Skip to main content Skip to search
A Survey of Bonpo Monasteries and Temples
A Survey of Bonpo Monasteries and Temples
in Tibet and the Himalaya
by Dondrup Lhagyal, Phuntso Tsering Sharyul, Tsering Thar, Charles Ramble and Marietta Kind
Edited by Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano
THL ID: T5740, isbn: 4901906100 (pbk.), oclc: 52453594
Original Print Publisher:National Museum of Ethnology
Digital Reprint Publisher:Tibetan & Himalayan Library
Copyright © 2010 by Dondrup Lhagyal, Phuntso Tsering Sharyul, Tsering Thar, Charles Ramble, and Marietta Kind
Reproduced with permission from the authors
under the THL Digital Text License.
Preface

This volume contains the results of our field research concerning Bonpo monasteries, hermitages and people in Tibet and the Himalayas, supported by the Ministry of Education, Japan.

Bon is one of the pre-Buddhist religions in Tibet. By the term 'pre-Buddhist' here I mean that it existed in Tibet before Buddhism was imported into the area and that it has survived till the present time. Although various definitions of Bon have been proposed, it could be properly said that, in Bonpo culture, we perceive something essential or basic, that has pervaded Tibetan culture from ancient times to the present day. Bon is therefore an important cultural substratum in Tibet.

Unfortunately, however, the study of Bon culture has lagged far behind that of Buddhism. This tendency is salient all over the world, especially in Japan. To improve this situation, a Bon culture research project was launched in 1996 with funding for joint research from the National Museum of Ethnology, Japan, and a subsidy from the Ministry of Education for overseas survey. Most of these funds were allocated to the development of the groundwork for research, to the field survey of the actual conditions of Bon culture, to the interim symposium and to publication of our fruits.

The development of groundwork for research includes Bonpo Canon (Kangyur and Katen texts, rare texts which are not included in Kangyur nor in Katen), iconographical materials, F. W. Thomas' research notes on Zhangzhung language kept in the British Library, and so on. An interdisciplinary symposium was held in the summer of 1999 at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, and leading scholars from wide range of fields attended it presenting papers on various topics related to Bon religion. Those who participated in doing fieldwork for the research project were also invited to attend the symposium so that they could present their findings. Most of the papers read at the symposium were published in 2000. It is my hope that the publication of papers has set a new standard in the study of Bon.

The results of field survey of the actual conditions of Bon culture are presented in this volume. The concrete and detailed descriptions of the Bonpo monasteries and people, based on extensive fieldwork, have never appeared since the beginning of Tibetology, and it is my belief that this publication will prove to be a significant milestone for future studies of Tibetan culture.

In the autumn of 1995, Dr. Samten G. Karmay and I discussed together concerning how to carry out a field research into the Bon religious establishments and drew up a questionnaire carefully. That framework is described in Dr. Samten Karmay's "Introduction". Needless to say, the history and present conditions of monasteries, temples and hermitages are included. The framework also includes the exact location of each monastery and its economic states as well as relationship to local society. Many of monasteries involved in fact do not appear on maps and, even if they do, we often find discrepancy between actual location and their names. We wished, therefore, to locate the places by GPS measurement. Actual economic states of monastery and its ties with locality and/or with lay world have keenly interested scholars, but these matters are extremely difficult for non-Bonpos to approach.

Four authors spent a lot of time and exerted themselves both academically and physically in doing fieldwork on each monastery. Many of monasteries are not easily reachable because of poor transportation; others are not constantly occupied by anyone and the authors had to make several trips to complete their fieldwork and to get information. Almost all the areas have been covered, but particular parts of the southeastern TAR are left unstudied.

The field survey of actual conditions of Bon culture was conducted in TAR, Tibetan areas in China, India and Nepal. Thanks to the positive support of China Center for Tibetan Studies, Beijing, Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, Lhasa, and Triten Norbutse Bonpo Educational Centre, Kathmandu, many valuable descriptions were collected, which were previously unknown to scholars. Without their generous consideration, this volume would never have seen the light of day.

After several rounds of editing, the descriptions included in this volume have come to be of great use for students of Tibetan culture.

I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to the Ministry of Education, Japan and the National Museum of Ethnology, my present working place, for their continued support of this project.

