A young Tibetan has killed himself to avoid arrest by Chinese authorities over the destruction of a statue of a Buddhist “protector” deity denounced by Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in a long-running religious worship controversy, sources say.
Tashi Tsering, 28, stabbed himself to death on Feb. 20 when police attempted to detain him in Markham (in Chinese, Mangkang) county, Chamdo (Changdu) prefecture, in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region over the statue’s destruction six years ago, a Tibetan living in exile told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
Tsering, a layman, had joined together with at least eight monks of Chamdo’s Khenpaluk monastery in 2008 to destroy the deity Shugden’s statue after the Dalai Lama urged Tibetans to abandon its worship, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing sources in the region.
“The eight monks, along with four other monks, were detained in 2008 because of their protest and were finally released in 2012 and 2013,” the source said.
Tsering, a resident of Buru village in Markham’s Chakthak township, was not detained at that time “but when the police came to know about his involvement and tried to detain him, he took his own life,” he said.
Chinese police frequently investigate and arrest Tibetans deemed to have responded to the wishes or policy directives of the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers a dangerous separatist bent on “splitting” Tibet from Chinese control.
When the Dalai Lama in 2008 publicly criticized Shugden worship as divisive and sectarian, Khenpaluk monastery was the first religious establishment in the area to ban the practice, the source said.
“Some monks of Khenpaluk then volunteered to dismantle the statue,” which had been installed by a private sponsor, he said.
About five days before Tashi Tsering’s death last week, Chinese security officers detained another group of 20 Khenpaluk monks on suspicion of having participated in the 2008 protest and of sending photos of the Dalai Lama over the social-media network WeChat, the source said.
“They were released on Feb. 21, after having been held for about a week,” he said.
Meanwhile, dozens of robed Shugden followers demonstrated on Saturday outside a building in San Francisco where the Dalai Lama was scheduled to speak, accusing him of persecuting them over their beliefs.
“We don’t need the Dalai Lama to practice our religion or for us to practice his,” Norden Kelsang, a New York-based 38-year-old nun, said, according to a Reuters report on Feb. 23.
But speaking inside the Davies Symphony Hall, the Dalai Lama defended his decision to denounce the deity.
The Dalai Lama said that though he himself had once worshipped the spirit, he had come “to realize that there was something wrong with it, particularly in the context of the Buddhist tradition,” said a weekend report on the website of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Tibet’s India-based government in exile.
“He looked into its history and discovered that it had come about during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama who [had assumed political authority over Tibet and] referred to it as a malevolent spirit arisen from distorted prayers…,” the report said.
The current 14th Dalai Lama fled into exile in India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation. He has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan struggle for freedom for more than five decades.
Reported by Lobsang Choephel for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.