The Chinese government has ramped up restrictions ahead of the birthday of a preeminent Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, calling on local leaders in two Tibetan regions to prevent people from posting his photo or well wishes online, sources with knowledge of the situation said Thursday.
Authorities have threatened to arrest Tibetans in the Ngaba and Dzoge regions who defy the order by posting messages on Aug. 8, the 80th birthday of the 11th Kyabje Kirti Rinpoche (honorific) Lobsang Tenzin Jigme Yeshe Gyamtso Rinpoche.
Rinpoche is the chief abbot in exile of the Kirti Monastery, one of the most important and influential monasteries in Tibet.
“The government has warned of such activity by Tibetans, and individuals will be arrested and severely punished if found defying it,” said a Tibetan source inside Tibet who declined to be identified so as to speak freely.
Chinese authorities restricted monks from the Taktsang Lhamo Kirti Monastery in Dzoge county and the Kirti Monastery in Ngaba county, both in Sichuan province’s Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, from celebrating Rinpoche’s birthday in 2021. The areas are heavily populated with ethnic Tibetans.
Monks were not allowed to leave their monasteries, and gatherings were not permitted during that time.
“Last year Tibetans inside Tibet anticipated restrictions and scrutiny from the Chinese government on celebrating the 80th birthday of the Kirti Rinpoche, so they held back,” said a Tibetan who lives in exile.
“But this year, Tibetans living in exile and inside Tibet are looking forward to celebrating Rinpoche’s birthday and offering tenshug,” the source said, referring to a long-life prayer offering made to spiritual teachers. “But we are seeing restrictions and scrutiny in Ngaba and Dzoge.”
The Kirti Monastery has been the site of the majority of self-immolations by monks who oppose China’s repressive policies in Tibet.
“In one post circulating among some online Tibetan chat groups, members have been warned not to talk about the Kirti Rinpoche or his birthday and to be careful,” the source in exile said.
Restrictions are greater in the Ngaba region now also because of the upcoming 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party later this year, said the Tibetan in exile.
Rinpoche was born in Thewo Takmoe Gang in the Amdo region of Tibet on the northeastern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. When he was a child, leading lamas recognized him as the reincarnation of 10th Kirti Rinpoche, and he was placed at Taktsang Lhamo Kirti Monastery in 1946.
Rinpoche went with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile to Dharamsala, India, in 1959, following the invasion of Tibet by China a decade earlier. He undertook advanced studies in Buddhist religion and philosophy in India, and took higher vows of Buddhist monkhood from the Dalai Lama in 1962.
From the late 1980s onwards, Rinpoche held various positions in the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government in exile.