by Bill Weinberg, The Villager
"Stop the forced evictions! Stop the demolitions!"
That's what was repeatedly chanted, and what the big banner read, at the spirited rally of some 200 at Union Square the evening of Oct. 19. But this wasn't about the depredations of dirty New York landlords or saving historic East Village buildings from being cleared to make way for a luxury hotel. The large type above these demands on the banner read: "Stand With Larung Gar."
Larung Gar is the world's largest Buddhist sanctuary, in a valley in the traditional region of Tibet—although today officially in the Chinese province of Sichuan. At the rally, activists stood with painted cardboard cut-outs representing the monastery or Buddhist academy there, and smaller outlying buildings. Other cut-outs represented a bulldozer and truck-mounted wrecking ball, both "driven" by activists wearing People's Liberation Army uniforms. Sitting below the display were two monks in traditional robes, Tibetan flags draped across their shoulders.
Protest organizer Urgyen Badheytsang, who just arrived here from Toronto to work in the Students for a Free Tibet office on 14th Street, relates some of the history to me. The community was founded in the 1980s, when post-Mao China started to loosen up, by the lama Jigme Phuntsok, dedicated to preserving and reviving the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It rapidly grew, with some 10,000 small cabins today lining the valley walls. These are what the Chinese government is now demolishing, claiming safety and overcrowding concerns. But Badheytsang doesn't buy it.
"It is political," he said. "China fears the growing influence of Larung Gar."