Evicted monks and nuns regather at Larung Gar

9th January 2019

Former residents mark anniversary of the death of the site's founder 

In December 2018, Tibetans who had previously been expelled from Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in eastern Tibet gathered to remember the community’s founder, the late-Abbot Jigme Phuntsok.

The monks and nuns who gathered had been forced to leave Larung Gar over the past decade as Chinese authorities set about dismantling homes there.

The annual prayer session to commemorate Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was attended by the devotees at the institute itself, those evicted forcefully and other Chinese and Tibetan devotees from different and distant regions. Prayers, rituals and rites were held for seven days starting 22 December (the 15th day of the eleventh month in Tibetan calendar) in six monasteries in the area.

Tibetans have long marked the death anniversaries of great lamas and used the opportunity to celebrate their deeds and legacies.

The late Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok is widely acknowledged to have contributed greatly to the revival of Buddhism in Tibet after monasteries were targeted and destroyed by the Chinese Communist Party and its supporters during the Cultural Revolution.

His greatest contribution to the study of Tibetan Buddhism was establishing the institute at Larung Gar in the 1980s, which in the past decades has been home at any time to between ten and forty thousand residents. There, Jigme Phuntsok promoted a holistic and non-sectarian study of Tibetan Buddhism.

Many of the former residents who attended were forced to leave in 2006, 2007 and 2011. Amongst them were also former residents who were evicted in the past two years. Their evictions followed the issuing by Chinese authorities of an order in June 2016, stating that the number of residents at Larung Gar had to be reduced to 5,000 people. According to the latest figures, 4,828 people have been evicted following this order and at least 4,725 buildings destroyed. Over the years Free Tibet, and its research partner Tibet Watch, have been tracking the situation using satellites and reporting on the extent of the damage (see photo below: January 2016 on the left and April 2017 on the right).

Since eviction many monks and nuns have undergone humiliating experiences such as having to perform choreographed dances in their religious robes in front of an audience of Chinese officials. Others have been restricted from joining new monasteries and some of them were subjected to patriotic re-education where they had to sing patriotic Chinese songs in praise of the Communist Party.

Many of these Tibetans came to mark the 15th anniversary despite the potential risks to their safety.

After the conclusion of the prayer session, the evicted monks and nuns were ordered to go back to where they had come from and were not allowed to stay in the institute compound any longer.

At the beginning of January, followers of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok also gathered in the Bodh Gaya, in northern India, to commemorate the abbot's contribution to Tibetan Buddhism alongside the Dalai Lama.

Information supplied by Tibet Watch.

The Dalai Lama leads a prayer session in memory of Jigme Phuntsok in Bodh Gaya, India
The Dalai Lama leads a prayer session in memory of Jigme Phuntsok in Bodh Gaya, India

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