Larung Gar Buddhist Academy

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Panorama of the institute in Sêrtar, facing west
Panorama of the institute in Sêrtar, facing east
Panorama of the institute in Sêrtar, facing north
Panorama of the institute in Sêrtar, facing south

In 1980, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok founded the Larung Ngarig Buddhist Academy (Tibetan: བླ་རུང་ལྔ་རིག་ནང་བསྟན་སློབ་གླིང་།, ZYPY: Larung Ngarig nangdän lobling, Chinese: 喇荣五明佛学院; pinyin: Larong Wuming foxueyuan), in the Larung Valley (喇荣沟) near the township of Larung in Sêrtar County, Garzê Prefecture, Sichuan Province. The purpose of the Institute has been to provide an ecumenical training in Tibetan Buddhism and to meet the need for renewal of meditation and scholarship all over Tibet in the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.[1]

Despite its remote location, it grew from a handful of disciples gathering in Jigme Phuntsok's home to be one of the largest and most influential centers for the study of Tibetan Buddhism in the world, numbering to nearly 10,000 monks, nuns, and lay disciples by the year 2000. As of 2015, the number of residents has grown to about 40,000.[2]

Demographics[edit]

Overall, the student body of Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy is made up of monks, nuns, lay "vow-holders" of both Tibetan and Chinese origins, and tantric practitioners. They study under four major religious divisions in the Academy: Ngarig Nangten Lobling, International Religious Committee, Pema Khandro Duling Nunnery, and Lektso Charbeb Ling. Ngarig Nangten Lobling consists of 2,500 Tibetan monks. Lektso Charbeb Ling is the section that trained over 1,000 lay Tibetan "vow-holders" and tantric practitioners from Sêrtar and other regions of Tibet.

Pema Khandro Duling Nunnery is the home for study to approximately 3,500-4,000 nuns from all regions of Tibet. More than half of those who came to Sertar are women and the curriculum allows nuns to achieve a coveted Khenpo degree for the first time in Tibetan history. Entry into the relatively small number of nunneries that exist in other areas of Tibet is limited, but Sertar is open to virtually anyone who genuinely seeks to become a student of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s ecumenical vision. Khenpo’s niece, Jetsunma Mumso, is recognized as a tulku and heads the order of nuns. The term is descriptive of certain teachers in Tibet who are thought to reincarnate over a number of generations.

Roughly ten percent of the nearly 10,000 students attending Sertar are ethnic Han people. They attend separate classes taught in Standard Chinese while larger classes are taught in Amdo Tibetan. The International Religious Committee oversees 1,000 disciples from regions of the People’s Republic of China and students from other Asian countries.

History[edit]

The Sertar Institute operated with a standing executive committee of seven learned lamas, but major decisions were confirmed and implemented only after consultation with Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok.

The Sertar Institute has been home to over 500 khenpos — holders of Doctoral degrees in divinity — and is widely renowned for the high quality of both its religious and secular education. English, Chinese, and Tibetan languages and modern computer studies have been taught alongside a traditional non-sectarian Buddhist curriculum.

In August 2017, it emerged that a deputy police chief of Garze would be acting as the institute’s party secretary and director with a committee of cadres.[3]

Tourism and media[edit]

Larung Gar is outside the main tourist routes and few foreigners find their way there. Occasionally officials have prevented foreigners from visiting the institute, but in recent years it has been mostly accessible. There is one hotel on the Northern ridgeline, which is most easily reached via the new construction access road from the north, avoiding the congestion on the narrow streets of the institute. There are also a simple guesthouse and a few restaurants on the main square next to the main Gompa. A new "Temple of Death" has been built at the sky burial site about one kilometer north of the institute.

In February 2016, a photograph of Larung Gar by Hungarian photographer Attila Balogh was shortlisted for that year’s Sony World Photography Awards.[4]

Demolition and safety-rebuilding project[edit]

The Chinese demolished about 2,000 homes in 2001, "because of concerns about social stability" at the site, simultaneously limiting the population to 1,400 residents.[5] More than 1,000 new homes are constructed every year by both professional crews and monks and nuns themselves with the help of their families and friends. However, in January 2014, a massive blaze destroyed around 100 wood houses in Larung Gar.[6]

On 22 July 2016, the BBC reported evidence from the campaign group Free Tibet that a government work team, accompanied by Chinese police and plainclothes members of the armed forces, had begun to demolish more buildings at Larung Gar in response to an order made the previous month by local authorities.[7] According to some reports, authorities ordered to cut the number of Larung Gar residents by half to 5,000 and offered rewards to ethnic Tibetan dwellers if they moved away.[8][9] On 6 December 2016, Tibetan government-in-exile urged the United Nations to intervene on the issue.[10] On 15 December 2016, European Parliament passed a resolution against the People's Republic of China and condemned the partial dismantling of Larung Gar.[11][12]

The Los Angeles Times noted that the demolition was being carried out after "two major government meetings during which President Xi Jinping stressed “national unity” and the necessity for religious groups to support the Communist Party and “merge their religious doctrines with Chinese culture.”" L[Robert] Barnett [a Tibet scholar at Columbia University] said this was indicative of the social unrest in Tibet, quoted in the LA Times as saying "We’ve had — what is it? — five years of self-immolations, massive protests in 2008 and so on. The language of resistance is rife throughout China and Tibet."[13]

In March 2017 it was revealed that the dismantling is part of a rebuilding project that the local government is carrying out in order to make the academy fire- and earthquake-safe.[14]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°09′10″N 100°28′08″E / 32.1528°N 100.4689°E / 32.1528; 100.4689