Repository of Tibetan Culture and Art Kumbum Monastery

 

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Taoist Monastery
Kumbum Monastery
Xiahe to Xining

 

The eight pagodas of Buddha Sakyamuni (Lotus, Bodhi, Turning Dharma Wheel, Conquering Heresies, Rebirth, Peace, Victory and Nirvana) were built in 1776 to commemorate the events in the life of Sakyamuni.

The monastery now covers more than 400.000 m2. It is a harmonious collection of beautiful and varied examples of classic architecture combining Han and Tibetan styles, the later clearly dominating.

The monastery has four institutes: the Esoteric, Medicine, Exoteric and the Kalachakra Institutes.

The monks first study the Exoterics and then practise the Esoterics.

In order to study the holy Dharma, the monks must learn Buddhist Sutra, the Vinaya and the Shastras and practise the three higher trainings of moral discipline, meditative concentration and the wisdom of "understanding emptiness".

The Kumbum monastery is indeed a repository of Tibetan culture and art, including various sculptures, statues and religious artefacts. It is a place of pilgrimage, a sanctuary for scholars and a magnet for lovers of art and beauty.

According to the legend, Great Master Tsong Kha-Pa acquired a profound knowledge of Buddhism when, at the age of 42, he laid the theorical basis for the establishment of Gelupga (Virtuous Sect) also called the "Yellow Sect" because of the yellow hats.

After 1415, Gelugpa leaders maintained contacts with the Ming Dynasty Court. It quickly developed in Tibet and spread extensively to Mongolia, soon it gained the advantage over other sects and finally won both the power of civil administration and religion in Tibet.

The representative figures of Gelugpa are the two Incarnated Lamas: Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.

A story about the famous butter sculptures says that Great Master Tsong Kha-pa had a strange dream. He saw brambles change into bright lamp, weeds turn inot fresh flowers; he also found countless multicolored treasures.

After he woke up, he wanted the beautiful dreamworld to reappear, so he organised the artist monks to mould all kinds of flowers, trees, treasures and thousands of lamps with butter.

Around the monastery are eight low hills resembling an eight-petalled lotus, thus the monastery is known as Lotus Mountain. In summer and autumn, the site resembles a green lotus owing to the green-clothed slopes, while in winter and spring, it looks like a white lotus because of the snow-covered slopes.

The monastery is the "pistil of the lotus". This is auspicious because Buddhists believe that such a lotus is a sign of the eight-spoked Dhama Wheel which symbolises that the Buddha's holy teaching will last for ever.

Most of the ordinary monks have their own small courtyards like the ones of the peasants in Qinghai Province. The walls are made of earth or bricks and white washed. The small single-storey houses are kept tidy and clean.

"Han-style" guides