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Discover Ramoche Temple: A Unique Spiritual Hub in Lhasa

Ramoche Temple, also known as the Upper Tantric College, stands as a cornerstone of Vajrayana Buddhist study for Tibetan monks. Located north of Lhasa’s old city, its full Tibetan name, (རྒྱ་སྟག་ར་མོ་ཆེ།) Gyastag Ramoche Lhakhang. Built in the mid-7th century, it ranks among Tibet’s earliest and most esteemed temples, safeguarded as a key cultural relic of Tibet.

Historical Tibetan texts reveal that Ramoche Temple originally enshrined a life-sized statue of the 12-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha, brought from Chang’an (now Xi’an) by Princess Wencheng. This statue, one of Tibet’s most sacred historical artifacts, was later moved to Jokhang Temple during Princess Jincheng’s era. In its place, another statue of an 8-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha, brought by Princess Bhrikuti from Nepal, became the temple’s main deity.

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A Treasure Trove of Tibetan History

Despite multiple reconstructions due to damages, the temple’s early architectural essence, particularly its ground-level sanctuary with ten pillars, hints at ancient Tubo (Tibetan Empire) heritage. The majority of the current structures are recreations, covering approximately 4,000 square meters, featuring a courtyard, the central temple, annex buildings, and a prayer wheel corridor.

The entrance hall displays murals of “The Cycle of Samsara” across its two stories, serving as living quarters and scripture rooms for monks. The main hall spans 2,100 square meters over three floors: the first floor houses the assembly hall with 30 pillars; the second floor includes monks’ quarters and a central courtyard; the top floor once accommodated the Dalai Lama. The temple’s golden roof, a fusion of Han and Tibetan architectural styles supported by intricate dodging brackets, signifies the harmonious blend of cultures within its sacred walls

A Visit to Ramoche Temple

Ramoche Temple not only offers a glimpse into the spiritual heart of Tibet but also stands as a monument of architectural grandeur. Visitors can explore the serene courtyards, admire the exquisite murals, and feel the ancient vibe in the presence of the magnificent Buddha statues. Whether you’re capturing the temple against the backdrop of Potala Palace or engaging in the clockwise ritual walk, Ramoche Temple promises a journey of discovery and reverence in Lhasa, Tibet.

Exploring Ramoche Temple: A Sacred Site in Tibet’s Heart

Ramoche Temple, a key center for advanced Tantric studies in Tibet, sits around 1,000 meters north of Lhasa’s bustling old city. Known as “Gyastag Ramoche Lhakhang,” or “The Temple of the Han Tiger Deity,” it dates back to the mid-7th century. This temple is a critical cultural preservation site in Tibet.

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A Tale of Two Buddha Statues

Ramoche Temple has a fascinating story of Buddha statues swapping places. Originally, it housed the statue of the 12-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha brought by Princess Wencheng from Chang’an. This statue, pivotal to Tibetan history, was later moved to Jokhang Temple. In its place, Ramoche Temple became the new home for the 8-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha statue that Princess Bhrikuti had brought from Nepal.

The swap happened around 651 AD during Mangsong Mangtsen’s reign, prompted by fears of an attack from the Tang Dynasty aiming to seize the sacred statue. In 712, when Princess Jincheng married into Tibet, she facilitated the relocation of the statues, enriching both temples with these revered icons. Emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties also emphasized the significance of Ramoche Temple, with the Qianlong Emperor notably donating a “Mirror of True Reflection.”

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Ramoche Temple: The Upper Tantric College

Ramoche Temple also serves as Tibet’s Upper Tantric College, or “Gyudstod Dratsang.” This esteemed institution became a haven for advanced Tantric practice after the revered master Jé Tsün Kunga Döndrub intervened to prevent a flood in Lhasa in 1485. As a reward, the Phakdru government granted him Ramoche Temple as a base for spreading Tantric Buddhism.

Monks who graduate from Lhasa’s three major monasteries or meet certain qualifications can join this advanced training as “Lama Gyudpas.” The training is famously strict, following practices similar to those of ascetic and wandering monks. Monks undergo rigorous discipline, including barefoot midnight prayers and meditation in stone-lined pits under harsh weather conditions, emphasizing a life of austerity and discipline.

Life at Ramoche Temple

The monks of Ramoche Temple lead a life of strict observance, with practices that highlight their dedication and spiritual rigor. Their journey includes annual pilgrimages and solitary retreats, adhering to a regimen that balances communal living with personal spiritual exploration. The curriculum focuses on Tantric deities and practices, enriching the monks’ understanding and mastery of Vajrayana Buddhism. Ramoche Temple stands as a testament to the resilience and spiritual depth of Tibetan Buddhism, offering insights into its rich traditions and the enduring legacy of its sacred practices.

