Tashilhunpo monastery is one of the most important centres of Tibetan buddhism. It is the traditional residence of Panchen Lama, one of the leaders of Tibetan buddhism. Panchen Lama is the reincarnation of Amitaba Buddha, thus being in a divine hyerarchical position that is superior to that of the Dalai Lama.
The monastery was founded in 1447 by Gendup Drup, the first Dalai Lama. Subsequently, the 5th Dalai Lama conferred the title of Panchen Lama to his teacher and master at the Tashilhunpo monastery, thus Tashilhunpo becoming the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama. In the past, it used to shelter five thousand monks.
Tibetan Buddhism, which came in the 5th century from India in its purest form, is surprisingly different, in culture and faith, from Buddhism outside of Tibet. The doctrine of the spiritual leaders Dalai Lama who are reincarnations of the Buddha is specific of Tibetan buddhism (lamaism). Tibet has been ruled by a Dalai Lama for over 350 years, from 1600 to 1959. Also, Tibetan buddhism includes elements of the old shamanic religion Bon (or Bo), a primitive faith born in Tibet, which still survives here as an independent religion. Consequently, Tibetan buddhism is filled with elements that have to do with the world of the dead. The famous “Tibetan Book of the Dead” is considered shamanic in structure.
Probably the most religious people in the world, Tibetans pray daily, spinning their mani-chorlo - the hand prayer wheels, making yak butter offerings to the Buddha, prostrating themselves sometimes all day long in buddhist temples, or surrounding them, always clockwise. Filled with superstition and tabus, their existence is governed by talismans and religious symbols, aimed at purification, chasing away evil spirits and attaining a superior reincarnation.
Tashilhunpo monastery is situated in Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest town, 360 km west of the capital Lhasa, at an altitude of 3,840 m. The town was one of Tibet’s capitals, as an important religious centre.