Schoolchildren blocked from joining Buddhist festivities

Photo by Nathan Freitas
Photo by Nathan Freitas
16th May 2018

Restrictions announced this week have once again prohibited many Tibetans from participating in Saga Dawa activities.

Local authorities in Chamdo City, central Tibet, have circulated an order prohibiting families from engaging in any of the religious activities associated with the holy month of Saga Dawa.

Tibet Watch, Free Tibet’s research partner, has obtained a five-point order issued on 14 May by authorities at the Second Kindergarten School in Chamdo City. The order prohibits children from visiting monasteries during the month of Saga Dawa, or from engaging in religious activities.

The order states that the restrictions are being imposed in order to “promote children's ideological education". By extension, the order goes on to ban families from taking part in the festivities, since they are responsible for their children. It adds that officials are responsible for penalising individuals or families found to be in contravention of these restrictions.

The order states that its authority comes from regulatory documents from the Municipal Education Department, Municipal People's Government and Tibet Autonomous Region's Education Bureau. The involvement of these authorities make it likely that similar prohibitory orders have been issued in other cities and villages in central and western Tibet, which is governed by China as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), as well as the Tibetan prefectures located in other Chinese provinces.

A similar order was issued last year at Jebum Gang Middle School in Lhasa, prohibiting the families of school children from engaging in religious activities associated with Saga Dawa, condemning them as superstitious. The letter, found by Tibet Watch, also drew its authority from higher offices of patriotic education. A series of restrictions were also imposed on hotels and restaurants in Lhasa.

A month of altruism

Saga Dawa, or Meritorious Month, is an important month in the Tibetan calendar for Buddhist activities. During the month, Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet commit themselves to personal sacrifices and altruistic activities, such as refraining from eating meat; making offerings or donations to monasteries and nunneries; praying and reciting mantras; and making prostrations around holy sites such as temples and monasteries in Tibet.

Other commitments may involve giving money to the homeless; lighting butter lamps; making pilgrimages to holy places; buying animals that would ordinarily be slaughtered and releasing them; and carrying out circumambulations  (walking clockwise around a holy site while praying or reciting mantras) around stupas or other holy places.

In Lhasa, worshippers make prostrations around the Lingkhor, the sacred path running around the old city, and the Bakhor, which runs around the Jokhang Monastery.

Saga Dawa falls in the fourth month of the Tibetan Calendar. This year it begins today, 16 May, and will end on 13 June. The holiest day of all is the full moon day of Saka Dawa, the 15th day of the month, which is the date most commonly associated the birth of the Buddha, his enlightenment and his Parinirvana, or the nirvana-after-death. In 2018, the 15th day of the month will fall on 29 May.


The order issued by authorities in Chamdo, 14 May 2018

Translation of the order from Chamdo City kindergarten school

A Letter of Notice to Families 

To all the Families: 

The notification for the families during the Fourth Month of Saka Dawa on the basis of the documents of the Municipal Education Department, Municipal People's Government and Tibet Autonomous Region's Education Bureau. 

Main Contents of the Notification: 

1. In order to promote children's ideological education, children are prohibited from participating in religious activities or visiting monasteries. 

2) Since families are responsible for children, they are also banned from going to monastery and engaging in religious activities.

3) Higher officials must clandestinely supervise and penalise persons who contravene these regulations.

4) If authorities come to learn of anyone taking their children to monasteries or secretly engaging in any religious activities, they shall be handed over to Education Bureau. 

5) Family members should be responsible for their children's safety and management and are requested to support managing the school.

From: The Second Kindergarten School of Chamdo City

Dated: 14 May 2018

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