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Tibet: Lhasa monasteries

Drepung, Sera and Norbulingka

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September 29th Lhasa, Tibet

After breakfast we were collected to drive through Lhasa to Drepung Monastery, our first port of call. This was going to be the highest we would walk to, as the colleges of Drepung are at 4000m.

Monasteries in Tibet
The great Gelugpa monasteries of Sera, Drepung and Ganden, known collectively as the densa chenmo sum, once operated like self contained worlds. Drepung alone, the largest of them, was home to 10,000 monks at the time of the Chinese takeover in 1951. Like other major Gelugpa institutions, Drepung operated less as a single unit than as an assembly of colleges, each with its own interests, resources and administration.
The colleges, known as tratsang or dratsang were (and still are) made up of kangtsang (residences). A monk joining a monastic college was assigned to a kangtsang according to the region in which he was born. For instance, 60% of monks at Drepung’s Loseling College were from Kham, while Gomang College was dominated by monks from Amdo and Mongolia. This gave the monastic colleges a distinct regional flavour and meant loyalties were generally grounded deeper in the colleges than in the monastery. At the head of a college was the khenpo (abbot), a position for one who had completed the highest degree of monastic studies. The successful applicant was chosen by the Dalai Lama. Beneath the abbot was a group of religious leaders who supervised prayer meetings and festivals, and a group of economic managers who controlled the various kangtsang estates and funds. There was a squad of huge monks known as dob-dobs, in charge of discipline and punishments. In the case of the larger colleges, estates and funds were often substantial. Loseling College had over 180 estates and 20,000 serfs who worked the land and paid taxes to the monastery. Monasteries were involved in many forms of trade. For the most part, holdings were not to support monks, who were often forced to do private business to sustain themselves, but to maintain the endless cycle of prayer meetings and festivals deemed necessary for the spiritual good of the nation.
Tibet has a large number of monks and lamas who play a major role in the lives of the Tibetan people, conducting religious ceremonies and taking care of the monasteries. Tibet has the largest number of monks in the world at almost 1/3 of the population. The costumes of Tibetan monks are a significant part of Tibetan culture. Clothing includes a waistcoat and dark red kasaya, twice the body's length, which they wrap obliquely about their shoulders. When monks pray, they wear a red cloak (dagang) made of wool. After the monks are promoted to Gexi (the highest academic degree of Tibetan Buddhism), their waistcoats are rimmed with satin borders, and they hang satin water bags about their waists, with a small bottle for mouth-rinsing. Monks responsible for blowing the suona horn and monastic bugle also wear them as ornaments. The costumes of Tibetan monks are usually made of crimson pulu. In daily life, a monk wears a shawl with the front and back decorated with yellow cloth, and a long skirt, and drapes another long shawl, approx 21⁄2 times the length of his height. When he attends a religious meeting he wears a cloak and special yellow cap sticking up high on the head, which resembles the shape of a rooster's comb. The costumes of monks varies among different sects eg some monks wear long, steeple-crowned hats with the brim folded and the front open. Robes are the most common costume of Tibetan monks. The basic robe consists of the following parts:
► dhonka, a wrap shirt with cap sleeves, usually maroon or maroon and yellow with blue piping.
► shemdap is a maroon skirt made with patched cloth and a varying number of pleats.
► chögu is like a sanghati, a wrap made in patches and worn on the upper body, or sometimes draped over one shoulder like a kashaya robe. The chögu is yellow and worn for certain ceremonies and teachings.
► zhen is similar to the chögu, but maroon, for ordinary day-to-day wear.
► namjar is larger than the chögu, with more patches, yellow silk for formal ceremonial occasions.
The way the monks to wear their robe depends on their sect. The most common is that which is worn for the alms-round with the robe covering
both the shoulders. The two top corners are held and the edges rolled tightly together. The roll is then pushed over the left shoulder, down the back, under the armpit and is held down with the left arm. The roll is parted in front through which protrudes the right arm. Within the monastery or residence and when having an audience with a more senior monk, a simpler style is adopted (as a gesture of respect and to facilitate work). The right side of the robe is pushed under the armpit and over the robe on the left leaving the right shoulder bare. Hats are important for Tibetan monks and a distinctive feature of different schools of Tibetan Buddhism; eg, Red Hats for Nyingmapa and Yellow Hats for Gelugpa. Monks of different sects can be easily distinguished by their caps, eg senior monks of the Ningma Sect wear lotus caps shaped like thrones. It was said that such caps were once worn by Padmasambhava, a senior Indian monk who preached in Tibet. Monks of the Sakya Sect wear heart-shaped caps (sakya cap). Golden-rimmed red caps, said to be granted by an emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, were later changed to yellow caps by Tsong-kha-pa. Although monks' attire is determined by rigid rules, nuns' attire is determined by their financial situation. Their waistcoats may be rimmed with satin, but their skirts and kasaya are usually made of tweed. Sometimes they patch a piece of satin on their shoes to represent their different status. Along with the fast development of society, monk's and nun's clothes have been undergoing changes. Now it is not unusual to see Buddhist monks and nuns wear sport shoes and watches.
As we drove through Lhasa we were impressed by the wide roads of new Lhasa, which contrasted with the cobbled lanes of old Lhasa. We were the first people and parked in the huge car park, pretty much alone. We were surprised In general how little police/ military presence there was, having expected a lot more. Although certain points (outside Potala, Bharkhor Square) had checkpoints they didn’t bother us as we didn’t have ID cards to scan. At Drepung they hardly even looked at us. Drepung Monastery, situated at the foot of Mt Gambo Utse, 5 km from Lhasa, is the most important Gelu(g)pa monastery in Tibetan Buddhism and one of the 'Three Great Monasteries' (the other two are Ganden and Sera). Covering 250,000m2, it held 7,700 monks in total and possessed 141 fazendas and 540 pastures in its heyday, the largest scale monastery of its kind. Seen from afar, its grand white construction gives the appearance of a heap of rice; hence the name 'Drepung', which in Tibetan, means ‘Rice Heap'. Drepung Monastery was established in 1416 by Tsong Khapa's disciple Jamyang Qoigyi (Chörje), who was versed in both Esoteric and Exotoric Buddhism and became the first Kampo there. With wealthy support, it developed as the richest of its kind of Gelugpa and the mother temple of Lamas. In 1546, the 3rd Dalai Lama was welcomed as the first Living Buddha in it. At the invitation of Mongolia's king, he went to Qinghai Province to preach and was given the title '3rd Dalai Lama’ (the 1st and 2nd were entitled too). It is the place that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Dalai Lamas held the Sitting-in-Bed Ceremony, as well as the residence of the 5th Dalai Lama before his nomination by the government of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Drepung Monastery is unique in its layout and structure, built around the main caves and temples of Jamyang Choge (Qoigyi), including two white pagodas that are surrounded by the other halls and chapels in a mandala pattern, spreading out from the centre of the universe. Lying as it does on the foot of the mountain, Drepung covers a large area, with the most important halls and chapels in the middle, extending out through the Zhacangs and Kamcuns to the outer buildings which housed the monks and staff of the monastery. The central buildings consist of the Ganden Phodrang (Palace, the Dalai Lama’s residence), Coqen (Main Assembly) Hall, several Kamcuns, and colleges, or Zhacangs, of which there were originally seven, now incorporated into the four that still exist. The organisational hierarchy of Drepung Monastery is complex. Monks belonging to respective Zhacangs cannot intermingle. Education in Zhacangs is set up so that, every year there are 8 chances to study the sutra, spanning 15-30 days. Monks are tested before the Kampo in reciting sutras and debating, and based on their performance; receive degrees of different levels.
1. Sanga Tratsang A3
2. Ganden palace A2
3. Kitchen B2
4. Main Assembly Hall B2
5. Ngagpa College A1
6. Samlo Kangtsanh A1
7. Jampelyang Temple A1
8. Jamyang Choje meditation Cave B2
9. Loseling College B2
10. Gomang College C2
11. Lamba Mitze C2
12. Lumbum Kangtsang C2
13. Jurche Mitze C2
14. Deyang College C2
15. Main Debating Courtyard C1

