The Chinese government had objected to the visit by the Dalai Lama, which began on Nov. 18 and took place over four days, even though it was not made at the invitation of the Mongolian government and was religious in nature. China canceled meetings with senior Mongolian officials in response.
China has long pressured countries, including Western ones, to ban visits from the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India. Chinese Communist Party leaders consider him to be an enemy who advocates Tibetan independence from China, although the Dalai Lama has said he seeks only greater autonomy for Tibetans.
In one sense, Mongolia’s reaction to China, a neighbor that has the world’s second-largest economy, was predictable. Mongolia is dealing with financial problems and is seeking a large loan from Beijing. Until a recent crash, the Mongolian economy had been growing fast, fueled by mineral extraction.
But, at the same time, Mongolia has tried to distance itself from China and Russia, and has become a United States military partner. It is also a
traditionally Buddhist country with ancient ties to Tibetan Buddhism and to the history of the Dalai Lamas, and the foreign minister’s remarks alarmed some historians and Tibet advocates.
“This is part of a near-global collapse in diplomatic capacity to handle certain kinds of pressure from China, which is, of course, far more acute for small, landlocked neighbors than major powers,” Robert J. Barnett, a historian of modern Tibet at Columbia University, said in an email.
John Delury, a China historian at Yonsei University in Seoul, posted on Twitter last week that Mongolia’s reaction was “ironic given that it was a Mongolian Khan who invented Dalai Lamaness.”
The Dalai Lamas arose from the actions of Altan Khan, a 16th-century Mongolian leader who controlled a region next to northern China, which was ruled by the ethnic Han emperors of the Ming dynasty.
Three centuries earlier, Kublai Khan, the founding emperor of the Yuan dynasty, an era when Mongolians ruled China, had become interested in Tibetan Buddhism and had taken on a Tibetan teacher.
But it was Altan Khan who made Tibetan Buddhism an official religion among Mongols. He did this when the head of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as the Yellow Hat school, visited him in 1577. On that occasion, Altan Khan gave the spiritual leader the title of Dalai Lama. With Dalai meaning “ocean” in Mongolian and Lama being a Tibetan spiritual teacher, the title translates as “ocean of wisdom.”
This bound the Mongols and Tibetans and established a relationship between Mongolian rulers and the Gelug school. Since then, the position of the Dalai Lama has been tied to complex politics in Asia. The two heads of the Gelug school preceding the one who visited Altan Khan were also given the Dalai Lama title retroactively.
The Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, the one who had received his title from Altan Khan, died in 1588 in the Mongolian region. A great-grandson of Altan Khan, Yonten Gyatso, was then named by senior Tibetan lamas as the Fourth Dalai Lama and the reincarnation of Sonam Gyatso. (Each Dalai Lama is considered a reincarnation of the previous one.) Yonten Gyatso has been the only Mongolian to be chosen as a Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama’s Mongolia visit has raised another question. Many people have begun speculating over when and where the reincarnation of the current Dalai Lama, the 14th, will appear after he dies. The Dalai Lama, who is 81, has said that he may be the last of the Dalai Lamas, while holding open the possibility of a reincarnation — including one outside Tibetan regions, where Communist leaders would no doubt try to control any designated reincarnation.
Some people have said that the next Dalai Lama could be found in the Tawang region of northeastern India, home of the Sixth Dalai Lama. Tawang also happens to be a disputed region in the Himalayas that China claims as its territory.
But the Dalai Lama’s recent visit suggests to some scholars that Mongolia could be the place to watch, especially given the history of the Third and Fourth Dalai Lamas.
“The interesting thing about the Dalai Lama visit was that it may be a signal that his reincarnation could appear there,” Mr. Barnett said. He added that given China’s hostility, this is “something that would be potentially disastrous for Mongolia.”
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The temple is the spiritual embodiment of the social and economic dislocations that have shaken Thailand. The economic boom of the 1980s created a well-to-do middle class for whom moneymaking rivaled Buddhist tradition as a core value. They needed something that brought the two together.
Cash machines are placed conveniently near a meditation hall with screens that declare, “Shortcut to making merit,” the important virtue of doing good deeds. As a merit-making bonus, credit card points earned by the transaction can go directly to the temple.
