The Tibetan Buddhist worldwide is currently observing this month as the holy Buddhist month of Saka Dawa. 7 June 2009 (a full moon day), Sunday, will be observed as the most important day of the holy month according to the Buddhist belief due to the significance of the day being Buddha Shakyamuni’s birth, enlightenment and parinirvana falling on the same day. While the Tibetan Buddhist – both the civil and monastic community – worldwide spend the day with various religious activities and rituals according to the faith, however, Tibetans inside Chinese administered Tibet face severe religious repression enacted by the State and its agents. Restrictions and prohibitory orders to the government officials and students from visiting temples this month have already been issued. Reinforcement of security forces and intelligence officials have been deployed across Lhasa city to maintain “stability” during the holy month.
Religious freedom has been a distant dream for the Tibetan people since the advancement of Communist China in 1949-50. The various restrictions and conditions put forward by the Chinese authority in pursuit of one’s religion were not only unacceptable but also contempt to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. The atrocities that the Chinese authority commit on Tibetan people, particularly monks and nuns while pursuing their beliefs and religious practices, are not only the victim of their power but it is also a failure of a sovereign state to protect its people’s basic human rights.
Freedom of religion is severely curtailed in the Chinese occupied Tibet. The monastic community has been the prime target of the authority’s crackdown under a pretext to “reform” monks to achieve the so called “stability” in the region. The monastic community has come under repeated attacks through the government’s various nefarious campaigns to bring them under control and to forge “loyalty to the motherland”. Hundreds and thousands of Tibetan people especially monks and nuns were tortured in prisons and detention centres for practicing their religion. They were required to denounce their own spiritual guru, to abuse their highly respected lamas and had to perform all those acts, which are not permitted under monastic vows and code of conduct, in name of “patriotic re-education” initiated by the Chinese authority as a requisite to continue as monk and nuns. Though suicide is a rare case among the Tibetan monks and nuns since they consider the human life as precious, to acquire merits for the next lives and eventually to attain enlightenment. However, under the ongoing persecution of monks and nuns in Tibet’s religious institutions, they were subjected to extreme psychological traumas and impositions of irreconcilable demands, which eventually force them to commit suicide. The suicide has been on the rise in Tibet’s monastic community since the Spring 2008 protests in Tibet.
Tibetan Buddhist believe that suicide is one of the heinous forms of sins that violate the cardinal precepts of the doctrine. Buddhist monks and nuns are known for their patience and resilience in the face of adversity. The cases of suicides point to an indication of Tibetan monks being pushed to the extreme limits of endurance and helplessness in the face of oppression and repression by the Chinese authorities in Tibet. The monks and nuns are left with no option but to embrace death since the requisites laid down by the Chinese authority are beyond sanity. Though they can withstand the torture and abuse to some extend but after a certain point, pushes them to the extreme end of taking their own lives.
16 out of the 17 known cases of suicides and two cases of attempt to suicide documented since March 2008 can be attributed to monks and nuns. This pattern is alarming and clearly indicating to the level of religious repression in Tibet. Some of the factors that caused the suicide are 1) psychological trauma during “patriotic education” campaign 2) heavy crackdown upon the monastic community in the aftermath of pan-Tibet protests beginning from March 2008 and 3) Anti-Dalai Lama campaign.
Psychological trauma during “patriotic reeducation” campaign
In the aftermath of mass uprising by the Tibetan people beginning from March 2008, the Chinese authorities have yet again singled out the monastic community to direct their notorious patriotic reeducation campaign. The campaign has earned notoriety in the past for its lethality and adverse psychological traumas on monks and nuns. As a direct counter measure to the spring 2008 pan-Tibet protests, the Chinese authorities immediately unleashed a reinvigorated “patriotic reeducation” in the monastic community. With fresh wounds in the minds of the Tibetan monks and nuns after witnessing brutal crackdown in the form of indiscriminate shooting and killings of Tibetan demonstrators, the monks were further subjected to humiliation and mental agony during the “patriotic education” sessions. The extreme humiliation and psychological trauma causing content of the campaign led to the suicides of several monks and nuns.
Heavy crackdown upon the monastic community
Heavily armed security forces stormed monasteries across Tibet to crush the strong voice of freedom by the monks. Monks and nuns were brutally beaten at gun points in front of fellow monks to “filter” out the leaders and initiators of the demonstrations. The monastic community has been vociferous in the pan-Tibet protests as they came out in the street in huge numbers. In order to make strong cases against the monks, the authorities reconstructed scenes of monks committing crimes in the monastery to be recorded on video which were to be later used as propaganda material.
