One of the key institutions of Buddhism is monasticism, where monks and nuns who choose this path of spiritualism are expected to live, learn and preserve the teachings of Buddha.
During the South Asian rainy season, Buddhist monks and nuns would follow vassa – the practice of taking retreat. Over time, these monasteries also grew into learning centers.
Here are some of the most amazing Buddhist monasteries from around the world. These are in no particular order, and you can take your pick and head out to whichever one your heart takes you to.
Key Gompa or Ki Monastery, India: This 1000 year old Tibetan Buddhist monastery is located at an altitude of 4,166 meters on top of a hill in the Spiti Valley. It has been attacked many times in the past by invading armies and natural calamities like earthquakes and fire. The destruction has created box-like construction around the campus, which makes the monastery look like a fort with the temples built one on top of the other. Below the monastery lies the village of Kibar, which is said to be the highest village in India.
Xuan Kong Monastery, China: Also known as ‘The Hanging Temple’, it is situated on a cliff that overlooks Mount Heng and looks as if it will be blown away by a gust of wind. Unbelievably, it has stood the test of time, calamities and stands strong on what looks like barely stilts supporting the construction. The monastery is over 1400 years old and has halls and rooms that follow the contour of the cliff.
Popa Taungkalat Monastery, Myanmar: This monastery overhangs a volcano and is set on a cliff at a height of 737 meters. It is a famous Buddhist pilgrimage that houses 37 Mahagiri Nats, the spirit of the deceased who have had a violent end. To reach the monastery one needs to climb 777 stairs and witness the beauty of this place that is almost in the middle of clouds.
Erdene Zuu Monastery, Mongolia: Built in 1585, this monastery is thought to be the oldest surviving monastery in Mongolia. The monastery is surrounded by a wall that has 100 stupas. While earlier it was allowed to be used as a museum, it is now headed by lamas and is a popular place of worship. The monastery was built by Abtai Sain Khan during the introductory phase of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia.
Lama Temple, Beijing: Also known as the Palace of Peace and Harmony or the Yonghe Temple, it is one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. Many Mongolian, as well as Tibetan monks, have lived here and taught and the monastery is home to many monks even today. There is a 26 meter tall statue of Maitreya Buddha inside the temple that is made from a single piece of sandalwood.
If you’ve just started practicing meditation, read yoga for beginners to make your trip more zen. We also have a round-up of the top wellness travel trends of 2014. And finally here’s how to travel healthy for a happy vacation.