2022 Regional Religious Freedom Forum:”Indo-Pacific Civil Society Dialogue: Challenges to Religious Freedom”

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screenshot 2022 09 03 at 4Kelsang Gyaltsen

Representative ofH.H.the Dalai Lama

(Lharampa Geshe) Tenzin Namdol Rinpoche – Dharma Mentor

Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

An Indo-Pacific Civil Society Dialogue on Religious Freedom in Challenging Times

Dear conference organizers, participants and guests: good afternoon.

It is a great honor to participate in the 2022 Regional Religious Freedom Forum–“An Indo-Pacific Civil Society Dialogue on Religious Freedom in Challenging Times”. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak at this session–“Experiencing Religious Repression under Authoritarian Regimes and Testimonies of Strength”. I will share with you some examples showcasing how the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule has destroyed the Tibetan religion. I will also talk about the policies supporting such destruction. By expounding these stories, I hope to solicit your attention and support.

I was born in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, and received some Chinese education in Lhasa. In 1992, I fled Tibet and went into exile in India. I entered the school set up by the Tibetan government-in-exile and spent nearly five months studying English.

At the end of 1992, I was recognized by H.H. Dalai Lama as the reincarnation (tulku) of Lobsang Wangdue Rinpoche, who in 1958 obtained the first place of the Lharampa Geshe degree (doctoral degree of Buddhism) from one of the three major monasteries in Tibet. It is because of such privilege and fate that I was seated in front of H.H.D.L. when I had my hair shaved and became a monk. I was given the dharma name Tenzin Nandrol.

In the same year I entered the College of Philosophy and Buddhism at Gaden Jangtse Thoesam Norling Monastery in South India. Starting from basic Buddhism courses and gradually building up, in nearly 20 years’ time, I completed the systemic studying of the five major volumes of Buddhist teachings. In 2010, I obtained a first-rank Lharampa geshe degree, equivalent to a doctoral degree of Buddhist Philosophy.

At the end of 2012, I was assigned by the Office of H.H. Dalai Lama to come to Taiwan, and I studied Mandarin at National Sun Yat-Sen University and the Mandarin Training Center of National Taiwan Normal University for more than two years. In 2015, I became a lecturer at the Fa Guang Institute of Buddhist Studies, where I also taught Tibetan. In 2018, I enrolled the graduate program of Hsuan Chuang University in Taiwan and obtained a master’s degree in July 2020. In 2021, I applied for a Ph.D program and passed the entrance exam of the Graduate Institute of Religious Studies in National Chengchi University, where I’ve been studying up to this day.

I’ve been talking about my background, not because I wanted to promote myself. Instead, I want to highlight that: Tibet is a country where all its people are very religious. The CCP has been forging an image of “full-fledge religious, culture and language freedom and rights for the Tibetan people under the CPP rule”. However, the truth is that Tibet’s religious leader H.H. Dalai Lama and leaders of other sects had been in exile in India for more than 60 years.

Moreover, Tibetan-born monks like me or young people have to risk our lives to cross the Himalaya mountains and go into exile in order to learn our own religion and culture. It is only in the monasteries or schools set up by the Tibetan exile society in India where traditional religious knowledge and Tibetan culture are taught in a systemic way.

Only in a free and democratic society like Taiwan, where a monk like me can freely promote and preach Buddhism while pursuing a PhD. Degree in university. This is unimaginable in authoritarian mainland China or in Tibet, which is currently under the rule of the CCP.

It is well known that the sufferings inflicted by the CCP on the Tibetans has been ongoing for several decades. The level of suppression is only increasing. CCP tries to wipe out, uproot and eradicate Tibet’s culture, religion, language and writing system. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the “CCP’s Strategy for Governing Tibet in the New Era” has furthered the above work, aiming to assimilate the Tibetan people, undermine the influence of H.H. Dalai Lama in Tibet, while promoting the sinicization of Tibetan religion. These actions have resulted in even stronger resistance among the Tibetans inside Tibet. Tibetans who dare to discuss issues related to Tibetan culture, religion, environmental protection, etc. would risk being arrested or even killed on charges of inciting secession.

To echo the theme of today’s forum, I would like to tell you some cases which occurred in Tibet in the past two years to help you understand the severity of the circumstances in Tibet at present. These examples also show what it truly means by Xi Jinping’s “CCP’s Strategy for Governing Tibet in the New Era”.