We past the ticket office, up the stone stairs (clockwise of course) on the ancient Pilgrim route (Kora). We saw rock paintings high above our heads, and stopping briefly for the prayer wheels carried on up. On the way were some patient dogs. Apparently pilgrims feed them most mornings and they had learnt to wait.
The first hall on the left (picture) is the Sanga Tratsang (1) a recently renovated chapel, housing statues of protectors Namtöse (Vaishravan), Chögyel (Dharmaraja), Palden Lhamo (Shri Devi on a horse) and Dorje Drakden (the Nechung oracle), all arranged around a central statue of the 5th Dalai Lama. Sanga Tratsag is the picture to the left. Passing the empty Main Debating courtyard (15), we soon arrived outside Ganden Palace (2) aka Ganden Phodrang.
In 1530 the 2nd Dalai Lama established the Ganden palace, which became the home to the Dalai Lamas until the 5th built the Potala. It was from here that the early Dalai lamas exercised their political as well as religious control over central Tibet, and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Dalai Lamas are all entombed here. We headed up the short stairs and then across the main courtyard where performances of cham (a ritual dance) are traditionally performed during the Shötun festival. Tibetan pilgrims stop to buy amulets and traditional sacred threads here. The upper floor of the main building has 3 chapels that make up the apartments of the early Dalai Lamas. The second of the 3 chapels, to the right, is an audience room with wonder-fully detailed murals and the throne of the 5th Dalai lama, next to a 1000-armed statue of Chenresig. The third is a simple living room. From here descend and cross over to a final chapel. Signs lead past a refreshment stand and a corner rock shrine to Drölma, to the exit to the north.
The Dalai Lama’s throne.

Ganden Palace, exterior and interior
Carrying on clockwise and up past towering whitewashed buildings we did a tiny detour left to the monastery kitchen (3), whose medieval looking cauldron and ladles look like a set from a film. As we had arrived in Tibet shortly after their most important festival of Shotun, all the temples were proudly displaying their torma. Tormas are a ritual cake hand molded by the monks from roasted barley flour and butter. They are dyed with different colours and every torma has a special meaning. They could represent a deity or a mandala and they could also represent offering or un- attachement. Some tormas are also used for deep meditation by the monks. As taught by Guru Padmassambhava "tor' means to give without attachment, and "ma' means completely present. Basic torma take about 2 hours, but the more complex ones we saw we 4+ hours of work. When completed they are taken inside the prayer hall where the Monks do a special ritual before putting torma in the altar of the monastery. These tormas are not for eating (and some of the vibrant colours contain wax so you wouldn’t want to anyway).
Some torma
A large balcony area housed the Main Assembly Hall (4), or Tgochen/ Coqen, the principal structure in the Drepung complex. Coqen Hall is located in the centre. In front is a square occupying an area of about 1,850 sq m. Stepping on the wide stone stairs, you see the grand Entrance Hall. Inside is Sutra Hall supported by 183 pillars, and spanning 1,850 sq m. Amongst the colourful decorations are fine and vivid statues of Buddha, including Manjushri Buddha and Sitatapatra. The second storey houses collections of precious sutras. There are a set of Gangyur Tripitaka written in gold powder, and woodcarving sutras of the Qing Dynasty. On the third storey is enshrined a huge bronze statues of Qamba Buddha, said to be the future appearance of Qamba Buddha in his 8th Jamyang Qoigyi's conch shell given by Tsong Khapa. The hall is reached through an entrance on the west side. The huge interior is very atmospheric, draped with thangkas, covered in monks robes and yellow hats, and supported by over 180 columns; the ones near the western protector chapel dedicated to golden Palden Lhamo are decorated with ancient chainmail and bows. Exquisite statues of Tsong Khapa, Kwan-yin Bodhisattva, Manjushri Bodhisattva, Amitayus, and Jamyang Qoigyi in other sutra halls, as well as flowery murals on walls also present the wisdom of the Tibetan people.
The back room chapel features the protector deities Chana Dorje (Vajrapani, blue) and Tamdrin (Hayagriva, red) on either side of the door, and contains statues of Sakyamuni with his 2 disciples, the Buddhas of the Three Ages, and 9 children above. The walls and pillars are lined with statues of 8 standing bohisattvas. To the front centre there is also a youthful looking statue of Lamdrin Rinpoche (a former abbot of Drepung, recognisable by his black-rimmed glasses); next to it is his chorten. To the east is Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa sect. Statues of interest in the main hall include a 2-storey Jampelyang (Manjushri), accompanied by the moustached 13th Dalai Lama, Sakyamuni, a statue of Tsongkhapa that is said to have spoken, Jamyang Choje in a cabinet to the right, the 7th Dalai Lama and to the right Sakyamuni flanked by 5 of the Dalai lamas. At either end of the altar is a group of 8 arhats (lit worthy ones). Look for the 2-storey statue of Jampa in the back room to the right. Pilgrims walk under the long cabinet on the eastern wall, which holds a huge building-sized thangka that is unveiled during Shotun festival.
Assembly Hall; access to kitchen and Ngagpa College
Loseling College; Future Buddha
Back by the main entrance steps lead up to the 1st and 2nd floors. At the top of the stairs is the Hall of the Kings of Tibet, featuring statues of Tibet’s early kings, as well as Lobsang Gyatso (5th Dalai Lama) and a chapel containing the head of a 2-storey Jampa statue. Pilgrims prostrate themselves and drink from a sacred conch shell. Continue clockwise through Sakyamuni Chapel, filled with chortens, and descend to the Miwang Lhakhang. This chapel contains the assembly hall’s most revered image, a massive statue of Jampa (Future Buddha) at the age of 12. The statue rises through 3 floors, from the ground floor chapel seen earlier, and is flanked by Tsongkhapa to the left and Jamyang Choje to the right. Next is the Drölma Lhakang. Drölma is a protective deity and the 3 Drölma images in the chapel are responsible for protecting Drepung’s drinking water, wealth and authority respectively. There are also fine examples of gold-inked Tibetan Kangyur scriptures here. The central statue is a form of Sakyamuni, whose amulet encases one of Tsongkhapa’s teeth. We exited the building from the western side of the 2nd floor, which led further up, to the highest of Drepung’s buildings, Ngagpa College (5), a staggering 4,100m.
Ngagpa is one of Drepung’s 4 tratsang (colleges) and is devoted to Tantric study. The chapel is dedicated to bull- headed Dorje Jigje (Yamantaka), a Tantric meditation deity who serves as an opponent to the forces of impermanence. The cartoon style Dorje Jigje image in the inner sanctum is said to have been fashioned by Tsongkhapa himself. Walking clockwise, statues include Palden Lhamo (1st, riding a horse), Nagpo Chenpo (3rd), Drolma (4th), Tsongkhapa (5th), 5th Dalai Lama (7th), and by the door, the Nechung oracle. Look for the bull-headed Chogyel to his side, his hand almost thrusting out of the glass cabinet. To get a feel for what Drepung was like before the renovations, detour briefly up to Samlo Kangtsang (6), still a melancholic ruin. Follow the kora round the back of the assembly hall to pass the small Jampelyang Temple (7) where pilgrims pour yak butter on the wall, then peer in to glimpse holy rock images of Jampelyang and Drolma and get hit on the back with a holy iron rod Just a bit further, tucked in on the right, is the tiny mediation cave of Jamyang Choje (8), with some fine rock paintings.
Loseling College (9)
Loseling is the largest of Drepung’s colleges, and studies here were devoted to logic. We popped into the small debating courtyard west of Loseling College. Monks sometimes practise their music in the garden here, blowing huge horns and crashing cymbals. The main hall houses a throne used by the Dalai Lamas, an extensive library, and a long altar decorated with statues of the 5th, 7th and 8th Dalai Lamas, Tsongkhapa and former Drepung abbots. The two chortens of Loseling’s earlier abbots are covered with offerings. There are 3 chapels to the rear of the hall. The one to the left houses 16 arhats. The central chapel has a large statue of Jampa and a self-arisen stone painting of the Nechung oracle on the opposite wall; the chapel to the right has a small but beautiful statue of Sakyamuni. On the 2nd floor we passed a small printing press to enter a small chapel full of angry deities and under the body of a small stuffed goat draped with one-máo notes before entering the spooky gönkhang (protector chapel). There are more protective deities here, including the main Dorje Jigje (Yamantaka), Nagpo Chenpo (6-armed Mahakala), Dorje Drakden and Dorje Lekpa.
Gomang College; Deyang College
Gomang College (10)
Gomang is the 2nd largest of Drepung’s colleges, and follows the same layout as Loseling. The main hall has a whole row of images, including Jampa, Tsepame and the 7th Dalai Lama. Again there are three colleges to the rear; the one to the left houses 3 deities of longevity, but more important is the central chapel, filled with images. As at Loseling there is a single protector chapel on the upper floor (forbidden to women), but S had a look.
Deyang College (14)
The smallest of Drepung’s colleges, its principal image in the main hall is Jampa, flanked by Jampelyang, Drölma, the 5th Dalai Lama, and others. Upstairs are some fine puppet-like standing protector deities. In the north-east corner in the courtyard is the Main Debating Courtyard (15), where monks debate between 2.30 and 4.30 (left).
The monastery is composed of 4 Zhacangs. Loseling Zhacang is the largest with the most lamas. Loseling, Gomang, and Deyang Zhacang focus on Esoteric Buddhism, while Ngaba Zhacang on Exotoric Buddhism. Several courtyards in the dense forests on the grounds are used by monks to debate on the sutras. Courtyards sites are always chosen near Zhacang and various trees are grown. After the debating period in both Zhacang and the entire monastery, the winner will obtain the qualification to attend the test for the senior degree of Geshi.

