Historically, the most significant monastery in Tibetan Buddhism, Drepung Monastery(འབྲས་སྤུངས་དགོན་པ།) used to be the seat of political and religious power in Tibet (before the Potala Palace was built). This significance came in part due to its location just outside of Lhasa, and in part due to it being the primary seat of the Gelugpa sect. The Gelugpa sect practices celibacy, and an aesthetic lifestyle approach to breaking “attachment” with the world. Every Dalai Lama has been of this sect, and it is also known as the “Yellow Hat Sect.”
Drepung was founded in 1416 by a monk by the name of Jamyang Chöje, who was a disciple of Tsongkhapa (a reformer and the founder of the Gelugpa sect). Jamyang Chöje was a very charismatic monk, and within one year of completing the monastery, Drepung already had over 2000 monks living there. At its peak, Drepung Monastery used to be home to over 15,000 monks and was one of the most prestigious Buddhist institutions in the land. Now, there is a meager 300 monks living in Drepung and its sheer size makes the place feel almost like a ghost town.
Today the monastery holds seven colleges – Gomang, Loseling, Deyang, Shagkor, Gyelwa, Tosamling, Dulwa, and Ngagpa – and each teach different aspects of Tibetan Buddhism.
Visiting Drepung Monastery
Approximately 8kms west of Central Lhasa, and placed high on a steep mountainside, travellers will find Drepung Monastery. The alleyways are walled and narrow, and feel labyrinthine. The main meeting hall is massive and it is said it can fit up to 7,000 monks at a time. It is the largest meeting hall I have ever seen in a monastery. Adjacent to it is the kitchen, which is also said to be the largest kitchen in Tibet. It is easy to believe as the pots they use for cooking look like small swimming pools … for elephants.
Surrounding the monastery one will see a great number of residences with white roofs. Due to it’s location on Mount Gephel, and the number of white roofs that were required to house 15,000 monks, Drepung garnered the name of “rice heap” monastery.
Everywhere you look in Drepung is an opportunity for a photo, so keep your finger on the trigger. Be aware though about taking photos inside the temple areas and meeting halls. Usually there is a 20 to 50 yuan charge for photography inside these rooms.