Article Rhizomatic Religion and Material Destruction inin : The Case of Yachen GarGar

Daan F. OostveenOostveen

Institute for Cultural Inquiry, UtrechtUtrecht University,University, Achter Achter de de Dom Dom 20, 20, 3512 3512 JP JP Utrecht, Utrecht, The The Netherlands; Netherlands [email protected];* Correspondence: [email protected]; Tel.: +31-622644706 Tel.: +31‐622644706  Received: 1 August 2020; Accepted: 14 October 2020; Published: 19 October 2020 Received: 1 August 2020; Accepted: 14 October 2020; Published: 19 October 2020 

Abstract: This article looks at the revitalization in in particular, in Kham Tibet, and the way how it was bothboth made possible and obstructed by the Chinese state. As As a a case, we look at the Yachen GarGar monasterymonastery in thethe WestWest ofof .Sichuan. The Yachen GarGar monasterymonastery became the largest Buddhist university in China in the past decades, but recently, recently, reports of the destruction of large parts of the Buddhist encampment have emerged. This article is based on my observations during my fieldfield trip in late 2018,2018, justjust beforebefore thisthis destructiondestruction tooktook place.place. I will use my conceptual framework of of rhizomaticrhizomatic religion religion, which, which I I developed developed in in an an earlierearlier article,article, to show how Yachen Yachen Gar, Gar, rather than the locus of a “world religion”, is rather an expression of rhizomatic religion, which is native toto the the Tibetan Tibetan highlands highlands in Khamin Kham Tibet. Tibet. This This rhizomatic rhizomatic religion religion could emergecould emerge because because Yachen isYachen situated is situated both on both the edges on the of edges Tibet proper,of Tibet and proper, on the and edges on the of Hanedges Chinese of Han culture, Chinese therefore culture, occupyingtherefore occupying an interstitial an interstitial space. As space. has been As has observed been observed before, Yachen before, emerges Yachen asemerges a process as a which process is thewhich result is the of theresult revival of the of revival Nyingmapa of Nyingmapa Tibetan Buddhist , Buddhist as aculture, negotiation as a negotiation between the between Tibetan communitiesthe Tibetan communities and the Chinese and the state. Chinese state.

Keywords: YachenYachen gar; gar; Tibetan ; Buddhism; rhizomatic rhizomatic religion; religion; Buddhist Buddhist revival; revival;Chinese religion; Chinese religion;Nyingmapa Nyingmapa

1. Introduction

During my field field trip in in November November 2018 2018 to to the the Yachen Yachen Gar Gar ( ( ཡ་ཆེན་ར )) monasterymonastery inin thethe Sichuan of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it was one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the world (Pedroletti (Pedroletti 20172017),), benefiting benefiting from the expulsion of monks and the nuns from the regionally proximate LarungLarung Gar Gar monastery monastery in in Seda. Seda. In AprilIn April 2019, 2019, Yachen Yachen Gar was Gar sealed was sealed off for foreignoff for visitors,foreign followingvisitors, following a similar a ban similar in Seda ban earlier. in Seda Many earlier. of theMany nuns of andthe nuns monks and living monks at Yachen living wereat Yachen forced were out. Now,forced reports out. Now, and reports photos haveand photos emerged have of the emerged destruction of the of destruction at least half of of at the least West half Bank of the encampment West Bank ofencampment Yachen Gar of in Yachen August Gar 2019 in ( LewisAugust 2019 2019; Tenzin (Lewis 2019 2019;). Tenzin 2019). Given the context context of of self self-immolation‐immolation of of Tibetan Tibetan Buddhists Buddhists in in China China as as a more a more violent violent form form of ofresistance resistance (McGranahan (McGranahan and andLitzinger Litzinger 2012; 2012 Woeser; Woeser 2016), 2016I propose), I propose to look toat Yachen look at Gar Yachen as a Garless asviolent a less sublimation violent sublimation of the resistance of the of resistance Tibetan ofwomen Tibetan against women attempts against of attemptscontrol by of the control Chinese by theauthorities Chinese authoritiesin Kham Tibet. in Kham In Tibet.this article, In this article,I will Idiscuss will discuss the Yachen the Yachen Gar Gar Monastery Monastery from from this perspective. What are the material expressions of violence in the conflict conflict between state and Buddhism in the contemporary PRC? What happens in Yachen Gar?Gar? What can we learn about contemporary religion and relations in China through Yachen Gar?Gar? What can the material conditions of Yachen GarGar teachteach usus aboutabout religionreligion inin China?China? I will argue in favor of the concept of rhizomatic religion ((OostveenOostveen 20192019)) to describe the religious belonging of the Yachen nuns, in the way how they both establish and subvert religious belonging to any set identitarian framework framework (Padma’tsho (Padma’tsho 2014).2014). The belonging of the monks and nuns at YachenYachen isis pragmatic,pragmatic, practical,practical, andand performative. performative.

