Authorities in Tibetan-populated areas of southwestern China are warning local residents against involvement in a major Buddhist gathering in India led by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, calling the gathering “illegal” and threatening punishment for those spreading news of the event or organizing local ceremonies in support.
More than 100,000 devotees from some 80 countries around the world have already assembled in Bodh Gaya, India—site of the enlightenment of the historical Buddha—to participate in this year’s Kalachakra empowerment, which is set to run from Jan. 11 to 13, with preparatory teachings and other events already under way.
Thousands of pilgrims from Tibetan-populated areas of western China who had hoped to attend have been forced to return home, though, while others have been blocked from leaving China.
Now, official notices circulating in Yunnan province’s Dechen (in Chinese, Deqin) county, copies of which have been obtained by RFA’s Tibetan Service, have threatened jail terms of from 10 days to five years for involvement in the event.
One, undated and disseminated to “all relevant departments” at township, county, and prefecture levels, warns Tibetans not to share information—including audio or video clips—about the Kalachakra over the internet or on social media.
“Other related activities, such as organizing celebrations in support of the Kalachakra, are also forbidden,” the notice says.
“Anyone engaging in these acts will be in violation of Article 55 of China’s Public Security Law and will face severe consequences,” the notice adds, with penalties ranging from 10 to 15 days of police detention to jail terms of up to five years for “more serious cases.”
Article 55 pertains to undefined risks to national security.
A notice forwarded in December to Tibetan households in Dechen likewise orders government departments to immediately call home any county residents already present in India, warning families that anyone found to have participated in the Kalachakra teachings will lose their passport and ration card after they return.
“If they are monks or nuns, their right to study Tibetan Buddhism will also be revoked,” the notice adds.
Kalachakra, which means Wheel of Time, is a ritual that prepares devotees to be reborn in Shambhala, a celestial kingdom which, it is said, will vanquish the forces of evil in a future cosmic battle.
The ceremony and teachings are often conducted outside Tibet by the Dalai Lama, who is widely reviled by Chinese leaders as a “splittist” seeking to separate Tibet, which was invaded by Communist China in 1950, from Beijing’s control.
In a bid to reduce attendance at this year’s ceremony, Chinese officials moved beginning in November to confiscate the passports of Tibetans authorized to travel abroad, at the same time ordering Tibetans already present in India and Nepal to return home.
Many had been told their families would be harmed if they failed to go back, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.