Drepung Kora
The pilgrim circuit climbs to 4000m past rock paintings and a high wall used to hang a giant thangka during the Shötun festival. It peaks at a valley full of prayer flags and descends via a Drolma (Tara) statue. 10 minutes walk from Drepung is Nechung Monastery, the seat of the Tibetan State Oracle until 1959. The oracle was the medium of Dorje Drakden (an aspect of Pehar, the Gelugpa protector of the Buddhist state), without whom the Dalai Lama would not make any important announcement. In 1904 the oracle resigned in disgrace, having failed to predict the invasion of the British under Younghusband In 1959 the oracle fled to India with the Dalai Lama. The Dorje Drakden, the protective spirit manifest in oracle, has images in the back chapel. The left hand statue is so terrifying it’s face is covered, though the right hand one is more conciliatory. The la-shing (sacred tree) between them is the home of Pehar. The far right chapel has a spirit trap and a statue of Dzogchen deity Ekajati, recognisable from her single fang and eye (power of concentration). The whole site is associated with possession, exorcism and other pre-Buddhist rituals. Every New Year in Lhasa until 1959 the Dalai Lama would go to consult the Nechung Oracle. The oracle wore a feather headdress so heavy that 2 men needed to lift it on. He would then whip himself into a trance in order to dislodge his spirit from his body. He'd would answer questions by writing the answer on a black-board.
We found our minibus once more (and were coping ok with the altitude) and drove back into Lhasa to find Norbulingka. The palace is much lower than Drepung, which is why the 7th Dalai Lama built it as he has respiratory problems. We were dropped off by the main entrance (East Gate) where there are two stylised Snow Lion statues covered in khatas (thin white scarves offered as a mark of respect). The Snow Lion on the left is accompanied by a lion cub. The mythical Snow Lion is the symbol of Tibet; according to legend they jump from one snow peak to another. As we walked in we saw that unlike many Buddhist temples, the beautiful flower filled gardens gave a soft, natural tone.

Norbulingka Palace
Summer Palace (Tibetan ཎོར་ བུ་ ལིང་ ཀ་, Chinese 罗布林卡 lit "Jewelled Park") is a palace and park in west Lhasa, a short distance from Potala Palace and at 36 hectares the largest garden in Tibet. It was built 1755 to serve as the traditional summer monks residence. The Sho Dun Festival ("yogurt festival") is an annual festival held at Norbulingka in 7th Tibetan month c August. Norbulingka, meaning 'Treasure Park' in Tibetan, is on the bank of the Kyichu River, about one km southwest of Potala Palace. The 7th Dalaï lama founded the first summer palace in the Norbulingka in 1755. Rather than use the palace simply as a retreat, he decided to use the wooded environs as a summer base from which to administer the country, a practice repeated by subsequent Dalai lamas. The grand procession of the Dalai lama's entourage relocating from the Potala to the Norbulingka became one of the highlights of Lhasa’s year. The 8th Dalai Lama (1758-1804) initiated more work, expanding the garden and digging the lake south of the New Summer Palace. The 13th Dalai Lama was responsible for the 3 palaces in the north west corner and the 14th (present) Dalai Lama built the New Summer Palace. In total the complex has 374 rooms, in potrangs (palaces), pavilions and smaller buildings. In 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama escaped the Norbulingka disguised as a Tibetan soldier. All the palaces of the Norbulingka were damaged by Chinese artillery fire in the subsequent popular uprising. At the time, the compound was surrounded by 30000 Tibetans determined to defend their spiritual leader. Repairs are still underway. It has now been turned into a park open to the public. Norbulingka consists of several palace complexes, such as the Kelsang Potrang, Tsokyil Potrang, Golden Linka, Takten Migyur Potrang. Each palace complex is divided into three sections; palace section, section in front of the palace and the woods.
Kelsang Podrang
Kelsang Potrang, the first and oldest of the palaces, was named after the 7th Dalai Lama. Every Dalai Lama from the 8th to the 14th has used it as a summer palace. The main audience hall features 65 hanging thangkas and lovely painted wood. It is a 3-storey palace with halls for worship-ping Buddha, bedrooms, reading rooms and sanctuaries. Tsokyil Potrang, when the 8th Dalai Lama was in power, is considered the most attractive in Norbulingka. Khamsum Zilnon, built during that time to enjoy Tibetan opera, is really a striking pavilion of Han architectural style. In 1922, a wealthy benefactor had Golden Linka and Chensel Potrang constructed for the 13th Dalaï-lama. Meanwhile, flowers, grasses and trees were planted. The New Summer Palace (Takten Mihyü Podrang) in the centre of the park was built by the present Dalai Lama between 1954-6 and is the most interesting of the Norbulingka palaces. We stopped by the beautiful fountain entrance filled with flowers to take a picture. We then had to put our cameras away and enter the walled complex from its east side. The combination of the characteristics of temple and villa is quite magnificent.
The exquisite murals in the palace were well worth a visit. The murals in the northern hall show the kind, calm Sakyamuni and his eight disciples. However, the murals in the southern hall vividly tell the development of Tibet in comic-like strips. The first of the rooms is the Dalai Lama’s audience chambers. Note the wall murals, which depict the history of Tibet in 301 scenes that flow in rows from left to right. As you stand with your back to the window, the murals start on the left wall with Sakyamuni and show the mythological beginnings of the Tibetan people (from the union of a bodhisattva and a monkey in the Sheldrak Cave) as well as the first field in Tibet (to symbolise the introduction of agriculture). The wall in front depicts the circular building of Samye monastery. Ganden, Drepung and other monasteries were to the right. The right wall shows the construction of the Potala and Norbulingka. Next come the Dalai Lama’s private quarters, which consist of a meditation chamber and a bedroom. These rooms have been maintained almost exactly as he left them, and apart from the usual Buddhist images they contain the occasional surprise like a Soviet radio. The assembly hall where the Dalai Lama would address heads of state, is home to a gold throne backed by wonderful cartoon style murals of the Dalai Lama’s court (left at back); look out for British representative Hugh Richardson in a trilby and several Mongolian ambassadors. The right wall depicts the Dalai Lamas. The first 5 lack the Wheel of Law, symbolising their lack of governmental authority. Last are the suites of the Dalai Lama’s mother whose bathroom basin overflows with offerings of 1 máo notes.
We left after popping in to the charming yellow walled mani lakhang to the south of the entrance. As we exited we headed right to the dramatic Lake Palaces. In the centre of a lake, three islands were connected to the land by short bridges and a small palace was built on each island. South of the New Summer Palace is the artificial lake commissioned by the 8th Dalai Lama. The only open pavilion is the retreat of the 13th Dalai Lama in the south west corner, featuring a library, 1000-armed Chenresig statue and a stuffed tiger in the corner. Pilgrims walk around the Mongolian style cairn of stones to the left of the building. We left via the summer palace of the 13th Dalai Lama (Chensek Podrang) in the western section of the Norbulingka. The ground floor of the assembly hall here was stuffed full of palanquins and bicycles, making the fine murals depicting the life of Sakyamuni are dark and hard to see. Nearby the smaller Kelsang Dekyi Palace was also built by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1926, as a Tantric temple. The fine murals depict Ganden and Potala (the Buddhist paradises, not the buildings). Opposite is the Tibet museum, heavy with communist propaganda.
After this we drove out of Lhasa towards Sera Monastery, parking just below the entrance. It was definitely lunch, so we stopped for a buffet lunch (mainly vegetarian) at Lazkhenhang Restaurant. It was a good deal with a variety of food and drinks in a garden environment. After a good rest we set off across the parking area to Sera’s entrance.

