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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 April 2006, 00:36 GMT 01:36 UK
Fleeing a Tibetan monastery
A monk who fled Tibet for India
Monks are kept under constant watch by police
A 23-year-old monk, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes his recent decision to flee Tibet for the Indian town of Dharamsala, the seat of the Dalai Lama's government in exile.

For the last 11 years I lived and studied in Ganden monastery in Lhasa, Tibet.

We were always urged [by the authorities] to oppose the Dalai Lama. Any open expression of our wish to have a free Tibet would end in arrest.

And then you had to be careful what you said about economic development in Tibet, changes in society and the railway.

Because it is difficult not to see an influence of the Chinese presence in many of these general issues, it is equally easy to brand any criticism or any discussion as anti-Chinese and as a criticism to the Communist Party, which can land you in serious trouble.

You could open your heart to a good friend, but then you don't know all of his friends, so you were always worried about others eventually coming to know of your views.

There are monks who inform the government on the political views and activities of other monks.

Re-education

The restrictions on religion have become worse over the years.

Since 1996 there has been a separate police station at Ganden monastery, with about nine police officers. They watch the monks, keep track of what we do and where we go. Then there are lay officials who deal with the political re-education. We have monthly re-education sessions.

It was said that in 2006, the re-education campaign would be implemented... and I was afraid
These lay officials urge us to denounce the Dalai Lama and take down pictures of Him.

Some of these lay officials, who are also part of our monastery's management committee, tell us that we can have faith in His Holiness in our hearts, but that we can't have photographs because the police are watching us.

Then last year they re-invigorated the re-education campaign, first in Sera monastery and then, in November, in Drepung monastery.

One monk whom I knew at Drepung was found dead in his room after having a heated discussion challenging the officials who came to re-educate the monks and ask them to denounce the Dalai Lama.

It was said that in 2006, the re-education campaign would be implemented in Ganden, and I was afraid for what would happen - in 1996 dozens of monks were arrested during such a campaign.

Flight to India

Some monks decided to leave [the monastery] but we didn't leave together and we didn't talk about it to each other.

I came here over the pass near Mount Everest. I left all by myself, but joined a group of eight people and I made friends with some of them on the way.

We came by truck and on foot. I paid the guide 3000 Yuan ($373). Several got altitude sickness on the way.

A boy studying the Tibetan language at a monastery (International Campaign for Tibet)
Tibetan Buddhist scholars say their learning is closely monitored
We expected the journey to take 16 or 17 days, but because of the problems with ill-health it took us 26 days.

We would sleep in the open in the mountains, just amidst the boulders. We only carried food for the journey and a blanket.

We reached Kathmandu on the 14th of the 10th Tibetan month (15 December 2005), and then I stayed in the Kathmandu Reception Centre of the Tibetan Government in exile for about one month.

Because of the problematic political situation in Nepal, the reception centre was not able to send us directly to India. There were about 800 people waiting, who had all just come from Tibet like me.

Eventually we were able to leave on our own accord.

Looking to the future

I feel relaxed now. In Tibet we were always afraid - we never felt that our path of being a monk, which is supposed to be a lifetime spiritual path, was guaranteed and safe. I do not think of returning.

From the outside it looks like there is religious freedom... But basically the authorities see the monks as a potential threat to the state

Chinese policies in Tibet are aimed at assimilating Tibet's culture and Tibetans' thinking with Chinese culture and Chinese thought.

Many Chinese basically look down on our culture, and consider it superstitious. It is not that they want to merge the two cultures into one - it is that under their influence our culture has to be developed.

While money is spent to preserve and study Tibetan culture and arts, and to some extent to assist and renovate monasteries, they try to make sure that the impact of Tibetan religion and traditional thought is as little as possible.

So while they are happy to have monasteries populated by monks, they aim to have museum-like monasteries where monks act as caretakers rather than as thinkers.

So from the outside it looks like there is religious freedom and to some extent a revival of a thriving Tibetan religion and culture.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama leaves after attending a function commemorating the Tibetan Uprising Day at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharamsala, India, Friday, March 10, 2006.
Monks are ordered not to show obedience to the Dalai Lama
But basically the authorities see the monks as a potential threat to the Communist Party and the state.

Policies on the ground are not always uniform. Certain areas that have a history of resistance see stricter enforcement, while in other areas things are more lenient.

Generally, we consider the three large monasteries of Ganden, Sera and Drepung as monasteries which are under close watch and where policies are strictly implemented.

I cannot say what will happen when His Holiness the Dalai Lama dies, but I think that despite the many problems that will happen, in the end we will gain some sort of freedom.

This interview was conducted by Jan Willem den Besten.



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