Religions 2020, 10, x; doi: FOR PEER REVIEW www.mdpi.com/journal/religions Religions 2020, 11, 533; doi:10.3390/rel11100533 www.mdpi.com/journal/religions Religions 2020, 11, 533 2 of 9

In this article, first, I will give the context of the Tibetan Buddhism revitalization in China, as it has been thoroughly studied by Dan Smyer Yü(2012). I will connect this context to notes and memories from my field research trip to Yachen Gar, which I will not present as a genuine ethnography, but rather as an impressionist voyage. I am indebted to the analysis of Yasmin Cho(2020), who uses a Foucauldian–Whiteheadian theoretical framework to discuss the spatial politics of Yachen Gar and considers Yachen Gar as a “process”, a standpoint I strongly agree with. My own analysis of the Tibetan Buddhism revitalization in general, and the role of Yachen Gar in this, in particular, centers around the concepts of the rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari 1987) and the nomadic (Braidotti 2011). I will argue that the material culture of Yachen Gar, the temporary “shacks” build by the nuns themselves, are a way to subvert the territorialization attempts of Tibetan culture by the Chinese state in a nomadic and non-violent way. While the Chinese government emphasizes building a modern state, the Tibetan nuns are able to subvert this precisely by emphasizing the temporality of their “encampment”. Their culture is rhizomatic and fluid, and demolition attempts of the Chinese government, which are an attempt to discipline Tibetan Buddhism in function of the Chinese state, are subverted by a more ancient rhizomatic religion, which cannot be grasped definitively. Since I am not able to talk to the nuns in their native language, my methodology is necessarily limited. I have chosen to study the material expression of Yachen Gar as it emerges in and of itself. Though this will no doubt hinder my possibility of a full hermeneutical self-understanding of the nuns of Yachen Gar, I do believe that it also enables me to take a more detached post-human approach to Yachen and its human and non-human inhabitants, which is valuable in and of itself.

