Labrang Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Geluk (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism. Labrang is located in Xiahe County in Gansu province. Labrang Monastery is home to the largest number of monks outside of Tibet Autonomous Region.Labrang Monastery is 280km (4 hours drive) to the southwest of Lanzhou, Labrang Monastery is the second largest of China's six great lamaseries practicing the Yellow Sect (Gelug) of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery was founded in 1709 by the first Jamyang Zhaypa, Ngawang Tsondru. It is Tibetan Buddhism's most important monastery town outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Labrang monastery Labrang stands near Xiahe, small town placed in a valley surrounded by endless grasslands, at 2920 m height, near the border with Qinghai. Its importance for Tibetan Buddhism lies in the fact that it is the seat of the living Buddha in Labrang, Jiamuyang. This lama is the third in order of importance, after Dalai Lama and Pancen Lama. Moreover Labrang is the biggest Buddhist monastery out of Tibet border, and, in order of importance, it is second only to Lhasa. This monastery was built between 1650 and 1700 by Rangzongts , the first Jiamuyang, and at the height of its magnificence, housed about 4000 monks. It was, and it currently is, a kind of superior school, like a boarding school. In it there are schools of Art, medicine, of pagan and religious Buddhist traditions. Before Chinese Cultural Revolution, there ware 38 monasteries (Lamaserie) and about 80 temples. Young monk and prayer wheels. The monastery complex dominates the northern village. The white walls and golden roofs feature a blend of Tibetan and Han architectural styles. The monastery contains 18 halls, six institutes of learning, a golden stupa, a sutra debate, and nearly 60,000 sutras. There once were more than 2000 monks in residence, but now only 500, due to a twelve year closure starting in 1958. It has a Buddhist museum with a large collection of Buddha statues, sutras and murals. In addition, a large amount of Tibetan language books, including history is available for purchase, together with medicines, calendars, music and art objects. The monastery today is an important place for Buddhist ceremonies and activities. From 4 to 17 January and 26 June to 15 July (these dates may change according to the lunar calendar), the Monlan Festival will be held with Buddha-unfolding, sutra enchanting, praying, sutra debates, etc. It is the best time to visit Xiahe. The monks are extremely friendly to foreigners, and used every opportunity to practice their basic English which in most cases is self-taught. Accommodation is easy to find and a great variety of articles and souvenirs are available.
History of Labrang Monastery
"Labrang" means the residence of a great Lama. The monasery in general became known as Labrang, or Labrang Tashikyil, after the residence of Jamyang-zhaypa. The line of his reincarnations, the Jamyang-zhaypa Rinpoches, have been the traditional heads of the Labrang Monasery.There has always been a strong connection between Labrang Tashikyil and the Mongols. Many lineages from Labrang, such as that of Kalachakra (Dus- khor), spread to the Mongolian monaseries. The Buryat, Kalmyk, and Tuvinian regions of Russia used exclusively the Kunkyen textbooks of Jamyang-zhaypa. Many monaseries in Inner and Outer Mongolia used them as well. In Lhasa, the Mongols mostly studied at Gomang and Gy| umay, as did Jamyang-zhaypa. Labrang has six colleges. The largest is Mayjung Tosamling (sMad-byung Thos-bsam-gling), for the study of sutra and debate, established by the First Jamyang-zhaypa in 1710 when he founded the monasery in general. It awards the Geshey Dorampa (dGe-bshes rDo-ram-pa) degree. When the First Jamyang-zhaypa received the Say lineage (Srad-brgyud) transmission at Saygyu Tantric College (Sras-rgyud grva-tshang) from Saygyu Konchog-yarpel (Srad-rgyud dKon-mchog yar- phel) (1602-1682), this great master asked him to establish a tantric college as part of the monasery he would