The following is a list of publications issued or soon to be issued under the same series as this volume (Senri Ethnological Reports):

  • Bon Studies 1
    Mandalas of the Bon Religion
    Editors: Tenzin Namdak, Musashi Tachikawa and Yasuhiko Nagano
  • Bon Studies 2
    New Horizons in Bon Studies
    Editors:Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano
  • Bon Studies 3
    A New Research on Zhangzhung and Related Himalayan Languages
    Editors: Yasuhiko Nagano and Randy LaPolla
  • Bon Studies 4
    A Catalogue of the New Collection of Bonpo Katen Texts
    Editors: Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano
  • Bon Studies 5
    A Catalogue of the New Collection of Bonpo Katen Texts --- Indices
    Editors: Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano
  • [Revised version of Bon Studies 4 and 5 is available in the shape of CD-ROM.]
  • Bon Studies 6
    The Call of the Blue Cuckoo
    Editors: Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano
  • Bon Studies 7
    The present volume
  • Bon Studies 8
    A Catalogue of the Bonpo Kangyur (tentative title)
    Editors:Per Kvaerne, Dan Martin, Namgyal Nyima, Tsering Thar, Dondrup Lhagyal, Tseyang Changgnoba, Donatella Rossi and Yasuhiko Nagano
  • Bon Studies 9
    Khyungpo Collection of Bonpo Thangkas (tentative title)
    Editors:Musashi Tachikawa, Per Kvaerne, Tenzin Namdak and Yasuhiko Nagano
  • Bon Studies 10
    A Research Notes of the Zhangzhung Language (tentative title)
    Author: F. W. Thomas
    Editors: Tsuguhito Takeuchi, B. Quessel and Yasuhiko Nagano
  • Bon Studies 11
    Amdo Rebkong Collection of Bonpo Thangkas (tentative title)
    Editors: Alag Bongya, Musashi Tachikawa and Yasuhiko Nagano

It should also be noted that Saujanya Publication, Delhi, generously offered a plan of reprint and the publisher has already reprinted Bon Studies 1. Since this series is governmental publication and its circulation is rather limited, this offer seems very helpful to accelerate Bon studies.

Finally, let me express my heartfelt appreciation to Dr. Samten G. Karmay, who has consistently been encouraging me in Bon studies and cooperating as a general editor, and to Mrs. Satoko Suzuki for her practical help.

Introduction

This volume is concerned with a general survey of monasteries, temples, hermitages of the Bon religion, known as gYung drung Bon, that have survived or recently been rebuilt in Tibet, Tibetan inhabited regions in China proper as well as the Himalayan regions.

The monastic system in the Bon tradition has a long history. It goes back at least to the eleventh century. However, Bon tradition itself traces it back to a period beyond the eleventh century, but this claim remains to be proved.

Although the monasticism of the Bon tradition owns its inspiration to Buddhism, the Bonpo already had established it when the Buddhists began to re-establish their monasteries in the eleventh century. This begins with the six Buddhist monks who returned to Central Tibet from Amdo where they were ordained by Bla chen dGe ba gsal (891-975) according to the Deb ther sngon po by 'Gos Lo tsa ba gZhon nu dpal (1392-1481).

In the case of the Bon tradition it started with the disciples of gShen chen Klu dga’. Bonpo chronology ascribes this master to 996-1035. He is also thought to be contemporary with Lo tsa ba Rin chen bzang po (958-1055). The disciples of gShen chen Klu dga’ established various religious centers, such as temples, hermitages and monasteries.

One of the disciples of this master, Bru chen Nam mkha’ g-yung drung, is credited with founding a temple in 1072 near the estate of his own family called Bru, a few kilometers to the east of Shigatse and north of the gTsang po river, Central Tibet. It soon developed into a monastery called gYas ru dBen sa kha. The monastery was mainly maintained by the family by providing its abbots. While one brother ensured the line of the family, another would devote himself to religious life and often became the abbot of the monastery. In such an establishment, the monastery is usually considered as belonging to the family as the term dgon bdag, the ‘owner of the monastery” indicates. The ownership always remained the same even when the abbot was not a member of the family.

dBen sa kha came to be considered as the primary source of the monastic tradition among the Bonpo until the fourteenth century. It was an important centre of learning and produced a number of noted writers. Their works became classics for monastic learning in later centuries. The monastery, however, was destroyed by a flood in 1386. With the disappearance of this monastery a period of monastic culture of the Bon tradition came to an end.

