Antique Statues Missing from Tibetan Monastery


Devotional statues and imagery play an important part in Tibetan Buddhism. Photo: Robert Aichinger

Twelve historic statues have gone missing from a monastery in Tibet's Pashoe county, where departing monks are being replaced by monks approved by the Chinese government, according to sources in the Himalayan region.

“Twelve precious statues have gone missing from Pashoe Naira monastery,” a source in Tibet told RFA’s Tibetan service. The source asked not to be identified.

The Pashoe Naira monastery in Pashoe [in Chinese, Basu] county was formerly home to 21 monks and 12 relics precious to the Gelugpa Buddhist tradition of Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.

Situated in Chamdo [Changdu] prefecture, about 300 kms (186 miles) from the prefectural capital, the monastery has housed the statues since its foundation.

“Even one of the smaller statues is valued about one million yuan (U.S. $137,690) on the international market,” the Tibetan source said. “This monastery had 21 monks but later all of them were either forced to leave or they left the monastery on their own and moved to Lhasa. In their place, the Chinese authorities selected their own monks to be in the monastery.”

Even one of the smaller statues is valued about one million yuan (U.S.$137,690) on the international market.

The source said local Tibetan devotees had appealed to the newly installed monks and local officials to search for and restore the statues but met with no response.

Officials unresponsive

A monastery official confirmed the statues had gone missing.

“They were really old and precious statues worshiped by the devotees,” the official said. “We have reported the incident to the government, and they told us that they are searching everywhere, including at roadside check-points.”

“The statues are not made of gold but are nevertheless very precious. We hope to recover them. The devotees are worried,” said the official, who said they had been missing since the night of Nov. 23.

“The local Tibetans know very well that only local sub-county officials had access to those precious statues. When the local officials were approached, the officials were unresponsive and even refused to investigate the incident. The local people were told that it will be eventually found,” the first Tibetan source said.

The main statue was that of Tsongkapa, founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, according to local residents.

Local Chinese officials had installed replacement statues of a controversial protector spirit known as Shugden, whose followers have been barred from certain initiations by the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama has characterized Shugden as detrimental to the unity of Tibetan Buddhism.

China has ruled the Dalai Lama out of Tibet’s future, and is currently rolling out an ideological campaign to get Tibetans to renounce him, sparking unrest and detentions during mid to late 2007.

“In 1998, this monastery had 21 monks who conducted all the religious events, but when they refused to install Shugden statues, the Chinese authorities forced them to leave,” the first Tibetan source said.

“After their departure, Chinese officials appointed eight monks of their choosing and installed statues of Shugden. This monastery previously had no history of worshiping Shugden,” he added.

Original reporting in Kham dialect by Tsewang Norbu. RFA Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated and edited by Karma Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.