Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet
 0824869842, 9780824869847

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Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet

Contemporary Buddhism MARK M. ROWE, SERIES EDITOR

Architects of Buddhist Leisure: Socially Disengaged Buddhism in Asia’s Museums, Monuments, and Amusement Parks Justin Thomas McDaniel

Educating Monks: Minority Buddhism on China’s Southwest Border Thomas A. Borchert

From the Mountains to the Cities: A History of Buddhist Propagation in Modern Korea Mark A. Nathan

From Indra’s Net to Internet: Communication, Technology, and the Evolution of Buddhist Ideas Daniel Veidlinger

Soka Gakkai’s Human Revolution: The Rise of a Mimetic Nation in Modern Japan Levi McLaughlin

Guardians of the Buddha’s Home: Domestic Religion in the Contemporary Jōdo Shinshū Jessica Starling

Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet Jane E. Caple

Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet

Jane E. Caple


© 2019 University of Hawai‘i Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America 24 23 22 21 20 19   6 5 4 3 2 1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Caple, Jane E., author. Title: Morality and monastic revival in post-Mao Tibet / Jane E. Caple. Other titles: Contemporary Buddhism. Description: Honolulu : University of Hawai‘i Press, [2019] | Series:   Contemporary Buddhism | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018036132 | ISBN 9780824869847 (cloth ; alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Dge-lugs-pa (Sect)—China—Tibet Autonomous Region—Customs   and practices. | Monastic and religious life (Buddhism)—China—Tibet   Autonomous Region. | Buddhist monasteries—China—Tibet Autonomous Region. Classification: LCC BQ7576 .C37 2018 | DDC 294.3/65709515—dc23 LC record available at University of Hawai‘i Press books are printed on acid-free paper and meet the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Council on Library Resources. All photographs are by the author. Cover image: Informal debate session at a scholastic monastery, northeast Tibet.



Series Editor’s Preface

ix Acknowledgments




Notes on Romanization and Naming Practices I ntroduction : Negotiating Moral Boundaries CHAPTER ONE

M onastic R evival : A Social and Moral Reordering



M onastic R eform : The Path to “Self-Sufficiency”



M onastic T ourism : Defining Value



M onastic D evelopment T roubled T imes



M orally


M onastic R ecruitment



R etention


T he F uture of M ass M onasticism



S eeing beyond the S tate C oda


169 Notes

193 Bibliography

209 Index


Contents v Series Editor’s Preface vii Acknowledgments ix Notes on Romanization and Naming Practices 1 Introduction 1 Negotiating Moral Boundaries 1 1 19 Monastic Revival 19 A Social and Moral Reordering 19 2 38 Monastic Reform 38 The Path to “Self-Sufficiency” 38 3 68 Monastic Tourism 68 Defining Value 68 4 94 Monastic Development in Morally Troubled Times 5 122 Monastic Recruitment and Retention 122 6 145 The Future of Mass Monasticism 145 7 155 Seeing beyond the State 155 Coda 165 Notes 169 Bibliography 193 Index 209 About the Author 219



Series Editor’s Preface

state in studies of Tibet, religion, and other highly politicized issues in contemporary China?” This is the central question that drives Jane Caple’s vivid account of Geluk monastic revival and development in northeast Tibet. Though there is no denying the ongoing and pervasive force of the state since the Maoist era, Caple’s richly textured book reveals there is much more to the story. Her extensive ethnographic work at more than sixteen monasteries allows us to see beyond Buddhist revival as either resistance to or accommodation of state policies and approach it instead as deeply embedded in localized “relationships, priorities, and values that have very little to do with the state.” In exploring the shift from alms collection to economic self-sufficiency, for example, Caple produces a localized and personal account of monasteries reshaping lay/monastic relationships in terms of virtue rather than power and influence. By focusing attention on how her interlocutors express their sense of right and wrong, Caple proves them to be members of moral communities whose actions may at times line up with the demands of the state but are in no way encompassed or fully explained by state pressure. Caple’s brilliant ethnography of morality opens up exciting new avenues for understanding issues of monastic financing, construction, tourism, education, and recruitment. “IS IT POSSIBLE TO SEE BEYOND THE



THIS WORK WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE without the help of a great num-

ber of individuals. I owe my deepest gratitude to the monks and laypeople who extended such gracious hospitality, were so generous with their time, and shared their knowledge, stories, and opinions. It is to them that I dedicate this book even though, to protect their anonymity, they remain nameless. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Palden Tsering, Sonam Tsering, and their families and friends for their help, warmth, and kindness; to Tendzin Tsering, who sadly passed away in February 2011; to Lhangtsang Soldor, Jamphel Sems, Sönam Dorjé, Dowi Namlha, Kelzang, Tseringsham, and others who worked with me in the field but wish to remain anonymous; to my teacher and friend Trashi Drölma; to Sangguo for her unstinting kindness; and to Lhündrup Dorjé and Akhu for their friendship and forbearance in the face of my ­never-ending stream of questions. Research and writing would not have been possible without the backing of various institutions: the Leverhulme Trust, the British Inter-University China Centre, the White Rose East Asia Centre, the University of Manchester, the University of Leeds, Beijing Central Nationalities University, and Qinghai Nationalities University. The financial support of the Leverhulme Trust, the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is gratefully acknowledged. I would like to thank my teachers, colleagues, and friends at the universities of Leeds and Manchester who provided such a supportive environment and helped me in numerous ways over the years. Special thanks go to Flemming Christiansen, Tim Wright, and Victor T. King for their advice, guidance, and encouragement. I am also grateful to the many other scholars who have offered help and guidance at various stages of the path toward this study in its final form. I owe an enormous debt to Lama Jabb for his help in checking my translations from the Tibetan, his encouragement, and our many thought-provoking discussions and to Nicolas Sihlé, who has been both a mentor and friend. I would also like to thank Hildegard Diemberger, Alison Hardie, Anthony Fielding, ix

x  Acknowledgments

Charlene Makley, Caroline Fielder, Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, Kate Crosby, Martin Seeger, Cathy Cantwell, Peter Harvey, Soyeun Kim, and Paul Richardson for commenting on aspects of my work; Tsering Thar for his support and help; Ulrich Pagel, Tadeusz Skorupski, Robert Barnett, and Judith Nordby for their early interest and encouragement; Andrew Fischer, Gray Tuttle, Yangdon Dhondup, and Jonathan Mair, who generously shared their work; Dan Li for her Chinese proofreading; Pierre Fuller, Ioannis Gaitanidis, Gabor Gergely, Lewis Husain, and Stuart Wright for their guidance and moral support; and last but not least, Elisa Cencetti, my soul mate in the field. At the University of Hawai‘i Press, I would like to thank my editors Stephanie Chun and Mark Rowe for their enthusiasm at the outset and their patience with the unexpected delays in the manuscript’s progression to publication, as well as freelancer Rosemary Wetherold for her meticulous copyediting. The book has benefitted enormously from the comments of two reviewers, one of whom was particularly generous in offering such extensive, detailed, and thoughtful suggestions. All remaining shortcomings are my own. Finally, I would like to thank my closest friends and family in the UK: Jonty Tenniswood for being there during the endgame; Rachel Julian and “the gang,” Edward Pepper, Andrea Thompson, Tom and Gill Caple, and Eirian and Rob Cass for their constant love and support throughout; and, most of all, my mother, Connie Morgan, who has supported this endeavor in ways far too numerous to count.

Notes on Romanization and Naming Practices

“THL Simplified Phonetic Transcription of Standard Tibetan” (Germano and Tournadre 2003). This system does not always reflect the phonetics of the oral Amdo Tibetan spoken in my field areas. However, as the only relatively standard phonetic transcription system for Tibetan, I have privileged its legibility for a wider readership over the desirability of being entirely faithful to local sounds. Familiar spellings are used for places such as Shigatse and Labrang and names, such as Arjia Rinpoché. At the first occurrence of a Tibetan term, I add the transliteration in square brackets, following the so-called Wylie system. In the interests of readability, I use the short version of monastery names, but at the first occurrence I provide the full name in an endnote with the “Wylie” transliteration in square brackets, as well as the Chinese name in Pinyin. I also provide “Wylie” and, where relevant, Pinyin versions at the first mention of places and historical figures so that these are more readily identifiable to specialists, but I have not done so for pseudonyms. Chinese terms follow the Pinyin system, without the use of diacritics to indicate tones. Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Chinese terms are italicized unless a term is common in English and not treated as a foreign word (for example, lama, karma, or the Buddha). Foreign terms are Tibetan unless I have indicated that they are Chinese (Ch.) or Sanskrit (Skt.)—for example, (Ch. xin) or (Skt. siddha). To protect the anonymity of my interlocutors, I have changed all personal names. In most cases I provide relevant biographical details in the text when I refer to or cite individuals and use the same pseudonym for individuals who are cited more than once. However, in a few places I have omitted or changed details or names. Being explicit about where I have done this would defeat the purpose. TIBETAN TERMS ARE TRANSCRIBED ACCORDING TO THE


Introduction Negotiating Moral Boundaries

I FIRST MET AKHU JAMYANG IN SPRING 2009, walking through the grounds of his monastery—a large and well-respected scholastic center in Amdo (northeastern Tibet), housing several hundred monks.1 Tsering, a lay friend accompanying me, knew him and made introductions, explaining the reason for my visit: I was researching the revival and development of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries of the Geluk tradition and was particularly interested in learning more about changes in the monastic economy.2 Jamyang invited us to visit his quarters that evening but said that he had time immediately to show us some of the projects he had recently overseen as one of the monastery’s leaders. Appearing proud of his accomplishments, he led us on a fast-paced tour of some of the monastery’s new facilities, including a medical clinic and a shop. Later that evening we sat opposite Jamyang, a low table set out between us with bread and tea, talking about his life and work for the monastery. One of the first of a new generation to enter monastic life in the postMao period, he was born in the late 1960s during the Cultural Revolution. As a child, he had studied secretly with his uncle, a monk who had maintained his vows following the disbanding of monasteries in Amdo in 1958 in the wake of widespread rebellion. Jamyang was in his early teens when his monastery reopened in 1980—a process that began with the return of a handful of elders, including his uncle, one of the “great teachers” instrumental to monastic revival and in front of whom Jamyang took renunciation (rapjung [rab byung]) vows that year. He came to the monastery in 1981 and then studied for eighteen years, completing the Geluk scholastic curriculum, and held various monastic offices, finally serving a three-year term on the mon1

2  Introduction

astery’s Management Committee.3 It was toward the end of this term that we first met. Jamyang’s involvement in business development represented a shift in his attitude toward monastic financing. “We had not thought that much about developing commercial activities before,” he said, “because we don’t need much as long as we have enough to cover our basic necessities.” The monastery had relied on collecting alms from the people (mangtsok [mang tshogs]) to supplement sponsorship from patrons. Then he had gone to India on pilgrimage. He saw that the Tibetan monastic centers that had been reestablished in exile were self-supporting and ran restaurants, guesthouses, and shops.4 This led him to change his mind about the appropriate way to fund monastic activities. He and other monks encouraged donors to contribute to a capital fund, which they invested in businesses. The income is used to fund the monastery’s collective activities when there are no other sponsors. The revival and repopulation of thousands of monasteries in Tibet in the early 1980s is one of the most extraordinary stories of religious resurgence in post-Mao China. When I first entered the field in autumn 2008, I had been expecting to hear that they had needed to find new ways of surviving financially. I was aware that they had lost many of the sources of support on which they had relied before 1958 and were operating within very different political, social, and economic structures. In one of the few ethnographic studies of Tibetan monastic Buddhism in contemporary China, Goldstein (1998) provides an economic reading of the development of businesses and tourism at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa: the monastery needed to find ways to support itself without the landholdings, moneylending operations, and government funding on which it had relied in the past. I also understood that government policy stipulated that monasteries should be self-supporting. This emphasis is reflected in scholarship on contemporary Tibetan Buddhist monastic economies published in China, which takes a normative economic perspective, rooted in the framework of the state’s socialist modernist ideology and religious policy (e.g., Donggacang and Cairangjia 1995; Zhang 1996; Kai 2000; Mei 2001).5 However, Jamyang was not simply relating practical steps to secure stable income sources for his monastery in contemporary circumstances and under current state policies. What was striking in conversations with him and other monks was that they were involved in a continual evaluation and reevaluation of what was right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate for monasteries, monks, and the laity in a world undergoing rapid transformation, not least through wider processes of globalization and economic marketization. Issues of monastic economy were, fundamentally, moral issues. Moreover, it became clear that issues of monastic financing were inseparable from concerns about “development” in a much broader sense: the advancement of

Introduction  3

monasteries in what were seen as an increasingly materialistic society and— morally as well as politically—troubled times. Jamyang had plans for further expanding commercial activities but at the same time was cautious, believing that “if this becomes too much, it could be an obstacle for religious practice and studies.” His specific comments on monastery businesses flowed into a much broader discussion about the need for monasteries to expend their energies on developing education and discipline rather than focusing on temple building and other external development. There has been a tendency to divide the study of monasticism into inquiries concerned with “the religious practices of elite monastics” and those concerned with the social, political, cultural, and economic realities of monasteries (Robson 2010, 9). However, the way that Jamyang talked illuminated the interrelatedness of religious and mundane concerns. He clearly felt that the monastery’s ability to retain its monks and raise great Buddhist scholars was contingent on its approach to development. So too, by extension, was its reputation and therefore its ability to secure the patronage and recruit the monks through which it could continue its religious and ultimately soteriological mission. However, this was not easy in a rapidly changing society experiencing breakneck state-led development. Charged with responsibility for developing his monastery, Jamyang faced the challenge of finding ways to “move with the times” while maintaining the intermeshed material and religious foundations of monasticism. He was trying to keep on the right side of shifting lines between what was appropriate and what was inappropriate for a monastery, monks, and wider society in both his actions for and representations of monastic development. In other words, he was involved in an ongoing process of negotiation of moral boundaries. This book is about monks like Jamyang and their efforts to develop their monasteries since monastic Buddhism was revived in the early 1980s. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in monasteries and communities on the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, it documents and analyzes developments, debates, and moral rhetoric concerning monastic financing, tourism, temple building, education, discipline, and recruitment. The central argument, however, relates to a broader question: is it possible to see beyond the state in studies of Tibet, religion, and other highly politicized issues in contemporary China? Much of what we know about the Tibetan Buddhist revival—and indeed contemporary Tibet—is framed in relation to the Chinese state, the shifting public space for religion and culture (i.e., the sphere of action considered legitimate by the state), and the “Tibet question.”6 This book questions the extent to which monastic revival and development have been shaped by the shifting public space for religion and the state-society relationship. Focusing on the subjective experiences, perspectives, and concerns of those involved, it attempts to capture the complexity of monastic

4  Introduction

revival and development as processes occurring over time, paying attention to their social and moral, as well as political, dimensions. Repression, Resistance, and Negotiation: Current Perspectives on Monastic Revival The revival of Tibetan Buddhist monasticism was part of the wider revival of religious life in China following the repression of the Maoist era, during which monasteries were disbanded and most destroyed.7 Shifts in state policy and the exercise of state power have clearly shaped the general contours of Tibetan Buddhist monastic history since the mid-twentieth century, in terms of both the turmoil and violence of the Maoist years and the possibility of revival. As elsewhere in China, the resurgence of public religious life and religious institutions began with the restoration of the policy of freedom of religious belief following the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1978, which led to a relaxation of party policy on religion. The official summary of CCP religious policy was set out in “Document 19” (issued in March 1982) and enshrined in the revised Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, adopted in December 1982.8 Since 1991 there has been a general movement in China’s religious policy toward increased control of religion through law and bureaucratic regulation, most recently with the introduction of the national Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA), which came into effect in 2005 and were revised in 2018.9 These policy shifts and their impact on religious practice have been documented and analyzed elsewhere (Potter 2003; Kindopp and Hamrin 2004; Chan and Carlson 2005; Leung 2005; Tian 2006; Ying 2006; Cooke 2009; Dubois 2016). In Tibetan areas, the relationship between ethnicity and religion has added a further political dynamic to post-Mao religious revitalization.10 Nationalist claims for greater autonomy or independence have centered on Tibetan Buddhist symbols. Monastics—in particular Geluk monks and nuns— have been prominent figures in overt challenges to Chinese rule (Barnett and Akiner 1994; Schwartz 1994; Havnevik 1994; Goldstein 1998, 39–52; Schneider 2013, 83–89). Major eruptions of tensions between state and society in contemporary Tibetan history have been at least partly tied to religious issues and have led to increased state control over religion and monasteries. This includes the Lhasa demonstrations of the late 1980s, the dispute over the recognition of the Eleventh Panchen Lama in the 1990s, and protest activities that spread throughout Tibetan areas following the March 2008 demonstrations in Lhasa.11 Much of the scholarship that touches on the revival of Tibetan monasticism (and religion in general) is framed within an account of this shifting public space and emphasizes restrictions on and repression of Tibetan Buddhism (Barnett and Akiner 1994; Schwartz 1994; Slobod-

Introduction  5

nik 2004; Cabezón 2008; Diemberger 2010). This has also been the focus of Western media coverage and reports by nongovernmental organizations (e.g., TIN and HRW 1996; TIN 1999a, 1999b; ICT 2004). It seems fair to say that repression of religious freedom has been, outside China, the most widely commented on aspect of the Tibetan Buddhist revival.12 Methods employed by the state to increase control over monasteries and monks have in turn exacerbated tensions, fomented further resistance, and deepened the association between religion and Tibetan identity.13 Scholars have therefore interpreted the Buddhist revival from a cultural perspective as oppositional, at least to some degree. They have highlighted “everyday forms of resistance” (Scott 1985), as well as overt political activism, showing how Tibetans have drawn on religious traditions, values, and practices to counter the hegemony of the Chinese state in their daily lives (e.g., Karmay 1994; Epstein and Peng 1998; Schrempf 2000; Diemberger 2005). Much of the discussion of Tibetan Buddhism in contemporary China therefore revolves around an axis of domination and resistance. A more nuanced perspective on the complexities and ambiguities of the state-society relationship has been developed in work by Barnett (2006), Makley (2007), and Diemberger (2007a, 2008, 2010), who present the revival as a process of negotiation.14 Members of the religious elite have not only found creative ways to revitalize traditions within policy constraints and to further the interests of their monasteries and communities. They have also participated in the ongoing construction of religious space.15 However, Tibetans have needed to play a delicate balancing act between “Chinese authority and Tibetan tradition” (Germano 1998, 93). They have also had to “steer a delicate course” between the very different visions of religion and culture emphasized by the Chinese authorities and the Tibetan government-in-exile (Kapstein 1998a, 145; see also Kolås and Thowsen 2005). In one of the few ethnographic studies of Geluk monastic revival, which focuses on the revitalization of Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Goldstein (1998) emphasizes the centrality of the “Tibet question,” characterizing monks as being caught between political and religious loyalties. When he conducted his research in the first half of the 1990s, he saw this as the main dilemma facing monastic leaders, who found “themselves embroiled in constant political tension and conflict they cannot control” (ibid., 47). In short, accounts dealing with the Tibetan Buddhist monastic revival have largely been framed within the shifting public space for religion. They either have been directly concerned with state-society relations and the negotiation of religious space by elites or have emphasized the political dimensions of monastic revival.16 In work that has highlighted the delicate balancing act performed by Tibetans in reviving their traditions, the state is always on one side of the scale. Such focus on the political is not surprising in light of recent history and indeed reflects some of the conditions that

6  Introduction

shaped the monastic revival and subsequent monastic development. It also perhaps reflects the commitment to solidarity with the Tibetan people underlying much scholarship in Tibetan studies beyond China (Kvaerne 2001, 62), as well as a wider intellectual focus among many scholars on issues of power and resistance. I fully recognize the constraints, significance, and impact of state-monastic interactions on monasteries and the daily lives of monks. Indeed, the period during which the research for this book was conducted (2008–2015) was one of rising political tension, with intensified political education and state surveillance of monks and, at times, heightened paramilitary and military presence at some monasteries.17 These dynamics influenced the processes of research and writing that have shaped this study. What this book does question, however, is the extent to which these interactions have defined Geluk monastic development. I attempt to show that the workings of state-society power relations cannot fully account for the dynamics of religious and social renewal and change—even in authoritarian and colonial contexts within which religion is highly politicized. Moreover, when the focus is on issues of politics and power, we miss a key part of what constrains and motivates people: their sense of what is right and wrong in relation to the people they care about and/or feel a sense of obligation toward—in other words toward members of their moral communities.18 Local Logics of the Good and the Desirable Lambek (2010, 1) argues that we, as ethnographers, commonly find that our interlocutors are trying to do what they consider to be right or good and are being judged in evaluative terms. However, this tends to be overlooked “in favor of analyses that emphasize structure, power, and interest” (ibid.). As discussed, in the Tibetan context the “massive power relations” (Ortner 2006, 143) of a colonial situation have dominated our understandings of religion and society. There is therefore a tendency to interpret the practices and identities of Tibetans as primarily relational to (and therefore contingent on and conditioned by) the political and hegemonic power of the Chinese state. Tibetans are seen as accommodating, adapting to, negotiating, or opposing the boundaries of what the state defines as permissible. This focus on unequal state-society power relations and dynamics of domination, subordination, accommodation, and resistance carries a risk of reproducing essentialized representations of “Tibetans” as either victims or resisters (see also Barnett 2001, 303; Makley 2007, 28).19 This is particularly evident in Kolås and Thowsen’s (2005) work. Acknowledging that Tibetan culture is contested, they document and celebrate the active cultural production efforts of Tibetans, including monastic reconstruction. However, the framework for their inquiry traps them rhetorically within the limits of state-defined public space.

Introduction  7

This leads them to a conclusion that implies that Tibetans are reactive and in general without agency: As Tibetans struggle to maintain and modernize Tibetan culture, they are doing so in response to the conditions created by Chinese authorities, whether they are adapting to or opposing these conditions. One might therefore argue that in the process of development of modern expressions of Tibetanness, Tibetan culture is contested and reconstructed on Chinese rather than Tibetan terms. (Ibid., 178)

One way to deal with the conceptual dilemma of how to both acknowledge the dominance of a hegemonic power and recognize local agency is to think in terms of what Ortner (2006, 143) identifies as two modalities of agency. In one modality, agency is closely linked to power, in terms of both domination and resistance. In this context, “Tibetan” agency is defined by the state-society relationship. However, in the second modality, agency is related to “ideas of intention, to people’s (culturally constituted) projects in the world and their ability to engage and enact them.” In this modality, people can be seen to be pursuing their own projects, “defined by their own values and ideals, despite the colonial situation” (ibid., 152). Resistance (or its opposite) can be an unintended consequence, rather than a conscious purpose, of such projects.20 These modalities of agency are two faces of the same thing—agency as the pursuit of projects is often inseparable from the exercise of agency for or against power. However, the latter “is organized around the axis of domination and resistance, and thus defined to a great extent by the terms of the dominant party,” while the former “is defined by the local logics of the good and the desirable and how to pursue them” (ibid., 145). This book focuses on the “project” of monastic revival and development, paying attention to local logics of the good and the desirable in an attempt to understand its dynamics from the ground up. Such projects, referred to by Ortner (2006, 145) as “serious games,” are organized around local power relations and thus also deeply political. Indeed, Makley’s (2007) account of the gendered cultural politics of monastic revival in the Labrang valley highlights the position of Geluk monasticism as a hegemonic patriarchal order competing with that of the state. However, one of the aims of this book is, following John Barker (2007, 21), to put aside, for a time, issues of power and politics to better understand morality as “a motivating force, part of the dynamic by which societies renew and change.” Morality and self-­ interest can sometimes work in tandem, and moral reasoning can “cloak a host of less noble ambitions” (ibid.). However, I follow Lamont (1992) in rejecting the “universal worldly maximization logic” (ibid., 185) of Bourdieu

8  Introduction

(1977, 1998), who construes action (including acts of speech) as a competitive struggle, oriented toward the accrual of symbolic and material resources.21 Such a logic fails to do justice to the sincerity of people’s moral concerns and, in at least some cases, their endeavors to “do the right thing.”22 Monks’ practices (actions, speech, thoughts, perceptions, feelings) in relation to monastic development may often be oriented toward the reproduction of the social and moral order underpinning Geluk monastic Buddhism—an order within which they are privileged as both monastics and males.23 Yet, in conversations with monks, it was evident that monastic Buddhism is a project that many care deeply about, take (at least a degree of) responsibility for, and genuinely believe to be for the greater good. This is not to say that (even the most moralistic of) my interlocutors were always conducting themselves ethically. As we will see, contemporary monks can be highly self-critical of their own moral failings. In other words, to recognize that there is a moral dimension to their practices does not constitute “an evaluative claim that people are good”; rather, “it is a descriptive claim that they are evaluative” (Laidlaw 2014, 3). The idea of negotiation, used to conceptualize the political dimensions of monastic revival and development, is also useful in conceptualizing its moral dimensions. De Certeau’s (1984, 97–99) metaphorical description of the act of walking in the city as enunciation can be drawn on as a more general metaphor for action or “practice” as negotiation of space. The walker moves within a spatial order that organizes an ensemble of possibilities and interdictions (walls). The walker actualizes some of these possibilities but also moves them about and invents others, increasing the number of possibilities and prohibitions. Members of the religious elite have, in pursuit of the project of monastic revival, tactically maneuvered the space for religion defined by the state as legitimate—and even played a part in defining it. They have affirmed, moved, or found ways around “walls” put in place by the state—or in some cases simply jumped over them when the eye of the state is turned the other way. However, the way in which the walker moves through space is relational, not only to what he or she, as a situated actor, believes and knows to be possible or impossible, but also to the ethical/legal value he or she accords to particular paths (obligatory, forbidden, permitted, or optional) (ibid., 99). It is the value that the walker accords to a particular path—the way that he or she feels about it—that is crucial to the walker’s movement, not value as defined by the spatial order. In my conversations with Jamyang and other monks, they were continually making assessments (whether consciously or not) about what was appropriate and inappropriate, right or wrong. I had, rather naively, entered the field with an expectation that I might find tensions between contemporary practices—which I expected to be shaped by pragmatic and political concerns—and the Vinaya, which codifies the proper behavior of monks. How-

Introduction  9

ever, the reality was far more complex. The moral value that monks accorded to particular paths was not simply drawn against a set of established norms and values, whether those of the state-imposed spatial order or the competing order of Geluk monasticism. As Zigon (2008, 8) puts it, morality is “a realm not of rule following, but of lived experiences that feed back into one another in a continuing process of re-evaluation and enactment.” Indeed, my interlocutors’ conceptions of the good were related to their experiences of the world, including the judgments and evaluations of others, and to the way in which they mediated and interpreted these experiences as social and moral subjects. Moreover, they were not operating within a closed system of meaning (see also Lamont 1992, 182–183) or in relation to just one clearly defined moral community. They were relating to multiple moral communities imagined at different levels (local, translocal, national, universal). What they felt to be “good” in one context or relationship was not necessarily “good” in another. Attempts to do what seemed to be “right” could open up new moral dilemmas. Not only do such contradictions thicken our understanding, showing the complexities, ambiguities, and ambivalences of local moral worlds, but they can also, as Barker (2007, 1) argues, make visible central moral assumptions. Field Setting and Methodology The geographical focus of this book is the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, an ethnically diverse Tibetan-Sino-Mongolian borderland, which also has many different Muslim populations. It is primarily concerned with Geluk monastic revival and development in Repgong [reb gong] and western Bayen [ba yan], both located in the eastern part of the Tibetan cultural region known as Amdo and under the jurisdiction of China’s Qinghai Province. After the CCP established control over the Repgong area in 1949, it was incorporated into the newly established Malho [rma lho] (Ch. Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in 1953 and divided into two counties: Repgong (Ch. Tongren), the principal focus of this study, and Tsekhok [rtse khog] (Ch. Zeku). An area with both fertile valleys and high pastures, Repgong is occupied by both farming and pastoralist communities, although state-led development has brought about rapid urbanization of some villages (see, e.g., Makley 2013) and the resettlement of pastoralists in peri-urban housing estates. Historically famous as a center of religious and cultural production, Repgong was home to many important figures in Tibetan history and renowned for its religious arts and crafts. Its main Geluk seat, Rongwo [rong bo], was one of the largest monasteries in Amdo, its head lama exercising joint religious and political authority over the Repgong area (including ­present-day Tsekhok), where thirty-six of Rongwo’s affiliated monasteries were also located.24 However, there were well-established Nyingma and Bön traditions in the

10  Introduction

area, as well as the emergence of village ritual traditions, notably the annual luröl [klu rol ] harvest festival, peculiar to the dynamics of mountain deity cults in this area (and now a major tourist attraction). The revitalization of Geluk monasticism is thus only part of the story of the revitalization of a rich and diverse array of religious institutions and practices in this area.25 To the north of Repgong lies the Chentsa [gcan tsha] region, which was divided into two parts by the Yellow River, commonly known in Tibetan oral and documented histories as “the shady and sunny sides” (Tuttle and Tsehuajia 2010). Under the CCP, the “shady side” became Chentsha (Ch. Jianzha) County, part of Malho TAP. The “sunny side” was incorporated into Haidong Prefecture to form the western part of Bayen (Ch. Hualong) Hui Autonomous County, my other main field area. Far more densely populated than Malho (where roughly two-thirds of the population are Tibetans), Haidong Prefecture has nearly as many Tibetan inhabitants, but they constitute less than 10 percent of the population, which is predominantly Han Chinese and Hui Muslim. Western Bayen, a mountainous region bounded to the south by the Yellow River and to the north by the Tsongkha mountain range, is most famous for Jakhyung,26 the monastery at which Tsongkhapa (considered the father of the Geluk tradition) trained before travelling to Lhasa for further studies. The ethnographic research for this study was conducted over two years, during a seven-year period, including a year in Amdo (2008–2009) and a series of regular visits (some extended) between 2012 and 2015. One of my aims was to understand more about the vast network of Geluk institutions. Previous emphasis on state-monastery interactions has perhaps partly been due to the focus on major Geluk centers in the two available ethnographic studies of revival: Drepung in Lhasa (Goldstein 1998) and Labrang in Amdo (Makley 2007).27 Two of the “big six” Geluk centers (the others being Ganden, Sera, Trashi Lhünpo, and Kumbum),28 both have received a high degree of state attention: in Labrang’s case as a model of ideal statist religion and ethnic tourism (ibid., 20); and in Drepung’s, as a center of political protest, its monks leading the 1980s demonstrations in Lhasa.29 Arjia Rinpoché (2010) gives a personal account of the revival of Kumbum in Amdo, but again Kumbum is one of the big six and a national “model monastery.” By contrast, this book is about less famous scholastic monasteries, which (like the big six) emphasize training in philosophy and dialectics, and smaller branch monasteries and practice centers that focus on ritual and constitute the majority of Tibetan monasteries. It deals only with male monasticism. In part, this choice reflects the demographics of Geluk monasticism in Amdo, which historically had few nunneries in comparison with those in Kham and Central Tibet (for statistics, see Schneider 2013, 51). There are no Geluk nunneries in Repgong and western Bayen, although I did come across a community of just two Geluk nuns in Repgong, and Härkönen (2017) men-

Introduction  11

tions two such communities.30 An interview with the two nuns in 2009 gave me some insight into how very different the dynamics of these small and precarious communities of female monastics are from those of the institutionalized Geluk monasteries of the area. The research that would have been required to make any sensible kind of comparison was beyond the scope of the present study.31 Instead, this book makes a more modest attempt to compare dynamics of revival and reform across different Geluk monasteries, primarily based on data collected on sixteen institutions. There is considerable diversity among these institutions in terms of their size; curriculum; political, social, and historical context; and geographical setting. In addition to providing a broader view of monastic development across different monasteries in specific localities (Repgong in particular), this multisite approach allowed me to explore the relationships of monasteries to each other and the ways in which monks framed their decisions, actions, and identities in relation to other institutions. It was also in part a strategic choice: in the political environment within which I was working, I judged it to be either impossible or risky (to both my interlocutors and myself) to spend an extended period at a single monastery. In an attempt to balance breadth with a degree of depth, I focused more attention on certain sites, including two scholastic centers, a village monastery, and a more remote practice center. The multisite approach means that I can be specific about some details (e.g., economic reforms and numbers at particular monasteries) but more general when information or opinions cited might be more sensitive (using references, e.g., to “a scholastic center” or “a practice center” rather than naming a specific institution). The monasteries in Repgong County include Rongwo Monastery, which is Repgong’s regional scholastic center, as well as eleven of its affiliate monasteries located throughout the county in different geographical and social settings. Rongwo Monastery sits roughly 2,600 meters above sea level in the relatively low-lying Nine River [dgu chu] valley. Housing 2,300 monks at its peak, it was one of Amdo’s major Geluk monasteries. Viewed from the opposite hillside, it retains an impressive presence (figure 1), despite having been swallowed up, along with its surrounding villages, by the urban expansion radiating out from the prefectural capital to the north. Many of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries are to be found down in Nine River valley, which runs north to south through the county. These include, to the north, the “art monasteries” of Nyentok, Gomar, Kasar, and Upper and Lower Senggé Shong,32 each lying adjacent to its main supporting village from which its monks are recruited.33 These monasteries are historically famous for dominating the cultural production of religious art in Amdo (see Stevenson 2002), and today both monks and villagers benefit from the contemporary market for “Repgong arts” in China. Near the prefectural capital, these are urbanizing communities, the closest, Nyentok village, having sold most of its fields.

12  Introduction

Monasteries down in the valley also include those that are less famous, such as Dechen, Dzongngön, and Dzongkar, strung along the western side of the valley in Tsenmo [btsan mo] (Ch. Zhamao) Township, about twenty-five kilometers south of Rongwo.34 Unlike the art monasteries, these practice centers are set apart from lay settlements, but they are relatively accessible, perched above the main road to Tsekhok County not far to the south. Some of Rongwo’s affiliates are more remote, even today. These include Trashi Khyil, which sits atop a wooded hillside twenty-five kilometers north of Rongwo in Hornak [hor nag] (Ch. Huangnaihai) Township (not to be confused with the famous Nyingma hermitage of Yama Trashi Khyil [g.ya’ ma bkra shis ‘khyil], also located in Repgong); and Yershong, nestled high in the mountain forests of Lönchö [blon chos] (Ch. Lancai) Township, thirty kilometers west of Rongwo and approached via winding mountain roads.35 Finally, Rongwo also has affiliate monasteries in the high pastures that form the eastern and southern half of the county, sparsely populated by herding communities. These include the monastery of Dowa Drok, ninety-seven kilometers southeast of Rongwo.36 Unlike the other affiliates of Rongwo mentioned here, which were founded or reconstituted as Geluk monasteries in the seventeenth century (or, in the case of Nyentok and Kasar, the eighteenth), Dowa Drok was founded in 1956. It is situated at the top end of the one-street (in 2009) urban center of the county’s southernmost township of Dowa [mdo ba] (Ch. Duowa). Repgong’s higher pastures are also home to Gartsé Monastery,37 an independent center of dialectical training that follows the traditions and curriculum of Labrang Monastery. Reconstituted as Geluk in the eighteenth century, it sits at the top of Gartsé [mgar rtse] (C. Guashezi) Township, the area’s main urban center through which travelers pass if they take the highland route from Rongwo toward Labrang in Gansu.

FIG. 1  Rongwo Monastery, Repgong, 2009

Introduction  13

In western Bayen, Jakhyung is the main regional monastic center, named after the giant bird Garuda, or Jakhyung, of Buddhist mythology, which the surrounding mountains are said to resemble. The monks’ quarters spread out below the assembly hall and main temples, which sit on a mountain ridge high above the Yellow River. Jakhyung was originally founded as a Kadam [bka’ gdams] monastery in the fourteenth century and reconstituted as a Geluk institution in the sixteenth. By contrast, Ditsa, roughly fifteen kilometers to the northwest, is a relatively new monastery. It was founded in 1903 by the Fourth Zhamar [zhwa dmar] as a center of both scholastic and meditative training and produced many renowned figures in the first half of the twentieth century (Zhizha Da Si 2004; Tuttle 2010, 37–39).38 Ditsa and Jakhyung each housed up to three thousand monks at their peak, although numbers at both had fallen to below one thousand by the mid-1950s. This decline was probably a consequence of turbulence during the Republican period, which in this area included the forced conversion of some Tibetans to Islam by Qinghai’s Hui Muslim governor, Ma Bufang (Fischer 2014, 55). Ditsa was built above an older monastery (also called Ditsa) that had been established as a branch of Jakhyung in the seventeenth century and was home to the first in the Zhamar reincarnation lineage. Its assembly hall, temples, and monk quarters are scattered across the hillside above Ditsa (Ch. Zhizha) village, although, unlike the art monasteries of Repgong, this monastery has neither patronage nor kinship relations with the local village. Following a series of disputes at Ditsa in the early 1990s, one of its reincarnate lamas left to found a new practice-focused monastery, Trashitsé (figure 2).39 Trashitsé

FIG. 2  Trashitsé Monastery, Bayen, 2009

14  Introduction

sits atop a grassy mountain high above the valley in which the urban center of Shongzhen [shong zhan] (Ch. Xiongxian) Tibetan Township is located. The road to the monastery, which winds through the mountains, has been improved since my first visits in 2008–2009, but it remains relatively remote from urban life and modest in scale. It does, however, have a “hi-tech” assembly hall, with a sound system and electric mats (working on the same principle as electric blankets), as well as internal glass panels to keep out the cold. In addition to these sixteen monasteries, I also examine another monastery, Kumbum, in a rather different way. One of the big six Geluk centers, Kumbum is located close to the provincial capital, Xining, and I made regular visits to it and interviewed some of its monks. However, my main interest in Kumbum was the way in which it was represented in official state and Tibetan popular discourse, serving as both a national model and a symbol of monastic moral decline. Over the years, I have visited several other Geluk monasteries in Repgong and travelled to others in Xining Municipality, Hai­ dong Prefecture, and Golok [mgo log] (Ch. Guluo) and Tsolho [mtsho lho] (Ch. Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures in Qinghai, as well as Labrang in Gansu and Riwo Tsenga [ri bo rtse lgna] (Ch. Wutai Shan) in Taiyuan (near Beijing). This experience has allowed me, to a limited extent, to situate my research in a broader context. The book draws on formal interviews with eighty-two monastics (some of whom I have talked to many times over the past seven years) and fifty-five laypeople (some of whom used to be monks), as well as informal conversations with other monastics, nonmonastic religious specialists, farmers, herders, artisans, businesspeople, students, teachers, and government officials. My monastic interlocutors included members of monastery management committees, monks who had served in monastic offices (such as stewards), and those who had worked in monastic businesses, as well as elders, doctors, scholars/teachers, junior novices, and two reincarnate lamas. The research has also been informed by observation of monastic life and practice (within monasteries, villages, and urban settings); time spent with friends and their relatives and with monks, lamas, and their patrons; and the many fleeting, chance encounters and occurrences that are part of everyday life. Since Geluk monasticism is largely a male preserve in eastern Amdo, all but two of my monastic interlocutors were male. Some of the social categories to which my lay interlocutors belonged, notably business and religion, are also dominated by men. More generally, the knowledge and opinions of women can be harder to access in more formal research contexts (particularly among farmers and herders; less so among officials and university students). I therefore took advantage of more informal settings to elicit their stories and views, building relationships and trust over time. I also have drawn selectively on various Chinese and Tibetan textual sources, including legislation and policy

Introduction  15

documents, academic writing, media reports, locally produced histories, and essays published in books and journals and on the Internet.40 Although some of my interlocutors and interviewees communicated with me in English or Chinese, the majority communicated in oral Amdo Tibetan, except in some of Repgong’s villages where various Monguor languages are spoken. For many of the formal interviews, I worked with assistants with whom I had become acquainted through interpersonal connections. This was essential in villages and monasteries where Monguor languages were spoken but was also important in Tibetan-language contexts. Learning Amdo Tibetan “on the job,” I started to become better equipped to work alone as time went on, but even after spending a total of two years in the field, my ability to formulate complex questions and to follow often fast-paced discussions remains limited. Working with assistants has helped me accumulate local knowledge with greater speed, at greater depth, and with less scope for misunderstandings, particularly when communicating with a person for the first time. I also benefited from my assistants’ local knowledge and active interest, involvement, and engagement in the research process, not to mention access to their social networks, which could, in some cases, provide new bridges into the field and build mutual trust between myself and new interlocutors. Where I developed longer-term relationships with individuals, I would generally work alone. Even then, I still had to take into account religious and cultural sensitivities and taboos related to my position as a female researcher, as well as access limitations during particular times of the year (e.g., monastic summer retreat). In seeking to access the “local logics of the good and the desirable,” I have attempted to understand and take seriously the subjective perspectives of my interlocutors. The collecting of narratives from people involved in the process of monastic revival and development “makes it possible to construct a ‘history from below,’ otherwise consigned to oblivion” (Diemberger 2010, 113). Nevertheless, the final product is my description, interpretation, and analysis of monastic revival and development, not that of my interlocutors. Furthermore, the entire process, from entering the field to analysis and writing, has been dependent on the vagaries of conducting research. It has also, of course, been conditioned by my positioning in an “ethnographic matrix” (Harrell 2007, 288) composed of my subject positions, those of my interlocutors, and my negotiation of the politics of researching and writing on Tibet, as well as the requirements of academic institutions. Although my objective was to see beyond the state-society lens and the contentious politics of religion, these dynamics have constrained my research through fieldwork and writing. They influenced how I operated, my relationships with my interlocutors, access to particular places at particular times, and the decisions I have taken about what to write and how to write it. I have nevertheless endeavored

16  Introduction

to listen carefully to and include the voices of my interlocutors, to be rigorous about translations that put foreign words into their mouths (checking and rechecking these with native speakers where necessary),41 and to be reflexive about my own assumptions, positioning, and limitations. Overview of the Chapters Chapter 1 sets the scene for the rest of the book, examining the first flush of monastic revival and reconstruction in the early 1980s. After briefly discussing the “mass” form of monasticism that emerged in Tibet with the rise of the Geluk tradition, I go on to give an account of its revival in northeastern Tibet, focusing on themes and significant events running through written and oral recollections of those involved. In contrast to previous accounts of religious resurgence structured around the actions of the Chinese state and shifting political climate, these narratives tell a story of gradual social and moral reordering in which both monastics and laity participated. They also illuminate the extent to which the revival was dependent on the resurgence of historical relationships between specific communities, monasteries, and lamas. These relationships became more firmly reinstitutionalized as the rapidly expanding monasteries reestablished monastic offices for alms collection. Starting with a discussion of moral responses to this economic practice in chapter 2, the book goes on to show how the ethics of these relationships reestablished in the 1980s have been at the heart of moral imperatives and dilemmas shaping subsequent monastic development. Chapter 2 analyzes reforms to collective monastic financing since the 1980s, questioning the extent to which monastic development has been defined by state-monastic interactions. It documents a general shift away from institutionalized alms collection toward the development of self-­supporting activities. These reforms appear to have brought monastic economies into line with Chinese state policy. However, this chapter shows that there were pressures coming from within. Practical considerations played a part. Monastic leaders also drew on historical and textual precedent. However, there were also moral imperatives. Although those imperatives were often expressed in terms that echoed official discourse, I show that monks were not simply making a virtue out of the necessity of adapting to state policy. Rather, the ethics of economic reforms have been shaped in relation to the deterritorialized authorities of Tibetan monasticism (notably, examples from monasteries in India); perceptions of monastic moral decline; and, finally, imaginings of a shared Tibetan collectivity and the responsibility of monastics in shaping its future. Chapter 3 turns to a discussion of tourism and heritage funding, a major arena of state-monastic interaction within which state-society power

Introduction  17

relations are particularly pronounced. Although presented in the scholarly literature as an arena in which Buddhist monastic and state interests can converge, I argue that tourism can also bring the limits of monastic-state convergence into sharp relief. Tourism, heritage, and other forms of state patronage are perceived differently from projects driven and authored by the monastic community. They are deeply political, carrying dangerous implications of incorporation, collaboration, loss of autonomy, and dispossession, and have sometimes met with resistance. However, monastic attitudes toward state-sponsored development also illuminate more fundamental questions of “benefit” and “value” and how these are defined—questions that extend far beyond state-monastic interactions. The chapter finishes by examining the case of Kumbum and competing visions of its development: is it a model monastery or an archetype of monastic moral decline? Debates and dilemmas about specific issues, such as monastic business and tourism, are inseparable from concerns about monastic “development” in a much broader sense. As chapter 4 shows, attitudes toward monastic development have been conditioned by a sense of the times as morally troubled, as well as challenges to monastic authority posed by the emergence of a secularly educated elite. Yet there is a concurrent heightening of the significance of the monastery as an idealized space of “Tibetan” morality, felt to be under threat from assimilation into a “Chinese” modernity. These dynamics are shown to reinforce certain ideals, such as that of the scholar-monk, and to inform the approaches monasteries have taken to financing, organization, discipline, education, and the spread of facets of “modern” life into monastic space. However, narratives of moral decline are not simply nostalgic or reactionary responses to societal change; they reflect concrete challenges facing monasteries and can provide moral space for reform. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Ditsa Monastery; although in many respects the most “traditional” of my field sites, it has taken perhaps the most creative steps to keep pace with the changing times. Chapter 5 discusses the highly charged issue of monastic retention and recruitment. A shrinking monk population is one of greatest challenges facing monasteries and an issue of considerable urgency for many laypeople. Yet it has barely been touched upon in the literature beyond claims that state policies have been an obstacle to monasteries’ growth. This chapter examines the wider socioeconomic transformations influencing patterns of recruitment and retention, including demographic transition, improved living standards, and changing opportunities and aspirations. It draws on ethnographic evidence to highlight the importance of social relations in pathways into and out of monastic life. Finally, it considers the responsibility placed with monastic leaders for maintaining their assemblies, showing how issues of recruitment and retention have shaped institutional priorities, as well as debates

18  Introduction

and dilemmas about various (interrelated) aspects of monastic life and ideas about the relationship between economy, education, and conduct. This exploration reveals not only tensions between mundane concerns and religious ideals but also their interrelatedness, despite the tendency in the Buddhist studies literature to dichotomize them. Chapter 6 broadens the discussion still further, revisiting some basic assumptions and values central to the particular, mass form of monasticism revived in the 1980s: that monastic vows should be taken for life; that boys should enter monasteries at a young age; and, more generally, that “mass monasticism” is a good thing. It explores the extent to which these ideas have been challenged in light of the wider political, economic, social, and moral dynamics explored thus far in the book. While the available literature has emphasized the precarious position of Tibetan Buddhist monasticism vis-àvis the state, the discussion here highlights the uncertainty of its position in relation to a fast-changing society. Chapter 7 draws together the various strands of the research. Revisiting the encounter with Jamyang that opened this book, it elaborates on the notion of moral boundary negotiation as a way of conceptualizing the moral dimension of monastic revival and development. Drawing on examples from the issues, debates, and reforms discussed in the book, it then examines the limitations of the state-society framework, moving beyond the idea of “accommodation” and questioning the terms of “resistance” to show that practices can be shaped by relationships, priorities, and values that have very little to do with the state. Finally, it revisits some of the monastic reforms documented in this study to show how morality can be a dynamic force that not only constrains but also creates space for change—even if, in this case, such change is ultimately oriented toward the reproduction of the social and moral order underpinning monastic Buddhism. Finally, the coda offers a brief reprisal of the various arguments expounded in the book and considers issues likely to influence Tibetan monastic development in the years to come.


Monastic Revival A Social and Moral Reordering

LHÜNDRUP WAS THREE OR FOUR YEARS OLD when he entered his local monastery in the late 1940s. One of Rongwo’s affiliates situated in the Nine River valley, his monastery was (and still is) populated and supported by members of the adjacent farming community, into which Lhündrup was born. Ten years later, his monastic career was brought to an abrupt end. Echoing other local accounts, Lhündrup recalled soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army surrounding the monastery and calling the monks together (see also Naktsang Nulo 2014). They picked out “the good and educated,” he said, arresting them and sending them to prison. The others, including himself, were forced to “change their clothes” and return to the village. The year was 1958. For Tibetans in Repgong, as elsewhere in Amdo, this is the pivotal moment in collective memory, not the Communist “liberation” of 1949, the Lhasa Uprising of 1959, or the Cultural Revolution (see also Caple 2013, 24–27). Remembered as a time when “earth and sky were turned upside down” (Naktsang Nulo 2014, 7), it was a point of social rupture marking the end of the “old” society. Prior to the Chinese Communist Party’s arrival, Repgong had functioned as a monastic polity under the joint political and religious authority of the Shartsang [shar tshang] reincarnation lineage, whose monastic seat was Rongwo Monastery. The CCP officially “liberated” Repgong in 1949, but up until 1958 they had incorporated local leaders (including reincarnate lamas) into the new structures of the Chinese nation-state under the United Front policy.1 When the CCP established Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in 1953, the Seventh Shartsang was appointed as the head of its government (Qinghai Sheng Difangzhi Bianzuan Weiyuanhui 2001, 510). However, by the 19

20  Chapter 1

end of April 1958, revolts against land reforms in eastern Tibet (Kham) had spilled over into widespread rebellion in much of eastern Amdo, including the Repgong area (Weiner 2012, 400). The CCP’s prefectural committee held the Seventh Shartsang and other key figures in the United Front responsible; Rongwo Monastery was declared the rebellion’s “command center,” and other monasteries its outposts (ibid., 401). The CCP’s response was to “strike and reform,” pacifying the rebellion through military force and mass arrests and fully implementing “democratic reforms” and socialist transformation. This entailed rapid collectivization of agricultural and pastoral areas, which would lead to what Lhündrup described as “four years of very great starvation,” during which more than a third of his fellow villagers died. It also involved an enforced reordering of Tibetan society and radical displacement of monastic authority. Many reincarnate lamas and monks were arrested and sent to labor camps; the others (like Lhündrup) were forced to disrobe and return to their villages. Local populations were “mobilized” to desecrate and destroy their monasteries and the sacred objects they contained and to carry out violent, sometimes deathly, class struggle sessions, which included attacks against reincarnate lamas.2 Some men who had maintained their vows returned to some monasteries during the brief period of relative liberalization between 1962 and 1966 but remained under considerable political constraints. Lhündrup recalled that, at his monastery, monks could practice in their quarters from 1963 but could not gather for assemblies. Some monks went to Rongwo.3 From 1966 the Cultural Revolution brought a further wave of violent upheaval, and monasteries were once again disbanded, their buildings either destroyed or turned over to use as storehouses, government offices, schools, or housing for Chinese officials and workers. Private religious practice was also prohibited. In many respects, the Geluk monastic revival (as told to me) was a story of the righting of sky and earth, and subsequent efforts to keep them in their proper places amid the rapid changes of the 1990s and 2000s. As elsewhere in China, these changes have included processes of economic marketization, urbanization, demographic transition, and technological advancement, as well as the more widely reported periodic crackdowns on Tibetan monasteries and, since 2008, intensified militarization of the Tibetan Plateau. Sometimes referred to as the “redissemination” (yangdar [yang dar]) of Buddhism (e.g., Pelzang 2007; Diemberger 2010, 115),4 the post-Mao revival has become a third episode in Tibetan understandings of the spread of Buddhism in Tibet, commonly periodized as the “early dissemination” (ngadar [snga dar]) in the seventh century and the “later dissemination” (chidar [phyi dar]) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, after Buddhism’s persecution under Lang Darma [glang dar ma] in the ninth century.5 The positioning of the Maoist period as one of the two major ruptures in the history of Bud-

Monastic Revival  21

dhism in Tibet conveys the extent of the dislocation experienced at that time. Although scholars debate whether the ninth-century persecution actually occurred, it has become “a crucial event for Tibetan historical consciousness” (Kapstein 2006, 80), with Lang Darma coming to represent an archetypical embodiment of evil.6 One of the ways in which Tibetans interpreted the destruction of monasteries in the late 1950s and 1960s was to identify Mao Zedong as an incarnation or manifestation of Lang Darma (Mumford 1989, 140; McGranahan 2012, 233).7 The first flush of monastic revival in the early 1980s occurred within the same general policy contexts as elsewhere in China, starting with the CCP’s restoration of the policy of freedom of religious belief in December 1978. However, that revival was not only contingent on the reopening of a public space for monasticism but also involved a process of social reordering that restored members of the monastic moral community (reincarnate lamas, monks, and laity) to their proper physical, social, and symbolic places—albeit in radically altered political and socioeconomic circumstances. It also depended on the resurgence of historical relationships between particular reincarnate lamas, monasteries, and communities. These factors are critical in explaining the extent of the Geluk revival, which involved an attempt to restore monasticism on a mass scale (in terms of numbers of both monasteries and monks), reflecting the particular form of monasticism that had emerged in Tibet with the ascendency of the Geluk tradition. This chapter briefly considers the emergence of “mass monasticism” and its ideological underpinnings, before examining the dynamics of its revival in the early 1980s. Mass Monasticism Often referred to as “mass monasticism,” a term coined by Goldstein (1998, 15), the extent of monastic Buddhism in Tibet has been a distinctive feature of Tibetan societies (see also Goldstein 1989, 21). Prior to the Maoist years, a significant proportion of the Tibetan male population (perhaps 20 to 30 percent in some areas) were monks, many belonging to an extensive interconnected network of Geluk institutions.8 The largest monastic centers were enormous in scale, particularly the three Geluk seats in Lhasa (Ganden, Drepung, and Sera), which between them housed more than ­twenty-five thousand monks. The Geluk centers functioned as training grounds for monks from all over the Tibetan region and beyond.9 Regional scholastic centers like Rongwo were affiliated to the colleges of the major Geluk seats in Lhasa, where some monks would go for further study. Some regional institutions became respected centers of learning in their own right, housing several thousand monks at their peak. Most had a network of affiliated branch monasteries ( gönlak [dgon lag]) and practice centers (drubdé [sgrub sde]),

22  Chapter 1

like Lhündrup’s monastery. In Repgong, some of these affiliates were originally founded as hermitages but subsequently institutionalized as centers of collective ritual practice (although some still have hermitage huts).10 Considerably smaller than the scholastic centers, these monasteries could nevertheless house several hundred monks (see table 5.1). Although they functioned as autonomous institutions, monks and reincarnate lamas from affiliated monasteries studied at regional centers, and reincarnate lamas and scholar-monks visited affiliated monasteries to give teachings and perform initiations.11 Villages and herding communities were embedded in this network as the supporting communities of particular monasteries and reincarnation lineages. Lhündrup’s village, for example, was a patron community of both his local monastery and Rongwo. This “web of monasticism” (Beatrice Miller 1961) was a not a static network. The political and economic influence of different reincarnation lineages, monasteries, and regions expanded and contracted at various times, and their jurisdictional claims (to land, tenants, oversight of monastic affairs) could be complex and even provoke violent conflict (see, e.g., Oidtmann 2014).12 The presence of, and sometimes competition with, other traditions, such as the Nyingma and Bön traditions in Repgong, added further complexity to the politico-religious landscape. The emergence of mass monasticism is at least partly tied to the political ascendency of the Geluk tradition. Although the fully ordained celibate monastic is “the primary Buddhist role,” in Theravāda Buddhist societies (Samuel 1993, 25), this is not necessarily the case in the Tibetan context, where an emphasis on tantric practice has produced thriving nonmonastic as well as monastic traditions. Repgong, for example, has well-established traditions of Nyingma and Bön nonmonastic specialists in tantric ritual (ngakpa [sngags pa]), as well as its extensive network of (mostly Geluk) monasteries. The Geluk tradition does, however, emphasize celibate monasticism as the “essential determinant of religious authority” (Mills 2003, 20), as well as scholasticism.13 Samuel (1993, 511) argues that its centralized, hierarchical structure and emphasis on discipline and scholarship were appealing to secular authorities, attracting financial and political patronage from local leaders, the Mongol khans, and Ming and Qing emperors. Relatively distant relations with the khans and emperors meant that monastic Buddhism in the Tibetan region did not face the same growth constraints as in many Theravāda Buddhist countries where secular kings “acted as both sponsors and regulators” (Mills 2003, 28–29). These sociopolitical conditions enabled the rapid expansion of the Geluk through the creation of new monasteries and the conversion of existing ones. In Repgong, for example, several of my field sites (including Rongwo) were reconstituted as Geluk in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (having originally been founded as Sakya, Nyingma, or Kagyü monasteries). The conditions also facilitated the emergence of what Sullivan (2013)

Monastic Revival  23

refers to as “mega monasteries,” which allowed thousands of monks to be trained in a single location (ibid., 44). With a few exceptions, Geluk influence extended throughout most of the Tibetan region14 and beyond to Mongolia, Siberia, northeastern China (Manchuria), and Beijing. It became pervasive in Amdo in the sixteenth century (Tuttle 2010, 27), gaining dominance in the more centralized agricultural areas and along trade routes (Gruschke 2001, 73).15 By the end of the seventeenth century, the Geluk had gained total political ascendancy in Central Tibet under the patronage of the Mongol Khans. The central Tibetan state, founded by the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1642, was governed under a combined system of religious and secular rule and based on a normative system privileging religious goals and activities. Beyond Central Tibet, there were a variety of social and political formations, including “extensive interregional monastic polities” (Makley 2007, 33) such as Repgong and Labrang in Amdo, which also rose to prominence under Mongol patronage. As in Central Tibet, the political structure of these polities was based on the principle of combined religious and secular rule, centered on the legitimating authority of a reincarnation lineage (such as the Shartsang in Repgong) in alliance with local secular leaders (in Repgong, the Rongwo Nangso [nang so]), as well as more distant relations with Mongol patrons, the Qing, and authorities in Central Tibet. The ideological, social, and economic structures of these polities supported the recruitment and maintenance of large numbers of males in lifelong celibate monastic life. Ideas about merit acted as an important ideological force. The more monks, the greater the merit “accrued to society as a whole,” and particularly to families or individuals who supported monastic Buddhism financially and by sending their sons to a monastery (Kapstein 2004, 233– 234). Additionally, Cabezón (2008, 277) argues that limits were not placed on admissions to the scholastic mega monasteries because “the law of averages requires that to produce a few great men, one must admit many.”16 The idea that an individual monastery needs many monks to increase its chances of producing great scholars persists today. Boys were usually sent to monasteries at a young age, and unlike the system of temporary ordination that developed in Thailand, in the Tibetan monastic rule the vow of renunciation is for life.17 Some monasteries had periodic recruitment drives within their patron communities to increase or maintain numbers. In some areas, including Repgong, a “monk tax” was imposed at times, obliging communities to supply new recruits.18 However, the available evidence suggests that most entered monastic life at the wish of their parents for a mixture of religious, social, and economic reasons, including accumulation of merit and social status (for both the parents and child), fulfilment of a promise to a deity, or provision of a culturally valued life to extra sons or orphans.19 To become a monk was therefore