A new era began with the foundation of two monasteries also in Central Tibet. These will be briefly described here as they had a tremendous influence over other monastic establishments that are surveyed by the four authors in this volume.

One of the monks of dBen sa kha Monastery just referred to was Shes rab rgyal mtshan. He was the head of the one of the colleges of the monastery, but he was absent from the monastery when it was washed away by a flood. He was on a visit to his mother in rGyal rong, eastern Tibet.

On the way back to Central Tibet, news of the flood reached him when he was in Dar rtse mdo. Discouraged, he withdrew himself into a retreat, but there he received good signs that encouraged him to resume his journey on foot back to Central Tibet. He is said to have found various objects in the ruins such as books and musical instruments that belonged to the destroyed monastery. With these objects, taken as an auspicious sign, he founded a monastery on the southern slope of Mount sMan ri in 1405. The monastery was called bKra shis sman ri (No.1). It is located in a rather secluded place, up the same valley where dBen sa kha Monastery was located.

With the help of his disciple Rin chen rgyal mtshan, a whole system in accordance with the Bru tradition of dBen sa kha Monastery was re-established with a strong emphasis on the need for abstention from alcoholic drink and the observance of celibacy as the principal guideline of the monastic discipline. These rules are laid out in the bca’ yig, the monastic code and it was read out to the assembly in a solemn ceremony by the disciplinarian once a year. The discipline of the new monastery thus became the model for most Bonpo monasteries in later centuries. It was hard to stick to the rules set out in the bca’ yig of sMan ri Monastery, but it became an established tradition and most monasteries that were founded later were expected to follow its tradition.

However, there were other monasteries which practised different ritual traditions such as the gShen lugs, the “Tradition of gShen” or Zhu lugs, the “Tradition of Zhu”, but all were expected to follow the same monastic discipline.

The Bonpo were often characterized as being lovers of women and wine (chang nag la dga’ ba) by the Buddhists, especially the dGe lugs monastics. In fact, in certain places the members of a monastery or temple were of what one calls ser khyim, that is a kind of “semi-monk” who observes only a few out of the many monastic vows. They usually spent a certain amount of time in the year in the monastery and the rest of the time at home in the village helping do household work. The ser khyim were not necessarily married men nor sngags pa.

The founder of sMan ri Monastery bears the title mNyam med, the “Incomparable One”, but in the colophons of books he wrote he describes himself as gShen gyi drang srong, the “monk who follows the gShen”, i.e. gShen rab Mi bo. Amongst his writings there is a detailed commentary of the ’Dul ba kun btus. It is entitled ’Dul ’grel ’phrul gyi sgron me. The ’Dul ba kun btus (Kvaerne 1974: T. 7) is a classic text devoted to the monastic discipline composed in verse by Me ston Shes rab ’od zer (1058-1132). It is these two works that serve as the textual basis of Bonpo monasticism.

sMan ri Monastery remained small and modest in its development as its founder had wished. Before he died, he appointed his disciple Rin chen rgyal mtshan as the abbot of the monastery. Thus Rin chen rgyal mtshan bears the title rGyal tshab, the “Apostle”. However, the successors of Rin chen rgyal mtshan were elected by secret lot from among the qualified monks. There were thirty-two abbots spanning over five hundred and sixty years till around 1966. Its uneasy access did not help it become a great centre, but it was highly esteemed for its strict practice of monastic rules. Per Kvaerne (1970) was the first Western scholar to devote an article to the administration of this monastery. The Monastery was plundered and finally totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976. As of 2002, it still has not been rebuilt.

gYung drung gling Monastery (No.2) was the second in importance to sMan ri Monastery in Central Tibet. It was founded by sNang ston Zla ba rgyal mtshan (b.1796) of Amdo origin in 1834. Although the monastery was a relatively recent establishment in comparison with sMan ri, it became more prosperous and influential particularly in north-eastern Tibet. The monastery is located on a small plateau at the foot of Mount ’O lha rGyal bzang to the north of the gTsang po river facing the sTag gru kha ferry. It is on the axis of routes leading to Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse and Byang thang, the northern plateau. This explains in part the monastery’s rapid development. For this strategic reason, the monastery was used as the base of a large People’s Liberation Army garrison in the area during the Cultural Revolution. It therefore remained intact till the very last days of the revolution. At the beginning of 1980s, permission was given with funding to rebuild it, but it remains largely symbolic and the temples that have been rebuilt were totally empty when I visited them in 1997.