1.This year, three cases of self-immolation occurred in Tibet. One of them was a well-known young singer, who had a promising future career. Another was an 80-year-old herdsman. No information was available about the third person after he or she committed self-immolation. These three self-immolation cases include people from different age groups (from 20s to 80s) and regions—from Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to Sichuan and Qinghai Tibetan-inhabited areas. This shows that the oppressive policies inflicted on the Tibetans under the CCP rule have become so extreme and unbearable.

On 19 January 2021, a young monk in Tibet, Tenzin Nyima, less than 20 years of age, died while in detention. The Chinese authorities launched a house-to-house search and “cleansing”, to stop the news from spreading. Dozens of police officers and commandos, holding huge red flags while shouting loudly, marched across the small town of only 3,000 residents, majority of them are Tibetans. These police and soldiers are referred to as the “Snow Wolf Commandos”. They searched through each and every household, including nursing homes. They confiscated H.H. Dalai Lama’s portraits and replaced them with pictures of the Chinese leaders.

2.On 6 February 2021, Kunchok Jinpa, a Tibetan from the Biru County of Nagqu City, died in a hospital in Lhasa. About 3 months prior to his death, he was taken from the prison and sent to the hospital. His family was not notified at the time. Kunchok Jinpa’s whereabouts remained unknown since his arrest on 8 November 2013. His family was not notified about his arrest. He was soon convicted on charges of revealing state secrets—sending information on environmental issues of his hometown, and on people’s protests to the foreign press. He was sentenced to 21 years of imprisonment, which is a rare and severe punishment compared to others who were charged with the same offence. Information on his trial and indictment has never been publicized until recently.

3.The death of Kunchok Jinpa is just another ugly example of how Tibetans died from abuse and torture after being arbitrarily imprisoned. Nowadays, such occurrences are frequent in Tibet. It deserves more attention and support from the world community.

The background of this sad case can be dated back to 2013, when Chen Quanguo served as CCP Secretary of TAR. At that time, when monks and laymen in Biru County of Nagqu City tried to resist the requests from CCP—holding national-flag-raising ceremony in temples and monasteries; placing Chinese national flag on the rooftop of each household; hanging pictures of CCP leaders in the temples and monasteries—their resistance efforts were crushed by the security forces.

During that period, Wu Yingjie, CCP Deputy Secretary of TAR, spent a year in Biru County to oversee these matters. According to reports, during that year, unarmed protesters had been shot and arrested in large scale. Dozens of people were charged with political crimes and sentenced up to 18 years of imprisonment. Many died in detention.

According to information obtained by Human Rights Watch, during that period, 1,325 residents had been arrested, among which about 670 were sentenced and put to prison. However, it was hard to verify the information. Wu Yingjie was promoted because of his “heroic” performance on crushing the protesters, and later became the CCP Secretary of TAR.

4.In August 2020, Lhamo, a mother of three children from the Biru County of Nagqu City, was arrested, together with her cousin Tenzin Tharpa. Their “crime” was sending money to relatives in India. Lhamo was severely tortured and died in prison.

5.In September 2019, police officers in Lhasa discovered private communication messages from a lost mobile phone owned by Choegyal Wangpo, Abbot of the Tengdro Monastery in Dingri County,TAR. The messages include communications with many Tiben monks residing in Nepal, as well as donation records for the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. The Public Security Bureau immediately searched the monastery, resulting in the arrests of many people, and one suicide. Later, four monks were put on secret trial in 2020. These four monks– Choekyi Wangpo, Lobsang Jinpa, Norbu Dondup and Ngawang Yeshe—were sentenced to 20, 19, 17 and 5 years of imprisonment respectively.

It is evident that, the actions of these monks—sending text messages abroad or donating money for disaster relief—did not violate any law in China. However, the Chinese authorities kept pressuring the officials in Tibetan-inhabited areas to investigate and make political crime cases out of it, groundlessly naming these cases as attempts of secession or subversion. As a result, in many Tibetan-inhabited areas, arbitrary and extreme control over online communications was introduced.

