Hermits in Tibet are being forced to give up their religious retreats as they fall subject to Chinese “Re-education” sessions and “government taxes”.
Kunchok Chodup, 42 years old, comes from Sangshu village in Gabde county under Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (incorporated into Qinghai province). He joined Lungkya monastery at the age of 22 and studied there for the next four years. At the time there were 300 monks in total in the monastery.
As the monastery was not within Kunchok’s home locality, it was mandatory to seek special permission from the Chinese authorities to stay in the monastery. Kunchok reports; “It is a well-known fact that this permission is never granted. Therefore I had to leave the monastery.
After that I travelled to central Tibet where, from 1995, I spent two years in retreat at the Samye Chenpo hermitage. Samye Chenpo is located in the Samye township in Tranag county under Lhoka county. I left the hermitage on 23 March 1997.
During the years I was in the hermitage there were 200 hermits in total, comprising both monks and nuns. The Samye hermitage is part of the larger eighth century Samye monastery. Local Tibetans are the source of our livelihood; they provide us with food during our stay in the retreat.
We heard people saying that a Chinese work team would be arriving at Samye monastery on 8 April 1997 to conduct ‘Re-education’ and, soon after, many hermits voluntarily left the monastery, most of them on the pretext of going for a pilgrimage within Tibet. There are now only 30 to 40 hermits left in the hermitage; the rest have left, either with or without a pass.
It is a rule that a hermit must be granted a pass from the county authorities to go into the retreat. A sum of 30 yuan is charged for the pass from each hermit and 3 yuan is subsequently charged every month from the senior hermits and between 6 to 20 yuan from a newly joined hermit as a ‘government tax’.
As the hermits’ only source of income is donations received from pilgrims and local inhabitants, the required tax must be paid from this. Tibetans normally come for pilgrimage at the hermitage from the 3rd to the 10th day of the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar and from the 6th day to the 15th day in the holy month of Saka Dawa – the fourth month of theR Tibetan calendar.
During that time all the hermits congregate to receive alms in the form of money, butter and barley flour in order to survive for the rest of the year in the retreat. The Chinese-imposed taxes mean that the hermits are no longer able to survive in this way.”