Persecution and destruction

The history of Bon monasteries is of a history of either sectarian persecution or wanton destruction by a foreign invader. The Bonpo religious establishments never had any political ambition and consequently there is no record of their holding any position that had a political significance. This might explain in part why the Bon religion and its monastic tradition somehow survived through the centuries in Tibet in spite of the Bon religion being a non-Buddhist creed among the 80% Buddhist population in Central Tibet.

From the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, no record of general persecution is found apart from a few disputes between two individuals or two religious communities. On the contrary, there are a number of examples of showing good will towards one another. Even after the fourteenth century, a certain number of Bonpo monks of sMan ri Monastery went to study philosophy at Sa skya pa monasteries till gYung drung gling Monastery managed to establish its own mtshan hyid studies in the eighteenth century.

In the seventeenth century, Tibet was seething with religio-politcal conflicts. The rise to political power of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) in 1642 calmed down the turmoil in the country. His reign was marked by a remarkable period of peace and tolerance. In 1664, the Fifth Dalai Lama issued a decree appointing sDe srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho (1658-1705) as the Regent of Tibet and in the decree the Fifth Dalai Lama recognised Bon as one of Tibet’s official religions (Richardson 1998: 441). This tradition was belatedly revived by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in India only at the beginning of 1980s. There was therefore no notable persecution during the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama. On the contrary, the fact that he was deeply interested in the Bon religion is proved by the abundant references to Bon in his autobiography, the Dukula’i gos bzang.

The Regent gives a list of monasteries that were founded by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Amongst these is Sog Tsan dan dgon which he mentions rather obliquely saying that it was originally Karma bka’ brgyud pa, but no mention is made regarding whether it had any connection with Bon (Vaidurya ser po, p.405). However, according to the Nag chu sa khul gyi dgon sde khag gi lo rgyus (p.351), in 1640, during the military campaign of Gushri Khan in Khams, a number of Bonpo and bKa’ brgyud pa monasteries suffered destruction. Later in 1668, the Fifth Dalai Lama ordered a dGe lugs pa monastery to be built for the people of the Sog district, east of Nag chu kha, as compensation for the large Bonpo monastery called Sog gYung drung gling, four small bKa’ brgyud pa monasteries and one small convent called Tsan dan dgon that had been destroyed by the Gushri Khan’s troops. The new dGe lugs pa monastery was called Sog dGa’ ldan ’phel rgyas gling, but it was normally known as Sog Tsan dan dgon which, however, was not built on the ruins of Sog gYung drung gling as the Bonpo often imply.

However, the Regent seems to have forgotten the very tolerant religious policy that his master maintained throughout his reign. In 1686 under his order, all the Bon religious establishments in the Ser tsha district in Khyung po, Khams, converted to dGe lugs pa. Four dGe lugs pa monasteries were then founded for the Ser tsha people in four different places: dGa’ ldan bkra shis gling in ’Bro rdzong; dGa’ ldan thar ’dod gling in Ga ngal; dGa’ ldan skabs gsum gling in Ri dmar and dGa’ ldan dpal ’byor gling in Phu dmar. A Lama from Rong po dGa’ ldan rab brtan dgon founded by the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1668, was appointed to be in charge of the new monasteries (Vaidurya ser po, p. 459). Rong po dGa’ ldan rab brtan dgon is usually known as Rong po Rab brtan dgon. Rong po is a place in the Sog district. The Regent does not mention the names of the Bon religious establishments that he had converted and I have seen no other records mentioning them. It is not clear why the Regent had implemented such a drastic policy of religious conversion by force in this particular place. There were so many other places in the same region where the Bon religion was followed, but no similar action seems to have been taken.

He states: “in Khyung po gSer tsha people believe strongly in Bon (khyung po gser tsha khul du bon lugs la dad ’dun che ba..) and if the gYung drung Bon religion is practised properly,... (citation of a sutra) one cannot stop them, but during the day the practitioners stay in monasteries. There they fight over the offerings that were made by the faithful just like vultures over corpses. During the night they go to villages and sleep with women. So what they do is very serious sin...(citation of texts). Thinking for the benefit of myself and them, - since they are Bonpo just in name, in reality they behave like laymen - , I had them converted to dGe lugs pa” (Vaidurya ser po, p. 459).