“Buddha never taught us to live in hardship,” said the temple spokesman, Phra Pasura Dantamano. He added: “Buddha teaches moderation, but there are different levels of society. If I were a businessman or a farmer I would define moderation in a different way.”
This perspective is a departure from traditional Thai Buddhism, in which there is less acceptance of wealth, said Suwanna Satha-Anand, a professor of philosophy at Chulalongkorn University.
“They crafted a possibility of a new form of Buddhism which is friendly to capitalism or wealth,” she said. “This is the voice of the urban middle or upper class who are looking for a more modern image of what a Buddhist can be.”
Well-designed websites promise a form of meditation that is “simple, easy and effective.” The temple itself manifests cleanliness and efficiency alongside tech-savvy sophistication. Its huge boxy buildings are aggressively plain, finished with unpainted gray concrete. It has no spire, few bells and little incense.
But it does not lack grandeur. Its centerpiece is a huge, flat dome more than 2,000 feet in diameter that even the temple concedes looks like a flying saucer. It radiates wealth. The dome’s surface consists of 300,000 small Buddha statues made of silicon gold, each as tall as an open hand and engraved with the name of a donor — suggested donation 10,000 baht, or about $300.
On special occasions, the vast plaza around the dome is the scene of spectacular gatherings — tens of thousands of monks in orange and worshipers in white — that rival an Olympics opening ceremony. The monks circle the dome as if the little statues had come to life, and they sit in perfect, ordered rows that seem to stretch to the horizon. At night, they march with glowing lights, and thousands of lighter-than-air lanterns float into the sky.
In keeping with the stark design of the temple, even these extravagant displays are marked by almost militaristic order and precision.
The same rapid rise to prosperity that inspired the popularity of Wat Dhammakaya also underlies the political divisions and outbreaks of violence that have shaken Thailand in recent years.
Those divisions are being held in check by a military junta that seized power in 2014. “When you have hundreds of thousands of devotees, some people with power would be scared of that,” Phra Pasura said.
He compared the Dhammakaya movement to the populist rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, a prime minister who was ousted in another coup, in 2006, and now lives in exile.
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In a crowded corner of London’s Dover Street Market, the Chinese designer Renli Su is standing in front of her eponymous collection: one rail carrying embroidered dresses, jackets and skirts in a creamy, warm beige. “I heard they sell very quick this season,” she confides, quietly.
Su grew up in Fujian Province, “near the seaside,” and studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing; she arrived at the London College of Fashion’s MA program in 2010, and founded her label after graduation (fall/winter 2016 is the seventh collection). Her aesthetic is informed by her fascination with fashion history — something that she had only limited access to in China, where many garments were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In London, at the city’s vintage fairs and markets, she has been able to get up close for the first time with 19th- and early 20th-century textiles. “After I came here, I found so many clothes from the Victorian era,” she says. She’s intrigued by what old clothing can reveal about social history, and she observes the pieces with an academic eye for detail.
The influence of the past is evident in Su’s separates and dresses for fall/winter, which are mostly monochrome: cream cottons and linens hand-embroidered with tiny cream flowers and branches. They have a roomy elegance; their distinctive shape, she says, comes from an ancient Chinese method of pattern cutting, in which fabrics are cut flat, on a table, rather than on a three-dimensional model. The pieces reward those who look closely: they are immaculately finished and lined, with neatly gathered waists, slashed sleeves and velvet-ribbon hems. They also have a reassuring weight — some pieces have three layers.
Su thinks carefully about her customers, who are young people largely based in the UK, Japan and New York. “I’m 30 now, but my biggest customer base is 18 to 25, so we don’t want to make them look old — they still need to be very active and very bright,” she says. She believes they’re “independent” people — gallery staff and students. “They’re happy to wear something with more character, and show their characters, and they’re happy to have a lot of fabric, so the silhouette is very big.” On this weekday morning, she herself is dressed discreetly, in a Breton-striped T-shirt and navy cardigan.
For a line that has amassed numerous stockists (including Dover Street Market New York, Opening Ceremony and LN-CC), Su has kept a relatively low profile in the fashion world so far. But the designer is ready to take things up a level, she says: She intends to expand the collection, add men’s wear pieces and eventually offer shoes. For now, she’s concentrating on new accessories — her spring/summer ’17 collection will introduce bags.
