Chinese authorities in a Tibetan-populated county in Qinghai province have closed down a large religious gathering and ordered participants to disperse, sources said this week amid tightening controls as Tibetans take bolder steps to affirm their religious and cultural identity.
The Kalachakra religious ceremony was held in Gepasumdo (in Chinese, Tongde) county in Qinghai’s Tsolho (Hainan) prefecture last week and was attended by several thousand Tibetan monks and laypeople.
It was conducted by a respected elderly lama, Dragkar Lobsang Choekyi Nyima Rinpoche, who had spent many years in prison during China's Cultural Revolution.
Exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has also conducted the event—a complex Buddhist ritual including formal blessings, initiations, and advanced meditation instructions—more than 30 times outside Tibet.
Tibetan residents of Gepasumdo county applied last year for formal permission to hold the event, but were refused, a resident of the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.
“They applied again this year but received no clear guidance in reply, and went ahead with plans for the event, hoping they would be allowed to proceed,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Kalachakra ceremony in Gepasumdo county began on July 17 when several thousand monks and lay tantric practitioners and other devotees attended the preliminary rituals, the source said.
“After these preparations, the Tsolho prefecture authorities ordered the event—in its full, complete form—to be canceled. When police arrived at the site, Rinpoche was forced to confer a shorter version of the teaching, followed by a long-life blessing.”
Devotees had spent several hundred thousand yuan on preparations for the event, but were told by police to leave the area on July 20, three days after the ceremony began, the source said.
Chinese Buddhists also attended
Separately, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) confirmed that the event had been canceled, adding that monks from five area monasteries had been involved as participants.
“Some Chinese Buddhists had also traveled to the area for the teachings, which were presided over by a respected elderly lama,” ICT said on Wednesday. “The ceremony was closed down by the local authorities after three days.”
ICT quoted a source as saying that local people had raised around 300,000 yuan (U.S. $48,000) for the ceremony.
On the first day, a large number of Chinese troops were deployed in Gepasumdo county, ICT said.
A second local source reported however that ceremony organizers had been granted permission to hold the event all along, but only in its shorter form.
“Last year, when the organizers requested permission, it was denied,” a monk from an area monastery told RFA on Wednesday.
“They were refused again in June,” the monk said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“But when they asked again in July, they were denied permission to conduct a full Kalachakra teaching, but were permitted to give a shorter version of the teaching and a long-life empowerment.”
“So Rinpoche gave three days of short teachings on July 17, 18, and 19, and left for his monastery on July 20,” he said.
Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.