It is hard to believe that such was the real reason for which the Regent caused the people of gSer tsha to change their faith. It seems that he was not against the religion itself as such, but rather against the gSer tsha people who probably resisted the policies of his dGe lugs pa dominated government in the area. Whatever it may be, this had set a precedent of forced conversion of monasteries belonging not only to the Bon tradition but also to other Buddhist orders. Each time there was a forced conversion the name of the new dGe lugs pa monastery began with the word dga’ ldan or dge ldan following the example of the names of the new monasteries founded by the Fifth Dalai Lama.

Apart from the method of forced conversion, other strategies were used to gain a foothold among a people whose religious tradition was not dGe lugs pa. This consisted of recognizing a child as a reincarnation in a non-dGe lugs pa family. That was what happened to the Bru family which was very prestigious and a strong bastion of Bon as mentioned earlier. The family seat was located to the north of gTsang po and a few kilometers to the east of Shigatse. It was the Fifth Dalai Lama, who in order to institute the reincarnation series of Panchen Lamas, chose a child of the Bru family as the reincarnation of his spiritual master Panchen Blo bzang chos rgyan (1567-1662). The child became the Panchen Blo bzang ye shes (1663-1737), but the Fifth Dalai Lama made sure that the family continued to adhere to its own religion. However, another Panchen Lama, bsTan pa’i dbang phyug (1854-1882) was born again in the family. This time, it was the end of the family’s own religion. Its seat became known as ’Khrungs gzhi, the “Base of births” and was made as an estate of bKra shis lhun po Monastery.

Another underhand method was used for enriching one’s own establishments. In the nineteenth century, it was the intervention by bKra shis lhun po Monastery in a dispute between two branches of the gShen family located in the Dar lding village, a few kilometers to the west of Shigatse. The intervention resulted in properties of one of the two families being confiscated and givin to a dGe lugs pa monastery nearby (Dondrup Lhagyal, 2000: 444). These are just a few examples of religio-political persecution of a sort under the domination of the dGe lugs pa government. The Bonpo themselves unfortunately have rarely committed these invents to writing.

However, the tendency for non-dGe lugs pa religious orders to come under persecution was further intensified due to two developments: foreign interference in the internal affairs of Tibet and the gaining of the upper hand by an ultra fundamentalist section among the dGe lugs pa monasteries and in government clerical circles.

Foreign interference

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Jungar tribes of the Ili district in western Mongolia began to expand their empire. When they became a threat to the Manchu rule over China, the emperor Kangxi had to appeal to the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) to exert his influence over them since they were of recent conversion to the dGe lugs pa school. Tibetan authorities in Lhasa maintained good relations with them. However, after the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the Manchus began to have political interests in Tibet. sDe srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho was therefore in collusion with the Jungars in a design to outdo the policies of the Emperor Kangxi concerning Tibet. In 1717, they accordingly began to make incursions into Tibet intended partly to forestall any aggression from the Manchus and on the pretext of defending dGe lugs pa interests. As their hordes made their way into Tibet, they attacked Bonpo monasteries that they found in their way, looting, burning and murdering monks. As a people of recent conversion, they seem to have had the conviction that they should ransack other religious establishments in Tibet that were non-dGe lugs pa, such as those of the rNying ma pa and Bonpo. The rNying ma pa suffered particularly at their hands in Central Tibet as they executed several eminent rNying ma pa masters, like Lochen Dharmasri (1654-1717) amongst others, for no valid reasons. Many a Bonpo establishment, such as gShen Dar lding, had experienced the plunder of the Jungars. From the accounts of Phuntso Tsering, it is clear that they pillaged and destroyed at least six Bonpo monasteries (Nos. 15, 19, 22, 54, 27, 34). The Jungars were finally expelled by the Tibetans with the help of the Manchu army.

Sectarian persecution

The dGe lugs pa government in Tibet had a powerful supporter. Since 1720 till 1911 the Manchu influence over Tibet was firmly established and the dGe lugs pa saw this foreign power as their cherished patron which it was. At the same time, a certain segment among the dGe lugs pa began to claim that they were the upholders of the dGe lugs pa teachings as being the most authentic ones as taught by the Buddha. This of course implied that other Buddhist schools in Tibet and not to mention the Bonpo held false views. The movement came often to be closely associated with the Shugs ldan cult. The deity’s antipathy to non-dGe lugs pa teachings is all the more the object of praise in the ritual texts devoted to this deity.