found in Amdo in the future. Keeping this request in mind, the First Jamyang-zhaypa established Maygyu Dratsang (sMad-rgyud Grva-tshang), Lower Tantric College, in 1719. The Dukor Dratsang (Dus- khor Grva-tshang) or Kalachakra College, Ewam-chokor-ling (E-wam chos- khor gling), was founded in 1763 by the Second Jamyang-zhaypa, Konchog-jigmey-wangpo (dKon-mchog jigs-med dbang-po) (1728-1798), on the advice of the Third Panchen Lama, Pelden-yeshey (Pan-chen dPal-ldan ye-shes) (1738-1780). The Panchen Lama s home monasery, Tashilhunpo (bKra-shis lhun-po), built a Kalachakra temple (Dus- khor lha-khang) two years later, in 1765, devoted to the daily practice of the Kalachakra rituals. Since the first half of the eighteenth century, Kalachakra Colleges had already existed in Inner Mongolia. The first was at Ari-in Monasery, founded by the First Kanjurwa Gegen, Lozang-choden (bKa - gyur-ba Blo-bzang chos-ldan), and the second at Badghar Monasery (Pad-dkar dGon-pa) by his disciple, Dunkhor Pandita (Dus- khor Pandi-ta). The Dukor Datsang at Labrang was the first of its kind in Amdo. The Menpa Dratsang (sMan-pa Grva-tshang) or Medical College, Sorig-zhenpen-ling (gSo-rig gzhan-phen gling), was established in 1784, also by the Second Jamyang-zhaypa. The Kyedor Dratsang (Kyai-rdor Grva-tshang) or Hevajra College, Sangngag-dargyay-ling (gSang-sngags dar-rgyas gling), was started by the Fourth Jamyang-zhaypa, Kelzang-tubten-wangchug (sKal-bzang thub-bstan dbang-phyug), in 1879. The Gy| to Dratsang (rGyud-bstod Grva-tshang) or Upper Tantric College, Sangchen-dorjey-ling (gSang-chen rdo-rje gling), was established in 1943 by the Fifth Jamyang-zhaypa, Lozang-jamyang-yeshey-tenpay-gyeltsen (Blo-bzang jam-dbyangs ye-shes bstan-pa i rgyal-mtshan). The two Tantric Colleges at Labrang, like their models in Lhasa, studied mostly the Guhyasamaja (gSang- dus), Chakrasamvara (bDe-mchog), and Vajrabhairava (rDo-rje Jigs-byed) tantric systems. They awarded Geshe Karamapa (dGe-bshes bKa -ram-pa) and Geshe Ngagrampa (dGe-bshes sNgags-ram-pa) degrees, as at the two Lhasa Tantric Colleges. The Kalachakra College was responsible for not only the Kalachakra rituals, but also those of Samvid (Kun-rig) and Vairochana Abhisambodhi (rNam-snang mngon-byang). The monks of the Kalachakra College also studied astronomy, astrology, and mathematics. In addition to medical studies, the monks of the Medical College were responsible for the rituals of the Medicine Buddha (sMan-lha), Akshobhya (Mi- khrugs-pa), and the Hiddenly Realized (gSang-sgrub) form of Hayagriva (rTa-mgrin). The Hevajra College maintained the rituals for Hevajra and Vajrapani Mahachakra (Phyag-rdor Khor-can), and prepared a calendar/almanac each year according to the Chinese-style black calculation system (nag-rtsis). As at the Jokang (Jo-khang) in Lhasa, every year from the 3rd to the 17th of the first Tibetan month, Labrang held a Great Prayer Festival (sMon-lam chen-mo) with examinations for the highest grades of Geshe. At this festival, there were ritual masked dances and other rites as in Lhasa. At its height in 1957, Labrang had nearly 4,000 monks. About 3,000 of them were at the Mayjung Tosamling College, with the rest evenly distributed among the other five colleges. Approximately three-quarters of the monks were Tibetans. The rest were mostly Outer Mongolian Mongols (phyi-sog), Inner Mongolian Mongols (smad-sog, nang-sog), Kokonor Mongols (stod-sog), Mongours (hor-pa) from northern Amdo, Yellow Yugurs (yu-gur) from Gansu (Kansu), Xinjiang Kalmyk Mongols, and ethnic Chinese. Labrang had 138 branch monaseries. Starting in 1958, the monasery was closed for twelve years by the Chinese. During the 1970s, it was opened for tourism. It was reopened as a functioning monasery by the Seventh Panchen Lama, Chokyi-gyeltsen-trinley-lhundrub (Pan-chen Chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan phrin-las lhun-grub) (1938-1989), in 1980. At present there are about 500 monks, divided among the six colleges in the same proportions as before. The study program is only a fraction of what it previously had been.