A worldwide network of Tibetan Buddhist centers founded by a senior abbot of the Larung Gar Academy in China’s Sichuan province has been closed down, with followers suspecting Chinese pressure behind the move, a Tibetan advocacy group said on Thursday.
The Bodhi Institute of Compassion and Wisdom, founded by Larung Gar’s Khenpo Sodargye, and its affiliated centers were declared closed by its founder on Dec. 30, 2019, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in a Jan. 2 statement.
The move followed separate interrogations by authorities of the Khenpo and another Larung Gar leader, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro, in November, ICT said, adding that claims of “illegal activities” carried out in the Bodhi Institute’s name are believed by some center followers to have been scripted by China.
A close disciple of Larung Gar’s founder Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, Khenpo Sodargye had recently traveled and taught widely around the world, founding centers and gaining new students, ICT said.
“The closure of Sodargye’s international centers may represent an effort to restrict his religious and moral influence, which has grown in recent years,” ICT said, noting that the Khenpo had been featured in 2014 on the cover of China’s Renwu Zhoukan (People’s Weekly) magazine.
In language promoted by Chinese political reeducation campaigns targeting Tibetan monks and nuns, Khenpo Sodargye said in his Dec. 30 announcement that he will “continue to love the nation as well as the religion,” adding that all announcements or fundraising appeals made in the Institute’s name should now be disregarded.
A years-long campaign
Many thousands of Tibetans and Han Chinese once studied at Larung Gar in Sichuan’s Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county, making it one the world’s largest and most important centers for the study of Tibetan Buddhism.
In April 2019, Chinese authorities closed Larung Gar to new enrollments, declaring that no new residents may now be admitted to live and study there, sources told RFA in an earlier report.
The move followed a years-long campaign of expulsions of monks and nuns and demolition of their dwellings that had seen thousands already living at the sprawling study center forced to leave and forbidden to return.
Walls were also built around large sections of Larung Gar, and three checkpoints put in place, to prevent unauthorized entry, sources said.
During 2017 and 2018, at least 4,820 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns were removed from Larung Gar, with over 7,000 dwellings and other structures torn down beginning in 2001, according to sources in the region.
The expulsions and demolitions at Larung Gar, along with restrictions at Yachen Gar, another large Buddhist center in Sichuan, are part of “an unfolding political strategy” aimed at controlling the influence and growth of these important centers for Tibetan Buddhist study and practice, ICT said in a March 13, 2017 report.