Amongst other places I should mention here are two areas where this particular movement was very active and where conflicts between the Bonpo and the dGe lugs pa establishments were particularly fierce. The Sog district contained two important dGe lugs pa monasteries, Sog Tsan dan dgon and Rong po Rab brtan dgon as referred to earlier. It was in this area that Pha bong kha ba bDe chen snying po (1878-1941) of Se ra Monastery was active early the twentieth century. It was he who revived the cult of Shugs ldan in spite of opposition to it by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. In an forthcoming article I have dealt in some detail with his activities in this area and the revolt of the so-called “Thirty-nine Tribes of Hor” of Bonpo obedience against the Tibetan government.

The other place, where the relations between the two faiths were similarly strained, was Gro mo (Chumbi Valley) in southern Tibet. Around 1897 the most active dGe lugs pa master in this area was Ngag dbang skal bzang, also of Se ra Monastery. He was commonly known as Gro mo dGe bshes Rinpoche and was a disciple and friend of Pha bong kha ba bDe chen snying po. The cult of Shugs ldan which he set up in this place was based in Dung dkar Monastery. The Bonpo monastery in Gro mo known as Pus mo sgang (No.8) had a perpetual struggle with Dung dkar for its existence. The conflict between the two monasteries had inspired the composition of a four-line praise to the deity in the propitiatory text by Pha bong kha ba bDe chen snying po as follows:

“In the barbarous land where the bad tradition of gShen rab is upheld,

You made flourish the good path that is complete and faultless

With your rapid action of four kinds and many other omens,

I praise you who are the guide of living beings!”

(gshen rabs(rab) lugs ngan ’dzin pa’i mtha’ ’khob tu/

las bzhi’i rtags mtshan rno myur du ma yis/

tshang la ma nor lam bzang rgyas mdzad pa’i/

skye rgu’i ’dren par gyur pa khyod la bstod/).

In 1967 Yongs ’dzin Khri byang Blo bzang ye shes, the late tutor of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, wrote a commentary on the propitiatory eulogy to the deity just quoted entitled rGyal chen bstod ’grel (folio 138b). In this work he explains that the phrase “barbarous land” refers to Gro mo and thanks to the “four actions of the deity” the dGe lugs pa tradition was firmly established there. The region was mainly inhabited by a Bonpo population until the dGe lugs pa penetrated there only in the nineteenth century. Dung dkar Monastery was tacitly supported by the Tibetan government in its hostility, but Pus mo sgang seemed to have miraculously survived till the days of the Cultural Revolution.

However, there is yet another region, rGyal rong where relations between the two faiths were in constant struggle. The exact date of the Buddhist penetration there is not known. Vairocana, a Tibetan Buddhist monk of the eighth century is said to have resided there, but this is more of a myth than history. In the fifteenth century, Tsha kho Ngag dbang grags pa, a disciple of Tsong kha pa (1357-1519) and a native of the Tsha kho district, north of rGyal rong, returned to his native country after studying in Central Tibet. He is said to have made a vow to erect 108 monasteries in his native land in the presence of his master. He certainly founded some dGe lugs pa monasteries in Tsha kho and he is said to have used magic against the Bonpo to overcome the latter’s opposition to his efforts in conversion (mDo smad chos ’byung, pp.774). The dGe lugs pa expansion in the area was slow and difficult. However, in the second half of the 19th century, a child in the family of the local chief, Cog tse, was chosen to be the reincarnation of Byang rtse Blo bzang lhun grub, the 74th Throne-holder of Tsong kha pa in dGa’ ldan Monastery. The local chief, the Cog tse rgyal po, “king of Cog tse” was powerful in his own right in the place. As the child grew up, the dGe lugs pa influence in the family increased, too. In 1874, he converted ’Bar kham gYung drung gling, one of the oldest Bon monasteries in the area, to dGe lugs pa and went so far as to erase its old Bon mural paintings and paint them over with the deities of the dGe lugs pa school. This conversion of the monastery provoked a strong reaction from the people of Shar khog, the next easterly region of the Tsha kho district. A local religious war was fought between a section of the people in Cog tse who supported the conversion and the people of Shar khog who wanted to save the monastery as Bonpo. The people of Shar khog were ultimately defeated, but they took the lama of the monastery to Shar khog where he is said to have settled down. Barkham ('Bar khams) is now the administrative seat of the 'Autonomous Prefecture' of Aba (rNga ba) in Sichuan.

