Monasteries in Tibet

Sera Monastery

Sera, one of the three largest monasteries of Gelugpa, sits at the foothills of Tatipu. It is as prestigious as Drepung and Ganden, which both have long histories. Sera, in Tibetan, means “Wild Rose Garden” since opulent wild rose woods once grew around it. The Sera monastery was completed in 1419. The Monastery is erected grandly at a mountain slope with a colorful architecture. Sera Monastery together with Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery in Lhasa are known as the Three Great.

Sera is designed around the Main Assembly Hall, which is the grandest hall of Sera, occupying a floor space of 1,000 square meters. The four-storied hall has four chapels in which Arhats, Manjushri, Tsong Khapa, and Chenrezi are enshrined. Later, a huge Maitreya was enshrined in the hall during the reign of the Seventh Dalai Lama. The valuable Buddhist sutras that Jamchen Chojey brought back from Beijing are kept in a sutra pigeonhole adjacent to the hall.

Samye Monastery

Known as the first monastery ever built in Tibet. Situated in Dranang, Samye Monastery was completed in 779. I t was founded by the Tibetan King Trisiong Detsen and belongs to the Nyingmapa and Sakyapa sects. Samye means “unimaginable” in Tibetan. The monastery combines the styles of China, Tibet and India, and the layout was designed to represent the ideal universe described in Buddhist scriptures. It is said that the monastery was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt for three hundred years as the residence of the 6th Dalai Lama. Finally, Rating Rimpoche completed it. Utse, the Great Hall symbolizing Sumeru in perfect Buddhist universe, is the largest structure in the monastery. The Sun and Moon chapels encircle the large hall, and four stupas of different styles stand at each corner of the room. These stupas are colored in red, white, black and green to represent the four Heavenly Kings. Four larger halls and eight smaller ones, evenly distributed around Utse, represent the oceans in that universe. The monastery is secluded from the outside world by a circular wall with thousands of Buddha statues sitting on it. This wall represents a mountain near the border of the universe.

Sakya Monastery

A monastery is a place that visitors cannot miss. The monastery lies 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Shigatse. Sakya, meaning “Grey Soil” in Tibetan since the soil around is grey, is the central monastery of the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Its wall is painted with red, white and grey stripes, which represent Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapani respectively. The monastery has great influence over the Tibetan history and cultural development. Owing to its valuable and voluminous amount of Buddhist sutras and cultural remains, the monastery is often considered as the Tunhuang the Second.

The monastery is divided into the Northern Monastery and the Southern Monastery by Drum River. The Northern monastery was the first one that was founded by Khon Konchog Gyalpo in 1073, from which Sakyapa arose and once ruled Tibet. The Southern Monastery was built in 1268 by the fifth Sakya Throne Holder, Drogon Chogyal Phakpa, known as Phakpa. Phakpa was the spiritual guide of Kubilai khan, a Mongolian Chinese emperor who granted Phakpa secular and religious authority over Tibet.

The Southern Monastery remains in better condition. A typical Mongolian structure, the fortress-like monastery has a moat around and an outer wall and an inner wall, with fortifications and battlements atop, covering a space of 45,000 square meters. It has only one entrance on the east.
Lakhang Chenmo, the Main Changing Hall, is the central structure in the inner courtyard. The hall, 5,700 square meters, has 40 huge pillars, four of which are 1.2 meters (4 feet) in diameter and are said pillars send to the monastery by Chinese Emperor, tiger, Nereus, and wild yak respectively. Murals on the wall in the hall depict the stories about the pillars.

Seventy million Yuan (8.5 million USD) national fund has been allocated to renovate and rebuilt Sakya Monastery last year. The reconstruction has begun although the Northern Monastery is still covered with gravels except for a newly built stupa in which relics of the first Sakya Throne Holder are held.

Tashilunpo Monastery

The Tashilhunpo Monastery sprawls on the slope of Mt. Niser, southwest of Shigatse. It covers an area of about 300,000 square meters with a floor space of about 30,000 sq. meters, painted in red and white, the buildings in the monastery stand closely together in terraced rows offering a grand and majestic view. The monastery was founded in 1447 by Gendun Zhuba, one of the principal disciples of the Founder of the Yellow Sect Zongkaba, and was then enlarged consistently by different generations of Panchen Lama until it acquired its present dimensions.

Gendun Zhuba was the first abbot of the monastery, and in 1600 at the invitation of the monastery, the 4th Panchen lama became the 16th abbot of it, thus made the monastery abode of the succeeding Panchen lamas ever since.

There are many valuable and rare historical articles in the monastery, among them are found a lot of gold and jade signets, and imperial certificates bestowed by Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties as well as a seal of “Daitu” of the Yuan Dynasty scribed in the new Mongolian language reformed by Basba. They are of great value for the study of history.

