The Tibetan people should “unite as one” to protect their nation and culture from destruction by Chinese rule, the highest-ranking Buddhist monk to have self-immolated so far said in a message recorded shortly before he burned to death earlier this month.
The taped message was sent to RFA by a family friend.
Sopa, 42, set himself ablaze on Jan. 8 in Darlag county in the Golog (in Chinese, Guoluo) prefecture of China’s Qinghai province to protest rule by Beijing.
While he burned, he shouted slogans calling for Tibetan freedom and for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
His taped message, spoken in Tibet’s Amdo dialect and running for about nine minutes, was found wrapped in his yellow robe.
In the tape, Sopa first offered respect and thanks to the other Tibetan men and women—almost all of them monks and nuns, and now numbering 17—who have self-immolated, he said, for the cause of Tibet.
“Tibet’s future as a glorious country depends on the efforts of these heroes and heroines and all of you united as one,” he said.
Sopa then offered his own life and body for the “well-being of Tibet’s six million people and especially of all high lamas, headed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
“The younger generations should learn their culture,” he added, “and the older generations should try their best to preserve our language and customs.”
Sopa, who hailed from the Dungkyob monastery in Gade (in Chinese, Gande) county, is fondly known as Sopa “Tulku” among Tibetans.
Tulku is a Tibetan honorific term denoting a reincarnate lama, called a "Living Buddha" by Chinese.
He had founded a home for about 100 elderly Tibetans in Gade county and an orphanage in Darlag, sources close to him said.
Meanwhile, about 200 Tibetans gathered on Wednesday in Pema county in Golog to protest Chinese rule, a Tibetan living in exile said, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing contacts in the region.
The group consisted mainly of monks from Benza, Achunggya, and Penag monasteries, together with some local laypeople, the source said, adding that two of the protesters carried pictures of the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
“They shouted, ‘Let the Dalai Lama come back to Tibet,’ ‘Free the Panchen Lama and all other Tibetan political prisoners,’ and ‘Remember the self-immolated heroes and heroines,’ the source said.
Police did not intervene, and the protest lasted for about two to three hours, he said.
“Later, in the afternoon of the same day, people posted and scattered leaflets warning, ‘More people are prepared to set fire to themselves.’”
On Thursday, Chinese security forces from the province and prefecture surrounded Benza and Achunggya monasteries, causing some of the protesters to flee, the source said.
“It’s not clear how many have been detained,” he added.
The protest was triggered in part by local outrage at an official Chinese account of Sopa’s death, which blamed the highly respected monk’s self-immolation on “an affair with a married woman,” the source said.
“This was an insult … Therefore the people became angry, and began their protest.”
Reported by Chakmo Tso and Guru Choegyi for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Jigme Ngapo and Guru Choegyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.