Tibetan Schoolchildren, Parents Warned Away From Religious Observances

They are told not to visit monasteries or attend religious gatherings during the Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa.

A May 14, 2018 notice ordering schoolchildren and parents in Tibet's Chamdo city to avoid religious gatherings during Saga Dawa.

Chinese authorities in Tibet’s Chamdo city are ordering Tibetan schoolchildren and their parents to avoid group religious activities during the Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa, threatening them with unspecified punishments if they are caught ignoring the ban, Tibetan sources say.

The ban, set out in a document dated May 14 and now circulating on social media, lists five points of official concern and instructs parents not to take their children to monasteries or religious gatherings during the traditional Tibetan period of festivities.

“If your children miss any days of school, and are later found to have been secretly taken to a monastery or religious festival, your family will be reported directly to the City Education Bureau,” the notice reads.

The order cites the need to remove children from religious influence in order to promote “critical thinking” in their education and forbids parents and caregivers as well from attending gatherings observing Saga Dawa, a month commemorating the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.

Issued in a copy obtained by RFA by Chamdo city’s Kindergarten No. 2, the order carries out directives proposed by the Council of Education Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the government of the city of Chamdo, and the city’s Education Bureau, the notice says.

“Action will be taken against anyone not complying with this order,” it says.

'Nothing new'

Speaking to RFA, a Tibetan student pursuing further studies in the West said the official ban on visiting monasteries “is nothing new.”

“They issued guidelines like that even when I was in school,” she said. “But Tibetan parents and their children don’t care about this, and they just go ahead and engage in virtuous activities like visiting the monasteries whenever they like.”

“And anyway, how can the Chinese authorities have so many policemen that they can spy on all the children during Saga Dawa?” she asked.

Also speaking to RFA, a school teacher in the Tibetan capital Lhasa said the ban on monastery visits has always extended to teachers and staff in the schools. “But they can always recite mantras by themselves,” she said.

In Lhasa on May 16, the first day of Saga Dawa, “an unusually large” number of Tibetans were out walking devotional circuits on both the inner and outer ring roads of the Barkhor in Lhasa’s old city center, another source in Tibet told RFA.

“At the same time, many Tibetans are adopting a vegetarian diet for the duration of Saga Dawa and are performing meritorious activities like prostrations.”

“So in spite of Chinese restrictions, the Tibetans have not been hindered in performing their prayers and other activities during the holy month, “ he said.

Reported by Guru Choegyi and Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.