History of Yachen Monastery
Hidden away in a remote valley between Garze (Ganzi) town and Baiyu town, Sichuan, is the isolated Yachen Monastery ( ཡ་ཆེན་དགོན་པ།). Established in 1985 by a Nyingma Rinpoche, the current population of this monastic community is approximately 17,000 monks and nuns, with nuns holding the majority. Despite living conditions becoming more difficult and strains on supplies becoming more common as the population grows, people are still coming to the monastery to live and have shown remarkable perseverance in doing so.
Remote Living Conditions
Many people call the area surrounding this Nyingma Sect Monastery a camp, and they don’t seem to be very far off. At over 4,000 meters elevation, temperatures here can drop well below freezing at times, making living conditions dangerous. Yachen Monastery is simply running out of living space, yet the population continues to rise. Food and water shortages have recently become an issue, with supplies running dangerously low. Even clothing is scarce, adding health risks to the list of challenges this monastic community faces each and every day.
Electricity is almost nonexistent and there is only a short window from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. where electricity is available for use. However, with a large portion of the population living in only tents and crudely constructed huts, electricity is not an option for everybody. While the monastery does not see too many visitors outside of the region, there are still a few places for visitors to stay. Most lack any bathroom or toilets with rooms that are often shared with other people, and keys are not provided. The exception is the large hotel on the right hand side as you arrive at the main gate. It has both decent rooms and good food in the attached restaurant. During the summer season, finding sleeping arrangements can be challenging for tourists, and it is highly recommended to bring ample amounts of water, food, and even camping equipment if necessary.
Lama Achuk Rinpoche
Most recently, Lama Achuk Rinpoche was the last to reside over the sect at Yachen Monastery. A former head of the Nyingma Sect in China, Lama Achuk Rinpoche was an incarnation of Longsal Nyingpo of Kathok Monastery, who was an incarnation of Amitabha Buddha. Born in 1927, he spent 43 years in retreat with Tulku Arik Rinpoche, his master. After becoming a realized Buddhist Master, he was highly regarded up until his passing in late 2011.