24  Chapter 1

“usually not so much a sign of deep religiosity as an obligation that attended individuals as members of a household group” (Mills 2003, 40). Monastic Buddhism in Tibet was therefore far from being the domain of the ideal ascetic renouncer emphasized in many studies of monastic Buddhism.20 The key distinction placing any monk above a layperson was related to the act of renunciation of the productive and reproductive processes of the household in the service of Buddhism (Mills 2003, 73; see also Dreyfus 2003; Sherab Gyatso 2004; Makley 2007; Goldstein 2009).21 The Geluk ideal was, ultimately, to integrate scholastic learning with tantric practice as exemplified by Tsongkhapa, as well as figures such as the First Shartsang. Yet, as Cabezón (2006, 18) notes, the goal of the scholastic centers (at the apex of the web of institutionalized Geluk monasticism) was to create disciplined and learned scholars, rather than “hermits and meditators.”22 Moreover, in practice the monastic system worked to incorporate males of various dispositions who served Buddhism and the community in a variety of ways (Michael 1982, 58–59; Goldstein 1998, 21–22; Makley 2007, 245–249). The most highly respected monks were the scholars and hermits who dedicated themselves to study and practice and were often relatively poor. However, many never progressed beyond the novice stage ( getshül [dge tshul ]) to take the full monastic vows ( gelong [dge slong]) (Lopez 1997, 20; Makley 2007, 247). At the large scholastic centers, many monks were engaged in work for the collective. Many also worked to support themselves. The monastery as a collective was responsible for funding monastic assemblies and the upkeep and expansion of monastery buildings, but not the livelihoods of individual monks. They would receive tea and food (and in some cases subsidies) at assembly gatherings. However, they also relied on their families for support, and many engaged in income-generating activities, such as providing ritual services for the laity or engaging in trade.23 What Makley (2007, 253) refers to as a “grassroots return to mass monasticism” following the repression of the Maoist era makes the Tibetan Buddhist revival one of the most remarkable stories of religious resurgence in contemporary China. At the end of the 1970s, when restrictions on religious practice were relaxed, no working monasteries remained: they had all been disbanded during the mass campaigns of the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution, and most had been destroyed. Since the beginning of the 1980s, Tibetan monasteries have been reconstructed throughout the Tibetan areas incorporated into the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as well as in other parts of China, including Inner Mongolia, northeastern China, and Riwo Tsenga (Ch. Wutai Shan) in Shanxi.24 According to official Chinese statistics, by 1997 there were more than 3,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries (most of them Geluk), 120,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks, and 1,700 reincarnate lamas in China (Ashiwa and Wank 2009, 1). Although numbers never reached pre-

Monastic Revival  25

1958 levels, a significant proportion of the male population was once again engaged in monastic life.25 In Repgong, for example, the Tongren County government reported 1,819 monks in the county in 1999 (Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 207). If this figure is compared with the 2000 census data (Qinghai Population Census Office 2003, 82–85, 102–105), it would appear that over 5 five percent of the population of Tibetan males in the county were monks by the end of the 1990s.26 Of these an estimated 90 percent or more were Geluk monks.27 As had been the case in the “old society,” monkhood was again a fairly ordinary pathway for many boys and young men, not an extraordinary vocation pursued by a few select individuals.28 Makley (2007, 252) refers to a “more is better ethic” in the repopulation of monasteries in the early 1980s, attributing this to the “acute sense of urgency after the desecrations of the Maoist years” (see also Goldstein 1994). Other scholars have pointed to a new sense of Tibetan identity to explain the extent of monastic reconstruction: a “religio-nationalistic belief that Tibetan religion . . . should be revived to its former greatness” (Goldstein 1998, 29), with monasteries coming to signify Tibetan nationhood and survival (Schwartz 1994; Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 92). However, explanations for the resurgence of mass monasticism are also to be found in threads of continuity in both individual lives and collective affiliations, despite the rupture of the Maoist years. Reopening the Dharma Doors When the army arrived at his monastery in 1958, Lhündrup managed to sneak into one of the temples, taking a prayer wheel from a box containing some of the monastery’s “treasures.” He took it to his house when he was sent back to his village and secretly cared for it for the next twenty years. In autumn 1979 the provincial government announced that freedom of religious belief had been restored (Pelzang 2007, 24). A year later the Tenth Panchen Lama visited Lhündrup’s village during his autumn 1980 tour of Repgong and declared the “great Dharma door” of its monastery to be permanently reopened.29 This generated in Lhündrup a great feeling to return the prayer wheel. However, he was suspicious of the state’s motives, fearing that the new policy might just be a trick. Worried that if he gave the prayer wheel back it would be damaged or destroyed, he continued to hide it until, a few years later, one of Repgong’s high reincarnate lamas asked the villagers to return any sacred objects they had hidden. By that point, his monastery had reopened and monks had started to practice publicly. The “(re)opening of the Dharma door(s)” (chökyi gomo ché/chögo chirché [chos kyi sgo mo phye/chos sgo phyir phye]) is a common turn of phrase in Amdo to denote the revival of monastic Buddhism in the early

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1980s, a “Dharma door” being an entrance to the Dharma, or Buddhist teachings. Also used more specifically in relation to individual monasteries, this phrase conveys a much richer sense of what the events of this period meant to people than the more prosaic idea of monasteries being reopened does. The reopening of the Dharma doors in Amdo occurred within the overall policy shifts and signals of change occurring elsewhere in Tibetan areas and in China more generally. Following the CCP’s restoration of the policy of religious freedom in December 1978, the rehabilitation of religious leaders, such as the Tenth Panchen Lama, was one such sign. Others included renewed contact between Tibetans in the PRC and Tibetans in exile, the return of some exiled religious leaders, and contact between representatives of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and Beijing.30 Initially, religious revival was limited to individual practice.31 However, it was only a matter of months after the new policy was announced in Qinghai that one of Repgong’s few surviving senior reincarnate lamas, Alak Khaso [kha so] (b. 1930), returned and consecrated Rongwo Monastery’s assembly hall (Pelzang 2007, 24; see also Caple 2013, 32). The following month, February 1980, the first assembly gathering was held, and the Dharma doors were reopened. Goldstein (1998, 25) states that Tibetans in Lhasa “responded enthusiastically to the new opportunities” for religious practice that arose at this time. I also found that people in eastern Amdo remembered the early 1980s as a time of great faith, joy, and energy as they made efforts to rebuild and repopulate their monasteries. Yet it was also apparent from talking to elders like Lhündrup that people were initially scared and suspicious, unable to believe that they could really practice openly. Just as it took a few years for the prayer wheel that Lhündrup had rescued to be restored to its proper place, monastic revival was experienced as a gradual process that occurred over time. However, it was a process of not just political reordering but also social and moral reordering. Some of the seeds for the revival had been planted during the Maoist period. Lhündrup remarked that to anyone visiting his village during the Cultural Revolution (which for him lasted thirteen years, 1966–1979), it would have appeared as though everyone was “the same.” However, beneath the surface, there were two kinds of people: monks and villagers. The enforced laicization of monastics during the Maoist period had eradicated the physical and symbolic boundaries separating monastics and laity. Monks were unable to wear robes or to live and practice collectively in monastic communities. Many reincarnate lamas and monks had married (like Lhündrup), died (like Rongwo’s head lama, the Seventh Shartsang), or gone into exile. However, some lived out the turbulent high socialist years as hermits, hiding in remote places or, more commonly, living as “secret” monks, maintaining their practices and vows privately (Caple 2013, 28). Yeshé, an elder monk who had entered Lhündrup’s monastery a few years before him at age six, said that

Monastic Revival  27

there were seventeen or eighteen monks who had remained “monks” in their village throughout the Maoist period. Although unable to wear the monastic robe, Yeshé had even been able to live on the monastery site in a quarter that had not been destroyed. He joked about it: “[Because] I was called ‘working class’ by Chairman Mao, my house was not destroyed. Chairman Mao indeed gave special treatment to the working class!” (Caple 2013, 28–29).32 At least some of these monks also continued to pass on their knowledge and practices to a younger generation. Some of the first new recruits to enter monastic life in the early 1980s had (like Jamyang, whom we met in the first pages of this book) secretly lived and/or studied with these older monks during their childhoods in the 1970s. These boys were socialized into “monastic life” from a young age and encouraged to look forward to a time when the Dharma doors would reopen, even though they had no direct experience of what “a monastery” was.33 For both the elders and the boys who had lived and studied with them in the 1970s, the revival represented a shift from private to public practice, symbolized by their donning of the monastic robes. The red monastic robe is the most important marker of distinction between lay and monastic status for most Tibetans, rather than that between novices and those who have taken the full monastic vows (see also Makley 2005a, 272). The reemergence of the public performance of monkhood through the wearing of these robes was an important element in the reordering of Tibetan social worlds in the early 1980s. It represented the symbolic re-separation of lay and monastic communities (Caple 2013, 32–34). It was also a sign that times really were changing: Lhündrup remembered that it was when villagers started to see monks openly practicing that they started to believe that they were not just being tricked. However, at several monasteries, I was told that new recruits continued to wear lay clothes for the first few years ( ibid., 33–34). Püntsok, one of the first young men to join Lhündrup’s monastery in the early 1980s, said that this was because minors were not officially allowed to join assembly gatherings at that time.34 The return of elders ( genpa [rgan pa]) like Yeshé to take care of the ruins of their monastic sites was another significant marker of the beginnings of revival at Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries.35 However, they initially gathered at Rongwo for assemblies. Nyima, a lay elder from Lhündrup’s village, recalled that at the time of the Panchen Lama’s visit in autumn 1980, the local monastery was still used for grain storage, and laypeople were living on the site. Gradually, however, it and Rongwo’s other affiliate monasteries reopened, collective activities resumed, and a new generation of boys and young men became monks. Püntsok was at school when, at age fourteen or fifteen, he decided to enter Lhündrup’s monastery, under the influence of a monastic relative. He took his vow of renunciation in front of Rongwo’s

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regent, the Sixth Dzongchung [rdzong chung] (1923–1988) not long after an “auspicious” restoration and purification of the vows ceremony (sojong [gso sbyong]) was held by one of his monastery’s senior lamas in 1981. This ceremony, one of the most important rituals of monastic discipline and essential to monastic practice, marked the resumption of monastic life.36 The previous year, on 26 February 1980, such a ceremony had reopened the Dharma doors at Rongwo (Pelzang 2007, 24). Monasteries were officially required to obtain permission from the government to reopen, but collective activities often resumed prior to or even without this permission (see also Shakya 1999, 419; Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 82; Arjia Rinpoché 2010, 126). Even as monks began to practice publicly and recommence assembly gatherings, and monastic populations started to grow, at some monasteries it was a long time before monks lived as a separate community and the spatial boundaries between monastery and village/town were reestablished (Caple 2013, 34). The gradual process through which monastic space was reclaimed and its boundaries reinscribed was particularly vivid in accounts of Rongwo’s revival. Although the Dharma doors were reopened in 1980, the few buildings that had not been destroyed were being used as storehouses, the offices of state agencies, workshops, schools, and homes for Chinese families (ibid.). Some of these families continued to live on the site for many years. One of Rongwo’s senior scholars and teachers remarked that when he entered in 1984, “it did not seem like a monastery, but like a village” (ibid., 35). It was a decade before the government redistributed most of the original site to the monastery and as many as fifteen years before the last of the Chinese families living there finally left (ibid., 34–35). Thus, it was only from the mid-1990s that the physical re-separation of monastic and lay communities was finally complete. Even then, the process of reclamation of monastic space continued—and remains ongoing. In summer 2015, senior monastics were hopeful that land occupied by a Tibetan middle school would soon be returned to the monastery. A new school was being constructed on the land of nearby Gomar village to house the students. However, it seems that the monastery’s claims to the land were not recognized when the school was closed in 2016. As of March 2017, the monks were continuing to appeal to the government (RFA 2017). It also took time and considerable effort to restore the physical fabric of monasteries. Ditsa Monastery received official approval to reopen in early 1981. However, the first significant event in stories of its revival occurred more than a year before this, when ten monks gathered in one of only three remaining quarters in December 1979 for Tsongkhapa’s Death Day Offering.37 Other than these quarters and the residence of the head lama (the Zhamar reincarnation lineage), only one other monastic building remained on the site at that time (another lama’s residence). The rest had been turned over to fields and threshing grounds used by Chinese families. The Second Month Offering the

Monastic Revival  29

following year was the next important event, marking the resumption of collective monastic life. By this time there were fifty to sixty monks (I counted fifty-two in a photograph taken at the time), including both elders and some new recruits. However, the monastery still had no assembly hall, and the monks collected in the Zhamar’s residence for this and other gatherings. The monastery’s land was gradually handed back through government land redistribution, and the physical fabric of the monastery was slowly restored. As at other monasteries, the emphasis was initially on reconstructing the assembly hall (completed in 1984) and the monks’ quarters. It was “with patience,” one of Ditsa’s monks told me, that “the monastery was restored.” Although the state is ever present in accounts of destruction, it is largely absent in narratives of revival. Monks rarely mentioned negotiations with local officials over permits and permission to reestablish their monasteries unless I specifically asked about this. Most of my interlocutors who had participated as monks in the early 1980s revival were new recruits at that time. The lack of emphasis they place on dealings with the state might therefore simply reflect their lack of involvement in such negotiations. Nevertheless, I would argue that their narratives give us valuable insight into emic perspectives on what it meant for monastic Buddhism to be “revived.” This was not achieved through shifts in policy (even if such shifts made the revival possible) or negotiation of official permissions. Rather, it was dependent on the resurgence of Geluk authority and the return of the elders; the reclamation, reconsecration, and reconstruction of monastic space, which enabled the reinscription of social and physical boundaries between monastics and laity (a relatively long process); and the symbolic separation of the two communities, not only through monks’ restoration of their vows, but also through their public performance of monkhood as they donned the monastic robes. Restoring the Moral Community The stories of revival I was told were not just about lamas and monks. The laity—which is often represented in relation to monastics as the “faithful public” (deden gyi mangtsok [dad ldan gyi mang tshogs])—was central to monastic revitalization and its subsequent development. The moral-economic framework underpinning monastic Buddhism is rooted in a mutual obligation between the laity as patrons and monastics as a field of merit and power. As Mills (2003, 54–61) has argued, the popular view of the Buddhist monk as an ascetic individual who renounces the world (i.e., society) elides the social relationships foundational to monasticism, which relies for its reproduction on the sexual and economic reproduction of the laity (the household processes renounced by monastics). Monks, for their part, have a duty to give laypeople opportunities to gain merit (Dreyfus 2003, 36) by being worthy recipients of

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their gifts, giving teachings, and performing rituals for the dead and for merit accumulation. In the Tibetan context, they also play an important role in providing ritual services oriented toward this-worldly concerns, such as health and wealth, both collectively in assembly gatherings and individually within the community. Emic accounts of monastic revival in Repgong and western Bayen emphasize, not only the agency of reincarnate lamas and senior monastics, but also the active participation and support of the lay community in rebuilding and repopulating their monasteries.38 Lamas (including both reincarnate lamas and highly respected teachers who had survived the Maoist years) were instrumental in the revival of monasticism in several respects. They provided the unbroken transmission of teachings and practices that is the basis of authority in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This was essential to the reconsecration of monasteries as sacred spaces, the restoration of monks’ vows, the ordination of new monks like Püntsok, and the reestablishment of ritual practices and scholastic education.39 As in the past, reincarnate lamas took on a combined religious and secular role, actively recruiting new monks and taking responsibility for the material support of their monasteries, as well as Buddhist practice. Previous research has touched on the political influence that some reincarnate lamas exercised in support of religious revival under the renewed United Front policy (Diemberger 2007b; Arjia Rinpoché 2010; see also Slobodnik 2004, 10–11), as well as the material support provided by key figures such as the Tenth Panchen Lama, the Seventh Gungtang [gung thang] Rinpoché (a senior lama at Labrang), and lamas in exile (Slobodnik 2004, 11; Kapstein 2004, 240; Makley 2007, 262–264). On a local level, lamas were also active in providing the material necessities for rebuilding and resumption of ritual activities, through which monks received some livelihood support. For example, the Sixth Dzongchung, enthroned as Rongwo’s regent, looked after Rongwo and at least some of its branch monasteries, funding monastic assemblies and providing modest stipends for monks. Others had married and were unable to resume their full positions within the monastic hierarchy, but nevertheless actively supported monastic reconstruction. The Tenth Panchen Lama, who had married and had a family following his release from prison in 1977, is a well-known example. However, there are many others, such as Alak Trigen [khri rgan] in Repgong, who returned from exile in India in 1979 and has sponsored and overseen much of the rebuilding at Rongwo and Trashi Khyil. However, much of the wealth that lamas poured into reconstructing and reviving monasteries in the early reform years originated in the gifts they received from villagers and herders—in other words it was an indirect form of support from the lay community. Lay women and men were also directly involved in the physical reconstruction of their monasteries, providing labor

Monastic Revival  31

and materials (e.g., wood, sand, and stones gathered locally), as well as funds for rebuilding. Lhündrup and Nyima, now village elders, echoed other rememberings of this period as they both recalled how villagers worked hard of their own volition, motivated by great faith and the aspiration to accumulate merit. This spontaneous support reflects what is known about the revival of other monasteries in Amdo. A few sites such as Kumbum, Drepung, and Sera received significant government funding for reconstruction (IOSC 2005), and in a few cases benefactors from outside the community provided large donations to pay for rebuilding (TIN 1996, 1; Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 55). However, in most cases the Tibetan community provided most of the funding in the form of unpaid labor, donated materials, and sponsorship of construction and interior decoration (Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 53–54; see also Slobodnik 2004, 10; Makley 2007, 251, 264). They also returned the few remaining “treasures,” including scriptures, scroll paintings, and statues, which they (like Lhündrup) had managed to keep hidden during the Maoist years. Monks at Yershong and Ditsa emphasized their own involvement in construction work, perhaps because these monasteries are relatively remote from their supporting communities: Yershong is nestled high in mountain forests, while Ditsa is rather unusual in not having a patronage relationship with its adjacent village, instead relying on more distant communities. The only context in which my interlocutors acknowledged reliance on state agency was in the redistribution of land to monasteries. Even then, this was acknowledged only if the land was being used by state agencies or Chinese families (in other words, “outsiders”). When Tibetans had been occupying monastic space, they were said to have given it back of their own accord (Caple 2013, 35–36). Stories of the Maoist period also emphasize the agency of Tibetans in protecting and maintaining monastic traditions, structures, and objects. In Lhündrup’s village, for example, I was told that the quick thinking and skillful actions of a villager had saved one of the monastery’s temples, which the community had been ordered to destroy. In his accounts of the revival of several of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries, Pelzang (2007) refers to the protection of monastery buildings by village leaders who made them useful to socialist construction (see also Caple 2013, 37–41). We have already seen several other examples, such as Lhündrup’s care for the prayer wheel he rescued from his monastery when the army arrived, not to mention the monks who had maintained their vows and practices and entered into new (secret) teacher-student relationships. These stories reflect something of what happened during the Maoist period, as well as the dynamics of monastic revival in the 1980s. As narrative framings, they also work to assert the continuity and resurgence of the monastic moral community (restoring the earth and sky, laity, monks and lamas, to their proper places), despite the social rupture and intracommunity violence

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of the Maoist years (Caple 2013). Yet it is also important to think about them as accounts of the revitalization of particular monasteries in particular places, by particular communities and individuals. The moral-economic relationship underpinning monasticism in its mass form in Tibet functions not only at a general level but also at a local and specific level. This point is critical to any attempt to explain the extent of Tibetan monastic revival and repopulation in the 1980s. Patron Communities The resurgence of mass monasticism represented a mobilization of lay-monastic networks based on pre-1958 affiliations between particular communities, lamas, and monasteries, albeit in new contexts. Territorial and religious (monastery, Tibetan Buddhist tradition, lama) affiliation were (and are) often interlinked at the community level, with villages or herding communities acting as the patron communities of certain monasteries or reincarnate lamas. These are commonly referred to as “divine communities” (lhadé [lha sde]).40 Scholarly accounts of monastic reconstruction often refer to the support of “local” people or communities (e.g., Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 53–54), but scholastic centers had patronage relations with communities hundreds of kilometers distant. The nature of the relationship of these communities to specific monasteries also varied. The joint religious and secular authority exercised by Geluk monasteries in parts of Amdo, including Repgong, meant that monasteries like Rongwo and Labrang held jurisdiction over the lands and peoples of their divine communities. Rongwo’s main supporting communities were Repgong’s twelve inner districts (shok khak [gshog/shog khag]), which can be roughly mapped onto today’s Repgong and Tsekhok Counties, the core of Repgong as a unified polity prior to the arrival of the CCP (Weiner 2012, 86–67). These communities came under the religious and political authority of the Shartsang lineage, which rose to prominence after the First Shartsang became head of Rongwo Monastery in the seventeenth century. His lineage came to dominate over the local ruling family, the Rongwo Nangso.41 Rongwo also had eighteen outer districts, divine communities extending into the rest of Malho and nearby Bayen and for hundreds of kilometers into what are today’s Tsolho and Tsojang [mtsho byang] (Ch. Haibei) Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures. Villages and herding communities within the twelve inner districts (and beyond) were also the patron communities of one or more of Rongwo’s thirty-six affiliate monasteries in the Repgong area, each of which came under the overall authority of the Shartsang but had its own head lama(s). Some of these villages were additionally divine communities of the region’s Nyingma monasteries. Gartsé Monastery, despite being situated in Repgong

Monastic Revival  33

(and listed as one of Rongwo’s branch monasteries in Pelzang 2007, 58), was, according to its monks, independent of Rongwo, coming under the jurisdiction of Alak Gartsé and the local ruling house, Gartsé Nangso. Although considerably smaller than Rongwo, it had its own branch monasteries and patron communities. Under contemporary political and administrative structures, monasteries and reincarnate lamas no longer have (official) political jurisdiction over (or indeed any official institutionalized affiliation with) the lands and peoples of their patron communities, although they can still exercise considerable authority.42 Nevertheless, the divine community remains the basic unit at which community-monastery patronage relationships function in Repgong, as well as largely determining which monastery a boy or young man will join, whether he is recruited by a lama, sent by his parents, or himself chooses to enter monastic life. Püntsok, for example, was born into the principal supporting community of Lhündrup’s monastery. He would not have considered entering another of Rongwo’s branch monasteries, although he might have become a monk at Rongwo (and perhaps even have gone on to study in Lhasa).43 Historically, Ditsa Monastery (unlike Rongwo) had no political jurisdiction over particular districts and, according to its monks, no divine communities. Nevertheless, patronage relationships it did have with certain communities have resurfaced in the contemporary period. In many ways Ditsa is an unusual monastery. It was founded in 1903 as a center of both scholastic and meditative training by the Fourth Zhamar (himself a hermit monk) at the invitation of the local ruler, the Ditsa Nangso. Despite its relatively short history, it produced many renowned figures, and monks came to study at Ditsa from many places in the Tibetan Buddhist world, including Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Inner Mongolia. Senior monks explained that it had relied on the patronage networks of its reincarnate lamas and monks and did not “belong” to any particular community. One of them, Samten, elaborated: Ditsa had more than seven hundred monks in 1958, “mainly from Tsongönpo and also Jamdo, Zhinté, and Bongtak Chandzom,” who “gave teachings in their home areas and collected alms for the assemblies.”44 The monastery continues to have strong connections to these areas (and to specific communities within them). As with the divine communities in Repgong, the ties with these communities are maintained and reproduced through the monastic population and thus through kinship as well as patronage. For example, several of the monks I met at Ditsa were from the herding community of Mokru [rmog ru] in Tsongönpo. The birthplace of one of two “great teachers” to have survived the Maoist years, Mokru continues to be the regular sponsor of Tsongkhapa’s Death Day Offering, as it was prior to 1958. Therefore, the grassroots return to mass monasticism in the 1980s did not simply reflect a general “more is better” attitude to monastic popu-

34  Chapter 1

lation growth (whether in response to the violence of the Cultural Revolution or a new sense of Tibetan identity). It also represented a resurgence of the pre-1958 “web of monasticism,” the network of institutionalized relationships between reincarnation lineages, monasteries, and communities. Lamas, monks, villagers, herders, and other members of the community were not just reviving monastic Buddhism and engaging in generalized merit-making practices through their efforts and gifts. They were invested in the rebuilding and repopulation of specific monasteries—“their monasteries”—each of which had its own history, ritual traditions, and lineages. Lhadé, or divine communities, are defined as the “subjects” of a monastery in dictionaries of modern Tibetan (Goldstein 2001, 1179; Geng et al. 2006, 911). The term I have rendered as “head lama” ( göndak [dgon bdag]) also carries implications of sovereignty over and ownership of not only a monastery but its divine communities as well. However, Samten’s comment that Ditsa did not “belong” to any particular community hints at a perspective that complicates our understanding of the divine community and its subjugation. Without intending to dismiss the clear (and clearly gendered) hierarchies of power that structure ­monastic-lay relations (see Makley 2007), I would nevertheless argue that, in the contemporary period at least, many laypeople have not only affective ties but even proprietary attitudes to what they see as “their” monasteries. Monasteries belong to their divine communities as much as their divine communities belong to them. From a historical perspective, patronage relationships were not static. Shifts in local power relationships could result in the gifting of lands and people by local leaders to a monastery and in the transference of branch monasteries from one area to another. For example, some of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries (along with their patron communities) were gifted to Labrang during the eighteenth century (Sonam Tsering 2011).45 The places of origin of different generations of a reincarnation lineage also brought new communities into a monastery’s wider sphere of influence and patronage, although not necessarily under its political authority (see, e.g., Nietupski 2011, 66–68). In the contemporary period, patronage networks continue to shift and expand. One notable example is the increasing interest in Tibetan Buddhism in the Sinophone world (Caple 2015). Even the disruptions of the Maoist period led to the formation of new translocal patronage relationships as monks were sent to communes and labor camps in other parts of Qinghai. One of Rongwo’s great teachers (who passed away in 1993), for example, stayed in a herding area near Tsongönpo (Qinghai Lake) during the Cultural Revolution. After he returned to Rongwo, one of his students told me, herders from this area donated the money for him to rebuild the College of Dialectics Jamyang Künzik [‘jam dbyangs kun gzigs] Temple. Throughout this study, I use the terms “patron communities” and

Monastic Revival  35

“supporting communities” interchangeably to refer to those communities (farming and pastoralist) with which monasteries have patronage relationships. This does not necessarily connote that, historically, they came under the political jurisdiction of these monasteries and their head lamas. Rather, it is to reflect that, as communities, they have historical, territorial, and/or ­kinship-based ties to particular lamas and monasteries. This is in distinction to individual “patrons” who have developed a relationship with a particular lama or monastery outside of these affiliations—an important distinction, given the increasing sponsorship by patrons in the Sinophone world. My interlocutors emphasized the great faith people possessed during the early reform years and the voluntary and spontaneous nature of their outpouring of donations (including labor). However, the economic relationship between monasteries and their patron communities would become more firmly reinstitutionalized following the first flush of revival, when monasteries resumed the historical practice of going out into their patron communities to collect alms for monastic events. Institutionalized Alms Collection Trinlé remembered spending roughly three months outside his monastery in 1996, travelling to (sometimes distant) communities within the monastery’s patronage network to collect donations. Appointed to the office of monastery steward (nyerwa [gnyer ba]), he was charged with organizing that year’s assembly “teas” (mangja [mang ja]), the meals provided to monks during Dharma sessions and other regular religious events. These meals constitute the main expense for the annual round of collective monastic activities, and it was Trinlé’s responsibility to collect enough food and money to fund them. He travelled to one area, stayed there ten days, and then returned to the monastery. Then he travelled to another village or herding community, visiting each household to ask for contributions, writing down the amount of money and food they pledged. After returning to the monastery, he would write a receipt for each household that had made a donation. The farthest that this work took him was to a herding area, some three hundred kilometers from his monastery, that had a patronage relationship with his monastery’s head lama. In the early reform years, the gifts of food, money, precious metals, and jewelry offered to reincarnate lamas provided the main support base for assembly gatherings. However, as the numbers of monasteries and monks increased (see table 5.1), reliance on a spontaneous outpouring of gifts from the laity to their lamas was not sustainable.46 Jampel, one of the first new monks to enter Ditsa when it reopened, explained that collective activities were initially funded by the head lama, the Sixth Zhamar (1953–1987), through his estate (nangchen [nang chen]), an economic entity separate from

36  Chapter 1

the monastery:47 “The number of monks increased, and the nangchen had its own affairs to attend to. So it was quite difficult. Before, people would bring offerings for the lama to this nangchen, but afterwards it was very difficult to bring big offerings all the time.” To support their increasing numbers, monasteries began to resume organized alms collections in their patron communities, reestablishing pre1958 monastic offices.48 Officials like Trinlé would travel to villages and herding areas, sometimes for several months each year, charged with the responsibility of garnering the basic necessities, such as grain, butter, and meat, to support the monastery’s annual festivals, rituals, and Dharma sessions (debating “semesters” or ritual cycles). In some cases, they would be responsible for liaising with village authorities, who would then organize the collection of contributions from individual households to fund specific activities. In other cases, lamas and monks would give teachings, recitations, and, if qualified, blessings and empowerments, although their fund-raising activities as designated monastic officials were distinct from those of lamas and monks who provided religious services for remuneration in support of their own livelihoods. At Ditsa the stewards initially acted only as organizers, not fund-raisers, but from about 1984 they started collecting alms in villages and herding areas with which they had patronage relations. In Repgong the Sixth Dzongchung, enthroned as the Shartsang’s regent in February 1980, had been responsible for looking after the religious and secular affairs of Rongwo Monastery when it reopened. Redistributing gifts he received from the laity, he had supported its three colleges and aided some of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries. After he passed away in 1988 (Pelzang 2007, 71), the monastery decided to reestablish the post of sertri [gser khri]; literally, golden throne), held by senior reincarnate lamas responsible for raising funds for collective activities. Prior to 1958 this had been a three-year office, but in the contemporary period lamas took on the responsibility for longer periods (perhaps because there were few senior reincarnate lamas who had survived and maintained their vows). The post was held first by the Seventh Khaso (b. 1930) from 1991 to 1998 and then by the Sixth Rongwo [rong bo] (b. 1942) from 1998 until 2003. They travelled throughout the twelve districts of Repgong giving teachings and empowerments to laypeople, who offered them gifts of butter, cheese, barley flour, money, precious metals, and jewelry, which were used to support monastic assemblies and rituals. Stewards also went out to raise funds for the monastery’s three colleges. Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries appointed stewards—like Trinlé—who were responsible for collecting alms for and organizing monastic activities.49 However, this reinstitutionalization of the economic relationship between monasteries and their supporting communities was to become both practically and morally problematic. By the time I first met Trinlé in autumn

Monastic Revival  37

2008, he told me that the system had changed over the past few years. The steward no longer went out to collect alms. Instead, the monastic leadership had collected together a capital fund, which they invested in interest-bearing loans. They had also opened some small businesses. These economic reforms were illustrative of a more general shift in monastic economies, which is examined in the next chapter. Monastic revival was experienced as a gradual process rather than an event, but its speed and scale were nevertheless remarkable. Although there were no working monasteries at the end of the 1970s, within a decade of the CCP’s relaxation on religious restrictions, thousands had reopened. Monastic life, which had been far from an extraordinary vocation prior to the Maoist period, once again became an ordinary pathway for many boys and young men. This revival of “mass monasticism” in the early 1980s cannot simply be explained by shifts in Communist Party policy. It involved a process of social and moral reordering in which both monastics and laity participated. Stories of the revival told by those involved suggest that the reinscription of social, spatial, and symbolic boundaries was central to what it meant for monastic Buddhism to be revived. They also reveal threads of continuity running through the Maoist period, despite the disbanding and destruction of monasteries and the enforced laicization of monastics in, first, 1958 and subsequently during the Cultural Revolution. The reconstruction and repopulation of monasteries on a large scale was dependent on the resurgence of a moral community sharing common values and ideas about Buddhism and about society in general. However, it also represented the particularistic efforts of people to restore and repopulate “their” monasteries. The first flush of revival was supported by a spontaneous outpouring of gifts from the laity to their monasteries and lamas. This not only restored the moral-economic relationship between the laity as patrons to monastics as a generalized field of merit and power. It also represented a resurgence of relationships, and thus mutual obligations, between particular lamas and monasteries and their supporting communities—albeit within radically altered political, social, and economic contexts. These relationships would become more firmly reinstitutionalized as the rapidly expanding monasteries reestablished monastic offices for alms collection. As the rest of this book will show, the ethics of these relationships, as well as the permeability in practice of the social and moral boundaries underpinning them, have been at the heart of moral imperatives and dilemmas shaping subsequent monastic development.


Monastic Reform The Path to “Self-Sufficiency”

me something about the differences between monastic economies before 1958 and in the post-Mao period, I was introduced to Tendzin, a monastic elder whose academic title of “Geshé” [dge bshes] distinguished him as a scholarly monk who held a monastic degree. Having briefly explained the pre-1958 economic system, he said that there had been great changes since then. He then proceeded to talk about reforms that had taken place since the turn of the millennium. It was as if the 1980s and 1990s belonged to the same “past” as the period before 1958. The monastery, he said, had always had an official who collected alms to support collective activities, but this tradition had been stopped and the monastery had started some small businesses. Following a process of logical moral reasoning that I found characteristic of monks trained in dialectics, he went on to explain why: EAGER TO FIND SOMEONE WHO COULD TELL

Nowadays, in accordance with societal trends, people are speaking of being self-sufficient or not being self-sufficient, so therefore if we consider the words of the benevolent Lord Buddha and all the other factors, self-sufficiency reduces the burden of the people. The sacred Dharma is for the benefit of the people, not to increase the burden of the people, so we ceased the traditional practice of asking for donation . . . in order to be self-supporting. This was mainly carried out through the management of shops and clinics to meet the needs of the people. 38

Monastic Reform  39

Although not always framed in such explicitly Buddhist rhetoric, these and similar reforms elsewhere were to become very familiar to me, as would the moral discourse that accompanied them. This moral discourse centered on the idea that alms collection was a burden for the public. Lay-monastic patronage remains a vital part of monastic support— and increasing wealth has been flowing to monks and monasteries from the laity in recent years. By 2009, however, monks at most monasteries claimed that they had stopped going out to collect contributions toward monastic activities from their patron communities. Instead, with the aim of becoming more “self-sufficient” (rangkha rangso [rang kha rang gso]), they had established capital funds from donations made by lamas, monks, and laypeople. These funds had been invested in profit-making enterprises, such as moneylending, wholesale shops, medical clinics, and the manufacture of religious products. During the early reform years, commercial ventures had been developed at some of the major Geluk centers and Chinese Buddhist monasteries, becoming an important element in their monastic economies (Goldstein 1998; Yin 2006; Makley 2007). However, my research indicates that this may have been the exception rather than the rule among Geluk monasteries. Some monasteries in eastern Amdo did start small businesses in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but these appear to have operated as self-sustaining services rather than profit-making enterprises or were insignificant elements in local monastic economies. Land (farmland, forest, grassland) was redistributed to some monasteries, but they remained largely dependent on contributions collected from their patron communities or on support from their head lamas. Since the turn of the millennium, however, there has been an increased emphasis on self-sufficiency and a move away from alms collection. This was identified by my interlocutors as the key shift in monastic financing since the 1980s. Such reforms appear to have moved monastic economies into closer alignment with state religious policy, as well as to reflect a practical need to secure reliable income sources. Yet many monks, like Geshé Tendzin, placed agency for monastic economic reform within the monastic community and presented it as a moral issue. In other words, this was not just something that monks had to do but something that at least some felt they should be doing, even though there was a tension between new economic practices and conceptions of ideal monastic behaviors. This chapter examines this moral dimension of monastic economic reform, questioning the extent to which monastic development has been defined by state-monastic interactions. Were monks, like Geshé Tendzin, rationalizing and reinterpreting monastic accommodation of state policy in a way that was acceptable and meaningful to them as monks? Were they making a virtue out of the necessity of operating within the limits of state-defined religious space? Or were there dynamics within the monastic community that need to be understood beyond the political and

40  Chapter 2

hegemonic power of the contemporary Chinese state? Who advocated change, what were their loci of inspiration and legitimacy, and what were their concerns? Before exploring these and related questions, this chapter first provides an outline of the structure and economies of fifteen monasteries (three scholastic centers and twelve practice centers/branch monasteries), documenting the general shift away from active alms collection and along what monks described as the path to self-sufficiency.1 Monastic Management: An Introduction Under Chinese state regulations, monastic affairs at each monastery must be managed by a “Democratic Management Committee.” In Repgong and western Bayen, these committees are headed by the monastery’s head lama (or other senior lama) and made up of a group of senior monks, the number depending on the size of the monastery. As discussed in the previous chapter, monasteries reestablished pre-1958 monastic offices responsible for overseeing and funding their annual cycle of Dharma sessions and rituals. These, as well as other monastic offices, now officially come under the overall administration of the management committee, which, in addition to overseeing monastic affairs (religious and mundane), liaises with government agencies such as the Religious Affairs Bureau and, if relevant, the Tourism Bureau. However, major monastic policy decisions not only require state approval but also require a consensus among the monks. Pressures for policy changes can come from within the monastic community as well as from the state. As of 2015, none of the monasteries discussed here had lay officials on their management committees, as most are required to do in Central Tibet (Cabezón 2008, 272–274; HRW 2012).2 Although committee membership requires official state approval, monks were selected largely by seniority (age or length of service) and, at larger scholastic centers, their reputation as scholars or capable administrators. In some cases, membership was coterminous with other offices, such as that of master of discipline. Members served a fixed (usually three-year) term, although some monks stayed in the post for more than one term. In only one case did I detect overt antagonism among monks toward a monastery’s management committee; even then, this was directed toward a specific individual. Serving on these committees, some of these senior monks have been active in shaping the development of their monastic economies during their terms of office—one example being Jamyang, whom we met in the introduction to this book. As in premodern Tibet, each monastery has three distinct (but interconnected) economic layers: the livelihood and wealth of individual monks; the monastery’s collective income and expenditures; and the wealth and properties of reincarnate lamas. It is the second of these, the monastery’s col-

Monastic Reform  41

lective economy, that the management committees are ultimately responsible for and with which this study is primarily concerned, although concerns over individual livelihoods have factored into debates about modes of collective financing (discussed further in chapter 4). Just as was the case prior to 1958, the monastery as a collective must finance its annual round of rituals, religious events, and Dharma sessions. However, it is not responsible for supporting individual monks who depend on family support; their share of the food and cash distributed during collective assemblies (and in some cases stipends); remuneration for religious services (and in some cases gifts from wealthy patrons); and, at some of Repgong’s monasteries, religious arts and crafts. Wealthier monks might themselves become patrons of their monasteries. Each of a monastery’s affiliated reincarnation lineages, including the head lama, has its own estate (wealth and properties, including a residence in the monastery). These estates—commonly termed nangchen in Amdo and labrang in Central Tibet—are administratively and economically separate from the monastery and managed by monastic officials who are members of the lama’s household. It is beyond the scope of this study to examine the financing of these estates, other than to note that at least some accrue considerable wealth from patrons in the Sinophone world, as well as receiving donations from Tibetan communities within which the lamas perform teachings, blessings, empowerments, divinations, and various other roles related to the protection and well-being of both individuals and communities. Not only did these lamas and their estates play a central role in financing the revival of monastic Buddhism, but they can still be important contributors to the economies of their monasteries. Rongwo Monastery, Repgong A large regional scholastic monastery housing around seven hundred monks as of 2015, Rongwo functions as several independent economic units (even excluding the lamas’ estates). All of Rongwo’s monks gather together in the monastery’s main assembly hall for four main annual festivals and various other rituals and assemblies. However, they are also members of one of the monastery’s three colleges (dratsang [grwa tshang]):3 the College of Dialectics (approximately six hundred monks in 2015);4 the Tantric College (around fifty monks);5 and the Kālacakra College (around thirty monks).6 Although all are officially under the umbrella of Rongwo’s Management Committee, each college has its own assembly (tsok [tshogs]), constitution, education system, texts, and administrative structure and is a separate economic entity. Each must therefore manage its own income and expenditure and fund its own annual calendar of rituals and Dharma sessions (debating “semesters” or ritual cycles, depending on the college). Before 1958 each had its own abbot

42  Chapter 2

(triwa [khri ba]), who, along with the college stewards, raised funds for college activities. After the revival of religion in the 1980s they were all looked after by the Sixth Dzongchung, Rongwo’s regent, and from 1991 by the golden throne holder (sertri). Each college also had stewards responsible for raising funds and organizing college activities. The College of Dialectics opened a medical clinic in 1989 and ran some small businesses, such as a general store and a monastic tailor shop. However, these operated as self-sustaining services for monks rather than as profit-making enterprises. In 2001 a decision was made to abolish the post of golden throne holder and to require the colleges to develop their capacity to self-finance. By 2003, Dharma session trust funds (teptsa [thebs rtsa]) had been established for each, contributed to by reincarnate lamas (including the last golden throne holder, Alak Rongwo), monks, and the laity. The capital of each fund was invested in interest-bearing loans and other businesses, as well as being supplemented by further donations. The College of Dialectics, by far the largest of the three, has developed the most commercial enterprises, the profits from which are used to fund those days or specific meals during Dharma sessions that have no sponsor. In 2013, one of the college’s managers estimated that the college was directly financing around 40 percent of its activities. Any surplus profits are distributed to the monks at the end of the year. As of June 2015, the college’s businesses included three shops, each staffed by monks and selling drinks, snacks, and religious products (one inside the monastery close to the main gate [figure 3], one next to the northern entrance, and one

FIG. 3  College of Dialectics shop inside Rongwo Monastery, 2009

Monastic Reform  43

in town); a medical clinic, as of 2009 staffed by a monk doctor and located in town; commercial property rental (a recent development as of 2015, reflecting a local real estate boom); a temple generating income from rituals oriented toward mundane concerns, such as health (zhap ten khang [zhabs brten khang]); and the manufacture of religious products (sold in the monastery shops), including incense, longevity pills, and “treasure vases” (terbum [gter bum]), which contain purified/blessed substances and are placed on altars or buried in the ground to remove obstacles to spiritual and material wealth (figure 4).7 The Tantric College had a wholesale shop staffed by monks and located in the town, selling drinks, foodstuffs, and religious products such as butter for offerings, incense, and offering scarves (khatak [kha btags]). The Kālacakra College had a medical clinic located in town and staffed (as of 2009) by a lay tantric religious specialist. Both colleges were also manufacturing religious products such as incense and treasure vases. The college businesses are run by a group of managers (khamgowa [kha ’go ba]) who form each college’s Dharma Session Fund Committee, which comes under the oversight of the relevant college’s master of discipline (each of whom sits on Rongwo’s Management Committee). In the College of Dialectics, this responsibility falls to the senior dzö (mdzod; Skt. Abhidharma) class, the tenth of eleven grades in the curriculum. Once they have completed

FIG. 4  Treasure vase

44  Chapter 2

their dzö studies, which take two years, they must serve for two years as managers. During this period, this, rather than their studies, is their primary work. The number of managers depends on the size of the class, but positions include a treasurer, who acts as the purse holder, and an accountant, who oversees income and expenditures. The managers not only run the businesses but also staff them (except for the medical clinic). In the case of the shops, this involves handling everyday commercial transactions with customers—an issue that is the subject of some contention (discussed in chapter 4). The college also has stewards who organize the distribution of tea, food, and donations during assemblies. The managers in the other colleges, which are much smaller, are selected by lottery or rotation for one or two years. The Tantric College has four or five managers, whose main responsibility is to run and staff the wholesale shop in town, while the Kālacakra College has only two. In 2006 the College of Dialectics established a separate Education Fund from capital donated by Rongwo’s head lama, the Eighth Shartsang, supplemented by donations from other lamas, monks, and lay patrons. The fund, whose managers are appointed to an Education Fund Committee, is used to pay monks an annual disbursement based on how many days they have attended the debate courtyard (five yuan per day in 2006–2007, seven yuan in 2007–2008, and, as of June 2014, ten yuan since 2008–2009). In 2009 the Tantric and Kālacakra Colleges also established education funds (again, the initial capital donated by Shartsang Rinpoché) that are used to pay disbursements to monks for attending teachings. These college education funds are invested in interest-bearing loans and, in the College of Dialectics, its other businesses. Collective activities that bring together the monks from all three colleges in the main assembly hall are now funded by sponsors, capital funds, or both. The Great Prayer Festival (held on days 11–16 of the first lunar month) is still sponsored by Rongwo’s patron communities in rotation, and Tsongkhapa’s Death Day Offering (held on days 25–29 of the tenth month) is financed by individual sponsors. There are specific endowment funds for the Great Fifth Month Offering Festival (established in 2009 by local businessmen), the Great Eighth Month Offering Festival, and various other death day offering festivals. These funds are managed by the monastery’s Management Committee and invested in interest-bearing loans. The monastery as a collective unit has no businesses other than moneylending, but it does receive an annual payment from the Tourism Bureau, which takes the income from tourist ticket sales.8 This and any other income is channeled into a central fund, also managed by the Management Committee and lent out at interest. The fund is used to finance repairs to the assembly hall and temples, monastery maintenance and construction, and relief for sick or poor monks. In theory, it can also be drawn on to fund Tsongkhapa’s Death Day Offering if the event

Monastic Reform  45

has no other sponsors. In practice, there seems to be little need for this at present: as of 2015, there was a waiting list of sponsors for this event. With the exception of the monastery’s Great Prayer Festival (a case to which I will return), monks emphasized that all collective monastery and college activities are now funded through voluntary sponsorship (which can include people requesting religious services and/or making donations for merit), interest made on the lending of capital endowments and trust funds, profits from their commercial enterprises, or some combination of these. Unlike college stewards in the past, the college managers do not go out into their patron communities to collect contributions. Rather, they are charged with running college businesses and managing their income and expenditures. On one occasion, I saw the managers actively collecting donations for the Dharma session and education funds, but this was in the monastery. The College of Dialectics was holding a public debating session, presided over by the highly revered Alak Khaso and falling on Sagadawa, the day celebrating the Buddha’s birth, death, and enlightenment (the fifteenth day of the fourth month), when many laypeople come to the monastery. College managers moved through the crowds who were listening to and watching the monks, taking donations and recording the amounts and donors’ names in their smartphones to be printed later in a list posted on the door of the college’s kitchen. Monks described the shift away from alms collection toward a path of self-sufficiency as the main change in Rongwo’s monastic economy. It represents a broader pattern in Repgong and western Bayen, although at some of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries the line that monks draw between voluntary sponsorship and solicited donations in their eschewal of alms collection can sometimes be blurred. Rongwo’s Affiliate Monasteries Although falling under the authority of Rongwo’s head lama, each of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries has its own head lama, constitution, administration, and patron communities. Their size varies, ranging from less than twenty monks at some to more than one hundred at others (see table 5.1). As described in more detail in the introduction to this book, some are situated on the edge of villages, which are their main patron communities, while others are in more secluded locations. Monks are expected to take their turn working for their monasteries in various posts, such as those of temple caretaker, steward, and disciplinarian. Administrative posts, including those of the stewards, are usually held in rotation, depending on length of monastic service and sometimes also age. Individual monastic economies vary, but, like Rongwo, many of its affiliates have established capital funds that are invested in interest-bearing loans or monastery businesses, most commonly shops and medical clinics,

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although one practice center had also started manufacturing religious products by 2009. Some also have endowments for specific religious events that were established by reincarnate lamas or laypeople. The importance monks attributed to commercial activities in their monastic economies varied at the eleven affiliate monasteries on which I collected data in 2009.9 Six had small shops and/or medical clinics. Some held rights to forest, farmland, or grassland. These resources were cited as providing important sources of income at Nyentok (which leased out its fields) and Dowa Drok (which leased out its grasslands). Three monasteries had received income from the government for forestry protection, but in two cases this income ceased in 2008. Two monasteries reported income from the sale of tourist tickets. All still relied on sponsorship, and some remained fairly dependent for funding on the estates of their head lamas. Despite differences in individual monastic economies, a common theme in my discussions with monks at these monasteries was that donations were voluntarily given and/or that their monastery had stopped collecting alms from the public. This shift occurred as early as 2000–2001 at one practice center with its establishment of a capital fund but, in most cases, seems to have occurred during the second half of the 2000s. By 2009, at only one monastery was I told that it still relied on alms collected by the steward from its patron communities.10 At another, a senior monk told me that the monastery (a practice center) had a small shop but opposed the development of businesses, arguing that this was “the job of the lay community, not the responsibility of monks.” The monastery was not as wealthy as others, he added, but its education was better (reflecting a more general ambivalence toward monastic development discussed in chapters 3 and 4). Even so, this monk emphasized, “We never go to the villages to collect donations.” Rather, villagers came to the monastery to offer money for ritual services. A friend later told me that this monk was revered among the villagers in his district, which is roughly thirty kilometers from the monastery. They considered him a lama in the sense of a great teacher, and he travelled to their district each year to give five days of teachings. Although this lama did not want to take anything from the villagers, my friend told me, they would send roasted barley flour, butter, bread, and money to the monastery. In this case, there had been no apparent change in monastic financing, but rhetorical emphasis was nevertheless placed on the fact that donations were unsolicited. This lama was not acting in the capacity of a monastic official charged with responsibility for collecting contributions (as, e.g., Rongwo’s golden throne holder had been). The modality of sponsorship represented here is more akin to that of the early 1980s: a highly revered lama receives and redistributes gifts offered spontaneously by the faithful laity. At monasteries that have reformed their economies, monastic officials might, in practice, still need to do a certain amount of fund-raising to make up

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for any shortfall. This is evident if we examine in more detail the workings of the economy of Lhündrup’s monastery. Although the monastery established a capital fund and the steward stopped going out to collect alms, the fund did not grow in pace with inflation. As a result, by 2009 the steward had to raise some money himself. The monastery has one shop, the income from which is distributed to the monks at the end of each year. Major religious events, such as its Great Prayer Festival, are now funded by households that voluntarily pledge sponsorship. Dharma sessions and other activities are partially (and voluntarily) supported by villagers but are also supported through interest on the central monastery fund and specific endowments that are loaned to villagers. In 2009, Püntsok, who was acting as steward that year, estimated that over a third of the costs were met by village families who sponsored assembly teas. For the rest, he was given money from the central monastery fund managed by the monastery’s Management Committee. However, he explained, this was not enough to cover his costs. Rising commodity prices meant that he also needed to ask his relatives to sponsor some of the teas and to ask herders to give butter. He mentioned, as an example, the upcoming Eighth Month Offering: “The monastery will give around one thousand yuan on the twenty-fifth day of the seventh month, which will barely cover the cost of buying fruit. Another one thousand yuan may be needed. I have called some people to donate money for it, but I haven’t got the money yet.” I found similar evidence elsewhere that stewards (or other monks responsible for funding a particular activity) still sometimes relied on their interpersonal networks to raise finance. This selective solicitation of donations was not seen as ideal—during a conversation with one steward, I got the impression that, as he was talking, he realized that he should not really be telling me about it. However, it was seen as different from—and at least some improvement on—the “old” practice of relying on collective contributions from patron communities. Moreover, the ideal was still to move toward an economy based entirely on a combination of profits from monastic capital and sponsorship given or pledged voluntarily. Gartsé Monastery, Repgong Although located in current-day Repgong (Ch. Tongren) County, Gartsé functions as an independent center of dialectical training. Smaller in scale than Rongwo, with 164 monks as of 2009, it has nevertheless developed a full Geluk curriculum since it reopened in 1981 and now awards scholastic degrees, following the traditions and curriculum of Labrang Monastery in Gansu. Its annual activities include four Dharma sessions (spring, summer, autumn, and winter), as well as a Great Prayer Festival, Tsongkhapa’s Death Day Offering (and other death day offerings), and a fasting practice in the fourth month. Reopened in 1981, Gartsé appears to have started developing its

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businesses relatively early. In 1989 its head lama founded a monastic education organization with the aim of inviting teachers from Labrang. The monastery established a capital fund and invested it in a medical clinic and two shops. As of 2009, the head lama (who passed away in 2014) remained the principal sponsor of collective activities, but his monastery’s businesses had also become an important source of income—more important, according to one of the monastery’s caretakers, than the donations and remunerations they continued to receive from the laity.11 In 2008 the monks had started running a petrol station opposite the monastery, a logical choice of business venture, given that the monastery is positioned on the main road between Repgong and neighboring Gansu Province (and Labrang Monastery). They also produced incense and treasure vases, as well as investing capital in interest-bearing loans. The monastery’s businesses used to be managed by its Management Committee, but since 2007 it has appointed two monastic managers (chipa [spyi pa]), on three-year terms, to oversee them, with four laypeople employed to work in the petrol station and shops. Gartsé also has grasslands, but I was told that the income from these is minimal. Ditsa Monastery, Bayen Originally founded as a center of both scholastic and meditative training, Ditsa Monastery, which housed over four hundred monks as of 2015, has been reconstituted as a scholastic institution that awards monastic degrees. The Management Committee, which monks also referred to as the Elders Committee (Gentsok [rgan tshogs]), manages the monastery’s financial affairs. The Elders Committee appoints monks to monastic offices, including two stewards responsible for organizing collective activities during their two-year term of office and the monastery’s shopkeepers. Unlike at Rongwo, appointments to administrative posts are based on monks’ qualities of being honest and capable managers, as well as their relative seniority. Since establishing an autumn session in 2008, Ditsa now has four Dharma sessions (totaling 120 days) during which the monks practice debate and receive two meals per day. As of 2014, this cost an average of around two thousand yuan per day. In addition, those monks remaining in the monastery for the (optional) fortyfive-day summer retreat (yerné [dbyar gnas]) are given one meal per day. The other main collective activities are a ten-day offering festival in the second month (which some monks refer to as their “Mönlam” [smon lam], or Prayer Festival), during which monks are given three meals each day; death day offerings for Tsongkhapa, the Fourth Zhamar (Ditsa’s founder), and other reincarnate lamas and teachers; a seven-day longevity practice at the winter solstice; a fasting practice in the fourth month; and three protector deity rituals (although these require only ten monks). Some activities are funded

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by certain villages every year, while other communities or households might sponsor other days or meals in any given year.12 The rest of the costs are met through a central fund. Döndrup, who was a steward in 2011–2013, told me that the monastery was meeting just over half (about 270,000 yuan) of the total annual costs (about 480,000 yuan). Ditsa started developing its capacity to self-finance monastic activities in the mid-1990s. As we have seen, when the monastery first reopened, the estate of the head lama (Zhamar) had funded assemblies and rituals. From about 1984, as numbers of monks increased, the monastery’s stewards (at that time there were four) started travelling to villages and herding areas to collect money, grain, and meat. In 1995 the monastery decided to raise a fund, which was then loaned out to laypeople and the interest used to help fund the Dharma sessions. Subsequently, capital was added by patrons from inland China to make a balance of six to seven hundred thousand yuan. Although the monastery raised some income through lending out this capital at interest, it also continued to rely on donations collected by the stewards. In 2000 the monastery established a shop near the assembly hall (now Ditsa’s upper shop), but this was leased out as a private business and the only income was the lease fee. In 2003 the Management Committee decided to take over the running of the shop (figure 5) and bought a truck for transporting merchandise.

FIG. 5  Ditsa Monastery’s upper shop, 2009

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In 2006 the monastery raised another fund from patrons to build a new complex inside the monastery, which contains another general store, a restaurant, a vegetable shop, a computer room, a book shop, a printer’s shop, a tailor’s shop, a meeting room, and a medical clinic. With the exception of the restaurant (which is leased out) and the medical clinic (which employed a lay doctor), these enterprises are staffed by monks. They mostly cater to the monastic population (except for the medical clinic), but the shops are also used by laypeople who come to the monastery to request services or make offerings. The shops and restaurant provide the main income, while the other facilities provide self-sufficient services. By 2009 the monastery had also started producing longevity pills and treasure vases. Around fifteen monks are assigned the work of making these products, including performing the necessary rituals. Senior monks considered the businesses to be lower-risk investments than moneylending, since a monastery (unlike the state) has no power to enforce repayment.13 In addition, the profit is greater. When one of them (Ngawang) showed me the longevity pills in 2009, he reported an increase in their initial capital investment of twenty thousand yuan to sixty thousand yuan, adding, “If you lend twenty thousand yuan to people, you don’t get this kind of income.” In 2008 the senior monks decided to prohibit the stewards from going out and begging for alms because they now had sufficient capital to cover any shortfall in sponsorship. “If anyone comes voluntarily and gives a donation, then so be it,” Ngawang told me in 2009. “But since last year we said that there will be a punishment for begging. Expenses come from the monastery itself.” By 2014 the businesses were doing so well, I was told, that the monastery not only was able to fund collective activities for which there were no sponsors but also had given each monk five hundred yuan as a present at the end of the previous year.14 Trashitsé, Bayen Following a series of disputes at Ditsa in the early 1990s (including over its reconstitution as a degree-awarding institution), one of its reincarnate lamas, Alak Gyeltsap, left in 1994 to found a new practice-focused monastery, Trashitsé. The monastery was founded on the site of one of the hermitages of Ditsa’s founder, the Fourth Zhamar. According to its monks, the five local villages invited the monks there because Alak Gyeltsap was from this area.15 The villagers helped the monks build quarters and gave donations of food and money. The monastery appointed a steward, who would spend one year raising funds for the next year’s Dharma sessions and rituals (totaling 146 days), which he would then organize while another monk went out to collect contributions for the following year.

