Beautiful, mysterious and deeply spiritual, Tibetan Buddhism has captured the imagination of the West. Find out where you can visit Tibetan Buddhist monks in China.
With up to 20 million adherents in China and around the world, you may think that visiting Buddhist monks in their homeland would be easy. The reality is, China is a layered and complex country, and the ease of access will vary greatly depending on where you go.
Monasteries are the home of Buddhist wisdom and teaching, where sacred sutras are guarded and recited by devoted monks on the journey towards nirvana. As in Myanmar, India, Nepal and Bhutan, If you want to visit Buddhist monks, a monastery is the ideal place to start.
Unsurprisingly, some of the most beautiful monasteries in China lie in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), a heavily controlled area for which foreigners require special permission to enter. Many others, however, lie scattered throughout China in regions more easily accessible to travelers.
In fact, the TAR makes up only a small slice of the mountainous Tibetan Plateau. The rest occupies provinces like Sichuan and Gansu which are fully open for unrestricted travel.
Here are a few spectacular monasteries to begin your search:
One of the highest monasteries in the world, Rongbuk lies perched near Mount Everest basecamp, within the restrictive Tibetan Autonomous Region. Small, quiet and battered by the furious mountain winds, even the briefest visit is enough to make the traveller forget their worldly concerns and feel completely connected to the moment.
Like many other monasteries and artifacts in China, the Rongbuk Monastery was destroyed during the cultural revolution, but painstakingly restored in the early 1980s. Nowadays, you can stroll through the incense-laden halls and explore the culture of the Tibetan monks.
If you want to travel to Tibet, you can find pertinent information that we’ve put together for you in our article: Do I need a permit to travel to Tibet?
Lama Temple, Beijing
Proof of the penetration of Tibetan Buddhism across China, the Lama Temple is located near the center of Beijing, thousands of miles from the Tibetan Autonomous Region. A justifiably popular tourist attraction, here you can admire stunning 17th and 18th century architecture while breathing in the sweet scents of recently lit incense. After it was converted to a lamasery in the 18th century it became the national point of lama administration
The building and artwork of the temple is a combination of Han Chinese and Tibetan styles where you can take time to walk amid the many rooms housing Buddhist curios such as prayer wheels you can actually spin yourself. Since the Yonghe Temple is still a working lamasery, you will also come across monks walking the grounds in their robes.
The Yonghe Temple is a calming reprieve among the urban hustle and bustle of Beijing. You can light incense in prayer to the demigods and meditate along the tree-lined paths.
Visit the Yonghegong Temple on our Chinese Treasures tour where you’ll also get to enjoy a champagne picnic on the Great Wall and view the Forbidden City from a private imperial garden.
Labrang Monastery, Gansu
On the Tibetan Plateau but outside of the TAR, the Labrang Monastery lies in China’s Gansu province, about four hours drive from the provincial capital of Lanzhou. This famous Monastery hosts the largest number of monks outside of Tibet.
Once a highly influential monastery, Labrang was built in 1709 and at its peak was home to 4000 monks. Though nearly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, it was restored and re-consecrated in 1990.
Labrang Monastery has beautiful red walls and elaborate gold and copper colored roofs. Be sure to take a stroll along the pilgrimage trail around the monastery and watch pilgrims perambulate and monks engage in hand clapping debate.
The Labrang Monastery is a cornerstone of our Sacred Buddhist Land Journey.
This vast complex is one of the ‘Great Three’ monasteries in Tibet. Serving additionally as a nunnery as well as a university of Buddhist teaching, it is far more than a tourist attraction or a cultural relic.
The Sera Monastery is a living, breathing, thriving example of Tibetan Buddhism in the flesh. Come at the right time and you can witness monks engaged in tradition of religious debate, discussing and critiquing the intricacies of Buddhist doctrine.
If you’re interested in meeting monks in their homeland, surrounded by the mountains and lakes which inspire their spirituality, we can help. Consider a Soul of Tibet private journey.