2. Tibetan Buddhism Revival in China Kham Tibet is a region in Western Sichuan province. Historically, it was the most Eastern of five regions of Tibet. It spans an area covering parts of the TAR, Sichuan, Province and Province. Culturally, it is the center of the school of Vajrayana Buddhism. The Kham region in Sichuan is generally easier to access for foreign visitors than the TAR. Yachen Gar is situated in the Baiyü county of the Garzê Tibetan autonomous prefecture. The administrative and moral capital of the Garzê Tibetan autonomous prefecture is , or Dartsedo (or Dardo) in Tibetan: The “Eastern Capital” of the . In , Kangding is famous for a universally recognized folk song: “Kang Ding Love Song 康定情歌”. Kangding serves now as a gateway to the Garzê prefecture on route from the proud Sichuan capital Chengdu. It is administratively mostly run by , many of whom have settled down in Kangding in the past decades. As is often the case in the contemporary PRC, religious practitioners at Yachen Gar painstakingly try to avoid any political association. If prompted, their loyalty to Socialist China is expressed beyond any doubt. However, more significantly, among religious practitioners, there is the complete absence of political associations. About a fourth of the territory of the PRC can be designated as part of the Tibetan cultural sphere. This fact should not be underestimated: It shows the necessity for the Chinese government to territorialize their “New Tibet” firmly within China. The TAR is only a portion of this enormous space, though it is the most controlled. Since the vast Tibetan cultural borderlands of the TAR, in Sichuan province, in province, are not under the same level of control as the TAR, Tibetan Buddhist communities are able to establish their practices in a less restricted way (Cho 2020). For the Chinese authorities, however, it is of prime importance to fit these vast Tibetan territories into the political framework of “China”. The balance between minority cultures and the Chinese state is always a delicate one, especially in a country with a 92% Han majority. The monastery of Yachen Gar has to be situated in the context of the Tibetan Buddhism revivalist movement. Over the past decades, the Tibetan culture and Buddhism in China has had the opportunity to thrive, at least under certain particular conditions. Tibetan Buddhism is divided into a few distinct schools: Most famous are the Geluk school (Gelukpa), which is most famous because of its spiritual leader the Dalai and the Nyingma school (Nyingmapa), which is the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism (about 300 years older than Gelukpa) (Dorje and Kapstein 2012). The Gulakpa is aimed Religions 2020, 11, 533 3 of 9 more at a dovetailing of spirituality and politics. Moreover, it is more aimed at the preservation of emphasis on a Tibetan national culture. The revivalism of Gelukpa in China has therefore been more characterized by political activism against the Chinese state (Schwartz 1994) and a stronger association with the Tibetan government in exile in . The response of the Chinese government has been one of strong oppression of any politicized form of Tibetan Buddhism. The Nyingmapa, on the other hand, does not emphasize any national political goal. Their aims are more soteriological and aimed at popularizing Tibetan Buddhism in the globalized world. Nyingmapa, for its sake of being less political, has therefore been less active in the heartland of Tibet around and the TAR, but thrived more in the margins of cultural Tibet, such as Kham Tibet in Sichuan Province and in Qinghai Province. This placement at the margins and their soteriological emphasis has actually benefitted the Nyingmapa in recent decades. The and Yachen Gar monasteries have to be viewed in this light. The relation between Tibetans and the Chinese state in this respect should not be regarded only as one of opposition, in which one side are the villains (the Chinese state) and the other the victims (the Tibetans). In fact, the Nyingmapa has been able to attract a large number of Han Chinese practitioners. Propelled by offering a very practical way towards redemption, its message spoke to many urbanites in the almost proverbial spiritual poverty of Chinese modernism. The impact of this spiritual message is the result of the combination of the charisma of the tulku’s, which the Tibetans understand to be enlightened beings in a human body, who founded the monasteries of Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, and the emergence of what I call Techno Buddhism: The accelerated dissemination of the Buddhist message (the “Buddha dharma” 佛法) in the digital sphere through microblogging, WeChat, and viral videos on platforms such as Douban (which spinoff TikTok is currently causing great turbulence and controversy in the West). For the Chinese state, there is an interest in binding Tibetan culture intimately to the Chinese national framework. Far from destroying Tibetan culture, the Chinese politics of Tibet is aimed at modernization of Tibetan culture within the country of China. To that end, Tibetan cultural expressions are actually supported, and infrastructural projects are undertaken and encouraged. But of course, this is a double-edged sword. The Chinese state has an interest in stimulating Tibetan culture in function of embedding it strongly within the political framework of Zhong Guo 中国. This Tibetan culture should be firmly embedded territorially in within China, a process that has been labeled “territorialization” (Yeh 2013).

