The state authorities in western China’s Sichuan Province have begun a new round of evictions at the Yarchen Gar monastic community in Baiyu County, Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, removing some 3,500 monks and nuns from the sprawling monastic complex, Radio Free Asia (RFA) has reported, citing unidentified Tibetan sources.
According to the RFA report, the latest eviction campaign began in May, mainly targeting sangha residents who had come to Yarchen Gar from outside of Sichuan. In August 2017, the authorities began demolishing some 2,000 self-built residences of monks and nuns, ordering the same number of residents to be relocated.*
“Since the removals began in May, around 3,500 monks and nuns have been forced to leave,” a Tibetan living in the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service on condition of anonymity. (Radio Free Asia)
Radio Free Asia is a private, nonprofit news organization that publishes online content on events in Asia, with the stated mission of providing “accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.” Funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent agency of the US government, RFA has sometimes been accused of producing news coverage aimed at advancing the goals of US foreign policy.
“Around 600 Chinese officials are now permanently stationed at Yarchen Gar and maintain a tight watch over the center,” said the source, who visited Yarchen Gar on 11 May while the evictions were underway. “They closely monitor the monks’ movements and check on all outside visitors.” He added that senior monks and instructors at the complex were feeling despondent over the evictions and were unwilling to talk about the issue. (Radio Free Asia)
Situated in a remote valley in the traditional Tibetan region of Kham, some 4,000 meters above sea level, Yarchen Gar was until recent years home to an estimated 10,000 nuns, monks, and lay practitioners devoted to scriptural study and meditation. The monastery and educational institute was established in 1985 by the abbot, Achuk Rinpoche (d. 2011), a Dzogchen practitioner and one of the most senior Nyingma masters in Tibet.
Some of the evicted residents had come to Yarchen Gar from as far away as Chamdo and Nagchu prefectures in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the source said. “Apart from a few exceptionally accomplished Buddhist masters like lamas and khenpos, none of the residents who came from those places now remain in Yarchen Gar.” (Radio Free Asia)
“Apart from a small travel allowance, no arrangements have been made for them to find places to live in their native regions or to continue their studies, and this is causing much hardship,” said another RFA source, also speaking on condition of anonymity. (Radio Free Asia)
“Only those monks and nuns who have come from areas of Sichuan are being spared from removal, while monks and nuns coming from Yulshul prefecture in Qinghai are being allowed to remain on condition that the authorities in their home areas provide assurance that they will not take part in any political activities,” the source explained. “Chinese officials have so far not torn down any of the monks’ and nuns’ dwellings, like they did in Serthar.” (Radio Free Asia)
Like the better-known Larung Gar Buddhist Institute located in a valley to the northeast, Yarchen Gar is associated with the Nyingma school of Vajrayana Buddhism. Indeed, Yarchen Gar’s monastic population has been bolstered by the arrival of evictees from Larung Gar in recent decades. In June 2017, a senior abbot at Larung Gar said that 4,725 monastic dwellings had been torn down over the course of a year, with more than 7,000 demolished since efforts to reduce the population began in 2001, noting that more than 4,828 monks and nuns had been expelled since 2016. Larung Gar Buddhist Academy was founded in 1980 by the respected teacher Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (1933–2004), and is widely considered to be the largest center of Buddhist learning in the world.
In April this year, the local authorities were reported to have further tightened restrictions at Larung Gar, according to Tibetan sources. A government notice delivered to senior monks at Larung Gar prohibited further enrollments and ordered that no new residents be admitted to live and study there.
In an address to monks and nuns at Larung Gar given on 16 April, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodroe said that 2019 could be a difficult year for the sangha. The senior teacher warned that “almost any kind of problem may be encountered if we don’t exercise necessary caution and care,” and urged that “for the sake of the institute’s continuity and survival, everyone should behave appropriately in their actions and their speech.” (Radio Free Asia)
* Reports of Residential Demolitions at Yarchen Gar Monastic Community in China (Buddhistdoor Global)
Yarchen Vddiyanna Meditation Monastery
Thousands of Monks, Nuns Evicted From Sichuan’s Yachen Gar (Radio Free Asia)
China Resumes Expulsions From Sichuan’s Yachen Gar Buddhist Center (Radio Free Asia)
Tibetans Face Security Clampdown in Sichuan’s Dzamthang, Yachen Gar (Radio Free Asia)
Larung Gar Buddhist Academy Closes to New Enrollment as China Tightens Controls (Radio Free Asia)
China Restricts Renovations at Yarchen Gar (Free Tibet)