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China cancels famed Buddhist academy’s annual prayer festival for third successive year

The Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Academy in twilight times, Serta (Chinese: Seda) County of Karze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, Tibet. (Photo courtesy: balancedachievement.com)
The Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Academy in twilight times, Serta (Chinese: Seda) County of Karze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, Tibet. (Photo courtesy: balancedachievement.com)

(TibetanReview.net, Oct27, 2018) – As it keeps strengthening its so-called Sinicization of religion campaign, China has, for the third year in a row, cancelled a major prayer festival at the famed Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Serta County of Sichuan Province. The academy had, at one time, up to 40,000 students, including Tibetans, Chinese and others. China has since demolished residences and expelled monks and nuns on massive scales to localize and reduce the total strength to just 5000 students and practitioners.

The prayer festival, known as the Dechen Shedrub, was cancelled by a notification dated Oct 16 which said no more large religious gatherings should be held there. It said Larung Gar was a place for religious study rather than religious practice, and that devotees from other areas were no longer welcome there. As a result, only monks already resident at Larung Gar were allowed to chant prayers at the festival time.

Following large-scale demolitions and expulsions, China imposed direct communist party control over Larung Gar in 2017. A total of 200 atheist cadres appointed in Aug 2017 are now in charge of the management, finances, security, admissions, and even the choice of textbooks at the academy.

Last year, officials gave a different set of reasons for cancelling the festival. “Last year, [the authorities] made various excuses to ban the prayer festival, saying for instance there was ongoing construction, that it would be detrimental to security, and other things,” a former monk from Tibet who saw the official notice circulating online was quoted as saying.

And he has continued, according to Washington based International Campaign for Tibet, Oct 25, “But the notice this year simply says that as Larung Gar is a ‘mid-level’ Nyingma institute, meaning that it was founded more recently than ancient institutions such as Samye monastery, no major religious gatherings will be held there. The official notice underlines the function of Larung Gar as religious education.”

The Dechen Shedrub religious festival otherwise falls this year on Oct 30 and it lasts around eight days, attracting participants from far and wide.

Following the party takeover, China designated one area of Larung Gar as an ‘institute’ or academy with a maximum of 1,500 residents, mainly monks, and another one as a monastery with a maximum of 3,500 residents, mainly nuns. Those monks and nuns were required to be local residents.

Although the academy was famed for its ecumenical approach, the Oct 16 notification has described the Serta Five Sciences Buddhist Institute as one of Kardze Prefecture’s mid-level training centres for the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, responsible for Tibetan-language Buddhist instruction work. Hence “it is not a principal actor which can host any Buddhist activities”.

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