3. A Visit to Yachen Gar “Yachen” was historically the name given to the plain by nomadic people. Yachen Gar was founded in 1985 by Lama Achuk Rinpoche, who died in 2011, the official name being the Yaqên Orgyän Temple. Achuk Rinpoche was a Dzogchen practitioner of the Nyingmapa of Vajrayana (“Tibetan”) Buddhism. After his death, he was succeeded in leadership by Asang Tulku. Dzogchen in the goal of “Great Perfection”, as it is called in the West. This form of enlightenment can also be attained, in this Buddhist philosophy, by lay people, which partly explains its popularity. The soteriological direction of Nyingmapa makes its philosophy more palatable to the Chinese authorities than the inherent political orientations of the Gelukpa (though the opposite, namely that Nyingmapa are precisely targeted, and the Gelukpa left alone for the same reason, is sometimes also the case). At the time of my visit, the monastery at Yachen Gar hosted, according to unofficial estimates, about 10,000 nuns and about 2000 monks. The nearby Larung Gar monastery had recently come under severe pressure from the Chinese government, including demolitions of the living quarters and evictions. Therefore, many nuns and monks had relocated to Yachen Gar (Wong 2016). At Yachen Gar, several large construction projects were under process, presumably to accommodate the expected influx of “refugees” from the even larger Buddhist monastery of Larung Gar in Seda, which originally hosted 40,000 practitioners. We arrived in Yachen at noon by taxi after a two-hour drive from the Garzê township. The encampment is situated at a wide Himalayan plane at an altitude of 4000 m. On the day of our visit in November 2018, it was a cold, windless day under a crisp blue sky. We traveled with Religions 2020, 11, 533 4 of 9 a group of four: A writer and artist from the Netherlands, a scholar and artist colleague from Russia, Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 9 and a girl we met in our local hostel in the town of Garzê from Germany. On our arrival, we had office,to pass these through were a the passport most visible and security signs of checkpoint. PRC presence Together at the monastery. with the local The postterm omonasteryffice, these might were bethe misleading most visible to signsa naïve of observer. PRC presence Yachen at theGar monastery.is set up as Thean extended term monastery shantytown might on betwo misleading sides of a riverto a naïve, withobserver. hundreds Yachen of small Gar self is-made set up huts, as an typically extended sheltering shantytown one onnun. two Alternately, sides of a river,the terms with “encampment”hundreds of small or self-made “monastery” huts, are typically being shelteringused to describe one nun. Yachen. Alternately, The Tibetan the terms word “encampment” “Gar” has becomeor “monastery” a common are reference being used to to refer describe to this Yachen. type of The religious Tibetan encampment word “Gar” hasin the become Tibetan a common cultural region.reference to refer to this type of religious encampment in the Tibetan cultural region. The encampmentencampment ofof Yachen Yachen Gar Gar is dividedis divided by aby river a river (Figure (Figure1a). The1a). roadThe fromroad whichfrom which you arrive you arriveenters onenters the Northon the sideNorth of theside river. of the Here river. are Here the largest are the constructions largest constructions situated, assituated, well as as the well dwellings as the dwellingsof the 2000 of monks. the 2000 The monks. South The side South of the side river of is the reserved river is for reserved the nuns for (Figure the nuns1b), (Fig whoseure 1b), dwellings whose dwellingshave proliferated have proliferated over the past over few the decades, past few until decades, the Chinese until government the Chinese decided government to define decided the area to definemore strikingly the area more by constructing strikingly by a ring constructing road around a ring the road shantytown around andthe establishshantytown a construction and establish ban a constructionoutside of this ban area outside (Cho 2020of this). area (Cho 2020).

(a) (b)

Figure 1. (a) The satellite photo of Yachen Gar clearly shows the spatial set-up.set-up. The main buildings buildings,, as well as the living quarters of the monks monks,, are situated on the northern side of the river. ( b) (detail) The nun’snun’s living quarters are on the south side. According to recent reports, the entire eastern part of the nun’snun’s living quarters on the embankment ofof thethe riverriver was demolished. Source: Google Maps.

At the time time of of our our visit, visit, we we could could roam roam freely freely around around the the encampments. encampments. On Onthe thesouth south side side of the of riverbank,the riverbank, we wecould could walk walk on onthe the main main roads, roads, though though we we were were kindly kindly requested requested by by the the nuns nuns not not to deviate into the living quarters. Yachen Yachen Gar has barely any restaurants and only a few convenience stores. Its Its economy is self self-organizing.-organizing. Communication Communication a appearsppears to to be be based based on the highly popular WeChat app,app, andand mostmost ofof thethe nunsnuns carriedcarried phonesphones andand headphones.headphones. At around 2 pm, we entered a temple building, which also served as a dinner dinner hall hall for for the the monks, monks, on the north side of the river. Even a Han Chinese tour touristist was a rare sight in Yachen, let alone four white tourists. Unlike other remote places in China, though, where whiteness always attracts much interest, in Yachen itit almostalmost appears as if we were invisible. No No noticeable noticeable attention attention was was given given to to us. us. We satsat forfor aboutabout tenten minutesminutes at thethe backback of the dinner hall before a monk noticed us and made eye contact. The The food food distributors distributors were were then summoned summoned to to pass pass by by us us and and offer offer us food as well. We We also witnessed the chanting rituals of the nuns in one large public bui buildinglding (Figure 22 andand SupplementarySupplementary Materials).