6.In June and July 2021, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping visited the Tibetan-inhabited area in Qinghai as well as Lhasa. Afterwards, a private Tibetan language and culture school called “Sengdruk Taktse” (literally means Lion Dragon Palace) was forced to close on 8 July. A female teacher, Rinchen Kyi—the longest-serving one, was arrested in Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on 1 August on charges of “inciting secession”. The police refused to publicize her whereabouts and health condition.

7.On 22 August 2021, many members of CCP military police and army, riding in police and military vehicles, arrived in Wenbo Town, Sershul County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. They raided on local monasteries and searched nearby private houses. Later they arrested 19 monks and at least 40 village residents on reasons of enshrining and secretly hiding pictures of H.H. Dalai Lama.

8.On 13 February 2022, Choedon, a female Tibetan graduate student at the Southwest Minzu University (formerly known as Southwest University for Nationalities) in Chengdu, Sichuan, was arrested by the CCP authorities for teaching Tibetan to school children in her hometown during her winter vacation. Her whereabouts remains unknown since then.

9.On 12 December 2021, a 99-foot-tall Buddha statue and 45 prayer wheels in Luhuo County (Drakgo County in Tibetan), Sichuan’s Tibetan-inhabited area, were destroyed by the Chinese authorities. The local Tibetans had obtained legal documents to build the giant Buddha statue. However, six years after the statue was completed, the Chinese authorities unreasonably demolished it. Furthermore, CCP authorities closed and demolished monastery-owned schools, which provide both modern and traditional Tibetan education to nearly 130 students.

10.In July 2022, Zumkar, a Tibetan woman from Amdo County (north of Nagqu City), was arrested by the authorities for secretly possessing the picture H.H. Dalai Lama. Later, her sister Yuzhen was also taken by the authorities. According to reports, Zumkar and Youdon, together with their parents, live by herding. Zumkar is married with two children and Yuzhen is a young girl not yet married. The whereabouts of these two sisters remain unknown to the public. It is also not clear why Youdon was forcibly taken away by the authorities.

11.On 20 December 2021, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) announced the “Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services”, forbidding any individual or organization to teach and preach online, conduct religious education and training, disseminate religious texts, or forward such information and links. It is also forbidden to hold religious activities on the internet, and live-streaming or broadcasting of recorded religious ceremonies are not allowed.

From the abovementioned examples, we see how CCP authorities heighten its suppress on Tibetan religion and culture. They randomly stop pedestrians, search personal belongings and prohibit the people from sharing and collecting information related to H.H. Dalai Lama’s teachings. Such practice is referred to as “measures to eliminate the influence of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in Tibetan areas”.

Meanwhile, the CCP authorities treat the Tibetan religion and culture as “harmful tumor” that must be eliminated. This has led to the arrest and detention of Tibetan intellectuals and cultural figures, as well as the closing down of schools in Tibet.

They even put forward the concept of “a community of common destiny for the Chinese people.” Under this concept, Tibetans cannot speak their own language, learn their own culture, history and follow their own religious beliefs, etc. Policies implemented include putting children in boarding schools, under the pretext of “food, accommodation and tuition are all covered by the government”. These boarding schools are like concentration camps. They keep children away from their own families from young age. As such, children are deprived of the opportunity to be emersed in their mother tongue, religion, culture, and customs. Chinese education is forced upon the children. The goal is to assimilate the Tibetan people and uproot their culture.

“Sinicization of religion” was originally proposed by Xi Jinping in 2015. However, as early as 2013, Chen Quanguo had already implemented aggressive policies similar to the “Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism” throughout Tibet. In the 2017 Tibet Religious Meeting, Wu Yingjie, CCP Secretary of TAR, openly said that “the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism” means to draw a clear line with the “Dalai separatist forces” and “strengthen the management of monasteries in accordance with the law”.

Based on the control measures by Chen Quanguo and Wu Yingjie in Tibet Autonomous Region, Xi Jinping, CCP General Secretary, incorporated the “Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism” into the strategy for governing Tibet for the first time at the Tibet Work Symposium in 2020.

At the “Regional Religious Work Conference” held on 4 August 2022, Wang Jun, the current CCP Secretary of TAR, emphasized the need to thoroughly implement “work on Tibetan religion in the new era”. The work includes the furtherance of “Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism”, as well as “combating separatists and suspicious activities”. He also points out that “we should stay firm and proactive regarding our work on religion, so as to embrace the victory of the 20th CCP National Congress with concrete actions”.

