Tibetan Buddhist centres shut down under suspected Chinese pressure


The Bodhi Institute of Compassion and Wisdom, a worldwide network of Tibetan Buddhist centres founded by a senior abbot of the Larung Gar Academy in China’s Sichuan province has been closed down.

Followers of the centre suspect Chinese pressure behind the move, a Tibetan advocacy group said on Thursday, January 02.

Founder Khenpo Sodargye, has declared the centre officially closed on December 30, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in a statement.

The move followed separate interrogations by Chinese authorities of the Khenpo and another Larung Gar leader, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro in November, ICT said, adding that claims of “illegal activities” carried out in the Bodhi Institute’s name are believed by some centre followers to have been scripted by China.

A close disciple of Larung Gar’s founder Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, Khenpo Sodargye had recently travelled and taught widely around the world, founding centres and gaining new students, ICT said.

“The closure of Sodargye’s international centres may represent an effort to restrict his religious and moral influence, which has grown in recent years,” ICT said, noting that the Khenpo had been featured in 2014 on the cover of China’s Renwu Zhoukan (People’s Weekly) magazine.

In language promoted by Chinese political re-education campaigns targeting Tibetan monks and nuns, Khenpo Sodargye said in his December 30 announcement that he will “continue to love the nation as well as the religion,” adding that all announcements or fundraising appeals made in the Institute’s name should now be disregarded.

Many thousands of Tibetans and Han Chinese once studied at Larung Gar in Sichuan’s Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county, making it one the world’s largest and most important centres for the study of Tibetan Buddhism.

In April 2019, Chinese authorities closed Larung Gar to new enrolments, declaring that no new residents may now be admitted to live and study there, sources told RFA in an earlier report.

The move followed a years-long campaign of expulsions of monks and nuns and demolition of their dwellings that had seen thousands already living at the sprawling study centre forced to leave and forbidden to return.

Walls were also built around large sections of Larung Gar, and three checkpoints put in place, to prevent unauthorized entry, sources said.

During 2017 and 2018, at least 4,820 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns were removed from Larung Gar, with over 7,000 dwellings and other structures torn down beginning in 2001, according to sources in the region.

The expulsions and demolitions at Larung Gar, along with restrictions at Yachen Gar, another large Buddhist centre in Sichuan, are part of “an unfolding political strategy” aimed at controlling the influence and growth of these important centres for Tibetan Buddhist study and practice, ICT said in a March 13, 2017 report. (Source: RFA)