The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the Chinese government’s imminent destruction of the Buddhist monastery Larung Gar.
The current population of Larung Gar is estimated at 20,000, and the government wishes to reduce that to 5,000. No one knows why, and the government isn’t saying. Housing will be bulldozed, monks and nuns will be homeless.
Larung Gar isn’t just important as a holy site and teaching academy, although both those are certainly true. Its influence, and the example it sets for the rest of us and humanity, runs far deeper.
I first visited Larung Gar in the summer of 1999; completely unplanned and unexpected, the experience changed my life forever. I was already in China studying Qi Gong, when one of our Chinese medicine instructors told me he was heading to Larung Gar after our course was over. He was the personal physician for his teacher Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, the reincarnated teacher of great spiritual, scholarly, and moral authority and head of the monastery. On a whim, I asked if I could join him. He said yes, and seven of us students in all were given permission to go. The monastery is in an extremely isolated part of China, and part of our arduous 20-hour journey meant traveling on rutted livestock trails.
For many of the monks and nuns there, it was their first time ever seeing westerners. They were curious about how we looked, but also in awe as to how we actually made it there. We arrived tired and hungry, and were welcomed with immense warmth and generosity. It was such a faraway place, it was almost like a dream.
The monastery is so rustic and remote, that the outhouses are actually a quarter mile hike from the main buildings. I remember walking there at night, and the beauty and peace that permeated the place, with a sky so close and full of stars I swore I could just reach up and grab one.
Amidst this physical beauty was a different kind of beauty, a blanket of prayer for compassion and kindness. These monks prayed all day and night for the benefit of all sentient beings. There was a low level hum of prayer 24 hours a day, as more than 10,000 monks prayed for the betterment of all of us. I could feel the energy of compassion all around us. I understood how we truly are interconnected with each other and with the threads of compassion. Their prayers, day and night, were helping to strengthen those threads.
Ever since that time, whenever I have had down times in my life, I remember that feeling of compassion. I know at least one person at Larung Gar is always praying for me, 24 hours a day. What a gift.
When I read the article regarding the dismantling of Larung Gar, it really rattled me. I wanted to cry and be emotional, until I remembered one of the many teachings of the Dalai Lama. To paraphrase His Holiness, if you can do something about the physical situation, do it. However, some problems are so big that people get overwhelmed with how to take action. Anger and frustration may arise, and they can even lead to violence. His solution was to instead do the one thing you can do right now: heal the “Tibet” in your own heart.
We are all pretty good at demolishing our inner selves without any outside help. Our deluded minds can go wild with fabricated stories about ourselves. These inner stories stop us from shining brightly in this world. On top of this misled self-judgment, we then judge others. The Dalai Lama is saying to be kind in little ways, to ourselves and others.
Recently, I was walking with a friend in a park, when we came upon a young woman sitting on the sidewalk crying. She was intoxicated and right in front of us, she fell over and hit her head on the curb. In that moment, I thought, this is Tibet. Help the people right in front of you. Treat them with kindness. Well, I can be kind for sure.
My friend and I gave her water, called 911, and covered her with a blanket from the car. I clearly saw how that woman had her own demolition going on inside her. The Chinese demolishing of Larung Gar is really just a macrocosm of the microcosm.
Practice kindness. Take care of the demolition in your own heart, which only you are creating. Take care of your own Tibet, and practice simple acts of kindness to yourself and others. This is what the Dalai Lama calls compassion in action.
I have heard that the monks and nuns in Larung Gar continue to pray for all human beings on the planet, even the ones that are dismantling their humble dwellings. This has been a call for me to up the game in my own life. In my mind’s eye, I can see the monks praying as their spiritual center gets torn down. If they can stand there and practice the “middle way” in this situation, then how much better can I do in my daily life? I will continue to work on freeing the “Tibet” in my own heart. I will practice more kindness.
They can dismantle all of Larung Gar physically, but they can never dismantle what they are really cultivating there. Pure compassion.
To keep updated on Larung Gar, visit Radio Free Asia.
Author: Dr. Micaela Carew
Editor: Catherine Monkman