Praying for the Souls of Tibetan Self-Immolators
Febbraio 4th, 2013 by admin

Motorbikes outside a prayer meeting in a Tibetan village in China, where thousands of Tibetans are praying for the souls of those who have self-immolated in protest over Chinese rule.

Motorbikes outside a prayer meeting in a Tibetan village in China, where thousands of Tibetans are praying for the souls of those who have self-immolated in protest over Chinese rule.

In Villages, Praying for the Souls of Tibetan Self-Immolators

By Didi Kirsten Tatlow [The New York Times] 3 February 2013

BEIJING — Since November, when cold winter began in the high Tibetan Plateau, thousands of Tibetan villagers have been gathering daily to pray for the souls of the nearly 100 Tibetans who have burned themselves to death in protest over Chinese rule, in a show of widespread support for the self-immolators among ordinary people, according to witness testimony from a person recently returned from the region.In traditional winter prayer meetings in villages, they gather to chant “Om mani padme hum,” Tibetan Buddhism’s most important mantra, which speeds a soul toward a good reincarnation, said the person, who witnessed a meeting in the Tibetan region of Qinghai Province in China.

The meetings are a sign of support for the self-immolators and point to widespread dislike among ordinary Tibetans for repressive policies in the region that have turned it into an “open-air prison,” said one ethnic Tibetan police officer in Lhasa, quoted by the witness.

The witness cannot be identified because of the high risk of persecution by the Chinese authorities. But the reliable account of ongoing, severe repression and resentment among Tibetans confirms other reports from the Tibet Autonomous Region or from Tibetan regions in Chinese provinces, where the authorities have been cracking down as they try to stop the spread of the self-immolations.

Chinese courts last week sentenced eight Tibetans for helping self-immolators, The Associated Press reported, including one man to death with a two-year reprieve, and others to between 3 and 12 years in jail, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

The detail and content of the grass-roots prayer meetings is new.

The meetings are a traditional thing to do during the winter and are held daily in different villages, and last three days,” the witness said. They are known in Chinese as “fahui,” or dharma meetings (also Buddhist law meetings).

People drive on motorbikes for long distances, 50 or 60 kilometers, to whichever village is holding a prayer meeting. It’s mostly adults, and they are anywhere between 16 and over 80 years old. As soon as they can drive a motorbike, they’ll go,” the person said.

Around 1,000 people may attend, often going from one meeting to another without returning home.”

Their aim is for each meeting to have chanted ‘Om mani padme hum’ 100 million times. There’s no question that they regard the self-immolators as very great, and believe that with the help of their prayers, they will come back as powerful and blessed people,” said the person, who confessed to having reservations about the self-immolations.

Yet, “It’s extremely moving. Because if the self-immolations really were a mistake, how could they get so much support and sympathy form ordinary people?”

As my colleague Jim Yardley reports from India, where many Tibetans live in exile, some there are questioning the self-immolations.

The witness confirmed that, saying: “There is a feeling among some Tibetans,” especially monks or those in the religious hierarchy, “that the Dalai Lama needs to say something to stop it.”

Yet Tibetans who are deeply unhappy with Chinese rule are constrained in how they can protest.

The problem is that Tibetans are Buddhists. The way things are there now, in other places, people might rise up and set off bombs. But they can’t do that because Buddhists believe you shouldn’t destroy other people’s happiness. So the only way they can protest is by killing themselves,” the person said.

And so the grass-roots support goes on.

The testimony from this person also confirmed reports of a very harsh crackdown under way in Lhasa, seat of the Jokhang, Tibet’s holiest temple, and the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama, whom Tibetans revere and who has lived in exile since fleeing the Chinese in 1959.

The crackdown, in response to the self-immolations that began not long after an uprising in Lhasa was crushed in 2008, has turned Tibet into “an open-air prison,” said an ethnic Tibetan police officer. Like some other ethnic Tibetan police officers, he was considering resigning his post, he said.

Lhasa used to be a sacred place for Buddhism. Now it’s a sacred place for Marxism-Leninism,” he said. “Every day there are meetings where leaders both big and small tell you that maintaining stability,” or “weiwen,” in Chinese, “is the most important thing, what the main tasks in Lhasa are. Lhasa is no longer a Buddhist sacred place,” he said.

Lhasa is stuffed with police, every 10 paces there are several. I am growing to hate my own work. It’s really not possible to keep doing it. Some have already resigned,” he told the witness.

The crackdown includes forbidding ethnic Tibetans from the outlying regions, like Qinghai or Sichuan Provinces, which lie outside Tibet proper, from traveling to Tibet and is strictly enforced at airports and other transport nodes. Ethnic Han Chinese, however, can pass, effectively making Tibet out of bounds for many Tibetans.

Any Tibetan from outside the region wishing to travel to Lhasa must have a “sponsor” in the city working for the government, the witness said. They must surrender their identity cards and be photographed. Uniformed and plainclothes police officers and military patrol heavily in the city, trying to stop self-immolations.

The ban on ethnic Tibetans from outside Tibet, many of whom have traditionally taken pilgrimages to Lhasa, means that hotels and other businesses in the city have suffered since last May when they were ordered shut to such travelers. A petition is currently circulating from hotel owners asking the government to compensate them financially, “or we will take our request higher.” For reasons of political sensitivity, the petition, which has been seen by this newspaper, cannot be discussed in detail.

It is also extremely difficult for ordinary ethnic Tibetans to get a passport, meaning they cannot travel overseas, the witness said. The person believes the government’s motive is to minimize accounts, like this one, of the harsh repression in the region.

They don’t want Tibetans leaving the country and telling the world what’s happening there. Hundreds of people leaving and telling the world is very different from one or two,” the person said.

With the Lunar New Year approaching, the prayer meetings will soon be scaled back, as farm work and animal husbandry resume. For now, though, the villagers are praying hard for the souls of the dead, millions of mantras circulating in the thin air of the plateau.

They say, we want their lives to come back. We want world peace. They pray for Tibet to have peaceful and happy days, and the world, too,” the person said.

Said the police officer: “Living in this tightly controlled atmosphere is unbearable. There’s no feeling of happiness. But maybe it’s good this way, it may speed up the day when the situation has to change. But I don’t have the courage to self-immolate. Maybe after I retire I’ll go to Beijing and petition.”

Comments are closed

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa