The Shalu Monastery is located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Shigatse in Tibet. For centuries it was renowned as a centre of scholarly learning and psychic training, and its mural paintings were considered to be the most ancient and beautiful in Tibet. The monastery was also the first of the major monasteries that was built by noble families of the Tsang Dynasty, during the great period of Tibet’s revival of Buddhism. Thus, it then became an important center of the Sakya tradition. The monastery’s architecture is a perfect combination of Tibetan and Han styles with archways, carved pillars, tiled roofs and the Song and Yuan style murals, making it different from other monasteries in Tibet.
“Shalu” means “new bud” in Tibetan Language. Chetsun Sherab Jungnay founded the monastery in 1040. According to the legend, its founding involves Chetsun and his teacher. His teacher suggested that Chetsun shoot an arrow, and found a monastery where the arrow hit. The flying arrow hit a new bud, hence the monastery’s name.
In 1320, Buton Rinpoche became abbot of the monastery. Buton was one of the greatest religious scholars of his time. His knowledge covered a wide range of religious subjects. So did the library that he assembled. He brought together 108 volumes of the fundamental texts of Buddhism, including the Kanjur and Tenjur sutras, plus 200 volumes of “treaties and commentaries”. Over 3,000 monks were attracted to his teachings. Because he had no interest in politics, however, his sect was not politically very influential.
Shalupa, also known as Butonpa, took form under Buton’s leadership. Shalupa included magical feats that monks learned to do. Some monks wore thin clothing in cold weather. They were able to raise their body temperatures to such a level that warm clothing was not needed. Other monks were able to run by leaping superhuman distances, covering long distances without rest.
The monastery is architecturally distinctive. In 1329, an earthquake destroyed the monastery. In 1333, Buton rebuilt it under the patronage of the Chinese Mongolian emperor. Since many Chinese Han artisans participated in rebuilding the monastery, the rebuilt monastery is characterized by the fantastic mixture of the local Tibetan style and the Chinese style of the Yuan Dynasty.
The two-storey Shalu Lakhang Temple, the main building of the monastery, is located at the center of the monastery with other buildings of the monastery surrounded it. On the ground floor, the Tschomchen (also a hall) enshrines Sakyamuni and his disciples. The chapels flanking the Tschomchen house Tanjur and Kanjur, two very important sutras of Tibetan Buddhism. Chapels in the roof floor are of typical Chinese blue tile design. The chapels enshrine Sakyamuni, Shalu Monastery’s own Buton, and the Arhats.
There are about 100 murals in the monastery, and most of them are on the walls of the corridor. The murals in Shalu Monastery are the typical works of Tibetan Buddhism in Chinese Yuan Dynasty and are characterized by lively and beautiful. Most of the murals depict stories from the life of the Buddha.
Shalu Monastery is famous for its four religious treasures which are of notable value. One is a sutra board, which is 700 years old and impossible to be reassembled if it is ever broken apart. A passage of sutra is printed on the board and is believed to bring good luck. The second treasure is a brass urn. It contains holy water that can cleanse away the 108 filths. The urn is usually sealed and covered with red cloth. The water is changed every 12 years. The third treasure is a stone basin that was once Chetsun Sherab Jungnay’s washbasin. The fourth treasure is a stone tablet on which the mantra “om mani Padme Hum” is written and four dagobas are carved. It was discovered during the original construction of the monastery.