However, the Bonpo people in rGyal rong, had to face much more serious hostility in the 18th century. Not only had they to fight on a religious front but also a political one. They resisted for nearly thirty years against the Manchu invasion, supported and encouraged by the influential dGe lugs pa lama sKyang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje (1717-1786) who had then a high position at the Manchu imperial court of Qianlong. In 1760 the Manchu army finally won the war capturing bSod nams dbang ’dus, the king of Rab brtan. He was led to Beijing together with more than one thousand people as war prisoners. The king was finally executed. Five horses were attached to his head, hands and feet and then let pull in different directions, a privilege kept for kings in Manchu punishment customs. gYung drung lha steng, the royal monastery was partially destroyed and converted to dGe lugs pa and was given the name dGa’ ldan bstan ’phel gling. dGe lugs pa monks were summoned from ’Bras spungs Monastery to administer it. Qianlong issued an edict forbidding the practice of the Bon religion in the area. What is peculiar about this piece of history is that the monastery was totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. However, around 1980 the Sichuan government decided to reinstate it for a reason not known to me and even provided funds so that the local Bonpo people could begin to rebuild it as one of their own monasteries (No.187).

Surveying of the monasteries

This is the first time such a work of surveying of the Bonpo monasteries has ever been carried out. It was intended to cover as wide an area as possible, but given the vast geographic extent of Tibet’s cultural boundaries the idea sounded very daunting indeed. Nevertheless, well supplied with the financial means, our colleague, Professor Yasuhiko Nagano was determined to carry it out in the programme of the Bon Culture Research Project at the National Museum of Ethnology and the four authors, who conducted the survey, spared no efforts in getting the intended work done. Moreover, the three Tibetan scholars, who mainly did the surveying in Tibet and Tibetan inhabited areas in China proper, are all acquainted with the cultural history of the Bon tradition and that helped them enormously in doing their fieldwork.

We have thus Dondrup Lhagyal who surveyed the monasteries in the provinces of dBus and gTsang. Phuntso Tsering covered mainly the northern plateau, but also Chab mdo as well as the mNga’ ris regions; Tsering Thar on the other hand took the survey in Amdo, parts of Khams and rGyal rong. Charles Ramble later joined by Marietta Kind attended to the monasteries in Nepal and India effectively covering the Himalayan region. Thus 233 religious establishments mainly monasteries, but also hermitages and temples were all briefly examined. However, this does not mean that every surviving or rebuilt monastery in Tibet was surveyed. Certain places such as Tsha ba rong in Khams have been left out. It is possible that still other places were not covered.

One of the biggest difficulties that the surveyors faced was that only a few of the places were within easy reach. The majority of monasteries were found in totally isolated places. To reach them required enormous physical exertion often in unfavorable weather, because many of them were located in places where there were no roads. If there were roads no transport was readily available. So the surveyors were often obliged to either ride on horseback or walk for days to see just one monastery or a hermitage at a time. It often happened that when a place was reached, no one was present and so the same journey had to be made twice.

There was another difficulty much more serious than the problem of inaccessibility. It was the scanty or simply non-existent information due to the systematic destruction of the religious establishments and national monuments carried out during the so-called Cultural Revolution that spanned over ten years from 1966 to 1976. The criticism leveled against monuments such as fortresses were that they represented feudal society whereas monasteries were the basis of “superstition” (rmong dad).

The sporadic looting and burning committed by the Jungars seemed so insignificant when one compares their action to what the Chinese and their Tibetan collaborators did. This was purely robbery, carefully thought out and well organized with the intention of eradicating Tibet’s cultural identity in its own land. The mere word destruction does not seem sufficient to convey what kind of process the action involved, because the manner in which it was executed was so thorough and effective that in many cases not even traces were left. It is known that more than six thousand monasteries of both Buddhist and Bonpo perished during the period. Only a fraction of this number have survived.

It is therefore perhaps necessary to mention in a few words how the expropriation of property and demolition of the monastic buildings were orchestrated by armed hordes of the Red Guards with terror, threat, humiliation, public criticism and imprisonment for those who dared to resist.

