Monasticism is one of the most fundamental institutions of Buddhism, meaning that monks and nuns are responsible for preserving and spreading Buddhist teachings, as well as educating and guiding Buddhist followers – I didn’t know they had nuns. Buddhist monasteries were constructed after the practice of vassa became something of a ritual, meaning the retreat undertaken by Buddhist monks and nuns during the South Asian rainy season. These constructions gradually transformed into centers of learning where philosophical principles were developed and debated. Or, where Bruce Lee learned to kick everyone’s.. assets. Check out the 10 most impressive monasteries out there!
According to a legend, Yumbulagang was the first building in Tibet and the palace of the first Tibetan king, Nyatri Tsenpo; translated, its name means “Palace of Mother and Son”. Under the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama, the palace was transformed into a monastery of the Gelugpa school. However, it was heavily damaged during the Cultural revolution; good news is it was reconstructed in 1983.
9. Erdene Zuu Monastery
The Erdene Zuu Monastery is considered to be the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Built in 1585 by Abtai Sain Khan, at the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolia, this construction incorporates stones from the ruins of Karakorum. It is surrounded by a wall featuring 100 stupas, with the number 108 – sacred in Buddhism – in mind. Under communist rule, Erdene Zuu was allowed to exist as a museum only, but after 1990 regained its statute as a place of worship.
8. Ganden Monastery
Ganden Monastery is one of the ‘great three’ university monasteries of Tibet, located at the top of Wangbur Mountain and sitting 4,300 meters (14,107 feet) above sea level. Ganden had a population of some 6,000 monks in the early 20th century. In 1959 the monastery was completely destroyed by the Red Guards and the mummified body of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Monastery, was burned. However, reconstruction of the Monastery has been going on since the 1980s.
7. Key Gompa
Key Gompa or Ki Monastery is a thousand year old Tibetan Buddhist monastery, somewhere on a hill; standing 4,166 meters (13,668 feet) above sea level, in the Spiti Valley, it located near the village of Kibar – said to be the highest village in India. The monastery has been the target for many attacks throughout its history, which is why successive trails of destruction and restorations have resulted in a box-like construction.
6. Lama Temple
The Lama Temple is located in the northeastern part of Beijing, and is one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. Built by Chinese emperors who harbored a deep fascination for the Tibetan version of Buddhism, the temple has also served as a home for many Tibetan and Mongolian monks; there are still monks in residence today. The temple contains a 26 meter (85 foot) tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.
5. Thikse Monastery
Thikse Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Yellow Hat sect, well known for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. The monastery is located at an altitude of 3,600 meters (11,800 feet), somewhere in the Indus valley in India. This 12-storey complex houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues and wall paintings. One of the main points of interest is the Maitreya Temple, installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to the Thikse monastery in 1970.
4. Punakha Dzong
Standing on an island between the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers, Punakha Dzong is one of the most beautiful of all Bhutan’s ancient dzongs. A dzong is a combination between a fortress and monastery, with one begin located in every district in Bhutan. Punakha Dzong serves several purposes, including protection for the region, an administrative seat for the government and as the winter home of the monastic body. It is connected to the mainland via an arched wooden bridge, and contains many precious relics.
3. Taung Kalat
Built atop an extinct volcano plug, the Buddhist monastery of Taung Kalat is one of the most breathtaking sites in Burma. In order to reach the monastery, visitors must climb 777 steps to the summit, with Macaque monkeys expecting treats along the way. The views from the top of Taung Kalat are spectacular, and include the ancient city of Bagan and the massive solitary conical peak of Mount Popa.
2. Taktsang Dzong
Situated on the edge of a 900 meter (3,000 feet) cliff, the Taktsang Monastery provides for an incredible sight. Considered the unofficial symbol of Bhutan, the temple was mentioned in a legend that tell how Guru Rinpoche flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress and Taktsang was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon. The first monastery was not constructed until 1692, with a tragic fire destroying most of the original buildings in 1998. but, don’t worry; they have since been restored.
1. Hanging Monastery
Perched halfway up a cliff some 75 meters (246 feet) above the ground, the Hanging Monastery is one of the most remarkable sights in China. 40 rooms were linked together by mid-air corridors and walkways, allowing this remarkable monastery to appears as glued to the side of a sheer precipice. The monastery was built in the 5th century and has over its long history benefited from many repairs and extension, which led to its present day scale.