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Like Ditsa, Trashitsé has been slowly developing its capacity to finance its activities through a combination of voluntary sponsorship and profits on monastic capital invested in loans and small businesses. Around 2002 the monks decided to establish a capital fund, pooling the monastery’s capital (fifty thousand yuan) and contributions from the head lama (twenty thousand yuan) and monastic leaders (five thousand yuan each), totaling roughly one hundred thousand yuan. This was supplemented by contributions from other monks, usually of between one and three thousand yuan, and invested in interest-bearing loans. The Management Committee also took over the shop inside the monastery, which had previously been leased out, and established a medical clinic in town. However, for the next three years the steward continued to collect contributions from communities with which either he or the monastery’s head lama had a relationship (like Ditsa, Trashitsé has no “divine communities”). Finally, the monastery had sufficient capital that it could generate enough income to cover the expenses of its three annual Dharma sessions. From 2005 the steward no longer had to go out to collect alms, and his post was reduced to one year. There are regular sponsors for the monastery’s main religious events: the Second Month Offering, Tsongkhapa’s Death Day Offering, and each day of the seven-day winter longevity practice. Alms Collection, Voluntary Sponsorship, and the Path to “Self-Sufficiency” A common pattern of development across most of these monasteries has been a shift away from institutionalized alms collection and, to lesser or greater degrees, development of self-supporting activities. However, this does not mean that lay support for monasteries has declined. Lay patronage—in the form of both donations and remuneration for ritual services—remains an important basis of support for monastic activities at all of these monasteries, either directly or through reincarnate lamas.16 In some cases, regular sponsorship of particular events has historical precedent. For example, Rongwo Monastery’s Great Prayer Festival continues to be sponsored in rotation by Repgong’s twelve districts, while at Ditsa the herding community of Mokru continues to sponsor Tsongkhapa’s three-day Death Day Offering. Some of the branch monasteries and practice centers remain largely dependent on their patron communities and/or reincarnate lama(s). Moreover, sponsorship has increased as local development has left both laity and monks with more disposable income. For example, at Rongwo, there is there is now a waiting list of sponsors for Yertön [dbyar ston]), the festival marking the end of the summer retreat, as well as for Tsongkhapa’s Death Day Offering, and individual households now sponsor major festivals at some of Repgong’s vil-

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lage monasteries. There has also been a rise in patronage from the Sinophone world. Although much of that patronage has been oriented toward temple building (Caple 2015), Ditsa, for example, established a new autumn Dharma session in 2008, sponsored by Chinese student-patrons of one of its monks.17 However, a clear distinction has been drawn between sponsorship pledged by individuals and communities of their own volition and institutionalized alms collection from patron communities by monastic officials. A perceived need to shift away from the latter has led to the increased emphasis on so-called self-sufficiency and development of monastic businesses. In other words, we are not seeing in these developments a transition toward total self-sufficiency, with monastic eschewal of lay support and an end to ­monastic-lay interdependence. Rather, monastic leaders have been concerned with ensuring that they are able to fund Dharma sessions and annual religious events if there is no sponsor, without having to resort to collecting contributions from patron communities. The one major exception is the sponsorship of the Great Prayer Festival at Rongwo, which remains mandatory and highly organized. Funded in rotation by the twelve districts of Repgong and Rongwo’s branch monasteries (collectively), patron communities have a responsibility to organize the necessary funding when their turn comes around.18 The same explanation for the continuation of this form of sponsorship was offered by both monks and laypeople: the festival, which brings together all the monks from Rongwo and its affiliate monasteries, is so big that organized, fixed contributions are necessary to ensure sufficient funding for it. Some of my interlocutors also argued that because it is the only such obligation that Rongwo’s patron communities now have and it comes around only once every thirteen years, it does not place a huge burden on the villagers and herders. To the contrary, one retired official exclaimed, the financial cost to each household is not that much, but it is a great and rare opportunity to accumulate merit. We have seen that, in practice, the line between voluntary sponsorship and solicited donations can be blurred, and, in at least some cases, monastic officials still need to raise funds through their interpersonal networks. However, this seems to be viewed differently from the routine and regular alms collections that monastic officials had previously undertaken. Moreover, regardless of the fuzziness of these lines in practice, it is clear that a moral boundary has been drawn: institutionalized alms collection in patron communities by monastic officials is now something to be eschewed (in practice and discourse). This shift in attitude toward institutionalized alms collection provided the impetus for the significant business development at scholastic centers since the turn of the millennium and for similar attempts to embark on the path to self-sufficiency at branch and practice monasteries, even if the extent of their development of self-supporting activities has varied.

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Toward Alignment with State Policy? The development of self-supporting businesses and the distancing from monastic alms collection from the public seem to be moving these monastic economies toward alignment with state policies. Self-sufficiency is one of the principles through which the existence of a discursive space for the existence of religion was opened within the overall atheist framework of the Chinese Constitution (Wank 2009, 144), although it should be noted that its ideological roots go back considerably further within the history of Chinese Buddhism. In the eighth century, there were innovations in Ch’an Buddhism that justified monastic manual labor; these were probably related to criticisms of monks as parasitic that date back to as early as the fifth century (Ornatowski 1996, 220; see also Welch 1972; Gernet 1995; Yu 2005). Since the beginning of the revival of religion in China in the late 1970s, state policy has required monastics to make efforts to be self-­supporting and engage in productive labor as part of a more general obligation to serve the socialist modernization enterprise.19 In line with the policy that there must be no revival of traditional exploitative “feudal privileges,” government regulations draw a distinction between voluntary donations, which are permitted, and any form of “apportionment” or “coercion,” which is prohibited (RRA 2005, Article 20; QZST 2009, Article 39; HZFT 2009, Articles 42 and 45). Until September 2009, provincial legislation required monastery management committees to “organize religious personnel in actively developing all kinds of productive service activities and social welfare undertakings, and to increase economic income, and move toward realizing self-­sufficiency” (QZCG 1992, Article 7). This clause was omitted from the superseding 2009 provincial regulations (QZST 2009), but monastery management committees in Repgong are still required to develop their self-sufficiency under prefecture-level regulations (HZFT 2009, Article 20).20 Academic writing in China on contemporary Tibetan Buddhist monastic economy has been rooted in this policy framework. It has emphasized the need for monasteries to develop businesses in the interests of both self-support and local development, including tourism, animal husbandry, agriculture, shops, restaurants, Tibetan medicine, scripture printing, religious product manufacturing, crafts, and transportation (Mei 2001, 153–164; see also Donggacang and Cairangjia 1995; Kai 2000; Makley 2007, 260–261; Liu 2012; Ding 2014).21 Literature produced outside the PRC has presented the development of commercial enterprises as a pragmatic response to the loss of traditional systems of support (Goldstein 1998)22 or as a state requirement (Schrempf 2000; Kolås and Thowsen 2005). In her study of Labrang, Makley (2007, 261) argues that rationalization of monastic capitalism as nonexploitative

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“self-sufficiency” worked to appropriate the monastic moral economy for state-sponsored capitalism. However, this provided space for members of the monastic elite to pursue their own interests, working as “oppositional entrepreneurs” seeking capital to reconstruct “an ideally Tibetan patrifilial order” (ibid.).23 Schrempf (2000, 338–339), on the other hand, argues in a study of sponsorship in Sharkhok [shar khog] (Sichuan) that monastic self-sufficiency and financial independence from the laity were “neither wished for nor found necessary by any Tibetans adhering to their traditions” and were also “unrealistic or even damaging if monasteries want to continue their monastic disciplines and education.”24 A few of the monks I interviewed mentioned that the government had pressured monasteries to be self-sufficient and that they had been left with few other options. One of the first detailed accounts I heard of monastic economic reforms was framed in this way. Lungtok, a monk in his forties, explained that his monastery had been under pressure from the government to be self-sufficient since the 1980s, but it had few means to achieve this. Even though most of its original site was gradually returned, the fields previously owned by the monastery were not.25 Therefore, he said, while some other monasteries had some grassland or fields from which they could generate income, his monastery did not have this option: The monastery is no longer allowed to go into villages to find donors. So the monastery said to the government, “If we can’t find donors, then how can we maintain our income? Provide us with a farm where we can plant crops or grassland.” But the government did not respond. The monastery said, “If you can’t provide land, then grant us some loans from which to generate income.” This was not accepted. Finally, some lamas in the monastery donated some cash, and the monastery started a trust fund and tried to raise funds in the name of this trust fund. They used it to open wholesale shops. The government said the monastery should be self-sufficient, but how without land?

At the time, his comments were not surprising—this was exactly the kind of narrative I had been expecting to find when I entered the field. Yet my subsequent discussions with monks gave me pause for thought. I rarely came across such a categorical representation of the shift to self-sufficiency as simply a response to state policies and pressure. To the contrary, most monks placed agency for reforms within the monastic community and took a moral stance in favor of ceasing alms collection and developing self-supporting activities. Lungtok’s statement was perhaps, in part, a reflection of his position in debates on the ethics of business development, which he was against, as well as ongoing disputes with the government over the return of what monks see

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as, rightfully, monastic land.26 However, before exploring these debates and their moral dimensions, I will situate contemporary monastic reforms in their broader historical and institutional context. Historical and Doctrinal Precedent As a government official, Lhamo spends much of her time in the prefectural capital, but when she returns to her village, she often visits her local monastery to make offerings and circumambulations. In 2006 her household donated several thousand yuan to sponsor the nineteenth day of the monastery’s annual summer retreat.27 Previously, the monks had collected contributions every year but, after discussion, had decided to go into their patron communities to ask if anyone was willing to fund endowments. As we have seen, similar decisions were taken at many monasteries: rather than soliciting one-off donations each year, they established capital funds. Lhamo’s donation was made as an endowment: the monastery lends the capital at interest, using the profits to fund the expenses (three meals) of that day every year. Her family will accumulate merit on this day in perpetuity. While the monastery still exists, she said, this will be her family’s day, for generations to come. It is beyond the scope of this study to make a detailed comparison with the monastic economic system prior to 1958. However, it is important to note that there are both textual and historical precedents for a form of institutional support based on profits from capital funds, the principal of which is kept intact. Indeed, when Samten talked about the difficulties that Ditsa experienced in securing reliable income for its collective activities, he directly linked the monastery’s decision to establish a fund in 1995 to past precedent: In the old society, the monastery had capital for religious studies and teaching that was loaned to farmers and nomads who would repay in grain or meat and butter, so that became a source of income and funded studies. We had a discussion with that kind of system in mind, and some lamas and scholar-monks who were studying [at our monastery] and other senior figures and some people from the villages took part and we accumulated a capital fund.

The long-established practice of moneylending as an institutionalized mechanism for maintaining the principal of monastic capital is well documented in studies of Tibetan Buddhist monasticism (Robert Miller 1961; Goldstein 1989; Ciwang Junmei 2001; Mei 2001; Jansen 2014, 135–142).28 It remained a form of Tibetan Buddhist monastic support in at least some places that did not come under Communist control, such as Zangskar and Ladakh in India (Shakya et al. 1994; Mills 2003; Gutschow 2004). As Jan-

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sen (2014, 139) notes, Tibetan Buddhist understandings of moneylending are quite different from the Christian view of usury as a grave sin. Monks did not seem to feel any need to justify this as a mechanism of monastic financing (whereas there was debate about the ethics of other forms of monastic business, such as shops). That it is in fact an ethical form of monastic funding within a Buddhist moral framework is apparent when we look back to its roots in Indian Buddhism. Schopen’s work (2004, 68–81) suggests that moneylending appeared as a formalized mechanism of monastic financing along with the emergence of fully institutionalized, permanent, landed monasteries in the first century CE. Legal precedent for the lending of capital on interest is contained in at least two texts in the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya (ibid., 56–72), the version of the monastic rule used by the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. These texts deal with rules for permanent endowments, the principal of which monks were required to lend out at interest so that the capital could be maintained. These endowments can be made for any purpose for the benefit of the Buddha, the Dharma, or the sangha, including financing rituals and building (ibid., 56–57, 68). One text presents this as a response to the concerns of lay donors, whose gifts would, through this mechanism, constitute a permanent source of merit, as well as meeting institutional concerns to secure stable income for the support of monastic buildings and activities (ibid., 69–72). Fast-forwarding two millennia to Lhamo’s endowment in 2006, we find the same principles at play. The establishment of capital funds as a basic mechanism for monastic financing is therefore neither new nor contrary to the monastic rule as long as the profits are used for the monastic community and not personal gain. Although monks did not cite the Vinaya or other normative texts (such as their monastic constitutions) in their conversations with me, contemporary practices continue to follow the basic principles set out in the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya, including, in the case of moneylending, the requirement for borrowers to have guarantors and for a written contract to be made. The capital of endowments (chinjok [spyi ‘jog]), such as those established by Lhamo, cannot be “moved” ( gül [sgul ]); it must be maintained through investment, and the interest/profits must be used to fund the activity for which the endowment was established. In other words, there is an obligation to generate profit, whether through moneylending or other commercial enterprises. The same principle applies to donations made toward the capital of trust funds (teptsa) established for a specific purpose, such as the Rongwo College of Dialectics’ Education Fund. Other financial capital (sokngül [gsog dngul ]) and wealth ( gyunor [rgyu nor]) accumulated by the monastery (e.g., the payment Rongwo receives from the Tourism Bureau) can be used as necessary. However, one-off donations given for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose.

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Reform as a Moral Issue The establishment of an endowment for the nineteenth day of her monastery’s summer retreat provides Lhamo with a permanent source of merit, but she also believes that this is, in general, a better mode of monastic financing. It was “hard work,” she said, for the monks to go out collecting alms every year, and fewer and fewer people gave. These difficulties of fund-raising, echoed by other monks and laypeople, were heightened by inflation. Combined with an increasing prevalence of donations in cash rather than in kind, rising prices meant that monastic officials needed to raise greater sums each year to purchase necessities for offerings and monastic teas.29 However, Lhamo’s evaluation of the new system was not based solely on concern for the monks who faced difficulties fund-raising from the same communities each year. She also reasoned that people can now act as sponsors if they are able. If not (i.e., if they are poor), they do not have to feel shame as they would have done in the past when the monks came to ask for contributions. This reasoning, which has also been expressed by monastics arguing for reform, implies not only that alms collection posed difficulties for poorer laypeople but even that it involved an element of compulsion. A common motivation claimed by monks for monastic economic reforms was concern for the people and a need to reduce the people’s responsibility/burden (khur). It was with some pride that Gendün, a teacher at a practice center, told me that his monastery was “one of the first to stop going to the villages,” their head lama instead establishing a capital fund in 2000– 2001 “to lighten the burden of the laypeople.” Given the politically sensitive time and location of my research—not to mention what I had heard from Lungtok—I was initially wary that I might be hearing “politically correct” statements about self-supporting activities and alms collection that accorded with state policies. Yet it became increasingly clear that many monks, like Gendün, placed agency for reforms within the monastic community and presented the impetus for change as a moral issue. I found that monks who were openly critical of the government were among the staunchest advocates of change. The appropriateness of monasteries developing self-supporting enterprises has been contested internally. Some monks were uneasy about monks engaging in business—not only those, like Lungtok, who were against business development but also individuals who agreed with the need for change. In particular, they were concerned about the blurring of lay-monastic boundaries and the potential effect this might have on the minds of monks, who might even end up leaving monastic life.30 These concerns were balanced against the practicalities of securing reliable income sources in contemporary circumstances, but there was also a moral imperative to cease the practice of

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institutionalized alms collection and to find ways to be self-supporting. As Jikmé, a Rongwo monk in his early forties, put it, the development of monastic businesses “seems inappropriate, [but] we had to do it to be self-sufficient.” Particularly problematic was the idea that institutionalized alms collection involved an element of compulsion, so that even people who had few means would feel obliged to give if asked. It is difficult for the people, Jikmé argued, because they must give—“If they don’t, it’s an awkward situation.” This issue seems to have been one of the deciding factors at Rongwo, where there were heated debates among the monks about whether or not they should start running businesses and abolish the sertri post (the reincarnate lama responsible for raising funds). Another monk (in his thirties), recalling these discussions, told me that in the end it was agreed that the system should be changed because “if the sertri goes out asking for donations, then people are compelled to give.” The monks, he said, felt that it was “not right” that “even if they don’t have much, they try their best and make donations.” These moral concerns, combined with the practical need to secure a more sustainable financial base, were the most common motivations cited for the shift to self-sufficiency. Most monks did not even mention government policy. When I raised the issue, some explicitly denied that state policy had been a factor, and others presented it as coinciding with their own ideas rather than influencing them. A monk involved in administration at one of Rongwo’s branch monasteries, for example, acknowledged that the government had circulated a document advocating monastic self-sufficiency, but he claimed that the monks didn’t really pay any attention to its ideas: “Mainly we took notice of the people’s situation and felt we had to reduce their burden.” Perhaps the most striking occurrence was during a conversation with Ngawang at Ditsa. Having explained that the monks had to develop collective businesses to be self-supporting, he added: “Even the government is encouraging the self-sufficient way.” From a state-society perspective, the way in which monks represented monastic economic reform could be interpreted as a means to reclaim authority and agency from the state in response to challenges to the moral legitimacy of the economic basis of Geluk monasticism. During the campaigns of the Maoist era, monasteries were attacked as parasitic. Moreover, “reducing the burden on the masses” is a trope employed by the state in attempts to bring Tibetan monasteries into line with the principle of self-sufficiency. This can be seen, for example, in materials used during political education sessions imposed on Qinghai monasteries in the late 1990s: Some monasteries’ self-supporting [activities] now make up a great portion of their overall income, which has reduced the burden of the religious masses. Tibetan Buddhist monasteries must

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uphold the saying “pay equal attention to agriculture and meditation” and the guiding principle of using the monastery to support the monastery. . . . This allows the monks and nuns to get some exercise by carrying out productive labor and lightens the burden of the religious economy on the religious masses. (Qinghai United Front Work Department 1997, trans. in TIN 1999b, 35)

Contemporary scholarship produced within PRC institutions by Chinese and Tibetan scholars has also presented monastic economic development as a way to “lighten the economic burden on the believing masses and overcome monastic reliance on the parasitic abuse of the believing masses” (Mei 2001, 144; see also Donggacang and Cairangjia 1995, 31; Zhang 1996, 24; Makley 2007, 260–261). Monastic appropriation of the trope of “reducing the burden on the laity” could be read as a transposition of state discourse into a Buddhist normative framework, a rationalization and reinterpretation of monastic accommodation of state policy acceptable and meaningful to monks as “monks.” Geshé Tendzin represented the shift to self-sufficiency as being motivated by concern for the people, reducing their burden, but he also presented monastic businesses as being for their benefit: the management of shops and clinics, he said, was “to meet the needs of the people.” Several other monks and laypeople emphasized the positive value of monastic businesses such as shops, medical clinics, and transportation services. Laypeople, it was argued, could trust monks to provide good-quality services at reasonable prices and not to cheat them. Certain products had added symbolic value, such as medicines blessed by the monks or incense manufactured inside the monastery. A farmer in his thirties also noted that the extent of the monastic network enabled monasteries to provide services that were otherwise unavailable. Moreover, monastic businesses have even been interpreted as a new means of lay support, blurring the line between direct exchange (cash for services) and the (meritorious) act of giving. Several people have told me that, given a choice, they would use a monastery shop because profits from these businesses go toward funding monastic activities. The same principle can be applied to interest-bearing loans: borrowing from and paying interest to the monastery is, one monk suggested, a form of giving for local people who are relatively poor. Are monks simply accommodating, internalizing, and then redeploying state discourse in ways meaningful in their everyday practices? Are they making a virtue out of necessity when they represent monastic reforms as being of benefit to the people or even as providing a new way of giving? The remainder of this chapter explores certain dynamics within the monastic community that provide a different perspective on monastic rhetoric—one that takes into account internal pressures for reform arising from transnational

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flows of ideas and practices within the Geluk monastic network; perceptions of monastic moral decline; and, finally, imaginings of a shared Tibetan collectivity and the responsibility of monastics in shaping its future. Locating the Inspiration and Legitimacy for Reform At Rongwo, some monks credit the senior reincarnate lamas with taking the decision to abolish the sertri post and develop self-supporting activities. However, it is apparent that pressures also came from the bottom up—from the “younger generation” of monks who had joined the monastery since it reopened in 1980 (younger in relation to the elders who were monks prior to 1958). The issue of economic reform had been under discussion for some time, with some monks in the College of Dialectics advocating for reform since the early 1990s. Discussions about the monastic economy took place within a wider context of internal tensions over monastic development in general, including the education system and other issues, such as the style of the monastic robe. It therefore seems to have been part of a more general dynamic in which reformist ideas among some of the younger generation were gradually challenging the ways of thinking held by elders who advocated maintaining traditional systems. A similar generational dynamic surfaced in one of my conversations with a young reincarnate lama from a large monastic center in southern Qinghai, who observed: “Many monks came back from India and America and said we have to reform and develop the economy. It was not because the government said we had to do this. The young monks want to do business. They like new, modern things.” This lama’s reference to monks coming back from India highlights another important dynamic: many monks located the main inspiration and moral legitimacy for reforms in the business activities of the major Geluk monasteries in exile. As we saw earlier, it was after visiting India that Jamyang changed his thinking about monastic financing. When Jikmé spoke about the decision to abolish the sertri post at Rongwo, he said that although some people felt that it was inappropriate for a monk to do business, the Tibetan monks in India farmed, “so we thought it would be okay to do business.” Other monks mentioned the shops, restaurants, and guesthouses run by Geluk monasteries in India as examples for Amdo monasteries to follow. This influence on the ideas of monks was acknowledged even by Lungtok— the monk who had presented economic reforms at his monastery as the only practical option, given state policy. Despite the Chinese state’s distrust of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, it should be recognized that, as a leading “Buddhist modernist” in many respects, he is a source of both inspiration and the authority and legitimacy for reforms to the monastic system that converge with principles found in Chinese state discourse.31 He has criticized aspects

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of the traditional monastic economy and advocated self-sufficiency. A similar observation can be made regarding monks who have spent time in India: they are often treated with suspicion by the authorities but are in fact important transmitters of reformist ideas. It is unsurprising that legitimacy for reforms does not derive from state policy, which has no moral authority within the monastic community. However, I did find it interesting that no monks mentioned precedents within Amdo or elsewhere in the PRC. These include business development at Labrang and Kumbum and the activities of the Tenth Panchen Lama, a highly influential figure in Amdo and an early advocate of self-sufficiency as a mechanism, not just for monastic development, but also for wider Tibetan development (see TIN 1997, xiii). The absence of Amdo monasteries and hierarchs as models for Amdo monks is perhaps linked to perceptions of moral decline. Incorporated into China, they are compromised by their inevitable accommodation with the Chinese state and the materialism of contemporary Chinese society. As we will see, Kumbum Monastery functions as an exemplar of monastic moral decline in both Tibetan monastic and popular moral discourses. By contrast, India represents a place of mythological inspiration and purity. As Huber (2008, 3) points out, “Thanks to the selective memory born of a particular historiographical tradition, Tibetans have consistently and almost exclusively focused upon India as the ‘mother’ of everything they value in their civilization.” Furthermore, it is in this motherland of India, not the PRC, that the displaced authorities of Geluk monasticism—the Dalai Lama and the three monastic seats of Drepung, Sera, and Ganden—are now located. “Turning the Wheel of Deceit”: Narratives of Moral Decline Talking over lunch in a restaurant in the summer of 2013, Penden (a primary school teacher) and I were interrupted by a young monk begging for alms. I gave him one yuan. Penden scolded me after the boy had left, arguing that young monks “should be inside the monastery, not outside begging for money—if he was inside, he would not need money.” Later that day, I visited the nearby monastery and recounted the incident to a senior monk, Könchok. He reiterated Penden’s views but went further, remarking that the boy—who could not possibly be local, because if he were, he would be too ashamed—was quite possibly not a real monk. He had perhaps been dressed up by his family in monks’ robes and sent off to beg. This kind of thing had become common, he said, adding, “They don’t want to work, so they dress like a monk, knowing that in Tibetan places people like monks, so they come to beg for money.” This was, Könchok believed, very damaging to the reputation and status of monks. Spending time with monastic and lay Tibetans in Amdo, I soon recognized that many such stories were circulating about monks and lamas who

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were “fake” (dzünma [rdzun ma]) or who cheated or deceived people, collecting donations under false pretenses or pocketing a portion of funds donated for temple building.32 The fact that “these days there are all kinds of people,” as one farmer put it, was one of the reasons that both monks and laypeople argued for the cessation of alms collection. It was better for monasteries to distance themselves from a practice that had been tainted by association with “the misconduct of a few monks” (as one monk put it) and the prevalence of fake monks. Their actions had affected the faith and confidence of the laity, not only within the Tibetan community but also beyond. The expansion of patronage networks in the Sinophone world was viewed with particular suspicion. Monks’ trips to inland China were often associated with a predilection for chasing money rather than Buddhist practice, while Chinese sponsors were often represented as gullible dupes who easily fell prey to monks collecting donations under false pretenses or offering religious services they were not qualified to provide (Caple 2015). Using the analogy of “one mouse ruining the pot of soup,” Caiwang Naoru (2009), founder-editor of a Sinophone Tibetan blog, bemoaned the “hostility and hatred” produced by the spread of fake reincarnate lamas, particularly in inland China and Taiwan: “The actions of a swindler are like a leaf that blocks their eyes, nearly defaming Tibetan Buddhism.”33 In addition to their concerns that monastic Buddhism would be undermined through association with the conduct of fake or disreputable monastics from elsewhere, monks had doubts that their own monastic officials would, nowadays, be virtuous enough. These doubts extended to contemporary (particularly young) reincarnate lamas. Indeed, this was one of the reasons given for the abolition of the sertri post at Rongwo. Some monks placed agency for monastic reforms with specific, senior reincarnate lamas, such as Alak Khaso, an elder who is widely respected. Others, however, expressed a general distancing from the authority of reincarnate lamas, who are at the apex of the Geluk monastic hierarchy. One senior monk emphatically stated that reforms were led “not by the government” and “not by the lamas” but by “our younger generation.” Some lamas, he said, would still like to hold the position of golden throne holder, but the monks decided that it was not right to have this system because there are “all sorts of lamas.” The implication was that some would be more concerned with accruing personal wealth and status than acting as an honest and sincere golden throne holder. There also seems to have been a degree of competition among monastic officers responsible for collecting alms. Püntsok and Döndrup, who both became stewards after the system changed, talked about the pressures that their predecessors had faced, arguing such pressures were a reason for economic reform at their respective monasteries. Concerned that they would be judged according to the disbursements they distributed to the monks from surplus income, each stew-

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ard had felt compelled to raise more money than the previous one. Döndrup claimed that some monks had even disrobed when faced with the prospect of taking on this responsibility. In these cases (and perhaps others), the pressure on monastic officials to compete with their predecessors helps explain the increasing difficulties they faced in their fund-raising efforts, as well as the sense of burden on their patron communities. To be in receipt of voluntary sponsorship, on the other hand, was seen as a marker of virtue. Like Lhamo, some monks not only saw alms collection as improper but also explained that it had become harder and harder to raise funds this way. The way in which some people talked about monastic development suggested a certain discrimination in practices of giving, depending on the perceived virtue of particular reincarnate lamas or monasteries. In an informal conversation, a Tibetan postgraduate student from Repgong offered precisely this interpretation of Rongwo’s reforms: younger lamas, he said, were not respected as much as the older lamas, such as Alak Khaso, who had many donors; that was why the monastery started a capital fund. On the other hand, Ngawang at Ditsa, which enjoys a good reputation for its level of discipline, said that it was relatively easy to secure sponsorship if a monastery had high education standards. Lhündrup, now a village elder, made a similar value judgment: if a monastery was good and its monks were virtuous, plenty of people would offer support.34 This association between the qualities of particular lamas and monasteries and levels of patronage extends beyond Geluk monasticism. Sihlé (2013, 178–179) points to a similar correlation between the perceived quality of discipline maintained at large Bön and Nyingma ritual gatherings of nonmonastic specialists of tantric ritual in Repgong and the levels of patronage they attract. As is also the case in the Geluk context, he found the level of discipline to be related to the prestige and qualities of particular lamas/masters. From the perspective of the monastic-lay community, nonvirtuous behavior (or rumors of such) reflects a more general decline in the moral qualities of contemporary monastics (discussed further in chapter 4). Criticism of religious fraud and monastic conduct is not new. Indeed, the title of this section borrows from a critique of the religious life of seventeenth-­ century Central Tibet written by the Kagyü master Tendzin Repa (1646– 1723) (trans. in Schaeffer et al. 2013, 577-578). Bemoaning the rarity of those who work “for religion and realization,” Tendzin Repa refers to “Dharma imposters” who “just turn the wheel of deceit” (ibid., 578)—a play on the idiomatic expression “turning the wheel of the Dharma” which means Buddhist teaching. However, it does appear that the extent of contemporary perceptions of monastic moral decline has contributed to a shift in monastic policy, marking a departure from historical practice. There is evidence of a critique of alms collection in premodern Tibetan religious discourse, although not the

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same history of ideas regarding moral imperatives for monastic self-support and productive labor that existed within Chinese Buddhism. The Tibetan term for those who rely on offerings (korzé za khen [dkor zas za mkhan]) has a negative connotation, implying they are not genuinely doing religious work (Goldstein 2001, 22). Influential Tibetan Buddhist figures, such as Milarepa (1040–1123), Drukpa Kunlek (1455–1529), and Shabkar (1781– 1850/1851), were critical of the propensity for spiritual corruption and materialism among religious practitioners and their dependency on the wealth and labor of pious nomads and farmers.35 Nevertheless, Jansen’s (2014) work on premodern monastic guidelines indicates that, despite disapproval of monks who pressured people to give donations for their own benefit, “well organized, scheduled, and ordered visits on behalf of the monastery to solicit donations was usually both approved of and encouraged” (ibid., 162). As we have learned, however, at many monasteries in Repgong and western Bayen this is no longer the case. Not only is alms collection problematic because it is seen to place a burden on the laity, but it has also become tainted by social criticism of the dubious qualities of some contemporary lamas and monks and widespread narratives of monastic moral decline. At stake is the public reputation of monastic Buddhism and by extension the faith and confidence of the laity. Ensuring that monks do not “annoy” the laity (khyim sunjinpa [khyim sun ‘byin pa]) through improper conduct, thus causing laypeople to lose faith, has long been a preoccupation of monastic authorities concerned with maintaining the reputations—and thus mundane bases—of their monasteries (Jansen 2014, 162–174). The idea of alms collection as both a burden and an avenue for people to be cheated by dishonest or fake monks is damaging to the monastic-lay relationship, as well as to the reputation of specific monasteries if their own operations are tainted by association with such practices. However, contemporary feelings of concern for or responsibility toward “the people” go beyond the ethics of the interdependent monastic-lay relationship. In fact, it is perhaps most keenly felt in relation to contemporary imaginings of a shared Tibetan collectivity and the idea of monks as moral subjects bearing a particular responsibility for its future. National Imaginings One of the concerns of the renowned Chinese monastic reformer Taixu (1890– 1947) was the monastic economy. A fervent nationalist and patriot who provided an interpretation of Buddhism to suit the purposes of nation-building, he was a strong advocate of monastic self-sufficiency.36 A similar “nationalist” spirit plays a part in contemporary Tibetan monastic reforms. The imagined community in this case is Tibetan rather than Chinese, and the concern

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primarily with the fate of the “Tibetan people,” a collectivity rather than a nation-state. However, given the position of monastic Buddhism in Tibetan society, the moral responsibility placed on monks for the fate of this “nation” within a (Chinese) nation-state is all the greater. This responsibility is made very explicit in an essay written by a monk, under the name of Goyön [sgo yon], entitled “Solving the Tibetan Monastic System through Three Revolutions” (2009). Its publication on the Tibetan-language website of the radical Amdo intellectual Sangdhor (14 May 2009) places it among the more radical of contemporary Tibetan literary productions.37 Goyön writes in a polemical tone characteristic of some of the leading contemporary Amdo essayists. He is, however, a monk, and his criticism is not of Tibetan Buddhism and monasticism’s place in society per se. Rather, he criticizes aspects of the current monastic system that he believes are damaging to both Buddhism and the Tibetan people. The issues he tackles are some of the main contentious talking points among contemporary Geluk monks: the system of leadership through reincarnation, the monastic education system, and the topic with which we are concerned here—the monastic economy. The essay employs Buddhist and modernist (and Buddhist modernist) tropes. His opening call to “take refuge in the dynamism of three revolutions” is a play on the most basic and fundamental Buddhist practice of taking refuge in the “Three Jewels”: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the sangha. It also immediately brings to mind Taixu, who himself advocated three revolutions.38 Goyön’s ideas are arguably not particularly revolutionary. His views are certainly shared by some monks in eastern Amdo and echo the discourse of other modern Buddhist figures such as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and Taixu. However, the appearance of this kind of open criticism from a monk in the public domain does appear significant. As with Taixu, one of Goyön’s three revolutions is for monasteries to become self-sufficient.39 He makes a pointed (and highly sensitive) comparison of the “current mode of subsistence based on collection from the people” to “the state system of coercive taxation.” Alluding to the established hierarchy that gives monks an elevated social and moral status, he says that “this dishonest way of making a living is not at all suitable practice even for an ordinary person of the mundane world, let alone for a follower of the nonviolent principles of Buddhism.” Even if monasteries do not actively support the poor, he argues, “is there not a need to completely abandon the old influences of this bad custom of being looked after?” The target of Goyön’s criticisms is the monastic leadership—the head lamas and management committees. However, he places the responsibility for reform more generally with Tibetan monks and nuns who “have a justifiable and unavoidable duty to weigh up the merits and shortcomings of the monastic system.” Having outlined his three revolutions, he finishes by making an appeal to Tibetan nationalist sentiment,

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linking the monastic system, including the monastic economy, to the future of the Tibetan people. His tone is nationalistic to the extent that he draws on a shared collective identity and sense of responsibility for the Tibetan people. However, the contemporary state is absent. The monasteries and their monks and lamas are still positioned as leaders in Tibetan society, and it is they who have the agency and responsibility to shape the fate of an imagined Tibetan collectivity: Since there are hardly any Tibetans who are not under the command and control of a monastery and the lamas and reincarnate lamas, if there are flaws in the monastic system this will definitely cause problems for the situation of the entire Tibetan people. If the monastic system were to become more transparent and complete than the previous one, there would be a slight ripening of hope for the fate of the entire Tibetan people. Therefore, I believe that the real task right now, for both monks and the laity, is to reform and clean up the Tibetan monastic system. In particular, it is of the utmost importance for those in charge of the monasteries to ensure that the Tibetan monastic system should not be separated from Buddhist principles and should not contradict the times. (Goyön 2009)

The monastic economic reforms documented in this chapter appear to be moving monastic practices into line with state religious policy. However, closer examination reveals that these developments are considerably more complex than simple accommodation of the terms of a (dominant) state by (subordinate) monasteries. Although the moral rhetoric that monks employed often echoed state discourse, I have argued that they were not simply making a virtue out of the necessity of adapting to state policy. Rather, their practices and moral reasoning have been shaped by monastic precedent (doctrinal, historical, and transnational); flows of ideas within the partially de-­territorialized Geluk community, their new practices legitimized by its highest authorities; concerns about monastic moral decline and monastic reputations; and ideas about the role of monks in shaping the future of the Tibetan people. But the story does not end here. As the following chapters will show, Goyön’s call to “ensure that the Tibetan monastic system should not be separated from Buddhist principles and should not contradict the times” represents a major challenge for monks attempting to keep on the right side of the shifting line between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in the development of their monasteries. Changing ideas about what is good and right, such as the imperative to develop profitable enterprises, can be in tension with, and must be balanced against, coexisting normative frameworks and sentiments

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relating to ideals about monks and monasteries. New practices produce new debates and dilemmas. The economic reforms examined in this chapter—the development of self-supporting enterprises and the shift away from active alms collection— indicate a degree of convergence of the interests, values, and practices of at least some Geluk monasteries, on the one hand, with the principles of state discourse and policy on the other. However, the limits to this convergence are brought into sharp relief when we shift our focus to monastic tourism ­development.


Monastic Tourism Defining Value

AS THE AIRPORT BUS WAS ABOUT TO depart for Xining in June 2015, a woman got on, dressed in a brightly colored “ethnic” costume. On our way into the city she recited (in Chinese) an introduction to Qinghai’s top tourist sites, a warm-up to promoting the services of her tour company. This was the first time I had seen a company touting for business on the airport bus, and my ears pricked up as she described the province’s two key “scenic spots”: Tsongönpo (Qinghai Lake) and Kumbum Monastery (Ch. Ta’er si). The latter, as she noted, is one of the “big six” Geluk centers and near the provincial capital. Since the turn of the millennium, tourism has been increasingly emphasized as a driver of local economic growth in Tibetan and other areas with ethnic minority populations. Alongside the natural environment, “ethnic culture” (under which religion is subsumed) is viewed as a major tourism resource. As elsewhere in China, Buddhist monasteries like Kumbum that are relatively famous, relatively accessible, or both have become key “scenic spots.” Within the Chinese academic literature, tourism is presented as one among various development opportunities for monasteries in their shift to self-sufficiency.1 Those close to towns and cities or on tourist routes are encouraged to be active in developing tourism and associated service industries (shops, restaurants) and products. Beyond China, tourism is one of the two main contexts in which monastic development has been touched upon in scholarly literature. In contrast to work focusing on the repression and regulation of religion, tourism has been represented as an arena in which state and monastic interests can converge.2 While acknowledging its disruptive impacts on Buddhist practice, scholars have highlighted its role in the revitalization 68

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of Tibetan, Chinese, and Theravāda Buddhist monasteries in China.3 Monasteries can generate income through entrance fees, offerings, and contact with potential sponsors. More significantly, tourism has the potential to bring about an alignment of state and monastic interests. As we will see, there are political and economic reasons that state agencies at the national and local levels may push for monastic tourism development. This means that some monasteries have received state heritage funding for restoration works. Moreover, tourism has provided a public space for monastic revival and expansion. Hillman (2009, 6) goes as far as to claim that it has given Tibetan Buddhism a “boost in profile.” The main Geluk monastery in Yunnan’s Shangrila County (formerly Gyeltang [rgyal thang]; Ch. Zhongdian), he argues, has “enjoyed growing influence in the local area”: As a showcase of the region’s cultural heritage, the monastery is a prime tourism asset. Local government has pumped millions of dollars into its renovation and expansion. It has become increasingly popular for young men to join the monastery, and many applicants are turned away. Senior monks command more and more resources and enjoy increasing clout with local authorities. (Ibid.)

I was therefore surprised to find that monks generally did not mention tourism unless I specifically raised the subject. When I did raise it, I realized that they perceived tourism differently from other forms of monastic development. In this chapter, I will argue that, rather than creating an arena in which monastic and state interests converge, tourism transforms the monastery into a contested space of competing values, highlighting the limits of monastic-state convergence.4 This is exemplified in the case of Kumbum: showcased in official Chinese discourse as a model of monastic development, it figures in popular Tibetan discourse as the archetype of monastic moral decline, serving as a cautionary tale for monastic leaders in Repgong and western Bayen. Before I go on to explore monastic attitudes toward tourism, however, it is worth first examining its extent. In some cases, there was a very straightforward reason that tourism and related heritage funding did not come up in conversations about monastic development. At some monasteries, particularly those relatively distant from urban areas or main tour routes, it was simply not relevant. Tourism Development Through its focus on particular sites such as Kumbum and places such as Shangrila, the existing literature gives a skewed picture of the significance of tourism in monastic revival and development.5 Revitalization of certain mon-

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asteries, including the big six Geluk centers, was supported by the state for their value as policy models and tourist sites (Makley 2007; Arjia Rinpoché 2010), and at Kumbum, at least, considerable income is generated from tourism (Mei 2001, 143; Pu Riwa et al. 2006, 204; Cooke 2010, 11). Studies of the Geluk revival have focused on these sites because of their relative accessibility and historical significance (Goldstein 1998; Makley 2007) or because they are considered models of development (Donggacang and Cairangjia 1995; Mei 2001; Pu Riwa et al. 2006). Monastic development has also been touched upon in studies of places such as Shangrila where tourism is relatively highly developed (Hillman 2005, 2009, 2010; Kolås 2008).6 Images of monasteries circulated within and beyond China are also mostly of these sites. However, if my findings are an indicator of wider patterns, it appears that at many monasteries neither tourism nor associated heritage funding has been a significant factor in revival and reconstruction. State funding of monastic restoration and conservation is used as evidence of freedom of religious belief and the benevolence of the state toward its ethnic minorities (e.g., IOSC 1992, 56–57; 2005, 2008a, 2008b, 2009). In the Tibet Autonomous Region alone, the central government claims to have invested over 300 million yuan to help renovate and open to the public more than 1,400 monasteries (IOSC 2008a). However, at many of the monasteries I visited in Amdo, monks denied that they had received state support for rebuilding their monasteries, emphasizing instead the role of local people.7 There were exceptions, such as Kumbum, for which the state council apportioned 36 million yuan for renovations in 1991. Even then, the Eighth Arjia Rinpoché, who was the abbot at the time, claims that he had to use considerable political skill to secure funding.8 More recently, there has been some funding in Repgong. According to state media, the government invested 25 million yuan in renovations at Rongwo between 2004 and 2008 (Xinhua 2009), having previously funded work on the main assembly hall (2000) and the College of Dialectics assembly hall (2001) and printing house (2000) (Pelzang 2007, 38, 71, 81). Four of the monasteries in Repgong famous for their religious arts (Gomar, Nyentok, and Lower and Upper Senggé Shong), all easily accessible from Rongwo, have also been designated state-level cultural protection units (QTB 2010a) and received state heritage funding. Even so, reconstruction of most of the religious structures at Rongwo since 1980 (four assembly halls, nineteen temples, two printing houses, a debate courtyard, a hermitage, eight stupas, and prayer wheel halls around the outer circuit of the monastery) has been funded by the monastic-lay community.9 Since 2000, most new temples have been sponsored by the Fifth Trigen, a reincarnate lama now in his eighties, much of whose funds come through his nephew who has patrons in Taiwan. Similarly, most of the reconstruction and temple building at Repgong’s “art monasteries” (including a boom in temple building

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in recent years) has been sponsored by their patron communities and/or their monks and lamas, in some cases through their patronage networks in the Sinophone world. Despite an emphasis on monastic tourism development in local development plans, it has, like heritage funding, been limited in extent. In Qinghai the state’s drive to develop the western regions of China (Ch. xibu da kaifa) from 2000 placed renewed emphasis on tourism, boosted in 2006 with the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway. According to official statistics, tourist arrivals for the province rose from 3.2 million in 2000 to 12.3 million in 2010 and 20 million in 2014 (Tang 2015). As illustrated by the top two scenic spots mentioned by the tour guide on the airport bus (Qinghai Lake and Kumbum Monastery), the focus has largely been on scenic and “ethnic” (including religious) tourism. In Repgong, tourism has become one of the “five pillars” of local economic development. Even so, in 2009 only Rongwo and two other monasteries (Lower Senggé Shong and Gomar) reported tourism-related income. As of 2015, these were the only monasteries at which there was visible tourism development, marked by trilingual tourist information boards. Entrance fees are charged to tourists at both Rongwo and Lower Senggé Shong, and I have seen tour groups visiting both. Gomar village is also on tour group itineraries, its sites including an old walled village and a giant stupa (a structure representing the cosmos and containing Buddhist relics). This stupa, constructed by villagers in the 1980s, dominates the landscape in this part of the valley, sitting above the village in the square in front of the monastery. The monastery receives income from tickets sold to tourists who wish to enter and climb the stupa, but I have seen little evidence of tourists inside the monastery. As of 2015, it still kept its doors closed during the summer retreat (a period during which women are prohibited from entering monastic space), unlike Rongwo and Lower Senggé Shong, which remained open to visitors through the summer. I found no evidence of entrance fees being charged at other monasteries in Repgong, including those that had received heritage funding; they also had no tourist signage and no trace of tour buses on the occasions that I visited.10 In western Bayen, Jakhyung was designated a 3A tourist scenic area in 2010 and is listed on tourist websites, but there was little evidence of mass tourism taking off there as it has at Kumbum, perhaps because of Jakhyung’s relative inaccessibility high up in the mountains. In short, most monasteries have received little in the way of state funds for reconstruction or renovations, and even fewer have (yet) experienced tourism development. However, attitudes are shaped not only by opportunity and access but also by uneasiness about, and sometimes opposition to, state-sponsored development. Even where there had been tourism development and associated heritage funding, these were often elided or discounted by my interlocutors. I was repeatedly told by monks that the

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government did not support their monasteries. One monk who did speak positively about heritage projects, arguing that it was difficult for villagers to fund this kind of work, was an exception. Moreover, attempts by local officials to encourage tourism have sometimes met with resistance. The Cultural Politics of Tourism Ditsa’s senior monks seemed genuinely proud of the success of their small business development, such as the manufacture of religious products. Yet they did not consider tourism to be an appropriate mechanism for economic development, even though they had been encouraged by local officials. They believed it would be disruptive to monastic education and practice. Akhu Samdrup claimed a similar reluctance at his monastery, but his explanation was more explicitly political. Although government officials had come to persuade the monks to develop tourism, he said that many of them did not feel that tourism was appropriate: After we sell tickets, the monastery will automatically be controlled by the government. The government says it is good to develop tourism for the monastic economy, but the monks don’t agree because a monastery is a place where people come to prostrate and worship and learn about the monastery and culture. If we sell tickets, the monastery will become a place where people come just to visit and look.

Samdrup’s reasoning highlights two themes I was to hear often in discussions about tourism: concern over erosion of monastic autonomy (“the monastery will automatically be controlled by the government”) and, linked to this, the aestheticization of monastic space (“the monastery will become a place where people come just to visit and look”). Tourism was perceived differently from other monastic business development. The latter—whether shops, medical clinics, manufacture and sale of religious products, investment in moneylending or real estate—was seen as an internal affair of monasteries even when state pressures to be self-sufficient were acknowledged. Tourism, on the other hand, invariably involves government agencies as both stakeholders and regulators (Nyíri 2009, 163) and is managed by the local government in line with provincial regulations (QZST 2009, Article 44).11 It therefore represents a ceding of control over monastic space and practice to an external agency with competing values. A monk at a monastery located on a tourist route in Repgong’s Nine River valley, claimed that his monastery decided not to register as an official tourist site, despite encouragement by local officials. “Every monastery needs

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to develop,” he reasoned, “[but] the thing is, we thought that if we were to join [the tourist group], we would fall into the hands of the Chinese.” The state at various levels has economic and political interests in exercising a high degree of control over tourism development. Tourism and heritage have been used as tools of propaganda and modernization by the Chinese state in the ongoing process of nation-building.12 During the Maoist period, tourism was limited to revolutionary sites for the “patriotic education” of Red Guards and sympathetic foreigners. In 1979, Deng Xiaoping emphasized its importance as part of the new open-door policy and the contribution that restoration and protection of heritage and folklore sites could make to national unity (Sofield and Li 1998, 377). Document 19 established the principle that major monasteries “are not only places of worship, but are also cultural facilities of important historical value,” and it gave monastics responsibility for ensuring that “the surroundings are clean, peaceful and quiet, suitable for tourism” (trans. in MacInnis 1989, 18). During the 1980s in Tibetan areas (as elsewhere in China), the focus was on international tourism, and key spots—including the main Geluk monastic centers—were developed to showcase religious freedom and earn foreign exchange. However, since the late 1990s, tourism has become increasingly important to both nation-­ building and local development. Designated as an important growth area in 1998, domestic tourism has seen phenomenal growth and now far outstrips international tourism. Aimed not only at stimulating domestic consumption, it is also part of the state’s project to construct a harmonious, united, modern Chinese nation.13 Scholars have previously argued that state-scripted tourism works to commodify, aestheticize (Shepherd 2009, 255), and ethnicize (Murakami 2008, 65) “Tibetan” culture, relegating Buddhism to “a flavor of Tibetan-ness” (ibid.). Monasteries, as one facet of the “Tibetan” experience, are transformed into “de-politicized spaces of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ securely within the People’s Republic” (Shepherd 2009, 255). The development of tourism at Rongwo Monastery shows how state-sponsored tourism-related development works to standardize and commodify monastic space, incorporating it into national and local systems of symbols and signs that have little to do with the monastery as a lived-in community and a place of education and practice. Repgong was designated a state-level “famous city of history and culture” in 1994, but there has been a visible increase in tourism development since 2004, when it was designated a “China nationalities folk culture protection project” by the State Cultural Bureau. In 2005, Li Xuansheng was appointed prefectural party secretary. Prior to his appointment, Li, who was born in Qinghai, was head of the provincial Tourism Bureau (Xinhua 2008) and led mass tourism development at Kumbum. This was a worrying precedent for Rongwo’s monks, given that Kumbum has become symbolic of contemporary monastic decline. Under Li’s

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leadership, tourism development accelerated rapidly, and in August 2008 Repgong was awarded 4A status by the national Tourism Bureau (Tongren Xian Zhengfu 2008). Increasingly accessible from Xining and as a 4A site, the area is expected to attract at least five hundred thousand tourists per year, most of them domestic.14 One of the development strategies in Repgong (as elsewhere in China) has been the selection, commodification, and marketing of certain local cultural characteristics and the promotion of a regional brand. Perhaps the case most commented on is that of Gyeltang in Yunnan, which has been officially renamed Shangrila (Ch. Shanggelila) (see Yue 2005; Kolås 2008; Hillman 2010). In Repgong, the brand is “Regong,” a Chinese transliteration of the Tibetan name of the area (as opposed to Tongren, the Chinese administrative designation). The Regong brand centers around the “Regong arts,” such as painted and appliqué Buddhist pictorial scrolls (tangkha [thang kha]) and clay statues, but also includes other aspects of “ethnic culture,” such as the sixth-month mountain deity festivals (luröl), Rongwo Monastery, and the “Regong arts” monasteries, which lie close to the prefectural seat and are thus easily accessible. In this imaginary of “Regong” as a tourist destination, Rongwo Monastery is not the nexus of a web of monasteries and patron communities, the apex of Geluk authority in the region. Instead, it is just one element of local “Regong” culture and tradition in the tourist landscape—one of various, discrete scenic spots on a tourist route, all of which are designated throughout the valley with uniform signage. Having visited several times since 2000, I have witnessed its transformation in accordance with the common features of scenic spots, which Nyíri (2009, 159) lists as a cultural square, a ticket gate, a shopping street, an accommodations area, cultural performances, and elaborate narratives on the history of the site.15 Standardized signage, which maps out and narrates the buildings of significance to the tourist, has been in place since my first visit in 2000 (although it has been updated and there are now signposts as well as information boards). However, there has also been significant development, notably the state-funded construction of the symbolic ceremonial space of a stone-paved “cultural square” in front of the monastery, completed in 2009, and a new gate at the front entrance, which encases the monastery as a ticketed tourist sight. Previously, tickets were sold at the College of Dialectics shop just inside the entrance, but no one monitored access. By 2012, Tourism Bureau staff manned a ticket office in the new gate (I realized I would need to use a side entrance if I was to avoid the fifty-yuan entrance fee every time I entered). Monastic events and rituals have been reinterpreted as cultural performances, incorporated into the calendar of cultural events listed on the Qinghai Tourism Bureau website, as well as covered by journalists and TV crews. Chinese tourists tend to make their presence highly visible at public events, vying to get as close to the action as possible and pointing cameras

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with enormous zoom lenses at monastic “performers.” When I have visited or passed through on other days, the monastery remains relatively quiet, but the occasional tourist can still be seen photographing monks practicing debate in the debating courtyard or gathered in the assembly hall. Rongwo’s incorporation into the local cultural tourism landscape has also opened the monastery up to outsiders during the summer retreat period, when it was previously closed. There are still some restrictions, such as a prohibition on women entering the College of Dialectics assembly hall. However, it is now possible to enter the monastery grounds all year round (unless it is under lockdown because of political unrest). One monk said very directly that this was “in the interests of income generation.” With the widening and repaving of the main thoroughfares and the installation of a public toilet in 2008, the monastery has been made cleaner and more orderly. By 2015, solar-powered streetlamps had also been installed. In preparation for the Olympic Games in 2008, the shop fronts on the street leading up to the monastery, which mostly sell religious products, were given a Tibetan-style face-lift and a gate was erected separating the street from the monastery entrance and new cultural square.16 The remodeling of monastic space for tourism is part of a more complex process of the “production of space” (Lefebvre 1991). It highlights the coexistence of competing orders, with different visions of the monastery and monastic development, as well as a longer history of violent confrontation. Murakami (2008, 62) argues that tourism has involved the systematic introduction of economic value “into the core of traditional Tibetan culture,” encouraging a reconsideration of religious traditions as commodifiable. Yet, other processes of commodification, such as Ditsa’s production and sale of incense, longevity pills, and other religious products, do not seem to be viewed as problematic. What distinguishes tourism for my interlocutors is not simply the dispossession through commodification (David Harvey 2007) of monastic space, bodies, and practices that it entails or even the more concrete disruptions to monastic life and practice that it can bring (although these were of considerable concern to my interlocutors, both lay and monastic). It also represents a ceding of control to state agencies. Since the early 1980s, the monastic moral community has been reclaiming the space of the monastery from the state, reasserting monastic ownership and authority, reconstructing the physical symbolic spaces of the monastery, and reestablishing the social and spatial boundaries underpinning monasticism. We have seen how, at Rongwo, this was a gradual and ongoing process that is not yet complete. State-sponsored tourism projects, such as the ticket gate and the cultural square, not only redefine monastic space but also represent a reinfiltration by state agencies with competing imaginaries of the monastery. The questions this raises as to who is authoring monastic development are deeply problematic for monks.