These plans are outlined in the measured tone of a designer who seems to have very little ego; in fact, one of the key inspirations for the brand is Su’s own practice of Tibetan Buddhism. “I like humble, quiet, subtle things,” she explains. “I like to transfer it to the collection: I believe people can feel it.”
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Religious minorities in the United States are far more likely to have attended college or a vocational school than members of the Christian majority, according to a review of census and survey data from 151 countries released on Tuesday that found wide gaps in education among followers of the world’s major religions.
The review was based on data from 2010 and was conducted by the Pew Research Center, which also found an education gap between men and women within religious groups. The researchers said the educational differences among the faiths were rooted in immigration policies that favor the educated, as well as in political, economic and historical factors.
There were 267 million Christians in the United States when the data was collected, but only 36 percent of them had a postsecondary education, including college or a vocational school, the researchers said. That made them the least-educated religious group in the country.
Jews in the United States were more than twice as likely as Christians to have a postsecondary degree, and Hindus were almost three times as likely, Pew said. Buddhists, Muslims and those who said they were religiously unaffiliated were also more likely to have a college degree than those who identified themselves as Christians.
Conrad Hackett, the lead researcher, said that Christians in the United States were among the best-educated Christians on the planet but that only 20 percent of Christians worldwide had a postsecondary degree. Those in North America had 12.7 years of schooling on average, higher than the average of 9.3 years among Christians globally.
“There are other countries where Christians are more likely to have a postsecondary degree, but the United States stacks up quite well in that regard,” Mr. Hackett said. “It’s just that these minority populations are really quite exceptional.”
That is largely a byproduct of immigration policies that favor highly educated and highly skilled applicants who have the financial means to set up life in a new country, he said. Eighty-seven percent of Hindus in the United States and 64 percent of Muslims were born overseas, compared with 14 percent of Christians, according to the report.
The opposite was true in most European countries, however, where Muslim communities have grown in recent years largely as a result of the arrival of refugees or low-skilled migrants. The largest gap was in Germany, where Muslims had, on average, 4.2 years less education than non-Muslims.
In some smaller European countries — including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal and Slovakia — Muslims were more highly educated than non-Muslims, partly as a result of immigration systems that favored highly skilled applicants, the report said.
The study also found a connection between education levels and the number of people who described themselves as having no religious faith, Mr. Hackett said. In the United States, the religious tended to be less educated than the nonreligious, he said.
“The higher the level of education in a country, the larger the share of people with no religion tends to be,” he said. “Atheists and agnostics, or people with no religion in particular, have higher education levels than the religiously affiliated do in the U.S.”
Worldwide, Jews were the most highly educated major religious group, with an average of 13.4 years of schooling, while Hindus and Muslims were the least educated, with an average of 5.6 years each, according to the report.
The report said that Buddhists attended school for an average of 7.9 years, Christians for an average of 9.3 years, and the religiously unaffiliated for an average of 8.8 years.
The gender gap was widest among Hindus, with women receiving 2.7 years less education on average than men, and Muslims, whose women received 1.5 years less education. Buddhist women received 1.1 years less education than men, Christian women received 0.4 years less, and unaffiliated women received 0.8 years less. There was no educational gender gap among Jews, the researchers said.
Geography is a major factor in determining the level of educational attainment for all religious groups and helps explain the wide gap between Hindus and Jews, Pew said.
Most Jews live in two wealthy countries with generally high education levels: the United States and Israel. The vast majority of Hindus — 98 percent — live in three developing countries with weak education systems: India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Hindus living outside those three countries enjoy high rates of educational attainment; 87 percent of Hindus living in North America have college degrees.
Geography also explains differences in educational attainment within religious groups. For example, Muslims in the wealthy countries of Europe and North America have more years of schooling than Muslims in the Middle East, Asia or Africa, the report said.
The same holds true for Christians, the world’s most widely dispersed faith, with 2.2 billion adherents spread across every inhabited continent. Christians in Europe and North America had higher education levels than those in poorer countries, but the group also had high education levels as a whole. The study found that 67 percent of them had some secondary or postsecondary education in 2010, and 91 percent had received a formal education at some level.
