Secluded monastery complex attracts 20,000 or so Tibetan nuns, and more are coming

Publish Time: 2018-04-23 Author: From: Global Times


A nun mediates near her small home near the Yachen monastery complex in the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Yachen, a Buddhist monastery complex located along the banks of a river in a remote mountainous area in the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, attracts Buddhists to its doors almost every day. Notably, there are more nuns living in this complex than at any other monastery around the world as a majority of the 20,000 practitioners there are women.

The influence of the complex, built in 1985, is reflected in the tens of thousands of simple wooden shacks that have been built within and around the monastery complex. There are more than 20,000 of these homes here today, a considerable increase from the few thousand that were there a few years ago.

A large river weaves through the complex, forming a giant peninsula of land. Only women are allowed on this small jut of land, which has been nicknamed "the island of nuns."

The areas on the other side of the banks can be used by monks of both sexes to meditate and sleep.

The small box-like homes, which are made of thin wooden boards that don't do much to keep out the wind, are only big enough to house a single individual. Every winter, Buddhists enter these houses to perform solitary mediation that keeps them separated from the outside world for 100 days.

Given the lack of transportation that leaves this region somewhat isolated, life in the area is hard for residents as shortages of items other places take for granted are common. In this populous area, there is also a lack of medical services, which means those with severe diseases have to head elsewhere for treatment.

Women usually hold relatively lower positions in traditional Tibetan families, as such the majority of nuns in Yachen have never been to school. For this reason, many see training at the monastery as an opportunity to increase their knowledge as well as their spirituality.

While most of the nuns that have chosen to train here are in their 20s and 30s, there are also many elderly nuns who continue to brave the harsh conditions for their faith.

Due to the sheer number of wooden buildings, fires are a major concern. To this end, the local government has established fire fighting facilities and has numbered every house in the peninsula so as to better identify them in an emergency.

A bird's-eye-view of the Yachen monastery complex. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Young nuns pose for a picture. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

A woman carries a board as she makes her way through the complex. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Several female Buddhist practitioners engrave Mani prayer stones. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Two women walk through the complex. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

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