The restoration of the Langtang Buddhist monastery

 

In 2013 HEART became involved in a community project to help restore the 600-year old Nyingma-pa Buddhist monastery in the remote village of Langtang, about three days walk into the Himalayas. The traditional method of construction involves laying large, flat stones over pine timbers to construct the roof. However, the weight of this over several centuries was causing the walls of the monastery, or gompa, to bow. Great strain was being placed on the internal wooden structures: beams were cracking, painted artwork was being damaged. Six-hundred-year-old Thanka murals, a form of intricate religious artwork, were peeling away from the unstable masonry.  

The monastery is at the heart of the Langtang community, not only are all the prayer (puja) ceremonies carried out there to maintain spiritual fortune for the village, but festivals, folklore and intangible heritage revolve around this special place. Such is the importance of the monastery that locals raised the majority of the money needed to repair it, with those that could not afford to contribute money instead offering their time and labour to gather stone and wood from the forests and mountains as construction materials. HEART became involved as fund-raisers and interested observers, seeking to understand the unique cultural values that were guiding local decisions about how restoration should proceed. You can read about how fascinating local concepts of time, materiality and attitudes to authenticity went into the restoration work in our publications.

 

Understanding local worldviews is a primary step in protecting cultural heritage

 

Tibetan Buddhism, is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in Tibet and the surrounding Himalayas around the 7th Century CE. It is a unique branch of Buddhism that incorporates not only the Mahayana and Yogacara philosophies adopted from India, as well as the Theravada monastic discipline, but also blends these with shamanistic features of the indigenous pre-Buddhist religion of Bon. As a result there is an emphasis on Tantric symbolic rituals, and material culture plays an important part in these. Among the unique characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism is its system of reincarnating lamas, and the vast numbers of deities in its pantheon.The Nyingmapa canon claims to be the oldest of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings, differentiating itself from a bipartite (Kangyur and Tengyur) canon of the other three main sects. The Nyingmapa canon is called The Collected Tantras of the Ancients (Nyingma Gyübum, rnying ma rgyud ’bum). Unlike other Buddhisms from Asia that also derive from Indian traditions, Tibetan Buddhism can trace an unbroken lineage of teacher to student as far back as the 11th century AD (although this was broken in 1959 with the Chinese invasion). For the Nyingma-pa tradition (which translates as ‘the ancients’) they claim their lineage stems directly from the religious figures in the 8th and 9th centuries.

© 2014 by Hayley Saul.

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