TCHRD received confirmed information that Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, the Founder Abbot of Serthar Buddhist Institute died in the evening of 6 January 2004 in a hospital in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province. Khenpo was 72 years old. It is reported that he died in the military hospital “363” where he was earlier receiving medical treatment.
As per earlier information received by TCHRD, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was to undergo heart surgery at the same hospital at 10 AM (China time) on 29 December 2003.
It has also been reported that Chinese “work team” officials, stationed at the Institute since 2000, left the Institute in the morning of 7 January 2004.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was born into an illustrious religious family of nomads in the Dhok region of Kham in 1932. At the age of two, Terton Wangchuk and Tashul Lama of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism recognised him as the reincarnation of Terton Lerab Lingpa (1852-1926)-or Sogyal Rinpoche- a close spiritual and personal friend of the 13th Dalai Lama. Khenpo first studied under an uncle, a renowned scholar-lama at Nubsur Monastery, and was schooled in Dzogchen (the Great Perfection teachings). At an early age of 14, he sought monk ordination from Khenchen Sonam Rinchen, Abbot of Drakdzong Monastery. At 18, he remained at Dzatoe Changma Retreat Centre where he studied under the guidance of many renowned teachers, practised meditation and lived as a hermit for six years. He was ordained a bikshu (a fully-ordained monk) at the age of 22, and at 26 founded a retreat centre, Senggey Yangtsung, in Amdo.
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was a hugely popular religious figure. In 1980, he established the Serthar Buddhist Institute as a non-sectarian study centre with less than 100 students. Serthar Institute (known locally as Larung Gar) later expanded to a spiritual oasis for over 8,000 monks, nuns and lay students.
The summer and autumn of 2001 saw the dismantling of Serthar Institute. Over 8000 students were evicted forcibly from the Institute and approximately 2000 huts of monks and nuns were demolished under the supervision of teams of military and armed police personnel.
The same year Khenpo was held incommunicado in Chengdu for a year.
Please contact TCHRD for a copy of our video documentary on the Destruction of Serthar Buddhist Institute.