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Money Is Power? The Politics of Patronage In March 2010 an article appeared in the Shambala Post, a Tibetan publication produced in exile, personally vilifying members of Rongwo’s monastic leadership for being “in collusion with the red Chinese cadres” to deceive the monastery over the construction of a multistory building. Erected under the pretext of a shortage of housing for monks, the author claims, the building had not only destroyed the “traditional features” of the monastery but did not even belong to the monastery. Rather, it was built for Chinese business, and there were plans to move government officials inside it to oversee the monks (Lozang Künkhyen 2010). The author argued that this and other development projects, including the cultural square and the new monastery ticket gate, were really aimed at commodification and control. Although highly polemical in tone (and dismissed as “meaningless gossip” by one reader who posted an equally polemical response), this piece of reportage reflected genuine tensions following the 2008 protests and echoed rumors I heard circulating in summer 2009. The new building was said to be part of government efforts to control the monks and would contain offices for the Cultural Bureau, the Religious Affairs Bureau, and security agencies on the ground floor, thus physically reinserting state agencies into monastic space. The encasement of the monastery as a tourist site was, it was believed, intended to contain the monks: once the new gate was completed, the side entrances would be closed off, making it easier to lock down the monastery if there was trouble. In the end, the housing block ended up being just that—a neo-­ Tibetan-style six-story building and adjacent three-story structure containing much-needed apartments for monks.17 As of 2015, there were still no government or security offices inside the monastery (although such offices do exist in monasteries elsewhere in Amdo, as well as Lhasa), and the side entrances to the monastery remained open. However, the local rumors about the housing block and the accusations launched against specific monastic leaders in the Shambala Post point to the highly problematic politics not only of tourism-­ related projects but of state funding of monastic development in general.18 Negotiation of patronage relationships has always been “a delicate matter involving careful strategic considerations” (Diemberger 2007b, 43). However, in contemporary contexts, Chinese state patronage poses very particular risks to the integrity and legitimacy of Geluk monasticism. As both Makley (2010) and Diemberger (2007b) point out, the contemporary relationship between the Chinese state and monastic Buddhism is markedly different from that of patron and preceptor (chöyön [mchod yon]), which had framed relationships between reincarnate lamas and the Qing emperors who supported monastic construction. The chöyön relationship was framed within an understanding of the spiritual and temporal as being “two orders within

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one system of legal and moral rules” (Diemberger 2007b, 43). Qing emperors sought to incorporate Tibetan areas into the imperial framework through institutionalizing and ritualizing relationships with reincarnation lineages, as well as with other local leaders, but the relationship was one of “calculated ambiguity” (Makley 2010, 150). Moreover, Qing supporters of Tibetan Buddhism were integrated into the monastic moral community through their faith and participation in Buddhist ritual, accruing merit and divine status through the relationship. The formation of the modern Chinese nation-state entailed differentiation between the “religious” and the “secular,” with the atheist state a radically secular order imposing its own system of legal and moral rules. In practice, the contemporary “state” is a complex, multilayered network of Communist Party and government agencies (e.g., religious affairs, tourism, heritage, security) operating at many different levels (national, provincial, prefectural, county, township). Moreover, state actors often operate from multiple positions, such as the CCP official who is also a member of a monastery’s patron community.19 Nevertheless, my interlocutors commonly referred to the state/government ( gyelkhap [rgyal khab]; rizhung [srid gzhung]) as a monolithic “other,” its various agencies and actors representative of the same competing order threatening the autonomy of the monastic institution.20 This competing order is not only external to monastic Buddhism but also has a history of violent confrontation with it. Antagonism toward and distrust of “the state” is rooted in collective memories of the violence of the Maoist years, as well as more recent political history. Samdrup provided a vivid illustration of this during a conversation about tourism development at his monastery in 2008. When officials had asked the monks to collect old objects such as pots and bells, their response, he claimed, was that they had all been destroyed— there was nothing left. There was no need to protect the monastery’s cultural relics because the monastery had been completely destroyed. Such tactics of rhetorical resistance undermine the legitimacy of heritage projects led by the same political order that had wreaked such destruction during the Maoist years. The current politics of state patronage is the latest stage in ongoing power shifts between state and monastic authority—as is evident in the history of the site on which the new housing block at Rongwo was built. Before 1958 it was a sacred space of Buddhist power and practice, occupied by at least one stupa, or chöten [mchod rten] in Tibetan, and known as Chöten Square.21 During the Maoist period, the chöten was destroyed, and a threestory building, contained within a walled compound, was erected and used for government work units and housing. As monastic authorities regained control over much of Rongwo’s original site by the early 1990s, the building was transformed into housing for monks and renamed Chöten Khangtsen [mchod

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rten khang tshan], khangtsen being residential subunits based on region of origin within monastic centers such as Sera and Drepung. This name thus incorporated references to both the site’s past as Chöten Square and its contemporary use as housing for monks coming from outside Repgong to study at Rongwo (even though Rongwo does not have khangtsen). The state-funded project to demolish and rebuild the housing block is the most recent episode in the history of this space. Presented in the state-sponsored media as an act of state benevolence (Xinhua 2010a), the project appears to have originated in a genuine housing problem for which Rongwo’s head lama, the Eighth Shartsang, had previously requested state aid to resolve. Monastic leaders at other institutions have told me about similar appeals they have made for state aid to develop new housing for monks, as well as for basic infrastructure such as electricity, water, and access roads. Given its timing, it is not unreasonable to interpret the decision to fund this and similar projects as part of a broader strategy to tighten CCP control over Tibetan monasteries following the 2008 protests by combining economic enticement with the exercise of coercive force, including increased surveillance, detention, and “political education” of monks. Indeed, Xinhua (2010a), quoting a monastic leader, claimed that the new housing had brought monks to “more and more profoundly feel the material advantages of the state’s religious policy.” Since 2008, state involvement in monastic development in Repgong has been incorporated into prefecture-level regulations concerning Tibetan Buddhist affairs. These stipulate that governments at all levels “shall incorporate basic infrastructure construction at sites for Buddhist activities, such as water, electricity and roads, into urban and rural development plans” (HZFT 2009, Article 8). In 2010, Xinhua (2010b) reported that the prefectural government had invested 50 million yuan in roadbuilding, water, electricity, and sewerage at monasteries “over the past few years”; I have seen evidence of such works in several monasteries since. Suspected by some monks and laypeople as attempts to pacify monks through strategic use of material development, such projects can also serve the interests of tourism development (particularly the cementing of mud access roads and the paving of internal monastic thoroughfares).22 Either way, even if such development is requested by monastic leaders, some of my interlocutors view it as being primarily in the interests of the state. By accepting state patronage and engaging in tourism, monasteries are sometimes perceived as “selling out,” ceding control to an external authority. Both Makley (2010) and Cooke (2010) argue that tourism works to incorporate Geluk monasticism into the PRC and has contributed to the “defanging of Tibetan Buddhist authority.” Makley (2010, 149–151) argues that the participation of lamas and monks in “ethnic museumization” epitomizes the dangers of close accommodation with the state and global capital. Even though

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they divert meanings and values for their own projects, they are also participating in the “categorical incarceration” of Tibetans (as a minzu, one of the fifty-six officially recognized nationalities that together constitute China as a unitary multinational nation-state) and of Tibetan “religion.” She cites Arjia Rinpoché’s story as typifying the hazards of such accommodation. As Kumbum’s abbot, he succeeded in raising funds from the state for the monastery’s revival, in part to develop it as a tourist destination. However, he found that this ultimately “entailed his public avowal of the incarceration of religion in a display of political loyalties to the state” (ibid., 150), eventually leading to his decision to escape into exile.23 That some monasteries appear to have resisted tourism development (so far) suggests that there is some space for negotiation at a local level (see also Hillman 2005, 48–50; Svensson 2010, 227–228). One monastic leader who did mention tourism as a source of income said that his monastery had started to make its own tickets and controlled and kept all revenue, rather than sharing it with the local government as it had done in the past.24 However, the room for such kinds of negotiation depends in part on the extent of the political and commercial interests that local and national authorities have in particular sites, as well as the interests, influence, and skillfulness of monastic leaders (see also Kapstein 2004, 254–255). Tourism can bring both attention and tension: the greater the state’s interest in developing a site, the more difficult it can become for monastic leaders to pursue their own institutional agendas.25 Monks were aware of the politics of state funding and of the dangerous implications of incorporation, collaboration, and dispossession that it carried. Yet their attitudes were shaped not simply by the issue of political control but also by the implications it had for the religious (and, interlinked to this, mundane) foundations of monasticism. The danger of incorporation is that the monastery loses its authority as a monastery and is transformed into an aestheticized site with little value or meaning. Defining Value The state as a competing order is external, has different priorities and interests from those of monastics, and privileges materialist values. Within the official discursive space for religion in China, the measure of the progressiveness of a monastery and the positivity of its role lies in demonstrating its compatibility with and active participation in the construction of modern socialist society. In terms of the monastic economy, the imperative is not just to be self-­ supporting but also to be a productive and active participant in state visions of development and the consumer economy, shifting the focus of the monastic economy from “internal support” to “external radiation” (Donggacang and Cairangjia 1995, 32). According to this way of viewing the world, the monas-

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tery’s role, in addition to being a place of religious education and a provider of religious services for Buddhists, is to be a driver for local economic growth, a provider of social welfare services, and an exemplar for Tibetan farmers and nomads in adopting modern scientific ways of thinking and production (Mei 2001, 143–148, 204–212; see also HZFT 2009, Articles 20 and 30; Makley 2007, 159–160, 260–261; Cooke 2010, 13, 25; Liu 2012). The monastery and its monks are analyzed in rational economic terms as resources, and their value and legitimacy are measured in terms of their material and secular social contributions to state and society. They have a duty to serve the interests of tourists as a new clientele and to meet their demand to “go back to nature and see sacred Tibetan monasteries and beautiful scenery” and consume traditional products, including religious commodities (Mei 2001, 157). Tourism development, according to Mei (ibid.), involves changing mentalities: “Praying to the Buddha is a spiritual need of the religious masses, while tourism is a spiritual necessity of life for the non-believing masses.” However, for those viewing monastic development from within the monastic moral community, the priorities are (or ideally should be) different. When Jampel was explaining why Ditsa had decided not to develop tourism, he pointed first and foremost to his idea of the proper role of a monastery: “A monastery like this is a seat of knowledge. It is somewhere you study. That is its function. . . . That is why we try to bolster that side and we forbid anything that undermines it. If it doesn’t harm or undermine studies, then we carry it out.” A common theme emerging in discussions with monks about appropriate monastic development was the need to take a “middle path”: they should be neither too wealthy nor too poor, or as Könchok (a senior monk at a scholastic center) put it, “Great hardship is not good, and comfort is also not good.” This view is rooted in the basic premise of Buddhism as a middle-way approach between radical asceticism and wealth. If conditions are too good, monks are distracted from their studies, and it is hard to be a pure religious practitioner. However, if conditions are too poor and monks do not have the basic necessities to live, it is also hard for them to focus on their studies and practices. Therefore, while some monks may feel a moral responsibility to “reduce the burden on the laity” and develop self-supporting activities, there is a coexisting ethic of simplicity and subsistence for monks. Popular representations of monasteries as materially developed but of low moral quality undermine their value and legitimacy. A monk in Rongwo’s College of Dialectics, Tenpa, made precisely this point: “Rongwo Monastery is like a university for studying Buddhism. A university has its own system. If there is too much preoccupation with economic interests and too much development, then the monastery will turn into some kind of spectacle. It will not have the necessary conditions of a real academic institution.” State-funded projects have very little to do with the monastery as a

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place of Buddhist education and practice. They may bring temporary material benefits, but is this really “supporting” the monastery? The issue is not only one of control but also one of value, as was evident in one of my conversations with Künsang, a monk in his forties at one of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries. Acknowledging that the local government had funded some external development, he went on to argue that this had little value when the government did not support monks’ studies. By this, he did not mean funding; rather, he meant the space to develop education. Instead, he said, the government was closing monastery schools. He returned to this issue later when I asked if he had any questions: “Which do you think is more important?” he asked. “Financial support or support for studies?” This perspective on the (lack of) value of state projects reflects a much more general concern about Geluk monastic development. A common theme in both monastic and popular moral discourse is that too much emphasis has been placed on the external development of monasteries, while not enough attention has been given to the development of monastic education. Many of these criticisms have nothing to do with tourism or state funding. Rather, they are levelled at monasteries and donors that have poured huge sums of money into the construction of temples and other religious structures (see also Caple 2015). The problem is not with temple building per se—after all, if it is done with good motivation, it is a virtuous, merit-making activity. The issue is one of priorities. In a more recent conversation with Künsang about a new temple under construction at his monastery, he argued, “We need material things to practice the Buddhist teachings, just as we need seeds, soil, fertilizer, and warmth to grow a plant; but the most important thing is to learn and practice the Buddhist teachings.” Drawing a different analogy (this time between a monastery and a school), a self-educated herder-businessman made a similar point: “Before, if people said a school was good, it was not because of how many chairs it had or how nice its facilities were. It was about how many good teachers it had, its scores, and so on.” In other words, temples, no matter how grand, are not what make a monastery. Nevertheless, construction of religious structures such as temples and stupas is one of the main forms of Buddhist generosity practice (and thus virtuous action) across Buddhist societies. Arjia Rinpoché (2010, 140) described his efforts to fund-raise for and organize the renovation of the stupa on Tsongkhapa’s birth site at Kumbum as “the first time in my life that I felt I was truly working to accumulate merit.” The construction of the Gomar stupa is another example. When the Tenth Panchen Lama visited Repgong in 1980, he asked the people to build a stupa. He gave his nephew Alak Yershong [g.yer gshong] responsibility for the project, and the latter chose Gomar as the site. A Gomar villager acted as the main sponsor, and others worked voluntarily to construct and paint it. I asked village elder Dawa how he and others felt about

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doing this work. He said that they were “happy” and “participated enthusiastically” (ga ga dro dro [dga’- dga’ ‘gro- ‘gro]) because building a stupa was of great merit. He added that during the time it was being built, “nobody in the village fought with each other.” The stupa, he said, is not just of benefit to the villagers and the people of Repgong. It also provides a merit-making opportunity for pilgrims who make offerings of even one or two yuan dedicated to all sentient beings. Temple building projects can involve the whole lay-monastic community in sponsorship, labor, and art production, reinforcing social ties and the sense of ownership of monastic space by and for the whole community.26 Construction and restoration have also resurrected ties between monasteries and communities historically associated with monastic construction and particular trades and arts. Artisans and artists are (ideally at least) members of the monastic moral community and accrue merit for their work, as well as personal prestige. Two of Repgong’s most renowned artists independently said that being asked to produce work for monasteries was a duty they must fulfil. Nowadays they could earn considerably more from commercial artwork, but they did this work as Buddhists.27 Restoration projects funded by the atheist state, on the other hand, have little value and meaning within the merit-based logics of Buddhism, nor do they contribute to related communal and individual prestige. In contrast to temple building projects controlled, designed, and constructed from within the monastic-lay community, state-planned and -funded cultural heritage projects (as distinct from monastic use of disaster relief funds at Kumbum) are, like tourism infrastructure, external. They are not motivated by faith, and the monks and local population have little or no involvement. For example, at Gomar, the state invested eight hundred thousand yuan to restore the floors in the main assembly hall and rotten pillars and beams (Xinhua 2003). The funds were handled by the County Cultural Bureau. The research for the work was done by students from Tianjin University who came to Repgong in 1996 to conduct a survey of Rongwo, Gomar, Nyentok, and Upper and Lower Senggé Shong. The repairs, started in 2003, were carried out by a company from central China’s Hubei Province that specializes in landscaping and historical sites (ibid.).28 The “Good Tourist” That the more fundamental questions of value and meaning underpin the attitudes of monks toward state-sponsored development is also apparent when we consider monks’ attitudes toward tourism as an idea as opposed to state-sponsored tourism in practice. Far from rejecting the idea of tourism outright, many monks responded positively to it.29 However, their reason for holding this view was not that tourism might generate income through

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entrance fees or create political space for monasteries. As we have seen, tourism is often perceived as bringing monasteries more firmly under government control, with any potential economic benefit weighed against this. Rather, attitudes toward tourism and perceptions of the benefits or risks it might pose centered on the motivation of tourists and the dynamics of the monastic-­ tourist encounter. The new Tibetan vocabulary coined for tourism reflects a conceptual distinction between tourists and pilgrims (figures 6 and 7). It connotes wandering for fun or pleasure around a region or location (yülkor troncham [yul skor spro ’cham/’khyam]) or going around to look/view/gaze—in other words, to sightsee (takor [lta skor]).30 Pilgrims, on the other hand, are engaged in a specific form of activity, nékor [gnas skor], the circumambulation of a né [gnas] or “abode,” “specifically the location or residence of a buddha or other significant beings in the pantheon or cosmos” (Huber 2008, 60–61; see also Buffetrille 2003, 325; Makley 2010, 138). A pilgrimage might be oriented toward merit-making and/or toward this-worldly concerns, such as health and fertility; but for a pilgrimage to be efficacious in either karmic or pragmatic spheres, it requires the pilgrim to have faith.31 In practice the lines between “traditional” religious pilgrimage and “modern” secular tourism are blurred, as elsewhere in China (Oakes and Sutton 2010) and beyond (e.g., Eade and Sallnow 1991). Tourists can have religious/spiritual motivations,

FIG. 6  Tourists at Kumbum Monastery, 2009

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FIG. 7  Pilgrims begin circumambulating Kumbum Monastery, 2009

and pilgrims can become more like tourists (Oakes and Sutton 2010, 10). One example of this fuzziness is the phenomenon of group pilgrimage bus tours for Tibetans of the key sacred sites of Central Tibet. Several of my friends have taken these trips. However, a conceptual boundary between pilgrims as insiders (who “do” faith through their circumambulations and prostrations) and tourists as outsiders was still evident in the way people talked about tourism and understood their own practices.32 Nevertheless, monks often made a distinction between two kinds of tourist: those who come to understand Buddhism and Tibetan culture, and those who come simply to sightsee, as if going to a park or a zoo. State-­ sponsored mass tourism, which consists of tour group sightseeing of “scenic spots,” sits firmly in the latter category. The dominant form of tourism in contemporary China, it was seen by monks as holding little value or meaning. On the other hand, monks held a positive attitude toward tourists who belonged to the former category, even if they were not considered pilgrims. From a Tibetan monastic perspective, the “good tourist” could therefore be characterized as a seeker of knowledge, an outsider who visits the monastery to learn about and understand Buddhism and Tibetan culture and who plays the role of patron, either economically or by promoting Tibetan culture and Buddhism when they return home. The role of tourism in providing a space for Tibetans to present their own image of Tibet to outsiders, as well as the role of foreign tourists as witnesses and supporters of the Tibetan cause, have been commented on (Klieger 1990; Schwartz 1994) and problematized (Cingcade 1998) elsewhere. Some of my interlocutors shared this perspec-

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tive: tourism was good because it provided an opportunity for foreigners to learn about and promote Tibetan culture and to bear witness to government control of monasteries. For at least some monks, a desire to communicate with outsiders extended to Chinese. Some younger monks were very keen to learn Chinese, partly so they could function within contemporary society, but also so they could participate in Buddhist exchange and propagation in the Sinophone world and gain access to associated patronage. The expansion of patronage networks is by no means dependent on tourism (see Smyer Yü 2012; Caple 2015), but tourism can bring monks and monasteries into contact with potential donors and increase their recognition (although this is not necessarily viewed in a positive light, as we will see in the case of Kumbum). More generally, tourism oriented toward meaningful exchange and interaction could serve to counter misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Tibetan culture and Tibetan people among Chinese, particularly images circulated through official media coverage of the 2008 protests (which emphasized Tibetan violence against Han Chinese), the Dalai Lama (vilified), and the situation of Tibetans more generally. However, understandings of the potential benefits of tourism extend beyond the mundane. As with temple building, the meaning and value of tourism are also rooted in an understanding of the world as a “morally-composed universe” (Adams 2008, 117) ordered by the workings of karma and merit. Within the framework of Buddhist ethics, beneficial action is that which is virtuous ( gewa [dge ba]). Tourism as a phenomenon that brings outsiders into Buddhist monastic space has the potential to aid the propagation of Buddhism and to function as a beneficial merit-making activity for participants. Conversely, the opening of monastic space to the gaze of outsiders carries a risk of polluting the minds of monks and undermining the faith and confidence of the laity. According to this logic, “good” tourism is that which provides an opportunity for participants to accumulate merit. “Bad” tourism is that which creates an environment or situation in which tourist-monastic encounters are the cause of karmically negative effects. This understanding of the merits and risks of tourism emerged during my interviews with several monks and laypeople, sometimes in parallel with other understandings. It was perhaps best expressed by the elderly scholar-monk Geshé Tendzin: Firstly, it is said that if people who have never heard of Buddha Dharma or seen any aspects of it encounter Buddhism or images of the Buddha, just once, it has inconceivable benefits. So, in terms of the diffusion [of Buddhism], it [tourism] is good. Secondly, when people come and see inside the monastery without understanding, they become spiritually disillusioned and say, “Monks behave like this,” and then they go to foreign countries and spread this per-

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ception from country to country. And in that case, instead of being beneficial, it becomes disadvantageous and a cause for the ruin of both self and others. So then, I believe it is not something good.

The different ways in which tourism in monasteries can be understood as potentially beneficial require a degree of interest, understanding, or engagement on the part of tourists that is largely absent in mass tourism. It is therefore not surprising that my interlocutors saw little benefit or value in the latter; it affords them little space to pursue their aims and aspirations as Buddhist and Tibetan subjects. State-sponsored mass tourism is thus an arena in which the competing values of “state” and monastic orders can come into sharp relief. However, the judgments of Geshé Tendzin and other monks about the benefits and dangers of tourism are based, not simply on institutionalized norms and values, but on their experience of the world. They have seen the impact that tourism has had on other monasteries in terms of reputation, as well as education and practice, and this has made them wary. Kumbum, in particular, has become the archetype of a monastery as a mass tourism destination. An examination of the ways in which my interlocutors talked about Kumbum sheds further light on their attitudes toward tourism and also illuminates underlying issues that extend beyond state-sponsored development and its impacts. Kumbum: National Model or Symbol of Decline? Tupten, a university student, recalled feeling very sad on his first visit to Kumbum. In high school he had heard that it was “a very important place for Tibetan culture and religion,” but when he visited, he found that it was “like a museum.” This led him to question its value. “The tourists go and look and then leave, and then nothing—just money. The monks can earn a lot of money, but what does that mean?” Contemporary representations of Kumbum, a monastery founded on the site of the birthplace of Tsongkhapa and now one of Qinghai’s main tourist destinations, make it an ideal site upon which to explore competing visions of monastic development from state and monastic perspectives. Promoted by PRC scholars and state actors as “the future trend or development model for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries under socialist conditions” (Pu Riwa et al. 2006), it serves as an exemplar of contemporary monastic decline in Tibetan popular discourse—and a future trend or “model” that monks seek to avoid. The appropriation of Kumbum as a national “model monastery” dates to the Maoist era and has several logics, including its religio-political historical significance and importance in Sino-Tibetan relations, its accessibility from Xining, and its location in a Han- and Hui-dominated area (Cooke

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2010). Designated a “national key cultural heritage protection unit” in 1961 (QTB 2010b), it was one of the few Tibetan monasteries not completely destroyed during the Maoist years. Some monks even continued to live on the site, although they were not able to wear robes or practice openly (Arjia Rinpoché 2010, 67–87). Its “museification” began in the 1970s. Arjia Rinpoché (ibid., 92–93), a former abbot of Kumbum, recalls that early in that decade the monastery was used as a patriotic education site, with thousands of soldiers, farmers, and factory workers visiting to “learn about exploitation in Tibet’s feudal past.” In the late 1970s, Tibetans were given a tour of Kumbum on their release from prison and rehabilitation (ibid., 99–100). In 1980 the monastery was used as a showcase of freedom of religious belief and government support during the first fact-finding mission by the Dalai Lama’s representatives (ibid., 118–123). Its importance for propaganda purposes meant that it received state funds for the maintenance of its primary buildings. Renovations began as early as 1973, when monks were ordered to repaint damaged artworks and renovate part of the assembly hall (ibid., 93–94).33 Since the early 1980s, Kumbum has been developed into a major mass-tourism destination, awarded a 4A rating by the State Tourism Bureau in 2000 (QTB 2010b) and listed as number one in the provincial Tourism Bureau’s 2009 list of scenic areas (QTB 2010c). In 2016, during the national “Golden Week” holiday period of 1–7 October, it was visited by 105,400 tourists (Qinghai Ribao 2016)—an average of 15,000 per day. The experience of visiting Kumbum is quite different from that of visiting other scholastic centers, including those such as Rongwo and Jakhyung, which have experienced some tourism development. As of 2015, Rongwo was quiet on an average day, whereas Kumbum felt busy and crowded. As the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, it attracts greater numbers of pilgrims than other monasteries do, but far more tourists are also in evidence, mostly in groups and accompanied by a tour guide. Tourists and pilgrims are often distinct in their appearance, many of the latter dressing in Tibetan/Mongolian clothing for their visit. They are also marked by differences in their practices and movements around the site: tourists tend to take a linear path from temple to temple while pilgrims circumambulate; pilgrims prostrate themselves and touch their heads to sacred objects as tourists stand, look, and listen to their guides (see figures 6 and 7). The tourism infrastructure and facilities are more developed than at other monasteries. A commercial area with restaurants and shops is located next to the car park at the northern edge of the site. Visitors passing through the car park, one of two approaches to the monastery, are likely to encounter tour guides touting for business. The other approach is from the street leading up from the county town, which is lined with small shops selling religious products and souvenirs such as prayer beads and statues. Ending at the northwestern corner of the monastery, this street brings

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visitors to a paved square in which sit the eight stupas guarding Kumbum’s entrance. Although the monastery is not walled in, a gatehouse at the square’s northern edge contains a ticket office and an ATM (usually with a mobile post office van adjacent to it). Groups of tourists mill around in the square, taking photographs in front of the stupas. Trilingual signposts (in Tibetan, Chinese, and English) at the southern corners of the square and along the main paths through the monastery point toward different temples, as well as the public toilets. While entry to Rongwo through its main entrance has been monitored by Tourism Bureau officials since 2012, at Kumbum there are ticket barriers at the entrances of each of the temples or temple complexes, manned by monks. Tibetan pilgrims can pass through without tickets but must still jostle with the throng of tourists to gain entrance. With groups crowding into the front of the temples and around sacred objects, the atmosphere is not dissimilar to that of a major art gallery or museum. Overall, whereas Rongwo feels like a monastery visited by some tourists, Kumbum feels like a major Chinese tourist destination. Within the discursive framework of state policy, these kinds of development have led to Kumbum’s promotion as a model of Tibetan monasteries adapting to socialist society. As a major tourist site, the monastery serves both nation and society (see also Cooke 2010). Mei (2001, 143–144), writing about the influence of the monastic economy on Tibetan areas, cites Kumbum and its tourism industry as an example of the role that monasteries can have in stimulating economic development and local markets: Not only is it a sacred place for believers, but it is also one of Qinghai’s important tourist spots. It has stimulated great development in trades such as tourism, infrastructure, restaurants, hotels, and shops. The taxes these businesses pay to the state have become an important component of local financial income. The employment provided by trades such as the manufacture of religious products and handicrafts has solved a real problem in wider society.

Provincial officials have presented Kumbum as a model for modernizing shifts in monastic economy, education and management (Pu Riwa et al. 2006).34 They laud it for its development of self-supporting activities and diversified skills and services, such as printing, and arts and crafts, with over a third of the monks participating in monastic economic activities. Furthermore, the monks are praised for their “changing attitudes to self-reliance and use of religious activities for wider local development,” not only benefiting the local economy but also helping the community by participating in social welfare activities, such as disaster relief, medical care, and environmental protection (ibid.). The monastery is also praised for unifying religious and secular/voca-

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tional education, introducing subjects such as computing, languages, Tibetan medicine, and religious painting and combining “traditional” with “modern” management (ibid.). Many aspects for which Kumbum is held up as a “model” do not necessarily conflict directly with the ideas of some contemporary monks. We have already seen that reformist monks like Goyön (2009) hold opinions that converge with state discourse on the need for economic, educational, and management reform. Yet, even monks who expressed such reformist views to me used Kumbum’s development as a cautionary tale or an example against which to extol the relative virtues of their own monasteries. Kumbum remains an important pilgrimage destination because of its association with Tsongkhapa, but I found it to be widely disparaged as a monastery. In her study of Shangrila, Kolås (2008, 76–77, 126–127) argues that tourism can be a sacralizing rather than secularizing force: the gaze of outsiders leads to “a new understanding and appreciation of the significance of these sites on the part of the visited.” However, there is an important distinction between the understanding of a place as sacred or powerful (part of a network of sacred sites) and the space of a monastery as a lived-in community of monks (a place of practice and education). Such a distinction was made by Tibetans (including Tupten) when they talked about Kumbum. The site was still considered to be sacred but had become like a public park or a museum, they said, stripped of its meaning as a working monastery. Similar reservations have been expressed by foreign tourists (to me) and “PRC citizens of various nationalities,” including Han Chinese (Cooke 2010, 26). Many of the specific criticisms I heard about Kumbum reflect the findings of scholars who have written about tourism’s impacts in Tibetan, Chinese, and Theravāda monasteries in China: disruption of monastic ritual and practice; monks being pulled away from traditional roles to look after tourists; a blurring of boundaries between inside/sacred and outside/profane; and corruption stemming from the relative wealth of tourists.35 The disruption of monastic ritual and practice is the most obvious impact of mass tourism. As at Rongwo, the forty-day summer retreat at Kumbum, which coincides with the peak tourist season, provides a clear example of competing priorities. However, the large volume of tourism at Kumbum makes the intrusion of outsiders into monastic space during this period more pronounced. Disruption was also more evident on an everyday basis at Kumbum. On my visits there, monks were not able to gather for assemblies during tourist hours, and monastic space was taken over by tour groups. The flow of pilgrims was disrupted as well. In their quick and fluid circumambulations of the site, they had to weave through static groups of lectured sightseers to approach sacred objects inside the temples and had to vie with tour groups for space for their prostrations. On my last trip to the monastery, a temple caretaker quietly grumbled that all these tourists gave him a headache.

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The criticism that monks must take time from their monastic obligations in order to assist tourists is linked to uneasiness over the commercialization of monastic space and activities, as monks work as ticket sellers and temple gatekeepers and take fixed-priced donations for various ritual services. Lungtok compared the monks at Kumbum to government officials going to an office job, and two of my lay friends in Xining also referred to “nine-to-five” monks who simply act the part for tourists. What is at issue here is not solely that monks are being diverted from their traditional roles. The commercialization of monastic space has also changed their attitudes and shifted their focus away from their responsibilities as meditators, scholars, and ritualists and toward wealth creation. One senior scholar and teacher at Kumbum was particularly frank when he estimated in 2008 that the College of Dialectics had perhaps only twenty students who could be considered scholar-monks. He believed that the number of serious students had decreased over the previous fifteen years as life had got better: “The minds of monks have been polluted, and they mainly think about earning and spending money.” I was to hear this again and again in my conversations with both monks and laypeople. An important element of perceived monastic moral decline is the blurring of monastic-lay boundaries, not just in the division of labor, with monks engaging in commercial activities like their lay brothers, but also in the intermingling of bodies as outsiders enter monastic space and monks spend time in town. In the case of Kumbum, its proximity to and accessibility from the provincial capital, Xining, was seen as particularly problematic for both political and social reasons. Gyeltsen, a Kumbum monk in his thirties, related the dangers of state-sponsored tourism development for both the morality of monks and the faith and confidence of the laity: People who come here purposefully to pay homage to the monastery, driven by their devotion and faith in the monastery, for them it does not feel like a monastery. . . . The state has turned it into a tourist place by making a road and . . . increasing its grading [i.e., its status as a tourist area] in order to make it nationally and globally famous. The state’s main objective is financial. Once sights are set on money, then the whole atmosphere changes from that of a monastery into a public park. If you turn it into a public park, there are many things that are bad for the monks. There are more occasions when monks and the laity mix. In the worst cases, monks seek opportunities to make money out of this situation.

The perceived corruption caused by this intermingling, combined with an increasingly materialistic society, is evident in widespread gossip about Kumbum’s monks. When I entered the field, some of the first stories

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I heard were rumors about their immoral behavior (and I have continued to hear them since). Some were about monks and lamas, real or fake, taking advantage of tourists for money. Others were even more problematic, since they contained allegations of sexual misconduct. The stories usually centered on one or more monks spotted in town at night, having taken off their robes to go out drinking and meet girls, or on monks heard or seen to have had inappropriate relationships with female Chinese patrons or students.36 Such popular denigration of contemporary monastic behaviors is particularly dangerous. It erodes Geluk authority by undermining the fundamental distinction that places monks above laymen: the monk’s vow of celibacy (see also Makley 2007, 206–207). Performance is of great importance to the tourism industry. Pu Riwa et al. (2006) praise Kumbum’s young monks for engaging in economic activities and becoming increasingly secularized. However, in an article on the development and protection of religious tourism at Kumbum, Qi (2009) sounds a note of warning. She argues that cultural assimilation is a problem and that it is important to guard against a purely economic focus, which damages religious culture: “If something is not done to limit and solve the secularization of monks, then the monastery will lose its attractiveness and its original spiritual style.”37 This tension between modernization through tourism and the need to preserve the ethnic culture that is the key tourism resource is a common theme in ethnic tourism studies (e.g., Oakes 1998; Peng 1998; Winter 2007; Li Yang et al. 2008). Qi’s argument is situated within this framework. The robed bodies of monks and their ritual practices are represented as cultural resources that are part of the value of the site as a tourist attraction. The primary concern for monks, however, is not the erosion of ethnic culture for public consumption but the disintegration of a social order that fosters Buddhist education and practice and, fundamentally, the ethics of monasticism. The criticisms discussed above all represent the monastery, or individual monks, in one way or another as prioritizing material well-being over education and practice. It is therefore not so much a question of “authenticity” that is problematic as a perceived shift in values (see also Makley 2010, 139). Monks such as Gyeltsen directly linked this value shift with state-led tourism, but more generally my interlocutors did not paint a picture of monks as passive victims of either state-led policies or capitalist forces. They placed a degree of responsibility for perceived monastic moral decline with the monastic leadership. I found this to be a common view among both monastic and lay Tibetans. Geshé Lozang, for example, had been a monk at one of the three Geluk seats in Lhasa before he was forced to return to Amdo after the 2008 protests. Speaking about the dangers of tourism development, which he had witnessed at his monastery in Lhasa, he emphasized the agency of monastic leaders:

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Nowadays everything is dominated by economic interests. With this preoccupation with financial matters, it looks like all monasteries in Tibet will turn into centers of spectacle in the future. . . . ​ Monks will become like laypeople, and the remnants of monasteries will be remembered as, “This used to be a monastery.” There will be some temples, but the monks will not be there. They will all have become laypeople. I find this scenario to be the greatest danger. Many do not see this as a risk, but as a success. Once people become [monastic] leaders, they are concerned with economic issues and want to leave their mark in terms of the economy. . . . ​ That’s what everyone is trying to do. They are preoccupied with financial matters.

Ultimately the Geshé’s criticism is not of tourism per se but of the monastic leadership’s prioritization of the economy and wealth creation. Lungtok voiced a similar rhetoric, drawing a simple comparison between Kumbum and his monastery. Having said that the commercialization of monastic space and practices at Kumbum “does not accord with the Dharma, but it does with politics,” he asked: “What is the good of having financial benefits when you cannot carry out religious studies?” His monastery, he said, does not have great financial resources because “it does not matter if there is no wealth.” He added that “the main thing is to be able to run the monastery according to the monastic rule [dülwa [‘dul ba]].” I have argued that tourism—rather than creating an arena in which monastic and state interests converge—is a domain within which the limits of monastic-state convergence are brought into sharp relief. Although tourism is an insignificant factor in the revival of most monasteries, local officials who have encouraged tourism as a driver of local development have sometimes met resistance. There are voices in the community that perceive all forms of financial enterprise at monasteries as part of a CCP conspiracy to divert monks’ attention away from religious practice. Yet monks themselves appear to distinguish between activities that they control and tourism that is controlled by an external agency. More generally, monks tended to elide or dismiss state support, such as heritage funding. Tourism, heritage funding, and other forms of state patronage are deeply political, reinserting into monastic space the authority of a competing order that has different priorities and interests and has a materialist understanding of the value of monasteries and monks. These state-based forms of patronage carry implications of incorporation, collaboration, and dispossession that can compromise monastic leaders and undermine monastic reputations. In contrast to commercial development

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authored by the monastic community, they also erode the autonomy of monks in shaping the futures of their monasteries. However, monastic attitudes toward state-sponsored development also reveal more fundamental questions about how “benefit” and “value” are defined. Monks might discount or elide state support for monasteries because it has had a limited economic impact or problematic political implications, but also because they see state-led projects as having limited value or meaning to monastic Buddhism as a religious project. Such questioning of benefit and value extends beyond state-monastic interactions to debates within the lay-monastic community, such as those about the value of material development and temple building vis-à-vis education and practice. Tensions between monastic ideals and a perceived societal shift in values are particularly pronounced in the context of tourism development. The production of Kumbum as a mass-tourism destination has involved the commodification of monastic space and bodies, disruption of monastic education and practice, and a dangerous blurring of monastic-lay boundaries. It is surely no coincidence that Kumbum is both the monastery in Qinghai at which tourism is most developed and an exemplar of moral decline. Yet, as we will see in the next chapter, criticisms of Kumbum form part of a more general narrative of monastic moral decline that has shaped approaches to monastic financing, organization, education, and discipline.


Monastic Development in Morally Troubled Times

WHILE JAMYANG AND I WERE CATCHING UP in his quarters in spring 2014, he asked me what I thought of Kumbum’s education. Having muttered something noncommittal about its general reputation, I turned the question back on him, and he replied, with the hint of a smile: “I don’t know, but the economy is very good. This is bad. It changes the thinking.” As we saw in chapter 3, the common underlying theme in Tibetans’ criticisms of Kumbum is that too much emphasis has been placed on external development and wealth creation, to the detriment of study, practice, and discipline. Influencing the minds of monks and blurring monastic-lay boundaries, this direction of development not only disrupts discipline and practice but also undermines the faith and confidence of the lay community. Although Kumbum may act as an archetype of monastic decline, I heard the same refrain repeated more generally about monastic Buddhism. I argued in chapter 2 that narratives of moral decline were a factor in the shift away from monastic alms collection. Yet the subsequent development of monastic businesses has produced new debates and dilemmas framed in very similar terms. In my conversations with monks, they frequently drew contrasts between their own and other monasteries, themselves and other monks, Tibet and India, and the past and the present. Although sometimes extolling the virtues of the speaker or his monastery, in many cases their evaluations were unfavorable to themselves, their monasteries, their generation, or their times. As this chapter will show, attitudes toward monastic development have been conditioned by this sense of the times as morally troubled and by monks’ experiences of its concrete manifestations, as well as more specific challenges 94

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to monastic authority posed by the emergence of a secularly educated elite. Yet there is a concurrent heightening of the significance of the monastery as an idealized space of “Tibetan” morality, felt to be under threat from assimilation into a “Chinese” modernity. I argue that these dynamics have reinforced certain ideals, such as that of the scholar-monk, and have informed the approaches monasteries have taken to financing, organization, discipline, education, and the spread of facets of “modern life” and globalization into monastic space, such as the proliferation of multimedia technologies and consumer culture. However, monks are not merely turning a nostalgic gaze onto the past or responding in a reactionary way to social change. Their narratives of moral decline reflect concrete challenges facing monasteries and create space for reform, as those charged with responsibility for developing their monasteries try to keep pace with the changing times. Sense of the Times During a drive along Nine River valley during the winter of 2014, one of my companions pointed to a monastery that had moved from its previous location at the top of a hill down to the side of the road—the main route between Repgong and Tsekhok. He said that the monks of a nearby hermitage monastery, perched high on a forested mountainside, had also wanted to move down. However, the people of his village, a supporting community of the hermitage (which we had previously visited together), had not agreed. It should be in a quiet place, he explained: “We told the monks that they could move if they wanted, but the village would no longer support them.” I had previously heard of similar village opposition to the construction of new roads to two other relatively remote monasteries. Such stories indicate the proprietary feelings that specific communities have toward “their” monasteries and the ideas those communities have about what kinds of development are appropriate. These stories also reflect popular criticisms of monks “these days” who are far too interested in material comforts, accessibility to the world beyond the monastery, and, more generally, “modern life” with all its distractions. A recurring trope illuminated in the discussion thus far (and expressed not least by monks themselves) is that the external development of monasteries continues to improve and monks these days are better off materially, but their minds (sem [sems]) are changing or unsteady. In the Tibetan context, the notion that minds are changing is essentially a notion that morality is changing—in this context, declining. The mind is both where our attitudes and ways of thinking (sam [bsam]) arise and the seat of emotions.1 Greed, fear, competitiveness, joy, care, generosity, compassion, and faith arise in the mind, shaping the moral quality of one’s actions. For example, the virtue of an act of giving and thus its karmic results, I was frequently

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told by monks, depends on the mind of the giver. People often counterposed contemporary times to either the early 1980s or pre-1958, times when people had great faith and monastic life was remembered or imagined to have been simple and the minds of monks pure. Now, people said, monks are increasingly focused on material interests over spiritual ones. Pema, for example, recalled that when he was a monk in the 1980s (he has since disrobed), he and the other young monks used to vie over their ability to remember and recite texts; his more recent conversations with young monks had led him to believe that these days they compete over money and sponsors. Many people drew a moral boundary between the first flush of monastic revival in the 1980s and the present, with an accompanying distinction drawn between the moral qualities of the elders and (at least most of) the current “younger” generation. Some people directly attributed this “moral decline” to the policies of the Chinese government, which was believed to have subordinated culture to the economy. More generally, perceptions of monastic moral decline were rooted in a broader sense of the times as morally troubled, times in which people increasingly focused on this life over the next, and on the material over the spiritual.2 In the rather bleak words of one senior monk, “People’s characters are degenerating. . . . There are more and more bad things and less and less good things.” This sense of the times was enmeshed with a Buddhist cosmological framework that places us in an age of inexorable decline within a universe understood to alternate between periods of advance and decline. After successive periods of increasing decline that commenced with the death of Buddha Śākyamuni, the Buddhist teachings will disappear from the earth only to reappear millions of years later with Maitreya, the future Buddha (Nattier 1991, 26). When Geshé Tendzin spoke about social change and the increasing materialism of monks, he referred to prophecies made by Tsongkhapa and the Buddha Śākyamuni: The great master Tsongkhapa foretold in his teachings of the destructiveness of the unwholesome environment that is brought about through increasing wealth. If this wealthiness increases, just about all the virtuous monks will not be able to achieve the mind of emptiness, and it is extremely difficult to revive [the teachings of Buddhism] completely. Secondly, the lord Buddha prophesized that his teachings would remain in the world for five thousand years, and thus with each day the period of destruction is coming into being.3

Viewed in historical perspective, monasteries have always existed in complicated social environments and have had to contend with balancing social, political, economic, and cultural realities with Buddhist ideals (see, e.g., Benn et

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al. 2010). Concerns over the decline of Tibetan monastic Buddhism in the face of socioeconomic change can be found that date back at least two centuries. In the nineteenth century, increased commercialization in the thriving market town that grew up around Labrang led to the issue of monastic edicts warning monks and reincarnate lamas “not to be greedy, exploit others, or embezzle communal funds for personal profit” (Makley 2007, 70–71). Gendün Chömpel [dge ‘dun chos ‘phel] lamented during the first half of the twentieth century that purely celibate asceticism was increasingly rare in the ferment of expanding commerce (ibid., 191). Arjia Rinpoché (2010, 245) mentions moral decline at Kumbum following the collapse of the Qing, when “a sense of Western modernism swept the land, further undermining discipline among some monks.” Criticism of religious fraud and references to the corrupting potential of wealth go back much further than this in Tibetan religious discourse. Wood (2013), for example, cites a fourteenth-century letter of advice by the influential Tibetan monastic scholar and eleventh abbot of Zhalu [zhwa lu] Monastery, Butön Rinchendrup [bu ston rin chen grub] (1290–1364). Writing to future abbots of Zhalu, Butön urged them to “guard their minds against the inevitable influx of donations, to be wary of thieving attendants, and to refrain from individually seizing the possessions of their deceased brethren” (ibid., 37). In the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification), written in the fifth century, Buddhaghosa lists eighteen ways in which a monastery can be unfavorable to meditative practice. They include “the presence of incompatible persons,” “famousness,” and “a nearby city” (Robson 2010, 10), all ways in which the meditator can be brought closer back to secular life. These bear a striking similarity to some of the issues discussed in relation to tourism and its perceived impact on a major Geluk scholastic center in twenty-first century Amdo (albeit the focus being on the ideal of the scholar-monk rather than the meditator). Nevertheless, there have been very real—and very great—­transformations of the world within which contemporary monastics live. Just as we can imagine that historical figures such as Buddhaghosa, Butön, and Gendün Chömpel were responding to specific concerns of their times, so too are monastic leaders today. There is an acute sense of loss in relation to the upheavals of the Maoist period. Jampel, for example, lamented that there had not been enough time for Ditsa’s great teachers to transmit all their knowledge to the younger generation before they passed away. They must also negotiate the heightening of political tensions since 2008. At the same time, there has been “unprecedented” social and economic change (Huber 2002a, xvii), not least through the nationally driven and scripted development of the western regions (Ch. xibu da kaifa). Even since 2008, I have witnessed extraordinary transformations in people’s lives and livelihoods through processes of rapid marketization, urbanization, and infrastructure construction, a burgeoning (for some, debt-fueled) consumer economy, increased mobility, and the extensive spread

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of multimedia technologies. Many individuals and communities have experienced an increase in cash income, largely driven by the trade in medicinal “caterpillar fungus” (Cordyceps sinensis) and, in Repgong, the production of religious arts—both of which can command high prices on the Chinese market. This growth in income has been paralleled by visibly increasing economic inequalities and a sense among many of my interlocutors that money is being privileged over other markers of status, such as education. Such changes are reflected in monasteries, some of which (e.g., Rongwo and Nyentok in Repgong) are being swallowed up in an expanding urban sprawl, while others are becoming more accessible through roadbuilding or relocation. Meanwhile, the proliferation of new religious structures at some monasteries mark them as being conspicuously wealthier than others. These changes are also reflected in the everyday lives of monks, many of whom have experienced an increase in cash income (not least through increased demand for religious services) and are actively participating in—and sometimes at the forefront of—new consumption practices such as house building and renovation (Lengzhi Duojie 2014). Some monks owned motorbikes or even cars, paralleling a rapid increase in car ownership among my lay friends and acquaintances since 2008. Many I spoke to had travelled to the provincial capital to perform religious services for community members, relatives, or friends who worked in the city or were in the hospital (although in some cases they went for leisure); a few had gone farther afield to cities in inner China to visit Chinese sponsors or to spend leisure time. Even monks living in relatively remote monasteries used technologies such as smartphones and tablet computers, connecting with the world beyond through social media platforms. The idea that monks are higher in status than a layperson is predicated on an understanding of the monk as a particular kind of moral subject, distinct in both mind (sem) and conduct. Mind and environment are understood to depend on one other, which is why monastics and laypeople should ideally be separated by social and physical boundaries. A monastery should ideally provide an environment free of distractions in which rules of conduct are followed, not for their own sake, but in order (along with study and practice) to purify the mind, gradually transforming dispositions that tend toward particular mental states that are the roots of unwholesome action.4 Historically, monasteries have been founded relatively close to lay settlements for economic reasons, and (in Tibet at least) monks were active in trade and business. Yet monks’ increased mobility and connectivity since the 1980s, as well as new consumption practices, serve as concrete manifestations of what is perceived to be moral decline and a dangerous blurring of lay-monastic boundaries. Monks are highly visible as one walks through the streets of Repgong’s urban center. They can be seen driving cars and motorbikes, drinking in teahouses and eating in restaurants (sometimes with other monks, some-

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times with laypeople), topping up their smartphone credit or buying new phones in cell phone stores, or even playing “shoot-’em-up” computer games in Internet bars. The presence of “too many robed bodies visible in traditionally unsuited places” (Makley 2007, 276), as well as the public display of inappropriate wealth-seeking behaviors by some monks and monasteries, are seen as evidence that most monks do not live up to the monastic ideal embodied by the heroic elders who led the revival. Perhaps the most potent symbol of decline is the increasing number of young men who turn back to secular life (a pattern examined more fully in chapter 5). This sense of the times as morally troubled, as well as the need to maintain the faith and confidence of the laity in their wake, were partly what spurred monasteries to develop profitable enterprises. Yet these very same concerns have been central to subsequent debates about the ethics of monastic business and how it should be managed, as well as prompting other reforms—not just to monastic financing but also to education. The Ethics of Monastic Business When I arrived in Amdo in summer 2012 on my first trip back since 2009, Könchok was one of the first people I visited. A senior monk at a scholastic center, he had helped me a great deal in my attempts to understand the organization and financing of his monastery. I talked him through a PDF copy of my doctoral thesis, coming to a page showing photographs of a monastery shop and a medical clinic. Making a face, he exclaimed, “I think that we don’t need these!” Könchok was one of the most vociferous advocates of monastic self-sufficiency I had met, so his reaction took me by surprise. On a subsequent visit, I probed further. The problem, he explained, was that monks “need to be a little deceptive [gokor [mgo bskor]]” in order to make a profit, since running shops and clinics involved buying goods at one price and selling them for a higher price. “What should we do,” Könchok asked rhetorically, “if we are not going to ask for alms and if monks don’t do business?” His answer to this conundrum involved taking advantage of the local real estate boom, an answer indicating that the problem was not with profit per se. Rather, the problem was with monks’ everyday involvement in commerce and their interactions with the public. The monastery, he argued, should instead construct buildings for business rental: this approach would provide an income, and “as for the monks, they can stay inside the monastery, coming to assembly, coming to the debating ground.” Könchok elaborated on what was at stake should monks continue to work in businesses: I am an advocate of self-sufficiency, but we need to change [our] path. If we don’t change, then it will not be good for the monks’

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conduct [künchö [kun spyod]]. Then, in the eyes of the public, “Oh ​. . .​ the quality of monks is not good!” And then, in the eyes of society, the value [rintang [rin thang]] of monks will really decline. . . . Monks need to be different from the public.

Doubts about the morality of contemporary monastics were an important element in the moral reasoning that monks like Könchok employed to argue in favor of monastic business development. However, the actual practice of monastic engagement in commerce has looped back into narratives of monastic moral decline. Mass tourism is ethically problematic in its blurring of lay-monastic boundaries (both social and symbolic) and its disruption of discipline, study, and practice. The development of monastic businesses has been contested for similar reasons, even though it has been advocated on moral grounds and is controlled from within the monastic institution. Lungtok—the monk who placed the impetus for monastic reforms firmly at the government’s door—believed that although the commercial activity of his monastery might provide some income in the short term, “in the long run it will be the great enemy.” He argued that it would be “very harmful” for the monastery, “because everyone who is involved in the businesses is in contact with wider society, and therefore it is difficult to continue to be a monk.” He added that “there are incidents of those monks disrobing and then carrying out business privately.” As is evident in Könchok’s comments, even monks who strongly agree with the development of self-supporting enterprises can be uneasy about monks doing business. Not only is it seen to involve a dangerous, distracting engagement in secular life for monk-workers, but it also presents the wrong image to a public already perceived to be losing its faith and confidence in contemporary monastics. Therefore, even when the principle of self-sufficiency has been accepted as “good,” senior monks have had to find ways of balancing the need to secure income against the perceived risks of involvement in business. Engagement in customer-facing businesses such as shops seems to be particularly problematic. Although only a small proportion of monks do this kind of work on behalf of their monasteries, their involvement in everyday commercial transactions is public and highly visible, particularly in shops located in commercial districts outside the monasteries. Shops in Repgong’s urban center, as well as some villages, have signage designating them as monastery shops. Otherwise, they are similar in appearance and layout to other Tibetan general stores in villages and towns, the stock displayed in glasstopped counter cabinets, as well as stacked on shelving (and in many cases also on the floor). There are certain products that monastery shops should not sell, including meat, animal skins, alcohol, and cigarettes. All of them stock snacks, drinks, and sweets, as well as religious products, such as offering scarves and treasure vases, which are kept on higher shelves. The rest of

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the stock is determined by the location and customer base of the shop. Ditsa’s upper shop, for example, catering mainly to monks, sells stationery; household goods such as mops, brooms, kettles, hot water flasks, and alarm clocks; and monastic boots and robes (see figure 5). By contrast, Rongwo’s Tantric College wholesale shop, in the urban center of Repgong, largely caters to lay Tibetans from nearby villages, as well as those coming into town from farther afield to purchase goods, particularly in the lead-up to the new year. It makes most of its income through the sale of religious products, such as incense and butter for offerings, as well as drinks. In monasteries operating monk-run shops, the position of shopkeeper/manager has become one of the various administrative posts that a monk might be required to take on as part of his service to the collective. Depending on the monastery, the terms of office vary from one to three years. Appointment is usually based on age or length/stage of monastic career, although in the case of Rongwo’s Tantric College, selection is through a lottery, and at Ditsa it is partly based on character and capability. In each case, these monks spend much of their time working behind the counter in the shops (at least some of which are open from early in the morning until well into the evening), as well as dealing with stock control and replenishment. At the Tantric College shop in Rongwo town, the managers take turns sleeping in the shop for security purposes, a common practice among small businesses in town. As is the case for other monastic administrative office holders, such as stewards, shop managers are excused from participation in religious assemblies and Dharma sessions during their term of office, but they still receive their share of food and donations. In some cases, they are also given a stipend (at Ditsa, e.g., the shopkeepers were paid roughly 2,500 yuan per year as of 2009). At only one monastery (a relatively remote practice center) did I find a shopkeeper who was indefinitely in post. His one-room quarters were in the same building as the shop, which sits inside the grounds of his monastery and caters largely to monks and nearby villagers. He had apparently been judged to be the best monk for the job, leading the monastery to abandon its previous rotation of the post, and seemed to take great pride in his work, which was now his full-time occupation. For the other monk-shopkeepers/managers with whom I spoke, the job was seen as an important but not particularly welcome responsibility—and for some it was an onerous one. Some monks in this position were uneasy about selling goods for a profit, echoing Könchok’s logic that doing so involved being a little deceptive, or they were uncomfortable about having to bargain; one monk evaluated regular customers from certain nearby villages as “really good” because, unlike others, they did not bargain. Some felt a sometimes simultaneous, if contradictory, pressure to make a healthy profit, particularly if they had to distribute surplus income to the monks at the end of their term in office. The amount would, they believed, be compared favorably or negatively to that disbursed by previous shopkeep-

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ers/managers. This pressure is similar to that previously experienced by stewards responsible for alms collection—reported as a factor in economic reforms at some monasteries. In theory, many monks felt that medical clinics were a highly appropriate way for monasteries to generate income. Since the tenth century, monasteries have provided one of the main sources of Tibetan medical training (Arya 2009). Some monastic centers have colleges of medicine, and Tibetan medical science is also taught at other monasteries. Lungrik, a senior monk at Trashitsé, explained why setting up a medical clinic would be “appropriate for the monastery”: It would be of great benefit to the people, and it would also help the monastery’s economy. Not only does the monastery teach medicine and have the ability to manage the clinic itself, but the work of a doctor is completely fitting work for a monk. From this perspective, this would be the best way to develop the monastery economy.

The appropriateness of this work for a monk lies in its concordance with the Mahāyāna ethics of benefiting sentient beings by ministering to their needs on both mundane and transmundane levels, which includes nursing the ill (Tatz 1986, 50, cited in Peter Harvey 2000, 131). At an ideal level, working as a doctor is therefore meritorious (moral) work through which a person can cultivate and exercise compassion. Nevertheless, through their experiences of the world, some monks have reevaluated the appropriateness of running clinics. Ideally, clinics may be a more ethical form of enterprise than, for example, a shop (although, as we saw in chapter 2, these too have been represented as a public service). In practice, however, they are perhaps even riskier. Monastic doctors spend time with laypeople, just as monks working in shops do. More significantly, they have access to an alternative status and material basis for life outside the monastery. I heard many stories about monks who trained as doctors and then left their monastery, either remaining as monks but setting up private clinics, or disrobing and working as lay doctors. An elder monk-doctor in charge of a monastery clinic in an urban area, told me that when the clinic first opened in 1989 there were two doctors from the monastery and four or five monk-students who were sent away to study medicine. On their return, they either left to start their own clinics or disrobed. In 2008, I saw a new monastic medical college under construction in Xunhua County, sponsored by a local lama. By summer 2009 a teacher from the area told me that a decision had been made to construct a college of dialectics instead. There had been concerns that monks who trained as doctors would leave the monastery or even turn back to lay life.