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FigureFigure 2. 2.BehindBehind Behind the thethe large large encampment encampment encampment,,, severalseveral several public public buildingsbuildings buildings served served served for for the forthe ritual theritual ritual practices practices practices of ofthe the of nuns.thenuns. nuns. In Inone Inone oneof of them ofthem them,, we, we encountered we encountered encountered hundredshundreds hundreds of nuns of nuns chantingchanting chanting sutras. sutras. sutras.

I mightI might need need to to reflectreflect reflect on on my my own own positionposition at this point. point. I I Iam am am not not trained trained as as as an an an anthropologist, anthropologist, butbut as asa philosophera philosopher and and as as a a theoretician theoretician ofof trans-religiositytrans-religiosity and and Asian Asian religion. religion. I amI am aware aware that that my my presencepresence as as a “whitea “white scholar” scholar” in in an an areaarea describeddescribed by it itsitss “remoteness” “remoteness” is is problematic. problematic. Furthermore, Furthermore, I doI do not not havehave have thethe the linguisticlinguistic linguistic skills skills toto havehavehave hadhadhad conversationsconversations in in Tibetan TibetanTibetan at atat Yachen. Yachen.Yachen. In In that that sense, sense, I I arrived as a naïve observer. Much attention has been devoted to the problematic nature of the arrived as as a a naïve naïve observer. observer. Much Much attention attention has beenhas been devoted devoted to the to problematic the problematic nature of nature the Western of the Western observer of the exotic “other” in anthropology and there is no need here to repeat those Westernobserver observer of the exotic of the “other” exotic in “other” anthropology in anthropology and there and is no there need is here no toneed repeat here those to repeat arguments. those arguments. In the academic and artistic milieus of Beijing, it has recently been equally fashionable to arguments.In the academic In the and academic artistic and milieus artistic of Beijing,milieus itof has Beijing, recently it has been recently equally been fashionable equally fashionable to engage into engage in projects which take Minzu or minority people as their object of study. Therefore, Han projectsengage inwhich projects take whichMinzu take or minority Minzu people or minority as their people object as of theirstudy. object Therefore, of study. Han intellectualsTherefore, Han are intellectuals are at risk of repeating the mistakes of their Western counterparts. In conclusion of this at risk of repeating the mistakes of their Western counterparts. In conclusion of this short excursus: intellectualsshort excursus: are at m risky position of repeating as a white the malemistakes European of their intellectual Western— counterparts.majoritarian inIn the conclusion double sense of this my position as a white male European intellectual—majoritarian in the double sense of being neither shortof being excursus: neither m Chinesey position nor as Tibetan a white— necessarilymale European leads intellectualto a sense of— objectificationmajoritarian andin the estrangement double sense Chinese nor Tibetan—necessarily leads to a sense of objectification and estrangement that is inherently of thatbeing is neitherinherently Chinese problematic. nor Tibetan It is, —however,necessarily the only leads thing to a senseI have ofat objectificationmy disposal. and estrangement problematic.that is inherentlyA striking It is, featureproblematic. however, of Yachen the It only is, Gar however, thing is the I have smallthe atonly meditation my thing disposal. I havecells scatteredat my disposal. around the hill next to theA river striking and alsofeature feature scattered of of Yachen Yachen around Gar Gar a field is is the the West small small of themeditation meditation nunnery cellsencampments cells scattered scattered (aroundFigure arounds 3the and the hill 4) hill .next The next to thetopractice the river river and of and longalso also scattered solitary scattered meditation around around a fieldis a a fieldprimary West West of featurethe of nunnery the of nunnery the encampments prescribed encampments practice (Figure (Figures of sthe 3 and nuns3 and4) .at The4 ). ThepracticeYachen practice of, in long ofaspiration long solitary solitary of meditationthe meditationGreat Perfection is a is primary a primary or Dzogchen. feature feature These of of the the huts prescribed prescribed were makeshift practice practice constructions, of of the the nuns nuns at Yachen,Yacheneach ,differently inin aspirationaspiration buil oft. Thethe Greatentrance Perfection was sometimes oror Dzogchen. not more These than huts a small were prefabmakeshift window, constructions, constructions, which eachallowed didifferentlyfferently only a built.builsmallt. personThe The entrance entrance to enter. was was The sometimes sometimeshuts were barelynot not more more over than thana meter a small high andprefab could window, only fit whichone allowedsmall persoonly na sittingsmall person for meditation. to enter. Some The huts were were equippedbarely over with a meter blankets high and and liturgic could books. only fit fit one small personperson sitting for meditation. Some huts were equipped with blankets and liturgic books.

