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WNN Religion & Belief

Self-immolation fire

An image of the fire on the street after the self-immolation suicide of the revered monk Tsultrim Gyatso outside the Amchok monastery in Sangchu County, Gansu Province, Tibetan Autonomous Region, China. Image: @PremPalanivel/Twitter

(WNN) Gansu Province, Tibetan Autonomous Region, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA, EASTERN ASIA: Another human casualty in the movement for religious rights in China’s Tibetan Autonomous region of Gansu province has occurred as a 43-year-old respected Tibetan monk from the Ashok Monastery named Tsultrim Gyatso committed suicide by catching himself on fire on Thursday, December 19, 2013. Walking to a junction in the road near the monastery Gyatso communicated a strong statement against China’s policy of sanction against Tibetan culture and belief as he lit himself on fire.

The struggle for religious and cultural freedom for Tibetans living in China has not been an easy one. Critics of China’s policy in the Tibetan Autonomous region have outlined that they have watched indigenous belief, as well as religious relics and religious sites turned into tourist destinations by Chinese officials who have little respect for Tibetan religion or culture inside the region.

“As an important part of Chinese culture, Tibetan culture attracts people from all over the world with its unique charm… …The region’s intangible cultural heritage has been effectively preserved, promoted and developed,” says a recent October 2013 release by the Chinese government called, China’s White Paper on Tibet 2013. Published by China’s Cabinet department for the Information of the State Council the report goes on to deeply criticize Tibetan history, religion and culture.

“…at present, the people are medieval, not only in their system of government and their religion, their inquisition, their witchcraft, their incarnations, their ordeals by fire and boiling oil, but in every aspect of their life,” said a quote used in China’s White Paper on Tibet taken from a 1905 news story.

“For centuries Tibetan society was mired in stagnation due to its backward serfdom and the isolated geographic location of Tibet. By the middle of the 20th century, when humanity was leaping toward modern civilization, Tibet still lagged far behind the rest of the world,” continues the recent report by the Chinese government.

Before suffering his fatal injuries in self-immolation Tsultrim Gyatso wrote a one page suicide note that outlined reasons for his protest against what those on-the-ground in the region call “suppressive Chinese laws.”

Describing his self-immolation as a “sacrifice for others” Gyatso pleaded for China to allow the Dalai Lama to be able to travel and return to the region.

“Tibetan treasures of gold and silver have been looted under suppressive Chinese law,” Gyatso penned in his note as he named those responsible for the looting. “All citizens are driven to sufferings,” he continued.

“Tears drop from my eyes when I dwell on this state of sufferings,” added the revered monk.

“For the return of the Dalai Lama, and the release of the Panchen Lama, and the well being of six million Tibetans, I sacrifice my precious life in self-immolation,” he outlined.

Tsultrim Gyatso’s death is the 125th death due to self-immolation in the region since the protests for freedom of religion and Tibetan culture began for Tibetans living in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China in 2009.

In 1959 at the age of 23 the Dalai Lama left his homeland and his then summer residence, the Norbulingka Palace never to return again. As increasing concerns for personal danger under violence against the young Dalai Lama began to rise, those closest to Him advised the spiritual leader to journey secretly in disguise south to India. To date His Holiness has not been allowed to visit or see his homeland.

The Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa is now on the registry of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites as part of the complex of the Potala Palace, the former winter home of the Dalai Lama. Today the site is considered a tourist destination in China. But the concern for native Tibetans is that the true significance of the Norbulingka Palace as well as the Potala Palace, as a site that has been “forever altered. ”

“According to records, over 100,000 volumes of scriptures and historical documents were amassed in Potala Palace,many of which were written with powders of gold, silver, turquoise, and coral; also, there were many storerooms for housing precious objects, handicrafts, paintings, wall hangings, statues, and ancient armour, etc., from
the various eras of Tibetan history, all perfectly preserved. Everything was priceless.Yet, nearly nothing remains in Potala Palace where flourishing art and treasure were once collected,” says a 2007 report by Human Rights in China, a Chinese non-governmental organization founded by Chinese students and scientists who live overseas in March 1989.

“Those precious, those superlative, those countless and priceless objects, all that could be taken was taken away, leaving behind only those heavy stupas, since the relics of eight generations of Dalai Lamas preserved in the stupas were of no use to the atheists; leaving behind only mural paintings, though they too were painted red and quotations from Mao were written on them; leaving behind only those immovable statues and mandalas and some thangkas and ritual objects, to be displayed solely as decoration; leaving behind only the appearance of Potala Palace, which—while still looking magnificent—was almost an empty shelf,” continued the report.

Based in Dharamsala, India the Dalai Lama now lives in the region where he began his new life away from his homeland in Tibet in April 1959.

The suffering of monk Tsultrim Gyatso is part of years of Tibetan protest against the government of China after what advocates say is generations of cultural and religious marginalization.

“Before his self-immolation at a cross-section in Sangchu, he went to his room after lunch break, lit a lamp, opened a book on the teachings of Buddha and wrote his one-page suicide note,” outlined a spokesperson for the Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education recently in a December 19, 2013 interview with Radio Free Asia.

“For the suffering of the six million Tibetans, I light this lamp of my body. Due to this offering, I pray that all the sentient beings in the three realms become free from the three poisons [of attachment, hatred and ignorance] and take the path of the awakened ones. May the Lama and the three jewels [Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha] protect those without a protector. May all the brothers and sisters of the land of snow mountains reunite!,” added monk Gyatso in his suicide note written before his death.

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This original WNN release has been made and can be shared publicly under these conditions only: a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License.

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