The study includes data from 151 countries, which Pew said represented 95 percent of the 3.6 billion people in the world who were over the age of 25 in 2010. It did not measure the quality of people’s education, focusing instead on the number of years they were enrolled in school.
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BANGKOK — In the latest violence in a vicious low-intensity war in southern Thailand, Muslim separatist militants shot dead six civilians over the last 24 hours, the Thai military said on Wednesday.
The dead, killed in six separate episodes, included two village chiefs, two Muslim civilians and a civilian militia member who was gunned down on his motorcycle with his wife in the southern provinces of Pattani and Narathiwat.
The Pattani police commissioner, Maj. Gen. Thanongsak Wangsupa, told Agence France-Presse that he believed the attacks were in retaliation for a series of arrests of militants in recent days. He said eight more people had been arrested after the killings.
“This is the pattern that we have observed for many years,” said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of the Center for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity at Prince of Songkla University.
A cycle of retaliation begins, he said, as militants attack so-called soft targets like markets.
More than 6,000 people have died on both sides of the conflict between ethnic Malay Muslims and ethnic Thai Buddhists since the killings began to escalate in 2004. Analysts like Professor Srisompob say they see “no solution to the tit-for-tat killings.”
With peace talks leading nowhere, he said, “They remain in the same pattern.”
The conflict grows out of Thailand’s annexation of heavily Muslim Malay provinces in the deep south of the country more than a century ago.
About six million of Thailand’s 67 million people are Muslim, most of them living in the five southernmost provinces.
They say that they have suffered discrimination in jobs and education, that they receive inadequate government assistance, and that their language and culture are being stifled and neglected.
The latest insurgency broke out in 2004 after the government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra militarized the southern zone, taking a hard line that was met by stubborn resistance.
Targeted killings by insurgents like those this week, along with more deadly bomb attacks in crowded places, have increased the death toll.
According to the rights group Human Rights Watch, separatists have killed at least 175 teachers in 11 years of insurgency, claiming they were representatives of the central government and Buddhist culture. They have continued to assault civilians in bomb attacks, roadside ambushes, drive-by shootings and assassinations.
In a strong statement after a series of bombings in August, Human Rights Watch said, “Such attacks are war crimes, but the apparent planning behind them suggests crimes against humanity.”
Thai security forces, for their part, have committed numerous illegal killings, torture and other abuses for which they have not been prosecuted.
As many as 90 percent of those killed have been civilians, both Muslim and Buddhist, the group said.
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Men sporting shaved heads and robes who impersonate Buddhist monks and aggressively panhandle for donations are once again proliferating in New York City and countries around the world, the authorities said.
Reports of the fake monks spiked two years ago, then waned. But now they are back in force from Times Square to the High Line, the public park built on an old elevated rail line on Manhattan’s West Side.
The panhandling is not limited to New York City, however. Reports of the men have surfaced in San Francisco, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India and Nepal, officials said.
Their tactics follow a familiar script: Hold out a beaded bracelet or gold-colored medallion featuring a Buddhist saying to a passer-by, get the person to take it, then ask for a donation. Those who offer too little money or nothing at all have the items snatched back and risk being shouted at, The Associated Press reported.
On June 20, the High Line put up three posters and signs in its bathrooms and elevators warning visitors not to give to the impersonators after administrators received complaints. Aggressive panhandling is prohibited in New York.
The signs appear to have been effective, said Robert Hammond, executive director and co-founder of Friends of the High Line. The signs did not scare away the beggars but they did educate visitors, who became less inclined to give, leading to reduced donations to the impersonators, he said.
“What we decided to do is put that information out there and let people decide,” Mr. Hammond said in an interview on Wednesday.
The men targeted out-of-towners, he said, adding that his office staff had a rule of thumb for watching the interactions: Each second a visitor was willing to talk to one of the robed men was equal to 50 miles away from New York City that the person probably lived. New Yorkers would not give the men even a second’s worth of their time, Mr. Hammond added.
