The Tibetan Buddhist Institute is training young monks and nuns in an atmosphere of study and discipline, Xu Lin reports in Lhasa.
Eight Tibetan monks, aged from 7 to 11, are taking a liberal arts class. It's part of their daily routine that includes other subjects such as Tibetan and Chinese languages, and mathematics.
They are Tibetan Living Buddhas, receiving their education at the Tibetan Buddhist Institute in Lhasa, Tibet autonomous region.
"When I first came here a year ago, I was too shy to talk to others. But now I've made many friends and I enjoy my life here," says Losang Sherab, a 9-year-old Living Buddha from Lijiang city, Yunnan province.
For Living Buddhas aged below 16, the institute offers courses that combine Buddhism studies and China's nine-year compulsory education.
Their study includes two phases. The first involves 20 percent Buddhism courses and 80 percent primary school courses. Following that, the ratio changes to 30 percent Buddhism courses and 70 percent junior middle school courses. Teachers from Lhasa's best primary and junior middle schools are invited to teach them.
"The education mode is suitable for the growth of the young Living Buddhas. They're endowed with intelligence and wit, and learn very fast. They have to recite many Buddhist scriptures," the institute's vice-president Kelzang Wangdu says.
Opened in October 2011 over an area of 32.53 hectares, the school provides Buddhism education for 768 monks and 136 nuns from Tibet's over 450 monasteries.
The institute and its 10 branches in Tibet have more than 3,000 monks and nuns who are studying the sutras, and 240 received senior academic titles between 2005 and 2020, according to a white paper recently released by the State Council Information Office.
The white paper says that in Tibet, all religions and sects are equal, as are all believers and nonbelievers. There are more than 1,700 sites for Tibetan Buddhist activities, with 46,000 monks and nuns. Believers regularly participate in various religious and traditional activities.
In the general curriculum of the institute, Buddhism courses account for 60 percent of all courses, while political sciences and law, and liberal arts courses account for 20 percent respectively.
Kelzang Wangdu says it's important to train monks and nuns in both Buddhism and patriotism.
The institute recruits students from the major five sects of Tibetan Buddhism with a principle of fairness and equity, to encourage communication among different sects.
The institute exempts tuition fees and provides daily necessities, such as clothes, bedding and stationery. The daily food subsidy is 90 yuan ($14) per day per person.
"I'm glad to further my Buddhism studies at the professional institute. As teachers are from the different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, students can get all sorts of knowledge from them rather than focusing on one's own sect," says Chongdrub Kelsang Tuwang.
The 29-year-old is studying there after passing an entrance exam in 2020 for a four-year program, which is similar to college education.
After graduating from the institute, he can apply for a higher-level education, which is like postgraduate studies.
Before that, he studied Buddhism at a monastery in Nagchu city in Tibet.
He says he hopes the public will know about the daily life of monks and nuns at the institute.
He gets up at 6 am, does his revision and prepares lessons before morning class that starts at 9:30 am.
"I'm interested in philosophy and prajna (transcendental wisdom in Buddhism), which are often used in sutra debate," Chongdrub Kelsang Tuwang says.
"At night, I debate with classmates to review what we've learned in the daytime or go to evening self-study class."
It's a tradition for Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns to debate in a courtyard of their monastery, discussing the philosophy and prajna of the Buddhist scriptures.
A challenger stands and asks a question, and a defender sits and argues in favor of one's position, with gestures such as clapping hands.
"It's a good way to study Buddhism via debate because it inspires you to figure out some problems you can hardly solve on your own or you never thought about before. Some hardworking classmates debate until 10 pm in the courtyard," he says.
Chongdrub Kelsang Tuwang is busy and doesn't have much spare time. Sometimes he goes to Lhasa about 35 kilometers away to do grocery shopping on weekends.
The institute has a soccer field and a basketball court. Computer classes are also held and he has a smartphone to communicate with his family.
"It's impossible to have no contact with the internet these days. We (monks and nuns) are not isolated from society," he says.
In 2014, the institute started to recruit nuns, as a milestone in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. Monks and nuns are studying the same courses separately, except two large classes.
"In the past, nuns could only study Buddhism in nunneries. The institute offers us the opportunity to further our studies with better education resources," says Tsultrim Palmo, a 48-year-old nun and teacher at the institute.
"More importantly, nuns have the responsibility to pass on knowledge they've acquired here to their peers in nunneries after graduation."