Figure 3. Meditation huts on the hills.

Figure 3. Meditation huts on the hills.

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Figure 4. MeditationMeditation huts scattered around the field field just outside the main quarters.

On leaving Yachen,Yachen, I metmet aa HanHan ChineseChinese groupgroup ofof peoplepeople whowho camecame fromfrom Wuhan.Wuhan. The man supposedly worked at Wuhan University, something which I have not beenbeen ableable toto confirm.confirm. They were the only other tourists we were ableable toto identifyidentify onon ourour visit.visit. The man and women confirmedconfirmed tthehe story of Chinese development in the Tibetan regions. Upon our testimony that Larung Gar had remained closed to us, they reacted in surprise. They were not aware of any travel restrictions. They diddid,, however,however, emphasizeemphasize that that the the hygienic hygienic conditions conditions in in Larung Larung Gar Gar were were inferior inferior to Yachen to Yachen Gar. Gar. This Thisgroup group clearly clearly belonged belonged to a moreto a more adventurous adventurous interest interest among among Han Chinese.Han Chinese.

4. Rhizomatic belonging in Kham Tibet The religious religious policy policy of of the the PRC PRC is isguided guided by by a model a model of religious of religious diversity diversity inherited inherited from from the earlythe early Republican Republican period, period, in which in which the the conceptual conceptual model model of ofThree Three Teachings Teachings (sanjiao (sanjiao 三教三教:: Daoism, Daoism, Confucianism, and and Buddhism) Buddhism) was, was, as as a aresult result of of modernization modernization movements, movements, replaced replaced by by a model a model of fiveof five “religions” “religions” (zongjiao (zongjiao 宗教宗教, , literally literally “sectarian “sectarian teachings”: teachings”: Catholi Catholicism,cism, Protestantism, Protestantism, Islam, Daoism, and Buddhism). Within Within this this framework, framework, religious religious activity activity in in China China is is “legal”, as long as religious groupings report themselvesthemselves toto thethe locallocal oofficeffice ofof thethe bureaubureau forfor religiousreligious aaffairsffairs (SARA).(SARA). The idea idea of of “rhizomatic “rhizomatic religion” religion” is an is application an application of Deleuze of Deleuze and Guattari’s and Guattari’s theory of theory the rhizome of the rhizomeonto religious onto religious diversity. diversity. Critical theoryCritical has theory often has been often skeptical been skeptical of dealing of explicitlydealing explicitly with religion, with religion,understanding understanding at usually at as usually a backward as a backward form of knowledge. form of knowledge. The idea The of the idea rhizome of the proposes rhizome proposesan alternative an alternative to “arborescent” to “arborescent” thinking. thinking. Commonly, Commonly, diversity diversity is understood is understood as having as having a root a rootstructure structure with a with unified a unified origin, origin, from which from various which various “branches” “branches” are derived. are derived. Deleuze Deleuzeand Guattari and proposeGuattari propose to understand to understand diversity diversity not as anot “tracing” as a “tracing” of various of various branches, branches, but ratherbut rather as a as “map” a “map” of ofinterconnected interconnected diversity. diversity. Rhizomatic religion religion means means understanding understanding religion religion as as an an interconnected interconnected structure structure of ofa myriad a myriad of religiousof religious forms, forms, smells, smells, sensations, sensations, ideas, ideas, words, words, sounds, sounds, etc. etc.which which enables enables improvisation, improvisation, play, play,and belongingand belonging for its for participants. its participants. In religious In religious studies, studies, the the concept concept ofof the the rhizome rhizome entails entails a a double rejection. The The first first is is the the rejection rejection of the of the world world religions religions paradigm, paradigm the idea, the that idea “religions” that “religions” are various are variousinstantiations instantiations in the form in of the faith form systems of faith of the sys categorytems of the “religion”: category Christianity, “religion”: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc. TheBuddhism, second isetc. the The rejection second of is the the idea rejection of religious of the pluralism, idea of religious which states pluralism that all, which religions states are equallythat all validreligions and are are equally derived valid from and a universal are derived “core”, from the a “essence”universal “core”, of religion, the “essence” e.g., the idea of religion, that all religions e.g., the ideateach that the all Golden religions Rule teach of ethics, the Golden or that Rule all religions of ethics, are or about that all love, religions or that are religion about islove, something or that religionthat all human is something beings that have all in human common beings (Oostveen have in2018 common). Rhizomatic (Oostveen religion 2018) off. ersRhizomatic an alternative religion to offersunderstanding an alternative religion. to understand It is an answering toreligion. the question It is an “why answer still to religion?” the question (Vries “why 2008). still In thereligion?” context (Vriesof China, 2008 rhizomatic). In the context religion of rejectsChina, the rhizomatic model of religion religious rejects diversity the model of SARA of religious and the PRC,diversity which of SARAserves asand a waythe PRC, to “divide which and serves control” as a the way religious to “divide practices and ofcontrol” the people, the religious especially practices the minorities, of the people,or use religious especially traditions the minorities, in function or use of religious strengthening traditions the Chinesein function nation of strengthening (Chinese Buddhism the Chinese and nationDaoism, (Chinese in particular). Buddhism and Daoism, in particular). The encampment of Yachen can be seen as a process (Cho 2020): Its material conditions are in continuous flux and transformation. For the nuns at Yachen, the space offers a unique opportunity