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As a result, debates about the most appropriate way to be self-­ supporting are often less about the ethics of particular activities than about how activities should be managed and run in order to maintain monastic discipline and reputation and minimize the risk of monks’ minds being changed through their work and interactions with the public. As we have seen, Könchok thought that engaging in public-facing, day-to-day commercial activities, such as working in a shop, was damaging for monks. His view was shared by others, including Lungtok, who saw monastic business as “the great enemy.” Monasteries should employ laypeople, he believed—this was how things were done in India. Gartsé Monastery had already moved to such a system by 2009, keeping two monks in charge of overseeing its businesses but employing four laypeople to work in them. Other monasteries had leased out their businesses, land, and property, generating income through rent. This was the model Könchok now favored because it would minimize monks’ active engagement in business interactions with the public. Notably, I came across very little concern about the ethics of monastic moneylending. This view is perhaps due as much to its dynamics (it does not involve everyday interaction with the laity) as to its legitimization in the Vinaya. Some monasteries have moved in the opposite direction, taking over formerly leased businesses and even attempting to reduce their reliance on moneylending. To some extent this shift has been an issue of economics. Ditsa, for example, decided to take over the running of its shop in 2003 to generate more income. It has since developed new businesses and services, staffed by monks who undertake this work as a form of administrative service to the monastery (with the exception of the restaurant, which is leased out). The ambivalence of Ditsa’s senior monks about moneylending was related, not to its ethics, but to its greater riskiness in comparison with other kinds of businesses. Nevertheless, the importance of maintaining monastic discipline remained central to their views on how the monastery’s businesses should be run. The shops and services are contained inside the monastery and are mostly run by monks for monks. Several senior monks emphasized (in separate conversations with me) that this allows money to circulate within the monastery. Rather than spending their money elsewhere, monks are supposed to shop and eat in monastic businesses. This self-containment contributes to the aim of bolstering discipline, as well as that of becoming self-supporting. By keeping the monks inside the monastery, it (in theory) reduces their need to go into the village, only a few minutes’ walk from the monastery, to purchase everyday provisions, snacks, and meals (although monks do still shop and eat in the village). In other words, Ditsa’s development of businesses and services, although facilitating small-scale commerce within the monastery, nevertheless reduces everyday monastic-lay interactions. Some of my interlocutors made a more explicitly moral argument for

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having monks themselves run collective businesses: as monks, their motivation and moral qualities (their minds) are different from those of laypeople, who are primarily interested in making a profit for themselves. Khedrup, who was serving as a manager in Rongwo’s College of Dialectics and charged with working in one of the college’s shops, put forward such an argument during a conversation in his quarters in 2013. Monks, he argued, are not aiming to make money for their own benefit; rather, they are working for the good of the monastery. Through their studies, they have understood that to use communal goods or wealth for themselves would have a bad (karmic) result. Laypeople therefore trust them and can be confident that they are not being cheated or sold fake goods; moreover, lay customers are supporting the monks’ studies (echoing a line of reasoning touched on in the earlier discussion of the shift to self-sufficiency). Moreover, the monks themselves would know that business affairs are being handled correctly and that no profits are being embezzled. Both sides of this debate are based on an ideal of the monk as a particular kind of moral subject whose mind is different from that of the layperson. Working in business is dangerous because it blurs monastic-lay boundaries, moving the monk away from this ideal at the levels of both the individual (the monk-worker whose mind wavers) and the community (the public who see the monk-worker whose mind has wavered). Yet it is the very moral qualities of the monk that make him the ideal subject to engage in commerce on behalf of the monastery. It strikes me that reforms to the financial management of Rongwo’s College of Dialectics were perhaps an attempt to resolve precisely this tension. In 1995 the senior scholars ( geshés) decided to appoint the Abhidharma class to act as managers for a two-year term once they had finished their studies (as discussed in chapter 2). One of the college’s senior monks explained: “To do work appropriate to both religious and secular affairs, it was felt to be more skillful to appoint a senior class able to distinguish between the religious and the mundane to be the organizers, rather than a few monks who were not very good at studies, like the old system.” The implication was that these advanced students had already been instilled with the necessary discipline and mental training to carry out their managerial duties with correct moral conduct and to cope with the distractions of this work. This strategy would become even more important as the college expanded its portfolio of profit-making enterprises in the 2000s. Even so, Khedrup expressed a lingering unease. He believed this was the best system, but he remained uncomfortable about working in a shop. He would have preferred to focus on his studies, but, for the two years he and his classmates were the college’s managers, running the businesses and managing college income and expenditures were their main responsibilities. However, the issue of how best to finance collective activities and related dilemmas about the “good” of monks running and working in mon-

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astery businesses is not the only issue that monks have been wrestling with. Even more hazardous (and figuring prominently in concerns about moral decline) is their engagement in private income-generating activities. A collective capacity to increase support for individual livelihoods has been seen as a way of containing monks within monastic space, an environment that (it is hoped) moves monks closer to the ideal of the monk as a particular kind of moral subject. Containing Monks Reflecting pre-1958 monastic norms, an important distinction is made between business that monks conduct on behalf of the monastery and that which they engage in privately in support of their personal livelihoods. Although there is historical precedent for monasteries giving their monks allowances (Jansen 2014, 115–116), the monastery is not responsible for the livelihood of individual monks. Both historically and in the contemporary period, monks have needed to supplement income from assembly gatherings, relying on support from their families and private income-generating activities, including trade. Some monks told me they were “self-sufficient” (rangkha rangso), using the same terminology as that applied to the monastery as a collective. This generally meant that they generated income by providing religious services in the community and, in some cases, by working as artisans or making and selling religious arts and crafts. Marketization has also brought increased opportunities for monks to earn money through other small business activities, including private moneylending—although none I spoke to admitted to engaging in income-generating activities other than those with a religious dimension (religious services, arts and crafts, medicine). Monks’ engagement in commercial activities for the collective is a form of service to their monastery. Although perceived as risky, it is considerably less problematic than the economic activities of individual monks and their private accrual of wealth. A distinction between the ethics of individual and collective commerce has its roots in the Vinaya. Jansen (2014, 130–135) also found this distinction in premodern monastic guidelines, which suggest that monastic authorities were concerned that monks engaging in private business would become indistinguishable from monastic officials operating on behalf of the monastery. As we saw in chapter 2, this remains a problem for monastic leaders in contemporary times. The continued salience of the distinction between collective and private business is evident in a strident point that Ngawang made about the rules at Ditsa: “If there are any occurrences of [monks privately] trading or [doing] business, they will be punished—and we have punished each and every one when that has occurred! But in terms of the monastery as a collective, then we manage the businesses. Without

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that, we cannot be self-sufficient.” Ngawang went even further than this, however: not only did the monastery punish monks who privately engaged in business, but the success of their collective businesses countered the need for monks to seek income elsewhere. The monastery’s annual disbursement to monks, along with the food and tea they received during Dharma sessions (partially funded through the collective businesses), now gave monks enough to support themselves but not enough “to accumulate wealth to buy cars and other material things.” They were therefore able and encouraged to focus on their studies. In other words, the monastery, by developing its central economy, was able to increase disbursements to individual monks, thus mitigating the risks to discipline and study posed by monks going outside to earn income. Again, we need to be cautious about reading this as an entirely new development. In her work on premodern monastic guidelines, Jansen notes a decreasing tolerance toward monks doing private business and a greater push for the central Tibetan state to provide at least partial assistance toward individual livelihoods at certain monasteries (ibid., 134). Nevertheless, Ngawang and other monks are responding to specific concerns arising from recent rapid state-led development and its attendant materialism. He emphasized that increasing disbursements would not only reduce the monks’ need to go outside but also prevent them from accumulating too much wealth. It is not just monks’ engagement in commercial activities that is seen as problematic and (partially) driving efforts to improve standards in education and discipline by increasing collective support for monks. It is any form of work that involves them going out into lay society, including the provision of religious services in the community. This was made explicit in a conversation I had with a shopkeeper who used to be a monk at a practice center that had opened a shop “to reduce the burden on the lay community.” In the past, he explained, monks had gone to the villages to perform religious services, giving 10 percent of any remuneration received to the monastery. Now, however, with only a few monks working in the shop, the rest could stay in the monastery. Geshé Lozang voiced a more forceful critique of monks going out to perform religious services: “Monks need to have a source of income,” he said, but their minds are corrupted if they engage in business, and “going out to carry out rituals is a waste of one’s life, and one becomes more and more narrow-minded.” As Dreyfus (2003, 46) notes, many scholar-monks such as Geshé Lozang consider rituals oriented toward this-worldly concerns as “an obstacle to scholarly pursuits.” If someone dies, Lozang argued, it is appropriate and virtuous if a monk, motivated by compassion, goes and chants for the family. However, it is not good for monks to perform rituals oriented toward wealth creation, for example, to bring success in that year’s caterpillar fungus collection and trade. He also drew a distinction between monks asked by

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a family to provide a religious service and monks who seek out this kind of work. While criticisms of “ritualists-for-hire” are “not particularly novel” in Tibetan religious discourse (Kapstein 2002, 102), it is not just the monastic scholarly elite who are critical. Monks play an important role in rituals for the dead, part of what Samuel (1993) refers to as the “karma-oriented” sphere of death and rebirth. They also provide religious services oriented toward this-worldly concerns such as curing sickness and bringing success in business or exams. Conducted collectively in the assembly hall or by individuals in the community, these are an important source of support for monks, and many, particularly those at the branch monasteries, specialize in providing such services. There has been a long-standing tension between the role of monks as religious service providers and their role as scholars/practitioners. This tension is dealt with to some extent at an institutional level. I was told at several monasteries that their monastic constitutions contain rules about the times during which monks are permitted to go into the community to provide religious services. However, monks from some of the smaller monasteries spend much of their time performing rituals, either locally in the community, in other parts of Qinghai, or, in some cases, in inland China. Recalling how poor life was for both the monks and the villagers when he entered Lhündrup’s monastery in the early 1980s, Püntsok said that it got much better around the turn of the millennium. As economic development brought improvements to villagers’ lives, more families invited monks to perform rituals. At the same time, the number of monks at his practice center was decreasing, with some returning to lay life and fewer new monks enrolling. This dynamic, played out more generally in Amdo, has meant that many monks have spent increasing amounts of time providing religious services outside their monastery. This is good for their livelihoods, one young monk at a scholastic center remarked, but “harmful” to studies. Despite the increasing demand for religious services from the laity, there is also a belief among laypeople that monks should be inside the monastery, living a simple life and focusing on Buddhist study and practice.5 Visiting monasteries with friends, I generally found them to be disparaging if few monks were in evidence; they assumed that most of the monks were outside, “chasing money.” Monks travelling to inner China are particularly criticized (Caple 2015). When monks are “outside,” they are generally understood to be engaged in work of a religious nature (rituals or religious arts and crafts) rather than secular commerce. However, production of religious arts and crafts is widely perceived to have been commodified, and the line between “business” and the provision of religious services has blurred. This is evident not only in rumors of religious fraud but also in complaints that monks are “expensive” these days; that there is a going rate for their services, which (it is

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claimed) never used to be the case; and that laypeople treat monks as workers, not respecting them as they did in the past.6 The normative basis and efficacy of the ritual relationship are predicated on the faith of the person requesting the service and the virtue and power of the person providing the service. They are undermined if that relationship is reduced to its economic dimension, as Gendün Chömpel did with characteristically iconoclastic style in his alphabetical poem about the nature of humans (trans. in Lopez 2009, 99): They [monks] read the scriptures of the Victor for the sake of offerings. If we consider it calmly, it’s all for the sake of wealth. It is precisely this economic dimension that is foregrounded in what are now widespread criticisms of inappropriate wealth-seeking and wealth-­ accumulating behaviors and rumors of religious fraud. The reasoning employed by monks about economic affairs has therefore been intermeshed with concerns about monastic development in a much broader sense. Some monks, like Ngawang, saw engagement in profit-­ making activities for the collective as a way to mitigate risks to the integrity of monastic Buddhism that are posed by general moral decline in an increasingly materialistic society. In some cases, concerns about bolstering discipline and education have involved, not only disbursements to limit the need for monks to go out, but also economic incentives to study. This is apparent in interrelated educational and financial reforms at Rongwo. Since 2005, monks in the College of Dialectics have received a payment for each day they attend the debate courtyard during Dharma sessions and are fined if they are absent. Chokdrup, a monk involved in implementing this reform, explained that the financial incentive makes life easier for monks with a predilection for studies and encourages other monks in this direction. If monks need to worry about generating income to support themselves, they will not focus well on their studies. This new system at Rongwo resembles that introduced at Drepung in 1984. The latter had precedent in a previous attempt in the 1950s to shift monastic disbursements to the Dharma grove (where monks practiced debate), in an effort to improve educational levels (Goldstein 1998, 31–34). This led to violent confrontation and, according to Goldstein (ibid.), ultimately failed because it represented a change in the monastery’s rules and challenged the traditional monastic system.7 Rongwo’s reform also appears to have been controversial and, like its economic reforms, a point of tension between the elders and the younger generation. According to Chokdrup, the reform was something that the monks had wanted for a long time. That they finally succeeded in implementing this system is perhaps connected to the emphasis that both monks and the laity place on the ideal of the monk as scholar.

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The Scholar-Monk as an Ideal I was commonly told that the really good Geluk monasteries in Amdo were Ditsa, Ragya, and Rongwo in Qinghai and Labrang in Gansu, all scholastic centers.8 Evaluations of these and other monasteries were based on perceived standards of discipline and education.9 That “education” meant, more specifically, scholastic education was sometimes conveyed through an accompanying clapping gesture symbolizing Tibetan monastic debate: the speaker’s right hand moving down from his right shoulder to strike his left hand, held out and palm turned upward.10 It is perhaps not surprising that a scholastic center like Rongwo has placed considerable emphasis on raising standards in education, taking the medieval Indian monastic university of Nālandā as its model. The economic reforms we have examined suggest the aim is now for all of Rongwo’s monks to be scholars. The College of Dialectics introduced financial incentives to encourage all monks to attend debate; moreover, by appointing the Abhidharma class to act as the monastery’s managers, any distinction between scholar-monks and others who engage in work for the monastery was abolished. Once again, India was drawn upon as a source of legitimacy. “In India,” one monk commented, “all monks are the same, whether or not they are good at study.”11 The college also shortened the assembly time during which collective rituals are carried out, to allow more time for studies, and increased the number of annual collective debating sessions from two to four (figure 8).

FIG. 8  Collective debating session for the monks of Rongwo and its affiliate monasteries to celebrate the completion of the College of Dialectics’ new debating courtyard, 2009

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Other monasteries have also placed an increased emphasis on scholasticism. Prior to 1958, Gartsé had taught only basic-level debate, but after it reopened in 1981, it gradually developed the full Geluk curriculum and now awards monastic degrees. Ditsa was a rather unusual monastery, having been established as a center of both dialectics and meditative training. Before 1958 it had many hermit monks. In 1993 it was reconstituted as a scholastic center that awarded monastic degrees. More modest attempts to develop education have been made at branch and practice monasteries in Repgong that had previously focused on ritual. At least five have introduced instruction in grammar and language, along with teachings on Tsongkhapa’s Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim); and at least two have starting practicing debate. Kelzang, a senior monk, told me that his monastery had invited teachers from other parts of Amdo, and the monks now studied philosophy and debating. This, he said, had improved the quality of the monks: “Before 1958 this was only a practice center. Because the venerable teachers gave us precious teachings, it has become better than other practice centers in Repgong.” A lay artist from Lhündrup’s village, discussing similar developments at its monastery, spoke of a similar aspiration that it would serve as a model for other monasteries in Repgong to follow. This emphasis on education does not mean that the role of these monasteries in serving the ritual needs of their supporting communities has diminished. Those needs are one reason why people consider it important to maintain branch monasteries and practice centers, in addition to the large scholastic centers. Monks at large scholastic centers also continue to play an important role as ritualists. Rongwo’s monks, for example, still gather in the main assembly hall for three days each month (the twenty-first through the twenty-third) to perform protector rituals (kurim [sku rim]) oriented toward long life and well-being. Laypeople come to the monastery (or telephone) to request in advance the recitation of particular scriptures or mantras, often following instructions given by a lama or other divination specialist consulted about a specific issue, such as sickness or an upcoming exam. As one friend remarked when I requested such services on her behalf, it was very beneficial that so many monks would be gathered together. This reflects what Sihlé (2013, 176) has termed a “culture of large numbers” when it comes to Tibetan ritual practice, the perceived religious benefits related in part to the number of specialists attending. According to a senior monk at Rongwo, the amount of money that the monks receive for these rituals, distributed during the assembly, is “going up and up.” There is therefore evidently still a tension at play between the perceived need (and increased demand) for ritual services and monks’ roles as scholars. However, the scholar-monk is being privileged as the ideal, and at least some monasteries have introduced reforms in an attempt to move their

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monks closer to it. Makley (2007, 255) has argued that Geluk monastic elites had an “urgent interest in reestablishing the authoritative foundations of Buddhism in Labrang as a superior form of rationalized and moralized knowledge production.” This coincided with state attempts “to distill the community down to a group that most nearly approximates the ideal state monastic subject” (ibid., 257). The rationalization and “purification” of Buddhist traditions have been interpreted more generally as characteristics of modern (in many cases postcolonial) state formation in Asia (e.g., Tuttle 2005; Ashiwa and Wank 2009). However, instead of reading the contemporary emphasis on discipline and education as the response of “traditional” religion to “the modern world” or as an internalization of colonial values, I follow Borchert (2008, 138) in arguing that we should be interrogating “modern forms of Buddhism . . . as the way in which contemporary people practice their religion and build their communities within contemporary conditions.” I suggest that rather than being a refiguring of the ideal in response to modernity or state discourse, a privileging of the monk as scholar reflects a sense of urgency— driven by various factors and by both monks and laity—for all monks to live up to Geluk ideals in contemporary conditions. The Geluk tradition is characterized by its scholastic approach, continuing the academic and clerical tradition of early Indian Buddhism (Samuel 1993, 504). In the fourteenth century, Tsongkhapa placed a renewed emphasis on the status of the ordained monk—and thus monastic discipline—as the basis of Buddhist practice and on the importance of philosophical training (ibid., 26). Himself a visionary, Tsongkhapa did not reject tantric practice, but he saw it as dangerous and suitable only for advanced students (ibid., 507). In the Tibetan tradition, the ideal thus came to be “the master who was believed to have successfully integrated the highest tantric levels of attainment with the intellectual refinement of a monk-scholar” (Kapstein 2006, 231). Some of Repgong’s great Geluk masters of the past, such as the First Shartsang, spent lengthy periods in meditative retreat. Geshé Tendzin, already fitting the ideal of a scholar-monk, said that his great regret was that he had not been able to do this himself. When he was younger, he was caught up in the turmoil of the Maoist years. Now that he had the aspiration to practice as a hermit, he no longer had the physical capacity. However, as Cabezón (2006, 18) notes, the goal of the Geluk scholastic centers “was not to produce hermits and meditators, but to create scholars who were the embodiments of the Dge lugs tradition,” exemplifying Tsongkhapa’s teachings “through their learning, comportment, and ritual skills.” It is this ideal that is being emphasized in the push to raise standards of education and discipline in at least some monasteries in Repgong and western Bayen. This ideal framed the ways in which monks evaluated other monasteries but also how they talked about their personal inadequacies. For example,

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Künsang (the monk who saw little value in state-sponsored renovation when monastery schools were being shut down) regretted that he had not studied at Rongwo, because it is a great center of scholarship. Yet monks’ expressions of regret and self-evaluation were conditioned by their position, not just as Geluk monks, but also as Tibetans. Gyeltsen, from Kumbum, expressed “some strong regrets” that, due to his own laziness and mental distractedness, he had not studied to a satisfactory level nor strictly adhered to monastic rules. When he entered monastic life at age fourteen, he thought his duties would simply be to put on the robes and recite scriptures, but he later realized that “a monk is a guardian of tradition and studies.” This observation brings us to another factor in the contemporary emphasis on monastic discipline and education: the relationship between monastic Buddhism and Tibetan identity. Monasticism, Identity, and Morality Emphasis on the importance of morality (discipline) and education among Geluk monks is reinforced through the relationship between contemporary monasticism and imaginings of a distinct Tibetan collectivity with a shared history, language, and culture perceived to be under threat through assimilation into a “Chinese” modernity. Most Tibetans I spoke with saw monks as agents of continuity of the Tibetan language and culture and believed this to be one of their most important roles.12 They often expressed the idea that Tibetan culture would cease to exist if there were no monasteries and monks. This link between monasticism and culture was also reflected in surveys I carried out among Tibetan middle school and university students. Most students saw the development and/or protection of Tibetan culture as roles of monasteries in contemporary society (89 percent of 149 middle school students, aged between fifteen and eighteen; and 98 percent of 105 university students, aged between twenty and twenty-two). There was greater consensus about these roles of monasteries than about any other role suggested to them, including providing a suitable environment for Buddhist practice and providing religious services for the laity.13 The Tibetan term “culture” (rikné [rig gnas]), which literally means “field of knowledge/study,”14 can be used in a specific way to denote the traditional Tibetan sciences (fundamental to which is the Tibetan language) that are studied in monasteries. Many people, in at least some contexts, feel a genuine sense of pride or even superiority in Tibetan culture in this sense. After all, we should remember that historically, Tibetans considered themselves the agents of their own civilizing projects, to which Buddhism was central (Shneiderman 2006). Besides some of the monks I spoke to, university professors, students, businessmen, and farmers also understood Tibetan Buddhism to be more complete as a system of practice and knowledge than, for example,

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Chinese Buddhism. “Culture,” in the sense of a system of knowledge (which includes language), is linked to a broader sense of what it means to be Tibetan: a way of knowing and being in the world that distinguishes “Tibetans” from others (“culture” as we might think about it as anthropologists). Central to this is the idea that Tibetans possess “faith” (depa [dad pa]) in Buddhism as a natural disposition, with such a disposition being a marker of relative virtue manifested through the proliferation of Tibetan monasteries and monks.15 For many people, a perceived lack or diminishing of faith among Tibetans, along with a perceived decline in the use of the Tibetan language, are central to concerns over assimilation into a “Chinese” modernity and the survival of a distinct Tibetan nationality. Monks and monasteries are highly visible symbols of “Tibetan” difference and moral distinction. This difference is idealized and romanticized not only in politicized representations of Tibetans by others (Barnett 2001) but also by Tibetans themselves, who draw on morality as a resource in the symbolic boundary-work (Lamont 1992) through which they differentiate themselves from others. This was apparent in the way in which people talked about themselves in comparison with, for example, Chinese people or Muslims (Tibetans have faith, and as a result their minds are compassionate and kind). I found a particularly illustrative example of this at a monastery school that teaches both monks and lay children, where a student’s English homework on Tibetan Buddhism had been chalked on the classroom blackboard (figure 9).16 The text reproduced idealized representations of Tibetans

FIG. 9  English homework at a monastery school, 2009

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as Buddhists and thus virtuous, symbolized by the number of monasteries and monks and nuns. Tibetans, the student wrote, have always been “kind and honest” because “they have a good religion,” and they are “friendly and kind,” traits that are “probably linked to” the fact that they “are truthly [sic] believe in and aspire towards world peace and genuine harmony.” As a result of their faith, there are large numbers of Tibetan monastics, who “can contribute more peace and genuine harmony to the society.” As Künga, a retired government official, put it, “Without monasteries, there would be no culture and no virtue [gewa [dge ba]].” What is at stake is therefore not simply the functioning of the monastery as a place of Buddhist practice, education, and study. During politically and morally troubled times, the significance of the monastery as an idealized space of Tibetan distinction and morality, and of monks and lamas as exemplars and leaders, is heightened.17 Moreover, the distance between idealized representations of monastic (and, by extension, Tibetan) virtue and the everyday lives and practices of many monks denigrates the morality of the Tibetan community at large (Makley 2002, 79–80). The globalization of information flows means that ideas and representations are disseminated in the public domain within and outside Tibetan society through the media, placing the performance of monkhood (and thus Tibetan morality) under a global public spotlight. In an essay on religious scams, Sinophone Tibetan blogger Caiwang Naoru (2009) argues that the emergence of a “public opinion environment” means that “scandals should be exposed, clearing the air and the image of the Tibetan people.” Yet, concurrent with this heightening of the significance of the monastery as an idealized moral space, the position of monks as the educated and cultured core of Tibetan society has been undermined and challenged by the emergence of a secularly educated elite. The Status of Monks In spring 2009, Tsering and I were watching a group of monks at a scholastic monastery. Class had finished for the day, but some of the monks had continued to practice debating. Amused when Tsering, a layman, presumed to interject (they did not know he was a former monk), the monks turned on him, challenging him to debate. Pinned against a pillar next to him, I experienced the sheer physicality of this form of monastic training, spittle flying and necks bulging as the monks relentlessly pursued his defeat. Eventually, unable to follow the energetic back and forth, I extricated myself, retreating to one side to catch up on my field notes. A while later, I looked up to see that, having defeated Tsering, the monks had now gathered around to ask me about my research. They proceeded to launch a volley of questions about my views on issues about which they were clearly passionate: religious freedom,

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the importance of Tibetan Buddhism in the world, and the difference between monks and university students. “Which is more important for the future of Tibetan society?” one monk asked. I had started to realize how sensitive this issue could be for monks during one of my first interviews. Attempting (quite innocently) to draw an analogy between monks and students, a friend helping me that day intervened, explaining in English that I should find another way to put the question. By the time I was facing the monks in the debate courtyard, I had become more familiar with their feelings of insecurity vis-à-vis secularly educated youth, as well as their sense of displacement from the center to the margins of education and culture. These dynamics have influenced monastic development, not only reinforcing the emphasis on “traditional” Geluk scholasticism but also shaping attempts to reform monastic education. As Kapstein (2002, 110) has previously argued, criticisms of monastic morality now come from outside the religious establishment through a corps of secular intellectuals that did not exist in pre-Communist Tibetan society and that privileges modernist, materialist values. Moreover, since the turn of the millennium, the debate among these intellectuals about Tibetan development and “survival” has intensified the search “for a cause of the backwardness of Tibetan society” (Hartley 2002, 6), which is often associated with its Buddhist culture and the mass monastic tradition.18 Although most of my interlocutors were more concerned with issues of discipline and education, there is some pressure from within and without the monastic community for monks to engage more with society and this-worldly concerns—for example, by sponsoring secular education projects rather than temple building.19 Therefore, at least some tension exists between different ideals of service, and some voices question the idea expressed by Künsang that “there are many different ways to serve others, but the best way is through the Dharma.” Monks are sensitive to the questions such debates raise as to the value of monastic Buddhism and its role in the future of Tibetan society and the Tibetan nation. Yet, for many Tibetans, the problem seems to lie, not in the value of monks per se, but in the failure of most monks to live up to monastic ideals, with questions being raised about the extent to which most monks are serving others through the Dharma. As we saw, Könchok’s great concern about monks engaging in business was that “in the eyes of society, the value of monks will really decline.” Many younger, secularly educated Tibetans firmly believe in the importance and value of Buddhism and monasticism. However, those I have met tend to have an evaluative attitude toward monks and even reincarnate lamas. Rather than viewing them as, by definition, “higher” than the laity, these Tibetans believe that respect is something to be earned. Tupten, the student who was so disheartened on his first visit to Kumbum, had studied Buddhism with monks at his home monastery during the holidays. He displayed a meritocratic attitude to religious figures, respecting

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only those reincarnate lamas who are “very good, very wise,” and attributing greater value to the “three good characteristics” of erudition, moral discipline, and altruistic intention (khé tsün zang sum [mkhas btsun bzang gsum]) than to the inherited status of a reincarnation lineage. He considered his Buddhist teachers at his home monastery, who possessed these qualities, to be higher than reincarnate lamas. It was they, not the lamas, who embodied Buddhahood: “They are the trülku [sprul sku]!”20 Such meritocratic attitudes, which some monks also display, have been legitimized by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s own openly expressed distrust of the institution of the reincarnate lama (Dreyfus 2005, 8). The extent of social criticism of monks, and particularly reincarnate lamas, should not be overemphasized. Several people said they would not be able to express their views to their families. Tupten talked about his friendship with a young reincarnate lama. One evening he was working and had asked the lama to pour him some tea: “In my hometown, if I let the reincarnate lama pour a cup of tea, my father would beat me!” Another student, after relating an occasion on which he witnessed a lama behaving inappropriately with some young women, said that he could not talk about this with his family. They would consider such talk to be harmful for his next life. Moreover, if his father witnessed similar behavior, he would explain it in terms of “skillful” action, the idea found in Mahāyāna Buddhist doctrine that a highly realized being might do something that appears to contradict Buddhist norms and values if this is the most beneficial course of action for sentient beings. Nevertheless, both laypeople and monastics commented on a shift in the laity’s attitude toward monks, particularly among younger people. A change in bodily dispositions was the most common evidence cited. In the past, I was frequently told, a layperson would automatically stand if a monk (even a child monk) appeared, but nowadays this was not necessarily the case. This change was perceived as both a cause and a symptom of moral decline. A lack of respect or faith among the laity reflected the dubious quality of many contemporary monks and lamas and was also perceived by some as being indicative of a moral decline that was tied to ideas of Sinicization. People’s attitudes toward monks were a measure of a person’s culture and “education,” revealing whether they had been instilled with Tibetan values rather than the materialist values of the modern Chinese state and its secular education system. At the same time, narratives of moral decline, combined with the emergence of a secularly educated elite, have challenged the position of monks as the educated and cultured corps of society, thus reinforcing the emphasis on Geluk scholastic ideals. Their roles in education and knowledge production have been dissolved into a larger field of education, within which they feel marginalized, pushed into niches defined as “religious” and “traditional.”21 It seems plausible that the relatively new emphasis on award-

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ing degrees at Ditsa and Gartsé (which, at Gartsé at least, are certificated) bears at least some relation to new definitions and markers of status, such as certificated educational qualifications, within the secular education system.22 More generally, there is a sense that monasteries must make efforts to improve their educational levels. In 2009, Yeshé Gyatso, the head lama of Lhündrup’s monastery, said that the monastery was originally one where monks focused on ritual, but “nowadays that wouldn’t do.” Monks needed to have a good grasp of Buddhist principles, and “that means we have to study texts such as [the] Lamrim [Stages of the Path to Enlightenment].” The presence of secularly educated youth can cause monks to reevaluate their position even in the field of “traditional” culture and its linchpin, the Tibetan language. The Geluk curriculum is largely based on oral training methods. Therefore, even monks who are skilled in oral debate and learned in philosophy will not necessarily be as accomplished in writing as university students who study the Tibetan language and literature. At practice centers and branch monasteries that focus on ritual, the emphasis is on learning to chant and memorize texts, rather than on writing. The head of the Management Committee of a relatively remote practice center explained why, in 2008, its monks decided to introduce study of Tibetan language and grammar and the Lamrim. The laity expects monks to be well educated, he said, and students would tease monks if they made a mistake when writing the names of villagers—a basic requirement when receiving donations or requests for ritual services. In other words, the perceived importance of education extends to monks’ fulfilment of their roles as ritual service providers, since this role puts their literacy and erudition (or lack thereof) on public display. Efforts have also been made to broaden the monastic curriculum at some monasteries, often by starting schools that teach not only Tibetan writing and grammar but also subjects such as Chinese, mathematics, and English. These educational initiatives have precedent in the efforts of senior Geluk hierarchs to modernize monastic systems. For example, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama expanded the curriculum of monasteries in exile to include primary-school-level Tibetan, Hindi, English, social studies, science, and ­ mathematics (Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche II, n.d.), and Arjia Rinpoché (2010, 182–183) started a “Western style” school at Kumbum in 1990 “to adapt to modern times.” Once again, reformist ideas are contentious. Some of my interlocutors argued that monks should focus on studying Buddhism and that “modern” education only serves as a distraction and, at worst, contributes to the problem of monks disrobing. Others, such as Geshé Lozang, displayed remarkable pragmatism, arguing that one reason for broadening monastic education is to provide young monks with some transferable skills should they return to secular life (see also Goldstein 1998, 43). At some monasteries, schools were established partly to deal with the issue of under-

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age monks. However, I was also offered other explanations for educational reforms, including the above-mentioned contingency that monks may disrobe, the need to improve basic literacy, the need to cater to those monks not interested in studying philosophy, the need for monks to function in contemporary society, and the capacity built by foreign-language learning for Buddhist exchange and propagation. Only the last explanation is explicitly connected to the religious goals of monastic life. The other reasons are related to a perceived need to keep up with a fast-moving and fast-changing society in which the monastery is not the only educational option and the minds and aspirations of young men are changing. Ditsa’s “Triumph” On one of my visits to Ditsa in 2009, Ngawang had been explaining the monastery’s commercial development and its decision to ban the steward from collecting alms. Stating that his monastery was not like others, he launched (unprompted) into a comparison with nearby Jakhyung to explain and extol the direction of development taken at Ditsa, linking issues of financing to wider issues of monastic discipline, education, and “quality.” Ditsa, he said, had “prioritized studies over economics and construction”: If you compare Jakhyung and Ditsa, since the reconstruction of the monastery, Jakhyung has concentrated on construction and neglected the studies. As for us, all expenditure was used for religious practice and study, and we tried to survive. At that time, we did not build any of these great temples. We were humble, and people would say, “Look, Jakhyung has all these things.” We did not take much notice. . . . If you look now, I think the direction we took is the right one. Jakhyung apparently had seven to eight hundred monks at that time. Last year they took a census and there were only just over three hundred monks there. As for us, we only had two hundred monks before, and now have over four hundred. . . . Whatever we do here, we need to endeavor with our ­studies— that’s what we said. If you get television, everybody will spend time watching. We said no and banned it. In terms of computers, there were a lot of computers before, and we said that’s not allowed and we banned that as well. So, for example, if you allow them to have a computer . . . there is this danger of watching all sorts of DVDs, and they wouldn’t study at all and then their minds would change and they would stop being monks. So that’s why we banned it. But if we do not install any computers, we are not keeping pace with the times . . . so that’s why we built that [computer room].

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If you need to type, print, copy DVDs or CDs, or download anything onto your mobile phone, whatever you have to do, you can go and use the computers inside the monastery, and the fee is special— cheap. . . . So it provides us with income; it satisfies [the monks] and also keeps us abreast with the times. . . . And then it hasn’t got any of the problems in terms of the monastic environment. Then, in terms of buying vehicles, a few people bought vehicles and we said that was not allowed, so that was banned. If they buy a vehicle, they can go to many different places and also they would say, “Okay, we could transport these people from here to there,” and they would earn some money, and it would become an obstacle for their studies because [study] would be neglected and they would become preoccupied with earning money. That’s why all that was banned. There is nothing for them to do but study. So these are the directions we took. Nowadays when you look at Jakhyung, the monks are very undisciplined. There are monks doing business and monks driving vehicles around for money, and so that’s why it’s getting worse and worse. Usually the saying goes that Jakhyung is “the spring of the Dharma” and one of the four big northern monasteries. But now if you look at the quality and people, what the Chinese call rencai, it has all changed—very unsteady and unreliable. They have changed in everything and also in terms of knowledge. So naturally we have triumphed.

This narrative positions Ditsa as a model of monastic development, much as the narratives explored in the previous chapter positioned Kumbum as the archetype of monastic decline. The values that Ngawang draws upon reflect common themes and moral judgments discussed in this and earlier chapters. Ditsa’s leaders have taken on the challenge of maintaining the boundaries between monastic and lay life but at the same time are “keeping pace with the times.” The monastery has “triumphed” because it has privileged education over wealth creation and external development, such as temple building, and has maintained strict monastic discipline. At the same time, it has found creative ways to accommodate the demands of the times and the aspirations of monks to participate in “modern life,” while minimizing the potential disruption this can cause to the monks’ studies and conduct. Ngawang raised some of the concrete issues facing monastic leaders in the context of a rapidly modernizing and globalizing society. These include increased opportunities for personal wealth accumulation through small business (“monks as entrepreneurs”) and the spread of multimedia technologies. Other monks expressed similar concerns over the spread of these and other facets of contemporary life into monastic space. Each monastery has its own

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rules of decorum. These now commonly include a requirement to switch off mobile phones in the assembly hall and during classes and teachings. At some monasteries, I was told that rules prohibiting the use of televisions and motor vehicles had been introduced, but these as well as other rules—for example, concerning footwear—had been relaxed in recent years. Ditsa’s approach, which combines strict prohibitions on personal ownership of certain goods with the provision of centrally controlled services, appears to be exceptional. At other monasteries, some monks argued that it was up to individuals to use new technologies, such as computers and DVD players, for appropriate purposes such as accessing Buddhist teachings—as one commented, “You are not a bad monk just because you have a computer; it depends on your faith and your actions.” Others, however, expressed a certain degree of resigned helplessness regarding the ability of the institution to control and contain these developments. This feeling was linked to more general narratives of moral decline and a perception that minds have changed and young men are no longer willing to live a life of simplicity and hardship. Yet, as the next chapter will show, monastic leaders are perceived to exercise a degree of agency in standards of discipline and are therefore held responsible for those standards. In 2015, work was under way at Ditsa to build a government-funded multi­story housing block for monks. Construction had been completed on a new temple and assembly hall, projects that relied heavily on funds from Chinese patrons. Given the criticism that such developments have received elsewhere, whether Ditsa’s reputation will be affected by them may well be a measure of its triumph in the long term. Monks’ attitudes toward development reflect their efforts to adapt to the times, while still maintaining the boundaries underpinning monasticism as a moral project. New practices, such as the development of monastic businesses, produce new debates and dilemmas. Changing ideas about what is appropriate, risky, or wrong can be in tension with, and must be balanced against, coexisting normative frameworks and moral sentiments relating to ideals of monks and monasteries. Attitudes toward monastic financing are thus inseparable from concerns about monastic development in a much broader sense. These concerns are grounded in the way monks know the world but also in their experiences of living during a time of rapid change, when minds (and thus morality) are changing. Upholding the standards of discipline and education of (idealized) past times is perceived to be increasingly difficult as greater emphasis is placed on material development, which is simultaneously aspired to and lamented by my lay interlocutors. Moreover, the ideal separation between monastic and lay worlds is harder to maintain in the everyday lives of increasingly mobile and technologically savvy monks, even in monasteries relatively remote from urban centers and tourist routes.

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Yet, concurrent with these contemporary narratives of moral decline, there is a heightening of the significance of the monastery as an idealized space of Tibetan morality. These dynamics, as well as the emergence of a secularly educated elite, reinforce scholastic ideals but have also been a contingent factor in reforming systems and practices considered “traditional.” Perceptions of monastic moral decline are not simply a reactionary response to societal change. In fact, Ditsa, which is in some respects the most conservative of my field sites, has taken perhaps the greatest steps to keep up with the times. Monks responsible for the development of their institutions are dealing with concrete issues that have an impact on both the material and the moral underpinnings of their institutions. They are facing very real challenges in maintaining not only the authority and reputation of Geluk monasticism but also the basis of its existence: the monastic assembly. For Ngawang, evidence of Ditsa’s “triumph” was not only to be found in the quality of its monks but also in the doubling of its population, while Jakhyung’s population had more than halved. Chokdrup, who was involved in the introduction of payments for monks attending debate at Rongwo, also measured the success of this reform by the monastery’s ability to attract monks: “Within one year there was noticeable improvement in studies. To give you an indicator of this, the reputation has spread far and wide. Monks have come here for their studies from faraway places, many more than before. That is a sign of progress. They have come from Golok, Yülshül, Ngawa, Chabcha, and Jakhyung.” This emphasis on recruitment as a measure of progress and quality does not simply reflect a “more is better” ethic with regard to monastic populations. It also highlights an issue of pressing concern for monks that is the subject of the next chapter: fewer males have been entering monastic life, and increasing numbers of monks have been disrobing.


Monastic Recruitment and Retention

DURING ONE OF MY CONVERSATIONS WITH KÖNCHOK in 2009, he made a particularly bleak prediction: in years to come the branch monasteries would close, the old monks would converge in the monastic centers, and then these too would eventually disappear. Throughout my time in Amdo in 2008–2009, I heard the same story again and again: fewer boys were joining monasteries, and increasing numbers of young men were leaving. That many of those leaving were disrobing was a potent symbol of moral decline. Since then, local recruitment drives have helped maintain the populations of some branch monasteries and practice centers, while government policies preventing monks from studying in Lhasa have brought more to scholastic centers like Rongwo. However, as of 2015, a shrinking monastic population remained a pressing concern for many monks. Problems of recruitment and retention have shaped institutional priorities, as well as debates and dilemmas about various aspects of monastic life, including financing, rules and discipline, and the curriculum. Given the important position of the monastery in Tibetan society and community life, these problems are also of considerable significance in our understandings of a society undergoing rapid transformation. Yet they have barely been touched upon in the scholarly literature other than in discussions of the impact of state regulation and control on the size of monastic populations. From the perspective of those participating in monastic development, the issue is considerably more complex. This chapter examines the wider socioeconomic transformations that have influenced patterns of recruitment and retention, including demographic transition, improved living standards, alternative livelihoods 122

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and routes to social mobility, and changing aspirations. Highlighting the importance of social relations in individuals’ pathways into and out of monasticism, it argues for an understanding of monks as both household members and agentive individuals. Finally, it considers the responsibility placed on monastic leaders for maintaining their assemblies, as well as their strategies and ideas about how best to achieve this, which center on the relationship between economy, education, and conduct. The discussion thus highlights the interrelatedness of mundane concerns and religious ideals or goals, as well as tensions between them, serving as something of a corrective to the tendency in the Buddhist studies literature to dichotomize the practical and soteriological aspects of monastic Buddhism. Monk Numbers Given that most monks had either died or married during the Maoist period, the speed and scale of monastic repopulation in the 1980s was dramatic. Following their closure in 1958, monastic centers (such as Rongwo, Jakhyung, Ditsa, and Gartsé) were temporarily reopened during the relatively liberal period between the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution (1962– 1966), but the numbers of monks remained low (table 5.1).1 In the early 1980s, following the return of reincarnate lamas and monks who had been ordained prior to 1958, there was an extraordinary upsurge in new monks. By 2008–2009, however, I was told that their numbers were decreasing at most practice centers and branch monasteries, although the extent of the decrease varied (see table 5.1 for indicative figures in 2009–2010). At Dechen and Dzongngön the numbers were reported to be holding steady, but at most branch monasteries and practice centers they appear to have peaked during the 1990s, or even as early as the late 1980s at Gomar.2 After that, the general trend toward growth reversed, even taking into account the variation in individual monastic populations from year to year (for example, monks may take a leave of absence to study at other monasteries). The decreasing Geluk monastic population was mentioned more generally by Tibetans in northeastern Amdo, and anecdotal evidence suggests that this trend extended to other parts of Amdo and Kham.3 After 2009–2010, some branch monasteries and practice centers, including Dowa Drok, Kasar, Nyentok, and Trashitsé, continued to shrink.4 Others, including Gomar and Lower Senggé Shong, saw an influx of young monks after lamas and elder monks initiated recruitment drives in their patron communities, encouraging households with more than one son to send a boy to the monastery. Monks continued to leave these monasteries, but the influx of young monks enabled them to prevent the populations from falling significantly. Thirty boys entered Gomar, for example, following a recruitment drive in 2010 or 2011. Even though some monks have

Table 5.1 Numbers of monks by monastery, 1958 to 2009–2010


1991– 1992








































524f 80


1987– 1989

2009– 2010a



1966– 1980

Peak in 1980– 2009

1959– 1962

Scholastic centers

Branch monasteries and practice centers 204g








Dowa Drok



























































Lower Senggé Shong










Upper Senggé Shong










Trashi Khyil



















Dzongngön Gomar


71 55

Sources: Unless otherwise indicated, data for 1958, 1962, 1965, and 1991–1992 are from Nian and Bai (1993); for 1987–1989, from Pu Wencheng (1990); and for the peak in 1980–2009, from interviews with monks (2008–2009). Data for 2009–2010 are from interviews in 2009 and, where indicated, personal communications with key informants in 2010 and 2011. Where estimates were given as a range, the median is used. This monastery’s monk population has risen above the peak since 2009–2010. c This figure is a rough estimate, but note that there is considerable discrepancy between different sources. An elder who joined Ditsa in 1947 at age fifteen said he knew there were “more than 700 monks” in 1958 because he was responsible for apportioning butter for each. The monastery’s website and brochure (Zhizha Da Si 2004, n.d.) report 800 monks in 1958, while Pu Wencheng (1990, 92) and Nian and Bai (1993, 54) respectively report 571 and 550. d Pu Wencheng (1990, 449) reports 82 monks at Gartsé in 1958. e Pers. comm. with a key informant, June 2010. f Pers. comm. with a key informant, April 2010. g Pu Wencheng (1990, 458) reports 154 monks at Dechen in 1958. h Pelzang (2007, 336). i Both Pu Wencheng (1990, 430) and Nian and Bai (1993, 157) give this figure for 1954. No data are available for 1958. j Pelzang (2007, 261); Gruschke (2001, 54). k Pers. comm. with a key informant, February 2011. l Trashitsé was founded in the mid-1990s. m Pu Wencheng (1990, 441) reports 60 monks at Yershong in 1958. n Pelzang (2007, 143). a


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since disrobed, I was told that the population as of 2015 remained at a level similar to that of 2009.5 The picture at the scholastic centers has been slightly more complicated. We have seen that one of Ditsa’s “triumphs” has been its success in increasing and sustaining its population, whereas Jakhyung experienced a significant decline.6 Ditsa had grown to around 300 monks by 1995, at which point nearly half left to found a new monastery (Trashitsé). Nevertheless, Ditsa recovered, and by 2009 it housed around 400 monks. Despite some ups and downs, it managed to keep its population at roughly this level, boasting 420 monks as of summer 2015 (pers. comm. with a key informant, August 2015).7 Gartsé is the only monastery among my field sites that has grown bigger in the post-Mao period than it was in 1958. It saw a decrease after 2008, but I was told that this was because monks who had come from other areas were no longer able to stay.8 On the other hand, until 2008 Rongwo had been experiencing a significant decrease in numbers across all three of its colleges since the 1990s, when it had housed as many as 700 monks: 570 in the College of Dialectics, 70 to 80 in the Tantric College, and 40 to 50 in the Kālacakra College. Following the 2008 protests, monks who had been studying in Lhasa were returned to their places of origin after a lengthy period of detention and political reeducation.9 This shift in the political environment resulted in a new influx of monks, mostly into the College of Dialectics. Even so, Rongwo’s population remained well below the 1990s peak, with an estimated 524 monks as of spring 2010 (pers. comm. with key informant, April 2010).10 However, the population of the College of Dialectics subsequently continued to grow (from around 450 monks in 2010 to over 600 in 2015), partly because it attracted monks from other Tibetan areas. This trend was probably due, to a large degree, to the presence at Rongwo of many scholars (geshés) who had previously been in Lhasa, as well as restrictions on monks studying at Lhasa’s monastic seats. By 2015, Rongwo Monastery as a whole once again housed around 700 monks.11 Monks see issues of recruitment and retention as some of the most problematic and pressing issues they face. The decreasing numbers of monks is also an issue of considerable urgency for many laypeople. Yet it is barely mentioned in the literature. Makley (2007, 268–269) touches on the subject, stating that a “decrease in the number of young men choosing (or agreeing to) the monastic life by the late 1980s” was linked to their aspirations for social mobility and participation in the modern globalizing economy. Costello (2002, 228) makes a passing reference to a “natural decrease” in Rongwo’s numbers “as fewer monks than before are entering the monastery, and more monks are leaving after a period of study,” but offers no further analysis. Other than this, the issue of monastic population has only been discussed in the context of state control and regulation of monasteries.

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State Restrictions Scholars and activists have claimed that state regulation and control of monasteries have been an obstacle to their growth (e.g., ICT 2004, 63; Childs 2008, 274; Cabezón 2008, 277–283). Policy shifts over the past thirty years have included a tightening of regulation over monastic populations. During the 1980s the growth of monasteries and numbers of monks was more or less unrestricted (with the possible exception of Ganden, Drepung, and Sera in Lhasa; see Cabezón 2008, 278). This countered the Chinese Communist Party’s religious policy as outlined in Document 19. Shakya (1999, 419) argues that local officials were unwilling to provoke tensions with the Tibetan population; according to Arjia Rinpoché (2010, 126), they would neither approve nor act against monastic expansion, because of a lack of clarity on what should be permitted under the new religious policies. Monks at Kumbum referred to this as “the policy of ‘three not-knows’: not know how to regulate religion; not know how religion would eventually be regulated; and not want to know” (ibid.). However, the shift toward increased regulation of religion from 1990 included efforts to control monastic growth. New regulations codified requirements for monasteries to fix maximum quotas of monks and for monks to undergo approval and registration before being allowed to enter monastic assemblies. In Qinghai these regulations were implemented in 1992 (QZCG 1992; QZRG 1992), and monastic quotas were fixed by 1996 (TIN 1999b, 9; Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 85). However, the policies did not necessarily work to contain the number of monks but, rather, led to the existence of large populations of “unofficial” monks, particularly at major sites such as Kumbum, Labrang, and the big Lhasa monasteries (Schwartz 1994, 63; Goldstein 1998, 31, 43; TIN 1999b, 10; Makley 2007, 253, 267).12 Since the early 1990s, there have been periodic attempts to deal with the population of unofficial monks (although not always through expulsion),13 to enforce monk quotas, and to return schoolage monks to their villages (Schwartz 1994, 180–181; TIN and HRW 1996, 115–120; Goldstein 1998, 45; TIN 1999b, 6–8).14 Some monasteries without official approval have been closed down (TIN and HRW 1996, 118). In general, regulation and control appear to have been tighter in the TAR, although the largest-scale expulsions, numbering in the thousands, have been at the Buddhist institutes of Larung Gar [bla rung sgar] and Yachen Gar [ya chen sgar] in Sichuan, first in 2001 (TIN 2002, 50–58; ICT 2004, 64–72) and again in 2016–2017.15 Despite periodic campaigns and specific instances of mass expulsions, in practice there appears to have been a general lack of enforcement of monk quotas (Kapstein 2004, 256; Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 87; Makley 2007, 253), and monasteries have employed a degree of “creative accounting”

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(Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 87). Restrictions on minors being allowed to join or remain at monasteries seem to have been more problematic, particularly at larger monastic centers such as Rongwo (see also Costello 2002, 224–225), but monasteries have found ways around this.16 As of 2014 there were indications that the policy on child monks had been relaxed in Repgong, which had recently seen recruitment drives in some villages. Many young monks were still in evidence at monasteries, and most of the monks with whom I talked (including those who had only recently become monks) entered monastic life when they were under the age of eighteen. Finally, regular political campaigns inside monasteries, including pressure on monks to denounce the Dalai Lama, have provoked tensions between monasteries and state authorities, the consequences of which have included monastic expulsions, arrests, deaths in detention, and even suicide (see, e.g., TIN 1999a; CECC 2010). Political tensions have heightened since the 2008 protests, and since February 2009 there has been a series of more than 150 self-immolations by Tibetan monks and laypeople. These include at least one monk from Rongwo Monastery, Jamyang Penden [‘jam dbyangs dpal ldan], who set himself on fire in Drölma Square in front of the monastery in March 2012. Three days later, Tibetans carried the body of a farmer, Sönam Dargyé [bsod nams dar rgyas], to the square after his self-­immolation. Ten further self-immolations took place in Repgong that November, one in Drölma Square, coinciding with the Eighteenth National Congress of the CCP, which marked the transition to its fifth generation of leadership headed by Xi Jinping. As of summer 2015, a fire truck and what appeared to be police surveillance vehicles were still permanently stationed in front of Rongwo Monastery, as well as army trucks during public religious festivals. There has also been a visible display of security forces at Kumbum during its Great Prayer Festival since 2013. Some of my interlocutors spoke about the psychological stress they were under, which had led some monks to move to monasteries in exile or disrobe. A significant influx of monks from Tibetan areas of China into monasteries in India took place in the 1980s and 1990s (Ström 1997, 41; Dreyfus 2003, 328; Childs 2008, 144). At Sera in Mysore, for example, the population of monks increased from 650 in 1980 to 3,000 in 1994, 60 to 65 percent of whom were newcomers from Tibet (Ström 1997, 41), and to 4,477 in the early twenty-first century (Sherab Gyatso 2004, 221). According to Childs (2008, 144), 79 percent of monks in the Tibetan community-in-­exile aged between fifteen and thirty-four were born in Tibet. However, many monks, including some of my interlocutors, have gone to India temporarily to study and then returned to their home monasteries (see also Ström 1997, 39–40). In short, the implementation of religious policies by the state has at times had an adverse impact on the numbers of monks, at least at some insti-

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tutions (although at Rongwo it has recently led to an increase in numbers, rather than a decrease). However, this remains at best a partial explanation for the problems experienced by monasteries in maintaining their populations. In some cases, it may even be becoming irrelevant. At Trashitsé, for example, the number of monks has fallen far below the maximum quota dictated by the state.17 Furthermore, tightened regulation of monasteries linked to state security concerns does not account for differences between them. This is particularly striking in the cases of Ditsa and Trashitsé. Ditsa’s impressive recovery and growth after half of its monks left to found Trashitsé have already been noted. In stark contrast, the population of Trashitsé has halved since its foundation in 1994 (from 146 to 71 by 2009 and to 65 in 2015). Some of ­Ditsa’s monks have engaged in public protest activities (TIN 2004; RFA 2008; Phayul 2010), but Trashitsé appears to have no such political profile. When we also take into account problems that Tibetan monasteries in exile have faced in recruiting and retaining monks from the Tibetan c­ommunity-in-exile (Ström 1997), it is even clearer that we need to look beyond state regulation and control to consider other factors. In fact, in conversations with both monks and laypeople about the shrinking monastic population, the first explanation usually offered was not the state’s religious policy but its family planning policy. Changes in family structures are undermining the social structure that made mass monasticism feasible in the past. Changing Family Structures When Chömpel was eight to ten years old, he wanted to become a monk. His parents disagreed, because one of his four older brothers had already donned the robes. “The family already had one monk, so they sent me to school,” Chömpel said. Rather than entering monastic life, he ended up, more than a decade later, as one of a group of postgraduate students engaging in lively discussions with me in their student dormitory. Many young Tibetan men have told me that they considered becoming monks at some point in their childhood. Some explicitly said that the reason they did not become a monk was that their parents had been opposed or that they were the only son or the eldest son or—in Chömpel’s case—their brother was a monk. In other words, Chömpel and other potential monastic recruits have a role as household members. While the fulfilment of this role has been recognized as a reason for boys ending up as monks (Mills 2003, 40), it is also a reason why some boys do not end up as monks. A significant demographic transition has occurred in the Tibetan population since the mid- to late 1980s. Whether it is a result of the state’s family planning policies (as most of my interlocutors saw it) or socioeconomic

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development and globalization is a topic of considerable debate.18 Regardless of how it is to be explained, fertility levels had fallen to below replacement levels (i.e., less than two births per female) by the turn of the millennium (Childs et al. 2005; Childs 2008; Fischer 2008). In a qualitative microstudy conducted in Repgong, Schrempf (2008) found that birth rates had declined slightly less but still significantly, from five to seven children before 1980 to two to three children. Falling fertility levels in Tibetan populations reflect the overall drop to below-replacement fertility in the PRC and wider global demographic trends (Cai 2010). The significance for monastic recruitment lies not so much in the projected decline and ageing of the Tibetan population (Childs 2008, 259) but in the decrease in average family size. Regardless of total population size or how the decline in fertility rates is explained, the transition toward smaller family sizes will lead to decreasing numbers of boys entering monasteries. As my interlocutors pointed out, if a household has only two or three children, and maybe only one is a son, then the son is needed to look after the farmland and/or herd or to go to school to get a secular education and professional job. His role is to provide for the household and take care of his parents. Current demographic trends clearly pose a major challenge to the continuity of mass monasticism in Tibetan societies. The Tibetan community-in-exile in South Asia faces a similar issue (Childs 2008). However, it is more difficult to judge the extent to which the fertility transition explains monastic population trends since the 1980s. With no available data on the average age at which monks entered monasteries, it is not possible to make a direct comparison against total population trends. Most whom I interviewed became monks between the ages of twelve and seventeen. If, for the sake of argument, we take this as a guide, smaller family sizes will now be having an impact on recruitment. However, this does not explain declining numbers where the trend is reported to have started as early as the late 1980s. At that time, potential recruits, even if they were considerably younger than the average age of my interlocutors, were born when fertility levels were still high. Moreover, the fertility transition still does not explain the difference in the degree of the problem at different monasteries. Secular versus Monastic Life Chömpel told me that if he was to have a son who wished to enter monastic life, he would “strongly agree and support him.” However, he believed that children are no longer willing to enter monastic life because the conditions are poor and the life hard. He recalled staying in Labrang Monastery during his primary school holidays, rising early to study and read scriptures and not getting to bed until midnight: “They are not willing to live this kind of

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life. Really! . . . Society has completely changed. Conditions—everything has become chaotic nowadays. They are unaccustomed and unable to remain in a monastery, a peaceful place.” When they were at school, his friend Dorjé said, six or seven of their classmates became monks, but he added, “Nowadays, generally speaking, there are none. The youth of today aren’t willing to become monks. Ideas have changed.” Monks themselves also see the problem of monastic recruitment as related not only to family planning policies but also to the impact of rapid state-led development and a shift in thinking and societal values. As noted above, Makley (2007, 268–269) referred to a perception in 1990s Labrang that fewer young men were choosing to become monks by the late 1980s because of the alternative paths to and aspirations for mobility opened up by market-oriented development. She cites one monastic elder who lamented that boys thought that monastic life was too hard. As illustrated by my conversation with Chömpel and Dorjé, this was a common theme in my conversations with both monks and lay Tibetans: not only were parents less willing to send their children to monasteries because of changing family structures, but boys were also increasingly unwilling to enter monastic life. Even when a household wanted one of its members to become a monk, young men might counter those interests. Over the past thirty years, there have been major socioeconomic transformations and an increase in living standards for many Tibetans. Secular educational and professional employment opportunities that were nonexistent before 1958 are now available to many young men. The development of a market economy has also led to alternative routes to secure livelihoods and social mobility through capitalist entrepreneurship. In Repgong, for example, many Tibetans have benefited from a boom in the trade in caterpillar fungus, giving some the capital to set up small business ventures such as shops, restaurants, hotels, or transportation services and providing customers with ready cash to spend in these and other businesses. Others have capitalized on the growing market in “Regong arts.” Improved living standards and aspirations to participate in the “modern” world, when set against the hardship and regulation of life as a monk, were seen by my interlocutors as important factors in fewer males entering monasteries. It is not simply that the life of a monk is poor. In fact, monks’ material life has improved significantly, and some people (including monks) believe it is easier to earn money providing religious services for the laity than it is to earn a living as a layperson. Rather, as Chömpel and Dorjé argued, monastic life is seen as too hard in terms of its discipline (including celibacy) and solitude. Monks connected this with a perceived shift in mental orientation (morality) toward the benefits of this life rather than the next. However, if we take a step back and reconsider the reasons that boys

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and men have entered monastic life, we can move toward a thicker understanding of these shifting social dynamics and aspirations. Previous studies have tended to focus on the initial revival of monasteries and to emphasize active religious or religio-nationalistic motivation and rational choice on the part of parents or young men (Schwartz 1994; Goldstein 1998; Kapstein 2004; Makley 2007). From listening to the stories of many monks and former monks, I suggest that two interrelated factors have been overlooked: the social relationships that they formed as boys and young men, and their imaginings of monastic life.19 These help explain not only why they entered monastic life but also why increasing numbers of boys and young men might be choosing not to. Pathways into Monastic Life Individual pathways into monkhood can involve a complex mesh of religious, economic, social, and cultural reasons both for households and for boys and young men. As in traditional Tibetan society, parents have had various reasons for sending their children to monasteries: as a means of merit-making; in fulfilment of a promise to a deity; and as a culturally valued career for extra sons or orphans.20 During the 1980s and 1990s, additional reasons may have included the poor state (and in some cases complete lack) of secular education in Tibetan areas and a preference for monastic education, deemed more culturally relevant (Bass 1998, 103–105; Makley 2007, 260). In some cases, children have been forced to enter monastic life. Rapgyel, for example, reluctantly became a monk when he left school at age eighteen, because his parents wanted him to assist his cousin who had been recognized as a reincarnate lama. He subsequently disrobed. On the other hand, some young men characterized their individual aspirations to become a monk as having directly countered household interests. Trinlé, for example, said that he ran away from school after being beaten by his teacher because his Chinese was poor. His parents wanted him to train as a nonmonastic tantric religious specialist (ngakpa), but he wanted to study Tibetan and felt that he could not do this properly as a ngakpa. Although he was not the eldest son in the family, his parents nevertheless argued that it was better for him to stay at home and have a wife and children, something he would be able to do as a ngakpa but not as a monk. He went to his uncle who was a monk, his uncle spoke to his parents, and they finally agreed to his entering the monastery. More commonly, monks represented their entry into monastic life as a convergence of their own and their parents’ aspirations. Tenpa, who joined a monastery in 1992 at age twelve, said that when he was young, he really wanted to be a monk because he thought that “being a monk was fun”:

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I didn’t have any other reason. My parents took two of us brothers to the lama and asked who should be a monk. Alak chose me and I became a monk. Honestly speaking, I wouldn’t attribute it to family pressure. I myself really wanted to be a monk. I thought it was fun. Of course, there was pressure from my parents as well. They wanted one of us to study this cultural heritage, which has been handed down from our ancestors. All of the people at home are farmers who have never had educational opportunities. So, like that, they had big ideas.

Tenpa’s story highlights the religio-nationalistic motivation and cultural aspirations of his parents in wanting one of their sons to be a monk. The reincarnate lama also played an important role, selecting him rather than his brother. However, his imaginings of monastic life as fun also point to his own experiences of and ideas about the social world he was growing up in—a world in which monasteries and monkhood had once again become a normal part of life and society. As had been the case prior to 1958, monkhood was not an extraordinary vocation.21 Of the men I formally interviewed who became monks during the post-Mao era, forty-one said something about their pathways into monkhood, either directly in response to a question about this or through their accounts of their lives. Four were no longer monks by 2009. The men ranged in age from their mid-teens to their early fifties (as of 2009), but most were in their twenties, thirties, and forties.22 Most had entered monastic life in the 1980s and 1990s, but five (including the youngest) had become monks since the turn of the millennium. Although it is difficult to be precise about the ages at which they joined their monasteries, in most cases they were in their early to mid-teens. From this collection of individual narratives, it is possible to discern some general themes, but I do not claim that this is a representative sample or draw comparative conclusions between different age groups. Younger monks were generally less confident and articulate in interviews. Moreover, I spent many hours talking with some men, but others I met only once for as little as thirty minutes. Most men expressed personal agency in becoming a monk. Only four explicitly stated they had been sent to monasteries by their parents, while two said they had been recruited by a reincarnate lama or monk (both in 1984). Twenty-eight, on the other hand, explicitly stated (sometimes emphatically) that they had wanted to become a monk or that it was their choice. Some claimed religious or religio-nationalistic motivations.23 Lodrö, for example, was a demobilized soldier waiting to be allocated a government job when he decided to become a monk at age twenty-three, one of the first new recruits at Lhündrup’s monastery:

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During that time, my grandfather said, “You may not agree, but if you would consider my wishes, then you should become a monk.” I thought long and hard. I had been in the army, and when I returned, they let me join the [Communist] Party, and the local government also took me in. Then the policy of religious freedom was introduced. . . . I became a monk, thinking that if I become an official, I will be sure to get some money, but to become a monk is beneficial for both this life and the next.

