Founded by the first Dalai Lama in 1447 in Shigatse, Central Tibet, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was renowned for its scholarship in Mahayana philosophy and the Tantric tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In the 16th Century, the monastery became the seat of the Panchen Lamas, the second most important spiritual leaders of Tibet after the Dalai Lama.
The Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 and the subsequent Cultural Revolution (1966-1980) resulted in the destruction of many of the Monastery’s precious scriptures, statues and paintings. During the 1960s, twenty elderly Buddhist monks from Tashi Lhunpo fled religious persecution and followed the 14th Dalai Lama into exile by trekking across the Himalayas to India.
In 1972 the monastery was re-established in exile in the Tibetan refugee settlement of Bylakuppe in South India with the Monks splitting stones for the new temple with pickaxes and mixing cement by hand.
The monastery is now home to over 400 monks and, with its new Dukhang (Temple), Choera (Debate Hall), Library and Science Centre - where the Monks now study science alongside their traditional philosophy curriculum, both through the ‘Mind & Life’ programme in association with Emory University and in the 'Science for Monks' programme with Smithsonian Global - it is once again becoming one of the most celebrated centres of Buddhist learning.
Tashi Lhunpo is also famous for its unique tradition of masked dances and sacred music from the Gelug or Yellow Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism.
“The Power of Compassion” tour by the monks features masked dances, traditional Tibetan musical instruments, the sound of sacred mantras, and elaborate, colourful costumes. Mudras – symbolic or ritual gestures - are used to generate wisdom, compassion and the healing powers of enlightened beings. Every mask, costume, colour, sound and gesture has spiritual significance. Only since the diaspora of the Tibetan people have outsiders and lay people been able to witness these secret arts. The performance is accompanied by explanations of the significance and meaning behind the dances and prayers, and provides a fascinating glimpse into an ancient cultural tradition far removed from modern Western society.
The monks have been touring from their monastery for two decades, sharing their culture with audiences at festivals and theatres throughout the UK and Europe. They have been frequent visitors to the Edinburgh Fringe, and also appeared at Glastonbury Festival, WOMAD, The Royal Opera House and guested at the fictional Lockfest Festival (with the Pet Shop Boys) on BBC Radio 4’s long-running and much- loved radio series The Archers.
As Tashi Lhunpo Monastery continues to embrace life in the 21st century, the Monks are streaming a new album of guided meditations and creating Ringtones for your smartphone from human thighbone trumpets.