Dharamshala — China is planning to demolish residences at one of the world's largest Buddhist monasteries in eastern Tibet (Ch. Sichauan Province) because the authorities say the community is in need of "ideological guidance."
The government order was issued to Larung Gar monastery by the Serta county government and requires the monastery's population to be slashed from over 10,000 monks, nuns, and laypeople to just 5,000 by September 2017.
The institution will also be forced to accept joint management with the government, a regulation similar to what has been imposed on many other Tibetan monasteries.
According to reports from within China these new restrictions are being implemented due to health and safety concerns over the size of the community and due to possible fire risks.
In a statement issued by Human Right Watch, Sophie Richardson, China director said: "China's authorities should not be determining the size of monasteries or any other religious institution, but should accept that religious freedom means letting people decide for themselves their religious practices.
"If authorities somehow believe that the Larung Gar facilities are overcrowded, the answer is simple: allow Tibetans and other Buddhists to build more monasteries."
While China's constitution does require the state to guarantee freedom of religious belief, it has regularly undermined this right. Since the occupation of Tibet China has closed a large number of Tibet's monasteries, jailed thousands of monks and banned images of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In March 2010 the Tibetan Spiritual Leader said China is detaining monks and nuns and depriving them of the opportunity to study and practice in peace. He also accused China of attempting to "deliberately annihilate Buddhism".
The authorities have also taken action against Christian churches in southeast China and implemented restrictions on the Muslim community in Xinjiang province.
Richardson added: "The order to demolish much of Larung Gar monastery is a step backward in the government's policy on religion. By imposing such stringent demands on such a prominent monastery, the government is raising alarms for religious institutions across China."
Government authorities previously attempted to reduce the size of the community through the demolition of homes in 2002. However, the incident caused embarrassment for China after it was caught on camera and resulted in international attention. The community has since grown without further interference.
It wasn't the first time the Chinese authorities brought up the issue, they have ordered the Buddhist Institute, to put a check on its enrollment last August and around 1,000 monks, who study at the monastery forcefully placed under house arrest. The officials have also specified the Institute started by late Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok as a hub for those who disseminate information to ‘exile separatist forces.’
The Monastery, founded by late Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, a highly respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher, housed 10,000 students, chiefly comprising of monks, nuns, lay vow-holders, and tantric practitioners, including students not only from Serta and other regions of Tibet but also from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other places. The institute played an important in revitalising the teaching of Tibetan Buddhism following China’s liberalisation of religious practice in 1980.
After meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his India tour in mid-90s, khenpo became a target for the Chinese authorities. Subsequently, in 1999 the authorities ordered him to reduce his then 8,800-student population to the permitted number of 1,400 which he refused. Khenpo died on January 6, 2004 in a hospital in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province at the age of 72. But The Institute remained the hallmark of Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the County.