Kumbum Monastery / Ta’er si སྐུ་འབུམ
Kumbum Monastery (Ch Ta’er si) is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, is famous for being the birthplace of the great religious reformer Tsongkhapa. It is a wonderful place to check out Tibetan religious culture, Tibetan architecture, and Tibetan art. Highlights at the monastery include a large butter sculpture, murals and applique embroidery. Another highlight is the daily monastic debating holds at the assembly court a front of the Assembly hall 5-6pm.
Kumbum Monastery is located 25km to the west from Xining. The capital city of Qinghai province. The monastery houses about 600 monks. There were more than 2500monks in this monastery when it peak.
Kumbum Monastery (ch Ta’er si),was founded in 1583 by the Third Dalai Lama, Sonam-gyatso (1543-1588). It was built at the site where Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) , the founder of the Gelugpa Tradition, had been born. According to Tibetan Text books, a drop of blood fell from Tsongkhapa’s umbilical cord when it was cut after his birth. From this drop grew a wondrous white sandlewood tree. It has a about100,000 leaves, which it never sheds. In Tibetan, the number 100,000 merely signifies a very large number, and is not meant literally. On each leaf is an image of the Buddha Sinhanada (Seng-ge sgra). On the bark of the branches and trunk are the designs of the seed syllables and hand implements of this Buddha. In the future, Tsongkhapa will take birth as Sinhanada, the eleventh Buddha of the 1,000 who will grace the earth during this fortunate eon.
In 1379, Tsongkhapa’s mother, with the help of the local faithful, built a small temple with a stupa around this tree. It stands to this day. This was the first temple at Kumbum. In 1481, The temple had expended to a larger temple where the local tribes make offering at the site of holy tree by the meditator Rinchen Tsondru-Gyaltse and local tribes.
In 1576, Altan Khan (1507-1583) of the Tumed Mongols invited the Third Dalai Lama, Sonam-gyatso, to bring Buddhism to Mongolia. At that time, Sonam-gyatso, was known as the Gyelwa Rinpoche or the Drepung Tulku, the third incarnation in the first line of incarnate lamas in the Gelug tradition. After Altan Khan adopted Buddhism, he gave Gyelwa Sonam-gyatso the title Dalai Lama. “Dalai” is the Mongolian translation of “gyatso,” meaning “ocean.” Thus, Gyelwa Sonam-gyatso became the Third Dalai Lama.
On his way to meet Altan Khan near Kokonor, Gyelwa Sonam Gyatso stopped at the isolated retreat by the holy tree marking the spot where Tsongkhapa had been born. He requested Rinchen-Tsondru-Gyeltsen to construct a larger monastery at this site and appointed him as the head lama. The monastery was completed in 1583 and an annual Great Prayer Festival (Kumbum Molam) was inaugurated since then.
The new monastery full name called Kumbum Jampa-ling. “Kumbum” means 100,000 enlightening bodies of the Buddha. It is named after the 100,000 images of the Buddha Sinhanada on the leaves of the holy sandle wood tree. “Jampa-ling” means “Maitreya Cloister.” This refers to the Maitreya Temple built by Rinchen Tsondru- Gyeltsen to the right of the precious tree. Furthermore, Tsongkhapa is considered inseparable in nature from Maitreya Buddha, and whatever spiritual practices one does at this site are said to bring rebirth in Maitreya’s Pure Land.
Kumbum has four monastic colleges. The largest is the Debate College or faculty for logic also called Tsedma Dratsang, this was built 1603 by Dundrup Osar Gyatso with instruction from Fourth Dalai Lam . Others are Tibetan Medicine College, Gyupa Dratsang- Tantric college was built by Chojey Legpa-gyatso in 1649 and last one is Kalachakra College which was built 1820 by Ngawang Shaydrub Tenpay Nyima.
After study of the major texts and commentaries of the Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava systems, monks receive the Geshe Ngagrampa degree. and Labrang Monastery. The highest degrees of Geshe Rabjampa and Geshe Shayrampa. are awarded at the Kumbum Monlam Prayer Festival each year.
The Six Great Tibetan Monasteries are : Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Sera Monastery in Lhasa, Ganden Monastery in Lhasa, Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Labrang Monastery in Amdo and Kumbum Monastery in Amdo.