Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok challenged religious curbs
Authorities in China have banned followers of a prominent Tibetan Buddhist lama from traveling to his monastery to pay their last respects after Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's sudden death after heart surgery, RFA’s Tibetan service reports. The monk's local followers have one week in which to pay respects at what remains of his Buddhist institute in Sichuan Province, which was largely razed by Chinese security officers in 2001 as the popularity of its founder soared.
Local monks and nuns in Karze (in Chinese, Ganzi) began traditional mourning rites on Jan. 13, local sources said. “He had followers in 23 different Chinese provinces,” one follower said, on condition of anonymity. “Many of them are wealthy and influential Chinese, but it seems no one is allowed to visit [the body].”
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok-whose Serthar Institute taught Buddhist scriptures to more than 8,000 students before much of it was demolished in 2001-died Jan. 7 at about 9:40 a.m. in the ethnically Tibetan Karze area of the southwestern province of Sichuan. He was 72 and recovering from heart surgery at Sichuan's Army General Hospital.
According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, authorities will permit traditional funeral rites for Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, whose school had been the target of an official crackdown. But Tibetan sources told RFA that no one from outside the county where his Serthar Buddhist Institute was based had been allowed to visit Karze to pay their last respects.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s followers quickly claimed his body after he died suddenly in a Chinese military hospital Jan. 7. Two days later, Karze Prefecture officials instructed the monks that Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s body should be cremated as soon as possible, apparently fearing political unrest, sources said, but the monks sought and were granted a one-week delay. Cremation will likely occur on or about Jan. 22.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s popularity made Chinese authorities uncomfortable, and in 2001 People’s Armed Police and Public Security Bureau officers razed dormitories and individual dwellings at his Serthar Buddhist Institute and drove away some 8,000 monks and nuns. Six nuns reportedly committed suicide.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok himself was removed from the premises and held incommunicado in a military hospital for a year following the crackdown, then-suffering from chronic ill health-largely confined to what remained of the institute.
“The Chinese consider Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok to be their enemy and source of fear. They were afraid because he could command and influence such large congregation of followers including thousands of Chinese. Therefore they cracked down on his institute and restricted his activities,” one source said.
Some Tibetan sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed shock at Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s sudden death when he seemed well on the road to recovery after surgery for a mild heart condition discovered during a routine medical checkup.
After his stitches were removed Jan. 5, “he could even walk around,” said one source. “Then on Jan. 7, after he was served his breakfast in the morning, he started to throw up,” the source said, whose account was confirmed by several others. “He continually threw up anything he had after that breakfast. His condition deteriorated so fast that he passed away around 9:40 local time. Almost two hours after he started his breakfast.”
Officials at Sichuan's Army General Hospital declined to comment on the case.