Self-immolation truth

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Stepping into Aba county, where most self-immolations have taken place recently, one can get close to understanding the answer.

A total of 20 Tibetans, including eight monks, two nuns, eight former monks and two lay people, mostly aged from 16-25 except two, had committed self-immolation since Feb 2009 here. Of them, fifteen died and five were under hospital treatment, according to local police.

Across the country, the total number of Tibetan who had committed self-immolation exceeds 30, all in Tibetan populated regions.

The two most well-known people who committed self-immolations are Tapey, who triggered the latest wave of self-immolation by setting himself on fire at the age of 20 on Feb. 27, 2009, and Phuntsog, 19, who ended his life in a pre-meditated self-immolation on March 16, 2011. Both came from a capital-strained single-parent family, received little formal education and grew up in the Kirti Monastery from an early age, according to police.

Tapey is now recovering and refused to touch upon the subject of self-immolation with visitors. The hospital in charge of his medical treatment has paid in advance more than 2 million yuan, but the chances for him to fully recover are slim, doctors said.

In the latter case, police found that days before the self-immolation was committed, Kirti monks Rabten and Dorje had used a desktop of an Internet cafe to communicate with Chodrum, a member of the media relations team of Shiwa Dratsang where the Kirti Living Buddha resides, to send photography of Phuntsog.

With some 2,000 monks, Kirti Monastry is historically connected with 50 or so Tibetan temples, big and small, including the Caodeng Monastery involved in the Barkam tragedy.

Kirti Living Buddha fled with the 14th Dalai Lama after a failed insurgency in March 1959 and has since lived in Dharamshala, India, to orchestrate secessionist activities.

Since the late 1970s, 168 monks have been found to have illegally left to India. A number of them have dedicated themselves to disseminating among young monks a sense of separatism, brainwashing them to confront the government, according to sources with the Aba police authority.

Less than one hour after the self-immolation, Phuntsog was promoted throughout the overseas Tibetan community as "a martyr in protest of the Han Chinese rule and repression in Tibet," police said.

At that time, however, a competition concerning the life and death of Phuntsog was going on in Aba between the police and Drongzhug, Phuntsog's uncle and teacher who later admitted to the police that he had arranged for an overnight transfer of his seriously injured nephew from the home of a Tibetan doctor up onto a sky-burial in Yunlong village, a religious site for burial ceremony during which the body of the dead would be dismembered by a burial master and left for birds to feed on.

Left unattended in the freezing cold for 11 hours, Phuntsog was only just breathing when he was spotted by the police and sent to the People' s Hospital of Aba County.

Surgeon Wang Defu said that emergency treatment was crucial in the first few hours. Treatment delay, large-area body surface and respiratory burns led to Phuntsog's death.

During a public trial, Dongzhug called himself "legal illiteracy," saying he had never been to school and was unaware of his infringement of the laws. Dongzhug and another two Kirti monks responsible for Phuntsog's death were accused of homicide and each sentenced to 10-13 years in jail.

"Why did Dongzhug hide Phuntsog? They didn't want him to be cured otherwise they would be unable to use his death to raise the anti-China morale across Tibetan community," said an official close to the case.

Criminals were brought to justice but the overseas splitting forces wouldn't give up. On August 20, Students for A Free Tibet, a New York-based organization advocating Tibet independence, honored Phuntsog together with Tsewang Norbu, a 29-year-old monk of the Nyitso Monastery in Daofu county who died shortly after setting himself on fire on August 15, with the Lhakar Award, praising the two's "unimaginable sacrifice and protest of the Chinese government's repression and for the freedom of Tibet."

The Tibetan word "Lhakar" literally means "White Wednesday," a weekday considered special by Tibetans because it is the soul-day of the Dalai Lama, the group has preached, calling for more acts of defiance and resistance in Tibet.

Less than one month later, Phuntsog's brother Katrang, aged 18, and Kunchok Tenpa, 16, both from the Kirti Monastery, imitated such unimaginable sacrifices but were rescued by the patrolling police on September 26.

Apart from being tempted by the heroism played up overseas, police say that young Kirti monks must also cope with senior lamas who pulled the strings from within.

In a seemingly casual talk, Rala Lodro, a 40-year-old painter and lama from Longzang village of Aba county, approached Katrang and Kunchok Tenpa while they were eating sunflower seeds in the monastery courtyard, and advised them to commit self-immolation during the daytime. < "Our life is bad now. It would be better to commit self-immolation to become a wisp of smoke. Do not burn at night otherwise the Communist Party will be happy because America's cameras above the Kirti Monastery can not capture it," Rala Lodro was quoted as saying in the oral confessions Xinhua obtained.

A Kirti monk asking not to be identified said that there had been invisible pressure upon the young monks to do something they could.

With most of its registered monks on a two-month-long leave to help their families dig worm grass, a rare medicine herb, Kirti Monastery whose land area has tripled to 18,000 square meters in two decades is now in its most inactive period of the year.

If someone died in surrounding residential neighborhoods, lamas will recite sutras in the morning. In afternoon, Buddhist scripture debating is routinely held. Other than these, those who stay have plenty of time at their disposal.

With the annual worm grass trips normally ending early July, changes will happen to the monastery as some monks may decide to become laymen after being distracted by earthly affairs.

Qiu Ning, director of the Aba United Front Work Department in charge of religious affairs, estimated that about 100 Kirti monks will leave the clergy every year. "However, not every one of them can get accustomed to their new life."

Among those who commit self-immolation, secularized monks have surfaced as a vulnerable group. Tsering and Darli, both former Kirti monks, burned themselves on January 6. According to Tsering who survived, Darle had been very upset because he had promised to commit self-immolation together with Tenzi Wangmo, a nun of the Siwai Nunnery of Aba whom he met during last year's worm grass leave. The 20-year-old girl burned herself last October and died.

"Darle told me he wanted to burn himself too to ask for the forgiveness of the Buddha because he had stolen the golden Buddha statute of the Kirti Monastery. I felt he was so lofty and was inspired by his courage," Tsering was quoted in this oral confession to the police.

In his deep heart, Tsering had his pains. After leaving the Kirti Monastery, he married and divorced and always pinched pennies. He confessed that one month before committing self-immolation, he and his friend Nyigeme robbed 8,000 yuan from his relative Lokhor who had reported the crime to the police.

Tudong Tarqin, lama and deputy director of the management committee of the Namah Monastery in Kangding county of Ganzi prefecture, felt sorry to hear so many young former clergy had killed themselves.

"Buddha tells us to always observe and think. If someone seeks to convert to Buddhism because of family feud, setbacks in life or out of impulse, we must refuse. Likewise, Buddha instructs the Sangha not to give up on even the vicious one, because on the merit of wearing cassock for one day, ordained monks are sure to attain enlightenment."

Donggou Living Buddha, deputy director of the management committee of the Kirti Monastery, called himself a "stick-in-the-mud" and "too old to keep the younger generation under control."

"Each year we see many young Tibetans come in and leave. I don't have the number of secularized monks," said the 70-year-old to Xinhua.

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