Kilung Monastery’s Ancient Temple
As one of the rare pre-1950s temples still standing in Kham, the renovation of Kilung’s main sanctuary plays a special role in historical restoration in east Tibet. As well, the temple’s origination 240 years ago is a thing of spiritual legend. Prophetic dreams, footprints in stone, and a spontaneous spring of water are written into its history.
In the case of many other temples that survived until recently, monasteries have chosen to tear those original temples down and replace them with traditionally designed structures, but made of cement. Kilung Rinpoche’s vision has been not to tear down, but to renovate. The temple has undergone repairs to its roof twice in recent years, and now sports a permanent one of tile. Major structural renovations began in 2005, and are well on their way to completion.
Kilung’s temple originally took three years to build. Its two-meter thick walls are of rammed earth. The builders added two fingers in height each day to the walls, pounding it down, letting it rest, and repeating the next day with another two fingers of earth. This patient and ancient method is how the building has weathered through so much: the climate, the revolution, earthquakes, all. (The walls are two meters thick at the bottom, rising to a width of one meter at the top.) Rammed earth, as compared to cement, is longer lasting and more comfortable, as it’s warmer and dryer. It also stands the test of time, versus cement, which cracks in this severe climate.
For the present life of the monastery, the main temple continues to be central. The shedra college has a new, small temple, occupied largely by students for study and classes. The larger ancient temple accommodates the traditional summer retreat, four major drubchens each year (24-hour/day week-long pujas), days of pre-Losar pujas, services for the sick and deceased, and many other annual and regular practices, all conducted by non-shedra monks. It also serves as the focal point for the Kilung community, for lay practitioners, yogi’s, and nuns, for family members and the greater community.
Beyond the material and practical considerations are the ineffable and spiritual. Great buildings are symbols for their people, holding history, culture, and spiritual essence. Kilung Monastery’s original temple, itself a holy relic, stands as a rare and important link to the past and into the future for its people.