• Subjugation of Tibet

    In 1959, my homeland of Tibet was invaded and forcibly taken over by Communist China.

      Khenpo Karten Rinpoche & Dalai Lama

    Fortunately, His Holiness the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet, and over 100,000 Tibetans subsequently followed him into exile to India.  Around 1965, a Cultural Revolution was set into motion inside Tibet and continued over the next 10 years; during this period, monasteries were desecrated and destroyed. With the sole intention of transforming the land of Tibet into a Chinese territory, the Communist regime implemented all possible strategies, physical and psychological, soft and harsh, with the ultimate aim of completely destroying the environment of Tibet and eradicating Tibetan culture.  

    An interesting human characteristic is that it is easy to change one’s physical condition, but extremely difficult to transform one’s mindset, especially when one is forced to change one’s own cultural and traditional dispositions passed down from generation to generation over thousands of years. The essence of Tibetan culture which is rooted in the teachings of the Buddha is to benefit others, and specifically to train one’s mind. That sudden change, imposed with repressive measures, has become even more difficult to bear for the Tibetans currently residing in Tibet. This radical change understandably is not just difficult for those who are forced to accept it, but it is also an extremely difficult undertaking for those who attempt to impose such change. Such has been the Communist regime’s deliberate attempt all along and that is why Tibetans inside Tibet are desperate and forever wish to have a glimpse of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has made it his lifelong effort to preserve this culture because of its immense potential to benefit others.  

    When I was in Tibet, they forced us to participate in political indoctrination and propaganda where we were fed ideas and beliefs that the times of old Tibet were of hardship and antiquated, and that a new dawn of happiness had arrived. They claimed that Dharma, or religion, is bad; moreover, they forced people to disrespect His Holiness the Dalai Lama, reduced the number of monks in monasteries, and severed relationships between monasteries and the lay community. The officials lied and misled, alternating between harsh and sweet words to persuade, coax, and impel, all with the aim to erase the basic identity and culture of the Tibetan people. While I was in Tibet, Communist officials hindered promising students who showed potential from entering into monasteries. Officials would pull these young men aside and entice them to enjoy material life and worldly indulgence. If enlisted in the army, they were not allowed to enter into the monastery. Shops which sold liquor and tobacco and even brothels were positioned near monasteries. Prostitutes were let inside the monasteries where monks were deliberately induced to break their vows.

    Another tactic to exploit the psyche of the people was with the construction of railway and road networks. On a surface level, it may seem that these projects were undertaken for the benefit of the Tibetan people; in reality, these infrastructure projects were undertaken with very different intentions. After completion of the roadways to Lhasa, tourists were encouraged to visit the city, and Chinese citizens were encouraged to relocate to Lhasa, make a living, and settle there never to return to China. There were also other policies aimed to help outsiders to establish themselves. Strategically, young Chinese men and women were brought to Lhasa, and marriage between Tibetans and Chinese were encouraged with monetary incentives.  Also, rich resources in the Tibetan plateau such as mineral deposits and water are extracted and used without restraint.

    Additionally, after His Holiness the Dalai Lama left Tibet, many other Tibetan reincarnate lamas and scholars, such as the 10th Panchen Lama, Gungthang Tempe Gyaltsen, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, and Lithang Tulku Tenzin Delek, were targeted and then poisoned or tortured in prisons and have hence passed away, dispatching the best of our society. Without preeminent spiritual leaders such as these, the Tibetan people did not have many figures to turn to for refuge and support.

    Recently, I witnessed something unthinkable that perhaps no one can fathom: in Kirti Gompa, a Monastery in the Ngaba Prefecture, working committee members were ordered to display a thangka (a Tibetan Buddhist painting usually depicting an enlightened being, a deity, or mandala) with the picture of Chinese Communist leaders, such as Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping, next to the statute of the Buddha, denoting equality of the two, and they announced that the national flag of China was to be hung next to the Dharma flag on top of the monastery. They were told to pay respects to the Chinese Communist leaders and to hold the regime in reverence as much as they revered the Buddha.  Kirti Monastery is one of the main centers of the preservation of Tibetan religion and culture, and is thus seen by the authorities as a Tibetan stronghold and a monastery with strong resistance.  As is said in a Tibetan saying, “When the goat gets shaved, the sheep shivers”; such a policy imposed on the Kirti Monastery exemplifies the trend being set for other centers of learning inside Tibet.  

    Since Mao Zedong came to Tibet, Tibetans have endured a living hell on earth under the Communist regime.  Families were separated, immeasurable suffering caused the loss of countless lives, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to leave his own country, and, since 1959, religion and culture have been cut from their roots.  Nothing worse could have happened to Tibet and its people and now to command monasteries to display pictures of the communist leaders who have caused immeasurable pain and suffering alongside images of Buddha constitutes what?  I was extremely distraught to hear this.  Occasionally I speak with people inside Tibet and feel their growing anguish.  The economic growth of China has no doubt reached Tibetans and they have gained some material benefits; nevertheless, their mind is never at ease.  As our conversations continue, they see and feel the ever increasing oppressive measures imposed upon them thereby suffering greatly. 

    When it comes to altering one’s deep-rooted culture and beliefs by force, the suffering is unimaginable; thus, when Tibetans inside Tibet are confronted with the ultimatum of either forsaking their beliefs held for centuries or giving up their own lives; some choose the latter. So far, 158 individuals have self-immolated inside Tibet. These are the figures on record, but we cannot even estimate the number of people who were tortured, imprisoned, or unaccounted for. It is their desperate voice and the yearning to practice their own religion freely and exercise of basic human rights. Others choose to risk their lives and flee to other countries for asylum.

    As for me, I was born during the cultural revolution in 1965. I have personally witnessed grave suffering of my family members, my spiritual teachers, and many others. Having faced such political hardship, I had to flee and currently reside outside Tibet.  I feel strongly that if those of us who are outside Tibet don’t speak up, no one will.  I am a Buddhist monk, but I believe that I have a responsibility to speak up about the current averse conditions inside Tibet.  As I have done every March 10th, the Tibetan Uprising Day, and with these recent events inside Tibet, I am extremely disheartened and want to share this message with the public.  

    How can people who believe in truth, justice, and basic human rights look the other way and act indifferently to such oppressive actions? How can such misdeeds be justified for a believer in Dharma, or righteousness? 

    For those of you who either support the cause of Tibet or who support the truth, I urge you to pay attention. Those who support the cause of Tibet, you are not only supporting a small political territory, but supporting a nation of people who for centuries strived to live in peace and adopt a non-violent way of life.  In the world today, we are confronted with many issues that stem from the lack of truth. That is why I urge you to again give some attention to this situation and thus conclude my thoughts on this day, March 10, which marks the Tibetan Uprising Day.

    ~Khenpo Karten Rinpoche, Pacific Grove, CA USA

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 8, 2021

    Topics: Uncategorized


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