Venerable Kunchok Nyima is a well-respected Buddhist scholar at Drepung Monastic University. In April 2008, he was detained on charges of being the ‘ring leader’ and the main instigator of protests that rocked Lhasa in March of that year. For the next two years, he remained ‘disappeared’ and no one knew where he was detained.
In June 2010, some Chinese government officials made an announcement at Drepung Monastery, admitting for the first time that they were holding Ven. Nyima who the officials said was sentenced for 20 years in prison on charges of ‘inciting’ and ‘abetting’ protests among Drepung monks.
Around 2009, a group of officials visited Ven. Nyima’s family in Thewo and showed them a CD recording that purportedly contained a message from Ven. Nyima. In the film, Ven. Nyima told his family that he was well and friendly with his prison guards and soldiers. He also told his family not to worry about him and asked his brother and sister to take care of his parents. But the authenticity of the video CD cannot be established so far.
Some time later, Chinese authorities called Ven. Nyima’s parents to Lhasa and asked them to visit their son in prison as well as to provide him “proper guidance and advice” on the merits of confessing his crimes. However, Ven. Nyima refused to meet his parents sending them a message instead that he was happy they had come but that he had nothing special to say. Tenpa Dhargye (name changed), a disciple of Ven. Nyima who now lives in exile in India says Ven. Nyima probably knew why the authorities allowed his parents to visit him. “So, rather than disappoint them by refusing their advice, he altogether refused to meet his parents.”
To date, there has been no reliable information on the whereabouts and condition of Ven. Kunchok Nyima.
On 10 March 2008, some Drepung monks had participated in a protest march against Chinese government. The next day, Ven Nyima convened a meeting of resident monks where he had said, “It is needless to say that we all have responsibility as Tibetans to preserve our identity, but one should avoid reacting out of anger as it would endanger the lives of the monks and might lead to the destruction of the monastery putting at risk more lives of the monks and irreparable loss of the ancient Tibetan religion and culture.” His advices and suggestions were well received and heeded by the monks. On 12 March, some Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers and government officials called a meeting at Drepung and ordered Ven. Nyima and other monastery staff to stop the monks from protesting. But the monks at Drepung outraged by the previous violent crackdown on peaceful Tibetan protesters carried out a demonstration, which later ignited waves of protests all over Tibet.
On the morning of 11 April 2008, a group of armed police and some government officials entered the private quarter of Ven. Nyima and conducted a two-hour search among his personal possessions. As the policemen took him away, he told a crowd of monks who had gathered outside his door, “Study well. Nothing will happen to me.”
For the next two years, parents, relatives, and former friends and disciples have looked everywhere in vain for Ven Nyima, even approaching relevant government officials for information about his whereabouts and condition.
Ven. Kunchok Nyima was born in 1969 in Bhochewa nomadic village in Thewo Saru Township, Dzoege (Ch: Ru’ergai) County, Ngaba (Ch: Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in the Tibetan province of Amdo. As a child, he studied at local primary and middle school learning Tibetan and Chinese, both of which he mastered well. In his early teens, he joined Shedrup Dhargyeling Monastery in Thewo. He received his ordination vows from the great master Kunchok Pelden Tsang of Taktsang Lhamo Monastery in Ngaba and was named Kunchok Nyima. After finishing his studies at Shedrup Dhargyeling, he moved to Taktsang Lhamo for further studies.
In 1989, Ven Nyima, along with some likeminded monks, went to Lhasa on foot for pilgrimage. When the tour ended, he decided to stay back and began attending classes at Drepung Monastery. He received teachings from great Buddhist scholars such as Gyen Lamrimpa Ngawang Phuntsok, Sokpo Gyen Tenzin, Tsoka Choephel Namgyal, Ngagchang Rinpoche, etc. Many Buddhist masters and scholars saw him as an able and accomplished future head of the great Drepung Monastery.
In 2001, along with his studies, he began to teach scriptures to many junior monks at Drepung Gomang college. Within a short span of time, he had over 400 permanent students and began teaching monks from other colleges in Drepung. At the time of his arrest, he had over 600 to 700 disciples spanning all three provinces of Tibet. It was not an ordinary accomplishment for an ordinary, nomad boy from faraway Thewo in the Amdo, to be feared by the Chinese government who considered him an influential person with an abundance of moral authority not only among the three great monastic universities of Lhasa – Sera, Drepung and Ganden – but also among the general public in Lhasa.
In 2003, he was formally inducted into the Gomang college at Drepung Monastery. He was known for his warmth and hospitality for outside visitors at the monastery, offering them support and shelter. He was known for his skilled and peaceful ways of mediating disputes between the Tibetans and the law enforcement agencies of the Chinese government. In 2005, five of the best students of Drepung were expelled following an emergency ‘patriotic education’ campaign at the monastery. An open confrontation had broken out between the Tibetans and the Chinese officers. It was then that Ven Nyima intervened telling the Tibetans that the confrontation with Chinese officers and armed police would cause innumerable losses and damages to the monastery urging them to agree for a truce. The matter was settled peacefully. Later, he began to be viewed not only for his spiritual activities, but perceived political activities by the Chinese government.
In 2006, Ven. Nyima was selected among a group of monastic and lay Tibetans by the Chinese government to go on a tour of Chinese and Tibetan cities. At the end of the tour, in response to a question from his Chinese guide about his thoughts on the tour, Ven. Nyima said, “The opinions of individual Tibetans like some of us is not important. In my opinion, it is important to improve the condition of Tibetans in rural areas such as education, health and economic conditions.” He also called on the Chinese government to protect and value Tibetan language, religious knowledge, freedom of mind and conscience. “It is equally important to ensure freedom of thought and environment in religious institutions, for they are the centres of living Tibetan culture,” he added.
In 2007, on a brief visit to his native Thewo, Ven Nyima helped introduce new courses in his alma mater Shedrup Dhargyeling. Before returning to Lhasa, he gave teachings to monks and local residents on Tibetan Buddhism.
In exile, a former student of Ven. Nyima appeals for international action on his teacher’s whereabouts and early release. Tenpa Dhargye (name changed) who studies Buddhism at a Tibetan monastery in India says, “The baseless allegations against our teacher and his unjust sentencing have caused severe mental pain and suffering on Ven Nyima’s family members, friends, relatives and all those who believe in principles of justice, freedom and peace. More importantly, sentencing and disappearing Ven Nyima who was a highly accomplished Buddhist master with thousands of disciples, is an attack on the core of living Tibetan culture, religion, language and identity.”