The Library at Sakya Monastery
The Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism are renowned for their academic abilities and have historically produced some of Tibet’s most famous scholars. It comes as little surprise then that their library is immense and possible the biggest surviving collection of texts in Tibet.
Somehow Sakya’s southern monastery was saved from most of the destruction of the cultural revolution, so it is now regarded as having the largest collection of Tibetan Buddhist artefacts in Tibet. You can tell just by looking around how much of a difference there is between being here in a preserved ancient monastery with real ancient artefacts all around as opposed to a rebuilt one.
Sakya’s library consists of hundreds of thousands of volumes including multiple versions of the Kangyur and Tengyur: the teachings of the Buddha and commentaries on these teachings. In a glass box at the far end of the library room is one of the largest handwritten sutras in Tibet, written in gold ink on a scroll made of leather.
Our monk guide told us that apparently when all of the scriptures were put into these shelves they were neat and orderly, but the way that they now sit is a reflection of the state of world affairs. When the world is in a state of peace the scriptures appear straight and level, but as bad events occur the volumes tend to slip and become messy and uneven.
Along the main wall of the library room some scriptures could even be seen protruding from the main stack by 30cm or so, which we were told happens only when a major negative world event occurs. Our monk guide pointed out a couple that date back to the world wars, and have been left sitting in that way because when at first they were pushed back in somehow the scriptures came out again the next day. The monks believed that this was an auspicious sign that they should be left like that, and have hung ceremonial silk scarves on the end of them.
Stories of magic such as this are common in Tibet, and not a touch of doubt is held by the devotees who come here that these stories are truth. Of course the scriptures move of their own accord, why shouldn’t they?
Note: Photography is usually not permitted in the library room, and there are several signs in multiple languages that remind visitors of this. However, I asked special permission of the monks in charge and they kindly allowed me to take photos here.