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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