Thousands of Tibetans Forced Back to China Ahead of Buddhist Gathering

Many were told by Chinese officials their families would be harmed if they failed to return home.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama greets devotees in Bodh Gaya, India, Jan. 2, 2017.

Nearly 7,000 Tibetans hoping to attend a major Buddhist ritual in India led by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama have been barred by Chinese authorities from taking part in the event, ceremony organizers told reporters on Wednesday.

More than 100,000 devotees from around the world have now assembled in Bodh Gaya, India—site of the enlightenment of the historical Buddha—to participate in this year’s Kalachakra empowerment, which is set to run from Jan. 11 to 13, with preparatory teachings and other events already under way.

Thousands of pilgrims from Tibetan-populated areas of western China who had hoped to attend have been forced to return home, though, while others have been blocked from leaving China, event organizers Karma Gelek Yuthok and Kalon Choekyong Wangchuk said.

“It is extremely unfortunate and sad that so many Tibetans who wanted to attend could not come, and that many others who were able to come have had to return to Tibet under strict deadlines,” Karma Gelek said.

“These total nearly 7,000,” Gelek said, adding, “This raises serious questions concerning China’s claim that it allows religious freedom.”

Kalachakra, which means Wheel of Time, is a ritual that prepares devotees to be reborn in Shambhala, a celestial kingdom which, it is said, will vanquish the forces of evil in a future cosmic battle.

The ceremony and teachings are often conducted outside Tibet by the Dalai Lama, who is widely reviled by Chinese leaders as a “splittist” seeking to separate Tibet, which was invaded by Communist China in 1950, from Beijing’s control.

Passports seized, families threatened

In a bid to reduce attendance at this year’s ceremony, Chinese officials moved beginning in November to confiscate the passports of Tibetans authorized to travel abroad, at the same time ordering Tibetans already present in India and Nepal to return home.

Many had been told their families would be harmed if they failed to go back, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Speaking at the end of December to Tibetan pilgrims in Delhi, India, the Dalai Lama assured those ordered home that he would keep them in his prayers, according to a Dec. 28 report by Tibet’s government in exile, the India-based Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

“Distance cannot dampen the sacred ties between a lama and a disciple. You can all pray from the far-flung areas in Tibet and I assure you that you will receive the Kalachakra empowerment,” the Tibetan spiritual leader said, according to CTA.

“From the Kalachakra ground, I will keep the Tibetans inside Tibet in my deepest prayers,” the Dalai Lama said.

Reported by Sangye Dorjee for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.