How to visit a monastery in Tibet
The design of Tibetan monasteries are usually conservative, but their layout is usually famous for their remarkable continuity. People built those monasteries in spectacular high locations, high above villages. There would be an outer wall around the monastery in order to keep the treasures of the monastery from bands of brigands, Mongolian hordes or attacks from rival monasteries. Also, high on the hillside behind, there is a kora around the complex, replete with holy rocks and meditation retreats. There is also some sky-burial sites in a few monasteries, most of which are still surrounded by ruins from the Cultural Revolution.
Usually, there is a central couryard used for special ceremonies and festivals and a darchen inside the gates. Surrounding buildings usually include a dukhang with gonkhang and lhakhang, monkskangtsang, kitchens and a barkhang.
The main prayer hall is the most magnificent. It usually consists of rows of low seats and stables, often strewn with cloaks, hats, ritual instruments, drums and huge telescopic horns. A small altar with seven bowls for the most significant statues, often Sakyamuni, Jampa or a trinity of the Past, Present and Future Buddhas and perhaps the founder of the monastery or past lamas, is inside there. For larger monasteries, there are funeral chortens of important lamas, and may be an tsangkhang behind the main hall. The entrance of it is flanked by protector gods, often the blue Chana Dorje and the red Tamdrin. There may well be an inner kora of prayer wheels. At the entrance to most buildings are murals of the Four Guardian Kings and sometimes, a wheel of life or a mandala mural. There are side stairs leading up to higher floor.
The name Gonkhang refers to dark and spooky halls holding wrathful manifestations of deities. The pillars are decorated with festival masks, weapons and sometimes stuffed snakes and wolves. The surface contains some terrible appearance that people usually covered a cloth on it. Murals are often traced against a black background. The altars often have grain dice or mirrors for divination. For walls, they are decorated with Tantric deities, grinning skeletons or even dismembered bodies. There are usually excellent views on the monastery roof. Also, there woulld be victory banners, vases of immortality, dragons and copper symbols of the Wheel of Law flanked by two deer. This is for recalling the Buddha’s first sermon at the deer park of Sarnath.
Foreign guests are welcome in most monasteries and temples. in some remote areas, guests will often be offered a place to stay for the night. However, always remember to behave well.
1. Always circumambulate Buddbist monasteries and other religious objects in clockwise to keep shrines and chortens to your right.
2. Don't take prayer flags or mani stones.
3. When you are in a prayer meeting, stop photo-taking. Before taking photos, always ask permission first, especially when using a flash. Photography fees may be charged in some larger monasteries. But some monks will allow you to take a quick picture for free. Don't be angry of the fee for you don't know what pressures they may be under.
4. Don't wear shorts in a monastery.
5. Take your hat off before you go into a chapel.
6. Don't smoke.
7. For women, always ask before entering a chapel, for according to custom, women are not allowed to enter the chapel.
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