How the ‘Soul of Tibet’ Was Turned Into a Pigsty
Generally speaking, people have an understanding of the brutality of China’s Cultural Revolution, but, for some reason, people know very little about the Cultural Revolution in Tibet.
I recently read the precious book, Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution, written by Tibetan writer Woeser and her father Tsering Dorje. It depicted Tibet during the Cultural Revolution through words and photos.
What shocked me the most was the destruction of Tibetan culture, which was as heartbreaking and tragic as the complete destruction of traditional Chinese culture.
For example, a large number of Tibetan lamas were forced to resume secular life, and many precious scriptures were burned. By 1976, only eight of the original 2,700 monasteries were left.
What Jokhang Temple, known as the “soul of Tibet,” suffered during the Cultural Revolution is undoubtedly the epitome of those 2,700 monasteries.
Jokhang Temple is located in the center of the old city of Lhasa and is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Tibet. It was first constructed in the year 647 during China’s Tang Dynasty and Tibet’s Tubo Dynasty, by King Songsten Gampo to commemorate Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal’s coming to Tibet.
Through additions and repairs, the Jokhang Temple complex expanded to occupy 270,000 square feet. Its architectural style blends Tubo Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, Nepalese, and Indian styles and has become the model for Tibetan religious architecture through the ages.
Jokhang Temple housed many Buddha statues, relics, and ritual instruments. It also had amazing mural paintings dating from the Tubo period to the more recent Gesang Phodrang time period. As a religious shrine, Jokhang Temple is respected by a variety of sects, and its customary Monlam Prayer Festival is very famous.
During the festival, tens of thousands of monks from the three main monasteries of Drepung, Sera, and Ganden in Lhasa and other temples will gather in Jokhang Temple. They hold activities such as practicing Dharma, having sutra-debates, exorcism, and welcoming the Jampa Buddha of the future.
The Dalai Lama (the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism) and Ganden Tripa (the title for the spiritual leader of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism) of past dynasties have all taught the Dharma there.
The importance of Jokhang Temple is not limited to religion. It was also one of the locations for the Tibetan Kashag (Tibet’s governing council since China’s Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911).
The fifth Dalai Lama established the regime by integrating religion and politics. Departments for finance, taxation, food, justice, and foreign affairs were all set up on the second floor of Jokhang Temple. Later the Qing government’s Golden Urn, the activity used to select Tibetan lamas, was also held here.
Since Jokhang Monastery held important spiritual and secular roles, it became a major target for “destroying the four olds” during the Cultural Revolution.
In August of 1968, the Red Guards in Lhasa took red-tasseled spears with them to start robbing Jokhang Monastery. According to the story told in Forbidden Memory, Jokhang Monastery experienced unprecedented destruction.
A large amount of vestments, books, Buddha statues, and prayer wheels were smashed, destroyed, and burned.
A dunce cap with insulting words written on it was placed atop Shakyamuni’s statue. The precious clothes on the statue were taken, the gold painted on his body and face was scraped off, an incomparable jewel set between his eyebrow and a pair of old gold earrings were taken.
The army stationed in Jokhang Monastery used the upper level as a dormitory and the lower level as a pigpen. The soldiers shipped out the remaining Buddhist instruments and Buddha statues, which later were destroyed. It is said that only Buddha Shakyamuni’s statues were not smashed.
A monk who once sent pig food said, “They set up a bathroom at one corner of Jokhang Monastery and we can see they pee on the ground. The other side of Jokhang Monastery was set up as a livestock slaughter house.”
In the 1970s, following the army’s withdrawal, Jokhang Monastery became the second hostel of Lhasa City Committee where officials and ordinary people of nearby counties might come. Because of the influx of visitors, murals were severely damaged by flames and moisture from steaming Tibetan butter tea.
In 1972, with the change in the international political environment, especially changes in the relationships between China and Japan and between China and the United States, the Chinese regime decided to repair Jokhang Monastery in order to change the regime’s international image.
Unfortunately, the repairers didn’t know what kind of Buddha statues should be put in the temple. Finally, a so-called “demon,” a cursed eminent monk, helped them repair the first level of this Buddha palace.
The entire repair project was finished in 1980, and Jokhang Monastery returned to a life of burning incense every day.
However, the Buddha statues are not the original Buddha statues, the murals are not the original murals, and the manager in charge of the temple is not the then-eminent monk. In fact, quite a few of the monks residing there are the very same ones who destroyed Jokhang Monastery during the Cultural Revolution.
One more reincarnation, one more long sigh, while the evil party hasn’t been brought to justice yet.
Translation by Quincy Yu and Aileen Wu. Written in English by Arleen Richards