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China: Sakya monastery

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Sakya monastery > China > Asia

[Visited: April 2007]

Sakya town appeared like a wild-west town, with a few streets and a different atmosphere of towns I had previously visited in this region. It also seemed special because of the remarkable way in which the older houses were painted: dark grey with vertical red and white stripes - it reminded me of Dondrubling monastery in Jyekundo. Not surprisingly, because it is the seat of the Sakyapa order of Tibetan buddhism, originating in the 11th century. A descendant of its foremost masters, Sakya Pandita, was a tutor of the Khublai Khan, and the sect later became linked to the contemporary occupation by Mongolians. The influence of the Mongols can be seen in the very structure of the Sakya monastery. Unlike other monasteries in Tibet, it looks like a massive, square fortress with insuperable walls surrounding it, and four watchtowers integrated into the wall as further reinforcement.

Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Monks coming out of one of the hall of Sakya monastery

Instead of rushing to the monastery, I decided to first walk the kora which actually runs outside the town. After crossing the river, the kora path climbs steeply to reach several chörten and the northern monastery, which lies in ruins. The walk is worthwile, though, because of the amazing views over the plains in which Sakya is situated, the valley beyond Sakya, and the high mountains in a distance with eternal snow. From here, looking on the grey, pale landscape, it is easy to see where the name Sakya comes from: it literally means pale earth. From the kora, the views on the monastery are awesome, and even from a distance, its appearance looks imposing and forbidding.

Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Star of the debating show: young monk at Sakya monastery

Nevertheless, after I came down, I walked on to the monastery itself. Unfortunately, it was thoroughly being reconstructed, and even the general assembly hall was quite messy. More interesting was the protector chapel. Even though it was closed, the entrance was unmistakeable: stuffed wolves and other animals hang around it, scaring away evil spirits, but probably also the unprepared visitor. After a walk on the surrounding square walls, and just when I thought I should be on the way out, I was invited in an assembly hall by some monks. What followed was a debating session in which monks were fiercely battling verbally, very determined and very convincing. Again, I would have loved to be able to understand what was being said... The session ended as abruptly as it had begun; it had taken so long that the sun had all but disappeared from the sky when I finally came out.

Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Wall of Sakya monastery with monk
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Two young monks posing for the camera in Sakya monastery
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Ambitious and fiercely debating monk at Sakya monastery
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Pointing is an integral part of the debating techniques used by monks at Sakya monastery
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Young talented monk during one of his convincing performances in the debate at Sakya monastery
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Monk trying to convince his adversary-monks at the debating ceremony
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Monk at Sakya monastery during the debating session
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Monks during the debating session at Sakya monastery
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Monks posing after their heated debating session
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Reconstruction works at Sakya monastery
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Sakya monastery: monk running about the barracks
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Protector chapel being guarded against evil spirits by stuffed wolf at Sakya monastery
Picture of Sakya monastery (China): Stuffed animals guarding the entrance to the protector chapel of Sakya monastery

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