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Tibetan Monks Never Asked to Leave Quake Zone

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The government gave no orders to restrict Tibetan monks from quake relief work, nor did it ask them to leave the quake zone, local authorities have said.

"We did not give or receive any orders of such kind. Actually, we are very grateful for the role Tibetan monks played in the relief effort," said Wang Yuhu, governor of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, northwestern Qinghai Province.

Wang's words came after reports of the government excluding monks from relief work and ordering them to leave the quake zone.

All Chinese are united in the quake relief work, regardless of their faith, religion, ethnicity or where they come from, Wang said.

Living Buddha Gyangkar, head of Dargye Temple, led 83 monks traveling 150 km to the epicenter Gyegu Township immediately after the 7.1 magnitude quake hit the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu on April 14, that has left at least 2,187 dead..

"In the first three days after the quake, we rescued 26 people from the debris and retrieved 38 bodies," Gyangkar said.

In Buddhism it is believed the soul remains with the body for three days after death. After that time, rituals cannot be performed releasing the soul, he said.

"So on April 17, we came back with the retrieved bodies to the temple to release their souls," Gyangkar added.

"The government did not restrict us, they encouraged us. Monks, locals and those from other parts of China, all joined the rescuers searching for survivors and distributing relief supplies," he said.

Gayankar said he never heard of any restrictions banning monks from quake relief work or entering the quake zone.

Living Buddha Tsenzho Samding, head of Nyidzong Temple in Yushu's Chengduo County, led more than 90 monks to rescue survivors in the devastated Xihang village.

"We cremated 36 retrieved bodies in accordance with religious rituals and rules, and chanted to release their souls from purgatory," he said.

A day after the quake, monks from Sichuan Province and Tibet Autonomous Region also arrived, joining the rescue efforts. "Now, most of them had returned to their temples to hold rituals and chant for the dead like us," he said.

"We come when we are needed and leave when mission is completed. It's a rule of religion," Tsenzho Samding said.

"The Buddhism monks came here out of their care for the people. After their share of work is done they naturally return home. And we respect them for what they have done," Wang said.

Monks from elsewhere helped to bring spiritual support to the survivors, said senior monk Dampa Rinchen.

The earthquake severely damaged the local Gyegu Temple, killing eight monks and injuring 22 others.

"We are working hard to restore the temple. After it is rebuilt, Gyegu Temple will house quake orphans and be a center for old people without family," he said.

Yushu has 200 Buddhism temples. Three of its largest ones, including the Gyegu Temple, have more than 500 monks each.

Yushu is one of China's ten Tibetan autonomous prefectures and more than 90 percent of its 350,000 population are Tibetans. Most of its residents believe in Tibetan Buddhism.

(Xinhua News Agency April 23, 2010)

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