Text by Chen Biao
Labrang Monastery in western Xiahe County of Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, known as the world seminary of Tibetan Buddhism, is currently undergoing its biggest renovation in 300 years. “On September 17, 2012, the protection and renovation project for Labrang Monastery was launched,” reveals Sonam Je, deputy head of Xiahe County Administrative Bureau of Culture, Sports, Radio, Film, and Television. “In addition to the annual investment, the central government earmarked 305 million yuan in the renovation, and the whole project is expected to last seven or eight years.”
A Closer Look of Labrang Monastery
Why was such a huge sum of money invested in renovating a monastery? A closer look at the structure may provide some insight.
In the Tibetan language, “Labrang” means “residence of Living Buddhas.” The monastery stands on a rolling mountain that resembles the shape of a phoenix, inspiring its name, “Phoenix Mountain.” Facing Phoenix Mountain is Dragon Mountain which was also named after its shape. The Daxia River flows between the two mountains and forms a semicircular basin. Tibetan people call the place Tashi Basin, a name with auspicious undertones. In 1709, Jamyang, the first Living Buddha of Labrang, founded the monastery with his followers.
Over the past 300 years, the monastery has consistently expanded. Now, it is comprised of six institutes, 48 halls and rooms for the Living Buddhas and 12,000 rooms for lamas. Classified by functionality, the complex is divided into five sections, including sutra halls, Buddha halls, residences of Living Buddhas, bedrooms for lamas, and rooms for other functions.
Labrang Monastery is one of the six ancestral monasteries of the Gelugpa (Yellow) Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Labrang has preserved six traditional institutes, namely the Institute of Exotoric Buddhism, the Higher Institute of Theology, the Lower Institute of Theology, the Institute of Kalachakra, the Institute of Hevajra, and the Institute of Medicine.