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The encampment of Yachen can be seen as a process (Cho 2020): Its material conditions are in Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 9 continuous flux and transformation. For the nuns at Yachen, the space offers a unique opportunity to liveto live a monastic a monastic life life and and live live close close to the to mostthe most influential influential tulkus tulkus of this of time.this time. Since Since monks monks generally generally have ahave higher a higher standard standard in Tibetan in Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism, the opportunities the opportunities for women for women to become to become nuns nuns are even are rarer.even Theserarer. These women women sometimes sometimes come from come hundreds from hundreds of kilometers of kilometers away, from away, Lhasa from or Lhasa more or central more Tibetancentral areas.Tibetan They areas. have They carved have out carved a unique out a sense unique of belonging sense of belonging in this temporal in this space.temporal It is space. the rhizomatic It is the belongingrhizomatic thatbelonging is always thatdelayed, is always always delayed, in always the process in the of process becoming, of becoming, and always and at always risk of at being risk shakenof being up shaken again. up The again. unique The architectureunique architecture and material and material living conditions living conditions of the nuns of the is anuns striking is a expressionstriking expression of this transformative of this transformative way of being. way of being. The YachenYachen Gar Gar monastery monastery hashas aa nomadicnomadic character character (Braidotti(Braidotti 2011 2011).). The designation designation “encampment”“encampment” showsshows thethe perceivedperceived temporalitytemporality of the school, as if the nuns and monks are only for the time being making camp at thethe feetfeet ofof thethe master.master. It also echoesechoes the BuddhistBuddhist conviction that everything is impermanent. It is precisely because of this nomadic character that it has the potential to thrive, as the only way to subvertsubvert the Chinese campaign to transform Tibet in lineline withwith ChineseChinese modernization, and and to to fit fit this this New New Tibet Tibet into into the theframework framework of Chinese of Chinese nationalism nationalism (Smyer (Smyer Yü 2012). Yü 2012This ). dynamic, This dynamic, interconnected interconnected form form of homemaking of homemaking in religion in religion is ischaracteristic characteristic for for what what I I have identifiedidentified as rhizomatic religion. Of course, current destructions of the dwelling groundsgrounds signal an attempt by the authorities to control a form of spatialspatial politicspolitics onon thethe encampment.encampment. In In some cases, prefabricated houses were supplied by the Chinese government in negotiation with the monastic authorities to structure the living conditions of the nuns in a way more to the liking of the Chinese authority. Similarly,Similarly, the the ring-road ring-road around around the the encampment encampment already already can be can seen be asseen a signal as a ofsignal the attempt of the toattempt curtail to the curtail weeding the weeding out of the out encampment. of the encampment. The nuns The themselves, nuns themselves, however, however, appear to appear be in a to state be ofin permanenta state of permanent nomadism—even nomadism “leaving—even home” “leaving (出 家home”) at the (出家 monastery) at the itself monastery to retreat itself into to the retreat even smallerinto the mediationeven smaller huts mediation shattered huts around shattered the hills around around the the hills encampment around the (see encampment Figures3 and (see4). Figures Some have3 and built 4). Some meditation have built huts meditation on their already huts on tiny their houses already (Figure tiny5 houses). (Figure 5).

