Nepal/Tibet Trip 2018 Gyantse Monastery
While the Monastery is beautiful and the nearby fort is lit up at night, the relevance of this site is mainly historical, and definitely, political as well as religious. Touring the Monastery gave us all a chance to observe, once again, a variant iteration of Tibetan Buddhism. There are many buildings and chapels which affirmed the nature of this as an amalgam of temples. There were beautiful statues and paintings and it was actually fun/challenging to circle to the top on our own personal journey to enlightenment (even if it really only meant that we were still in shape, physically). This Monastery, in its design, represents the "universe" in Buddhist terms-a circle inside of a square.
Yet, the relevance to me was more political and historic. Gyantse was built by a Prince who was obviously (given the fort) attempting to show spirituality as well as power. IN 1427 when it was built, the Tibetans considered themselves to be at least on an equal footing politically to China, especially after the 200+ years of Mongol rule. The Tibetan version of this varies from current Chinese accounts of the history, but the fact that the Kundum was built at all attests to the probability that the Tibetans did wield some power or at least brokered power against the Mongols giving them leverage with the Ming Dynasty.
The Monastery also has relevance in that it represents the cross-regional aspects of Buddhism. Patrick Hughes shared a lecture with us on the variations of the practice of Buddhism. Historically, Gyantse also represents an intersection of Tibetan and Nepalese forms of Buddhism. The Prince who built the Kundum may have been of the belief that he could reach the highest level of enlightenment in one lifetime. The Monastery, in its way, illustrates this concept as well.
Finally, the Monastery illustrates the power of pilgrimage in the Buddhist faith. Many people shared this experience with us. And although the Chinese government has attempted to wrestle the history away from the Tibetans, claiming to have simultaneously saved Kundum from "western imperialism" and Tibetan underdevelopment, the Monastery appeared to be very popular with practicing Buddhists.