Those who have monitored the panhandling said it appeared the men were colluding as part of some larger network. The medallions they offer are the same worldwide, they do not appear to compete with each other for turf and have been seen counting their money together.
While begging and donations are a tradition in Buddhism, aggressive panhandling and abusive behavior are not acceptable to most practitioners, experts agreed.
The Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, president of the Buddhist Council of New York, said he became aware of the fake monks three years ago when they appeared in Chinatown. After word circulated to withhold contributions, the impersonators left the neighborhood, he said in an interview Tuesday.
“Stop doing it if you’re not a monk,” he said of soliciting donations. “This is disrespectful what you are doing.”
William Edelglass, a professor at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vt., who teaches Buddhist studies and who taught Western philosophy to Tibetan monks in India, said in an interview on Tuesday that he has seen the impersonators shake down Western tourists in India and Nepal. From what he has seen in his travels, he said the practice is now more common than it was years ago.
Many Westerners cannot tell the difference between authentic monks and impostors. Gift-giving is one of the religion’s virtues, and donating to the monks is a chance for lay people to build “karmic merit,” he said.
It was not uncommon to see monks lined up in places like Boudhanath, Nepal, chanting a ritual text and politely holding their begging bowls for offerings. In that setting, a fake monk using strong-arm tactics would be called out because such approaches are so outside traditional practices, he said.
On Wednesday, days after news reports warning about the fake monks, two men with shaved heads and wearing mustard-yellow robes walked slowly along Eighth Avenue near 42nd Street.
They approached pedestrians, holding medallions and seeking donations they said were for a Buddhist temple. When pressed for details about where he was from and what temple would benefit from the contributions, one of the men indicated he did not speak English. He smiled, said “peace” and then walked away.
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In the Tibetan regions ruled by China, one religious institute stands out — Larung Gar, in the county of Sertar. There, thousands of monks and nuns live in rows of cells that sprawl across the undulating hills. It has been described as the largest Buddhist institute on the planet.
But Chinese officials have begun demolishing many of the monastic homes, in another attempt to shape and control Tibetan culture and religious life, say representatives of two Tibetan advocacy groups outside China. The decades-old monastery, in northern Sichuan Province, is also a popular destination for Chinese Buddhists.
Demolition work began last week, and images of bulldozers and piles of rubble have circulated on social media, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, based in Washington. The lamas in charge of the institute have urged people in the area to stay calm, the group said.
“Larung Gar in Sertar has become increasingly prominent in both Tibet and China in recent years as a vital center for the study, practice and promotion of Buddhist teachings otherwise difficult to access or nonexistent in regular monasteries and nunneries due to restrictions put in place by the Chinese government,” the group said.
The institute houses about 10,000 people; official orders say no more than 5,000 should be living there after the demolitions.
Free Tibet, a group based in London, said the demolitions began at 8 a.m. on July 20, when a Chinese work team accompanied by police officers and government officials arrived.
On a news site of Garze Prefecture, where the institute is, Hua Ke, a senior provincial official, said in an article posted in June that this was a construction year for Larung Town. It would be turned from a village into a town, he said.
In addition, he said, “the goal is to build a Buddhism-practicing place that is more orderly, beautiful, safe and peaceful, so that Buddhist practitioners will be more at ease, learners will be more focused, and elderly people living their retired life here will feel more comfortable.”
He added, “Meanwhile, it is also for accelerating the urbanization and construction of Larung Town.”
The same official article said that the site was a mess and that it would “be badly threatened if torrential rain or geological disasters such as landslides and mudslides happen.”
“The living areas and toilets are scattered with rubbish and have a foul smell, posing hygiene concerns in the summer and dangers if major epidemics break out,” the article continued.
The article also said there had been nine fires at the institute recently. One, in January 2014, destroyed rooms, injured monks and nuns and resulted in an economic loss of 2.3 million renminbi, or about $344,000.
Calls to offices at the monastery this week have gone unanswered.
This month, Human Rights Watch issued a statement demanding that China suspend plans to demolish buildings at Larung Gar.
Officials are restricting access to the area for foreigners. One of the last foreign journalists to work around Sertar, Kevin Frayer of Getty Images, took photographs of the Bliss Dharma assembly, an annual conclave that temporarily increases the number of people at the institute.
