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The largest Buddhist settlement in the world is in China

By Becky Pemberton, The Daily Mail, 19 April 2015

Inside the village where 40,000 monks and nuns are segregated and televisions are banned... but iPhones are allowed

Larung Gar, China -- Among the green rolling hills in the Larung Gar Valley in China, the last thing you would expect to see in the countryside are thousands of red wooden huts that have been built in a massive cluster.

<< Larung Gar Buddhist Academy is home to 40,000 monks and nuns, who travel to the settlement of Sertar to study Tibetan Buddhism

Despite its secluded location it is home to the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, the world's largest Buddhist settlement.

A vibrant splash of red, this colourful settlement has sprung up in the 1980s and is now a haven for over 40,000 monks and nuns. 

The sprawling settlement, Sertar, sits on elevations of 12,500ft, and the religious devotees battle harsh climates to study at the remote dwelling.

The wooden huts are built so closely together, they look like a red sea spreading up the hilly terrain.

Conditions are basic, with residents having to share communal toilets, and each unheated hut ranging from one to three rooms in size.

An isolated religious haven, Sertar is located around 370 miles from Chengdu, and those wishing to visit have to travel by coach for a gruelling 20 hours.

TVs are prohibited at the picturesque retreat, with monks and nuns flocking to benefit from the studies, prayers and lectures ran at the academy.

Photographer Wanson Luk journeyed to the secluded location from Chengdu on a 20-hour bumpy coach ride.

The 34-year-old Buddhist said the Larung Area has two small guest houses, but as these were occupied, he had to stay near the entrance.

He stayed two days at the Buddhist centre, taking part in ceremonies.

Luk said that the settlement welcomes everyone, and they maintain their life in the hills from donations and by small businesses like the guest house or small grocery store.

'I was most surprised about how people feel about death,' Luk said.

'I took part in the sky burial ceremony where there were hundreds or thousands of condors waiting quietly. There were 7 corpses on that day...one of them was a child.

'During the ceremony a monk will pray then the "sky burial master" will start cutting the corpses. When he is done, the condors will all fly to the corpses

'They believe the more the condors eat, the better it is and they will not eat bad people's body.'

One encounter which struck a chord for Luk was the meeting of a nun who was on her 'no speech day'.

When the photographer was asking how to get to the top of the hill for night shots she resorted to all forms of gestures to try to assist.

She ended up taking him around the whole monastery, showing him how to spin the prayer wheels and teaching him how to pray.

Although TVs are prohibited in the monastery, iPhones strangely are permitted, with her typing words to instruct him as they went.

Many of the Buddhists own second-hand iPhone 4s.

The incredible academy was established in 1980 in the uninhabited valley by Jigme Phuntsok, an influential lama of the Nyingma tradition.

Despite its remote situation, Larung Gar evolved from a handful of disciples to be the largest Buddhist settlement in the world.

It attracts a mix of students from ethnic Chinese students to pupils from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, who attend separate classes taught in Mandarin, while larger classes are taught in Tibetan.



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