NEWS

Chinese Government Orders Larung Gar Buddhist Institute to Reduce Admissions

By Craig Lewis
Buddhistdoor Global | 2015-08-27 |
Larung Gar Buddhist Institute and the surrounding settlement in Sertar County, Sichuan. From reuters.comLarung Gar Buddhist Institute and the surrounding settlement in Sertar County, Sichuan. From reuters.com

The Chinese authorities have ordered Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in Sertar County, in western China’s Sichuan Province, to reduce admissions—in particular of nuns, and of monks and nuns from other regions of China—in an effort to curb the rapid growth of the monastery’s population.

Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station and website based in Oslo, Norway, and Dharamsala, India, quoted an unidentified source as saying that the authorities have forced several monks and nuns from the academy and are planning to expel more in the coming days. The same source also reported that, “Around 1,000 monks who study at the monastery are [being] forcefully kept under house arrest at a state-run old-age home here in Larung Gar.” (Phayul.com)

Outside the main temple at Larung Gar. From landofsnows.comOutside the main temple at Larung Gar. From landofsnows.com

Larung Gar Buddhist Institute sits in a valley at an elevation of 13,000 feet and about nine miles from the nearest town of Sertar. The nearest large city is Chengdu, about 400 miles away. The institute was founded in 1980 by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (1933–2004), a lama of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and a respected Buddhist teacher. Built in what was then an uninhabited valley, the academy has since grown to become perhaps the largest and most important center of Buddhist learning in the world. It has an estimated population of 10,000 monks, nuns, and lay students living in small wooden homes built on the hillsides surrounding the monastery complex, although some estimates put the number as high as 40,000. 

The institute has played a key role in revitalizing the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism since China eased restrictions on religious practice in 1980. It is renowned for the quality of both its religious and secular education. English, Chinese, and Tibetan languages and modern computer studies are taught alongside a traditional non-sectarian Buddhist curriculum. About 500 khenpos—holders of doctoral degrees in divinity—have studied there.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, himself from Sertar, was born to a family of nomads, and at the age of two was identified as the reincarnation of Tertön Sogyal, Lerab Lingpa (1856–1926). He was known for keeping a strict focus on Buddhism rather than politics at the institute, although he maintained close relations with both the Chinese authorities and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In 1999, Chinese authorities ordered Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok to reduce the population of the institute, at the time numbering 8,800, to 1,400, but he refused. In the summer and autumn of 2001, police and military personnel forcibly evicted hundreds of nuns and monks and destroyed more than 1,000 homes to prevent them from returning. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was detained for a year following the incident, and in an effort to curb the growth of the institute Chinese authorities bulldozed a perimeter road around the site, beyond which construction was forbidden. However, despite the space imitations about 1,000 new huts are built every year.

In January 2014, a major fire destroyed about 100 houses of nuns studying at the institute. Two nuns were slightly injured in the blaze, which burned for 11 hours before being brought under control. According to Chinese media reports more than 450 rescuers, police, and firefighters attended the scene.

See more

China tightening grip on Larung Gar Monastery (Phayul.com)
Sertar and Larung Gar (The Land of Snows)
Fire Destroys 100 Houses at Tibetan Buddhist Institute (Radio Free Asia)
Vast Tibetan Buddhist institute engulfed in flames (The Japan Times)
Larung Gar (Wikipedia)
The Wonders of Kham and Larung Gar (Buddhistdoor Global)

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