So what kind of policies did these high-level CCP officials in Tibet, such as Chen Quanguo, Wu Yingjie and Wang Jun, adopt in controlling religion in Tibet? What is their concept of “Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism”? Let me summarize it as the following:

“Localized management” to control the number of monks and nuns and study exchanges

According to official data released by the CCP, there are more than 3,800 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples in the entire Tibet, and 140,000 monks and nuns. In the Tibet Autonomous Region, there are more than 1,700 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples, and 46,000 registered monks and nuns. Of course, these are just propaganda figures that have been used and remained unchanged for decades.

CCP considers Tibet as the forefront of the anti-separatist struggle. Religion has a long-term influence in Tibet, while the monasteries are the places where ethnic separatist According to the CCP, Tibet is the forefront of the anti-separatist struggle. Religion has a long-term influence. Tibetan monasteries are the places where separatist ideology has penetrated most deeply and are also hotbed for separatism. The CCP controls the Tibetan religion through the so-called Buddhist entity registration and localized management.

“The so-called localized management” means that there cannot be any communication, engagement, and exchanges amongst monasteries. Monks and nuns are required to register, and their numbers are strictly limited and controlled. Only those with licenses are allowed to stay in monasteries. Application and approval procedure for obtaining licenses are made extremely difficult. Non-local nuns and monks as well as people under the age of 18 are not allowed to join monasteries. For Tibetans, monasteries are both a place of practice and a school. Like internationally renowned universities, all monks in Tibet aspire to enter the most sacred and prestigious monastery of their religious root to advance their studies. However, the CCP abolished such a system, accusing it of “religious feudal privilege, oppression and exploitation”.  Many monasteries and temples have now become empty touristic attractions without the existence of genuine Buddhist education and tradition.

The CCP leadership on Tibet has placed all monasteries and monks under full control, incorporating them into the management scheme of “Six Constructions” and “Six Ones”. The so-called “six constructions” management scheme include:

  • Set up CCP’s administrative organs in Tibetan monasteries
  • Establish a party organization
  • Establish a leadership team
  • Establish a team of cadre
  • Set up job functions
  • Establish a long-term mechanism

The CCP has stationed more than 7,000 cadres in more than 1,700 monasteries in TAR. In addition, full-time commissioners have been stationed to oversee the temple management committee. As such, the CCP has created a full-fledged control scheme on all the monasteries and temples and set up CCP’s control agent within these monasteries. CCP established party units and police stations in the monasteries and destroyed traditional Tibetan monastery management and scripture learning system. Such practices are unheard of in the world. However, CCP continues with the implementation of such bizarre measures while seemingly not being subject to international condemnation.

After implementing the “Six Constructions”, the “Six Ones” activities are carried out. The notion and targets include:

a.Each cadre stationed in the monastery must befriend several monks and nuns.

b.Conduct a home visit to the monks and nuns that the cadre is in contact with.

c.Actively resolve a problem for the family for each monk and nun.

d.Establish a file on each registered monk and nun.

e.Establish a stable communication channel between resident cadres and families of monks and nuns through telephone calls, messages and home visits, etc.

f.Set up a mechanism to coordinate among temple management committees, cadres stationed in temples, monks and nuns and their families, so as to establish harmony in monasteries and temples.  For those who are not familiar with CCP linguistic maneuvering, such mechanism may even appear to be a good policy for good governance.

In reality, such mechanism “bundles up” all Tibetan monks and their families with the CCP cadres, allowing the latter to have full control of information. If a monk engages in any of the so-called “subversion of state power” or “separatist move”, his family members and cadres stationed to his monastery would also be punished. This created an atmosphere of fear and extra caution. On the surface, it seems that the Tibetan society has been “tamed” and there have not been any major protest or incidents of self-immolation. However, the CCP is drifting further away from its hope of social stability and unity of people in Tibet.

Sinification of Tibetan Buddhism—Project on “Nine Possessions for Each Temple”

In addition to the “Six Constructions” and “Six Ones” management schemes that had been implemented in Tibetan monasteries, the authorities also introduced a scheme called “nine possessions for each temple”. The goal is to ensure that each temple and monastery should have the following nine possessions: portraits of CCP leaders, China’s national flag, roads, water, electricity, radio and television, communications, newspapers, and “cultural book rooms”.

