Tamdin Dorje

Tamdin Dorje (center) died after setting fire to himself in protest on October 13, 2012.

Tamdin Dorje

Local Tibetans transporting the body of Tamdin Dorje following his self-immolation protest. Tamdin Dorje was the grandfather of a prominent young Tibetan lama and his self-immolation is likely to be noted with concern by authorities. (Faces blurred by ICT)

The grandfather of a prominent young Tibetan reincarnate lama died today after setting fire to himself near a monastery in Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) in Gansu Province (the Tibetan area of Amdo). Tibetans gathered to pray for him despite an intense military buildup in the area following the self-immolation. It is the 55th self-immolation in Tibet since February, 2009.

Tamdin Dorje, who was in his early fifties, was from Drong che village in Khasag township in Kanlho. He was a father of three and the grandfather of the 10 year old boy who is recognised as one of the most important lamas in historic Labrang Tashikyil (Chinese: Xiahe) monastery, Gungthang Rinpoche.

Images received by Tibetans in exile from Tibet depict troops converging on the area, and Tibetans taking Tamdin Dorje’s body for cremation. Tamdin Dorje set fire to himself in the same place as mother of two Dolkar Tso, who self-immolated on August 7, near a white stupa beside Tsoe Gaden Choeling monastery in Kanlho (ICT report, Tibetan mother in her twenties dies after self-immolation today; monk taken away after self-immolation yesterday – 7 August 2012).

A young Tibetan man, 27-year old Sangay Gyatso, set fire to himself and died next to a different monastery in Tsoe (Chinese: Hezuo) on October 6, the third self-immolation in that week (see Voice of America report, 6 October 2012 and ICT report, Second Tibetan dies in less than a week as self-immolations continue in Tibet – 5 October 2012), marking a continued increase in frequency of self-immolations in Tibet.

The self-immolation today is likely to be noted with concern by the authorities due to the connection to the young lama recognised as the 7th Gungthang Rinpoche, Lobsang Geleg Tenpe Khenchen, who was born in 2002 in the village of Dzoege, east of Tsoe city, the seat of Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the southern part of Gansu Province. Tamdin Dorje was the father of the young lama’s mother.

The boy lama’s predecessor, the 6th Gungthang Rinpoche Jigme Tenpe Wangchug (1926-2000) was a highly influential lama known as a great and popular scholar in Amdo. He was imprisoned in 1958 during the period of ‘Democratic Reform’ by the Communist authorities and following his release in 1979, was very active as a leader of the religious revival in eastern Tibet, and the reconstruction of his home monastery, Labrang. His teachings of the Kalachakra religious empowerment in the 1990s drew tens of thousands of Tibetans.

Four years after the Gungthang Rinpoche’s death in 2000, his reincarnation was announced by the Chinese news agency Xinhua following the involvement of respected Tibetan lama, the 6th Jamyang Zhepa. The Chinese Communist Party, which promotes atheism, has imposed regulations on controlling the selection, installation and education of reincarnate lamas, and is clearly seeking to control and co-opt the 7th Gungthang Rinpoche.

Following the self-immolation of the boy’s grandfather Tamdin Dorje today, Tibetans from all over the area began to gather at the monastery in Tsoe to pray after his passing.