Kumbum Monastery ( also known as Ta'ersi, Chinese: 塔尔寺) is a Buddhist monastery in Qinghai province, China. Kumbum was founded in 1583 in a narrow valley close to the village of Lusarin the Tibetan cultural region of Amdo. Its superior monastery is Drepung, immediately to the west of Lhasa. It was ranked in importance as second only to Lhasa.
In the 1360s Tsongkhapa's mother, with the help of locals, had a small temple with a stupa built on the site of his birthplace.
In 1560 the meditator Rinchen-tsondru-gyeltsen (Rin-chen brtson-'grus rgyal-mtshan) built a small monastery there, called Gonpalung, for intensive meditation practice. At first, it had seven monks at a time, but soon expanded to hold fifteen.
In 1576, Altan Khan (1507–1583) of the Tumed Mongols invited the future Third Dalai Lama, Sonam-gyatso, to bring Buddhism to Mongolia. After Altan Khan adopted Buddhism, he gave him the title Dalai Lama. "Dalai" is the Mongolian translation of "gyatso," meaning "ocean.".
On his way to meet Altan Khan near Kokonor, the 3rd Dalai Lama (1543–1588) stopped at the isolated retreat by the holy tree marking the spot where Tsongkhapa had been born. He requested Rinchen-tsondru-gyeltsen to construct a larger monastery at this site and appointed him as the head lama. The monastery was built completely in 1583 and a fence was erected around the "Tree of Great Merit". An annual Prayer Festival (sMon-lam) was inaugurated, like the one held in Lhasa.
The new monastery was called Kumbum Jampa-ling. "Kumbum" means "100,000 enlightening bodies of the Buddha". It is named after the 100,000 images of the Buddha Sinhanada which appear on the leaves of the holy sandalwood tree. "Jampa-ling" means "Maitreya Cloister." This refers to the Maitreya temple built by Rinchen-tsondru-gyeltsen to the right of the precious tree.
The First Throne Holder of Kumbum was Duldzin Ozer-gyatso ('Dul-'dzin 'Od-zer rgya-mtsho), born in 1557. In 1603, the Fourth Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso (1589–1616), stopped at Kumbum on his way from his native Mongolia to Central Tibet. At that time, he proclaimed the need for a study division to be built and for Duldzin Ozer-gyatso to be appointed as the head of the entire monastery. At Kumbum's Monlam Prayer Festival of 1612, Duldzin Ozer-gyatso first ascended to the throne of Abbot and opened the Debate College, Pelden Shaydrubling Dratsang (dPal-ldan bShad-grub gling Grva-tshang).
By the middle of the 20th century, Kumbum Monastery included thirty temples and a thousand or so houses.