Chinese authorities abruptly put an end to a government-approved religious gathering in eastern Tibet this week , detaining its organisers, dispersing worshippers, and prematurely destroying a sand mandala that had been created for the ceremony.
The police arrived at the peak of the initiation ceremony on the morning of 18 July. His Eminence the Seventh Athi Kalsang Tashi Gyatso, who was to give teachings on Kalachakra, Wheel of Time, was forced to leave.
The police intervention was surprising; preparations for the teachings had only been completed after approval had been granted by the Qinghai provincial government. Tens of thousands of devotees had congregated on the Kalachakra grounds for the event, which was to last up to 23 July in Samey-shi Village, Gumong（Ch: Guomaying) Town, Mongra (Ch: Guinan) County, Tsolho Tibet Autonomous Prefecture.
The construction of sand mandala, a complex sand-based art involving rituals of Tantric Buddhism to build a two-dimensional palace of hundreds of deities, lies at the heart of these teachings. Although it takes several weeks to finish, once the devotees have a view and blessing of the mandala, it is orderly dismantled, accompanied by rituals and prayers to remind one of the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence and the sand is released into a river.
At this teaching, however, the police threw water to scatter the sand mandala. Farmers and nomads – especially old-aged attendees – who had traveled from afar for this pilgrimage were left in tears and deep anguish.
The crackdown affected every aspect of the ceremony; tents installed onsite for pilgrims were pulled down and the land lease, which cost more than two million yuan, could not be recovered.
Any audio-visual content of the gathering, including the honorific reception of the spiritual leader by horse riders carrying flags, was prohibited from all social media platforms. This is the second instance in this month of leading spiritual leaders being stopped from giving Kalachakra teachings in occupied-Tibet.
His Eminence Athi Kalsang Tashi Gyatso hails from Kumbum Tsotuk in Amdo. Recognized as the 7th Athi Rinpoche when he was a teenager, he was enthroned in 1997 and resides in Kumbum Monastery.
Information supplied by Tibet Watch.