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Larung Gar Buddhist Academy

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Overview
In 1980, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok founded the Larung Ngarig Buddhist Academy, in the Larung Valley (喇荣沟) near the township of Larung in Sêrtar County, Garzê Prefecture, Sichuan Province. The purpose of the Institute has been to provide an ecumenical training in Tibetan Buddhism and to meet the need for renewal of meditation and scholarship all over Tibet in the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

Despite its remote location, it grew from a handful of disciples gathering in Jigme Phuntsok's home to be one of the largest and most influential centers for the study of Tibetan Buddhism in the world, numbering to nearly 10,000 monks, nuns, and lay disciples by the year 2000. As of 2015, the number of residents has grown to about 40,000.

History & Background
The Sertar Institute operated with a standing executive committee of seven learned lamas, but major decisions were confirmed and implemented only after consultation with Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok.

The Sertar Institute has been home to over 500 khenpos — holders of Doctoral degrees in divinity — and is widely renowned for the high quality of both its religious and secular education. English, Chinese, and Tibetan languages and modern computer studies have been taught alongside a traditional non-sectarian Buddhist curriculum.

In August 2017, it emerged that a deputy police chief of Garze would be acting as the institute’s party secretary and director with a committee of cadres.

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Demographics
Overall, the student body of Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy is made up of monks, nuns, lay "vow-holders" of both Tibetan and Chinese origins, and tantric practitioners. They study under four major religious divisions in the Academy: Ngarig Nangten Lobling, International Religious Committee, Pema Khandro Duling Nunnery, and Lektso Charbeb Ling. Ngarig Nangten Lobling consists of 2,500 Tibetan monks. Lektso Charbeb Ling is the section that trained over 1,000 lay Tibetan "vow-holders" and tantric practitioners from Sêrtar and other regions of Tibet.

Pema Khandro Duling Nunnery is the home for study to approximately 3,500-4,000 nuns from all regions of Tibet. More than half of those who came to Sertar are women and the curriculum allows nuns to achieve a coveted Khenpo degree for the first time in Tibetan history. Entry into the relatively small number of nunneries that exist in other areas of Tibet is limited, but Sertar is open to virtually anyone who genuinely seeks to become a student of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s ecumenical vision. Khenpo’s niece, Jetsunma Mumso, is recognized as a tulku and heads the order of nuns. The term is descriptive of certain teachers in Tibet who are thought to reincarnate over a number of generations.

Roughly ten percent of the nearly 10,000 students attending Sertar are ethnic Han people. They attend separate classes taught in Standard Chinese while larger classes are taught in Amdo Tibetan. The International Religious Committee oversees 1,000 disciples from regions of the People’s Republic of China and students from other Asian countries.

Tourism
Larung Gar is outside the main tourist routes and few foreigners find their way there. Occasionally officials have prevented foreigners from visiting the institute, but in recent years it has been mostly accessible. There is one hotel on the Northern ridge line, which is most easily reached via the new construction access road from the north, avoiding the congestion on the narrow streets of the institute. There are also a simple guesthouse and a few restaurants on the main square next to the main Gompa. A new "Temple of Death" has been built at the sky burial site about one kilometer north of the institute.

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In February 2016, a photograph of Larung Gar by Hungarian photographer Attila Balogh was shortlisted for that year’s Sony World Photography Awards.

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