In eastern Tibet, especially in Ngaba region, the security forces were searching for the Tibetans who have sent pictures to the outside world which became crucial evidence of the brutal crackdown by the security forces in quelling Tibetan protests. The pictures cornered the government in huge embarrassment as it has been claiming “restraint” on the demonstrators. The monasteries in the region came under heavy scrutiny by government officials looking for computer equipments etc from suspected activities by the monks in sending pictures to the outside world through the internet. In search of this evidence and also in video recording reconstruction of scenes of monks committing crimes, the monks were subjected to extreme cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
Anti Dalai Lama campaign
At the Third Tibet Work Forum held in 1994, the Chinese authorities identified the Dalai Lama as a “serpent’s head”. Anti-Dalai Lama campaigns were initially implemented in 1996 with monasteries and nunneries as initial targets. Monks and nuns in Tibet are subjected to political indoctrination wherein they have to denounce the Dalai Lama. The campaign later spread into the lay community as well. Since 10 March 2008, the campaign was reinvigorated and intensified gravely in the monastic institutions either alongside “patriotic reeducation” or as an individual campaign. Tibetan people revere the Dalai Lama as their spiritual guru as well as the temporal head despite the fact that the Dalai Lama has been in exile for several decades. The authorities launched vitriolic attacks on the persona of the Dalai Lama and demanded the lay as well as the monastic community to denounce him as a “separatist” and the sole instigator behind the spring 2008 protests in Tibet. This turned out to be the ultimate push for many monks and nuns to commit suicide as they had already witnessed brutal crackdown on the demonstrators which included family members and colleagues, and to denounce the Dalai Lama was beyond their reason to live.
1) Lobsang Jinpa (1) committed suicide on 27 March 2008. He was a monk at the Ngaba Kirti Monastery, Ngaba County, Ngaba “TAP” Sichuan Province. He hailed from Ngasib Village in Amdo Ngaba. In his signed suicide note, Lobsang stated, “the Chinese government has leveled false allegations against the monks of Kirti Monastery for leaking State Secrets to the outside world, leading and organizing the protests and for keeping the dead bodies of Tibetan protesters shot dead by the Chinese security forces. However, all the charges leveled by the Chinese government were not committed by anyone in Kirti Monastery, but carried out solely by me”. The note further stated “I led the peaceful protest, and I am solely responsible for the protest”. The suicide note carried a poignant end line, it reads, “I do not want to live under the Chinese oppression even for a minute, leave aside living for a day.”
2) Legtsok (2), 75 years old, committed suicide on 30 March 2008. He was a monk at the Ngaba Gomang Monastery in Ngaba County, Ngaba “TAP”, Sichuan Province. Days before committing suicide, Legtsok accompanied by two other monks while on their way to perform prayer rituals at a house of a Tibetan family encountered a large contingent of Chinese security forces heading towards their monastery, Ngaba Gomang Monastery, to quell the protesting monks at the monastery. The forces brutally beat Legtsok and detained him for a few days. Later he was released and sent back to the monastery.
3)Thoesam (3), 29 years old, committed suicide on 16 April 2008. He hailed from Mehu-ru-mah Village and was a monk at the Ngaba Kirti Monastery, Ngaba County, Ngaba “TAP” Sichuan Province. He committed suicide for being unable to bear the pressure and repression that was being imposed by the Chinese govt.
4)Trangma (4) committed suicide on 18 June 2008. He was a monk at Drapa Yangden Monastery, Minyag Township, Nyagchuka County, Kardze “Tibet Autonomous Prefecture” (“TAP”), Sichuan. During the “patriotic reeducation” at the monastery, the authorities made the monks denounce the Dalai Lama and perform other sacrileges according Buddhist faith. Unable to bear the circumstances, he cut short his life to escape the religious blasphemy and denunciation of his spiritual guru, the Dalai Lama. The deceased monk’s aged mother and other monks in the monastery were threatened with consequences if they speak to the outside world about his suicide. As part of the “patriotic reeducation” the school under the monastery with around 30 novice monk students was closed down by the Chinese authorities.
5)Thokmey a.k.a Tsangpa Thokmey (5) (prefix name used of his origin place) committed suicide on 22 March 2008. He was a monk at the Ramoche Temple in Lhasa. He committed suicide following massive crackdown by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) and People’s Armed Police (PAP) forces in Ramoche Temple.
6)Namdrok Khakyab (6) committed suicide on 19 March 2008. He was a visiting scholar at Samye Monastery from the Dorjee Drak Monastery. He hailed from Nyemo County, Lhasa Municipality, “Tibet Autonomous Region” (“TAR”). He left behind a suicide note that accused of unbearable suppression by the Chinese authorities and cited innocence of other monks of the monastery and took full responsibility for the demonstrations.
(7)Tashi Sangpo (7) committed suicide on 21 March 2009. He was severely subjected to harsh beatings, inhumane torture and long interrogation in a local detention centre since his arrest on 10 March 2009. Extensive torture and interrogation finally took its toll on Tashi Sangpo’s mental state, which eventually forced him to take his own life by jumping into Machu River.
(8)Tusong (8) committed suicide on 16 April 2008. He was a 19-years-old blind monk at Kirti Monastery and originally hailed from a village nearby Ngaba County, Sichuan Province. Reportedly he told his family that just as those with eyes cannot endure what is happening, “even I, a blind person, cannot endure it”.
(9)An unnamed nun (9) in her thirties from Cholung nunnery committed suicide on 12 April 2008. She was traumatized by the beatings she witnessed by armed security forces after a demonstration in Tashigang Township, Meldrogungkar, Lhasa.
