Why is Ta'er Monastery special?
Ta'er Monastery, also called Kumbum Monastery, lies over 25 kilometers southwest of Xining city. Ta'er Monastery covers an area of 400,000 square kilometers and is home to over 750 monks, assembling similarities with Songzanlin Lamasery in Shangri-La. Originated in 1379 from a pagoda that marked the birthplace of Tsong Kha-pa, founder of the Gelugpa Sect of the Tibetan people, it is one of the two most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet. Set among flowing wheat fields and fertile hills, Ta’er Monastery evokes an atmosphere of relaxation and meditation.
Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, was born nearby in 1357. Legend has it that the tree grew up where drops of blood from Tsong Khapa’s umbilical cord had fallen on the ground. In any case this tree became known as the Tree of Great Merit. The leaves and the bark of this tree were reputed to bear impressions of the Buddha’s face and various mystic syllables and its blossoms were said to give off a peculiarly pleasing fragrance. The four-storied golden-roofed temple built around the tree where Tsong Khapa is said to have been born is called Serdong or Golden Tree and is considered the holiest place in Ta’er.
The most interesting thing one will encounter is the debate of the lamas. Standing in front of his seated teacher, a student must think of difficult questions from the Buddhist sutras, then clap his hands as loudly as possible and extend his right arm to his teacher while raising the question. Generally, the teacher will answer succinctly in one or two words. Occasionally, he will speak longer and the student’s smile clearly shows his gratitude for the advice. Tourists are not allowed to watch the debate, and if you show enough respect to the lamas, you might be able to have an interesting talk with them.
Ta'er Monastery Highlights
Ta'er Monastery is a storehouse of Tibetan culture and art, including various sculptures, statues and religious artifacts. The most famous items in this monastery are the "Three Treasures". The yak butter sculpture is called "Suyouhua". Made from yak butter, the sculptures bring to life Buddha, animals and flowers, and vary from a few meters to less than a centimeter high. Another treasure housed in this monastery is the appliquéd embroidery displayed in the Great Hall of Sutra. The pictures are pieced together with silk. Mural forms another treasure of the monastery. They were painted with pigments made from minerals and plants, allowing the colors to stay fresh and bright for centuries.
Ta'er is still a major pilgrimage for Tantric believers and scholars. Ta’er has four monastic colleges or faculties. The largest is the Debate College or Faculty for Logic, the Shadupling Dratsang. Most of its divisions use the textbooks of Jetsunpa Chokyi-gyeltsen (1469–1544), as at Ganden Jangtsey and Sera Jey Colleges near Lhasa. A few of the divisions follow the textbooks of Kunkyen Jamyang-zhaypa Ngawang-tsondru (1648–1722), as at Gomang College of Drepung Monastery and Labrang Monastery. The highest degrees of Geshe Rabjampa and Geshe Shayrampa are awarded at the Ta’er Monlam Prayer Festival each year. Gyüpa Dratsang, the Tantric College, or Sangngag Dechenling Datsang was founded by Chojey Legpa-gyatso in 1649. The curriculum follows that of Gyumay Lower Tantric College of Lhasa. After study of the major texts and commentaries of the Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava, monks receive the Geshe Ngagrampa degree. In 1711, Chuzang Lozang-tenpay-gyeltsen built a new Tantric College, Ngagpa Dratsang. The fourth college at Ta’er is the Kalachakra College, Dükhor Dratsang or Dukor Dratsang Rigden Losel-ling. It was founded in 1820 by Ngawang-shaydrub-tenpay-nyima. Monks at this college also study astrology and receive the Tsirampa degree upon completion of their education.