BLITZ ON TIBETAN ENCAMPMENT
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was born in extraordinarily auspicious circumstances in 1933 and was recognised as an incarnation of the treasure revealer Lerab Lingpa (1856-1926). He is one of the three contemporary incarnations of Lerab Lingpa, of whom Sogyal Rinpoche is also an incarnation.
In the worst times of the Cultural Revolution Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (known locally as Khenpo Jigphun) avoided arrest and torture. He continued his religious activities in remote areas and survived the social and political turbulence of the period. Then, after the Cultural Revolution, a period of liberalisation began. So in 1985 Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok applied for and received official permission to open an academy, which he registered as a teaching institute in order to avoid the strict regulations that Chinese officials placed on monasteries.
His reputation had already spread far beyond eastern Tibet, and monks, nuns and lay practitioners of all lineages flocked to the academy called Larung Gar and settled in small log cabins there. By 1999 over 7,000 monks, nuns and lay practitioners were being taught Buddhist philosophy in a non-sectarian environment, free to come and go without any formal process of acceptance, as long as they respected the monastic rules set up by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok. Now, tragically, it appears that this renaissance in eastern Tibet is severely threatened, as the following news agency report reveals.
Washington, 20 June 2001 (ICT) - Officials from Beijing and Chengdu have ordered thousands of monks and nuns to leave a massive monastic encampment in eastern Tibet, according to several eyewitness sources. As monks and nuns leave, their residences are being destroyed to prevent them or others from returning and inhabiting the sprawling complex. The confrontation has been building for weeks and higher-level officials from Beijing have been called in to oversee the expulsions and demolition. The monastic community known as Larung Gar near the town of Serta is the largest concentration of monks and nuns anywhere on the Tibetan plateau.
Larung Gar is a monastic encampment, not a monastery, and its inhabitants have come of their own accord based on Larung Gar's reputation that has spread by word of mouth. Moreover, its monks and nuns from all areas of Tibet and China form a loose-knit community where students have to provide for themselves and are not under the formal control of any abbot. However, students have been drawn by a charismatic teacher, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, who established Larung Gar more than a decade ago as a ritro, or mountain hermitage, with only a few students. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok and other lamas lead a traditional curriculum of Buddhist study, teaching in both Tibetan and Mandarin.
The encampment is believed to have between 7,000 and 8,000 monks and nuns, of which nearly 1,000 are Chinese. A majority of the inhabitants are nuns. Often the Tibetans who come to this remote area study for a limited period of time before returning to their home monastery to teach others. Larung Gar is a place where "the sacred landscape of Tibet was being revived" and is a "marked contrast to the alienated state in which institutionalised Buddhism finds itself in many parts of Tibet", according to the 1998 book Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet. Because of the unique opportunity to receive a comprehensive Buddhist education, Larung Gar is one of the few places on the Tibetan plateau that is attracting students.
The Chinese government authorities who arrived recently are trying to enforce a ceiling of 1,400 monks and nuns. Previous attempts by government cadres to reduce the numbers of students at Larung Gar have proved largely unsuccessful. During these attempts by local authorities, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok reportedly called on the authorities to "safeguard the people's religious belief" which is guaranteed in China's constitution. There is no reported political "splittist" activity at Larung Gar.
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