Tibetan Nun commits suicide as China destroys vast Buddhist religious city

Tibetan Nun commits suicide as China destroys vast Buddhist religious city August 8, 2016

Larung Gar, Tibetan city in Sichuan, at 4000m high by Valerian Guillot (Flickr CC, edited)
Larung Gar, Tibetan city in Sichuan, at 4000m high by Valerian Guillot (Flickr CC, edited)

This is Larung Gar a year ago. It is a vast monastic complex in eastern Tibet (in China’s Sichuan Province) housing as many as 40,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns (10,000 being a more likely number). Recently, it has come under scrutiny by the Chinese government and demolitions have recently begun, threatening up to half of the monastics living there.

The town has grown rapidly, from just a handful of disciples of the Tibetan teacher from the Nyingma tradition, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, in the 1980s to its current size. It currently attracts Buddhists from both Tibet and China as a site for the study and practice of Buddhist teachings. Radio Free Asia has one photo of an unspecified hillside, now mere brown rubble, claimed to have once been home to dwellings like those shown above; BBC has several more images of the destruction. They report that cell phone and internet use has been curtailed by authorities since the destruction began July 20th. Armed security forces have been present to quell any kind of formal protest, and foreigners have been denied access to the area. This has led to the blackout of information on the suicide, which occurred as demolition began on July 20.

The suicide, by hanging, appears to be the first sign of the despair felt by Tibetans in the city. Reports state that structures are being destroyed at a rate of 200 per day, and exiled Tibetans have urged various UN agencies to intervene, with no results yet. Human Rights Watch has called on China to halt the demolition.

RFA reports on the nun, Rinzin Dolma:

She lived on Pema Khado Road inside the Larung Gar complex, he said.

“Rinzin Dolma was from the Dege region, and she was studying at the complex as a regular student,” the source said. “She left a note behind in which she wrote about how she could not bear the pain of the endless Chinese harassment of innocent Buddhists who quietly studied at the institute.”

“She also left some money that she requested in the note to be handed over the institute,” he said.

Strict controls on communication in the region prevented news of the suicide from reaching the outside world at the time.

While suicide is generally considered immoral (as with the taking of any life) in Tibetan Buddhism, most Buddhists will refuse to condemn acts seen as heroic self-sacrifice. The practice of self-immolation has been particularly widespread in the face of Chinese oppression in Tibet, with about 138 reported self-immolations between February 2009 and April 2015. The Dalai Lama’s words on the topic were:

This is a very, very delicate political issue. Now, the reality is that if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me. If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their own life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong. So the best thing is to remain neutral.

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