, how to bring renewed happiness to life, how to avoid diseases, wars, drought, and other natural disasters. All the scholars and leaders of all the countries in the world should discuss these things thoroughly. The religious figures of the world should all pray hard.
This message is from 3,000 monks at Ngaba Kirti Monastery in South Amdo on May 15th, 2008, with the hope that it be received graciously by all the knowledgeable bodies outside [Tibet].
[The following statements were made in addition to the main message above by several Tibetans. It is not known whether they were monks or laypeople.]
This is how the local Tibetans see the importance of this message [appealing to be allowed to carry out prayers for quake victims]:
1. Buddhism means helping others without discrimination. As we are followers of the Buddha, no matter what kinds of situations we may face, we never transgress this teaching. We are doing the same thing this time.
2. Since March 10th, in all places covering the three main regions of Tibet, Tibetans protested against the Chinese authorities. The Chinese Communist Party sent in personnel in an organized fashion, and marked every Tibetan, especially monks, as criminals. Bloody killings and beatings that were completely inhuman took place-too much for our hearts to hear about, and too much for our eyes to witness. Innocent Tibetans were labeled as criminals in the minds of the Chinese, with whom we have shared thousands of years of history as neighbors. But because of these negative views, Tibetans, especially monks, are treated more like enemies by ordinary Chinese people. But from our side, we are making it clear that we are not protesting against ordinary Chinese people but against the policies of the Chinese government towards Tibet.
3. Everyone can see that no matter what happens with the Tibetan issue, Tibetans and Chinese have to live side by side as neighbors. We are seriously stating our hope for the improvement of the relationship between both peoples.
This report can be found online at http://savetibet.org/news/newsitem.php?id=1313 <http://savetibet.org/news/newsitem.php?id=1313>
Donations for the earthquake relief effort can be made to Alpha Communities (http://www.alphacommunities.org/earthquake.php <http://www.alphacommunities.org/earthquake.php> ) , The Tibet Foundation (http://www.justgiving.com/tibetearthquake <http://www.justgiving.com/tibetearthquake> ), and the Bridge Fund (http://bridgefund.org <http://bridgefund.org/> ).
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