(10)Three unnamed monks (10) from Dugu Monsatery committed suicide in an act that may have been in protest against the crackdown and subsequent pressure to denounce the Dalai Lama.
11) Lobsang Tsultrim (11) committed suicide on 3 July 2008. He was around 16 years old and a monk at the Kirti Dhongri Monastery in Mehu-ru-ma Village, Ngaba County, Sichuan Province. His elder brother testified that Lobsang Tsultrim came home from the monastery and said, “the Chinese official work-teams have again arrived at the monastery. They have ordered the monks to assemble for the “education”. Again, they will not let us stay in peace”. With these words, he walked out from the room. After around 15 minutes, when his brother looked for him, he was found strangled with a rope in the nearby storeroom where they kept their firewood.
12) Shedup (12) committed suicide on 2 April 2009. He was around 40 years old and was a monk at a monastery in Rebkong (Ch: Tongren) County, Malho “TAP”, Qinghai Province. He was first arrested for his alleged role in the protest in Rebkong in March 2008. He was then severely beaten and tortured in custody before being released. However, his name appeared in the wanted list announced by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) around March 2009. Instead of being rearrested, he killed himself to escape humiliation and torture.
13) An unnamed nun (13), 21 years old, from Choekhor Nunnery committed suicide 12 April 2008. Earlier in the day many monks monks from Pangsa Monastery, Tashi Gang township, in Balab sub-district; nuns from Choekhor (colloquially known as Choekhook) Nunnery, Sibook Township, and monks from Dhomo Monastery led a peaceful protest also joined by laypeople in Meldro Gungkar County. Numerous monks and laypeople were arrested during the protest.
14) Lobsang Tsomo (14), a nun at Chokhor Nunnery, committed suicide on 12 April 2008. She hailed from Meldrogungkar County, Lhasa Municipality.
15)Attempt to Sucide- Two Drepung Monastery monks, Kelsang and Damchoe (15), both originally from Kirti Monastery in Sichuan Province, in Drepung Monastery stabbed themselves in the chest, hands, and wrists in an attempt to commit suicide out of desperation amid protest on 12 and 13 March 2008 in the monastery.
16)Attempt to Suicide- Tapey (16), a monk at Kirti Jepa Monastery, Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, attempted suicide by self-immolation on 27 February 2009 as a mark of protest against the ban of Monlam religious festival and the Chinese repression and rule in Tibet. Apparently when he was on fire, eyewitnesses said Tabey was fired upon three gun shots by the Chinese police.
1. Two monks commit suicide in Amdo Ngaba, 4 April 2008, http://www.tchrd.org/press/2008/pr20080404a.html
3. Ngaba (Ch:Aba) County, Ngaba “Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture,” Sichuan province – Repression leads monk to commit suicide, Updates on Tibet, 22 April 2008, http://tibet.net/en/index.php?id=559&articletype=flash&rmenuid=morenews
4. A monk commits suicide due to “patriotic re-education”, Update on Tibet Demonstrations, 21 July 2008, http://www.tibet.net/en/flash/2008/0708/21C0708.html
5. Five Ramoche monks missing since April raid, September 2008, http://www.tchrd.org/publications/hr_updates/2008/hr200809.html
6. Nine monks sentenced, other committed suicide in Tibet, 10 February 2009, http://www.tchrd.org/press/2009/pr20090210.html
7. Ragya Monastery encircled, reeling under severe restriction, 23 March 2009, http://www.tchrd.org/press/2009/pr20090323b.html
8. Mass detentions of monks, suicides and despair as enforced condemnation of Dalai Lama provokes dissent, 29 April 2009, http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/mass-detentions-monks-suicides-and-despair-enforced-condemnation-dalai-lama-provokes-disse
10. Aggressive anti-Dalai Lama campaign in Kham; imminent food shortages feared as result of security sweep, 17 April 2009, http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/aggressive-anti-dalai-lama-campaign-kham-imminent-food-shortages-feared-result-security-sw
11. Ngaba (Ch: Aba) County, Ngaba “TAP” (incorporated into a Chinese province of Sichuan) – A teenager monk from Kirti Dhongri monastery commits suicide due to “patriotic re-education”, Update on Tibet Demonstrations, 9 July 2008, http://www.tibet.net/en/index.php?id=285&articletype=flash&rmenuid=morenews
12. Fear of arrest and torture causes Tibetan monk to Commit suicide in Tibet , 21 April 2008, http://www.tibet.net/en/index.php?id=846&articletype=flash
13. Meldro Gungkar (Ch: Mozhugongka) County, Lhasa municipality- Protests held again, Update on Tibet, 26 April 2008, http://www.tibet.net/en/flash/2008/0408/26C0408.html
14. Identified list of Tibetans killed under China’s crackdown since 10 March 2008, http://www.tibet.net/en/pdf/tibetans_killed_2008.pdf
15. Tibetan Monks in Critical Condition After Attempted Suicide, as Protests Mount, 13 March 2008, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/politics/tibet_protest-20080313.html
16. Self-immolated man asked to amputate his legs, 13 March 2009, http://tchrd.org/press/2009/pr20090313.html