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The World’s Premier Monastery – and Best Slum – 90xtra


We designed a late commence for Larung Gar, the world’s greatest monastery and arguably the world’s highest slum as nicely. It was snowing and our van skidded and swerved on the icy highway.

The entrance to Larung was dismal. Stagnant swimming pools of water had formed in this article and there, avenue urchins and canines were roaming about aimlessly, and veggies rotted in all places. But as soon as we acquired out of the motor vehicle, we at last recognized the true scale and magnificence of Larung — hills upon hills of crimson crimson, an unlimited cluster of pink homes, almost similar, all very small, just huge ample to consist of a small bed and a baggage bag — resembling a number of thousand crimson Lego blocks pressed on to the earth.

The Larung monastery, located in Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province, was opened in 1980 by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok. Legend held that Khenpo arrived out of his mother’s womb in a meditational posture and recited Manjushri’s mantra instantly thereafter. Khenpo envisioned Larung as a university city the place monks, nuns, and laypeople from all over Tibet could appear and study. As the Chinese government’s perspective towards religion grew to become much more calm, Larung spread like an amoeba above these hills to accommodate far more than 10,000 people.

Most of the shacks at Larung have been cubicles that went about 2 meters in every dimension, with just more than enough house for a compact bed, a stove, and a chimney. There was no heating and the showers and the toilets have been communal, separate for men and gals. It was difficult to consider any type of luxury in these kinds of a point out of residing. Larung was a location purely designed for religion or an escape from desperation.

We arrived across a group of monks who have been setting up a new dwelling.

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“It can take 5 or six days to establish this sort of a household below,” just one of the younger monks discussed. “You fork out 7,000-8,000 yuan to purchase one thing like this. The rate receives much less expensive as just one goes greater up in the mountains — which is wherever the youngsters remain. Previously, you could get a area for even 3,000 yuan. But these days, anything is high-priced.”

We asked the monk about the abundance of soggy biscuits and rotten food items that we experienced viewed on the rooftops.

“People just throw issues out of their kitchens,” the monk smiled. “Or they feed birds and cats to achieve benefit and then neglect to clean up up.”


These days, there are probably close to 4,000 to 5,000 people in Larung — no just one was selected (formal constraints seemingly constrained the number of citizens to a most of 2,000). They had been all immigrants below, coming from throughout the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau and past. They were of all ages, from 5 to 100. Almost 50 percent of the inhabitants were ladies. About 10 to 20 % of the citizens had been Han. The paved highway split the settlement by gender — the nuns stayed to the suitable, the monks to the still left. There were laypeople also they ran compact outlets or begged the travellers for dollars.

Around the principal temple, we satisfied a Han monk. He was in his 80s but appeared solid. He utilized to be a farmer in Liaoning, a northeastern province of China.

“My daughter also lives listed here,” he explained with a snicker that was a constant on his experience. “But of training course, her house is on the other side of the street. I was uneducated. I learnt to examine only following coming right here. Previously I understood nothing. Now that I am more mature and can read, I realize a ton more about Buddhism.”

“I bought a house in this article a few many years previously. Also, we get dollars for attending classes in this article,” he laughed. “I pass up most of them but every time I truly feel brief of dollars, I go and show up at a several lessons.”

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A group of youthful Tibetan ladies broke into our discussion to beg for money. Rather of asking us, they commenced pestering the monk.

“You really should be ashamed to question me,” he mentioned as he chased them away. “You should be the a person spending me to get some merit.”

Pilgrims accomplishing ritual prostrations in Larung. Photograph by Shivaji Das.

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For lunch, we found a tiny restaurant advertising Sichuan food. A young Tibetan monk came up to me,

“Hello, how are you?” he spoke in ideal English.

Jigme and his mate sat down with us for lunch. Jigme experienced a sturdy construct and a perfect smile. He wore thick glasses and spoke in a mild voice.


“I am from Dege in eastern Tibet,” he explained. “I arrived right here in 2008 and then yet again in 2011. In among, I went to India, to Bodhgaya. When I came again, I purchased just one of the modest houses in this article.”

Jigme spent most of his times finding out.