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“I don’t feel a thing,” he said. I nodded: “Your meditation must be really strong.”
He shook his head and said, “OxyContin.” Then he looked into my eyes with a clear, almost startled expression and said: “Hey, I love your book. How can I help?” I refused all his generous offers but one, and he wrote the book’s foreword.
He had a decades-long relationship with our teacher, the Roshi, and it was my privilege to witness these two powerful men “make relationship,” as Roshi would say.
I think Roshi liked having Jikan around because Jikan did not make any demands on him. They could just sip tea in silence. (Once people start talking, they inevitably start fighting, Roshi said.)
One afternoon, Roshi, 106 years old by then, diminished by both age and a sex scandal that devastated our community and his reputation, had an accident in his adult diapers. As I took Roshi to the bathroom, Jikan filled a basin with warm water, removed his suit coat and cuff links, and rolled up his crisp white sleeves.
“Jikan, I can do that part,” I said.
“I wouldn’t think of it,” he said.
I helped Roshi stand while Jikan knelt behind him and gently wiped him clean.
Watching Jikan serve our teacher, unobsequiously and with intelligence, care and respect, helped take the sting out of my own failures as a writer and as a man. You learn that there is something greater than artistic success when you see a great artist humbling himself. Jikan, like any good monk, was devoted to what his teacher was devoted to.
He and Roshi had a similar project, a shared vision: Roshi taught it, Leonard sang it. With none of Leonard’s eloquence or Roshi’s wisdom at my disposal, I would describe it as the union of contrary things — and then their separation again, and the struggle in between.
In different ways, they each gave their lives to breaking and maintaining silence on what Buddhists call the Great Matter and what Roshi called True Love. Was Leonard an artist consumed by despair? No, his work was shot through with the opposite of despair.
But in Leonard’s world, the opposite of despair was not hope — it was clarity. From this clarity came the vision of a prophet: “I’ve seen the future, brother/It is murder.”
The penultimate time I saw Jikan, I was getting lunch on Larchmont Street with an old friend from my Hollywood screenwriting days. I had given him a copy of my book. Only one thing about it impressed him: “Dude, I can’t believe you know Leonard Cohen!”
We left the pizza parlor, turned the corner, and who should be sitting at a table outside a burger restaurant but Jikan Leonard Cohen himself. He had an office nearby, and we spent the afternoon brainstorming about how to revitalize the monastery now that our teacher was dead.
“What if you put in a rifle range and get a bunch of young guys up there?” Jikan said. “Man, if I were 15 minutes younger, I’d join you.”
Yes, rifles. For all the self-satisfied liberals who want to claim him as one of their own, I’m sorry, but Leonard Cohen belongs to everyone. Once, when we were waiting in the lobby at the doctor’s office, he said: “My National Rifle Association hat came in the mail today. I looked at the tag. I couldn’t believe it: Made in China!”
After I rearranged my jaw on my face from its descent to the floor, I said, “You’re an N.R.A. member?”
He kept starting straight ahead. “Let’s keep that between us,” he said.
I think of that episode now, during our current historical moment. I have no idea how Jikan would have voted in the past election, but if there was anyone who could hold both extremes in his hand and heart, it was the man who, for the last words on his last album, chose these: “I wish there was a treaty we could sign/… I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine.”
For an artist informed by a vision of True Love, opposite forces and peoples are just different kinds of love trying to meet. Jikan sang of and from the longing in this struggle.
The last time I saw him, he looked epiphanic and light, as if he were disappearing. There was great pain in his eyes, and his breath was heavy.
He told me that during his stay in India after his years at our Zen monastery, something clicked and he found a peace inside that had never left him. “This stuff works,” he said. “Somehow everything I’ve been doing all these years comes down to the work I did with Roshi.”
He played his new album for me. At the end, gorgeous, soft strings set the tone, lulling you into a drifting, pensive melancholy. Then his voice emerges with the wish for a treaty of love. He sat in silence before me, this aged, tiny, impeccably dressed poet, his black fedora tilted lightly on his head, his voice booming all around us.
When I heard those final lines, it was like he split me open with a ray of light. My face grew hot, my heart pounded. I was sobbing inside. I knew he was saying goodbye to all of us.
