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Kathok Monastery

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Kathok Monastery Introduction

Kathok Monastery is located in Hepo Township between Dege County and Pelyul County, Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, 4800 meters above sea level. Founded in 1159, over-eight-hundred-year-old Kathok Monastery is the most ancient monastery in Kham, admired as the “mother” of Buddhism in Kham. Kathok Monastery is one of six principal monasteries of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, among which Kathok Monastery has the largest scale and enjoys the greatest reputation.

Kathok Monastery

The phonetic transcript of the monastery’s name in Tibetan language is Katok Dorjé Den. Katok means “above the letter Ga”. At the old site of the monastery, there was a naturally-arisen "Ga" letter on a huge and smooth white-colored stone. Dorjé Den refers to the “Vajra Seat”, the holiest place for Buddhists all over the world, the very place where Lord Buddha manifested the Great Enlightenment. Padmasambhava (Lotus-Born) personally consecrated Kathok Monastery 13 times, the same for Mahabodhi Temple, the Vajra Seat in India, hence the Kthok Monastery is also called “Vajra Seat the Second”. There are only three principal Vajra Seats in the world, specifically in India, Kathok and Mount Wutai.

Kathok Monastery

Kathok Monastery has a unique architecture style and a considerable collection of cultural relics. There are three main halls in the monastery, the largest of which is Dajin Hall (The Great Golden Hall). This 600-square-kilometer hall is a splendorous architecture with Tibetan oil painted and carved wooden cornices, corridors, pillars and pavilions. The decorations of these parts have three sections: three-layer cloud covers, lotus petals and colored ribbons, upon which are painted patterns of animals including Six Beasts of Longevity, Eight Auspicious Animals, Eight Cimelias, Flying Apsaras and Dragon Ladies. On the wall are the splendid paintings which depict the life and teachings of the Buddha. In the hall is the magnificent golden Buddha statue and stupa. In Kathok there is another great hall called Dajing Hall (The Great Sermon Hall), which can hold more than 100 Sanghas. The most spectacular building of Kathok is five-storey Mandala of Padmasambhava. The mandala was built under the instruction in Bardo Sutra (The Sutra for Liberty) written by Padmasambhava, consulting Buddhism classics on the standard scale of the mandala. Kilograms of gold were used to accomplish the construction. The first story is Thousand Buddha Hall which is dedicated to ten thousand statues of Buddha. Above the hall there is a garden representing the protective wheel. From inside to outside are Slta-vana (literally: the corpse forests), Vajra Pestle Wall and the corridor representing Five-Color Fires of Wisdom in which there are 400 prayer wheels. The second story is retreat rooms for Sanghas. The third storey is dedicated to 42 Peaceful Deities of the Bardo, surrounded by Dharmapalas (Dharma defender) including King Gesar. Beside the grand door are four Acalas (the immovable ones) while outside the hall on the steps are four Lakshmis. There are in total 16 Lakshmis with four in each direction. In the fourth story stands 58 Wrathful deities. The palace has a round wall and a spiral dome decorated with wrathful deities. The fifth story is devoted to Kuntuzangpo (the Primordial Buddha), representing the origin of the mind. Outside the palace are four garuḍas (a bird-like creature in Buddhism). The very top of the mandala is the golden pagoda.

 Kathok Monastery

Kathok is not only a religious site but a great place of culture and for teaching. To be a Sangha of Kathok is like to study in a college, where one can learn Pancavidya (Five Major Sciences), including science of language (śabdavidyā), science of logic (hetuvidyā), science of medicine (cikitsāvidyā), science of fine arts and crafts (śilakarmasthānavidyā), and science of spirituality (adhyātmavidyā), as well as Five Minor Sciences, including science of rhetoric, science of prosody, science of theatre and science of science of astrology. The mall of sermon is where Sanghas learn these sciences. The length of schooling varies from eight years to fifteen years, depending on the talent of the individual. Sanghas are required to take strict examinations and meditate in retreat to get certificated, to be part of the lineage and to start to promote Buddhism.