First kings of the pre-Imperial Yarlung Dynasty (2nd-6th century)
The pre-Imperial Yarlung Dynasty rulers are more mythological than factual, and there is insufficient evidence of their definitive existence. Nyatri Tsenpo is considered by traditional histories to have been the first king of the Yarlung Dynasty, named after the river valley where its capital city was located, 55 miles south-east from Lhasa. The dates attributed to him vary. Some Tibetan texts give 126 BC, others 414 BC. Nyatri Tsenpo is said to have descended from a one-footed creature called the Theurang, have webbed fingers and a tongue so large it could cover his face. Due to his terrifying appearance he was feared in his native Puwo and exiled by the Bön to Tibet where he became king. Tibetan kings were said to remain connected to the heavens via a dmu cord (dmu thag) so that rather than dying, they ascended directly to heaven, when their sons achieved their majority. According to various accounts, king Drigum Tsenpo (Dri-gum-brtsan-po) either challenged his clan heads to a fight, or provoked his groom Longam (Lo-ngam) into a duel. During the fight the king‘s dmu cord was cut, and he was killed. Thereafter Drigum Tsenpo and subsequent kings left corpses and the Bön conducted funerary rites. In a later myth, the Tibetans are the progeny of the union of monkey Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa (a manifestation of the bodhisattva Chenresig, or Avalokiteśvara) and rock goddess Ma Drag Sinmo (an incarnation of Chenresig's consort Jetsun Dolma / White Tara).

Sera Monastery
Located at the foot of Tatipu Hill, north of Lhasa, Sera Monastery is one of 3 famous monasteries in Lhasa, along with Drepung and Ganden. It belongs to the Gelugpa/ Yellow Hat Sect, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Tsong Khapa. Jamchen Chöje (Sakya Yeshe), one of Tsong Khapa's disciples, in 1419 (Ming Dynasty 1368-1644). The 114,946m2 monastery was named Sera (wild rose in Tibetan), because the hill behind was covered with wild roses in bloom. Of the original 5 colleges, only 3 remained open by 1959. Scriptures written in gold powder, fine statues, scent cloth and unparalleled murals can be found in the halls. Colourful debates on Buddhist doctrines held here employ a style distinctive from Lhasa's other famous monasteries. Its once-huge monastic population of 5000 monks has been reduced by 90% and renovation is underway. The best time to visit is in the morning for active chanting, or between 3-5pm when debating is held in the monastery’s debating courtyard. Most chapels close between 3-3:30, so visit them before the debating. The Coqen is a magnificent 4-storey building in the northwest area with 5 adding chapels. Zhacang (Buddhist College in Tibetan) are for monks to study Buddhist Classics. There are 3 Zhacangs in the monastery: Me Zhacang, Je Zhacang and Ngaba Zhacang. The oldest, Sera Me, was built in 1419 (Ming Dynasty) and features a a well-preserved fresco. In Je Zhacang the Hayagriva displayed is famous throughout Tibet. Ngaba Zhacang is the smallest and newest. Its founders, Jamchen Choje, is worshipped inside.

1. Tsangba Kangtsang B3
2. Tsowa Kangtsang A3
3. Sera Me College B3
4. Sera Ngagpa College B2
5. Jarung Kangtsang B2
6. Sera Je College B2
7. Debating Courtyard C2
8. Hardong Kangtsang C1
9. Main Assembly Hall (Coqen) C2
10. Kitchen C2
11. Sand Mandala B2
12. Printing press B2
13. Sera Kora B1
14. Thangka Wall C2
15. Chöding Hermitage D2

Walking in across the small bridge we contended with scores of sellers trying to interest us in odd stuff like candy floss, before arriving at the main gate. Soon after, on the left, was Sera Me College. We followed the pilgrims clockwise past Tsangba Kangtsang and Tsowo Kangtsang residential halls and several minor buildings in Sera Me. This college dates back to the original founding of the monastery. The central image of the impressive main hall is a copper Sakyamuni, flanked by Jampa and Jampelyang. To the rear are 4 chapels; the left dark chapel, for men only, is dedicated to the dharma protector of the east, Ta-og (in an ornate brass case and wearing a hat), alongside Dorje Jigje. Look for the masks, iron thunderbolts and mirrors hanging from the ceiling. To the left of the entrance is a 3-d wooden mandala used to invoke the Medicine Buddha. Sera Me specialised in fundamental precepts of Buddhism. Continuing to the central chapel, which contains statues of the Past, Present and Future Buddhas, as well as 16 arhats depicted in their mountain grottoes. The next chapel houses Dagtse Jowo, a central 15th C Sakyamuni statue which is the most sacred of the college’s statues. At the back are Tsepame and 8 bodhisattvas. The entrance to the chapel is guarded by the protectors Tamdrin (Hayagriva, red) and Miyowa (Achala, blue). The last chapel is dedicated to Tsongkhapa and there are images of several Dalai Lamas, as well as of Sakya Yeshe (left corner, black hat), Sera’s founder and first abbot. There are 2 chapels on the upper floor. The first after you mount the stairs, is dedicated to Sakyamuni, depicted in the unusual standing form known as Thuwang. The second is a Drölma chapel with 1000 statues of this protective deity. The third has 1000 statues of Chenresig and a huge brass pot in the corner.
Entrance gate x 2, Sera Me
A small chapel at the edge of Sera Me held 2 very nice sand mandalas, which I had to pay 50p to photo.
Sera Ngagpa
Sand Mandala དཀྱིལ་འཁོར།, is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from coloured sand. A sand mandala is ritually dismantled and its accompanying ceremonies are finished to symbolise the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life. Historically, the mandala was not created with dyed sand, but granules of crushed coloured stone. In modern times, ink achieves the same effect. The monks use a special, dense sand in order to limit interference by wind or sneezes. Before starting, the monks will draw the geo-metric measurements associated with the mandala. The sand granules are then applied using small tubes, funnels, and scrapers, called chak-pur, until the pattern is achieved. Sand mandalas traditionally take several weeks due to the large amount of work and intricate detail. It is common that a team of monks will work together, creating one section of the diagram at a time, working from the centre outwards.
Sera Ngagpa College: A Tantric college, Ngagpa is also the oldest structure at Sera. It was the first building Jamchen Choje erected and it served as the main assembly hall for the monks until, over the years, Sera expanded to its present size. When it was replaced by a larger assembly hall it became the tantric (Ngag pa) college of Sera. The pillar capitals in the entrance hall are some of the finest examples you can see in Tibet. The main hall is dominated by a statue of Sakya Yeshe wearing a black hat, behind a throne, surrounded by other famous Sera lamas. There are 2 chapels to the rear of the hall. The more interesting is that of the Sixteen Arhats to the left. Seated in niches halfway up the wall are Tibetan images of the 16 wise men and below them, on a ledge, another sixteen small, lacquered Chinese statues. These were offered by Emperor Yong lo to Jamchen Choje when he visited China. A large figure of Shakyamuni is in the centre with a finely carved wood halo with a small statue of Milarepa to his right. In the right chapel is a statue of the protective deity Dorje Jigje (Yamantaka/ Dharmaraja), as well as Namtöse (Vaishravana), guardian of the north, who rides a snow lion and holds a mongoose that vomits jewels. Palden Lhamo and Mahakala are also represented. The main hall’s outstanding image is that of Jamchen Choje, the founder of Sera. The smiling radiant face of the statue is crowned with a distinctive black hat around which are Sanskrit letters (probably given to him by the Chinese emperor Yung-lo; it resembles that of the Karmapa Black sect, also a gift from a Chinese emperor). It is said that when the new main assembly hall was built, it was planned to move this statue there, but at the moment of departure, the statue declared that it preferred to stay.
Therefore, a copy was made and placed in the main assembly hall instead. Jampa and a 1000-armed Chenresig also feature. Many other Sera lamas sit to either side of Jamchen Choje. An expressive image of the first abbot of Sera, Gyeltsen Sangpo, sits to the left Maitreya and Pabongka Rinpoche. He is recognisable by his stern expression and goatee beard. Second from the end on the right is a large figure of Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen the Sera lama who wrote the standard textbooks on philosophy and debate for the college. Next to him a smaller statue of Lodro Rinchen, the founder of Sera Je college. There are a couple of rooms upstairs featuring Tsepame, the 8 medicine buddhas (Menlha) and the funeral chortens of several past abbots. After exiting most pilgrims pay a visit to nearby Jarung Kangtsang residential college.

