“Between the sky and the Earth where communist China rules, no one is to rejoin any monastery”

These were the last words spoken to Norbu and the monks of Drigung Thil Monastery before they were expelled. Below is his account of how Communist rule has changed his monastery and life in Tibet.

My name is Norbu. I am 25 years old and am a former monk at the Drigung Shetra dialectic school of Drigung Thil monastery, in Meldro Gongkar county. On 4 June 1992* the school was formally opened and classes commenced with 28 students.

I joined this monastery when I was 13 years old, having just completed lobchung (primary school). Before the 1966 Cultural Revolution, the monastery had 1500 monks but afterwards the number fell to 500. At present there are only 215 monks.

On 29 October 1994*, a compulsory meeting was held in Yari Gar township of Meldro Gongkar by the Chinese officials. The purpose of the meeting was to denounce the Dalai Lama. Many monks, unwilling to comply, left the meeting when it was only halfway through. The Chinese, greatly offended, subsequently suspected us of being connected to an incident in June 1994 in which posters were stuck up in Nyima Shangdra township in Meldro County.

The police came for Sonam Tsering, a 27 year-old monk, alleging that he was one of the main leaders of the poster campaign. Before he was taken away we asked the officials for evidence. They refused. Two days later, five soldiers and ten policemen came and showed us guns in order to scare us. We told them that if they did not produce some evidence we would not let them take away Sonam Tsering and they left.

The next day two trucks and ten jeeps full of Chinese soldiers and police came to the monastery. They numbered almost 200. On 2 November 1994, all the monks demonstrated in front of the officials. But this time we were helpless. They not only took Sonam Tsering away but also stood guard, surrounding the whole monastery compound.

Sonam Tsering was taken to Gutsa Detention Centre and held there for two years. He was not allowed any visitors and two policemen from Meldro were kept in front of his cell to keep guard. Finally in June 1996* he was sentenced to five years and transferred to Drapchi Prison.

At dawn on 9 November 1994, again around 200 police came and surrounded the monastery in three circles: the outer circumambulation, the middle and the innermost. They arrested three more monks: Norbu, 29 years old; Rinchen Gyurme, 22 years old and Choeje, 27 years old, and charged them with hanging posters.

On 28 March 1995, we were called for another meeting at the monastery. Officials announced that “we should go back to where we came from” and that “between the sky and the earth where Communist China rules no one is to rejoin any monastery”. They told us that in trying to keep us under control they had spent 30,000 yuan which could otherwise have been used for the development of the town. After our expulsion life was more difficult because we had to procure permission for commuting even within cities.

On 8 March 1997*, I decided to leave Tibet for good to receive religious education and to practise my faith to my best capability. What worries me most is that the school from which we were expelled and which was later closed down is the only one of its kind in Tibet. Our teacher, now 60 years old, is the only living person who is thoroughly well-versed in the subject. The closure of this school means the end of another important religious study. I am hoping that a miracle will take place and the monastery reopened.

[ * These dates may not be exact as they have been converted from those of the Tibetan lunar calendar. ]

to top