I miss you, beloved brother monk and mentor. The world needs spiritual artists now more than ever. We need artists who are afraid of something other than their own failure, who bow down before something greater than likes, legacy and culture creation.
In a world filled with climbers, fakes and opportunists, from our street corners and churches all the way to Washington, D.C., you were the real deal. You alone could give voice to these dark times, but when I call your name there is only noble silence.
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China’s determination to suppress the religious life and culture of Tibetans has taken a brutal turn at Larung Gar, the world’s largest Buddhist institute, where demolition workers have been tearing apart the community’s hand-built monastic dwellings. The campaign is another blot on China’s human rights record.
For years, government officials have harshly pressed for the assimilation of Tibetan culture. That very likely only encouraged growth at Larung Gar, where an estimated 20,000 monks, nuns and believers live in a mountainside warren of red-painted dwellings. The authorities insist they are not destroying the community, in southwest China, nor forcing residents to flee — but only protecting “the personal safety and property of the monks and nuns.” If the government were interested in health and safety, it could help construct new sewers and homes to relieve the crowding. But, of course, it’s done nothing of the sort.
Amid the destruction and the noise of the chain saws, homeless nuns picked through the rubble for their possessions, Edward Wong of The Times reported. The residents say the government’s goal is to diminish the importance of Larung Gar by cutting it to perhaps 5,000 residents.
Hundreds have already been forced out, and there have been reports of protest suicides at the encampment. Citing the freedom of religion guaranteed in China’s constitution, Human Rights Watch, the independent monitoring agency, warned that the demolitions at Larung Gar and other Buddhist enclaves across the Tibetan Autonomous Region “represent a significant imposition of state power on religious institutions.”
A wiser government would keep in mind that earlier suppression galvanized an uprising across the Tibetan plateau in 2008 as residents defended their culture and religion.
Beijing’s hard-line agenda was evident earlier this year when the police detained Tashi Wangchuk, an outspoken advocate of bilingual education for Tibetans. He was accused of inciting separatism — a crime against the state that could bring 15 years in prison. Mr. Tashi argued only for what the Chinese government supposedly already guarantees — autonomy for Tibetans, not outright independence. The effort to destroy Larung Gar is further evidence of the government’s insecurity and its fear of any movement, religious or social, that it can’t fully control.
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Larung Gar was founded near the town of Sertar in 1980 by Jigme Phuntsok, a charismatic lama whose portrait is seen throughout the settlement. (A gar is a monastic encampment; it starts as a small gathering.) Then in 2001, officials evicted many of its residents, demolishing homes. But people returned.
After Jigme died in 2004, two senior lamas took over, both of whom have expanded Larung Gar’s profile, often going overseas to give talks and teachings. One of them, Sodargye, went to Europe this summer, while the other, Tsultrim Lodro, made the rounds of American universities.
The two abbots have not spoken out publicly against the demolitions, and have in fact told residents not to oppose the government. Their view, residents said, is that it is better not to protest the demolition, and instead let it run its course and live peacefully afterward.
Across Chinese-controlled Tibet, disciples of Larung Gar have been spreading the “10 new virtues” movement. Based on a Buddhist model, it advocates a retrenchment in 10 principles: no killing or selling animals, no stealing, no drinking, no feuding and so on. The doctrine is especially popular in Garze. Some practitioners wear a pendant with the image of a white pigeon, and officials have noticed their religious activism.
For some Tibetan nomads, these tenets filtering down from Larung Gar’s two abbots make life more difficult, since much of their economy relies on the herding and sale of animals, particularly yaks. “These lamas are respected very much, but some Tibetans do not agree with the policies of the lamas,” said Katia Buffetrille, a Tibet scholar at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris.
Monks from Larung Gar have traveled across Garze to try to defuse local conflicts and help with issues of social justice. In the grasslands area of Lhagong, called Tagong in Chinese, monks helped residents draft paperwork when they wanted to protest a large lithium mine.
But residents of the region said the authorities were not happy with such activity. “They want to control Tibetans,” said a man from Garze who has visited Larung Gar multiple times. “They don’t want the monastery to develop too quickly.”
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