Continuing up the steps took us to the west entrance of Sera Je College, which specialised in the instruction of itinerant monks from outside central Tibet. Sera Je this is the largest of Sera’s colleges, generally accessed from a western side entrance, It has a breathtaking main hall, hung with thangkas and lit by shafts of light from high windows. Several chortens hold the remains of Sera’s most famous lamas. To the left of the hall is a passage leading, via a chapel dedicated to the Past, Present and Future Buddhas, to the most sacred of Sera’s chapels, Chapel of Tamdrin. Tamdrin (Hayagriva) is a wrathful meditational deity whose name means horse-headed. He is the chief protective deity of Sera and there is often a queue of pilgrims waiting to touch their (and especially their children’s) foreheads to his feet. Hayagriva (ཧཡགྲིབ༹་, Tamdrin) is the wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshvara who symbolises enlightened speech, usually depicted as red in colour and with a horse's head protruding from his crown. Monks sell holy threads, protective amulets and sacred pills here, as well as red slips of inscribed paper which pilgrims buy to burn for the recently deceased. The ornate brass shrine reminded us of the temples of Kathmandu, apart from the weapons, hats and masks hanging from the ceiling. There is a second chapel for him on the upper floor, but there he is in another aspect with 9 heads. The first chapel to the rear of the hall is devoted to a lovely statue of Sakyamuni, seated in a fine canopy and ceiling mandalas. Pilgrims climbed the steps to the right to touch his left leg. The next 2 chapels are dedicated to Tsongkhapa, with Sakyamuni and Öpagme (Amitabha); and to Jampelyang, flanked by jampa and another Jampelyang. From here head to the upstairs chapels.
Hayagriva- you can just see the horse head on top of his head.
It was now time to go to the Main Debating Courtyard to watch the monks debate- quite fascinating (right).
There is a protocol for debating, involving a lot of hand slapping, leg lifting and bead tossing. Buddhists believe that a person can be freed by wisdom, and seeing the nature of things, and so philosophical debate is one of the paths to wisdom. It is a practice to debate philosophical concepts, and so valued that if one loses a debate, one is compelled to accept the argument of the other debater. The main purpose of Tibetan monastic debates is to defeat misconceptions. By establishing a defensible view, one can clear away objections to that view. Debaters are seeking the understanding of the nature of reality through a careful analysis of natural phenomena. This search for the basis of reality is the most essential part of a monastic debate. Most monasteries have a designated area where debates are held, and this can be a field, orchard or courtyard, depending on the monastery. At the start of the debates, monks are normally paired, with one monk standing and the other sitting. The standing monk poses the question that is the subject of the debate, and the sitting monk has to answer. As soon as the monk asks his question, normally composed of a logical argument on the philosophical teachings of Buddhism and including many hand gestures and movements, the monk claps his hands together, signifying he is finished, and giving the sitting monk the opportunity to answer. Tibetan debates are very animated and passionate, as they rage back and forth between the two debaters, exchanging questions and answers in logical progression. A debate is a special system of logic where the debaters learn to work with the concepts of what they have been taught, and is a good way to train their thoughts to be logical and to use exact expression. The form of the debates has been adapted over the centuries from the original Indian style. While the questioner has an unlimited number of ways to ask the question, the defender is limited in how he can form the answer. These answers include responses: “The reason is not established,” (deny the minor premise), “There is no pervasion,” (deny the major premise) or “I accept it,” (the defender has accepted the argument and conclusion). In Sera, it is the senior monks who grill their young disciples on the various doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism. The senior monk will fire a question at the seated younger disciple, testing their knowledge of Buddhist scriptures and their understanding of philosophical argument and logic. The dramatic hand slapping is part of the debate, and is the signal for the seated monk to respond to the questions. Afterwards S and S recreated the slapping (with the leg-up gesture), much to some Chinese tourists from Yangshuo amusement.
S wanted a rest, but I wanted to see (and meditate in) the magnificent Coqen (Assembly hall). So D took us up right to it and I had 10 minutes of super meditation.

Main Assembly Hall; the main hall or Tsogchen (coqen), is the largest of Sera’s buildings and dates back to 1710. The central hall is particularly impressive and is noted for its 125 decorated pillars, wall-length thangkas and 2-storey statue of Jampa. He is surrounded by other figures, including Dalai Lamas on the right, while to the left is the large throne of the 13th Dalai lama. Left of the throne is a figure of Sakya Yeshe. There are some incredibly ornate yak butter sculptures in this hall. It consists of 5 chapels which give honour to the Maitreya, Sakyamuni, Arhats, Tsong Khapa, and Kwan-yin with 1000 hands and 11 faces. The monastery holds 105 of the original 108 volumes of Gangyur of Tripitaka (in Tibetan). These priceless volumes, the earliest sutras printed by engraving in China, were presented as a gift to Jamchen Chojey by Emperor Chengzhu, of the Ming Dynasty. Of the 3 chapels to the rear of the hall, the central is the most important, with its 6m high Jampa statue, which rises to the upper floor where it can be viewed from a central chapel. Also on the upper floor (to the far left of the central chapel) is a highly revered statue of a 1000-armed Chenresig. Pilgrims put their forehead to a walking stick that connects them directly to the heart of compassion. The atmospheric monastery kitchen on the east side of the Tsogchen is worth a visit. To the side is a wonderful rock painting depicting Jampelyang, Chenresig, Chana Dorje (Vajrapani) and Green Tara. Nearby is Hardong Kangtsang: which served as a residence for monks studying at Sera Je college. At the entry of the chapel were 3 photos of Ekai Kawaguchi, the Japanese monk who studied here in disguise in 1901.
Assembly Hall and Sera Utse
Kamcun are the dormitories where the monks dine and sleep. Sera Monastery has 33 Kamcuns around a central courtyard. They are comprised of halls to read the doctrine, houses and tea houses. The Kamcuns range in size, as do the number of monks in each one. Lamas from the same or neighbouring areas of Tibet are placed together in a Kamcun.
As we left D pointed out Sera Utsé Hermitage high up in the hills (photo above using my super telephoto lens). Sera Utsé Hermitage, meaning “Sera Peak” is located on the mountain directly behind Sera Monastery, about a 1!-hour walk uphill from the main complex. It is reputedly older than Sera Gompa. According to tradition, the site contained one of Tsongkhapa’s (1357–1419) meditation huts and Drubkhang Gelek Gyatso (1641– 1713) was said to have meditated here late 17th/early 18th century. He was a distinguished meditator who brought his knowledge of the philosophical tradition to Sera Utsé and attracted many students, including Ngwang Jampa (1682–1762), and Khardo Zopa Gyatso (1672–1749). Historically the monastery was a substantial size but following its 1959 destruction by the Chinese only a section was rebuilt. Sera Utsé has a 2-storey chapel and monks' quarters with magnificent views over Lhasa. There is a protector shrine to Pehar and Shridevi. A small assembly hall remains, once believed to contain a large metal statue of Vajrabhairava, a great statue of Yamāntaka Ekavīra, statues of the Buddha and the Sixteen Arhats, a speaking Tārā statue, large images of Tsongkhapa and his 2 disciples, and statues of the Drupkhang incarnation lineage. Today the hall has 3 monks but is not used for general worship. The residence consists of 2 rooms with a central waiting room between them. There is a meditation hut, small protector deity chapel, Dharma enclosure, ruined kitchen and smaller huts. The only celestial burial place in Lhasa is on this hill behind Sera Monastery, but visitors are not permitted to witness a celestial (sky) burial due to the local customs.