Kumbum Monastery

The Kumbum Monastery was built in the 15th century, It is situated in the west of Gyantse Town With mountains enclosing from the east, west and north 3 sides, its uniqueness is that its three Sects of Buddhism- Shaja, Ningma, and Guolu are living harmoniously under one roof. Each sect has 6-7 courtyards in the monastery. There are various kinds of thankas, a huge bronze statue of Jiangba, the Jainrese of a Thousand Hands and a Thousand Eyes in the monastery.

There is a hall of arhat made during the Ming Dynasty. The arhats are so vivid that they look very much alive. Besides the monastery is the world-famous 9-story 10,000-Buddha Pagoda. It stands 32 m, has 108 Doors, 77 Buddhist chambers, and countless shrines. Enshrine in the Pagoda are 10,000 statues of Buddha. The Pagoda opens 8 doors, which are decorated with relief sculptures of lively flying dragons, running lions and walking elephants. It is a masterpiece of the joint efforts of the Nepalese, Tibetan, and Chinese.

Drepung Monastery

It is the biggest of the 3 monasteries, situated on the slope of Mt.Guopei. It is 10 km to the west of Lhasa. The Monastery is so big that it resembles a town. Zongkaba’s disciple Jiangyang Qujie who was versed in both Esoteric and Exoteric Buddhism built it in 1416. The Monastery consists of a number of grand halls chambers and the Dalai Lamas’ palaces. 190 huge pillars are standing in the Grand Hall of Guoqin, which could sit, as many as 10,000 lamas.

With the support of plutocrats, it developed as the richest monastery of Gelugpa and became the mother temple of Dalai Lamas. In 1546, the third Dalai was welcomed as the first Living Buddha into the monastery. The Ganden Potrang, in the southwest corner of the monastery, was built under the supervision of the second Dalai Lama Gendun Gyaco around the year of 1530. It became the residence of the second, third, fourth, and fifth Dalai Lamas. After the fifth Dalai Lama moved to the Potala Palace, it was served as the meeting place for the local regime for both politics and religion.

The statue of Buddha Jiangba, is said to be unearthed by Zongkaba, is enshrined on the second floor. Also enshrined in the Monastery is the white conch with a counter-clockwise spiral, which was buried by Buddha Sakyamuni’s disciple Mujianlianzang. It was later on unearthed by Zongkaba and passed on to jiangyang Qujie. Muslim poems are written on the walls of the Hall. Before he moved to the Potala Palace, the 5th Dalai Lama lived here. The Drepung Monastery used to nourish a lot of scholars of Buddhism in Tibet.

The ground of the monastery is organized on the caves and temples for Jamyang Qoigyi, together with two magnificent white pagodas. The buildings of the monastery are centered on these pagodas, The major buildings are Ganden Potrang, Coqen Hall, the four Zhacangs (or Tantric colleges), and Kamcuns.

Ganden Monastery

Founded in 1409 by Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelugpa Sect, this monastery is the earliest of the three great monasteries of Tibet. It is the earliest of the Three Great Monasteries of Tibet. Kumbum Monastery and the 10,000-Buddha Pagoda: There is a hall made during the Ming Dynasty. The arhats are so vivid that they look very much alive. Besides the monastery is the world-famous 9-story 100,000-Buddha Pagoda (Kumbum Pagoda). It stands 32 meters high, has 108 doors, 77 Buddhist chambers, and countless shrines. Enshrine in the Pagoda are 100,000 statues of Buddha. The Pagoda opens 8 doors, which are decorated with relief sculptures of lively flying dragons, running lions and walking elephants. It is a masterpiece of the joint efforts of the Nepalese, Tibetan, and Chinese.

Shalu Monastery

The Shalu Monastery is situated in Rikuozuo within the Shalu village. The construction was started in 1000 by Jestun Sherab Jungne. Its architecture is of a typical combination of the Tibetan and Chinese styles with the archways, carved pillars, tiled roofs, and the Song and Yuan style murals, a rare and unique work of art, mixed features of Tibetan and Han. Besides the various sorts of statues of Buddha, The monastery enshrines various relics such as religious objects, Buddhist scriptures written on pattra leaves, and an important decree of Pagpa, the Sakya abbot. It also has 4 treasures to be enshrined. The first is a scripture printing board carved out of sandalwood. The second is a copper jar to contain holy water. It is said that the water is changed every other 12 years, but the quantity and quality of the water do not change. The third is a stone basin which is said to be used by Shaja Banzhida. The fourth is a stone Board with the 6-character principle engraved on it. On the 4 comers of the board are also engraved four claret pagodas. It is said that when the construction first started, the board was unearthed.


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