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News of a revered Tibetan Lama’s demise emerged amid China’s rigorous information lockdown

Staff Reporter

March 28, 2022

Venerable the 5th Choktrul Dawa Rinpoche.

News of the passing of a venerated Tibetan lama, who has spent years in a Chinese prison, emerged recently amid Chinese authorities’ heightened information lockdown campaign. The authorities reportedly restricted a number of devotees from attending the funeral and paying respects to the deceased by posting images and videos on social networking sites, a reliable source reported.

Venerable the 5th Choktrul Dawa Rinpoche, also known by his full name as Jetsun Khenrab Wangchuk Samten Tenpe Gyaltsen Pel Sangpo, reportedly passed away on 30 January 2022 on Sunday around 5:10 pm local time in Lhasa at the age of 86. For the next 14 days, he remained in a state called ‘thukdam’, a deep meditative state, where few accomplished meditators’ consciousnesses enter for a period of time, according to the source.

“In an effort to keep the death a secret, the Chinese authorities have warned Tibetans to not share any information outside Tibet and have removed every tribute paid to him by his devotees and followers including images and videos online,” the source further added.

According to the source, after Chokdrul Dawa Rinpoche got out of ‘thukdam’ on 13 February 2022, a number of devotees requested the Lhasa authorities and officials to allow them to pay respect to his body. However, the authorities only allowed residents of Lhasa to pay their respects, denying others. “Other devotees from outside Lhasa were warned of severe consequences by the authorities should they insist,” elucidate the source.

On 15 February, the authorities further forced upon Tibetan devotees, four not-dos, to make sure no complications arise during the funeral procession. The devotees were ordered not to 1. visit in their vehicles, not to 2. show Tibetan scarf (Tib: Khatak) outside the room, not to 3. stir up trouble and not to 4. click pictures and record videos during their visit. The authorities asserted that failing to comply will result in arrest and annulment of the transfer of Rinpoche’s body from Lhasa to Ganden Dhargye Ling monastery in Shag Rongpo (Ch: Rongbu).

Then on 18 February, the body of Rinpoche was moved to Ganden Dhargyeling monastery from Lhasa under strict orders and heavy surveillance. Only two vehicles of the monastery were allowed to escort the body. At Rongpo, on hearing the news, many local Tibetans gathered at the Ganden Dhargyeling monastery and were allowed to pay respect to Rinpoche’s body. However, as more people started to come, authorities abruptly forbid them to see the body. As a result, “A commotion nearly broke out between the officials and local people, however, the situation was resolved on time through a few words by a monastery monk,” said the source.

The final day of the funeral on 25 February was attended only by the monks from Rinpoche’s own monastery on strict orders. “Monks were thoroughly checked for mobile phones and cameras with full-body scanners before entering the monastery”, the source confirmed.

Brief Biography of Venerable the 5th Choktrul Dawa Rinpoche

Dawa Rinpoche Khenrab Wangchuk was born in 1937 in Nagchu. He was the son of Mr Tsengo Yangon Lagha and Mrs Tsokar and has two brothers and one sister. His birth took place amid occurrences of numerous auspicious signs and events indicating good luck.

During the period of Democratic Reform in the 1960s after the Chinese illegal occupation of Tibet, he was sentenced to five years in prison for “protesting against the Chinese government”. During the Cultural Revolution, he was again arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison. His siblings Jigjig and Jigmey Woeser passed away after fighting the Chinese armies in Miti Photsotoe. His sister Sonam Palkyi lived in Gyeso Sabha Village and passed away during the Cultural Revolution after being severely beaten and punished by the Chinese authorities.

On 20 May 2010, the Chinese government handed him a seven years prison term after they claimed that the “reincarnation of the eighth Rongpo Choeje is closely connected to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” The allegation was later termed “Five-Twenty” as it took place on the same date i.e., 20 May. Following the arrest, the Chinese government regularly conducted “political reeducation” sessions where the monks and public were repeatedly coerced by the Chinese authorities into denouncing His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dawa Rinpoche. The Chinese authorities claimed that “Dawa Rinpoche is not a genuine lama or teacher of the Dharma and thus his reincarnation will not take place after his demise”. A monk named Ngawang Gyatso reportedly gave up his life as a reason for the continuous duress.

Under the pretext of the “Five-Twenty” allegation, the Chinese government placed Shag Rongpo’s Ganden Dhargyeling Monastery on top of the blacklist among 113 other monasteries. Moreover, Dawa Rinpoche was not allowed to visit his monastery, denied political rights and kept as a hostage under the constant watch of the Chinese police until his demise on 30 January 2022 inside his chamber in Tibet’s Lhasa.

-Filed by the UN, EU, and the Human Rights Desk, Tibet Advocacy Section, DIIR

Venerated Tibetan lama Jetsun Khenrab Wangchuk Samten Tenpe Gyaltsen Pel Sangpo passes away in January 2022.

Choktrul Rinpoche in a rare meditative state of Thukdam.


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