Many, however (like Tenpa), understood their initial attractions to the monkhood as less purposeful than this. In fact, nine of the monks with whom I spoke explicitly said that they did not really understand much about Buddhism or the value of monastic life when they joined their monasteries. When I asked Könchok why he became a monk in 1980, he laughed and said that he had been encouraged by some elder monks and that he himself thought it would be good, adding, “It was not because I understood the real meaning of Buddhism—for example, realization of the meaninglessness of samsara or aspiration for liberation.” In their own understandings of why they became monks, many of the men I spoke with saw their interactions with other monks and their own imaginings of monastic life as important. Twelve men said that they had wanted to study Tibetan language, culture, and/or Buddhism; to serve others through religion; and/or to work for the next life rather than this one. Eight mentioned socioeconomic reasons for entering monasteries (in two cases, alongside religious/cultural motivations), including one or a combination of the following: difficult family circumstances, livelihood concerns, a need to care for monks or lamas who were relatives, a lack of secular educational opportunities, or unhappiness at school. However, the most common theme in their narratives (mentioned by twenty of the thirty-six monks entering monastic life in the 1980s and 1990s, sometimes in combination with other factors) was attraction to the monastic life through interactions with other monks: they had lived with elder monks, spent time in monasteries as a young child, seen and admired other monks, seen others entering monastic life, or been advised by monks (elders or relatives) about the goodness of monastic life.24 As we saw in chapter 1, even during the 1970s, boys were influenced by their interactions with “secret” monks, some of them being socialized into monastic life even though there were no monasteries. Others learned of the virtues of monastic life through the hearthside counternarratives of secret monks, former monks, and relatives. Monks’ conceptions of “attraction” to monastic life (drawa jé döpa [grwa ba byed ‘dod pa]) were also grounded in the framework of karma and rebirth, according to which a child is understood to have a predisposition

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toward the monkhood through the virtuous actions of his previous life. Jikmé explained his pathway into monastic life in 1990 in such karmic, as well as social, terms: My idea to become a monk is maybe due to karmic imprints. At that time, I was twelve years old and did not know that if I became a monk, it would accumulate merit. I did not think according to that logic. . . . When I was young, I admired monks, and my parents and this elder monk used to tell me, “It would be good if you become a monk.” So, because of a combination of this and my karmic imprints, I became a monk. Other than that, I did not know much about any specific thinking about specific merits and things like that.

These individual perspectives show the importance of social relationships and imagination in individual pathways into the monkhood. Monks viewed the decreasing numbers of boys becoming monks as indicative of a shift in values and, by extension, a reflection on the virtue of society in general. According to karmic understandings of consequence ( gyundré [rgyu ‘bras]), if boys and young men no longer have the karmic imprints disposing them toward monastic life, this is both an effect and a cause of decreasing virtue and thus less merit. However, an alternative perspective is to consider this issue in terms of what Appadurai (1996, 53) refers to as “the peculiar new force to the imagination in social life today.” The socioeconomic transformations of the past thirty years have opened up a “wider set of possible lives” (ibid.) for young men, which can be imagined not only through their experience of a local world but also through the mass media and multimedia technologies. While some are still attracted to the monastic life for a variety of reasons, many are choosing to follow a different path or being encouraged to do so by relatives, peers, or role models. However, it is not simply that fewer boys are becoming monks. These changes have also made it increasingly possible and imaginable for monks to return to secular life. Pathways out of Monastic Life On a drive through the mountains in spring 2009, Pema told me the moving tale of his homecoming after he decided to “turn back” from monastic life almost twenty years earlier. Having run away from the monastery we were on our way to visit, he started travelling home, stopping in the county town to buy lay clothes. When he arrived in the small town near his village, literally disrobed, he was too shy to go home. He went to the town where his older brother worked as a teacher but also couldn’t face seeing him either. Having

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travelled around for a week or so, helping a couple of businessmen in return for food and lodging, he returned to the town near his village, finally deciding to go home when he ran out of money. It was a twenty-kilometer walk, but as Pema recounted, “I felt the road was very short, because I was so sad and so worried. What should I tell my brother and parents when I see them?” As he approached the village, he hid in the grass until it got dark. He didn’t want anyone to see him wearing lay clothes. On finally arriving at his house, he went inside and sat on the sofa. It took his family two or three minutes to recognize him out of his robes, at which point his mother became upset and cried and his brother scolded and tried to beat him. Although happy to share his story with me (an outsider), Pema asked me not to mention to anyone else that he used to be a monk. This was an understandable request considering the stigma attached to disrobing, encapsulated in the popular Amdo saying “A monk who has turned back is the lowest of all humans / A cow is the lowest of all animals.” The vow of renunciation is taken for life, according to the Tibetan Buddhist monastic rule, unlike in Thailand where temporary ordination is common. If a Tibetan monk decides to return to secular life, this is viewed as a morally (karmically) negative action. The common terms applied to such men are dralok [grwa log] and banlok [ban log]. Dra (or ban) means “monk.” Lok can mean either “to return or turn away from” or “wrong,” and the compound dralok carries both connotations: “The ex-monk has not only turned away from monasticism, he has also committed an error” (Cabezón 2004). Yet, despite the karmic consequences and the stigma attached to disrobing (for both the men and their families), increasing numbers of young men have been leaving monasteries to return to secular life. This represents perhaps one of the most significant shifts in Geluk monastic moral authority and, as we have seen, has been a pressing concern informing attitudes toward monastic development. Just as socioeconomic changes and the perceived hardships of monastic life are seen as reasons for fewer boys joining monasteries, they are also the main explanations my interlocutors offered for monks’ disrobing. Yönten, a senior monk at one of Rongwo’s branches, commented that just as every person has a different reason for becoming a monk, there are many different reasons for disrobing: Some monks become monks because they get carried away by the popular trend—“Oh, people are becoming monks, and I want to be a monk.” Then they become a monk and get bored with monastic life and return [to secular life]. Some people turn back because there aren’t enough people to work at home. Some people turn back because they did not know how hard monastic life is. To be a monk is very difficult. It entails hardship. You need to study hard

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and abide by rules. Once they become a monk, they get fed up with these things and return to lay life. There are some who return to lay life because they encounter all the distractions of modern life through using computers, watching TV, and listening to CD players and believe the deceptive messages conveyed by some of these.

Yönten’s comments encapsulate common themes in conversations with people about the growing numbers of young men disrobing: a lack of understanding of the realities of monkhood, an unwillingness to withstand the hardships of monastic life and rule, and the corrupting influences of new technologies that enable the secular world and visions of “modern” lay life, including sex and wealth, to infiltrate monastic space. Norbu, a businessman who was a monk during his teenage years, remarked that it is no longer possible to live an isolated monastic life. In the past, monastic life and village life were separate, but now monks can see things—for example, on ­television—“and then it’s like they see a dish they haven’t tasted, and they want to taste it.” Some saw the wealth flowing to monasteries as a cause; others commented on monks’ increasing mobility. Once again, a moral rhetoric underlay these explanations, which are tied to the wider narratives of decline and perceived shift in societal values (young men are no longer able to remain steadfast; wealth corrupts). Yet it is not simply that some monks feel unsuited to, dissatisfied with, or unable to cope with the hardships of monastic life. Since the 1980s, changing attitudes, combined with new socioeconomic opportunities, have made disrobing an increasingly imaginable possibility for young men who, for whatever reason, are not happy with monastic life.25 Disrobing has become more commonplace and is something that monks talk about and think about as they see other monks return to lay life and maintain friendships with them. Moreover, the social stigma of being an ex-monk appears to be lessening as disrobing becomes more commonplace, an attitudinal change that has also occurred in the Tibetan community-in-exile (Sherab Gyatso 2004, 233).26 As one senior monk at Rongwo put it, people still have a “bad attitude” toward ex-monks, “but it is not like before.” Some monks, he said, feel that those who disrobe are not to be blamed; their action is understandable when social change and their economic circumstances are taken into consideration. Although younger monks are now more able to imagine other lives for themselves, disrobing is much less imaginable for those who have been monks longer. Püntsok, one of the first new recruits to enter Lhündrup’s monastery in the early 1980s when he was fourteen or fifteen years old, has witnessed monks disrobing in recent years. When I asked if this had made him think about returning to secular life, he said no, but then added that he was also too old to think about it. Some of the practical difficulties were

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expressed by Gyeltsen from Kumbum. He had told a mutual lay friend that monastic studies had no relevance for modern life, and he wanted to return to secular life but was concerned about how he would make a living. When I interviewed him, he would not say directly that he had considered disrobing, but when I asked what difficulties a monk would have should he disrobe, he said that there were many because he would need “to start a new life all over again”: A lay person needs to earn a living, whereas a monk can go to the monastic assemblies and doesn’t need to do any work to earn a living. It’s easier for a monk to find ten yuan than for a layperson to find one yuan. A lay person must earn everything through his own labor. So those monks who have been a monk for ten to fifteen years and returned to lay life, they really can’t cope with the difficulties. They cannot do manual labor, and it’s difficult to do business. They haven’t got stamina either. They might do okay for a year or two, but then they can’t maintain the same effort.

The reality that young men may disrobe is a problem for monasteries in terms of retention. It also appears to be having an impact on monastic recruitment. I was told that some parents were reluctant to send a son to a monastery because they were concerned that he would later “turn back.” Tsewang, for example, said that his parents had mixed feelings when he became a monk in 1992 at age nineteen. One of his brothers had disrobed, so while they were happy for him to become a monk, they were worried and would be upset if he was to turn back after a short time. Just as parents may have coexisting motivations in wishing a son to be a monk, a son’s disrobing is problematic not only for religious (karmic) and social (status) reasons but also for economic reasons: a boy who grows up and is educated in a monastery will not have received a secular education. He will therefore have lost the opportunity to pursue other secure, high-status occupations, such as that of government official or teacher, and to provide economically for his household. As Lungtok put it, he will become “stuck in limbo—somebody who is neither an able student nor an able monk nor a good religious person.” Therefore, as more monks disrobe, the monastic life is seen as a riskier prospect for both the household and the individual. Pema and Sönam Pema had been a monk at a scholastic monastery for two years before he ran away, eventually returning to his village to face his family. His story and that of another former monk, Sönam, illustrate the complex individual trajectories

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of young men into and out of monastic life. Pema became a monk when he was fifteen years old, influenced by various factors. When he was nine or ten, at the beginning of the monastic revival, his grandfather took him to Kumbum, where he saw a monk from his village. This made him think that perhaps it would be good to be a monk. He also had two cousins at the monastery he would end up joining, who talked to him about the virtues of monastic life. His parents had conflicting attitudes: when he was at primary school his mother had asked him to become a monk, but his father was opposed and wanted him to become an official. After finishing middle school, he made what he described as a conscious choice: he felt that if he did not become a monk then and instead went on to high school, he would end up with a job and would never enter monastic life. When he told his parents, his mother was very pleased and his father unhappy. His mother contacted an elder monk from his village, and they arranged for Pema to enter a scholastic monastery where he lived with another junior monk in the quarters of their home teacher, an older monk who introduced them to the rules and life of the monastery and enforced monastic discipline. Pema enjoyed chanting and playing with the other young monks, but his home teacher was very strict. He did not let Pema go out to play or study other subjects such as grammar and poetry. One of his cousins had left to go to India, and the other kept telling him that it was not good to be a monk because of homosexual practices within the monastery. He started wondering if he should return to his village to be a farmer. The pivotal moment came during a visit to his family. A Nyingma ritual was being performed in the house. Pema recalled, “At the end of the ritual, the laypeople were drinking this kind of water and I also drank it. And then I found out that it contained alcohol. So that made me feel—oh, now I’m not a monk anymore because I drank a little alcohol. So I decided I definitely couldn’t stay in the monastery as a monk.” He returned to the monastery but felt uncomfortable participating in ritual activities, thinking, “Oh, the other monks are pure, and I am not.” One morning, after his home teacher had left for the assembly hall, he ran away. When he eventually found the courage to return home and face his family, his mother begged him not to disrobe and locked him inside the house. He escaped over the wall and ran away to school with a relative who wanted to leave an unhappy marriage. Sönam’s transition out of monkhood was a more gradual process. He had entered his local monastery at the age of eleven. His father had died, and his mother could not afford to pay school fees. His older brother remained at home to help with farmwork, while he was sent to the monastery to care for an elderly relative.27 When he was fourteen, he left his home monastery and went to Lhasa with the aim of going to India. He stayed at one of the monastic centers for only a short time before moving into the city to find work. By

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the time he was seventeen, he had started wearing lay clothes. However, he said that his heart “stayed clean” until sometime later he had sex with a girl: “I was sad the next day because I knew I couldn’t be a monk anymore. If you do that, your complete nature changes. . . . I had sex with a girl, and I drank beer. I broke two rules, and there is no way to go back.” Sönam does not think that he ever really wanted to be a monk. During his time at his local monastery, he had liked collecting and repairing broken things, such as radios. “As a monk, you really honestly and purely study and practice philosophy and meditation,” he observed. “But I did not do that. I was more interested in modern society.” He said that he felt bad because he was not a good student, and “if I continued to be a monk, my family would feed me until my death.” He was also uncomfortable that, regardless of his state of mind, local people “just see the robes and respect you.” He thought that if he could not be a “respectable person,” he should no longer be a monk. Sönam’s and Pema’s stories contain many of the elements already discussed: the relationship of boys to their households and their simultaneous positioning as agentive individuals; the importance of social relationships with other monks; and their experiences of the realities of monkhood. Despite the symbolism of the monastic robe in social relations (one of the aspects of monastic life felt by Sönam to be problematic), the pivotal moment in their narratives related to transgression of their monastic vows, although Pema had not committed a defeating offence. It was through their actions that they ceased to be monks, whether or not they were still wearing robes or living in a monastery. Both men mentioned various contextual factors in their transitions back to secular life, but they also expressed a moral rationale for their decision to disrobe, framed in terms of their own personal inabilities to live up to monastic ideals.28 For Pema, this was linked to breaking a vow. For Sönam, it was his failure to live up to his understanding of the ideal monk and therefore the lack of value to his parents and community in his continuing in this role. One of the most striking elements of these and other stories of men who have disrobed is their individual mobility. Pema ran away from his monastery relatively early on, in 1987. We have seen how terrified he was to return home and face his parents. Even today he does not tell people that he used to be a monk. Sönam, who disrobed in 1998, said that he did not tell his mother that he had left monastic life until, many years later, he finally returned home to visit her. Nevertheless, both men made the move to “turn back” from their lives as monastics against the wishes and interests of their households and in contravention of social norms. Both seem to have made relatively successful transitions, doing well in their respective secular professional occupations, and both are married with children.

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Monastic Responsibility All monasteries have faced challenges in recruiting new monks and the practical reality that young men might not remain monks for life. Yet monks viewed the size of a monastery’s assembly as an indicator of standards in education and discipline. Although there is little they can do about ­macro-level changes such as demographic transition, the monastic leadership—­reincarnate lamas and senior monks—is nevertheless perceived to exercise a degree of agency in maintaining monastic populations. Their success in doing so has varied considerably. Monks at monasteries that have been relatively successful in maintaining their populations attributed this to several interlinked factors: their reputation in the local community (Dechen, Gartsé, Ditsa), their standards in education and discipline (Dzongngön, Gartsé, Ditsa) and the guidance of their head lamas (Dzongngön, Gartsé).29 Loten, a temple caretaker at the time of our conversation, thought that Gartsé had attracted and retained many monks because of its “traditional culture,” education (they study the full Geluk curriculum), and, above all, because the head lama “has great power in his supervision of the monastery”: “He does not go to other places. He has done much for the education of the monks and the local people. Since his leadership is good, there are many who have gone forth on the path [i.e., become monks].” Alak Gartsé has passed away since Loten and I had this conversation. However, the emphasis Loten placed on the head lama’s physical presence, as well as his leadership, was echoed by other monks who viewed the poor example and absence of head lamas—some of whom have themselves disrobed—as a factor in monastic moral decline and, linked to this, the decreasing numbers of monks. To a certain extent, the qualities of individual leaders can be an ephemeral factor in explaining the success or otherwise of any institution or organization. However, reincarnate lamas have played a particularly significant role in Geluk monasticism as “transmitters of lineages of tradition that related directly back to Buddhahood, a Buddhahood they simultaneously represented as trülkus [sprul sku; reincarnate lamas]” (Mills 2003, 317), as well as through their power to tame/discipline/subdue (dül [‘dul ]), the Tibetan term for the monastic rule (dülwa [‘dul-ba]).30 They should, ideally, be exemplary figures. The position of a monastery’s founding lama and his subsequent reincarnations has been described to me as analogous to that of a “parent” to the monks (see also Goyön 2009), a teacher and a spiritual and moral guide, as well as a provider of material support. A weakening of the authority and morality of reincarnate lamas is thus a significant element in narratives of monastic moral decline. Monks at monasteries experiencing a decline in their numbers saw that decline as a pressing issue. Some have used very direct ways to try to boost their populations, actively recruiting boys by going out to speak to vil-

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lagers in their patron communities. More generally, the issue of disrobing has shaped attitudes toward monastic economic development and efforts to foster education and discipline. Ideas about how to address the decline in numbers have in part been shaped by pragmatic acceptance of the need to adapt to suit the (morally declining) times. In 2009, for example, I heard stories circulating in monasteries about monks who had fallen ill and died alone in their quarters, nobody discovering their bodies for many days. I was told that many monks talked and worried about the solitary aspect of monastic life. Unlike householders, they had no spouse and children to care for them. Lodrö, now a senior monk at Lhündrup’s monastery, believed this was why so many monks at his monastery had disrobed. His proposed solution was to establish an old people’s home and communal canteen for monks to use free of charge, so that they “do not have any other responsibilities apart from undertaking Dharmic tasks at appropriate times,” echoing the logic of the interrelated financial and educational reforms we have already examined. However, he saw the need for this reform as stemming from the changing times and made a (moral) distinction between the younger reform-era generation and people in “the old days.” The “mental preoccupation” of contemporary monks, he said, “is that once you become old, there won’t be anyone looking after you because you are a single simple monk.” He added, “This is the reason they return to lay life. Nowadays people do not have faith. In the old days, the old people had strong faith and stamina. With strong faith, they could take refuge in the Three Jewels. Nowadays, we young people are not like that.” However, pragmatic concerns over maintaining assemblies, conditioned by monks’ sense of the times, can also be in tension with monastic ideals. This is evident if we return to the fate of Trashitsé, the monastery founded in the mid-1990s. A Tale of Two Monasteries Trashitsé was founded after a series of disagreements led to a serious rift at Ditsa, dividing the monks into two groups according to their respective teaching lineages. The dispute was partly over monastic constitutional reform—the Trashitsé faction disagreed with the decision to reconstitute Ditsa as a scholastic center that awarded monastic degrees. Another conflict was over the recognition of one of the monastery’s reincarnate lamas and the education of the young head lama, the Sixth Zhamar (who would eventually disrobe in 2003 at the age of twenty-three). Tensions escalated until finally one of Ditsa’s major reincarnate lamas, Alak Gyeltsap, left with 146 of the monks (roughly half of Ditsa’s population) to found a new monastery in the mid-1990s. As we have seen, Ditsa subsequently grew, more than doubling its population by 2009, when it had 403 monks. It has been successful in maintaining its assembly since then, reporting a population of 420 in August 2015. Trashitsé,

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on the other hand, has experienced a bigger proportional decrease than any other monastery I visited. Its numbers halved by 2009 and were reduced further to only 65 by August 2015. In 2009 one of its senior monks, Lungrik, offered the following explanation: Some people went to India, some returned to lay life, some went to other monasteries, such as Kumbum and Repgong, and some became doctors or went to study medicine. That’s why the number is decreasing. There are more people leaving than coming in. . . . This year only one person has become a monk, and six monks have left: four returned to lay life, one went to Jakhyung, and one went to a medical clinic in Tsekhok.

In addition to echoing issues that have already been discussed, Lungrik’s explanation hints at competition between monasteries. Trashitsé has lost some of its monks to Amdo’s scholastic centers (whereas Ditsa has become a major scholastic center). This perhaps reflects the increased emphasis on the scholar-monk as an ideal. In addition, Trashitsé is relatively remote. Monasteries, or gönpa [dgon pa] in Tibetan, should ideally be distant from urban areas—as one of my interlocutors pointed out, gön does after all mean solitude. Proximity to cities or towns is one of the explanations offered for monastic moral decline (even though, historically, monasteries have been founded relatively close to lay settlements for economic reasons, while urban centers like Rongwo and Labrang have developed around monastic centers). Yet monks at Trashitsé felt that its remoteness from urban, and therefore “modern,” life was a reason for monks leaving. One of its teachers remarked that it used to be an ideal place to study because there were few distractions, but there were fewer and fewer diligent students. The different experiences of the two groups of monks have given them different perspectives on the relationships between economy, education, and conduct. Trashitsé’s monks inverted the logic of the Ditsa monks, who saw their ability to recruit and retain monks as directly related to their privileging of education and discipline over economic and external development. Lungrik, on the other hand, argued that it was hard to implement monastic discipline and produce better scholars with few monks. To improve its standards, Trashitsé must first increase its numbers, and to increase its numbers, it must improve its material conditions. If the monastery could provide a monthly allowance for monks, he thought, it might be able to attract people from other monasteries as well as from the local population: The monks’ stomachs are full, and the monastery does provide food and clothes. But this does not satisfy today’s youths. Therefore, if

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we need to increase the number of monks in this monastery, the living standards need to be in pace with contemporary life and should not be below those of wider society. If there is that sense of being more comfortable at the monastery, then people would come.

Yeshé Gyatso—the head lama at Lhündrup’s monastery, which had also seen many monks disrobing—felt that economic development was crucial to his plans to develop monastic education. He said that his monastery was in a “difficult situation”: If you say, “You need to study,” then you need to guarantee their livelihood. . . . Nowadays society has developed and there has been economic progress, and there needs to be a little improvement in monks’ livelihoods. If there is no improvement, then the situation is not good for the monks. If they want to improve their livelihoods, they have to do it for themselves because the monastery cannot provide for them.

The idea that monasteries must improve material conditions and even compete with the economic standards of secular life is in tension with the ideal of the “simple monk.” The large scholastic centers of Ditsa and Rongwo have, in different ways, increased the level of support that individual monks receive from the monastery, but how far this should be taken remains a ­question— remember Ngawang’s emphasis on getting the balance right at Ditsa (enough for basic necessities but not enough “to buy cars and other material things”). The increasing material well-being of monks and their engagement in contemporary consumption practices (e.g., using smartphones, eating in restaurants, and driving cars) have influenced public perception and, by extension, monasteries’ reputations and ability to attract monks. My interlocutors also saw them as factors in monks disrobing. As monasteries have tried to work out the best way forward, monks like Lungrik seem to have found themselves in something of a catch-22 situation. However, they strike me as no different from Ditsa’s monks in what they have been ultimately attempting: to meet the continuing challenge of maintaining the intermeshed religious and mundane foundations of monasticism in a changing world. As fewer boys join monasteries and more monks disrobe, the shrinking monastic population has become one of the most pressing concerns for monks. Although state-monastic interactions have been a factor at some institutions, socioeconomic transformations have brought deeper structural changes that pose greater challenges. Issues of recruitment and retention have surfaced in many of the debates and dilemmas explored in previous chapters. Should

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monks be involved in collective business activities? These can be a mechanism for increasing disbursements to monks, encouraging them to study and limiting their need to engage in potentially corrupting private economic activity. On the other hand, engaging in business for the collective is also perceived as dangerous, blurring monastic-lay boundaries, changing monks’ minds, and influencing them to disrobe. How strict should monastic discipline be? Should individual monks be allowed to own televisions, computers, and cars? Rigid rules about such things might make it difficult to attract new monks and might lead some to disrobe. However, lax rules are seen as a factor in monks returning to secular life. Should the monastic curriculum be broadened to include subjects such as basic Tibetan literacy, Chinese, and English? Such curriculum enhancements would enable monks to participate in “modern life” and could make monastic life more attractive. Yet some people think they erode the distinction between monastic and secular life. In my conversations with Pema, he has argued forcefully for the broadening of the monastic curriculum so that monks who are not interested in philosophy have something else to study. Another friend, Karma, agreed that monks should receive a secular education but then went on to reflect: “What is a monk? That’s the big question. What is a monk—what is the role of a monk?” The issue of a shrinking population is, of course, not unique to Tibetan Buddhist monastic communities. Samuels (2010), for example, discusses recruitment and retention in the Sri Lankan context, and even the international media has commented on these issues in the case of Thailand (Fuller 2012). Recent studies of Buddhism in Japan have examined challenges facing the clergy as a result of contemporary demographic, social, and economic changes and the dilemmas these have spurred (Covell 2005; Rowe 2011; Nelson 2013). Beyond Buddhism, a shrinking and ageing membership are problems facing contemporary Christian monastic communities and the nonmonastic clergy (see, e.g., Wittberg 2000; Church Pension Group 2012). Although these dynamics of “modernizing” social change and their impacts on Tibetan monasteries may reflect global trends, their particular significance in the Tibetan context lies in the extent of monasticism, its integral position in Tibetan society and community life, and its association with Tibetan identity. The population dynamics of monastic Buddhism have societal implications extending far beyond the monastic community. Moreover, as monasteries make efforts to recruit and maintain large populations in the context of contemporary realities, their role is being questioned by individuals such as my friend Karma. Socioeconomic changes and a shrinking population do not simply represent a challenge for monks who are attempting to maintain their local monastic assemblies. As the next chapter shows, they also raise questions about the future of mass monasticism in Tibetan societies and thus the shape of Tibetan society at large.


The Future of Mass Monasticism

DESPITE THEIR CONCERNS OVER THE DECREASING SIZE of monastic populations, some people, including Könchok, also expressed the apparently contradictory idea that “nowadays there are too many monks.” The revival of monastic Buddhism on a large scale in post-Mao Tibet depended on the resurgence of certain shared assumptions and conceptions of the good, including three central ideas: that monkhood is a lifelong commitment; that boys should enter monastic life at a very young age; and that the mass form of monastic Buddhism, characteristic of Tibetan societies, is a good thing—that is, it is good (and indeed a marker of the relative virtue of a society or community) that there are many monasteries and that each monastery has many monks. This chapter revisits these ideas, discussing the extent to which they have been challenged by the political, economic, social, and moral dynamics explored thus far in this study. Having invested considerable energy, effort, and resources to revive, maintain, and develop monasticism on a large scale, why by 2009 did some people feel that there were too many monks? What are the implications for the future shape of Tibetan Buddhism and, by extension, Tibetan society?

Monkhood as a Lifelong Commitment? Over a long lunch in a teahouse with two businessmen in summer 2013, the conversation turned to the issue of monks returning to secular life. I mentioned the tradition of temporary ordination in Thailand. Norbu, who had himself been a monk as a child, simply said he had heard of this. Rinchen was more forthcoming. He could see that it would be good moral training for children to stay in a monastery for one or two years. “But,” he added, “the 145

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Buddha never said, ‘Stay in a monastery for one or two years’—so they should try harder!” It is a practical reality that men do not necessarily remain monks for life. My interlocutors also felt that the social stigma of the disrobed monk is lessening. However, as a moral principle, the idea that a monk should remain so for life appears to persist as a largely unchallenged norm. When I talked with monks about the system in Thailand, they, like Rinchen, were unable to conceive of such a system for Tibetan Buddhism: after all, the vow of renunciation is taken for life, according to the version of the monastic rule they follow. Sihlé (2011) has uncovered a fascinating case of what he refers to as “quasi-generalized, mostly temporary, monasticism” in Repgong prior to 1958, involving nearly all boys from the nearest village temporarily enrolling in Rongwo Monastery at a young age and then leaving at age eighteen. None of my interlocutors seemed to be aware of this local precedent for temporary ordination. They understood that turning back from monastic life carried negative karmic consequences, even if it is becoming more commonplace and, for some at least, understandable. Yet I did participate in several conversations suggesting that some people saw at least some benefit in temporary ordination, even if it is not the ideal. At least some men who have returned to secular life felt that their experience as a monk distinguished them in culturally and morally positive ways from other men. A village elder who had been a monk in 1958 and married during the Maoist years commented that the literate members of the male lay elder population had previously been monks. Although his remarks elide the link between lay literacy and family lineages of nonmonastic tantric specialists in at least some of Repgong’s villages,1 monasteries would certainly have been one of the main centers of education for many Tibetans.2 For those entering monasteries in the post-Mao period, when secular schooling became universal, monastic training, even at the most basic level, involved a particular kind of moral cultivation and the inculcation of values different from those embedded in the state education system. Sönam said that he and others who had experienced monastic life thought differently from other men. He cited their treatment of women as an example: The person who was never a monk will cheat on girls and kick them out easily, with no heart, nothing. The person who was a monk is always thinking and takes a long time, even if they don’t like the girl. It’s natural because they learned that from the monastery, and these guys are always thinking about this, always—that’s their nature. I used to have a girlfriend for a few years, and we fought a lot. Sometimes it made me really unhappy, and she was really unhappy too. My friends said, “Kick her out,” but I couldn’t do that. It was hard, [because] she might be sad. It was horrible for me.

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Although I was rarely to hear such a logic applied more widely by people who were not themselves former monks, there were two notable exceptions, both coming from unexpected quarters. During a long conversation with Künga, a retired official, in his apartment in spring 2014, he had been talking about the value of monastic education, which he saw as the core of Tibetan culture. He had great admiration for the Dai nationality of Yunnan, “even though they are Theravāda Buddhists,” because, he argued, every Dai man has to go to the monastery before getting married to learn the Dai language, inherit the Dai culture, and acquire Buddhist knowledge. Although he did not explicitly advocate such a system for Tibetans, he did say that they should learn from the Dai. The other instance was in many ways more surprising. In early summer 2009, Künsang was telling me about an influx of young recruits at a monastery in Repgong that was located across the valley from his own. He had heard that village boys were becoming monks while continuing to attend secular school, because people believed that a person would be better for having been a monk, even if he eventually disrobed. A monk from the monastery in question later refuted this, arguing that there was no such way of thinking: it was no longer surprising for monks to disrobe, but it was still considered to cause negative karmic effects. He said that there were many young monks because the monastic elders had actively recruited in the village. Nevertheless, I remain intrigued that Künsang had even mentioned such attitudes. He seemed relatively conservative in many of his views, but when I asked him what he thought about this approach, he simply said: “I would prefer them to become monks and remain in the monastery, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.” It remains to be seen whether these isolated instances represent the beginnings of a new pragmatism toward monastic recruitment, a change in thinking, or perhaps even the reverberations of past practices, such as the “quasi-generalized, mostly temporary, monasticism” that Sihlé (2011) found to have operated in Repgong before 1958. However, when we consider debates about the ideal age for males to enter monasteries, we find further evidence that people still generally think of monkhood as a lifelong service. The Younger the Better? My conversation with Rinchen and Norbu about the Thai system had stemmed from a discussion about the ideal age to become a monk. Both felt that it was better that young men should go to school. When they were old enough to decide for themselves, they could, if they wished, become monks. Their views placed them firmly on one side of what is now considerable debate about the “younger is better” ethic. Before 1958 most monks were placed in monasteries by their parents

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as young boys so that they would be socialized within the monastic community before their minds were exposed to the polluting influences of household life. Many Tibetans, both monks and laity, still consider this to be the best system. Künsang, who himself became a monk in 1980 at age seventeen, said that in his experience there was a big difference between monks who entered the monastery as children and those who became monks when they were eighteen or older, after finishing school. The former became familiar with monastic norms and conduct from a young age, he said, and felt at ease with them: Those who became monks during their childhood were very young, and so ethical conduct has become ingrained. Some of those who became monks at eighteen or over have been to school. Their conduct is very bad, and among them there are even those who smoke! They don’t have the patience to stay in and study. So, in my opinion, there’s a huge difference. If they become a monk after they have gone to school, it is very difficult to remain a monk for long, because of their old attitudes. Their conduct is indeed bad!

Others, like Rinchen and Norbu, disagree. They do not believe that the conditions exist nowadays for monks to be cut off from secular life (which, accurate or not, is how they imagine things were in the past). Their concerns over the growing numbers of young men who disrobe challenge the normative logic of sending young boys to monasteries. There is a perception that many who disrobe do so because they became monks without understanding the lived realities of monastic life or what it means to be a monk. Some of my interlocutors, including monks, therefore thought it better for young men to make a conscious decision to become monks when they were older, after finishing high school or even college. The divergent views on this issue are well illustrated by a discussion I had in summer 2009 with postgraduate students Chömpel and Dorjé. Both believed that many children nowadays were unwilling to become monks. However, in principle, Chömpel was a proponent of the “younger is better” ethic, citing senior Geluk figures as models to be followed. Dorjé disagreed. C hömpel : For example, Master Tsongkhapa was four when he became a monk and so was the Dalai Lama. When they are small, they are very pure, very simple and have not been influenced. D orjé : My thinking is slightly different. I think that relatively many Tibetans are little when they become monks. But I think it is better after they graduate, after their thinking is developed, and then their knowledge is wider. If you

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become a monk when you’re small, you don’t know about external life. Then when you reach a certain age, you start to be introduced to outside society, and then your thinking changes and you become lay. As these comments show, views on the ideal age for entrance to monastic life revolved around the central issue of which system was likely to produce monks closest to Buddhist normative ideals. Moreover, which was most likely to result in boys remaining monks for life? Was it better that monastic discipline and ways of life be habituated from a young age, or that young men first experience something of the world and then consciously choose to enter monastic life? “Too Many Monks”: Quantity versus Quality? Perhaps the most significant ideational shift has been in relation to the very idea of the mass form of monastic Buddhism that has been characteristic of Tibetan societies. Challenges to the idea of mass monasticism have been expressed from the beginning of the post-Mao period, with some Tibetan intellectuals viewing its revival as holding back Tibetan modernization (Shakya 1999, 403; Makley 2007, 258). This stance appears to have been popularized in Amdo by radical writers such as Shokdung (pen name), who has been influential among many Tibetan university students (see Hartley 2002). However, challenges have also emerged from beyond this secular elite. Many people with whom I spoke, including monks and villagers as well as students and intellectuals, felt that there were now “too many monks.” They tended to put forward the argument that most monks did not conform to imaginings of the ideal Geluk monk, the unspoken implication being, “So of what value are they?” Makley (2007, 276) found similar attitudes in 1990s Labrang. The “inappropriate” behaviors of many monks, she argues, led villagers, monks, and officials “to question the benefits of mass monasticism.” We have seen that considerable emphasis has been placed on monastic education and discipline in Repgong and western Bayen, both within and without the monastic community. As one businessman put it, nowadays people care a lot about the quality ( püka [spus ka]) of monks. Previous work has drawn a direct correlation between concerns over monastic quality—whether among the monastic elite (Goldstein 1998) or among villagers, monks, and officials (Makley 2007)—and the emergence of a high-quality, low-quantity ideal, which echoes state discourse. This suggests that the idea of purifying monastic Buddhism in response to what are perceived as times that are both morally troubled and politically challenging necessarily involves, in Tibet, a shift away from its mass form.

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Yet an emphasis on quality does not necessarily correlate to a corresponding ideal of low quantity. To the contrary, monks at scholastic centers, branch monasteries, and practice centers consider monastic discipline and education to be directly linked to their ability to recruit and maintain large monastic assemblies.3 Moreover, a large monastic population is cited as evidence of, or an essential requirement for, improving monastic quality. This idea echoes the “law of averages” logic that Cabezón (2008, 277) argues was a key reason that Tibet’s mega monasteries encouraged large enrollments in the past (“to produce a few great men, one must admit many”). Cabezón thus directly challenges the distinction drawn by Goldstein between “elite” monasticism (emphasizing quality) and “mass” monasticism (emphasizing quantity) (ibid., 369n39) and claims that monks see contemporary state-imposed limits on enrollment in the Geluk seats in Lhasa as “an obstacle to achieving their educational objectives” (ibid., 279). A senior monk at Trashitsé, a monastery facing different challenges as it struggles to maintain a population far below its official quota, made the same basic point. With few monks, he argued, it was very hard to raise good teachers (and by extension to improve overall standards). Sihlé (pers. comm.) has heard similar arguments in the context of collectivities of nonmonastic tantric specialists in Repgong. In short, quality and quantity are not diametrically opposed. They can even go hand in hand. The efforts to improve standards of education and discipline examined in this study have been oriented toward moving all monks closer to the ideal, not toward reducing their numbers. The same can probably be said about reforms attempted at Drepung in the 1950s to shift the payment of disbursements to monks to the Dharma grove, with the aim of encouraging more monks to attend debate practice (Goldstein 1998, 31–33). Goldstein (ibid.) cites these reforms as precedent for a shift in emphasis at Drepung from quantity to quality. These reforms may well have represented a renewed emphasis on quality within Geluk institutions and served as precedent for the salary system introduced in 1984 (ibid., 34). However, Goldstein presents no evidence of a perceived need to reduce quantity in the 1950s. Similar reforms introduced at Rongwo in 2005 (discussed in chapter 4) have been heralded a success because they have been associated with an increase in numbers of monks. Why, then, did some of my interlocutors, including monks, nevertheless feel that there were nowadays too many monks? “Too Many Monks”: Fertility, Nationality, and Culture When my interlocutors did invoke a high-quality, low-quantity ideal, this was generally related to concerns over the future of the Tibetan people and the pressing issue of maintaining the Tibetan population in the context of demographic transition. I have already argued that monks are viewed as

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agents of continuity of the culture that incorporates the shared values, beliefs, and morality distinguishing “Tibetan” from other. This identity is felt to be under threat from assimilation into a “Chinese” modernity. Although the role of monks in Tibetan figurations of modernity may be contested for socioeconomic reasons, most people with whom I spoke saw the continuation of monasticism as linked to the survival of a “Tibetan” people. However, a tension exists between the role played by monasticism in the nation’s cultural survival and that played in the nation’s physical reproduction. Low fertility among Tibetans and the in-migration of non-­Tibetans have generated fears of assimilation that place a greater emphasis on the reproductive responsibility of young men and women, not just for the good of the household, but for the good of the Tibetan people. Childs (2008, 275) and Makley (2005a, 283) have commented on the tension between women’s reproductive responsibilities and celibate monasticism in the context of the gender politics of contemporary nunhood. However, the issue also extends to monkhood. Indeed, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has pointed to the dangers for the Tibetan population “if the number of monks and nuns is raised further” (Tenzin Gyatso 2006). This tension was evident in a conversation with Könchok. He emphatically stated that the increase in numbers of nuns was “not good,” but when I asked him why, his reply incorporated the reproductive responsibility of both women and men: Nowadays if we think of the interests of the nationality or religion, we need to prioritize the nationality. One needs to think about one’s own people. Of course, one needs to think about religion. If the people have freedom, if religion is practiced under such circumstances, then it will flourish and endure for a long time. Otherwise it will not endure. If all the men become monks and all the women become nuns, then this nationality will go into decline in a short time. Once the nationality goes into decline, then its religion and language will also decline. That is not good at all.

His narrative underscored the demographic pressures undermining the social structure that made mass monasticism feasible in the past. He then turned to the issue of quality, making a judgment about the relative value of the average monastic in these pressing contemporary circumstances: From a religious perspective, of course there are a lot of people who are practicing religion and nowadays lots of people are becoming nuns, but there isn’t this genuine intention to practice religion. Out of ten nuns, only a few of them have the intention to practice genuine religion. . . . Monks are exactly the same. It is not good. Maybe

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from a religious perspective it might be good, but the nationality is becoming extinct.

Könchok thus makes a distinction between a religious perspective, according to which the simple existence of large numbers of monastics is good, and a nationalist perspective. His challenge to the idea that “more is better” arises from his moral judgments about the motivations of contemporary monastics (the issue of quality) combined with his concerns for the survival of the Tibetan people. I often found that tensions between different conceptions of the good regarding mass monasticism as an ideal were, like Könchok’s narrative, expressed in relation to an imagined Tibetan collectivity. This was evident during an interview with two Tibetan postgraduate students in Lanzhou: Trashi, a young man from a village in Repgong, and his friend Drölma, a young woman from a herding area in southwestern Gansu. Trashi believed that quality was more important than the quantity of monks but that “too many monks is not good, even if their quality is high.” Drölma, on the other hand, said that it was important to her that monasteries simply existed: “This is in my heart [Ch. xin]. Even if the quality of monks is not good, the idea of the monastery being there is reassuring. It is custom—a way of thinking.” Trashi responded: Our land mass is big, but our population is small, so having too many monks is not good for the population. Also, we need different kinds of education. If all education is Buddhist, then what about law, economics, and so on? We also need to develop these to develop our culture. Doing this inside the monastery is in conflict with Buddhism and the practice and life of a monk. So again, it is not good if too many people only study Buddhism.

When I asked Drölma what she made of Trashi’s arguments, she disagreed with them: I think that having many monks is good because they are continuing Tibetan culture in the monasteries. The level of Tibetan of school students is not good. They study maybe two hours per day, whereas monks spend all their time studying traditional language and culture. Anyway, I don’t think it is ever going to be the case that there are too many monks now.

Even for those who, like Drölma, continue to view mass monasticism as the ideal in terms of both nationality and religion, there are other competing pri-

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orities. Her final comment that it is no longer possible for there to be too many monks reflects a tension between her sense of what is good regarding monasticism in society and her conception of the good at the level of the household. When I asked her whether, if she had a son, she would want him to be a monk, she replied: “If I only have one child, no. If I have two or three . . . maybe.” The emphasis on education and quality would seem to beg one final question: would it matter if all the monks gathered in the monastic centers and the branch monasteries and practice centers disappeared, as Könchok predicted? Some people, like Norbu, might not see their loss as being of any significance. He thought it better to have scholastic centers that provide good education and discipline. The practice centers “never used to provide religious services,” he argued: “They were centers of meditation and practice. Then people needed services, and they started doing this.” However, many others considered both scholastic centers and local monasteries to be important. As Künga pointed out, each monastery has its own history and ritual traditions and carries its own teaching and practice lineages. He and many other people I have spoken with have strong affective ties to “their” monasteries. They also worry about who will perform essential rites for the dead if there were to be no local monasteries, because the scholastic centers are very distant from some communities. Moreover, as Jansen (2014, 175) points out, monks play an important role in pacifying local spirits and deities and thus in contributing to the well-being of local communities. Monks are not the only religious specialists able to care for the ritual needs of their communities, particularly in Repgong, where there are strong traditions of Nyingma nonmonastic tantric specialists (ngakpa) in many villages. There can be a large degree of overlap in the case of ritual services oriented toward mundane affairs. However, the role of monk and ngakpa is nevertheless different, as are Geluk and Nyingma ritual traditions. In people’s daily lives and practices, they are not seen as alternatives, just as scholastic centers are not, for many people, alternatives to their local monasteries. These and other types of institutions and specialists all form part of the complex—and as yet little-understood—fabric of their local world. There is thus a further tension between the idea that there are too many monks and people’s relationships to, and thus investment in maintaining, specific monasteries, embedded as an integral part of their local communities. Socioeconomic transformations and changing ideas have not only resulted in certain monastic practices being challenged from within the monastic-lay community. The very form of institutionalized monasticism that was revived in the early 1980s and its appropriateness in contemporary circumstances have been questioned. The norm of lifelong monastic service has been undermined in practice but not (yet) in principle. Indeed, the question of how to

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maintain this norm is central to contemporary perspectives on the ideal age for boys to enter monasteries—an issue over which there is now considerable debate. More significantly, there has been a shift toward a high-quality, low-quantity ideal that echoes state discourse, even among some monastics. These categories have previously been read as oppositional, with an emphasis on quality (purification of monastic Buddhism) necessarily entailing a shift away from the mass form of monasticism (privileging quantity). However, quantity and quality can go hand in hand—this is evident in contemporary monastic reforms. I suggest that the popular (albeit contested) idea that today there are too many monks is in fact driven by demographic pressures and national imaginings. The value of celibate monastics, many of whom do not live up to monastic ideals, is being weighed against the value of reproductive males. Some people continue to feel that the more monks there are, the better, regardless of their quality. Yet, smaller family sizes can create a tension between this “good” and their sense of what is “right” at the household level. Such changing or conflicting conceptions of the good from within the lay-­ monastic community seem to raise greater questions about the future of mass monasticism in Tibetan societies than those visible in the two-dimensional picture we see when looking through a state-society lens.


Seeing beyond the State

AN EXPLORATION OF TIBETAN MONASTIC REVIVAL AND development “from the ground up” shows that it is possible to see beyond state-society dynamics even in studies of Tibet, religion, and other highly politicized issues in contemporary China. Geluk monks in Repgong and western Bayen have not simply been moving within and around constraints imposed by the state. Even when they have, the qualities of their movements have not related solely to “the state” or state actors. As well as negotiating public space, they have been negotiating the boundaries that demarcate the sphere of moral action for Geluk monasticism and monks in the contemporary world. Morality is of course only one of the dimensions to have influenced their movements. Socioeconomic, cultural, and moral considerations all shape social life to varying degrees in different times and places (Lamont 1992, 181). Moreover, reasons and motives— instrumental and ethical—are complex and mixed (Sayer 2011, 170). This is evident in the tangled combination of practical and moral considerations that have driven monastic economic reforms, conditioned monastic attitudes toward tourism, and shaped various strategies to maintain monastic assemblies. Nevertheless, by taking seriously the moral evaluations and reasoning employed by those involved in monastic revival and reform, as well as their debates and dilemmas, it has been possible to get a sense of their practices as something more than a game to maximize their own interests and power. This chapter elaborates on the notion of moral boundary negotiation, an iterative and dynamic dimension of processes of institutional renewal and change. It then draws together the different strands of the research to examine the limitations of the state-society framework. Agency as “organized around the axis of domination and resistance” (Ortner 2006, 145) can, as 155

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Sahlins (2002, 52) puts it, “cover every historical eventuality” in some combination. Practices that converge with state discourse and policy represent accommodation, while those opposing or subverting state-defined limits of legitimate action are forms of resistance. However, other logics emerge when these practices are examined in relation to what Ortner (2006, 144) refers to as the “agency of projects”—in other words, when we think about them as things that are valuable (or not) to people in “the framework of their own terms” (ibid.). When we start to move beyond the idea of accommodation and question the terms of resistance, we can see that practices are often shaped by relationships, priorities, and values that have very little to do with the state. Negotiating Moral Boundaries The idea of boundaries has become an important conceptual tool across a wide range of social science research (Lamont and Molnár 2002, 167). Moral boundary-work has been shown to be one of the ways in which individuals and communities, including Tibetans, differentiate themselves from and define their identity in relation to others. “Negotiation” can, in this sense, imply an arranging or settling of boundaries. However, it can also convey a sense of movement, of finding a way through, around, or over boundaries. These two senses of “negotiation” are similar to de Certeau’s (1984, 35–39) distinction between strategies (which define space) and tactics (which are ways of operating within that space). That monks have been negotiating moral boundaries in both of these senses becomes apparent if we return to Jamyang’s story, which opened this book and encapsulates many of the issues it has discussed. I first met Jamyang in his role as a senior monk responsible for the development of his monastery. In both his actions for and representations of economic reforms, he was involved in a process of evaluating, (re)affirming, and (re)defining what was ethically acceptable for monks and in what circumstances. He changed his mind about the appropriateness of his monastery engaging in business activities and became actively involved in starting new profit-making enterprises. Jamyang was adamant that his monastery did not permit individual monks to engage in private business, echoing Ngawang’s comments about Ditsa’s policy. He was thus drawing a boundary between business conducted on behalf of the monastery (appropriate) and monks’ engaging in private business activities (inappropriate). Whether aware of it or not, he was reaffirming a long-standing boundary between the individual and the collective, a boundary that has roots in the monastic rule. Like many other monks, he also drew a distinction between monastic alms collection (now prohibited by his monastery) and voluntary donations (permitted). This represents what appears to be a shift in monastic understandings of the ethics of alms collection, the appropriateness of which seems historically to

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have been based on the same distinction as the ethics of business and trade: the individual versus the collective (Jansen 2014, 162). As part of the monastic leadership, and hence an institutional actor, Jamyang has thus played a part in affirming and (re)defining the limits of the ethical space within which monks may appropriately engage in profit-making business activities and rely on support from the laity. At the same time, he was feeling his way along, moving within, around, or over moral boundaries in a step-by-step process of “muddling through,” interpreting “the results of and reactions to an initial step in order to determine the next step” (Scott 1998, 328). His first sense that it was inappropriate for a monastery to develop businesses was challenged when he saw the monastic economic system in India. He appeared very proud of his subsequent role in developing the economy of his monastery and of the benefits this had brought to monastic education and discipline, as well as financing, but he also said it should not “become too much.” Moreover, his original sense of uneasiness about the ethics of monastic engagement in commercial activities resurfaced when he showed me around his monastery’s medical clinic. He emphasized the service it provided for the monks and local laypeople: “At the hospital, if you have to pay forty yuan, maybe here it will be twenty yuan or less because we don’t want to make a profit” (emphasis mine). Although I have made a conceptual distinction between two modes of negotiation, in practice Jamyang and other monks were moving between them in an ongoing iterative process of negotiation as movement (within, around, and over moral boundaries) and negotiation as arranging or settling (affirming or redefining moral boundaries). For example, the ethics of alms collection was challenged from within the monastic community. However, new economic practices that were deemed a “good” (businesses)—because they enabled monks to stop doing something that had become a “bad” (alms collection)—have been contested and produced new dilemmas. The running of medical clinics, which seemed very fitting to many, became problematic when understood to be a cause of monks disrobing. Könchok’s feelings on the issue of monastic businesses reflected a common dilemma. It was wrong for the monastery to collect alms. However, engaging in business was also problematic for monks because of the potential effects on their conduct and, by extension, on the confidence of laypeople, who might start to question the value of monks. Once again, the boundaries of the good and proper were shifting, and new ideas and strategies were being formed. Beyond “Accommodation” Reforms of the monastic economy and an emphasis on the “quality” of monks appear to have brought monasteries inside the boundaries of state-defined

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religious space. However, I have argued that these patterns do not simply represent the adaptation and accommodation of institutionalized Buddhism to the modern category of “religion” in the PRC. Monks’ assessments as to the possibility of taking particular paths have been at least partly contingent on state-imposed definitions of the sphere of legitimate action for Geluk monasticism. Those definitions may have informed the way they tactically moved through this space (e.g., finding ways around monastery quotas or age limits). However, state-imposed “walls” and “paths” have little moral force. The ethical contours of the terrain that monks have been negotiating (in both senses) has shifted less through state-monastery interactions than through local, translocal, and transnational exchanges of ideas and practices within the moral communities with which monks identify and with which they therefore share common values. The values and judgments that have constrained and enabled monks negotiating monastic development have not been drawn solely from the institutionalized norms and values of Buddhism and, more specifically, Geluk monasticism. They have been shaped through “a continuous dialogical process” (Zigon 2008, 155) of interaction between their senses of right and wrong in relation to others they care about or feel some sense of obligation toward (members of their moral communities) and the judgments and evaluations of these others. The “stronger the commonality of values” (Sayer 2005, 954), the greater the moral force of these judgments. Monks have become wary of certain practices through experience of their impacts on, for example, education, discipline, monastic retention, and (interlinked to this) the way in which particular practices, individuals, and even entire institutions are perceived and judged by others. When Jamyang remarked that businesses should be developed in moderation lest they have a negative impact on education and discipline, he added: “Like at Kumbum and Labrang.” As we have seen, Kumbum has acted as an exemplar of contemporary monastic decline in Tibetan popular discourse. Monks have also drawn on examples and ideas from other times and places, including individual or collective memories of how things were done in the past. Contact with monasteries and the Geluk hierarchy outside the PRC appears to have had a significant impact on the “younger generation” of monks, making them feel differently about monastic organization, financing, and education systems and leading them to reevaluate what is right and wrong, fitting and unfitting, for monasteries and monks in contemporary times. The moral force of “modern” yet “Buddhist” values seems to have been much greater than the moral exhortations of an external, competing order, the moral/legal framework of which privileges values largely irrelevant to the pursuit of the monastic project. Moral judgments about what is right for a monastery and its monks are intermeshed with evaluations of what is felt to be right for “the peo-

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ple” (mangtsok) or the Tibetan people or nationality (mirik [mi rigs]). The emphasis on a “social moralism . . . a solidarity with the people that defines you morally” (Lamont 1992, 31) is particularly prominent in Goyön’s (2009) polemical essay, when he appeals for monastic reforms in terms of their relationship to the “fate of the whole Tibetan people.” In this context, the moral community in question is an imagined Tibetan collectivity. I have suggested that monks’ identities as Tibetans have conditioned the moral value they have accorded to particular paths—for example, in the context of monastic economic reforms, scholasticism, discipline, and even their conceptions of the “good” of mass monasticism. However, this social moralism oriented toward the “Tibetan community” is intermeshed with the idea of the monk as a particular kind of moral subject whose mind is different from that of the layman. The monk should, ideally, be an exemplar, embodying the social moralism of Mahāyāna Buddhism (and its normative emphasis on compassion for all sentient beings) that distinguishes Tibetans from ­others—a responsibility heightened in the context of contemporary narratives of moral decline and national imaginings. This was apparent in the narratives of monks who emphasized the services they provided to the community through their commercial activities. Ngawang asserted that for the new year’s festival (Losar [lo gsar]), which presented a good opportunity to generate income for the monastery, Ditsa instead hired trucks to transport large quantities of goods to sell at wholesale prices to the laity, giving them a “huge saving,” even though this was harmful to the business of its shop. “We are not purely thinking about making money,” he said. “We are also thinking of ways to help [the people].” This social moralism was also evident in the trope of “reducing the burden on the people,” most vividly in the moral reasoning employed by Geshé Tendzin: “The sacred Dharma is for the benefit of the people, not to increase the burden of the people, so we ceased the traditional practice of asking for donations.” Thus, in pursuit of the project of monastic revival and development, monks’ practices (actions, speech, thoughts, perceptions, feelings) have been constrained and enabled by their multiple positioning as “Tibetan” “Buddhist” “Geluk” “monks” who belong to particular localities and monasteries. In other words, they belong to multiple and overlapping moral communities. There can be tension between conceptions of the good in relation to an individual’s role and responsibilities within different moral communities, and the relationship toward one or another moral community may be privileged in different contexts. Goldstein (1998) highlights such tensions, although he draws too hard a line between Buddhist monastic and Tibetan nationalist moral communities when he argues that “once some Drepung monks began political dissidence in 1987, all monks were forced to reassess whether their primary loyalty was to Buddhism and their monastery as in the past or to their

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nationality and the Dalai Lama” (ibid., 42). The lived practices of the individuals I have met are not this clear-cut. Even when moral communities are oriented toward pursuing a particular project, such as monastic development, the boundaries between them are fuzzy and overlapping—and are not limited to those of “nationality” and “religion.” It is therefore not surprising that there are apparent contradictions in the ways in which both monks and laypeople view monastic development and the position of monasteries in contemporary society. Overlapping and contested conceptions of the good can lead to ambiguity, ambivalence, and contradiction. This is due, not to an irrationality or inconsistency or lack of belief in a particular value, but to the complexity of the moral landscape through which these individuals are moving and the relational nature of morality. It is entirely “logical” that Jamyang may be both proud of and uneasy about developing profitable businesses; that Könchok may believe that there are too many monks and yet also express genuine concern that their numbers are decreasing; and that Drölma may feel that the more monks there are, the better, yet might not want her own son to enter monastic life. The Terms of “Resistance” Monastic tourism is a major arena of state-monastic interaction within which the dynamics of “ ‘massive’ power relations, like colonialism” (Ortner 2006, 143), are particularly pronounced. These dynamics have conditioned monastic attitudes toward tourism development, which is perceived differently from other commercial activities and has been resisted by some monks in their discursive or physical practices. However, I have argued that the terms of this resistance have not been solely defined by the state-society relationship but are also connected to conceptions of value and meaning not tied to the state. This argument is reinforced if we juxtapose different forms of development and consider their relationship to the monastic moral community and the moral-economic foundations of monastic Buddhism. Although the establishment of monastic businesses has been contested, the basic mechanism of financing that has been developed in Repgong and western Bayen since the 1980s is the capital fund, which has historical and doctrinal roots in not just Tibetan Buddhist but also early Indian monasticism. The capital for these funds usually originates in the gifts of the “faithful” monastic-lay community—in other words, from within the monastic moral community—and remains embedded within a merit-based moral-­economic framework.1 It is also primarily people from within the monastic moral community who use the businesses in which the capital has been invested. These businesses, when viewed in a positive light, can benefit both monastics and laity and provide religious services alongside more mundane ones. The shops

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make much of their profit from sales of incense and other products used in devotional practices, while Tibetan medicine is strongly linked to Buddhism as well as being a social service. Use of these businesses has even been reinterpreted by some people as a form of giving. The ambivalence toward monks’ involvement in business in practice stems from the perception that everyday physical interactions between monks and their lay customers blur ideal lay-monastic boundaries and that monks should be inside the monastery studying and practicing Buddhism rather than out in lay society engaging in commerce. Nevertheless, these kinds of commercial ventures at a collective level do not, in principle, undermine monasticism’s moral-economic framework and are seen, in at least some cases, to support the upholding of monastic discipline and education, as well as monastic reputations. The current model of state-sponsored mass tourism, on the other hand, transgresses the boundaries of the monastic moral community. It brings outsiders into monastic space and disembeds monastic financing from a merit-and-renunciation-based moral-economic framework. Not only does this kind of tourism pose a greater risk of disruption and polluting interactions than other businesses do, but (from the perspective of the monks I interviewed) it also has little positive moral value. We have seen that tourism can be conceived as a “good” if tourists are, to at least some degree, operating within the monastic moral community, thus transforming tourism into a form of merit-making activity. However, unless tourists have some investment in shared values, there is a risk that monastic tourism becomes a tool of exploitation (of and by both tourists and monks), rather than functioning as a process of mutually beneficial exchange. These shared values do not necessarily have to be oriented toward the religious goals of Buddhism. Many monks conceive of monastic tourism as being for the good if it increases awareness of and support for Tibetan culture, of which monasticism is an integral part. In this context, the tourist stands inside the boundaries of a moral community brought together through the “modern” values of a liberal rights-based discourse. Within this framework, Geluk monasticism is viewed as an integral element and important symbol of a culture under threat. However, as already argued, these communities overlap. Moreover, the logics of the monastic project are rooted in its religious/moral value rather than its socioeconomic or purely “cultural” value, even (perhaps even more so) in relation to an imagined Tibetan collectivity. “Good tourists,” whether self-identifying as possessing faith in Buddhism or not, are brought inside the monastic moral community through their interest in and support for Tibetan culture. I suspect that I have been imagined into precisely such a position in many of my encounters. Despite the differences in the way in which they are perceived, underlying unease toward both monastic business and tourism is grounded

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in the same moral issue: the undermining of the lay-monastic boundaries that underpin monasticism’s moral-economic framework, in particular monastic adherence to ideals of renunciation, conduct, and mental disposition that distinguish the monk as a particular kind of moral subject. The erosion of these boundaries in practice or belief undermines the integrity of the moral community on which the continuity of monasticism depends. I suggest that an underlying logic to monastic development has been the reaffirmation of these boundaries through the negotiation (as movement) and renegotiation (as definition) of moral space. (Re)negotiating Moral Space Since the early reform years, most monasteries I visited in Repgong and western Bayen have renegotiated the moral boundaries of their relationship with their patron communities by first resuming and then distancing themselves from methods of institutionalized alms collection. The former movement represented at least a partial reinstitutionalization of patronage relations, following a process of social and moral reordering that had restored laity, monks, and reincarnate lamas to their proper social and spatial places. The subsequent movement away from alms collection was influenced by both practical necessity and moral considerations. Seen through a state-society lens, it seems to have shifted the monastic economy closer to the limits of what the state defines as permissible. Moreover, monks’ representations of almsgiving as a burden and their emphasis on being self-supporting suggest a reflexive questioning of the taken-for-granted monastic-lay ­interdependency—an interdependency that underpins monasticism’s merit-and-­ renunciationbased moral-economic framework. Schrempf (2000, 338–339) has argued that self-sufficiency and financial independence from the laity were unwanted and “even damaging.” Schwartz (1994, 67) has gone as far as to argue that it is the relationship between the laity as donors and monastics as benefactors “that Chinese religious policy finds politically threatening and attacks through sanctions.”2 However, when conceptualized in relation to the monastic project rather than state-society relations, and taking into account the internal pressures for reform, we can see how this movement has in fact worked to reinforce (rather than undermine) the normative framework on which the Buddhist monastic economy is based. By distancing themselves from practices tainted with connotations of coerced giving, my interlocutors (monastic and lay) have reestablished the possibility of a moral monastic-lay relationship. Monks have not eschewed sponsorship. Rather, they have drawn a line between different forms of patronage that works to reassert their virtue. This makes them worthier of (voluntary/spontaneous) gifts, the receipt of which in turn acts as a marker

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of their virtue and reputation—the argument being that it is relatively easy to secure sponsorship if standards in discipline and education are high. It also reasserts the virtue of donors by purifying of any implication of reluctance both the motive for and manner of their acts of giving. Indeed, laypeople, not just monks, asserted the voluntary nature of their donations (money, goods, labor) and were sometimes indignant if they felt that this was being questioned. The drawing of a moral boundary between different types of sponsorship excludes certain practices from the sphere of legitimate action—an exclusion that suggests a shift from premodern norms and happens to be in accord with state discourse and policy. However, it also creates a space within which the flow of wealth from laypeople to monastics can continue to form the basis of a “moral economy.” Even if monks are using the tropes of state discourse, these are, to borrow from de Certeau (1984, 85), “stolen” in the pursuit of their own project. In their (re)negotiation of ethical space, monks have also been drawing boundaries between moral selves and moral others. They frequently made comparative judgments that appeared to undermine monastic virtue by denigrating their own time, place, or generation. These narratives of decline run through their evaluations, reasoning, and dilemmas about various aspects of monastic development, from financing to education, discipline, and questions about the proper role of monks and monasteries. However, monks are not just turning a nostalgic gaze onto a lost past or “tradition.” By drawing such boundaries, they are affirming a moral past and, to borrow again from de Certeau (1984, 16–17), creating a “utopian space” in which a possibility for the ideal exists. This possibility, based on belief, is set against the realities of what is seen every day. It is affirmed through stories of exemplary figures (such as the heroic elders), times (such as the 1980s), and places (such as India), which make the “nature” of the present historically contingent (ibid., 16). The 1980s in many respects represents a liminal space of possibility and imagination, suspended between the present time of moral degeneration and the “old society,” the morality of which has been brought into question through not only socialist but also modern Buddhist discourse (e.g., Dungkar Lozang Trinlé 1997; Gendün Chömpel, trans. in Lopez 2009; Goyön 2009).3 Not only does this moral past offer examples of how to live (Sayer 2011, 158) and allow for the maintenance of hope (de Certeau 1984, 17), but it also affirms the morality and legitimacy of the monastic project. An acknowledgment of the moral degeneration of “the times” and the failings and weaknesses of monks and lamas “these days” reinforces the virtue and heroism of the elders and thus the moral authority of the past upon which the legitimacy of the monastic revival was based. Yet, at the same time, the drawing of moral boundaries between an (increasingly distant) “ideal” and the (immoral) “real” creates both the impetus and the moral space for change—for example, to modes of

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financing, the education system, or the relationship between individual and collective—in pursuit of the ideal.4 In their attempts to revive, maintain and develop their monasteries, monks have been negotiating moral as well as political space. They have been feeling their way along, around, and over multiple and often overlapping moral boundaries—a process often marked by ambiguity, ambivalence, and contradiction. They have also been actively involved in arranging or settling these boundaries—a process of (re)defining moral space. The shifting lines between what is conceived to be good and bad, proper and improper, have been drawn (and redrawn) in relation to monks’ experiences of the world, their relationship to others within their moral communities, and the judgments of these others, as well as in relation to institutionalized norms and values. Thus, morality has been a dynamic force both constraining monastic development and creating space for changes to institutionalized practices—even if these changes are ultimately oriented toward the reproduction of the social and moral order underpinning monastic Buddhism.


