Kirti Monastery: “A Jail Filled with Monks”

Young monk Phuntsok

On March 16, 2011, coinciding with the third anniversary of the widespread demonstrations that rocked Tibet in 2008, a young Tibetan monk named Phuntsok Jarutsang set himself on fire to protest the Chinese government’s continued repression of the Tibetan people. Police officers extinguished the flames and then proceeded to beat the young monk mercilessly. He died in a hospital early the next morning from injuries sustained from the beating. He was 21.

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, on April 9th, Chinese security forces cordoned the Ngaba Kirti Monastery restricting the movement of monks with no one being allowed to go in or out. The monks have been living on food offered by locals through the monastery administration as the Chinese authorities have prohibited local Tibetans from offering food to monks directly. Chinese officials maintain that the situation at Kirti Monastery is “normal.”

Yesterday a report surfaced from Tibetan sources that gives a clearer picture of the situation: The source called the monastery “a jail filled with monks.” Monks are not allowed to leave their quarters after 8PM.  The monastery’s medical facilities has been shut down. Chinese authorities have constructed walls around the monastery.  Soldiers and police enter monks’ quarters at random and ransack them, and some one hundred monks have gone missing or are unaccounted for in the area since the March 16th incident. Authorities have also subjected the monks to extensive “Patriotic Reeducation” sessions that in some cases have lasted for hours.

On April 16th, the Tibetan Parliament in exile appealed for the United Nations to intervene. The UN has yet to respond.

From what I have seen, the cable news networks and my local channels have ignored this story. They keep me up to date with what is happening in Libya, but nothing on Tibet. It’s an old story. It doesn’t have the large scope that the Middle East has, there is no oil in Tibet, and I suspect China’s influence has something to do with it, too.

Six decades have passed since China invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama gets lip service from US presidents but little else. In 1990, Iran invaded Kuwait and within months, we were chomping at the bit to go and liberate a country that is but a fraction of Tibet’s size. The disparity is obvious. Tibet is only important to Buddhists and liberals and social activists and people of that ilk. Our president, whom I admire, is two out of three there, so I wish he were more outspoken on the subject, and a few others to boot.

Tibetan Prayer Wheel (Mani Khorlo)

I don’t know what to say except that it’s tragic. I don’t know what else to do other than be one of the voices calling attention to China’s cruel repression, even though, if you’re reading this, chances are you are part of the choir. I may have some strong opinions about the validity of lineage claims and some of the historical misrepresentations about monastic Buddhism, but that does not mean that I am against Buddhist monks or want to see that aspect of Buddhism disappear. We owe so much to the monastic tradition. One thing is sure, without it, there would be no Buddhism today. Had there not been such a tradition in Tibet, perhaps many important sutras and teachings would not have been preserved. This is just one contribution to world culture Tibet has made. Comparing Tibetan texts with Chinese versions has helped scholars understand how the sutras were compiled, how they were revised, which are apocryphal and so on.

Tibet has given us a rich and unique culture to appreciate – and we should not forget that uniqueness is also part of diversity, for diversity means not merely to tolerate or accommodate differences, but to also celebrate and, in some cases, preserve them. Tibet is home to a culture suffused with ancient wisdom, one that struggles to maintain its identity as it faces an uncertain future. Based on the Buddhist concept of dependent arising, their struggle is also ours.

Meanwhile, the siege of Kirti monastery continues . . .

May all types of harm and violence in these snowy lands,
Be swiftly pacified and eliminated entirely.
May precious sublime bodhichitta
Arise naturally in the minds of all beings, human and non-human alike,
So that they never again think or act in harmful, violent ways.

May the minds of all be filled with love for one another!
May the whole of Tibet enjoy abundant splendours, happiness and wellbeing!
And may the Buddha’s teachings flourish and endure!
Through the force of the truth embodied in the Three Roots, the Buddhas and their heirs,
And through the power of all the sources of merit throughout samsara and nirvana,
And of our own completely pure, positive intention,
May this, our prayer of aspiration, be fulfilled!

“Prayer for Peace and Stability”, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé (1813-1899)


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