“Over the last 1,200 decades, Tibetans went to a lot bigger depths to increase Buddhist philosophy, which they at first took from India. So there is a whole lot to study. Every single day, I get up at seven in the early morning. It is as well chilly to wake up right before that,” he claimed, smiling. “I cook dinner my food items and then go for courses. Listed here, you can discover Tibetan literature, drugs, astronomy, and culture. So there are a great deal of classes and repeated examinations. But, this thirty day period is the time when the monks acquire some time off from reports to meditate 3 to four hours every single day.”

We recalled the printouts posted on the doorways of some monk’s quarters, “I am meditating. Only knock if definitely vital.” Exclusive hotline figures had been also pasted on key intersections, to be dialed in case of an unexpected emergency if the concerned officers had been not obtainable for the reason that of their meditational obligations all through this period.

I requested Jigme about profession possibilities.

“Most just go on immediately after staying in this article a number of several years and then be part of as monks in some other temple. Only some who want to turn out to be academics remain for extensive durations to master more. As for me, I want to stay on. I want to reveal to the rest of the entire world my information and understanding of Buddhism.”

He talked about life in this sort of a slum.

“Here, life is fantastic, even however so a lot of people reside so intently alongside one another. There are lots of guidelines to hold points orderly perhaps much too lots of. But this whole place is very democratic since each individual proposal for a new rule has to be place to vote. This can guide to amusing scenarios like we experienced when over regardless of whether we can put on vests. Kham and Amdo Tibetans like to dress in vests but the central Tibetans do not so it was set to a vote.”

I questioned him if the federal government rolled in from time to time.

“Yes, officials do,” he whispered. “But these days they mostly leave us alone. Except if, they uncover an excuse. Like following the fire, they compelled most aged persons to shift to authorities-created housing down beneath. They reported it will be easier to rescue them in circumstance there was an unexpected emergency but the old now discover it really hard to come up to the lessons. The Chinese authorities doesn’t want this position to improve also big and they do not want the old and young to mingle. This is the Communist way of accomplishing points — no dialogue, just acting on what they feel is very good for other individuals.”

Tibetan Buddhists nuns in Larung. Photograph by Shivaji Das.

Just after lunch, we walked by means of the woman quarters. There were notices outside every ladies’ bathroom proclaiming, “Gentlemen, you will reduce merit if you enter the women’s toilet.”


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At a temple, we located Sangye, a teenage nun. Sangye’s father experienced died after becoming struck by lightning a number of many years again. Quickly soon after, her uncle introduced her to the monastery.

“It is much better listed here,” Sangye explained. “As superior as it could get for me perhaps. At house, they would make me do the job all day and evening. I experienced develop into so slim.”

Prior to we left, we fulfilled an additional bunch of Han monks. I questioned them about the long term of Buddhism in China, offered that it was having ever more kitschy and tacky, with an emphasis on mega shrines and Buddha parks with substantial entry selling prices and mandatory cable car rides.

Lin replied, “It’s sad but it’s accurate. It is acquiring commercialized, but you have to realize that is what the authorities is striving to do. Which is not the way we prevalent men and women practice Buddhism. In any situation, there is a developing desire in Buddhism. The tension of the materialistic lifetime in China is pushing a lot more people toward faith. I imagine Buddhism will at some point succeed in China. The previous 50 several years ended up just an anomaly.”

On our way again, we rode in a van complete of Tibetan laypeople.

We requested them about Larung and its monks. Just one of them referred to as Rambo said, “Yes, the monks are superior for our organization. That is why laypeople like us adopted them right here. But they also deliver in problems. Did you listen to about the fireplace? It was because one particular nun forgot about the hearth she experienced lit in her kitchen area. Four hundred residences ended up impacted. You can’t even rely on them to take care of on their own. How can they consider care of all of us Tibetans and mankind?”

“They are much too chaotic with Han donors,” he went on. “You will see the senior monks if you go to any pricey cafe in Sertar tonight, savoring lifestyle with their Han followers. Go to a Han cafe mainly because Han followers just can’t have Tibetan food. Our monks follow the Hans to these dining establishments simply because in Larung you just cannot cook dinner meat.”

Everyone started laughing, clapping, and screaming hysterically.

Added take note: As per most up-to-date information, foreigners are no longer allowed to go to Larung. The serious names of the individuals pointed out in the excerpt have been disguised.

This article is excerpted from “The ‘Other’ Shangri-La” by Shivaji Das, with authorization from Konark Publishers, New Delhi, India. The book is available on Amazon and Flipkart.