Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, abbot of the sprawling monastic complex of Larung Gar in eastern Tibet, has been removed from the complex against his will and is being held at the military hospital in Barkham (Ch. Maerkang) according to sources in Tibet. His whereabouts had been unknown since mid-August following the crackdown.
Security is reportedly tight and Khenpo’s closest students and senior teachers from Larung Gar are reportedly not allowed to see him. Jetsun Muntso, Khenpo Jigme’s niece and teacher at Larung Gar, is said to be in Barkham as well.
In late June, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s health deteriorated after the arrival of Communist Party Officials at Larung Gar. While he currently suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and needs assistance to walk, he had refused to leave his monastic encampment, preferring to rely on his own Tibetan doctor who practices some Chinese and western medicine.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s removal is not believed to be a formal detention yet but it has also been reported by several sources that he is not allowed to return to Larung Gar. Removing Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was seen to be a key part of the crackdown at Larung Gar. The Khenpo (Tibetan for “revered teacher”) was known to be a formidable and charismatic presence who rallied thousands upon thousands of serious religious students to his mountain encampment and was under pressure by Chinese authorities to leave.
“As Tibet’s preeminent Buddhist teacher, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s forced removal is a serious blow to Buddhism in Tibet,” said John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.
“If he were to be formally detained it would be the most significant setback for Tibetan Buddhism since the detention of the young Panchen Lama and the flight of the Karmapa,” Ackerly continued.
New Details of Crackdown
On a scale that has not been witnessed since the Cultural Revolution, work teams began tearing down the traditional Tibetan-style dwellings on June 28. Two thousand mediation huts have now reportedly been destroyed – nearly twice the number previously reported. At the end of August, destruction of living quarters focused on the north side of the vast monastic complex and fences were being built around the rubble. A majority of the destroyed huts are also reported to be huts of nuns.
Roadblocks manned by People’s Liberation Army personnel have reportedly been set up on the main road in between the county capitol of Serthar, Gogentang and Drango (Ch. Luhou), controlling access to Larung Gar. Larung Gar is located in a side valley about 15 kilometers south of the Gongentang.
Several hundred Chinese migrant workers were brought in to carry out the destruction and were reportedly paid 250 Yuan ($32) for each dwelling destroyed. Workers were reportedly allowed to keep raw materials or items from inside the dwellings. Armed police were spread throughout the monastic complex during the destruction. No retaliation by monks or nuns was reported.
The crackdown was overseen by an official named Wang, head of the “United Front” for Sichuan province, according to new reports. He is known as Wang Putrang, (“chief Wang”). Wang was in charge of Communist Party officials, including officials from the United Front in Beijing, and troops of armed police and work teams that descended upon Larung Gar to carry out the expulsions and demolitions in June.
According to a nun originally from central Tibet who was ordered to leave her residence by Party officials, but refused, “They told me that I must go back to my home and not to another nunnery. I told them I didn’t want to leave. Then two armed policemen entered my wood hut and threw my Buddha statue on the floor. They dragged me out of the hut and one of the policemen tossed my daily recitation book [of Buddhist scripture] into the wood stove,” the nun said. “It is just like in the late 1960s,”she said, referring to the massive destruction of Tibetan monasteries during the Cultural Revolution.
Most nuns at Larung Gar survive on very little resources while receiving the Buddhist education that Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, Jetsun Muntso (Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s niece), and other teachers provide at Larung Gar.
Many nuns were promised an allowance of 200 Yuan (approximately $25) to cover traveling and resettle costs in their respective native districts if they willingly left Larung Gar, according to another nun. It is unclear if any nuns received this compensation.
Reliable sources who have visited Larung Gar in the past two weeks put the numbers of destroyed meditation huts at over 2,000. Nuns had inhabited most of the destroyed huts.
Many nuns have sought refuge in the mountains and small forests within a few days walk of Larung Gar, according to a written account obtained by ICT from a monk named Ngawang Ozer. Ozer’s written account states, “[the nuns] have been living for over a month in the wild with hardly any food. Many others are wandering in villages, bus stops, and other places, not really knowing where to go and often destitute. They were told by officials that they had to go back to their native villages, but could not stay in the monasteries there. This indeed deterred them from returning home.”
Western tourists traveling recently across Kham and Amdo confirm Ngawang Ozer’s statement. Small groups of wandering nuns can be seen in many places, from Xining (in Qinghai Province) to Lhasa,” a French woman told ICT. “Most of them told me they couldn’t stay up in the mountains near Larung Gar because it is getting colder, but they have nowhere to go.”
In the Buddhist monastic tradition, monks’ and nuns’ vows include “leaving one’s home” in order to severe the ties to the life of a householder. For nuns in Tibet this represents a choice to lead a simple life of meditation and study in a secluded area or nunnery as opposed to raising children, tending to the fields or business, and other family duties.
A western Buddhist scholar who visited Larung Gar late last year told ICT, “I have not witnessed anything like Larung Gar in any of the Tibetan communities in Tibet, India or Nepal. The nuns and monks truly live a life of contemplation and study, high on the Tibetan plateau. The senior Khenpo there (Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok) stresses monastic discipline during his teachings and what it means to live a life of a monastic, outwardly but more importantly, inside their minds.”
Elderly nuns who have a difficult time walking have reportedly been allowed to stay at Larung Gar and have been grouped together on the southern side of the complex.
“In the short-term they are allowed to stay,” a monk from Serthar said over the telephone, “but in the long-term the officials want all nuns to be gone.”