THE SPEED AND EXTENT OF TIBETAN BUDDHIST monastic revival make it one of the most remarkable stories of religious resurgence in contemporary China. At the end of the 1970s, when restrictions on religious practice were relaxed, there were no working monasteries: they had all been disbanded—and most destroyed—during the Maoist period. Within a decade, thousands had reopened, monastic life once again becoming a fairly ordinary pathway for many boys and young men rather than an extraordinary vocation pursued by a select few. The political challenges and tensions that monasteries have faced during the post-Mao period have attracted attention in both the scholarly and public domains, not least since the political protests that swept across the Tibetan Plateau in 2008. However, the story of monastic Buddhism in northeastern Tibet shows that monks have found themselves playing a delicate balancing act fraught with moral dilemma, as well as political danger, as they have sought to develop their institutions during times of rapid social and economic transformation. The grassroots return to mass monasticism in the early 1980s cannot be explained solely by shifts in Communist Party policy. The scale and extent of monastic reconstruction and repopulation were dependent on the resurgence of a moral community sharing common values and particular ideals about Buddhism and society more generally, as well as the efforts of particular communities to rebuild and repopulate “their” monasteries, each with its own history, lineages, and ritual traditions. Likewise, the dynamics of subsequent development cannot be explained solely by the state’s attempts to regulate and control monasteries and the ways in which Tibetans have either resisted or tried to work within state-defined limits. As is the case in China more gen165

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erally, Tibetan areas have experienced unprecedented social and economic transformations since the 1980s. Material conditions have changed, and there have also been ideational shifts. In their attempts to “move with the times” while maintaining the interlinked religious and mundane bases of monastic Buddhism, monks have been continually evaluating and reevaluating what is right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, for monasteries, monks, and wider society. State-imposed norms and regulations may have shaped what has been possible. However, the moral terrain monks have been traversing and helping to sculpt has been defined in relation to the various (sometimes overlapping) moral communities with which they identify. Scholarly and popular writing has emphasized the uncertainty of monastic Buddhism’s position in relation to the Chinese state. Yet its precariousness in relation to society raises questions about its future that go well beyond the issue of religious freedom. Despite the rupture of the Maoist years and the increasingly tense political situation today, monastic Buddhism in Tibetan areas of China is a living, evolving tradition. Its members have been grappling with many of the issues and questions driving debates on Buddhism and institutionalized religion more generally elsewhere, such as the impact of secular education, demographic transitions, the proper role of the monk, the ethical limits of monastic discipline, the ethics of social engagement, monastic tourism, and the commodification of religion (see, e.g., Buswell 1992; Covell 2005; Samuels 2010; Rowe 2011; Lempert 2012). The impacts of modernizing and globalizing transformations, including changing family structures, marketization, urbanization, the rise of consumer culture, and shifting societal values, have posed challenges and dilemmas as monks have tried to construct a moral future for themselves and their institutions. Moreover, these wider transformations have led people to question the “good” of the mass form of monasticism, which has been a distinctive feature of Tibetan society for hundreds of years—and which Tibetans invested so much energy, effort, and resources in reviving. The implications extend far beyond monastic Buddhism, given its extent, its integral position in Tibetan community life, and its association with Tibetan identity. The monks with whom I talked were deeply concerned about the implications of rapid socioeconomic and cultural transformations. They were also sometimes openly critical of state policies and often appeared beleaguered and frustrated by government restrictions. However, they placed agency and responsibility within the monastic community for monastic development—a project defined by local logics of the good and the desirable, rather than on the terms of the Chinese state. Local as well as national conditions have shaped their attitudes. For example, the relationship between economy, education, and conduct was perceived differently by monks at Ditsa and those at the more remote and struggling Trashitsé. Yet the underlying logics artic-

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ulated at these and other monasteries in northeastern Tibet were the same: their long-term survival is dependent on their ability to cultivate monastic education, practice, and discipline and to maintain their monastic assemblies in morally troubled times. They thus face the continuing challenge of sustaining the intermeshed religious and mundane bases of monasticism within changing social contexts—as well as what seems to be an increasingly oppressive political climate. The social dynamics of monastic revival and development in northeastern Tibet have been intermeshed with complex processes of wider change and modernization. These processes have been conditioned by the incorporation of Tibetan societies into the PRC and the resulting restructuring and transformation of the region’s economy, politics, and society. However, state-defined space has been superimposed upon preexisting and newly emerging configurations of relationships that, as de Certeau (1984, 201) put it, “lie in layers within it” and extend beyond it. Thus, as monks and other Tibetans configure and refigure their place in the world (Adams 2008, 119), struggling to “maintain and modernize” (Kolås and Thowsen 2005, 178), they are not doing so “on Chinese rather than Tibetan terms” (ibid.). Rather, they are situated agents who have drawn on the socioeconomic, cultural, and moral resources available to them in pursuit of their own projects, “defined by their own values and ideals, despite the colonial situation” (Ortner 2006, 152). In their pursuit of the project of Geluk monastic revival and development, monks have been both constrained and enabled by multiple, overlapping, shifting, and sometimes conflicting moral boundaries that are not necessarily tied to the temporal or spatial framework of the contemporary Chinese state. With the political situation in Tibetan areas becoming increasingly tense under the Xi Jinping regime, monasteries are being targeted by the state for new rounds of political education and increased control and surveillance. By the time this book goes to press, it is expected that the CCP will have tightened its oversight of religious and ethnic affairs more generally, bringing them directly under the management and supervision of the CCP’s United Front Work Department and dismantling the existing governmental religious and ethnic affairs bureaucracies. At the same time, more and more ordinary Chinese are interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and increasing wealth is flowing to monasteries from inner China, as well as from local communities, bringing new opportunities but also new moral dangers and dilemmas for monastic leaders (Caple 2015). Thus, developments in monastic Buddhism in Tibetan areas of China in the years to come will continue to be shaped by the agency that monks exercise, not only in their negotiation of state-defined religious space, but also in their negotiation and renegotiation of the shifting moral contours of a rapidly changing social and economic landscape.






  4   5



All personal names have been changed. “Akhu” [a khu] is the polite form of address for a monk in Amdo [a mdo] Tibetan. I have chosen to use it only rarely, feeling that its continued use might disturb the flow of the text and be off-putting for readers unfamiliar with Tibetan. I certainly mean no disrespect in this choice. Amdo is one of the eastern provinces of Tibet in traditional Tibetan geographical terms (Kapstein 2006, 4), now incorporated into Qinghai, southwestern Gansu, and northwestern Sichuan. The other is Kham [khams]. The Geluk [dge lugs] is one of the four main Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the others being the Nyingma [rnying ma], Sakya [sa skya], and Kagyü [bka’ rgyud]. Bön [bon], in its organized, clerical form is often considered to be a fifth Tibetan Buddhist tradition (Kapstein 2006, 205). According to government regulations, each monastery must have a management committee (dodam uyön lhenkhang [do dam u yon lhan khang]; Ch. siguanhui), which is a body of monks responsible for running its affairs, ensuring compliance with government regulations, and acting as an intermediary between state agencies and monks. The actual role, membership, and perception of these committees varies (discussed further in chapter 2). The Geluk monastic centers of Drepung [‘bras spungs], Sera [se ra], and Ganden [dga’ ldan] were rebuilt by the Tibetan community-in-exile in India. See Wang (2010) for a review of the Chinese-language literature on both historical and contemporary Tibetan Buddhist monastic economies. An influential Tibetan critical study of Tibetan monastic economy prior to the Chinese Communist Party’s “democratic reforms” is Dungkar Lozang Trinlé (1997). The “Tibet question” refers to the political struggle over the status of Tibet and whether the Tibetan people have a right to self-determination. For analyses of the Tibet question, see Smith (1996), Goldstein (1997), and Shakya (1999). I follow Huber (2002a) in using the term “Tibetan” in a descriptive, rather than essentialist, sense to refer to people and communities who “regard themselves as being ethnically Tibetan in the sense of sharing some form of common language, history, origin narratives, lifestyles, cultural systems and identity” (ibid., xiii). Tibetan areas within the boundaries of the People’s Republic of China include (but are not limited to) the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and areas administered as Tibet Autonomous Prefectures (TAPs), counties, and townships in Qing­ hai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces. Given the contemporary focus of this study, “China” is used as shorthand for the People’s Republic of China (PRC). When my interlocutors used the term “China” (Gyanak [rgya nag]), they were often referring to non-Tibetan parts of the PRC. 169

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  8   9

10 11





For example, they might talk about monks “going to China” to perform ritual services. This usage reflects a drawing of cultural boundaries between “China/ Chinese” (outside) and “Tibet/Tibetans” (inside). It should not be read as automatically implying separatist political intent. Full name of Document 19: Shehuizhuyi shiqi zongjiao wenti de jiben guandian he jiben zhengce [The basic viewpoint and policy on the religious question during our country’s socialist period] (trans. in MacInnis 1989, 10–26). Following the introduction of the national regulations in 2005, a series of regulations and measures relating to management of Buddhist monasteries and personnel was subsequently introduced (e.g., HZFT 2009; QZST 2009; ZCCB 2010; ZFRB 2010; ZFSB 2010). These will be discussed where relevant. For an overview of Tibetan Buddhist affairs regulations issued at the prefectural level in 2009–2010, see CECC (2011). A revised version of the national Regulations on Religious Affairs came into effect on 1 February 2018. The new regulations pay further attention to financial matters, as well as religious extremism, terrorism, and incitement of ethnic separatism (Dubois 2016). This is also the case in Xinjiang. For an overview of Sino-Uyghur relations, see Gladney (2004b). On recent unrest, see Hillman and Tuttle (2016). Sporadic unrest centered on monasteries has continued since 2008—for example, in 2011 at Kirti [ki+rti] Monastery in Ngawa [rnga ba] (Ch. Aba), Sichuan (see, e.g., BBC 2011). Kirti monks and former monks have been prevalent among the estimated 153 Tibetans who have self-immolated as a form of protest since 2009. This reflects the wider literature on religion in China: a key perspective has been state control and repression of religious freedom (Ashiwa and Wank 2009, 4). Ashiwa and Wank (ibid.) argue that this perspective “overlaps with the neo-­ liberal activist agenda of foreign media, human rights groups, governments, and some scholars to ‘advance religious freedom in China.’ ” An emphasis on repression in popular representations of Tibetans is also “reinforced by the interests of the Tibetan establishment in exile in presenting images of cultural destruction and Tibetans as victims of abuse” (Barnett 2001, 272). Kapstein (1998a, 149) notes the quandary this poses for the Chinese authorities: “by suppressing Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan resentment and hence the longing for freedom are increased; but by adopting a liberal policy, the very cultural system that most encourages the Tibetans to identify themselves apart from China continues to flourish.” Tibetan monasteries have always existed in complex interrelationships with secular authorities and have had to “mediate competing interests” (Makley 2007, 39; see also Diemberger 2007b, 290–291). However, their relationship to the modern Chinese nation-state is significantly different from historical patron-preceptor relationships with imperial powers and other secular authorities (discussed in chapter 3). Diemberger’s work has highlighted the fuzziness of lines between “religious” and “secular” and between “community” and “government” in the process of revival. Makley (2007), who takes a gender perspective, illuminates issues of power and authority at the local level as well as between state and society through her reading of the Chinese nation-state and Geluk monasticism as competing patriarchal orders. See also Ashiwa and Wank (2009, 8), who argue from an institutional perspective that the construction of state and religion in modern China has been a mutual process and that the politics of modern religion is “constituted by ongoing negotiations, among multiple actors, including state officials, intellectuals, religious adherents, and businesspersons, to adapt religion to the modern state’s definitions and rules even as they are continuously being transgressed.” Tibetan Buddhist leaders were part of this process during the Republican and Maoist eras (Welch 1972; Tuttle 2005; see also Kapstein 2004, 237).

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22 23 24 25

26 27


In his work on the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in China, Smyer Yü (2012) emphasizes the importance of processes of globalization. However, even here, he opens his book with an account of a state clampdown on the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy (ibid., 1–2). He also makes problematic assumptions about the dynamics of the Geluk revival. Relying solely on Schwartz’s (1994) work on the symbolism of political protest in Lhasa, he draws a generalized distinction between the politically oriented Geluk revitalization, which “has manifested in street demonstrations against the rule of the Chinese state,” and the Nyingmapas (the main subjects of his research), who “have mostly focused on reconstructing their ruined monasteries and engaging in lineage-based teachings to both Tibetans and non-Tibetans” (Smyer Yü 2012, 4). As the present study will show, such a reductive representation of Geluk revitalization is highly problematic and reflects neither the process of monastic revival nor the concerns of those involved. More generally on conflict in Tibet since 2008, see Hillman and Tuttle (2016). Following de Certeau (1984), Giddens (1984), Sewell (2005), Ortner (2005), and Sayer (2011), I assume that actors are at least partially “knowing subjects” who operate with a degree of reflexivity, as well as from the dispositions of a Bour­ dieu­sian “habitus.” The representation of Tibetans as victims has dominated literary and political representations of Tibetans in both the West and China (Lopez 1998; Schell 2000; Dodin and Räther 2001). See also Lamont (2000). In her study of the moral boundary-work of working-class men in the United States, she points out, “[These men] are not opposing upper-middle class definitions of the world as much as emphasizing different aspects of reality. They are to a large extent inhabiting a different world” (ibid., 246). See also Laidlaw (2014, 4–10), who argues that the conceptualization of agency developed more generally in “practice theory” by scholars such as Ortner and Giddens has become “identified with the efficacious pursuit of one’s own power and position” (ibid., 6). As Swartz (1997, 259–262) notes, Bourdieu’s concern for the subordinated and efforts to expose power relations demonstrate that he himself was an idealist working to change and improve society. On the gender hierarchies within Geluk monasticism (and Tibetan Buddhism more generally), see Gutschow (2004) and Makley (2005a; 2007). Full name: Rongwo Gönchen Dechen Chönkhor Ling [Rong bo dgon chen bde chen chos ‘khor gling] (Ch. Longwusi). For a collection of papers on various monastic and lay religious traditions and practices in Repgong and the surrounding area, see Dhondup et al. (2013). In his introduction to the volume, Samuel (2013) provides an overview of the religious landscape in Repgong and a review of relevant literature. Full name: Jakhyung Shedrup Ling [bya khyung bshad sgrub gling] (Ch. Xiaqiong Si). Of Goldstein (1998) and Makley (2007), only the former focuses specifically on the monastery. Kolås and Thowsen (2005) give an overview of Geluk monastic revival but are limited by the geographical and topical breadth of their survey approach and are primarily concerned with the conditions under which the revival took place and limitations to religious freedom. The full names of the “big six” Geluk monasteries are Drepung Gönpa [‘bras spungs dgon pa] (Ch. Zhebang Si); Sera Gönpa [se ra dgon pa] (Ch. Sela Si); Ganden Namgyeling [dga’ ldan rnam rgyal gling] (Ch. Gandan Si); Trashi Lhünpo [bkra shis lhun po] (Ch. Zhaxi Lhunbu Si); Kumbum Jampa Ling [sku ‘bum byams pa gling] (Ch. Ta’er Si); and Labrang Trashi Khyil [bla brang bkra shis ‘khyil] (Ch. Labuleng Si).

172  Notes to Pages 10–13


30 31




35 36



Drepung has also been a focus of Lhasa’s tourism development, but Goldstein (1998) refers to tourism only as a monastic income source. However, I have found that an important distinction exists between tourism and other self-­ supporting activities (discussed in chapter 3). Although not explicitly identifying these communities as Geluk, Härkönen (2017, 145) notes that it was the Geluk nuns she interviewed who lived in communities rather than nunneries. Schneider (2013) provides the most in-depth ethnographic study of female monastics in post-Mao China, comparing a community of Nyingma nuns in Kham with one in Himachal Pradesh. On the marginality of nuns in Labrang, where two of the few Geluk nunneries in Amdo are located, see Makley (2005a). See also Härkönen (2017), who explores the intersection of gender, religion, and nationality in the lives of contemporary nuns in Amdo, Kham, and Central Tibet. Other studies have focused on Himalayan communities outside the PRC, including Gutschow’s (2004) ethnography of a Geluk nunnery in Zangskar. See Schneider (2013, 24–28) and Härkönen (2017, 5–7) for more detailed reviews of the literature on Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Full names: Nyentok Trashi Dargyé Ling [gnyan thog bkra shis dar rgyas gling] (Ch. Nianduhu Si); Gomar Ganden Püntsok Ling [sgo dmar dga’ ldan phun tshogs gling] (Ch. Guomari Si); Kasar Gönpa Ganden Düzang Chöling [rka sar dgon dga’ ldan ‘dus bzang chos gling] (Ch. Gashari Si); Senggé Shong Mamgö Gönpa Ganden Püntsok Ling [seng ge gshong ma mgo dgon dga’ ldan phun tshogs gling] (Ch. Wutunxia Si); and Senggé Shong Yamgö Gön Penden Chönjor Ling [seng ge gshong ya mgo dgon dpal ldan chos ‘byor gling] (Ch. Wutunshang Si). Most inhabitants of these villages are officially classified Monguor (Ch. tuzu), as distinct from Tibetan (Ch. zangzu). Their oral language is, in the Senggé Shong villages, a mix of Chinese and Amdo Tibetan; in Repgong’s other “Monguor” villages, it is Mongolic in origin, mixed with Amdo Tibetan. Locally perceived as somewhat different from other “Tibetan” villages (largely because of language but also because the religious art traditions make them relatively wealthy), inhabitants have asserted a separate Monguor identity in some circumstances (see, e.g., Stevenson 2002, 199). However, in relation to the issues discussed here, people identified themselves, their monasteries, and their culture as being Tibetan. I have therefore not made a point of labelling them “Monguor” in this book, instead considering them in the context of Repgong’s Tibetan Buddhist monastic network. For a discussion of ethnic identity in these villages, see Fried (2009). Full names: Dechen Trashi Chöling [bde chen bkra shis chos gling] (Ch. Deqin Si); Dzongngön Trashi Chödzong Ling [rdzong sngon bkra shis chos rdzong gling] (Ch. Zong’e Si); and Dzongkar Kadam Podrang Trashi Dargyé Ling [rdzong dkar bka’ gdams pho brang bkra shis dar rgyas gling] (Ch. Zongge Si). Full names: Druppé Néchok Trashi Khyil Gönpa [sgrub pa’i gnas mchog bkra shis ‘khyil dgon pa] (Ch. Zhaxiqi Si); and Yershong Gön Samten Chömpel Ling [g.yer gshong dgon bsam gtan chos ‘phel gling] (Ch. Yeshijiang Si). Full name: Dowa Drok Gön Do’ngak Dargyé Ling [mdo ba ‘brog dgon mdo sngags dar rgyas gling] (Ch. Ranza Si). Not to be confused with Dowa Rong Gön Trashi Samten Ling [mdo ba rong dgon bkra shis bsam gtan gling] in Dowa village, down in the main valley, approximately ten kilometers south of Rongwo. Full name: Gartsé Gyasar Gön Tupten Chönkhor Ling [mgar rtse gya sar dgon thub bstan chos ‘khor gling] (Ch. Guashezi Si). Not to be confused with Chukhöl Gartsé Gönpa [chu khol mgar rtse mthil g.yu lung dpal gyi dgon pa] (Ch. Qukuhu Guashize Si) in Gartsé Village, down in the main valley approximately fifteen kilometers south of Rongwo. Full name: Ditsa Trashi Chöding Gönpa [dhi tsha bkra shis chos sdings dgon pa]

Notes to Pages 13–21  173

39 40


(Ch. Zhizha Da Si or Zhizha Shang Si). Alternative Wylie spellings of “lde tsha” and “rdi tsha” are also found in Tibetan sources (Tuttle 2010, 33). Full name: Trashitsé Ganden Dargyé Ling [bkra shis rtse dga’ ldan dar rgyas gling] (Ch. Zhaxize Si). I originally set out to collect each monastery’s constitution (chayik [bca’ yig]), setting out rules relating to monastic organization, governance, and conduct, as well as codifying observance of ritual activities and curriculum. After repeated attempts to obtain copies, which were held by monasteries’ masters of discipline ( gekö [dge bskos]), it became apparent that they were not considered public. Either I was directly told that they could not be shown to me, or my attempts to access them were evaded. In one case, I was told that I could secretly make a copy but must swear never to reveal its contents. Berthe Jansen and Brenton Sullivan have also found it “difficult, if not impossible,” to access the constitutions of some Geluk monasteries (Jansen 2014, 32; Sullivan 2013, 159–161). As Jansen (2014, 33) argues, “there seems to be a sacred . . . element to the bca’ yig,” although it seems that only in Geluk monasteries is access to these documents restricted (ibid., 32–36). It should be noted that even when I showed an awareness of the existence of these documents, monks did not specifically cite them as sources of authority in our conversations about monastic financing or, more generally, monastic rules (driklam [sgrigs lam]) and conduct. Pelzang (2007) provides brief information about the constitutions of each of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries and longer summaries of the constitutions of each of Rongwo’s ­colleges. My particular thanks to Lama Jabb, who gave up a great deal of his time to sit down with me and go through many of the extracts cited in this book. My thanks also to other native speakers of Tibetan and Monguor who checked other translations but who must remain anonymous. CHAPTER ONE: MONASTIC REVIVAL




  4   5   6   7

On the “liberation” of Repgong and the workings of the United Front policy there, see Weiner (2012, 163–199). The deployment of this policy, which involved the CCP’s working with non-CCP elites, had its roots in the early history of the party. Under the influence of the Communist International (Comintern), the CCP and the Guomindang (GMD) formed a “united front” during the 1920s to eradicate warlordism and unify China and subsequently in 1937 to resist the Japanese. It was the main strategy employed by the CCP in dealing with members of the religious and non-Chinese elite in the early PRC. For firsthand accounts of the 1950s, see Arjia Rinpoché (2010) and Naktsang Nulo (2014). For a translation of the Tenth Panchen Lama’s report of his findings on visits to Tibetan areas (including parts of Amdo) in the early 1960s, see TIN (1997). See also Makley (2005b, 2007) and Weiner (2012). Scholastic monasteries such as Rongwo and Gartsé in Repgong and Ditsa and Jakhyung in Bayen were reopened (or at least semi-reopened) between 1962 and 1966, as were the monastic centers of Labrang (Slobodnik 2004, 9) and Kumbum. See Arjia Rinpoché (2010, 52–4) for a description of life at Kumbum at this time. Monks there could wear their robes and study for half the day (the other half they were engaged in physical labor). In a communication with Pelzang, he told me that the phrase tenpa yangdar [bstan pa yang dar] was first used by the Tenth Panchen Lama in 1979. However, I have been unable to verify this. See Kapstein (2006, 80–81) on the scholarly debate about whether the persecution of Buddhism by Lang Darma occurred. My thanks to Nicolas Sihlé for pointing this out. See Humphrey (2003, 188–189) for a similar association, made among Buryats,

174  Notes to Pages 21–23





12 13 14

15 16 17

between Lang Darma and Stalin. It should be emphasized that the ways in which Tibetans have reacted to and situated Mao are many and complex; e.g., although some identified Mao with Lang Darma, others identified him with Manjushri, one in a line of Chinese/Manchu emperors (McGranahan 2012). The actual number of monks is not known; based on available evidence it is likely that the proportion of males who were monks varied considerably from area to area. Goldstein (2009) gives an estimate of 20 to 30 percent, citing figures provided by the Tibetan government-in-exile (20 to 30 percent) and the Chinese government (24 percent). This is higher than his earlier estimate of 10 to 15 percent (Goldstein 1998, 15). The larger estimate accords with Chinese statistics provided for Repgong County in 1954 (Pu Wencheng 1990, 430): monks (over 90 percent Geluk) constituted 14 percent of the total population. Samuel (1993, 309, 578– 582) had previously argued that assumptions that 25 percent or more of the male population were monks appeared to be “greatly exaggerated.” Based on what he then considered to be the most reliable ethnographic sources (dealing with monastic populations in Dingri, Sakya, and Ladakh), he estimated that in centralized agricultural areas 10 to 12 percent of the male population were monks and that in other areas the proportion would have been considerably lower. Kumbum in Amdo, e.g., was an important training center for Mongolian monks. Amdo’s monasteries were central in the cross-cultural network of Tibetan Buddhism, being at “the center of a nexus of Inner Asian relations that played a crucial role in linking Chinese, Tibetan, and Mongolian civilizations” (Tuttle 2010, 32). See Cabezón (2006) on the history of the hermitages of Sera Monastery, including their proliferation in the eighteenth century and subsequent transformation into ritual institutions. In Repgong the main wave of Geluk hermitage building appears to have come earlier, in the seventeenth century. However, Cabezón’s (ibid., 17–19) discussion of the reasons why Geluk hermitages near scholastic centers “do not stay isolated, meditation-oriented institutions for long” is useful when considering the development of Geluk monasticism in Repgong—a topic worthy of further research but beyond the scope of the present study. As Tuttle (2010, 41) notes, the relationship between mother monasteries and their affiliates is understudied. See Sullivan (2013, 34) for discussion of how vague the meaning of “branch monastery” could be, with reference to the varying relations between Gönlung Monastery (one of Amdo’s major scholastic centers at the turn of the eighteenth century) and its branches. Although the present study is concerned with Geluk monasticism, the network of relationships between reincarnate lamas, monasteries, and lay Buddhists extends across Tibetan Buddhist traditions (e.g., Beatrice Miller 1961, 200). See Dreyfus (2003) for a detailed description of the Geluk education system. See also Lempert (2012). Exceptions included Degé [sde dge] (Ch. Dege) in Kham, which was an explicitly non-Geluk state (Samuel 1993, 513). Following Samuel (1993), the “Tibetan region” includes Tibetan societies in present-day China, Bhutan, northern India, and Nepal. On the expansion of the Geluk into Amdo, see Tuttle (2012). Both Cabezón (2008, 369n39) and Sullivan (2013, 11) have challenged Goldstein’s (1998, 15; 2009) characterization of “mass monasticism” as privileging size over “quality,” a debate discussed in chapter 6. See Sihlé (2011), however, for a discussion of a fascinating case that indicates that the reality might have been more complex. His conversations with elders suggest that almost all boys from the village nearest to Rongwo Monastery in Repgong were, prior to 1958, enrolled temporarily as monks between the ages of roughly four and eighteen. They received no religious education and spent much of their time outside the monastery, but like other monks, they attended assem-

Notes to Pages 23–25  175

18 19 20 21 22

23 24



27 28 29

blies and were given a share of food. Sihlé (ibid.) tentatively suggests that this case of “quasi-generalized, mostly temporary monasticism” might have served the purpose of “instilling a sense of Geluk affiliation” in an area that also had a strong Nyingma tradition, as well as having a redistributive function. On the monk tax, see Cassinelli and Ekvall (1969, 294ff.), Michael (1982, 144), Samuel (1993, 514), Mills (2003, 40), Sonam Tsering (2008, 2), and Goldstein (2009, 7). On the reasons for households sending boys to become monks, see Michael (1982, 143), Samuel (1993, 515), Goldstein (1998, 16–17), Mills (2003, 40), and Kapstein (2006, 119–220). For a critical review of the Buddhist studies literature and its emphasis on the monk as ascetic renouncer, see Mills (2003, 54–61). See also Robson (2010, 3–8). Makley (2007, 244) interprets the act of renunciation as the virtuous intention to tame to the service of Buddhism what are understood by Tibetans to be the most compulsive of male attributes: physical violence and heterosexual desire. The Geluk has a tradition of hermit monks (ritröpa [ri khrod pa]), although it has received little scholarly attention, except for Cabezón’s (2006) work on the Sera hermitages. In Repgong and western Bayen, monks who have taken ritröpa vows are distinguished by their yellow upper shawl. It appears that, by the 1950s at least, many Geluk ritröpa lived together in institutionalized monastic communities such as Ditsa and Trashi Khyil, rather than at the kinds of solitary hermitage sites examined, e.g., by Turek (2013) in her study of the revival of a Kagyü hermitage tradition in Kham. On the livelihood of individual monks in premodern Tibet, see Ekvall (1964), Nornang (1990), Goldstein (1998, 2009), and Jansen (2014). Pu Wencheng (1990), Nian and Bai (1993), and Gruschke (2001) provide general descriptive surveys of monasteries in Amdo, including factual summaries of their histories, reconstruction, and repopulation. See Pelzang (2007) for a survey of Repgong’s monasteries. See also Kolås and Thowsen (2005), who provide data on monastic reconstruction in Amdo as part of a survey of the state of Tibetan culture. On Tibetan Buddhist revival in Inner Mongolia and northeastern China, see Erhimbayar (2006) and Mair (2008); on Riwo Tsenga, see Tuttle (2006). In the case of female monasticism, the available evidence suggests that, in at least some places, numbers of nuns might exceed those prior to the 1950s. According to Makley (2005a, 265), the roughly two hundred nuns affiliated to the three nunneries in Labrang represented twice the number of nuns prior to 1958; by 2007, their numbers had increased still further (Härkönen 2017, 103). The Nyingma nunnery in Kham that Schneider (2013) studies, housing roughly two hundred nuns, was newly established in the 1980s. I include here the population officially classified as Monguor, since the Geluk monasteries in Repgong’s Monguor villages account for a significant proportion of the county’s monks (between the five monasteries I collected data on, there were approximately five hundred monks in 2009–2010; see table 5.1). Official statistics on both total and monastic populations are problematic and may reflect underreporting as a result of unregistered births and unregistered monks, but they nevertheless give some indication of the extent of repopulation. This figure is based on the proportion of Geluk to non-Geluk monks in the late 1980s, early 1990s, and 2000s, calculated from data in Pu Wencheng (1990), Nian and Bai (1993), and Pelzang (2007). The reasons for boys and young men entering monastic life are explored in more detail in chapter 5. The Tenth Panchen Lama, born in Amdo in 1938, was the most senior Tibetan politico-religious leader in the PRC following the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s flight into exile. In 1964 he came under attack for a lengthy petition he had written

176  Notes to Pages 26–30

for the top party leadership, criticizing the situation in Tibet, and was imprisoned. He was released in 1977 and appeared in public for the first time in 1978 (Shakya 1999, 372). He died in 1989. For background on his life and work, see TIN (1997), Norbu (1997, 297–321), Hilton (1999), and Arjia Rinpoché (2010). 30 In Central Tibet the visit of party secretary Hu Yaobang in May 1980 also marked a significant sea change. For further details of the shifting policy context in this period, see Goldstein (1997, 61–73), Shakya (1999, 371–393), Kapstein (2004, 239–240), and Makley (2007, 135–136). According to Shakya (1999, 404), this limitation was partly because the CCP, 31 while tolerating individual practice, did not wish to see the emergence of independent social institutions. 32 Drelrim jor mé [gral rim ‘byor med] (literally, the class without wealth). Monks also continued to live at Kumbum but were engaged in productive labor and unable to live and practice openly as monks (Arjia Rinpoché 2010, 74–87). 33 For the stories of three monks who studied and practiced secretly with elders in the 1970s, see Caple (2013, 29–31). 34 It remains the case today that minors are not officially permitted to enter monastic assemblies. However, in practice there are many young monks in evidence. The tentativeness with which young monks donned robes during the early reforms years was probably linked to uncertainty about whether there would be another abrupt turnaround in state policy. 35 A genpa is an elder in terms of age or seniority, and the term can be used to refer to both monks and laypeople. The term was also used more specifically by my interlocutors as shorthand for monks who were ordained prior to 1958. These men were not necessarily that old when they returned to their monasteries in 1980. At Rongwo the youngest “elder” was only thirty-five when the monastery reopened. 36 According to Dreyfus (2003, 320), there are three important rituals of monastic discipline without which monastic practice is not possible: the bimonthly restoration and purification of the vows, the summer retreat (yerné [dbyar gnas]), and the end of this retreat ( gakyé [dgag dbye]). The summer retreat is optional for individual monks at all the monasteries I visited in Amdo. If monks opt in, they must not leave the monastery, but many opt out and spend this period travelling to perform religious services in the lay community. 37 Reconstructing the time line at Ditsa was not easy. There was discrepancy in the sources as to whether it was officially reopened in 1980 (Pu Wencheng 1990, 93) or 1981, the date given by senior monks and stated in the monastery’s own leaflets and website (Zhizha Da Si n.d., 2004). I suspect that some of the confusion was caused by the marrying up of lunar and Gregorian calendars. Having rechecked with my sources, I am fairly confident that the dates I give here (which refer to the Gregorian calendar) are correct. 38 These accounts include oral histories but also those written by Pelzang (2007) in Repgong yülkor zinto (Repgong Travel Notes). This 615-page volume contains histories of all of Repgong’s monasteries, each following a similar chronology of significant events in their revival. This is an interesting text, researched and written by a senior monk who entered Rongwo Monastery in 1980 at the age of fifteen. Marking a departure in structure, style, content, and method from traditional Tibetan monastic histories and pilgrimage guides, it is nevertheless firmly grounded in a Tibetan monastic worldview. For further discussion of the text and its author, and a translation of an extract relating to the destruction and reopening of one of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries, see Caple (2013, 37–40). Teacher-student relationships between lamas and monks in exile and between 39 those in the PRC have also been an important element in the reestablishment of monastic traditions.

Notes to Pages 32–40  177


41 42

43 44 45 46 47 48 49

Tsering Thar (2002, 165) offers a succinct definition of lhadé as “tribes or villages which, to a certain extent, are disciples of and belong to a monastery.” He adds, “They offer labor, money, material and monks to a monastery and the monastery also performs rituals for the health, deaths, crops, riddance of calamities and blessings for the people in the lhadé.” In his discussion of the social and political structure of the greater community supporting Labrang Monastery prior to CCP control, Nietupski (2011, 53–96) distinguishes between “communities in service of the gods” (lhadé), which were under the political jurisdiction of Labrang Monastery, and “secular communities” (midé [mi sde]), “in the service of men,” which also had patronage relationships with the monastery but were not under its direct political jurisdiction. In Repgong, however, the term “lhadé” seems to be used more generally to refer both to those communities that came directly under the political jurisdiction of the Shartsang reincarnation lineage and to Rongwo’s other, more distant supporting communities. It is also the general term used to refer to the patron communities of Rongwo’s affiliate monasteries and the Nyingma monasteries in the area (see, e.g., Pelzang 2007). On the history of Repgong, the Rongwo Nangso, and the Shartsang lineage, see Weiner (2012, 74–104), Dhondup (2011), and Sonam Tsering (2011). In practice, religious authorities continue to exercise a degree of political authority that coexists with new state structures rather than being replaced by them. I came across several instances in which reincarnate lamas have influenced the administrative decisions of local government and CCP leaders. Lamas and monks are also involved in both intra- and intercommunity conflict mediation (see also Pirie 2006). For discussion of the blurred lines between religious and secular roles, see Diemberger (2007a, 2008, 2010). Rongwo Monastery now attracts students from areas beyond its patron communities, such as Golok and Yülshül [yul shul] (Ch. Yushu), a point to which I return in chapter 5. Tsongönpo [tsho sngon po] is in Chabcha [chab cha] (Ch. Gonghe), Jamdo [bya mdo] and Zhinté [zhin te] are in Mangra [mang ra] (Ch. Guinan), and Bongtak Chandzom [bong stag cha ‘dzoms] is in Tsigortang [rtsi gor thang] (Ch. Xinghai). See Nietupski (2011, 70–79) for a history of Labrang’s expansion into what became its “eight inner territories.” See also Makley (2007, 26), who states that “lay donations to rural monasteries declined a few years after the reforms.” The estates of reincarnate lamas are often termed nangchen in Amdo, corresponding to the Central Tibetan labrang [bla brang], a term used less frequently in Amdo. See chapter 2 for further discussion of these estates. On monastic organization in premodern Tibet, see Jansen (2014, 70–160). This responsibility was usually held by one or more nyerwa [gnyer ba], but chipa or chiwa [spyi pa or spyi ba] is another title given to the post in some monasteries. As Silk (2008, vi) notes in his study of the administrative offices of early Indian monastic Buddhism, “administrative terms are local and particular” to both time and place, and the same terms can be used in different ways. This is the case even in the relatively small and interconnected group of Geluk monasteries in Repgong. Moreover, the functions of particular roles can change. CHAPTER TWO: MONASTIC REFORM

  1   2

This chapter builds on arguments previously rehearsed in relation to monastic economic reforms at Rongwo Monastery, published in Buddhist Studies Review (Caple 2010). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW 2012), the CCP Politburo Standing

178  Notes to Pages 41–46



  5   6   7




Committee and senior state officials handed down an order to the TAR authorities in 2011, stipulating that party and government officials were to be stationed in “the main monasteries” in the TAR. This was followed by an announcement in January 2012 by the TAR party secretary, indicating that the policy would apply to almost all monasteries (ibid.). In 2018, party and government officials were reported to have been brought in to take over the administration of the monastic institute of Larung Gar in Kham (HRW 2018). As of 2015, party and government officials were not stationed within monasteries in Repgong and western Bayen. I have not heard that the situation has since changed, but further fieldwork is required to assess whether similar policies are now being extended to these and other areas in Amdo. Police were stationed inside at least one monastery in northern Amdo as of 2014. I follow convention in translating dratsang as “college” while noting Dreyfus’ (2003, 46) point that, in the context of the great Lhasa monasteries, the use of the term “college” leads to the misconception that colleges “are merely subdivisions of a larger unit,” whereas they are essentially separate monasteries. At Rongwo, although the revived dratsang still function as separate assemblies, they no longer have their own abbots. Contemporary administrative structures officially place all monks under the administration of Rongwo Monastery’s management committee, headed by the Eighth Shartsang. For the sake of clarity I have decided to refer to Rongwo as a collective entity as “Rongwo Monastery” and the dratsang as “colleges.” The largest of the colleges, the College of Dialectics (full name: Rongwo Dratsang Tösam Nampar Gyelwé Ling [rong bo grwa tshang thos bsam rnam par rgyal ba’i gling]) is often referred to among the monks as “Rongwo Dratsang” or simply “Dratsang.” For the sake of clarity, I have opted to refer to it as the “College of Dialectics” (Tsennyi Dratsang [mtshan nyid grwa tshang]) in accordance with its function. Its monks study the Geluk scholastic curriculum and practice debate. It was formally reestablished in 1985 with the inauguration of its assembly hall (Pelzang 2007, 61–62). The Tantric College focuses on tantric ritual and resumed its full activities in 1988 (Pelzang 2007, 102). The Kālacakra College focuses on tantric ritual and practice and astrology and was reopened in 1989 (Pelzang 2007, 118). In addition, construction of a large medical clinic adjacent to the monastery was nearly finished as of summer 2015. As noted in Caple (2010), the College of Dialectics previously had buses that were used to generate income from pilgrimage tours. However, by 2012 the buses were no longer roadworthy, and this activity had ceased. In 2009, tourist tickets were sold in the College of Dialectics shop located inside the monastery, near the main entrance. At that time, the income was split between the monastery and the local government. However, a new gate was subsequently completed that contains a ticket office, manned by employees of the Tourism Bureau, which now takes all proceeds from ticket sales. The Tourism Bureau pays a fixed annual sum to the monastery (one hundred thousand yuan in 2012, according to a senior monk). Technically speaking, one of these, Trashi Khyil, is not a branch of Rongwo. It is considered the mother monastery of Repgong. One of its monks told me that his fellow monks are therefore entitled to collect alms from all places in Repgong. Originally founded as a hermitage and the retreat of the First Shartsang, Trashi Khyil later became a practice center where elders and young monks gathered together. Housing around three hundred monks at its peak, today it has around thirty. According to Pelzang (2007), four of Rongwo’s other branch monasteries (one

Notes to Pages 48–53  179



13 14 15 16

17 18 19

20 21


in Tsekhok, three in Repgong) collected alms in their patron communities. However, this could well have changed, given that some of the monasteries I visited in 2009 had only very recently stopped collecting donations. On the distinction between donations (gifts) and remuneration for religious services, see Sihlé (2015). For a discussion of the blurring of the line between these forms of religious giving in the Tibetan monastic context, see Caple (2015, 463–464). There are regular sponsors (villages) for each day of the week-long longevity practice (tsedrup [tshe sgrub]) and for Tsongkhapa’s Death Day Offering and the fasting practice in the fourth month (nyungné [smyung gnas]). Since 2009, villagers from Jamdo have funded the spring Dharma session (forty days, starting on the thirteenth day of the third month). This problem was mentioned by three senior monks at Ditsa and only at one other monastery. When I raised this issue at other monasteries, monks said that since it was a monastery loaning the money, people would pay it back. On the development of Ditsa’s economy and other changes in the lives of its monks since the 1980s, see also Lengzhi Duojie (2014). The circumstances under which Trashitsé was founded are discussed further in chapter 5. The verb köl [bskol ], literally meaning to boil or cook, is used to connote sponsorship of assembly teas. Although sponsors sometimes actually cook for the monks, it is more common that monastic cooks and their assistants prepare the tea and food. In the past, sponsors would have donated the raw materials—e.g., tea, butter, grain and meat. Nowadays, it is becoming more common for sponsors to donate cash, which stewards/managers then use to buy supplies. The complex field of religious giving and the ethics of various forms and modes of donation and remuneration will be explored in a separate monograph (see also Caple 2017). Different villages, in whichever district is responsible that year, fund different days, and the whole district funds the final day. For example, Document 19 (trans. in MacInnis 1989, 15–16) stated that religion would not be permitted to “recover in any way those special feudal privileges which have been abolished” and that “we must organize religious persons according to their differing situations and capabilities respectively, to take part in productive labor, serving society, and in the scholarly study of religion.” See also Zhao Puchu’s statement to the China Buddhist Association in October 1983 (trans. in MacInnis 1989, 175), in which he said that “monks and nuns should be encouraged to be self-supporting.” See also Yin (2006). Similar regulations have been issued for other Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan (CECC 2011). I have not found similar regulations for Haidong, which is not a TAP. There are signs, however, that anthropological studies of monasteries might emerge from within the Chinese academy, which would provide an emic perspective. See, e.g., Cili Pinchu’s (2014) MA dissertation, an interview-based case study of a Geluk monastery in Dechen, which contains some interesting ethnographic material. This account of the turn to business as necessity reflects what has been written about the development of monastic business activities at Chinese Buddhist monasteries (e.g., Yin 2006). On the practical need for developing businesses as a stable base of support, see also Schneider’s (2013, 132–138) discussion of the financing of a Nyingma nunnery in Kham, newly founded in the post-Mao period and with no patron communities. The head lama is the nunnery’s most important source of revenue, not only in terms of fund-raising for religious events but also through his investment of donations in nunnery businesses, including a

180  Notes to Pages 54–62


24 25


27 28 29

30 31


shop, a restaurant, and a hotel, the profits of which are used to fund religious events and construction works. See also Arjia Rinpoché (2010, 150–151), who discusses the Tenth Panchen Lama’s plan during the 1980s to set up an organization, which he would run, to oversee all Tibetan monasteries and institutions and to eventually be funded by self-sufficient businesses. It should be noted that Schrempf makes these comments in a discussion about tourism, which, as we will see in chapter 3, I found to be perceived differently from other forms of monastic business. See also Kolås and Thowsen (2005, 52), who note that “the redistribution of land has been a complicated issue for a number of monasteries,” citing the case of Ragya [rwa rgya] Monastery in Golok, the original lands of which now straddle county and prefectural boundaries. In 1988, Zhao Puchu (head of the China Buddhist Association at that time) stated that one of the problems in implementing the policy of religious belief was that mountains and forest had yet to be returned to some monasteries (trans. in MacInnis 1989, 74). I found echoes of Lungtok’s comments in Radio Free Asia’s reporting of Rongwo Monastery’s dispute with the government over land occupied by the (now closed) middle school (discussed in chapter 1). According to RFA’s source, “the monks are arguing that since Rongwo has so few resources of its own, the authorities should at least return the confiscated land if they can’t offer any other help” (RFA 2017). When I interviewed Lhamo in 2014, she stated that the donation had been made “seven or eight years ago” and that “[the amount was] maybe five thousand yuan, but I forget.” Chinese Buddhist monasteries also engaged in moneylending (Ornatowski 1996). This increase in prices was one of the reasons Ditsa’s senior monks gave for their decision to prohibit the serving of meat during assembly teas, the others being health and the ethics of killing animals. The prohibition on serving meat was a change I found common in all the monasteries I visited, but it was explained at most of them in ethical rather than economic terms. Similar dynamics have also been affecting other religious communities in Repgong, if in different ways. According to Sihlé (2013, 181), a “stagnation” in donations “in a general context of increasing cost of living” was the main explanation offered for the decreasing numbers of nonmonastic Nyingma Tantrists attending collective gatherings in Repgong (some would not even be able to cover their costs); another was the decision to abstain from or reduce meat consumption at these gatherings. These concerns were principally over the development of commercial enterprises such as shops, rather than over moneylending. This point is addressed further in chapter 4. Lopez (1998, 187) calls the Fourteenth Dalai Lama “the chief spokesman for Buddhist modernism,” although as other scholars have noted (Mills 2003; Dreyfus 2005; Huber 2008), his views and practices do not fit certain characteristics of “modern Buddhism” as defined by scholars, notably a de-emphasis and mistrust of ritual. Dreyfus (2005, 7–10) presents the Dalai Lama’s ideas as a hybrid product of his traditional Buddhist education and his encounters with figures such as Mao Zedong, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, and Thomas Merton, whose ideas are themselves the product of complex interactions between different cultures and worldviews. See Smyer Yü (2012, 99–125) for discussion of the commodification of Buddhism under China’s market reforms and its critics among both lay practitioners concerned with the corruption of Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan monastics concerned about the proliferation of fake or unqualified Tibetan lamas operating in inner China. See also Makley (2007, 266) on the distinction drawn between

Notes to Pages 62–68  181



35 36 37



real and fake monks in 1990s Labrang; and Borchert (2005, 103) and Svensson (2010, 226) for complaints about fake monks at Theravāda Buddhist and Daoist temples in China. Smyer Yü (2012, 113–114) cites Tibetan monastic teachers in Kham and Golok making similar criticisms of fake or unqualified “Living Buddhas” and “Dharma Minstrels” operating among Chinese Buddhists. They are concerned that many lamas are attracted by the material benefits they can access in China, thus altering “the traditional monastic rules and soteriological goals” (ibid., 114). He also points to the impact on younger monks, for whom “the flow of cash . . . is titillating,” claiming to have seen some of them attempting to embezzle funds and others performing rituals for which they are not qualified (ibid., 113–114). See also Makley (2007), whose work on Labrang suggests a similar pattern, with support in the valley becoming concentrated on the regional monastic center, which enjoyed a high reputation for scholarship, and on charismatic reincarnate lamas such as Gungtang Rinpoché. My thanks to Lama Jabb for making this point. See also Gendün Chömpel’s alphabetical poem on the household priest (trans. in Lopez 2009, 96–99). For an intellectual biography of Taixu, see Pittman (2001). Sangdhor [seng rdor] is a former monk who was recognized as a reincarnate lama but subsequently disrobed and went on to publish highly provocative essays and poetry critical of institutionalized monastic Buddhism and monks. He belongs to the New School of Thought, a group of writers Hartley (2002, 13) refers to as “radical modernists.” Sangdhor’s website, at http://www.sangdhor​ .com, on which he posted writings by himself and other intellectuals, has been closed down. Taixu advocated a revolution in teaching and doctrine, focusing on the problems of the living world; a revolution in institutions, including the teaching of a secular curriculum alongside the Buddhist curriculum, the rationalization of temple management, and self-sufficiency; and a revolution in religious property, with temple property collectively shared by the monastic community rather than privately owned by abbots (Ashiwa 2009, 55). According to Pittman (2001, 80, 154–155), Taixu called for an organizational revolution (Ch. zuzhi geming); an economic revolution (Ch. caichan geming), advocating productive work by monks and closer ties to educated lay Buddhists; and an intellectual revolution (Ch. xueli geming), through which “Buddhists could learn to express the Dharma in ways that were inspired by scripture, faithful to the original spirit of Śākyamuni, and appropriate for the time.” Goyön’s (2009) other proposed revolutions are in monastic leadership and education. He argues that there is a need to move from a system of leadership through reincarnation to one based on democratic and meritocratic appointment, taking into account an individual’s ability, public-spiritedness, and knowledge of both traditional and modern sciences. The behavior and thinking of monks and nuns, he says, are dependent on the monastery head ( göndak [dgon bdag]), who is like a parent; there is a need to recognize that all the historical shortcomings of monastic institutions in fact result from the “unfitness” (madrikpar [ma ’grig par) of monastery heads. He also writes that the monastic education system should be revolutionized by embracing modern Western scientific, philosophical, literary, educational, and electronic knowledge alongside the traditional syllabus. CHAPTER THREE: MONASTIC TOURISM


See, for example, Liu (2012), who champions the idea of tourism development at Dechen, Dzongkar, and Dzongngön monasteries in Repgong. See also Dongga-

182  Notes to Pages 68–73





  6   7   8


10 11 12

cang and Cairangjia (1995, 27–28), Mei 2001 (43–44, 156–158), and Pu Riwa et al. (2006, 204). Much of this literature is situated within a wider body of literature on the cultural politics of ethnic tourism in China. The latter has explored the role that ethnic minorities play as cultural producers and agents in shaping their own identities in the contemporary world and their reappropriation of tourism as a route to modernity. See, e.g., Oakes (1998, 2006), Schein (2000), Kolås (2008), Hillman (2009, 2010), and Su and Teo (2009). Makley (2007, 7–8) and Kolås (2008, 122–123) point to the role of tourism in the affirmation and accentuation of the “Tibetanness” of Labrang and Shangrila (formerly Gyeltang). On the interplay between tourism, states, and the ongoing processes of ethnic/cultural construction elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, see Picard (1993), Picard and Wood (1997), Yamashita et al. (1997), and Yamashita (2003). On the role of tourism in revitalizing Tibetan monastic Buddhism, see Makley (2007, 2010), Hillman (2005, 2009), and Kolås (2008). On its financial benefits, see also McCarthy (2010, 178), Cingcade (1998, 20–21), Goldstein (1998, 35), and Kolås and Thowsen (2005, 76). On tourism in a Theravāda monastic context, see Borchert (2005); for Chinese Buddhism, see Ji (2004), Fenggang Yang and Wei (2005), and Yin (2006). This chapter is concerned with monastic attitudes rather than the broader issues of tourism within local socioeconomic development and cultural production. I recognize that there are many actors with different interests involved in tourism development at the local level and that individuals (e.g., government officials) operate from multiple positions. However, the purpose of the present study is to gain insight into the logics of what is good and desirable from monastic perspectives. A similar argument can probably be made for Chinese and Theravāda monasteries. Government support is most pronounced at large and famous Chinese Buddhist monasteries that are tourist attractions (Birnbaum 2003, 443–444). Borchert (2005, 100) estimates that probably only ten of more than five hundred Dai (Theravāda) temples in Xishuangbanna are regularly seen by tourists. However, these major monasteries tend to be the sites that have been the subject of detailed academic study (e.g., Borchert 2005; Ashiwa 2009; Wank 2009). See also Huber (2002b, 2006) and Peng (1998) on Bön monasteries and tourism development in Amdo Sharkhok (the Jiuzhaigou/Songpan area of Sichuan), another key tourist area. The sources of support for rebuilding are examined in chapter 1. Kolås and Thowsen (2005, 52–56) also found that claims of state funding were disputed locally and that it accounted for a very small percentage of total costs. Arjia Rinpoché (2010, 183–185) states that he secured the grant for Kumbum following a major earthquake in 1990. He filed a petition for disaster relief and then made monthly trips to Beijing to plead his case, relying on his positions in various religious and political organizations and the connections these positions gave him. The original allotment of 36 million yuan was later reduced to 20 million yuan after flooding in southern China (ibid., 191). See Pelzang (2007, 33–45, 71–81, 106–107, 121–123) for information on construction projects at Rongwo Monastery and its three colleges (including sponsorship) in 1980–2005. Since then, a new debate courtyard and two new temples have been built, as well as an office/guesthouse. See also Kolås and Thowsen (2005, 56), who stated that only “a handful” of monasteries they heard about charged entrance fees. This is also the system in other Tibetan areas (Kolås 2008, 14) and more generally in the PRC (Yin 2006, 91). See Su and Teo (2009, 30–36) for a review of the literature on tourism and

Notes to Pages 73–79  183



15 16 17 18

19 20 21



nation-building in China. The use of tourism for nation-building has occurred in many developing countries (Li Yang et al. 2008, 751–752; see also Winter 2007; Winter et al. 2009, 11–17) but also, e.g., in England (Winter 2007, 13–14). On the highly politicized nature of ethnic tourism in China and its role in the construction and scripting of national and ethnic culture, see Oakes (1998), Gladney (2004a), Nyíri (2006, 2009), Makley (2007), Murakami (2008), Shepherd (2009), and Su and Teo (2009). When I first visited Repgong in 2000, the journey from Xining took seven to eight hours by bus. Construction of a three-kilometer-long tunnel through the mountains reduced the journey time to less than three hours by car. In 2015 a new highway was being constructed that will reduce it yet further (perhaps to less than two hours in the estimation of locals). See Cooke (2010, 22–24) for a description of the (earlier) “touristification” of Kumbum Monastery between 1993 and 2002. Local people told me that this was in preparation for an anticipated tourist rush during the Olympics that did not materialize, because of the 2008 protests. A similar state-funded multistory housing block was under construction at Ditsa in 2015. Barnett (2006) shows that, from an analytical perspective, simplistic views of the “collaboration” of members of the Tibetan religious elite with the Chinese state are outdated and that the subtleties of their maneuvers should be acknowledged. This is a view shared by a reader of the Shambala Post article who questioned the fairness of “shouting forth from an independent country” to criticize those who “live under the claw of the tiger” (Anonymous 2010). Nevertheless, tensions in the monastery had indeed been running high since 2008, with antagonism toward one particular figure on the Management Committee. A senior monk told me that the monastery and college masters of discipline ( gekö [dge bskos]) sat on the Management Committee because otherwise the assembly of monks would never heed its orders. See also Hillman (2005, 34), who alludes to similar tensions between monks and the Management Committee at a monastery in Yunnan. However, it should be emphasized that the makeup of and attitudes toward monastery management committees vary. Even at Rongwo the committee’s members are by no means all perceived of as collaborators or “political monks.” Tensions appear to be greatest at monasteries that have had greater interaction with state agencies through tourism development or political protest (often both—e.g., at Drepung, Sera, and Rongwo). See Makley (2013) for a rich analysis of the contending voices of a village Communist Party secretary in Repgong, showing his complex positioning as both a state actor and a village elder/farmer. See also Diemberger (2008, 2010). People sometimes used the terms “China” (Gyanak [rgya- nag]) or “the Chinese” (Gyami [rgya- mi]) interchangeably with “the state” in these contexts. It is unclear if the space was occupied by one or more chöten. Two monks said that the site had been occupied by several chöten. However, a pictorial representation of Rongwo Monastery prior to 1958 shows only one large chöten. I was shown a draft of this painting and also saw a copy of the finished work, printed in a book on Repgong arts. See also Hillman (2005, 35), who says that at a Tibetan monastery where there had been disquiet about government appropriation of tourist income, one county government invested in construction projects “to appease the monks while simultaneously expanding capacity for growth in tourism.” People see state-led village development projects in much the same light. The Eighth Arjia Rinpoché was recognized in 1952 at age two. During the reform period, he took on his traditional role as Kumbum’s abbot and was appointed to high-ranking official posts. He escaped into exile in 1998, in one of the

184  Notes to Pages 79–88





28 29

30 31


33 34

­ ighest-profile Tibetan defections in the reform period, alongside that of the Sevh enteenth Karmapa. He says he believed that his political life was “betraying my religious and moral principles” after he was appointed tutor to the boy selected by the Chinese government as the Eleventh Panchen Lama and following a socialist education campaign at Kumbum in 1997 (Arjia Rinpoché 2010, 212). Hillman (2005) discusses a similar case at a Tibetan monastery in Yunnan. The “younger generation” of monks were disgruntled by government appropriation of funds from entrance tickets. The county government subsequently gave full control over entrance fees to monks as part of efforts to resolve a conflict involving intra-monastery factions and state agencies. Birnbaum (2003, 443–444) points to similar tensions arising from state support of Chinese Buddhist monasteries that have become tourist attractions, arguing that monastic autonomy and self-direction are difficult at monasteries that have become “living history exhibits.” See also Makley (2018, 153–195), who shows how temple building can also be central to the place-making efforts of precarious communities. She analyzes the relationship between temple building and village history making in one of Repgong’s villages, displaced after relocating from its original hilltop location to the roadside and struggling to secure its continuity and fortune “in the context of increasing state-led pressures on rural land use” (153). She conceptualizes the construction of a new Buddhist temple in this village in 2005–2006 as “Buddhist counterdevelopment,” showing that the project and the narratives accompanying it were grounded in and historicized “claims to past and present lama-lay leader alliances” (162) that worked to assert village-level sovereignty and counter the community’s “potential erasure” (160) in the context of state-led development and competing territorial claims at the local level. Both also said that it was getting difficult for monasteries to find good artists to undertake artworks because the monasteries or sponsoring lamas paid so much less than commercial buyers. Making money, they claimed, had become more important than religion for many artists (echoing the more general popular discourse on a societal shift in values). There is also ongoing international NGO involvement in art conservation projects at Gomar and other monasteries. It should be noted that responses to my questions about tourism were inevitably influenced by my positioning in these encounters. As a visiting foreign researcher, I was often perceived as a kind of tourist. In some cases, I felt that an initial positive response to the idea of tourism was at least partly related to this. Yülkor troncham is usually contracted in speech to yülkor. Another term for tourism is jonggyu [ljongs rgyu] (to roam/wander throughout a region/land), but my interlocutors most commonly used yülkor or takor. On the history of Tibetan pilgrimage practices, see Huber (1999, 2003, 2008) and McKay (1998). On the revival of pilgrimage practices, including interactions between pilgrims and tourism, see Kapstein (1998b), Peng (1998), Buffetrille (2003), and Huber (2002b, 2006). A discussion of the relationship between religion and tourism and the ­pilgrim-​ tourist dichotomy is beyond the scope of this study. See Timothy and Olsen (2006, 13–16) for a review of the literature. On the category of faith as an important marker of distinction between insiders and outsiders in the Tibetan context, see Caple (2015). See also Kolås and Thowsen (2005, 49), who state that funds were set aside for repairing key sites, including Drepung Monastery, as early as 1972. This is in addition to the usual prerequisites for being a model organization or individual: being patriotic, accepting party and government management, and abiding by state laws and policies (Pu Riwa et al. 2006, 203).

