Ladakh – The Beauty of Spaciousness
There are many wonderful Buddhist monasteries (T. gompa) throughout Ladakh, such as Likir Monastery, Hemis Monastery, Stok Monastery, Rizong Monastery, and Phyang Gompa. These gompas are cultural and architectural marvels, enchanting every pilgrim or visitor. Most are ancient and world renowned. They are home to spiritual communities of monks or nuns, who devotedly practice their religion there. The monasteries in Ladakh are also educational institutions, and play a central role in the life and economy of the local community. Ladakh’s annual religious festivals are celebrated at the monasteries as well. These are very colorful, with masked dances and ceremonies that attract both pilgrims and tourists in large numbers. Although first-time visitors may view them as folkloric and colorful events, such traditions and rituals are actually highly symbolic and full of meaning, and are intended for spiritual development.
Buddhism first came to Ladakh in the 3rd century BCE from southern India, so the tradition is firmly rooted in the region itself. Nevertheless, over the centuries, monks from Ladakh have gone to neighboring Tibet for higher religious education and instruction, and the monasteries in Ladakh play an important role in cultivating and preserving Tibetan Buddhist culture. In order to maintain this precious tradition, young boys are sent to live in the monasteries, where they receive food, shelter, and education. In return, the monks take care of spiritual ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and other rituals. Later on, some of the monks engage in advanced academic training in order to preserve the Buddhist teachings. The practice of sending a son to a monastery is also helping to control population growth in the region.
I encourage everybody who feels drawn to do so to undertake the journey and visit Ladakh. To arrive is to fall in love with it.