A short distance from Sera is Pabonka Monastery, the most ancient Buddhist site in Lhasa. Built on a flat-topped granite boulder said to resemble a tortoise, Pabonka even predates Jokhang and Ramoche. King Songtsen Gampo built the monastery in the 7th century and he, his Chinese wife Princess Wencheng, King Trisong Detsen, Guru Rinpoche and Tibet’s first 7 monks all meditated here at some time. The 9-storey tower was destroyed in 841 by the anti-Buddhist King Langdharma and rebuilt in the 11th century. The 5th Dalai Lama added an extra floor to create a 3-storey building. On up the hill and past some chortens is Pabonka rock (said to look like a female tortoise) and Palden Lhamo Cave where Songtsen Gampo meditated.
As we drove back, we passed Chongye (just outside Lhasa old town) to see the tombs of the Tibetan kings, one of the few historical sites giving evidence of the pre-Buddhist culture. The underwhelming mounds of earth are the favoured internment of the Bön faith. The burials were probably officiated by Bön priests and accompanied by sacrificial offerings. Archaeological evidence suggests that earth, not sky, burials were commonplace in the time of the Yarlung kings. The most revered of the 10 mounds is the 130-m Tomb of Songtsen Gampo with a small Nyingmapa temple on top. The furthest mound, high on the slopes of Mt. Meru, is the Tomb of Trisong Detsen. Drolma explained the theory behind sky burials to us. In their view (which may have come from pre-Buddhist Bon practises) leaving a corpse to be eaten by vultures was a completion of the circle of life. Humans don’t eat vultures, so you are never in danger of eating something that ate a relative. Conversely your body goes towards sustaining life as vultures are eaten by the next predator, etc. This partly explained by they dislike the idea of water burial and why no one eats fish in Tibet. As time has moved on sky burials have become quite rare, with interment regaining popularity.

We were dropped off at our hotel at dusk, and decided to walk to the Potala to see the sunset behind it. After watching it go quite dark, we walked back for a yak supper at Dunya restaurant, opposite the historic Banak Shöl Hotel, 8 Beijing Road. The hotel is famous for its distinctive wooden verandas.

