In a surprise move, authorities in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province have decided to resume demolition at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy sooner than previously reported, moving the date forward to February with work scheduled for completion by the end of March, a Tibetan source says.
Thousands of Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns, along with a few Western students, have already been expelled from the makeshift dwellings that once lined the hillsides around Larung Gar as authorities seek to reduce the center’s population by about half to a maximum level of 5,000.
With winter moving into the area, demolition and expulsions were suspended at the beginning of January, with work expected to begin again at a more “aggressive” pace in April, sources said in earlier reports.
“However, officials recently met in Sichuan’s capital Chengdu and decided to expedite the work, completing it by March 30,” a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“To accomplish this, the demolition will begin again on Feb. 10 with full force,” RFA’s source said.
Comments from authorities in Sichuan regarding the revised schedule of work were not immediately available.
Many thousands of Tibetans and Han Chinese once studied at Serthar (Seda) county’s sprawling Larung Gar complex, which was founded in 1980 by the late religious teacher Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok and is one of the world’s largest and most important centers for the study of Tibetan Buddhism.
The number of students now left at Larung Gar is still unclear, though all monks and nuns coming originally from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and western China’s Qinghai and Gansu provinces have been removed and sent back to their native regions, sources said in earlier reports.
Those sent back to the TAR have been subjected to month-long courses of political reeducation before being allowed to return to their family homes.
Hundreds of nuns coming from Tibetan-populated counties of Sichuan are meanwhile being housed in temporary camps of two-storey buildings set up in desolate areas of the province until more permanent accommodations can be found.
Chinese authorities’ cancellation of an annual religious assembly at Larung Gar has meanwhile caused “pain and concern” for those still living at the large study center, RFA’s source said.
“The annual Shingdrup, a prayer to be born in a [Buddhist] pure land that was held without obstacle for the last 21 years is now not happening,” the source said.
“This decision really hurt the monks, nuns, and lay devotees very deeply,” he said.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.