Figure 5. MakeshiftMakeshift houses at Yachen Gar with meditation huts on top of them.

The nuns at Yachen Gar have turned their precarious conditions into an opportunity, guided by the repressing features within their own culture—inculture—in which women are often seen as metaphysically inferior to men—andmen—and by repression of their culture by the Chinese state. It is maybe even caused by this double repression that the nuns of Yachen havehave foundfound this particular line of flightflight ((DeleuzeDeleuze and Guattari 19871987).).

5. Conclusions cannot be detached from the ever present and intervening Chinese state. presents itself almost necessarily as a “problem” at best, and as a violent confrontation at worst. In the case of the Gelukpa in the TAR, this has led to cultural repression and control from the side of the Chinese government, and resistance in the form of self-immolations. The Tibetan Buddhism revitalization of the Nyingmapa in Kham and Amdo emerges as an alternative

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5. Conclusions Religion in China cannot be detached from the ever present and intervening Chinese state. Religion in Tibet presents itself almost necessarily as a “problem” at best, and as a violent confrontation at worst. In the case of the Gelukpa in the TAR, this has led to cultural repression and control from the side of the Chinese government, and resistance in the form of self-immolations. The Tibetan Buddhism revitalization of the Nyingmapa in Kham and Amdo emerges as an alternative story to the polarized narrative about the place of the Tibetans in the Chinese state: An expression of the inherent rhizomatic character of religion. More aimed at soteriology and teachings, as well as reaching out to Han Chinese, urbanites and with an agenda towards globalization, using the tools of Techno Buddhism, the Nyingmapa tulku’s and their followers, both lay and monastic, have been able to carve out a third space between Tibet proper and Han-dominated China. With Larung Gar as the first example of this interstitial and rhizomatic religion, Yachen Gar has emerged as the central alternative node of the Tibetan Buddhist revivalism in China following the increased exertion of control in Larung Gar over the past decade. The material religious culture of Yachen Gar is nomadic, rhizomatic, and subversive of both the patriarchal Tibetan Buddhism, as well as the control and repression of Tibetan culture by the Chinese state. Yarchen Gar is carved out by the inventiveness of the Tibetan women who found a temporary space in which they can thrive in between the dominant Tibetan culture and the attempt of territorialization of Han dominated China. The recent bouts of destruction still need to be thoroughly evaluated. As is often the case with Chinese politics, these demolitions should be seen as a move in a long game of chess. Chinese policymakers know that the Nyingmapa can be played towards the interests of Socialist China, precisely because the Nyingmapa have sublimated the more explicitly violent anger, which is more prominent in Gelukpa Tibetan Buddhism. The nuns of Yachen Gar build their makeshift dwellings, supported by the authority of Yachen Gar. The Chinese authorities respond by partial demolitions, just enough to raise the nerves and show who is the boss. It is these material politics in this interstitial space between Han China and Tibet that show how Yachen Gar is the most current locus of confrontation between two Asian cultural powers.

Supplementary Materials: The following are available online at http://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/11/10/533/s1, Audio recording 1: nuns chanting sutras in Yachen Gar, November 2018. Funding: This research received no external funding. Conflicts of Interest: The author declares no conflict of interest.


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