Drepung Monastery is located on the hillside of the south slope of the Gambo Utse Mountain, about 10 kilometers western suburb of Lhasa. Drepung Monastery is a monastery of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Together with Ganden Monastery and Sera Monastery, they are called the three major monasteries in Lhasa. In its heyday, there were more than 10,000 monks and was the largest monastery in Tibet.
Drepung Monastery is one of the six major monasteries of the Yellow Gelug Sect, as well as the highest-ranking one. Its name means "Rice Heap Monastery". Drepung means "collecting rice" in Tibetan and symbolizes prosperity. The entire monastery is large in scale, with white building complexes covering the hillside. From a distance, it looks like a huge rice pile, so it is called Drepung.
History of Drepung Monastery
Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416, the 14th year of Yongle in the Ming Dynasty, by Jamyang Choge Tashi Palden (1397–1449), one disciple of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Yellow Sect.
In 1464, Drepung Monastery established colleges to teach Buddhist classics and became the most powerful monastery among the Gelugpa monasteries.
The first to fifth Dalai Lamas once lived in Drepung Monastery. It was not until the expansion of the Potala Palace was completed and was canonized by the Qing emperor that the fifth Dalai Lama left Drepung Monastery and moved into the Potala Palace of Lhasa City.
How to visit Drepung Monastery?
In front of the monastery gate, you can first see that this monastery is surrounded by mountains on three sides, facing the Lhasa River and the open valley plains. The buildings are magnificent, like a white city.
After entering the Drepung Monastery, you can see the Tibetan-style buildings in close view. All chapels feature white walls, golden roofs, and red eaves.
These buildings are scattered in the mountains and can be visited clockwise along the paths. The total distance of Drepung Monastery Kora is about 2 kilometers. It is not tiring to do the kora. At the same time, circling the building complex clockwise is also a way to pray and accumulate good karma.
The halls of Drepung Monastery are majestic. The main hall is the Cuoqin Hall, covering an area of about 4,500 square meters. There are 183 pillars, with very beautiful carvings on them.
The large Manjushri Bodhisattva and Usnisa-sitapatra statues are extremely delicate, and the magnificent gilt bronze Buddha statues and butter lamps contrast with each other, making the main hall look resplendent. In addition, it houses a large number of exquisite thangkas, embroidery, murals, and other precious art treasures, which can be visited one by one.
On the hillside 500 meters southeast of Drepung Monastery, there is a small monastery called Nechung, which was the residence of Dalai Lamas' chief oracle. Unlike other monasteries, the murals on its main hall and on the four corridors are in strong colors and look brilliant. It is worth a visit.
Major Four Dratsangs
Dratsang is not only a unit of Buddhist university monasteries in the Tibetan tradition of Gelugpa, but also the first-level management organization affiliated to the Cuoqin Hall, and its size is second only to the Cuoqin Hall.
Its complexes can be basically divided into two types, one is the assembly hall for chanting, and the other is various chapels.
Below Dratsangs are Khangtsens. If compare the monastery to a comprehensive university, then Dratsangs is like a department, Khangtsens is like a class, and Myicuns is like a group.
Loseling Dratsang, the largest college in Drepung Monastery has 26 Dratsangs. Each Dratsang owns an exclusive assembly hall and dormitory, and each Khangtsen owns a certain number of Myicuns.
In the beginning, there were seven Dratsangs. Later, as the number of monks who came to the monastery continued to increase, they merged into the four Dratsangs, namely, Loseling Dratsang, Gomang Dratsang, Deyang Dratsang, and Ngagpa Dratsang, The latter one is the tantra Dratsang.
Drepung Shoton Festival
The first day of the Shoton Festival is called the "Drepung Shoton Festival". The main activity is to enjoy the grandest Buddha unfolding ceremony.
On this day, when the earliest rays of the sun have not yet reached the sky over the snowy area, the city of Lhasa is already a festive scene. All the roads leading to the western suburbs are full of hustle and bustle. The pilgrims are making a special trip to Drepung Monastery to visit the greatest Buddha Thangka image in the early morning. People rush there passionately to take a good viewing spot and wait reverently for the start of the exciting ceremony when the sun rises. At that time, people would gather at Drepung Monastery to look up to the merciful Buddha, and to feel the purification of the soul and the freedom of belief.
Drepung Buddhist Debate
Debates in Drepung are usually held at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The vibrant debates in the debating courtyard are also a sight you should not miss while visiting Drepung Monastery. The monks often sit on the ground with some others standing opposite each other, debating scriptures with expansive gestures, which is very interesting. The monks achieve a thorough understanding of the scriptures through debates.
The starting point of the debate is to clap. Every time a monk asks a question, he takes a few steps back, throws the prayer beads in the right hand to his left arm, then steps forward, raises his right hand high, and slaps his left hand hard, making a clapping sound in front of the sitting monk.
Clapping contains three meanings. One is that everything in the world results from the synergy of conditions, as there is a saying that it takes two to make a quarrel. Two is that everything is fleeting while clapping represents inconstant. Three is that the crisp sound can awaken the compassion and wisdom in one's heart and expel evil thoughts.
Here's a video of Drepung Monastery for watching more details.
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