Tibetan Empire (618–842) Yarlung Dynasty
By the early 6th C the Yarlung kings had conquered most Tibetan tribes. Namri Songtsen/ Löntsän (570?–618?/ 629), 32nd King of Tibet, gained control of the area around what is now Lhasa by 630, and conquered Zhangzhung. With this the Yarlung kingdom became the Tibetan Empire. Namri Songtsen sent embassies to China in 608/9, marking the entry of Tibet on the international stage. From the 7th c AD Chinese historians referred to Tibet as Tubo. Tibetan history has a lengthy list of rulers whose exploits only become subject to external verification in 7th C Chinese histories. From the 7th-11th c a series of emperors ruled Tibet of whom the most important were Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen and Ralpacan, "3 religious kings", assimilated to the 3 protectors, ie Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī and Vajrapāni. Songtsen Gampo (c. 604–50) expanded Tibet's power beyond Lhasa/ Yarlung Valley, and is credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet. By the early 9th century, its influence extended from Bengal to Mongolia. The varied terrain and difficult transportation, coupled with new ideas arriving as a result of expansion, created power blocs, and the Bön religion and ancient noble families found themselves in competition with Buddhism. The traditional list of ancient Tibetan rulers has 42 names, of which the first 26 are probably legendary, 27-32 were historical and 33-42 are well documented in Tibetan, Chinese and foreign sources. A unified Tibetan state did not exist before king 31. The earlier rulers, known as the Yarlung dynasty, were probably just local chiefs in the Yarlung Valley area, rather than emperors of Tibet. Tibetan titles for the emperor are tsenpo ("Emperor") and lhase ("Divine Son").
Lha Thothori gNyan bTsan (28th King of Tibet. Lha "divine, pertaining to the gods of the sky" is an honorary title and not a part of his proper name. Modern scholars believe he was an historical ruler, as he is also mentioned in a Chinese source. They date his rule to the 5th century, because the 33rd king Songtsän Gampo died in 650. He did not rule over the whole of Tibet; his was probably limited to the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon area. According to local legend, Buddhist scriptures (among them the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra) first arrived in Tibet in his time. The volumes supposedly fell from the sky onto the roof of the royal palace, but there may be an historical background (arrival of Buddhist missionaries). In any case, this first contact of Tibetans with Buddhism cannot have been more than an incident with no lasting impact. The cinta-mani is said to be one of four relics that came in a chest that fell from the sky (many terma fell from the sky in caskets) during the reign of king Lha Thothori Nyantsen. Though the king did not understand the purpose of the objects, he kept them in a position of reverence. Several years later, 2 mysterious strangers appeared at his court, explaining the four relics, which included the Buddha's bowl and a mani stone (a jewel, crystal, gem with the om mani padme hum mantra inscribed on it).
The Tibetan Empire
This empire བོད་ཆེན་པོ existed from the 7th- 9th c AD. Tibet was a large and powerful empire, and ruled an area considerably larger than the Tibetan Plateau, stretching to parts of East Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. From the time of emperor Songtsen Gampo the power of the empire increased over a diverse terrain. By the reign of emperor Ralpacan, in the early 9th century, it controlled the Tarim basin, Himalayas, Bengal, and Chinese provinces Gansu and Yunnan. The empire collapsed into civil war in the 840s.
Namri Songtsen (c618/29) According to the Old Tibetan Chronicle,at Taktsé Castle a group convinced Tagbu Nyazig 579-618 to rebel against Gudri Zingpoje, a vassal of the Zhangzhung empire under the Lig myi dynasty. The group prevailed against Zingpoje. Namri Songtsen (aka Namri Löntsän) was the leader of a clan who gained control of the area round Lhasa, before his assassination by poison. This new regional state later became the Tibetan Empire. The government of Namri Songtsen sent two embassies to the Chinese Sui Dynasty in 608/9, marking the appearance of Tibet on the international scene.
Songtsen Gampo (618-650) expanded Tibet's power beyond Lhasa/ Yarlung Valley, and introduced Buddhism to Tibet. When his father Namri Songtsen died, Songtsen Gampo took control, putting down a brief rebellion. Songtsen Gampo proved adept at diplomacy as well as combat. The emperor's minister, Myang Mangpoje (Zhang-shang clan), defeated the Sumpa people c627, but was accused of treason and executed. He was succeeded by minister Gar Songtsen. Chinese records mention an envoy from Tibet in 634 with a request to marry a Chinese princess but was refused. In 635/6 the Emperor attacked and defeated the Tuyuhun, who lived around Lake Koko Nur, and took control of the trade routes into China. After a Tibetan campaign against China in 635/6, the Chinese emperor agreed to provide a Chinese princess to Songtsen Gampo. In c639, Songtsen Gampo had a dispute with his younger brother Tsänsong, who was burned to death by his own minister Khäsreg at the behest of his older brother. The Chinese Princess Wencheng (Tibetan: Mung-chang Kung-co) departed China in 640 to marry Songtsen Gampo's son. She arrived in 641, traditionally credited as the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet, but it is unlikely it extended beyond the foreigners at court. Songtsen Gampo’s sister Sämakar was sent to marry Lig-myi-rhya, the king of Zhangzhung, Western Tibet, but when the king refused to consummate the marriage, she helped her brother to defeat Lig myi-rhya and incorporate Zhangzhung into the Tibetan Empire in 645. Songtsen Gampo died in 650 and was succeeded by his infant grandson Trimang Lön, though real power was in the hands of minister Gar Songtsen.
Gungsong Gungtsen only son of Songtsen Gampo, who had 6 wives; Nepalese princess Bhrikuti, Chinese Princess Wencheng (both devout Buddhists), the daughter of the King of Zhangzhung, the daughter of the King of the Western Xia, noblewomen from the Ruyong and Mong (Mang) clans. Gungsong Gungtsen was born to Mangza (Mongsa) Tricham, a noble woman from the Mang/ Mong clan of Tölung, west of Lhasa. It seems unlikely Songtsen Gampo handed over power to his son after his marriage to Princess Wencheng in 641, as she was married to the ruling monarch. If Gungsong Gungtsen was married and had a son before 641, he was probably born c625. Some accounts say that when Gungsong Gungtsen reached the age of 13 Songtsen Gampo retired in favour of his son. Gungsong Gungtsen married 'A-zha Mang-mo-rje and they had a son, Mangsong Mangtsen (r.650-676). Gungsong Gungtsen only ruled for 5 years and died at 18. His father, Songtsen Gampo, retook the throne. It is unclear whether Gungsong Gungtsen was enthroned as Emperor, nor is there any mention of his reign in Chinese or Tibetan Annals. He is, therefore, sometimes not included in the list of Tibetan rulers.
Mangsong Mangtsen (650-676) (Khri-lde-gtsug-brtsan), previously Prince Trimang Lön (Trimang Löntsen/ Khri- mang-slon-rtsan). After incorporating Tuyuhun into Tibetan territory, minister Gar Songtsen died in 667. Between 665–70 Khotan was defeated by the Tibetans, and a series of conflicts ensued with the Chinese Tang Dynasty. In 670 Tibet attacked the Chinese in Tarim Basin and won the Battle of Dafeichuan. With troops from Khotan they conquered Aksu, upon which the Chinese abandoned the region, ending two decades of Chinese control. Mangsong Mangtsen married Thrimalö (Khri-ma-lod), a woman of great importance in Tibetan history. After his death Zhangzhung revolts occurred. His son Tridu Songtsen (Khri 'dus-srong btsan or Khri-'dus-srong-rtsan) was born posthumously.
Tridu Songtsen (677-704) As Tridu Songtsen was an infant, his mother, Thrimalö (Gar clan) ran the kingdom. There is evidence that the Gar were descended from members of the Lesser Yuezhi, a people who originally spoke an Indo- European language and migrated c3rd century BC. In 685, minister Gar Tsenye Dompu died and his brother, Gar Tridring Tsendrö replaced him.
Khri ma lod (Thrimalö), Empress, co-ruler of the Tibetan empire, 675-89 and 704-12. Her title was tsenmo (the female equivalent of tsenpo, the Tibetan title translated as emperor). Khri ma lod was married to emperor Mangsong Mangtsen. He died in 676/7, and in the same year she gave birth to his son Tridu Songtsen. The Zhangzhung revolted early in her son's reign. She shared power with the Gar (Mgar) clan. In 692, the Tibetans lost the Tarim Basin again to the Chinese. Gar Tridring Tsendrö defeated the Chinese in battle in 696. In 698 Tridu Songtsen invited the Gar clan (c2000 people) to a hunting party and had them massacred. Gar Tridring Tsendrö committed suicide, and his troops joined the Chinese. From 700 until his death the emperor campaigned while his mother Thrimalö administered in his name. In 702, Zhou China under Empress Wu Zetien and the Tibetan Empire concluded peace. During 703, Tridu Songtsen invaded Jang (either Mosuo or the kingdom of Nanzhao) and in 704, Mywa, which was at least in part Nanzhao (Tibetan mywa = Chinese Man/Miao) but died during the campaign. His wife, Tsenma Toktokteng, Princess of Chim gave birth to Gyältsugru in 704 for whom Thrimalö ruled as regent. The following year an elder son of Tridu Songtsen, Lha Balpo (704) contested the succession of his half brother, but was "deposed from the throne". Khri ma lod died in 712. Gyältsugru was officially enthroned with the royal name Tride Tsuktsän. Khri ma lod remains the only woman in Tibetan history to rule Tibet.
Tride Tsuktsän/ Me Agtsom (704-54) Gyältsugru (Rgyal-gtsug-ru), later King Tride Tsuktsen (Khri-lde-gtsug- brtsan), was generally known by his nickname Me Agtsom (Old Hairy). Thrimalö arranged for a royal marriage to the Chinese princess Jincheng (Kyimshang Kongjo) who arrived in 710 to marry the 7-year-old Gyeltsugru, who also married a lady from Jang (Nanzhao) and another from Nanam. Gyältsugru was officially enthroned with the royal name Tride Tsuktsän in 712, the year that dowager empress Thrimalö died. After a rebellion in southern China and a major Tibetan victory in 730, the Tibetans and Türgesh sued for peace. In 734 the Tibetans married their princess Dronmalön (‘Dron ma lon) to the Türgesh Qaghan (Khan). The Chinese allied with the Caliphate to attack. In 737, the Tibetans launched an attack against the king of Bru-za (Gilgit), who asked for Chinese help, but was ultimately forced to pay homage to Tibet. In 747, Chinese general Gao Xianzhi tried to re-open communications between Central Asia and Kashmir. By 750 the Tibetans had lost almost all their central Asian possessions and by 753 even the kingdom of "Little Balur" was captured by the Chinese. However, after Gao Xianzhi's defeat by the Caliphate at the Battle of Talas (751), Chinese influence decreased rapidly. Tibet conquered large sections of northern India. In 755 Tride Tsuktsen was killed by the ministers Lang and ‘Bal.
Trisong Detsen (756-97/804) In 756 prince Song Detsän was crowned Emperor with the name Trisong Detsen (Khri sron lde brtsan) and took control of the government when he attained his majority. From 755-63 China was weakened by the An Shi Rebellion. Trisong Detsän reasserted Tibetan influence in Central Asia, pressing into the territory of the Tang emperors and reaching the Chinese capital Chang'an (modern Xi’an) in 763. Tibetan troops occupied Chang'an for 15 days and installed a puppet emperor while Tang Emperor Daizong was in Luoyang. Nanzhao remained under Tibetan control until 794, when they turned on their Tibetan overlords and helped the Chinese inflict defeat on the Tibetans. In 785, Wei Kao repulsed Tibetan invasions of Shuh. The Kyrgyz negotiated a ‘friendship’ with Tibet and other powers to allow free trade in the region. An attempt at peace between Tibet and China was made in 787, but hostilities lasted until the Sino-Tibetan treaty of 821 was inscribed in Lhasa in 823. At the same time, the Uyghurs, nominal allies of the Tang, attacked along Tibet's northern border. Recent research indicates the presence of Christianity as early as the 6th/7th centuries, a period when the Hephthalites (Bactria/ Afghanistan) had extensive links with the Tibetans. A strong presence existed by 782 when Patriarch Timothy I (727-823) called the Tibetans one of the more significant communities of the eastern church and wrote of the need to appoint another bishop. There is a stone pillar, the Lhasa Shöl/Zhol, Doring Chima Pillar, in the ancient village of Shöl in front of the Potala in Lhasa, dating c.764. It contains an account of the conquest of large swathes of northwest China including the capture of Chang'an, the Chinese capital, for a short period in 763 CE, during the reign of Emperor Daizong.
Muné Tsenpo (c797-c799) Trisong Detsen had 4 sons. The eldest, Mutri Tsenpo, apparently died young. When Trisong Detsen retired he handed power to his eldest son, Muné Tsenpo (Mu-ne btsan-po). Most sources say Muné's reign lasted only 11⁄2 years, supposedly poisoned on the orders of his mother. After his death, Mutik Tsenpo was next in line to the throne, but had been banished to Lhodak Kharch near the Bhutanese border. The youngest brother, Tride Songtsen, was ruling by AD 804.
Tride Songtsen/ Sadnalegs (799-815) Under Tride Songtsen (Khri lde srong brtsan) there was a protracted war with the Abbasid Caliphate. Tibet was active as far west as Samarkand and Kabul. The Tibetan governor of Kabul submitted to the Caliphate and became a Muslim c812/15. The Caliphate struck east from Kashmir, but were held off by the Tibetans. In the meantime, the Uyghur Khaganate attacked Tibet.
Tritsu Detsen/ Ralpacan (815-38) Tritsu Detsen (Khri gtsug lde brtsan), best known as Ralpacan, is important to Tibetan Buddhists as one of the 3 Dharma Kings who brought Buddhism to Tibet. He was a generous supporter of Buddhism and invited craftsmen, scholars and translators from neighbouring countries. He promoted the development of written Tibetan and translations, aided by the development of a detailed Sanskrit-Tibetan lexicon called the Mahavyutpatti which included Tibetan equivalents for thousands of Sanskrit terms. After successful Tibetan raids into Chinese territory, Buddhists in both countries sought mediation. Ralpacan was murdered by two pro-Bön ministers who placed his anti-Buddhist brother, Langdarma, on the throne. Tibet continued to be a Central Asian empire until the mid-9th century.
The bilingual text of peace treaty inscribed on Tang-Tibetan alliance stele, Jokhang temple.
It was under the reign of Ralpacan that the political power of Tibet was at its greatest extent, stretching as far as Mongolia and Bengal, and entering into treaties with China on a mutual basis. A Sino-Tibetan treaty was agreed in 821/822 under Ralpacan, and a bilingual account of this treaty is inscribed on a stone pillar which stands outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa.
Tri Uidumtsaen/ Langdarma (838-42) The reign of Langdarma, regal title Tri Uidumtsaen, was plagued by external troubles. The Uyghur state to the north collapsed under pressure from the Kyrgyz in 840, and many displaced people fled to Tibet. Langdarma was assassinated, apparently by a Buddhist hermit, in 842. A civil war over the succession led to the collapse of the Tibetan Empire. The period that followed, known traditionally as the Era of Fragmentation, was dominated by rebellions against the remnants of imperial Tibet and the rise of regional warlords.

