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09:55 Sep 21 2009

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Tashilhunpo, a monastery full of legends
09:54, September 21, 2009  


Tibetan children perform during a ceremony for the bhikku (monk) ordination ceremony of the 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu at Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, July 25, 2009. (Xinhua Photo)


The Tashilhunpo Monastery is the traditional seat of successive Panchen Lamas, the second highest ranking lamas in Tibetan Buddhism.

Founded in 1477, the monastery is located in Xigaze, a city 340 kilometers southwest of Lhasa. Covering an area of nearly 300 thousand square meters, the monastery currently has more than 3,000 rooms and 900 monks.

Now as a scenic spot in the city, the monastery has attracted visitors not only because of its exquisitely designed constructions but also because of the many legends about them.

The most famous spots in the monastery are the temples which contain the bodies of the Panchen Lamas.

The first temple that Laba, a tour guide of the monastery, took us to was Jamba Chyenmu. When entering the main gate of the monastery, you can find the temple by walking up a zigzag path paved with cobblestones. Along the road, there are some white-stone stupas.

There are two types of stupas in the monastery. One is the Buddha Stupa. It is built in the outdoor area and contains Buddha statues and sutras inside. The other one is funerary stupas. These stupas are set in the temples and contain the bodies of lamas. In our tradition, only some masters and Panchen Lamas can enjoy this treatment and the rest of the lamas are cremated when they pass away.

Following Laba, we entered the Jamba Chyenmu Temple. As the highest temple in the monastery, Jamba Chyenmu was built in 1914 by the ninth Panchen Lama to house a gigantic statue of the Maitreya, a Buddha for future. This statue in Tashilhunpo is the largest Bronze Maitreya in the world, with a height of 26 meters. A little boy can easily walk through his nostrils. Meanwhile, the design of the statue can only be described as exquisite.


The 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu (C in front), one of the two most senior living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism, recites sutra in front of his sutra teacher Jamyang Gyamco and other senior lamas during a ceremony for his receiving the bhikku (monk) ordination at Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, July 25, 2009. (Xinhua Photo)


From 1914 to 1918, a total of 110 craftsmen made this statue using 230 tons of brass and 560 kilograms of gold. The decoration between his eyebrows is made of 300 pearls and 32 diamonds. His silk cowl is also the largest of its kind in the world. It would cost 800,000 to one million yuan to make a new one.

The statue sits on a splendid lotus throne, with its hands in the symbolic teaching pose. The throne is filled with processed grains while the body of the statue is filled with smaller Buddha figures, sutras and jewels. Here, Laba told the first tales about the monastery.

In 1937, the ninth Panchen Lama passed away in Qinghai Province. On that evening, this merciful Maitreya shed tears. All of the lamas who had been here at that time could attest to this. As the statue is too high, we can't see the streak of the tear. But it is really there, just on the face of the Buddha.

On the east side of Jamba Chyenmu is the funerary stupa temple for the 10th Panchen Lama. It is said that, just a few days before his death in 1989, he returned to Tashilhunpo Monastery after staying in Beijing for a long time. He saw a clearing in the monastery and said it was a pity there were no constructions there. A couple of days later, the 10th Panchen Lama passed away, and his funerary stupa temple was built on this clearing.

The gold-gliding stupa is divided into three parts. The top is a niche for the life-sized silver figure of the 10th Panchen Lama. Behind the niche is the body of the Panchen, preserved inside the stupa. The middle part of stupa collects works the 10th Panchen wrote, and the bottom stores food, just as the Buddha stupa. Laba said the Panchen had a premonition about his death.

In January 1989, the 10th Panchen returned to Tibet. Before he left Beijing, he said farewell to the officials and his friends. When he arrived in Tibet, the local government held a welcoming ceremony for him. The Panchen sent his pictures to the local officers in the ceremony and told them to look at the pictures when they missed him. After the ceremony, he also burned incense to pray for world peace. Then he said this is his last time to do so. All of these signs showed that the Panchen knew he would pass away soon.

Then, Laba lead us to the main chanting hall, which allows 2,000 lamas to chant scriptures together. The hall contains the throne of the Panchen Lama and two connected chapels. The left-one is devoted to an elaborately ensconced Sakyamuni statue. The figure possesses the sarira of Sakyamuni, as well as the skull or hair of some Buddhist masters. Here Laba told the last tale of the monastery tour.

This is a magical statue. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the statue was damaged as someone pierced two holes in his leg. But the wounds gradually recovered, and you can still see the scares on the figure.

This magical Sakyamuni has attracted many disciples to the monastery. Besides Buddhist believers, the monastery also receives tourists from home and abroad.

The Tashilhunpo Monastery now attracts 4,000 to 6,000 tourists per month. By the end of 2009, the number is expected to reach 650,000. People come to this place, fascinated by the splendid buildings and statues, and share the legends and stories about them. The monastery stands imposingly on a hill, opening its arms to welcome visitors while waiting patiently for them to discover more.

Source: CRI online

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