Senior Abbot at Larung Gar Says Evictions Almost Complete; Demolition Target Reduced
A senior abbot at the world-famous Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in China’s western Sichuan Province has said that government action to reduce the institution’s monastic population is nearing completion, with about 250 residents of what was believed to be the largest center of Buddhist learning in the world, still awaiting relocation.
“During 2016 and so far in 2017, a total of 4,828 monks and nuns left Larung Gar, and now about 250 nuns from Qinghai Province are left to go,” the abbot was quoted as saying in a report by Radio Free Asia. “They will leave over three days, from 25–27 March, and after they have gone, no one else will have to leave this center.”
In June last year, the government of Sertar County issued an order stating that by October 2017 only 1,500 monks and 3,500 nuns would be allowed to live at the monastic college. The order follows similar moves in 2001, when the authorities organized a mass eviction of residents from the institute, and in late 2015, when further expulsions were accompanied by an order to reduce admissions to curb the rapid growth of the monastic population. The order did not give a reason for the decision, but cited two central government meetings during which Chinese President Xi Jinping had stressed “national unity” and the necessity for religious groups to support the Communist Party and “merge their religious doctrines with Chinese culture.” (Los Angeles Times)
Before the latest move to limit the monastic population, an estimated 10,000 monks, nuns, and lay students lived in small wooden cabins spread over the hillsides surrounding the sprawling monastery complex, although some estimates put the number as high as 40,000.
In a separate report, a senior abbot was quoted as saying that the state authorities had agreed to reduce the number of dwellings targeted for demolition to 3,225, down from a total of 4,320 planned demolitions announced on 13 January. “The destruction of these houses will be completed by 30 April without excuse,” he said, noting that some 1,500 homes were demolished last year. (Radio free Asia)
The senior monk observed that a total of 3,729 monks and nuns had been evicted last year, with 1,600 removed in 2015 and 600 in 2014. “All of the issues causing pain and hardship to this institution are being discussed in a democratic fashion by [the Larung Gar] management committee, and we ask all of the members of this institute to exercise patience and tolerance, taking lessons from the teachings of the Buddha and our beloved teacher,” he said. (Radio Free Asia)
Larung Gar Buddhist Academy sits at an elevation of roughly 4,000 meters, some 14 kilometers from the town of Sertar. The nearest large city is Chengdu, about 640 kilometers away. The institute was founded in 1980 by the respected teacher Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (1933–2004), a lama of the Nyingma school of Vajrayana Buddhism. Built in what was then an uninhabited valley, the institute grew to become perhaps the largest and most important center of Buddhist learning in the world. 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.
Earlier this month, a government spokesman for Sichuan’s Sertar County denied media reports that Larung Gar Buddhist Academy was being demolished, asserting that reconstruction work was underway to improve safety and public health at the monastic complex. “The purpose of the renovation is to improve the living standard of the residents there and eliminate fire hazards,” county government spokesman Jiang Zhiming was quoted as saying, adding that the work had begun in May last year and would be completed this month. The official added that only some buildings had been demolished to allow access for firefighters and that about 800 monastics had been resettled in a nearby town. (The Globe and Mail)
The site of Larung Gar was chosen by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok because of its historical connection to the Vajrayana tradition. It is said that His Holiness the first Dudjom Rinpoche, Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1904) stayed here with his 13 disciples. The academy was conceived as an independent center of study that would help revitalize the Dharma and revive the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism following China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–76), during which Tibetan Buddhism was suppressed and thousands of monasteries were destroyed. The institute has become 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 at Larung Gar Buddhist Academy.
Larung Gar Removals ‘Almost Complete,’ Senior Abbot Says (Radio Free Asia)
China Reduces Number of Larung Gar Dwellings Marked For Destruction (Radio Free Asia)
Senior Abbot says forced eviction at Larung Gar nearly over (Phayul.com)
China says rebuilding major western Buddhist learning centre (The Globe and Mail)
For 2nd time in 15 years, Tibetan Buddhist academy in China faces demolition order (Los Angeles Times)
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