Era of Fragmentation 9th-10th C
Upon the death of Langdarma, there was a controversy over whether he would be succeeded by his alleged heir Yumtän, or by another son (or nephew) Ösung (either 843–905 or 847–885). A civil war ensued, which effectively ended centralised Tibetan administration until the Sa-skya period. Ösung's allies managed to keep Lhasa, and Yumtän was forced to Yalung, where he established a separate line of kings. In 910, the tombs of the emperors were defiled. The son of Ösung was Pälkhortsän (865–895 or 893–923). The latter apparently maintained control over much of central Tibet for a time, and sired two sons, Trashi Tsentsän and Thrikhyiding/Kyide Nyigön. Thrikhyiding migrated to the western Tibetan region of upper Ngari and married a woman of high central Tibetan nobility, with whom he founded a local dynasty. After the breakup of the Tibetan empire in 842, Nyima-Gon, a representative of the ancient Tibetan royal house, founded the first Ladakh dynasty. Kyide Nyigön's eldest son became ruler of the Mar-yul Ladakh region, and his two younger sons ruled western Tibet, founding the Kingdom of Guge and Pu-hrang. At a later period the king of Guge's eldest son, Kor-re, also called Jangchub Yeshe-Ö, became a Buddhist monk. He sent young scholars to Kashmir for training and invited Atisha to Tibet in 1040, thus ushering in the Chidar phase of Buddhism in Tibet. The younger son, Srong-nge, administered day-to-day governmental affairs and it was his sons who carried on the royal line. The dissolution of a centralised empire allowed Tibetan peasants, dissatisfied with the political turmoil, to rebel against regional governments. This split imperial Tibet into a multitude of separate, autonomous king-doms, each ruled by a local warlord who constantly fought for political dominance, utilising private armies and military fortresses. Between 842-1247, no central authority was in control of Tibet. The period ended with the Mongol conquest of Tibet and subsequent Yuan rule of Tibet.

Buddhism in Tibet
Traditional accounts of the period focus on religion. The Era of Fragmentation was a low point in Tibetan Buddhism, with the Buddhist monastic order facing persecution and exile. Monastic Buddhism only persevered in Amdo, then largely dominated by non-Tibetans. During the reign of Langdarma, three monks fled to Mt. Dantig in Amdo. Their disciple Muzu Selbar, later known as Gongpa Rapsel, was responsible for the renewal of Buddhism in Tibet. The students of Rapsal returned to Ü-Tsang, and re-introduced monastic Buddhism. Modern historians argue that Buddhism was in fact widespread during the period, and that regional political authorities shared a close relationship with Buddhist monastic leaders. The late 10th/ 11th century saw a revival of Buddhism in Tibet coinciding with the discoveries of "hidden treasures" (terma). Muzu Saelbar/ Gongpa Rabsal (832–915) is counted as the progenitor of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. In the west, Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055) was an active translator and founded temples/ monasteries. Prominent scholars and teachers were invited from India. In 1042 Atisa (982-1054) arrived in Tibet at the invitation of a west Tibetan king. This expert of the Pāla form of Buddhism from the Indian university of Vikramashila moved to central Tibet where his chief disciple, Dromtonpa founded Kadampa school of Tibetan Buddhism, under whose influence the New Translation schools evolved. The Sakya (Grey Earth) school was founded by Khön Könchok Gyelpo (1034–1102), a disciple of the Lotsawa, Drogmi Shākya. It is headed by the Sakya Trizin, traces its lineage to the mahasiddha Virūpa, and represents scholarly tradition. A guru, Sakya Pandita (1182–1251), was the great-grandson of Khön Könchok Gyelpo. Other Indian teachers were Tilopa (988–1069) and his student Naropa (d1040). The Kagyu (Lineage of the (Buddha's) Word), is an oral tradition concerned with the experiential dimension of meditation, most famously by Milarepa, an 11th-century mystic. It contains a major and minor subsect. The first, Dagpo Kagyu, encompasses Kagyu schools that trace back to Indian guru Naropa via Marpa Lotsawa, Milarepa and Gampopa.

Mongol Conquest / Yuan Rule 1240-1354
During this era, the region was dominated by the Sakya lama (Sakya school or sect) with Mongol support, hence the Sakya dynasty. The first documented contact between Tibetans and the Mongols occurred when the missionary Tsang-pa Dung-khur and 6 disciples met Genghis Khan. Closer contacts ensued when the Mongols sought to move through the Sino-Tibetan borderlands to attack the Jin dynasty and the Southern Song.
270_potala-palace-lhasa_46662999002_o.jpgThe Mongols invaded Tibet in 1240 with a small campaign led by Mongol general Doorda Darkhan but the Mongols withdrew from Tibet in 1241, as all the Mongol princes were recalled back to Mongolia in preparation for the appointment of a successor to Ögedei Khan. They returned in 1244, when Köten delivered an ultimatum, summoning the abbot of Sakya to be his personal chaplain. Sakya Pau'dita took almost 3 years to obey the summons and arrive in Kokonor in 1246, and met Prince Köten in Lanzhou the following year. The Mongols appointed Sakya Pa!"ita as Viceroy of Central Tibet in 1249. Tibet was incorporated into the Mongol Empire, retaining nominal power over religious and regional political affairs, while the Mongols had administrative rule over the region. Within the branch of the Mongol Empire in China known as the Yuan dynasty, Tibet was managed by the Bureau of Buddhist and Tibetan
Affairs (Xuanzheng Yuan). One of the department's purposes was to select a dpon-chen, usually appointed by the Sakya lama and confirmed by the Yuan emperor in Beijing. In 1253, Drogön Chögyal Phagpa (1253–1280) succeeded Sakya Pandita at the Mongol court. Phagpa became a religious teacher to Kublai Khan who appointed him Imperial Preceptor (originally State Preceptor) in 1260, the year when he became Khagan. Phagpa developed the priest-patron concept that characterised Tibeto-Mongolian relations from that point forward. With the support of Kublai Khan, Phagpa established himself and his sect as the pre-eminent political power in Tibet. In 1265, Chögyal Phagpa returned to Tibet and for the first time made an attempt to impose Sakya hegemony with the appointment of Shakya Bzang-po (a long time ally of the Sakyas) as the dpon-chen ('great administrator') over Tibet in 1267. By the end of the century, Western Tibet lay under the effective control of imperial officials (almost certainly Tibetans) dependent on the 'Great Administrator', while the kingdoms of Guge and Pu-ran retained their internal autonomy. The Sakya hegemony over Tibet continued into the middle of the 14th century, although it was challenged by a revolt of the Drikung Kagyu sect with the assistance of Duwa Khan of the Chagatai Khanate in 1285. The revolt was suppressed in 1290 when the Sakyas and eastern Mongols burned Drikung Monastery and killed 10,000 people. Between 1346-54, towards the end of the Yuan dynasty, the House of Pagmodru toppled the Sakya. The rule over Tibet by a succession of Sakya lamas came to a definite end in 1358, when central Tibet came under control of the Kagyu sect. 1358-1435 was a period of relative stability which saw the birth of the Gelugpa school (aka Yellow Hats) by the disciples of Tsongkhapa Lobsang Dragpa, and the founding of the Ganden, Drepung, and Sera Gelugpa monasteries near Lhasa. After the 1430s, the country entered another period of internal power struggles.

Posted by PetersF 07:39 Archived in China Tagged buddhism tibet lhasa sera norbulingka drepung

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