Discovering Ramoche Temple: A Spiritual Jewel of Tibet

Ramoche Temple, also known as the Upper Tantric College, is a revered site situated about 1,000 meters north of Lhasa’s bustling old city. Its Tibetan name, “Gyastag Ramoche Lhakhang,” translates to “The Temple of the Han Tiger Deity,” reflecting its rich heritage from the mid-7th century and its status as a key cultural monument in Tibet.

The Fascinating Story of Buddha Statues Exchange

Ramoche Temple harbors an intriguing historical tale of Buddha statues exchanging places. Initially, it housed the 12-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha statue brought by Princess Wencheng from Chang’an. This precious artifact was later transferred to Jokhang Temple, and in exchange, Ramoche received the 8-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha statue from Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal.

This swap was orchestrated during Mangsong Mangtsen’s reign to protect the statues from potential Tang Dynasty invasions. Later, during Princess Jincheng’s era, the statues found their permanent homes, signifying the temples’ deep historical and religious significance. The Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty even honored Ramoche Temple with a special plaque, highlighting its importance.

Ramoche Temple: The Upper Tantric College

Ramoche Temple also plays a crucial role in the transmission of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet, known as “Gyudstod Dratsang” or the Upper Tantric College. Jé Tsün Kunga Döndrub, a respected Tantric master, saved Lhasa from a devastating flood using prayer and ritual. In gratitude, he received Ramoche Temple, making it a center for Tantric education. Only monks who have finished their studies at one of Lhasa’s three main monasteries can join this prestigious institution. These monks undergo a rigorous training regime that includes ascetic and itinerant practices, embodying a life of strict discipline and spiritual dedication.

A Life of Rigor and Devotion

Monks at Ramoche Temple adhere to a strict code, including barefoot midnight prayers and meditation in stone pits under harsh weather conditions. They embark on annual pilgrimages and engage in solitary retreats, practicing a balance of communal and personal spiritual exploration. The curriculum focuses on a variety of Tantric deities and rituals, deepening their understanding and mastery of Vajrayana Buddhism. Ramoche Temple stands as a testament to the resilience and spiritual depth of Tibetan Buddhism, inviting visitors to explore its rich traditions and the enduring legacy of its sacred practices.

Princess Wencheng: The Cultural Bridge between Tang Dynasty and Tibet

Princess Wencheng,(འུན་ཤིང་ཀོང་ཇོ་) adopted by Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, played a pivotal role in the history of Sino-Tibetan relations. In the Tang Dynasty’s Zhenguan era, the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo sent his prime minister, Gar Tongtsan, to Chang’an to request her hand in marriage. Emperor Taizong consented, entrusting Li Daozong, the Duke of Jiangxia, with the task of escorting Princess Wencheng into Tibet.

Songtsen Gampo and his officials welcomed the party at Barkha (now Maduo County in Qinghai’s Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) and escorted them back to Lhasa. They prepared special accommodations for Princess Wencheng on Marpori Hill, where the Potala Palace now stands, including what remains of their wedding chamber. Princess Wencheng’s arrival in Lhasa led to the construction of Ramoche Temple, which was built to enshrine the 12-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha statue she brought from Chang’an. This statue was later transferred to Jokhang Temple. It is also believed that she planted the famous Princess Willow in front of Jokhang Temple.

Renowned for her erudition, devotion to Buddhism, and knowledge of divination, Princess Wencheng brought not only religious artifacts but also a multitude of craftsmen and a variety of goods, including grains and livestock. Her arrival marked the introduction of Central Plains’ medical knowledge, calendar systems, textile, papermaking, brewing, pottery, and milling technologies into Tibet, significantly enhancing the region’s economic and cultural development and strengthening Sino-Tibetan relations.

Princess Jincheng: Continuing the Legacy

Princess Jincheng, another adopted daughter of Emperor Zhongzong of the Tang Dynasty and actually from the royal Tang family, followed in Princess Wencheng’s footsteps into Tibet in 710 AD. Her marriage to the Tibetan king was accompanied by a grand ceremony and the transport of valuable books on technology, various artisans, luxurious silks, and other goods, along with Kuchean music, further enriching Tibetan society and culture and contributing to the amicable exchanges between Tibet and the Tang Dynasty.

Visiting Tips:

  • You cannot take photos or videos inside the temple.
  • You can find Ramoche Temple by walking 300 meters north on the stone-paved ‘Ramoche Temple Road,’ across from the Tromzikhang market.

These princesses not only bridged two great cultures but also left a lasting legacy of cultural exchange and unity that still resonates in Tibet today.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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