Notes to Pages 89–108  185

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On the disruptive impacts of tourism on Buddhist monasteries in China, see Makley (2002, 80), Birnbaum (2003, 443–444), Borchert (2005, 104–105, 109), Yin (2006, 91–92), Kolås (2008, 75), and Sutton and Kang (2010, 105). In stories involving Chinese sponsors, the women are often attributed at least partial responsibility for monks’ inappropriate conduct, thus adding an ethnic dimension to gendered narratives that express the pollution of monastic space and bodies not just by women but by “Chinese” women. This was the case when women, as well as men, told me these stories. A similar line of argument was being employed by religious leaders as early as the 1980s. For example, in a speech to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 1988, Zhao Puchu argued that the religious features and special characteristics of China’s mountains needed to be preserved to benefit both religion and tourism: “If we turn these mountains into nothing but tourist attractions, the tourist business will suffer as well” (trans. in MacInnis 1989, 71–76). CHAPTER FOUR: MONASTIC DEVELOPMENT IN MORALLY TROUBLED TIMES

  1   2



  5   6


When people talk of the mind, they will often gesture toward their physical heart; to say that someone has a good “mind” (sem zang [sems bzang]) in Tibetan conveys the same sense as the English term “good-hearted.” This is not a discourse unique to Amdo or Tibetan societies. Many of the social dynamics discussed in this and the next chapter could be viewed as characteristic of the “individualization” thesis (see, e.g., Giddens 1991; Bauman 2001; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2001), such as the disembedment of the individual from external social constraints (including, e.g., family) through factors such as increased mobility, increased reflexivity (an indicator of “obligatory self-determination”), and a belief in equality of relationships (an indicator of “cultural democratization”) (Yan 2009, 4–5). On the application and extension of the individualization thesis to the Chinese case, see Yan (2009) and Hansen and Svarverud (2010). The former highlights “moral challenges”—such as the rise of the “uncivil individual” (Yan 2009, xxxii)—that have echoes in Tibetan narratives of decline; however, the historical, social, and political contexts are sufficiently different to advise caution in interpreting work grounded in empirical data gathered in a Han Chinese community as being representative of the PRC as a whole. In the Tibetan tradition, the period of duration of the Buddhist teachings is generally considered to be five thousand years, although there are alternative systems, including that of the Kālacakra Tantra, which calculates the life span of the Dharma as 5,104 years (Nattier 1991, 59–61). Tantric methods can also be used to effect the transformation of mind—­ ultimately into a mind of enlightenment (jangchupkyi sem [byang chub kyi sems]; Skt. Bodhicitta)—but the Geluk tradition emphasizes the need for lengthy philosophical preparation (Samuel 1993, 506–515). Makley (2007, 277) also noted that her lay interlocutors, though critical of monks who did not study, would still employ them for ritual services. For a more detailed discussion of the ethics of donations and remuneration for ritual services, see Caple (2015). See also Jansen (2014, 165–166), who notes that the Seventh Dalai Lama recommended fixing prices for communal teas to avoid irritating sponsors. Drepung’s reforms of the 1950s also seem to have had precedent. Gönlung Monastery’s 1737 constitution suggests that payment of disbursements and allowances at this “mega monastery” were linked to attendance at Dharma classes (Sullivan 2013, 285). This constitution was written during the monastery’s revival after being destroyed by Qing forces in the wake of the Lobsang Danjin rebellion.

186  Notes to Pages 109–113


Full name of Ragya Monastery: Ragya Gön Ganden Trashi Jungné [rwa rgya dgon dga’ ldan bkra shis ‘byung gnas] (Ch. Lajia Si). Lutsang Monastery [klu tshang dgon] (Ch. Lucang Si) in Qinghai was also sometimes mentioned. The other monastic site enjoying a high reputation, even within Geluk circles, is the enormous Nyingma monastic encampment of Larung Gar in Sichuan.   9 Labrang, highly regarded for its scholastics, is also a major tourist site and was perceived by some monks as having become “too developed.” Some people felt that standards at Rongwo, swallowed up in the urban sprawl extending from the prefectural capital, had also been influenced by the monastery’s proximity to urban life, and they compared it unfavorably to monasteries such as Ditsa that are relatively remote from urban centers. 10 On monastic debate and Geluk scholastic education in general, see Dreyfus (2003) and Lempert (2012). 11 The major Geluk centers in Lhasa maintain a distinction between scholar-monks who study the formal curriculum and others who engage in work for the monastery. On this system at Drepung, see Goldstein (1998). At Ditsa a distinction is also made when it comes to monastic appointments. Samten explained that the stewards were selected from among the monks who are not very good at study and philosophy but are “honest and good communicators.” 12 A perceived link between the continuity of a people’s culture and monastic Buddhism is also found among the Dai Lue in Xishuangbanna (Borchert 2005). 13 I conducted bi-lingual (Tibetan-Chinese) questionnaire surveys with two groups each of undergraduate and middle school students in 2009. I was assisted in the formulation of the Tibetan questions by a Tibetan scholar who used to be a monk. The Chinese was checked by a linguistics scholar whose mother tongue is Chinese. All 149 middle school students surveyed were studying in a ­Tibetan-medium school and nearly all responded in Tibetan. Of the 105 University students surveyed, fifty-two responded in Chinese, thirty-two in Tibetan and fifteen used a mixture of both languages (the remaining six did not respond to any of the open questions). The surveys were designed to test opinions emerging from informal conversations with young lay Tibetans about monasteries, monks and monastic economies. They contributed to the overall contextualization of my research and were a useful exercise in trying to organize my thoughts and test certain assumptions. The aim was to test and gather opinions to build local knowledge, rather than to develop a generalizable scientific theory or hypothesis testing tool such as the surveys used in correlational research. The design of the question asking students what roles monasteries have in contemporary society was different for the undergraduate and middle school groups. However, in neither case were students made to choose between categories and they were given space to add their own. The roles suggested to them were: provide education; protect Tibetan culture; develop Tibetan culture (bod kyi rig gnas gong ‘phel du gtong ba; Ch. fazhan zangzu wenhua); provide a suitable environment for Buddhist practice; provide religious services for lay people; attract tourists; develop the local economy; provide social welfare services, such as poverty relief, education, medicine; provide moral leadership in society; attract investors, therefore helping local economic development; other. 14 “Rig pa’i gnas ‘field of knowledge/study’ [RB].” Rangjung Yeshe Dictionary, accessed 15 November 2016, 15 On the relationship between conceptions of faith and “being Tibetan,” see Caple (2015). 16 Some monasteries established schools for “underage” monks. However, some also established schools that teach both monks and lay children, usually during the summer holidays (often operating without official authorization). There is also an official school for both lay and monastic children attached to Ragya Mon-

Notes to Pages 114–123  187

17 18

19 20

21 22

astery in Golok. It provides a six-year curriculum, delivered by lay and monastic teachers and combining secular and monastic education methods and teaching. Subjects include Tibetan, Chinese, English, and mathematics, as well as vocational subjects such as Tibetan architecture, printing, and medicine. See also Schwartz (1994, 70), who found that the young monks he talked to had a “strong sense of their essential role as bearers and preservers of a tradition, serving Tibetans by example.” See also Robin (2008), who discusses Tibetan intellectuals’ internalization of “a certain idea of modernity as presented through colonial cultural values” (157). She argues that a reappraisal of religion took place in Tibetan literature from the 1990s onward as part of a reappraisal of the “backwardness” of Tibetan culture, which was “a sign of the growing autonomy of Tibetan writers” (ibid., 162). The relationship between Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan “backwardness” was still a common topic in my conversations with young secularly educated Tibetans both in Amdo and in exile. Some also believed that Buddhism weakened Tibet and led to the Chinese “occupation,” echoing Francis Younghusband’s justification for the British invasion of Tibet in 1904: religion made Tibetans passive and weak, and thus they themselves were to blame (Dagyab Kyabgön Rinpoche 2001, 383). Emphasis on monastic social engagement is not as pronounced in Amdo as, e.g., in Thailand (e.g., Parnwell and Seeger 2008; see also Queen et al. 2003). The term trülku [sprul sku] is the Tibetan equivalent of the Sanskrit nir­māṇa­ kāya, referring to the emanation body of a buddha. In common usage, it refers to a reincarnate lama, a human being who is understood to be the reincarnation of an exemplary historical figure. In some cases, a reincarnate lama is also considered to be the worldly manifestation of a bodhisattva or a tantric deity. For a discussion of reincarnation lineages in the Tibetan context, see Diemberger (2007b, 241–246; see also Mills 2003, 263–294). Ladwig (2013) describes something of a similar process in Thailand and Laos, where monks have lost one of their principal tasks in the community—that of public education. Monasteries have also remained actively engaged (often in cooperation with secularly educated intellectuals) in attempts to shape the educational, ideological, and moral foundations of their communities through, e.g., running summer schools for students. CHAPTER FIVE: MONASTIC RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION


The pattern in northeastern Amdo reflects more general trends at Tibetan monasteries during the Maoist years and the 1980s (see, e.g., Pu Wencheng 1990; Nian and Bai 1993; Kapstein 2004; Kolås and Thowsen 2005). Indicative numbers of monastics in 1958 (table 5.1) are useful as a yardstick against which to compare monastic revitalization in the post-Mao period. It is beyond the scope of the present study to delve into the earlier histories of these monasteries, but it should be noted that individual institutions experienced growth and decline prior to 1958. At least some of the Geluk mega monasteries in Amdo reached their peak in terms of numbers of monastics well before the CCP came to power. During the Qing dynasty, Jakhyung, for example, had housed 3,000 monks (Pu Wencheng 1990, 89). By the end of the nineteenth century, the American diplomat and explorer W. W. Rockhill reported its monk population as 1,500 (Gruschke 2001, 42); by 1958, it was less than 1,000 (table 5.1). Ditsa, founded in 1903, attracted around 3,000 monks in the first decade of its existence, but its numbers also declined to under 1,000 after the death of its founder in 1912 and during the turbulent decades that followed in Amdo (Tuttle 2010, 37–38), in particular in its Sino-Tibetan-Muslim border regions.

188  Notes to Pages 123–126


  3   4



  7   8

  9 10 11

12 13 14

There is some discrepancy in the sources on numbers at Gomar. Pelzang (2007, 195) gave a figure of “at least eighty” monks, based on his research in the late 1990s to mid-2000s. In 2009 a Management Committee member said that there were 105 or 106 monks; another monastic official put the number at between 90 and 100. However, all the Gomar monks I spoke with (including the head lama) said that the monk population had been decreasing, and two monastic officials independently stated that numbers had peaked in the late 1980s. By contrast, the number of nuns appears to have continued to increase during the post-Mao period, exceeding pre-1958 levels, albeit from a much smaller base (Härkönen 2017, 99–106). In 2013 a businessman from Dowa Drok said that only 17 monks remained there. In 2014 a monk and group of villagers reported 45 monks at Kasar. In 2013 a monastic official said that the population of Nyentok had decreased to 40. By 2015 the number of monks at Trashitsé had fallen to 65 (pers. comm. with a key informant, August 2015). By 2011 the monk population at Upper Senggé Shong had dropped to 110 (pers. comm. with a key informant, February 2011); there may have been a recruitment drive since, but I have not been able to verify this. In 2011, I was told that the number of monks at Gomar had dropped to 70 (pers. comm. with a key informant, February 2011), after which the 30 young monks were recruited. In 2015, villagers told me that the population was holding at around 90 to 100. At Lower Senggé Shong, a senior monk said that there were “over 100 monks” in 2009. Local recruitment drives subsequently boosted the population, which was at 134 monks in 2010 (pers. comm. with a key informant, February 2011) and around 150 by 2013, according to a senior monk. In 2008, I was told that the number of monks at Jakhyung at that time was 430, falling to 385 in 2010 (pers. comm. with a key informant, June 2010). The downward trend apparently continued, with 350–355 monks reported in 2015 (pers. comm. with a key informant, August 2015). In 2009, Ditsa’s population reached what was at that time a post-Mao peak of 403 monks, before decreasing to about 365 by 2012. It began rising again in 2014. Even taking into account the decrease in numbers after 2008, numbers as of 2011 were still higher than the available figures for Gartsé in 1958: 82–137 monks in 1958 (table 5.1), and 164 monks in 2011 (pers. comm. with a key informant, February 2011). Monks from Qinghai were detained in Lhasa, then sent to a detention center in Golmud for three months’ reeducation, and then to detention centers in their home prefectures. As of spring 2010, there were 48 monks in the Tantric College, 26 in the Kālacakra College, and roughly 450 in the College of Dialectics (pers. comm. with a key informant, April 2010). A member of the College of Dialectics Education Committee reported roughly 600 monks attending classes in 2015. Added to this were those monks who had completed their studies and the monks of the Tantric College (around 50) and Kālacakra College (around 30). Makley (2007, 266) argues that in Labrang the population of unofficial monks contributed to perceptions of moral decline by creating an “institutional vacuum” that left many young monks outside the disciplinary frameworks of monastic life. Under the patriotic education campaign in 1996, Drepung was permitted to raise its quota in order to admit the many unofficial monks living there (Goldstein 1998, 50). Under PRC education legislation, children are required to attend nine years of education from the age of six or seven (CEL 1986, Article 5). Limits on the admission of monks have been written into more recent religious affairs legislation (QZST 2009, Article 25; HZFT 2009, Article 18; ZFRB 2010, Article 27).

Notes to Pages 126–133  189

15 16

17 18


20 21

22 23


Following the latest wave of expulsions, Larung Gar is reported to have been placed under government administration (HRW 2018). Larung Gar is sometimes referred to as Sertar [gser thar] (Ch. Seda) after its location. In some cases, young monks have been hidden from inspection teams. Some monasteries have founded schools for young monks, although these have been subject to periodic closure. For example, I was told that Rongwo’s school was founded in 1997 for monks under the age of eighteen who were going to be expelled from the monastery as part of a patriotic education campaign (see also TIN 1999b, 18; Costello 2002, 225). It was closed following the 2008 protests but subsequently reopened. Ditsa’s school was reported to have been shut down in March 2010 (Phayul 2010) but was open again by 2012. Kapstein (2004, 256) reports a similar phenomenon at a monastery in Kham. On the fertility transition in Tibetan areas of China, see Childs et al. (2005), Fischer (2008), and Childs (2008). These studies, which engage with broader debates on demographic transitions, indicate that family planning policies have been a significant factor, reinforcing ideational changes that may also have been motivated by, for example, increased costs of living, rising health care and education costs, unemployment, and diminished landholdings. Schrempf (2008) discusses Tibetan attitudes toward state family planning policies in Qinghai and tensions between these policies and Tibetan cultural values and practices. For a study that recognizes the importance of social relationships in the Sri Lankan context, see Samuels (2010), who emphasizes the significance of social bonds between monastics, children, and families in monastic recruitment and the aesthetic-affective dimensions of boys’ attraction to monastic life. On reasons for parents sending their children to monasteries, see Mills (2003, 40), Kapstein (2004, 233–234), Kolås and Thowsen (2005, 69), Makley (2007, 249), and Childs (2008, 121). On this point, my findings are very different from those of Schwartz (1994), who conducted research in the politically volatile context of late 1980s Lhasa. He draws a sharp distinction between pre-1959 Tibet, when monkhood was a “customary career” for many, and post-Mao Tibet, when “the choice of a monastic career is an exceptional decision” (ibid., 71). The monks I interviewed who were older than fifty-two had entered monastic life before 1958. See also Makley (2007, 251), who argues that monks entering monasteries in Labrang during the early reform years “invariably expressed a sense of prideful agency at having participated so centrally [in Tibetan Buddhist revitalization] by taking on monastic vows to become a field of merit for the laity.” However, the two monks who she cites, although certainly emphasizing their personal agency, appear to be making more modest claims about personal aspirations to accumulate merit (ibid., 251–253). Makley interviewed eighteen monks ordained in the post-Mao period (ibid., 252) but does not state how many entered in the early years. Although studies of Tibetan nuns in the PRC have emphasized their religio-­ nationalistic motivations in becoming nuns (e.g., Havnevik 1994; Härkönen 2017), recent studies have paid attention to a more complex mixture of factors, including their interactions with other monastics, although this does not seem to have emerged as strongly as a factor as it did in my conversations with monks. Schneider (2013, 248–274) refers to the importance of socialization of female monastics when they were children. Most grew up in an environment in which they would accompany their parents on visits to monasteries, religious specialists were invited to their homes, and a member of their family was a religious specialist. From the examples she cites, it seems that at least some mentioned these influences in their accounts of their pathways into monastic life, even if

190  Notes to Pages 136–146





29 30

most of them framed their decision to become a nun in terms of improving their karma to ensure a favorable rebirth or studying the Dharma more deeply. The example of other monastics (nuns and monks), in some cases relatives, had also influenced some of Härkönen’s (2017, 72–74) interlocutors in combination with factors specific to the female condition (as emphasized in other studies of nuns— e.g., Makley 2005a, 277). Such factors include a wish to avoid marriage and the hard work of female domestic life, as well as a lack of professional opportunities in the rural environment in which these women grew up (most nuns being from rural rather than urban backgrounds). To say if it would have been a considerably less imaginable possibility prior to 1958 would require further research. Sherab Gyatso (2004, 233) argues that there is an increased emphasis on individualism and personal choice in contemporary Tibetan societies. Yet disrobing may not have been as uncommon in the past as one might assume. Mills (2003, 315) cites an early twentieth-century account contextualizing the founding of a temple at Labrang in the eighteenth century in the moral decline of the time: “At that time . . . the moral vows were observed very loosely, the cases when monks returned to mundane life were not uncommon.” Samuel (1993, 128, 150) mentions the practice of monks returning to lay life to preserve the household in the event of a brother dying in agricultural communities in Central Tibet and in Nepal, a practice Nicolas Sihlé has encountered in southern Mustang (pers. comm.). According to Sherab Gyatso (2004, 233), it is “increasingly the case that monkhood is viewed as something in the nature of a career (i.e. in which failure or lack of suitability becomes possible and the prospect of a ‘career change’ may be contemplated).” Despite general improvement in livelihoods and changing family structures since the 1990s, difficult family circumstances are still a reason boys enter monastic life. In winter 2014, I was looking at a friend’s photos of one of Rongwo’s branch monasteries, where his relative is a monk. They included pictures of a very young monk (eight years old, according to the Tibetan system) who had been sent, along with his older brother, to the monastery after their mother passed away. See also Sherab Gyatso (2004, 234), who states that monks in exile who disrobe couch their justifications in “the language of personal inadequacy” rather than in terms that represent a rejection of traditional values or a challenge to the institution of monasticism. A monk I spoke with at Dzongngön also said that access to Buddhist teachings through DVDs and CDs had positively influenced the minds of the monks. See Mills (2003, 314–317) for a discussion of the connection between reincarnate lamas and the constitution of monastic discipline. CHAPTER SIX: THE FUTURE OF MASS MONASTICISM

  1   2

My thanks to Nicolas Sihlé for pointing this out (pers. comm.). It is important to note, however, that a much wider range of educational opportunities than those of which we are currently aware may have existed. See, e.g., Travers (2016), who has drawn attention to the “relatively widespread” existence of private schools in Central Tibet (some in monasteries) prior to 1951, when the CCP took power. Research into pre-1950s education in Repgong is needed to determine the extent to which monasteries acted as the main educational centers (as the village elder I cite suggests) or whether they were simply one of a variety of options. Nicolas Sihlé (pers. comm.) has learned of the existence of a village school in Repgong where children were taught basic literacy by a local nonmonastic religious specialist, before starting “(apparently) Nyingma religious stud-

Notes to Pages 150–164  191


ies.” It is therefore certainly plausible or even probable that there were at least some alternatives about which we, as yet, know very little. For a historical perspective, see also Sullivan (2013), who uses the case of Gönlung Monastery’s rise and fall as one of Amdo’s largest and most influential monasteries to argue that standards of discipline were central to the making of “mega monasteries”; when standards of discipline began to decline, so too did a monastery (countering Goldstein 1998, who suggests standards of discipline at these institutions were lax). The logic of Sullivan’s argument is remarkably similar to that voiced by contemporary monks discussing monastic development. CHAPTER SEVEN: SEEING BEYOND THE STATE

  1   2

  3   4

There are exceptions. For example, monks at one monastery told me that they had taken out a loan from the local township government (which they were struggling to repay) in order to purchase buildings for lease. Schwartz (1994, 69) also claims that Chinese policy proscribes “voluntary donations.” Like Goldstein (1998, 162n53) and Schrempf (2000, 343n30), I found no evidence of this in policy or practice, although it can be problematic for monasteries to receive large donations from foreigners. Some monks told me that the Dalai Lama had also given teachings on the negative aspects of some traditional monastic economic practices. For further discussion of monks’ productive use of the past in their negotiation of the (immoral) present and (moral) future, as well as the generational dynamic within monasteries, see Caple (2013, 40–44), from which this paragraph is drawn.


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Page numbers in boldface refer to figures. action/practice: as competitive struggle, 7–8, 171n21; moral dimension of, 6, 7–9, 155, 171n18 (see also moral community) agency: attributions of, in accounts of revival, 29–31; attributions of, in monastic development discourse, 57–60, 62, 66, 91–92, 140–141, 166–167; in entry to monkhood, 132; modalities of, 7, 155–156; as pursuit of power, 6–7, 171n21; as pursuit of projects, 7–8, 155–156, 162–164, 166–167 Alak Dzongchung (Sixth), 28, 36 Alak Khaso (Seventh), 26, 36, 62, 63 Alak Rongwo (Sixth), 36, 42 Alak Trigen (Fifth), 30, 70 Alak Yershong, 81 alms collection: as burden, 38–39, 57–59, 64; cessation of, 38–39, 45–47, 50–52; individual versus collective, 157; religious fraud and, 61–62; resumption of (1980s), 35–36; voluntary sponsorship versus, 51–52, 53, 156, 162–163. See also self-­ sufficiency, monastic Amdo, 169n1; 1958 as pivotal moment, 19; Geluk influence, 23; rebellion, 20; religious revival, 26 Appadurai, Arjun, 134 Arjia Rinpoché (Eighth), 183n23; accommodation with state, 79; on Kumbum’s school, 117; on Maoist period, 87, 173n3; on state support, 70, 87, 126, 182n8; on stupa building, 81

assembly teas (mangja), 35, 179n16, 180n29 authority, Geluk monastic: celibacy and, 22, 91; challenged by secular elite, 115–117, 149; displacement of (1958), 20; ethic of simplicity and, 80; financing strategies and, 62–64, 94, 100; moral, reaffirmations of, 161– 164; political, 19–20, 30, 32–33, 177n42; reincarnate lamas and, 140; resurgence of (1980s), 25–26, 29–32; scholasticism/ erudition and, 22, 109–111, 115– 117; tourism/state patronage as undermining, 75, 78–79, 92–93. See also monastic-lay boundaries; monks; moral decline Barker, John, 7, 9 Barnett, Robert, 5, 113, 170n12, 183n18 Borchert, Thomas, 111, 182n5, 186n12 boundaries, 156. See also monastic-lay boundaries; moral boundaries Bourdieu, Pierre, 7–8, 171n22 Buddhaghosa, 97 Buddhism, monastic: asceticism and, 29; extent in Tibetan societies, 21, 144 (see also mass monasticism); modernity and, 111, 166 (see also modernity and modernization); moral-economic framework of, 29–30 (see also under economy, Tibetan monastic); nation-building and, 64–66; religious/mundane foundations of, interlinked, 2–3. See also authority, Geluk 209

210  Index

monastic; discipline, monastic; education/training, monastic; monks business, monastic: development of, 39, 42–51; ethics of, 56–60, 99–106, 160–161; management of, 43–51 passim, 101, 103–104; precedents for, 55–56, 60–61 Büton Rinchendrup, 97 Cabezón José, 23, 111, 135, 150 Caiwang Naoru, 62, 114 capital, monastic: funds, establishment of, 39, 42–51 passim, 55 (see also self-sufficiency, monastic); rules for use of, 56 Childs, Geoff, 127, 129, 151 China/Chinese, 169n7, 183n20 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) religious policy: Document 19, 4, 73, 170n8, 179n19; monastic self-sufficiency, 53, 58–59, 179n19. See also under Chinese state; Qinghai Province; United Front Chinese sponsorship (Han): Geluk patronage networks and, 34, 41, 85; gender politics of, 91, 185n36; of monastic events/ projects, 52, 70–71, 120; religious fraud and, 62. See also state patronage Chinese state, 77; as competing order, 7, 75, 77–80, 86, 92, 158; monastic accommodation with, 78–79, 157–160; moral authority of, 61, 158; regulation of monasteries, 4, 40, 126–127, 167, 170n9, 177n2 (see also monk quotas; political reeducation); security presence at monasteries, 76, 127, 177n2. See also state patronage collaboration/collusion, 76, 183n18 Chokdrup (pseud.) (senior Rongwo monk), 108, 121 Chömpel (postgrad. student), 128, 129–130, 148 commodification of religion, 73–75, 90, 107–108 conduct. See discipline, monastic Cultural Revolution. See Maoist period Dai nationality, 147, 186n12 Dalai Lama (Fourteenth): as authority/

exemplar, 60, 148, 191n3 (chap. 7); Chinese attacks on, 85, 127; “modern” ideas of, 60–61, 116, 180n31; monastic curriculum reform by, 117; on monastic population size, 151 de Certeau, Michel, 8, 156, 163 debate, monastic: emphasis on, 109– 110, 109; payments for attending, 44, 108, 185n7; physicality of, 114 Dechen Monastery, 12, 172n34; population, 123–124, 140; tourism, 181n1. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Democratic Management Committees, 169n3; criticism of, 65, 76, 183n18; role of, 40–41, 53, 169n3 demographic transition, 128–129, 189n18; mass monasticism as ideal and, 150–154; monastic population size and, 129, 144 development, monastic: adapting to changing times and, 117–121, 141, 142–143; competing visions of, state-monastic, 79–81, 86–92; dilemmas of, 99–100, 103, 143–144, 157; as excessive, 80–81, 157, 186n9; religious/ mundane facets of, as interlinked, 2–3. See also discipline, monastic; economy, Tibetan monastic; education/training, monastic Develop the West Campaign (xibu da kaifa), 71, 97 Diemberger, Hildegard, 5, 15, 76–77, 170n15 discipline, monastic: Geluk emphasis on, 109, 111–112, 149–150; livelihood and, 80, 105–108, 142–143, 150; role of head lama in, 140; strategies to improve, 103–104, 106, 108, 118–121. See also mind (sem); quality, monastic disrobing: development dilemmas and, 100, 102–103, 117, 141, 144, 148, 157; prevalence of, 122, 136, 190nn25–26; reasons for, 63, 127, 135–139, 141, 190n28; stigma of, 135–136, 146–147, 190n26; as symbol of decline, 99

Index  211

Ditsa Monastery, 13, 172n38; economy, 35–36, 48–50, 49, 55, 103, 159, 179n12; management committee, 48; patron communities, 33; population, 28–29, 123–125, 140, 187n1; reconstitution, 110, 141; reconstruction, 28–29, 31; reopened, 28, 176n37; rules of conduct, 103, 105–106, 118–120; tourism, 72, 80 domination-resistance paradigm. See repression-resistance paradigm donation. See sponsorship Döndrup (pseud.) (Ditsa monk-­ steward), 49, 62–63 Dorjé (pseud.) (postgrad. student), 130, 148–149 Dowa Drok Monastery, 12, 172n36; economy, 46; population, 123– 124, 188n4. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Drepung Monastery, 171n28; economy, 2, 172n29; educational disbursements, 108, 150, 185n7; monk quota, 188n13; political activism, 5, 10, 159–160; state funding, 31, 184n33 Dreyfus, Georges, 106, 116, 176n36, 178n3, 180n31 Drölma (pseud.) (postgrad. student), 152–153 Dzongkar Monastery, 12, 172n34; p ­ opulation, 124; tourism, 181n1. See also Rongwo, affiliate m ­ onasteries Dzongngön Monastery, 12, 172n34; population, 123–124, 140, 190n29; tourism, 181n1. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries economy, Tibetan monastic: layers of, 40–41; merit-and-renunciation-based moral framework of, 29–30, 56, 160–162; premodern, 24, 55–56, 64; reform of, 38–39, 41–52. See also alms collection; business, monastic; patron communities; self-­ sufficiency, monastic; tourism, monastic education, state secular: as alternative to monkhood, 129, 130, 131, 133, 137; as compulsory, 188n14; marginalization of monks and,

115–117, 187n21; in monasteries, 117–118, 144; morality, impact on, 116, 146, 148 education/training, monastic: curriculum reform, 110, 117; debates about, 117–118, 144; economic strategies to raise standards of, 44, 106, 108, 142–143; ­economic/​material development prioritized over, 80–81, 91–92, 118; efforts to bolster, 109–111, 117, 118–119; literacy and, 112, 117, 146, 152, 190n2; moral cultivation and, 104, 146–148, 187n22; standards of, and monk numbers/patronage, 3, 63, 121, 150. See also quality, monastic; monastery schools elders ( genpa), 176n35; as moral others, 96, 141, 163; role in monastic revival, 26–28, 30; tensions with younger monks, 60, 108 endowments. See capital ethnographic matrix, 15 faith (depa): 1980s as time of, 26, 31, 35, 96; identity and, 84, 113–114; of laity, need to maintain, 64, 85–86, 99–100; loss/ weakening of, 62, 113, 116, 141; moral community and, 77, 82, 160–161; ritual efficacy and, 83, 108 fake monks, 61–62, 91, 180n32, 181n33 Gartsé Monastery, 12, 172n37; economy, 47–48; education reforms, 110, 117; Labrang Monastery, relationship with, 47–48; patron communities, 32–33; population, 123–125, 140, 188n8 Geluk, 169n2; establishment-in-­exile, 60–61, 176n39; expansion, 22–23; gender hierarchies, 34, 171n23, 172n31; hermits, 175n22; ideals, 24, 111; monastic network, 21–22, 32, 34, 153, 174n11; monasticism, as male preserve, 10–11, 14; scholasticism, 22, 109–112. See also mass monasticism; monks; revival, Geluk monastic gender politics: of contemporary nunhood, 151, 172n31; of Geluk

212  Index

revival, 7; of interviewing, 14; of Sino-Tibetan patronage, 91, 185n36 Gendün Chömpel: on moral decline, 97; on ritual services, 108, 181n35 Geshé Lozang (pseud.): on modern education, 117; on ritual services, 106; on tourism, 91–92 Geshé Tendzin (pseud.): on moral decline, 96; personal regrets of, 111; on self-sufficiency, 38; on tourism, 85–86 Goldstein, Melvyn: mass monasticism, 21, 150, 174n8; payments for debate, Drepung, 108, 150; monks, religious versus nationalist loyalties, 5, 159–160; self-sufficiency, 2 Gomar Monastery, 11, 172n32; NGO funding, 184n28; population, 123–125, 188n2, 188n5; state funding, 70, 82; stupa construction, 81–82; tourism, 71. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Goyön, 65–66, 181n39 Gyeltsen (pseud.) (Kumbum monk): on disrobing, 137; personal regrets of, 112; on tourism, 90

karma, as moral force, 85–86, 95–96, 104, 133–134, 135 karmic disposition, 133–134 Kasar Monastery, 11, 172n32; founding, 12; population, 123–124, 188n4. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Kolås, Åshild, 6–7, 89, 167 Könchok (pseud.) (senior monk): entry to monkhood, 133; on fake monks, 61; on monastic businesses, 99–100; on monastic development, 80; on numbers of monks, 122, 151–152 Kumbum Monastery, 11; as exemplar of decline, 61, 86, 89–93, 158; as Geluk center, 174n9; as national model, 10, 86–87, 88–89; pilgrims, 84, 87, 89; reconstruction, 70, 81, 87; state funding, 31, 70, 79, 182n8; state security presence, 127; tourism, 68, 83, 87–90 Künga (pseud.) (retired official), 114, 147, 153 Künsang (pseud.) (monk): personal regrets of, 112; on role of monks, 115; on temple building, 81; on temporary ordination, 147

Hillman, Ben, 69, 183–184nn18–24 passim Huber, Toni, 61, 83, 169n6

Labrang Monastery: moral decline, historical narratives of, 97, 190n25; patron communities, 34, 177n40; reputation of, 109, 158, 186n9. See also under Gartsé Monastery; Makley, Charlene Laidlaw, James, 8, 171n21 laity: changing attitude toward monks, 115–117; as faithful public, 29, 160; maintaining faith of, as monastic imperative, 62–64, 90–91, 94, 99–100; monastic dependence on, 29; proprietary attitude of, 34, 95; role in revival/reconstruction, 29–31, 70–71. See also patron communities; monastic-lay boundaries Lambek, Michael, 6 Lamont, Michèle, 7, 113, 155, 159, 171n20 land: collectivization, 20; income from, 39, 46, 48, 103; redistribution, 28–29, 31, 54, 180n25; Rongwo dispute over, 28, 180n26

India: exodus of monks to, 127, 142; Geluk seats re-established in, 61, 169n4; as source of legitimacy, 61, 103, 109 individualization thesis, 185n2 Jakhyung Monastery, 13, 171n26; population, 118, 123–125, 187n1, 188n6; tourism, 71 Jampel (pseud.) (Ditsa monk): on economy, 35–36; on education, 97; on tourism, 80 Jamyang (pseud.) (senior monk): 1–3, 94, 156–157, 158 Jamyang Penden, 127 Jansen, Berthe, 64, 105, 106, 153, 157, 173n40 Jikme (pseud.) (Rongwo monk): entry to monkhood, 134; on self-­ sufficiency, 58, 60

Index  213

lhadé (lha sde), 32, 34, 177n40. See also patron communities Lhamo (pseud.) (government official), 55, 57, 180n27 Lhasa monasteries: Amdo monks expelled from, 125, 188n9; population, 21, 126, 150; structure, 178n3, 186n11; tourism, 91–92. See also Drepung Monastery Lhündrup (pseud.) (village elder): on Maoist period, 19–20, 25–26; on revival, 25–27, 31; on sponsorship, 63 Li Xuansheng, 73–74 Lodrö (pseud.) (senior monk): on disrobing, 141; entry to monkhood, 132–133 Lungrik (pseud.) (senior Trashitsé monk): on medical clinics, 102; on recruitment, 142–143 Lungtok (pseud.) (senior monk): on disrobing, 137; on Kumbum, 90, 92; on monastic businesses, 100, 103; on self-sufficiency, 54, 60 Makley, Charlene: “Buddhist counter­ development,” 184n26; high-​ quality low-quantity ideal, 149, 188n12; Labrang Monastery, revival of, 7, 10, 53–54, 111, 177n46, 181n34, 188n12; monastic recruitment, 125, 130, 189n23; monastic repopulation, 24, 25; moral decline narratives, 99, 114; nuns/nunhood, 151, 175n25; renunciation, 175n21; state patronage, 76–79 management, monastic. See under business; Democratic Management Committees; monastic offices Mao Zedong, 21, 173n7 Maoist period: protection of sacred objects/buildings, 25, 31; secret monks, 26–27; social rupture, 19–21; tourism, 73, 86–87; use of monastic sites, 27–28, 31, 77, 87 mass monasticism, 21–25, 32, 37, 145–154 medical clinics, monastic, 102 Mei Jincai, 59, 80, 88 merit and merit-making: m ­ onastics as field of, 23, 29–30, 37;

monkhood, 131, 134, 189n23; pilgrimage, 83; sponsorship/ donation, 34, 52, 55, 56, 77; monastic reconstruction, 31, 81–82; Tibetan medicine, 102; tourism, 85 Mills, Martin, 22, 24, 29, 140 mind (sem), 95–96; corruption/pollution of, 85, 90–91, 96–97, 100, 106, 148; environment and, 97–99, 118–119, 142, 148; technology and, 118, 120, 136, 190n29 mobility and connectivity: expanding possibilities of, 97–98, 130; disrobing and, 136 modernity and modernization: aspirations for, 130, 134, 136; changes in monastic life and, 98; dilemmas of monastic development and, 119–120, 142–144; perceptions of moral decline and, 95–99, 186n9; Sinicization and, 112–113; Tibetan “backwardness” and ideas about, 149, 187n18 monasteries, Tibetan Buddhist, 21–22; field sites, 10–14 (see also individual monastery names). See also economy, Tibetan monastic; education/training, monastic; mass monasticism; monks; population, monastic; revival, Geluk monastic monastery schools, 113, 117–118, 186n16, 187n22; state closure of, 81, 189n16 monastery shops, 100–102 monastic constitutions (chayik), 173n40 monastic-lay boundaries: development dilemmas and maintenance of, 100, 103–104, 118–120, 143– 144, 162; eradication of (1958), 26; erosion of, 89–91, 98–99; moral, 98, 162; reaffirmation of, 162–164; reinscription of (1980s), 27–32; social, 24, 29–30; spatial, 28; symbolic, 27 monastic offices: appointment to, 40, 43–49 passim, 101; reestablishment of (1980s), 36; ­scholar-​ monks versus workers, 109, 186n11 monastic polities, 23

214  Index

monastic rules: consumer goods, ownership and use of, 118–120; monastic capital, use of, 56; private income generation, 105, 107; technology, use of, 118–120 moneylending, ethics of, 55–56, 103 monks: detentions and political education, 125, 127, 188n9; Geluk ideals, 24, 80, 111; livelihoods, 24, 41, 105–108, 142–143; as moral subjects, 65, 98, 104, 146–147, 159; political activism, 4, 10, 128, 170n11; responsibility for Tibetan people/nation, 64–66, 158–160; role as custodians of Tibetan culture, 112–114, 187n17; role as ritualists, 30, 106–108, 110, 153; role as scholars, 109–112, 115–117. See also disrobing; population, monastic; recruitment, monastic monk quotas, 126, 128, 188n13 moral boundaries, 3, 155–157; between generations, 96, 99, 141, 163; between individual and collective action, 105–106, 156; between monastics and laity, 98, 104, 159, 162; between times/places, 96, 163; between types of sponsorship, 52, 156, 162–163; ethnicity and, 113; monks’ negotiation of, 2–3, 155–157, 162–164 moral boundary-work, 113–114, 156, 163, 171n20 moral community/communities, 6; identification with, as constraining and motivating, 9, 158–160; integrity of, and monastic development logics, 160–162; post-Mao restoration of, 21, 29–32. See also under faith (depa) moral decline: Buddhist cosmology, 96; as discourse enabling change, 163–164; as factor in reforms, 62, 141; loss of faith as cause/ effect of, 62, 113, 116; narratives of, 61–62, 90–92, 94–99, 115– 117 (see also under Kumbum Monastery); shrinking monk population as symbol/symptom of, 121–122, 130, 134, 136; as Sinicization, 113, 116; state

policies as cause of, 90–91, 96; wealth and, 80, 90–92, 96–97 morality: as dynamic force, 6–8, 155, 158, 162–164; faith and, 95–96, 113, 141; identity and, 113–114, 159; karma and, 85, 124, 135, 146; mind and, 95–96, 185n1; as relational, 9, 158–160; self-­ interest and, 7–8 nationalism, Tibetan religious, 4–5, 25. See also recruitment, monastic; revival, Geluk monastic; Tibetan identity negotiation, 5, 8, 156–157 Ngawang (pseud.) (senior Ditsa monk): on economy, 50, 105–106, 159; on monastic development, 118–119; on self-sufficiency, 58; on sponsorship, 63 non-monastic tantric specialists (­ngakpa): as alternative to monks/monkhood, 131, 153; attendance at gatherings of, 150, 180n29; lay literacy and, 146, 190n2; patronage of, 63 Norbu (pseud.) (businessman/former monk), 145, 147–148, 153 nuns/nunhood, 10–11, 151, 172n31, 175n25, 189n24 Nyentok Monastery, 11, 172n32; economy, 46; founding, 12; population, 123–124, 188n4; state funding, 70; urbanization, 98. See also Rongwo, affiliate ­monasteries Nyima (pseud.) (village elder), 27, 31 Ortner, Sherry, 6–7, 155–156 Panchen Lama (tenth), 175n29; role in Geluk revival, 26, 30, 173n4; on self-sufficiency, 61, 180n23; tour of Repgong (1980), 25, 27, 81 patriotic education. See political reeducation patronage. See sponsorship patron communities, 32–35; alms collection in, 35–37; continued support from, 51–52, 55, 70–71; ethics of monastic relationship with, 37, 162–163; Geluk revival dependent on, 34–36; as integral to monastic network,

Index  215

22, 32; monastic recruitment and, 23, 33, 123; “ownership” of monasteries by, 34, 95, 153. See also laity Pema (pseud.) (former monk), 134–135, 137–139; on monastic education, 144; on moral decline, 96 pilgrimage/pilgrims, 83–84, 87–89 passim, 184nn31–32 political environment: constraints on research and, 11, 15; shifts in, 4–5, 6, 26, 78, 126–127, 167 political reeducation, 58–59, 125, 127, 167, 188n9, 189n16 population, monastic: numbers of monks, 24–25, 123–125, 187–188nn1–11; pre-1958, 21, 174n8; relation between size and quality of, 149–153; shrinking, 122–123. See also disrobing; mass monasticism; recruitment practice theory, 171n21. See also agency Pu Riwa, 86, 88–89 Püntsok (pseud.) (monk-steward): on disrobing, 62–63, 136; on economy, 47; entry to monkhood, 27–28, 33; on demand for ritual services, 107 Qinghai Province: religious policy, 53, 58–59, 72, 126, 170n9, 188n14; tourism, 68, 71 quality, monastic: age of ordination and, 148–149; emphasis on, 149–154; measures of, 109–111, 118–119, 121; numbers of monks and, 121, 140, 142–143 real estate, 43, 99 reconstruction of monasteries, 28–31 recruitment, monastic: attraction to monastic life, 131–134, 138; before, 1958, 23–24; household interests and, 128–129, 131–132, 138; livelihood and, 133, 138, 142–143, 190n27; monastic leadership, role in, 140; from patron communities, 33, 123, 132, 188n5; personal agency and, 130–132; religious/nationalist sentiment and, 132–133, 189nn23–24; social relations as key factor in, 133, 134, 189n19. See also monk quotas

reform, monastic. See under discipline, monastic; economy, Tibetan monastic; education, state secular reincarnate lamas (trülkus), 187n20; contested role in reforms, 60, 62; critical attitudes toward, 62–63, 65–66, 115–116, 181n39; economic dependence on, 35–36, 46, 48, 51; estates of (nangchen), 35–36, 41; as exemplars, 66, 140; fake, 61–62; political influence of, 19, 30, 70, 177n42; recruitment of monks by, 123, 132; relationship with Qing emperors, 76–77; reputation of, and monastic patronage/ recruitment, 63, 140, 181n34; role in revival/reconstruction, 26, 30, 35–36, 70 religious fraud, 62–64, 97, 107–108 religious policy. See Chinese Communist Party (CCP) religious policy; Chinese state renunciation, 24, 175n21; vow of, 23 Repgong, 9; demographic transition, 129; market economy, 130; monastic network, 9, 11–12, 22, 32–33, 34, 178n9; as monastic polity, 19, 23, 32; Monguor villages, 33, 175n26; monk population, 25, 174n8; religious diversity, 9–10, 22, 153; self-immolations, 127; tourism, 71, 73–74. See also Rongwo Monastery; Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Repgong/Regong Arts, 11, 74, 98, 130 Repgong yülkor zinto (Repgong Travel Notes), 176n38 repression-resistance paradigm, 6–7, 155–156; in accounts of religious revival, 4–5, 170n12. See also agency; state-society framework resistance: everyday forms of, 5; overt, monks and, 4–5, 10, 127, 170n11; religious revival interpreted as, 5; as scholarly focus, 5–6; terms of, 160–162; as unintended consequence of action, 7, 156, 171n20. See also state-society framework; tourism, monastic: resistance to

216  Index

restoration and purification of vows, 28, 30, 176n36 revival, Geluk monastic: as Buddhist re-dissemination, 20–21; Chinese state, role in, 28, 29, 31 (see also state patronage); gender politics of, 7; as gradual process, 25–29; as local and particular, 32, 34, 37, 165; as political negotiation, 5; as politically oriented, 25, 171n6; role of laity in, 29–32; role of lamas in, 30 (see also under reincarnate lamas [trülkus]); as social and moral re-ordering, 20–21, 27–32, 37 Rinchen (pseud.) (businessman), 145–146, 147–148 ritual services: demand for, 107; monks as providers of, 30, 107, 110; in tension with scholasticism, 106–108 robes, monastic, 27, 61, 91, 139 Rongwo, affiliate monasteries: economies, 45–47, 178nn9–10; founding, 12; locations, 11–12; patron communities, 22, 32, 45; populations, 123–125, 188nn4–5; reconstruction, 30–31, 70–71, 81–82; reopened, 27–28; state funding, 70, 82; tourism, 71, 72–73, 74. See also names of individual monasteries Rongwo Monastery, 11, 12, 171n24; colleges, 41, 178nn3–6; economy, 36, 41–45, 52, 101, 104, 178n7; education reforms, 44, 108–109, 109, 121, 150; golden throne holder (sertri), 36, 42, 58, 60, 62; land dispute, 28, 180n26; management committee, 41, 44, 183n18; patron communities, 32, 34, 52, 177n40; political protest, 127; population, 11, 123–125, 188n11; reconstruction, 70–71, 182n9; reopened, 26, 28; ritual services, 110; state funding, 70, 76–78; state security presence, 127; tourism, 71, 73–75, 87–88, 178n8; urbanization, 98, 186n9 Samdrup (pseud.) (monk), 72, 77 Samten (pseud.) (senior Ditsa monk), 33, 55, 186n11

Samuel, Geoffrey, 22, 107, 174n8, 174n14, 190n25 Sangdhor, 65, 181n37 scholasticism: contemporary emphasis on, 80, 109–112; Geluk tradition and, 22, 111. See also education/ training, monastic Schopen, Gregory, 56 Schrempf, Mona, 54, 129, 162 Schwartz, Ronald, 162, 187n17, 189n21, 191n2 self-sufficiency, monastic: legitimization of, 60–61; limits to, 46–47, 51–52; as monastic policy, 39, 42, 46, 50, 51; moral reasoning for, 38–39, 57–59, 62–66; practical need for, 2, 54, 57, 179n22; as state policy, 2, 53–54, 58–59 Senggé Shong Monastery, Lower, 11, 172n32; population, 123–124, 188n5; state funding, 70; tourism, 71. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Senggé Shong Monastery, Upper, 11, 172n32: population, 124, 188n4; state funding, 70. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Shakya, Tsering, 126, 149, 176n31 Shangrila (Ch. Shanggelila) County: rebranding, 74; tourism, 69, 70, 89, 182n2 Shartsang Rinpoché (Eighth), 44, 78, 178n3 Shartsang Rinpoché (First), 24, 32, 111 Shartsang Rinpoché (Seventh), 19–20, 26 Sihlé, Nicolas: non-monastic tantric specialists (ngakpa), 63, 110, 150, 180n29, 190n2; temporary monasticism, 146, 174n17 Sino-Tibetan patronage. See Chinese sponsorship (Han); state patronage social engagement, monastic: Chinese discourse on, 53, 80, 88; Tibetan debates on, 115, 187n19 social moralism, 159 Sönam (pseud.) (former monk), 138– 139, 146 space, monastic: autonomy over, 92–93; commodification of, 73, 75, 90; community ownership of, 82; containing monks within, 103, 105–106; reclamation of, 28–29,

Index  217

31; production of, 73–75; women’s access to, 15, 71, 75. See also mind (sem): environment; state patronage; tourism, monastic sponsorship: endowments, 55–56; as marker of virtue, 63; merit and, 52, 55, 81–82, 95–96; remuneration for religious services, 51, 179n11; solicitation of, 47; state policy on, 53, 191n2; voluntary, versus alms collection, 51–52, 162–163. See also alms collection; Chinese sponsorship (Han); patron communities; reconstruction of monasteries; reincarnate lamas (trülkus): economic dependence on; state patronage state patronage: of monastic reconstruction, 31, 69–70, 82, 87; as pacification, 78, 183n22; politics of, 70, 76–79, 92–93 state-society framework: limitations of, 6–7, 155–164; of literature on Tibetan Buddhist revival, 3–6 status of monks: bodily dispositions of laity and, 116; economic conduct and, 61–62, 107–108, 99–100; as educated corps of society, 116–117; as higher than laity, 24, 98. See also authority, Geluk monastic Sullivan, Brenton, 22–23, 173n40, 174n11, 185n7, 191n3 (chap. 6) summer retreat (yerné), 176n36; disrupted by tourism, 71, 75, 89 supporting communities. See lhadé (lha sde); patron communities Taixu, 64, 65, 181n38 technology: access to Buddhist teachings and, 120, 190n29; as corrupting, 118, 136; in monasteries, 98, 118–119; rules on use of, 120 temple building: ambivalence towards, 81, 115, 118–119; as “Buddhist counterdevelopment,” 184n26; funding for, 70–71; merit-making and, 81–82 temporary ordination: in Thailand, 135; in Tibet, 135, 174n17; Tibetan attitudes towards, 135, 145–147. See also disrobing

Tendzin Repa, 63 Tenpa (pseud.) (Rongwo monk): entry into monkhood, 131–132; on monastic development, 80 Tibetan culture, 112–113; as “backward,” 115, 187n18; monks as custodians of, 112–114, 152, 187n17; as tourism resource, 73–75, 91 Tibetan identity: Buddhism and, 5, 25, 112–114, 115, 170n13; Chinese state, role in defining, 6–7, 158–160, 167; tourism, role in affirming, 182n2 Tibetan people/nationality: concerns over image of, 85, 114; monks’ role in fate of, 65–66, 112–114, 150–153; as moral community, 159; scholarly solidarity with, 6 Tibetans, representations of: as compassionate and kind, 113–114, 159; as passive and weak, 187n18; as victims, 6, 170n12, 171n19; as violent, 85 Tibet question, 3, 5, 169n6 Tibet/Tibetan, 169n6, 172n33 tourism, monastic: aestheticizing effect of, 72–75 passim, 89, 92; as beneficial, 68–69, 82–86; cultural politics of, 72–76, 91; as distinct from other businesses, 72–73, 75, 92–93, 160–161; ethics of, 161; extent of, 69–71, 182n5, 182n10; income from, 44, 70, 71, 178n8; erosion of monastic autonomy and, 72–73, 75, 78–79, 184n25; as merit-making activity, 85; museification and, 78, 86–88, 89; nation-building and, 73; pilgrimage and, 83–84; polluting effects of, 89–92; resistance to, 72–73, 77, 79, 80, 160–162; state control over, 72–73; Tibetan terminology, 83, 184n30 Trashi (pseud.) (postgrad. student), 152 Trashi Khyil Monastery, 12, 172n35, 178n9; population, 124; reconstruction, 30. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Trashitsé Monastery, 13–14, 13, 173n39; economy, 50–51; founding, 50, 141; population, 123–124, 128, 141–143

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Trinlé (pseud.) (monk), 35, 36–37; entry to monkhood, 131 Tsongkhapa, 111; as exemplar, 24, 148; prophecies of decline, 96 Tupten (pseud.) (student), 86, 115–116 United Front: policy, 19–20, 30, 173n1; Work Department, 59, 167 Urbanization, 9, 11, 97–98 Vinaya (dulwa), 8, 56, 92, 105, 140 virtue, monastic: ability to attract patronage and, 63; in decline, 62–64, 95–99; reassertions of, 162–163. See also authority, Geluk monastic; moral decline

Western Bayen, 10, 13. See also Ditsa Monastery; Trashitsé Monastery women: access to monasteries, 15, 71, 75; accessing knowledge and opinions of, 14. See also nuns/ nunhood Xi Jinping, 127, 167 Yershong Monastery, 12, 172n35; population, 124; reconstruction, 31. See also Rongwo, affiliate monasteries Yeshé Gyatso (pseud.) (reincarnate lama), 117, 143 Yönten (pseud.) (senior monk), 135–136

About the Author

Jane E. Caple is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the University of Copenhagen. Her work is based on extended fieldwork in monasteries and communities on the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Her research articles have appeared in Buddhist Studies Review, Religion Compass, and Religion and Society.