"I earned $25,000 a year, and I had a happy family, that's what all the world wants," recalls Ye, 40, from Guangzhou in steamy south china. Two years ago, Ye gave up everything his marketing job, apartment, car, wife and child for the monastic hardships of life at Larung Gar.
"I sometimes wonder what my daughter looks like now, but I have no regrets," says Ye, despite winter temperatures of minus 10 degrees.Han Chinese students have risen from 1,000 when she arrived seven years ago to over 2,000 today, says Yuan Yi, a shaven-headed nun from southeast Fujian province. But the senior Tibetan lama they follow, Khenpo So Dargye, refused to discuss the chinese student body he heads.Such caution reflects the academy's troubled past and ongoing vulnerability. Founded in what was an uninhabited Larung valley in 1980, the institute became so popular it attracted a large-scale government assault in 2001. Hundreds of homes were demolished and thousands of residents evicted, according to exile groups.
Han students say the institute's popularity lies in its Chinese language provision and inspirational teachers such as Khenpo So Dargye, who embraces social media. Over a half-million followers, on China's Twitter-like micro-blogging service Sina Weibo, receive his posts, usually Buddhist advice.Don't expect Han converts to soften Beijing's hardline Tibet policy, cautions Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile. Their numbers are dwarfed by China's 1.3 billion population
In 1980, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok founded Serthar Institute, known as Larung Gar
Buddhist Academy, in the Larung Valley near the town of Serthar, Karze
Prefecture, Sichuan Province. The purpose of the Institute has been to provide
an ecumenical training in Tibetan Buddhism and to meet the need for renewal of
meditation and scholarship all over Tibet in the wake of china's cultural
revolution of 1966-76 .
Despite its remote location, it grew from a handful of disciples gathering in
Khenpo's home to be one of the largest and most influential centers for the
study of Tibetan Buddhism in the world, numbering to nearly 10,000 monks, nuns,
and lay disciples by the year 2000.
Overall, the student body of Serthar Institute was made up of monks, nuns, lay
"vow-holders" of both Tibetan and Chinese origins, and tantric practitioners.
They studied under four major religious divisions in the Institute: Ngarig
Nangten Lobling, International Religious Committee, Pema Khandro Duling Nunnery,
and Lektso Charbeb Ling. Ngarig Nangten Lobling consisted of 2,500 Tibetan
monks. Lektso Charbeb Ling is the section that trained over 1,000 lay Tibetan
"vow-holders" and tantric practitioners from Serthar and other regions of Tibet.
Pema Khandro Duling Nunnery was the home for study to approximately 3,500-4,000
nuns from all regions of Tibet. More than half of those who came to Serthar were
women and the curriculum allowed nuns to achieve a coveted Khenpo degree for the
first time in Tibetan history. Entry into the relatively small number of
nunneries that exist in other areas of Tibet is limited, but Serthar was open to
virtually anyone who genuinely sought to become a student of Khenpo Jigme
Phuntsok's ecumenical vision. Khenpo's niece, Jetsunma Mumso, was recognized as
a tulku, which means, literally, "emanation body" (sprul-sku). She heads the
order of nuns. The term is descriptive of certain teachers in Tibet who are
thought to reincarnate over a number of generations.
Roughly ten percent of the nearly 10,000 students attending Serthar were ethnic
chinese. They attended separate classes taught in Mandarin while larger classes
were taught in the Tibetan language. The International Religious Committee
oversaw 1,000 disciples from regions of the people's republic of china and
students from other Asian countries.
Around 1999 the sichuan united work front pressed him on the issue of his
support for the Dalai Lama, and demanded that he reduce the number of students
at the Institute (either to 150 or to 1400, depending on reports). Jigme
Phuntsok refused. In summer of 2001 several thousand members of the people's
armed police and the public security bureau descended on the site, razing its
structures and dispersed its students. The event attracted international media
attention.Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok died of heart failure in 2004, at the age of 70
in Tibet. According to the Tibetan Youth Congress, his death, much like the one
of the 10th Panchen Lama, occurred in suspicious circumstanceshttp://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/s ... m-china-co