A monastery is a place for studying Buddhism. A monk or nun needs a quiet place to meditate, and to learn the five major disciplines of Buddhism. On the surface, these monasteries and monks continue to thrive—for CCP propaganda purpose. However, in reality, CCP has destroyed Tibetan Buddhism by instilling the communist doctrines in the monks and nuns and forced them to neglect the traditional Buddhist education.

The Sinicization of religions that the CCP is now carrying out in various parts of China, had seen its experimentation in Tibet. If the people in China do not recognize such threat—that what happened in Tibet might happen to them one day—then such misfortune may befall on them in the future.

The selection of “Harmonious Model Monasteries and Temples” and “Patriotic and Law-Abiding Progressive Monks and Nuns” are aimed to divide the monks and nuns and monasteries.

The “Six Constructions”, “Six Ones” and “Nine Possessions” schemes implemented by the CCP authorities in Tibet have received laudation from the CCP top level leadership. They consider such measures help realizing CCP’s fundamental goal on its work on religion, as well as persisting the struggle against the “Dalai Clique”.

Building upon such policy schemes, the CCP has launched a series of “Cultural Revolution style” activities to select “Harmonious Model Monasteries and Temples” and “Patriotic and Law-Abiding Progressive Monks and Nuns”. The aim is to ensure long-term management success of monasteries and to harmonize religion and socialistic society. The manifestations of this policy include:

Each year, the TAR authorities would use the following criteria to select “Harmonious Model Monastery” from 30% of the total numbers of monasteries and give rewards to those being selected.

  • whether the monastery unite with the party and the government, and support the CCP leadership and socialist system;
  • whether there are reincarnated monks (tulkus) that are not recognized by CCP in the monastery;
  • whether there are non-local monks and nuns;
  • whether the high-ranking monks and the rest of monks and nuns in the monastery actively support and cooperate with the work of the monastery management committee;
  • whether the monks and nuns consciously safeguard the unity of the motherland and national unity, and oppose secession;
  • whether the monks and nuns interfere with the administrative, judicial, educational and social affairs management;
  • whether the affairs of the monastery have been interfered with and dominated by any organization or individual from abroad;
  • whether the monks and nuns of the monastery have contact with the separatist forces at home and abroad.

The certified monks and nuns of the “Harmonious Model Monastery” are all categorized as “patriotic and law-abiding progressive monks and nuns”. All monasteries and monks and nuns participating in the “Dalai clique’s” sabotage activities to split the motherland are not allowed to participate in the selection.

Those who are rated as harmonious model monasteries would receive plaques awarded by CCP committees and governments at all levels; those who are rated as patriotic and law-abiding progressive monks and nuns at the autonomous region, prefecture, and county levels will be awarded honorary certificates and bonuses.

After awards were given to the monasteries and monks and nuns, if actions related to the so-called “participation in the ‘Dalai clique’ to split the motherland” occur, the honorary titles would be cancelled, the plaques and certificates withdrawn, and the bonuses retrieved. Those who have not been rated as being progressive would be suspected of being disloyal to the party and secretly communicating with overseas elements. They would be deliberately given a hard time, and their temples and monasteries may even be forced to close. Such measures resulted in serious class-division and social antagonism.

What I have shared with you reflects the extremely difficult situation in Tibet at present. It also shows the substance and outcome of what Xi Jinping calls “CCP’s Strategy for Governing Tibet in the New Era”. Its manifestation is blatant eradication of the Tibetan people, religion and culture.

The free and democratic countries around the world should unite and stand up against the CCP, an authoritarian and totalitarian regime that has brought so much harm to the world. It is unrealistic for any country or religion that attempts to appease and compromise with the CCP in exchange of their own interests.

The world should take bold actions, stay united and hold events such as today’s conference, or even higher-level global religious conferences. It’s also worthy of contemplation to invite world-class religious leaders like H.H. Dalai Lama to attend such conference to make a bigger impact.

If we don’t unite and take strong actions, who knows what would come next? A country such as Taiwan, which enjoys democracy, liberty, and religious freedom today, may in the future be in danger of becoming another Tibet, Xinjiang, Southern Mongolia, and Hong Kong. None of us can say for sure!

Thank you for your attention and time today!

Tenzin Namdrol, 30 August 2022 in Taipei