With the spread of Buddhism, the monastery buildings developed rapidly and became the main body of ancient Tibetan architecture. A large amount of financial and material resources of the society are spent on them, these temple buildings can best reflect the achievement of Tibetan architecture. To visit Tibetan monasteries is an effective way to learn Tibetan Buddhism and even the Tibetan culture.
Tibetan monasteries are generally very large in scale. For example, Drepung Monastery is located on the mountainside of Mount Gephel in the western suburbs of Lhasa. The buildings of it are very spectacular as the buildings are undulating up and down, which makes it look like a mountain city. These monasteries, large and small, are not only religious venues, but also centers of regional politics, economy, and culture, and concentration of wealth.
Due to the special status of the monastery in Tibetan society, the architecture of it has many features:
Although there are many religious activities in the temple, and the study of the scriptures is still a major activity. A temple resembles a Buddhist university. Take the Drepung Monastery as an example. There are four departments in it: teaching, educational, academic affairs and miscellaneous chores. They are divided into three Xianzong Academies and one Tantric Academy. These academies and schools, Tibetan called Zhacang, consist of a hall, a front yard and a Buddhist temple. Everyone is equipped with a large kitchen for preparing food and drink for Lama and a debating courtyard for debating scriptures. Below Zhacang, there set up several Kangcuns. The construction of Kangcun is called Zhashia, which consists of a monastery, kitchen, small hall, inner debating courtyard, and various warehouses.
In addition to the study of the scriptures, the temple also carries out education in language, writing, poetry, medicine, etc. The temple monopolizes the cultural undertakings of Tibetan society. These buildings are similar to the usual Zhacang. Others such as printing, publishing, and the manufacture of Buddha images are also controlled by the temples, and many temples own specialized workshops. For instance, the Natang Monastery in Shigatse contains a collection of Tibetan scriptures and rich Tibetan prints.
Many temples have the nature of administrative functions. Occupying manors, Tibetan temples have an independent economy, and a temple is an economic entity. There are 185 manor houses in Drepung Monastery, with an area of more than 51,000 mu of cultivated land, more than 300 pastures, and more than 20,000 farmers and herders. 40% of the cultivated land in Tibet is owned by temples. In this way, in addition to participating in local government, the temples must rule the jurisdiction of them.
The layout of Tibetan monasteries, arranged according to the above-mentioned various types, is flexible and free. The teachings, percepts, and thoughts of Buddhism have a decisive influence on the overall layout of the architectural complex or the internal design of the temple. For example, inside the hall, the atmosphere is mysterious due to the usage of the curtain and the mixture of color. The interior of the hall is generally dark while the Buddha statue is fairly bright in order to express the idea of “the world is dark, only the Buddha is light”.