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Monasteries of Ladakh

Ladakh’s Gompas...
From about the 13th century Ladakh, through never politically subject to Tibet was an integral part of a religious empire that included as well as Tibet proper, Sikkim, Bhutan, and the trans-Himalayas regions of Nepal. Its monkhood was divided into different orders, several of which are represented in Ladakh. The Drug-PA is a branch of Ka-gyu-pa or School or Oral traditions established in the 11th and 12th centuries by a succession of Indian and Tibetan teachers - Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, and Mila- Respa. This was the order especially favored by the Namgyal dynasty, kings of Ladakh from the 16th century to the eclipse of Ladakh’s independence in the 1830s.

The Ge- Lugs pa, founded about 1400 by the reformation Tson-Ka- pa, is the only order of lamas to sport yellow hats on ceremonial occasions, all the rest contenting themselves with headgear of the same dull brick-red as their robes. To this belongs Tibet’s highest religious incarnation, the Dalai Lama, though indeed he is venerated equally by the adherents of all the orders.

Orders represented in a small way in Ladakh are the Dri-gung-pa, another branch of the Ka-gyu-pa; the Nying ma-pa, the most ancient order of all, based directly on the teachings of the Indian apostle Padamasmbhava; and finally the Sas-Kya-Pa, at one time politically influential in central Tibet, but was upstaged in the 15th century by the Ge-lugs-Pa.

Although the differences between these orders may be considerable, there is no sense of any kind of rivalry or competition among them today; it is a question rather of varying emphasis on different aspects of the teachings. These, however, represent an almost unimaginable elaboration of the simple message of the religion’s founder, Gautam Buddha, No doubt the core remains that of the mortal pilgrimage is a relief for a for all beings infinite suffering entailed by attachment to the endless cycle of existence, and that this can be attained only thought enlightenment, the state of complete insight into the true nature of things. But there is an enormous quantity of accretions, derived not only from the abstract philosophical speculations of generations of scholars but also from aspects of Tantra, the esoteric manifestation of Hinduism, and from pre-Buddhist animistic beliefs.

Large numbers of local deities and spirits all over Tibet and trans-Himalaya were co-opted by the great teachers into serving the new religion. In the end, in one all-embracing synthesis, the universe has been classified of gods; spirits evil or benevolent, fierce or gentle; Buddhas who after eons have accepted nirvana, the final escape, the merging of the Individual with the cosmic soul; Bodhisattvas, the embodiment of compassion, who have attained Enlightenment, but are willing to forgo nirvana until by their efforts every last soul achieves liberation; and the visible realm of humans and animals, plants and stones. The relations between all these, and their influence on the quest of the individual soul, are expounded in the 108 volumes of the Kanjur, the basic scriptures, ‘ The translation of the Buddha-word’. The translated commentaries by Indian masters make up the other great canon of religious writings, the Tenjur.

All this is expressed in an iconography which the visitor will find in the gompas in the form of images and wall paintings, Typically, the approach to a Gompa tower sometimes surmounted by a tapering spire, recalling the Stupas erected over the divided ashes of the Buddha. Sometimes they sit atop a gateway, the passing traveler who glances up may notice the remains of ancients painting on the stucco ceiling. The gompa itself will have one or more Du-Khang, or assembly hall, in which the daily worship takes place; depending on its size it may have other temples as well ( Lha-brangs, Tshogs-Khangs), used for worship on particular occasions.

The Gon-Khang, or temple the terrible Guardian Deities, is a small dark building with red-washed walls ( in contrast with the prevailing white of the other buildings); unless, as sometimes happens, the deities are veiled, it is forbidden to women, the rest of the buildings of typical gompas consist of the monk’s dwellings- tiny two-room apartments with a bed-sitter incorporating a small personal shrine, and a Kitchenette.

The Kushok or incarnate abbot, whether or not permanently in residence, often has a penthouse set of rooms giving countryside, and including a private, chapel. Although in most Gompas the lamas are expected to find their own simple cooking, many of the Pujas( worships) involve the consumption of the Ladakhi Stapels, butter-tea, and tsampa (roast barley flour), and there is a monastery kitchen to prepare these.

Famous Monasteries of Ladakh

Alchi Gompa Namgyal Tsemo Gompa Sankar Gompa Lamayuru Gompa
Hemis Gompa Basgo Gompa Chemrey Gompa  
Thikse Gompa Spituk Gompa Shey Gompa  

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