As most of the monasteries and temples were centuries old, many were well equipped with what they needed and their religious tradition required them to possess. Much of the equipment was not actually all destroyed. It was simply expropriated. In a monastery of modest size the assembly hall usually possessed common effects such as archives, manuscripts, texts, thangka paintings, statues in both gilt-bronze and clay, woodblocks for printing, musical instruments made of various metals, tombs of abbots made of silver and gold with insets of precious stones, mural paintings, draperies made of silk and embroidered, masks and costumes for the ’cham dance, ritual objects made of silver, gold and brass, ritual implements such as dagger and culinary utensils. Besides these effects of the assembly hall, the residence of the head of the monastery and the individual monks also normally possessed as private property, books, musical instruments and ritual objects.

The process of dismantling was carried out methodically stage by stage. First there was the removal of metal objects, followed by the wood work, books and other items. When the building was entirely emptied of its contents, it was often then detonated. However, in many cases, recorded documents that contained local histories and annual events of the monasteries and above all books were privileged targets of destruction. They were often brought out into the open air where they were either torn or chopped into pieces or simply burned with the public made to look on, but in certain cases some books were saved by being concealed in unsuspected places. This was possible only when two copies of a book existed. In such a case, when a book was ordered to be brought out for destruction, the other copy was hidden away. Most of the expropriated property was secretly transported to China. Metal objects could either be used by melting them down or just kept for their intrinsic value in the future.

The events mentioned explain in part why written information on any given monastery had become so pitifully rare or practically non-existent in most cases. The surveyors therefore had to turn to other sources of information for their surveying work, but here too they faced incredible difficulties for the following reasons.

There were in fact two periods of monastic persecutions. In Amdo and parts of Khams a number of monasteries perished in fact during the period of 1957 and 1958, but the destruction of the majority of monasteries took place during the Cultural Revolution. The events of the 1957-58 period is not officially admitted by the Chinese authorities whereas the responsibility for the destruction during the Cultural Revolution was later put on the shoulders of the “Gang of Four”. In the 1960s and 1970s the monks, who witnessed and survived the onslaught of these events, were roughly aged between twenty and thirty years. When the survey of monasteries began to be conducted at the beginning of 1998 only few of these were still alive. However, most of these were in no position to give any detailed oral information in a coherent manner due to their old age. Nevertheless, some of these had written down historical accounts of their own monasteries from their memories some of which the surveyors were able to use.

Another destructive effect was the degradation of the Tibetan language in the same period that had the effect on it being nearly extinguished as a medium for the expression of Tibetan culture. Even in the aftermath of the revolution, only a few Tibetans were capable or would take the risk of putting to use their own language.

At the beginning of the 1980s, however, there was a radical shift in Chinese policies regarding the religious question. Tibetans, for the first time around 1980, were allowed to rebuild some of the destroyed monasteries. In many cases, the Chinese government even began to provide funds for this purpose particularly for those monasteries strategically located. The restriction of the use of religious texts was also lifted and the Chinese authorities even went on to encourage the publication of Tibetan classical texts on a scale unknown in the pre-1959 era in Tibet. A number of monasteries, it is true, have been rebuilt, but many of them only partially. The primary motive for this reconstruction is obvious. It is to promote tourism. They remain at best as deserted empty shells without the life of a real monastic tradition.

The framework for the survey

In order to have the same approach and standard in surveying the religious establishments, a guideline framework was worked out so that the authors could follow it. All the surveyors have followed it except Phuntso Tsering, who as a voluntary contributor, conducted the surveying in his own fashion, but his work, nevertheless, does cover much the same ground as the others if only in some respects his scope tended to be rather more limited.

The framework, which is discussed below, consists of fourteen items. This was designed not only to produce an assessment of the general situation of a given monastery but also a review of the local population with regard to its importance to the monastery as well as cultural interchanges between clerics and laymen. However, in many instances information was simply not available and consequently not all of the fourteen items could be supplied. This is particularly so in the case of temples and hermitages. In the entries, items like 7 and particularly 10 are left out for the reasons that no information was available.

1. Name

This heading shows the name of the monastery concerned. In Tibetan tradition the names of religious establishments can vary considerably from one to another so as often to cause confusion regarding whether one is referring to the same entity or another.

2. Location

This item indicates the exact location of the establishment and the distance at which it is found from the main town of a region as well as the condition of the road leading to the place.

3. History

This section deals briefly with the history of the establishment.

4. Hierarchical system

In some monasteries such as sMan ri and gYung drung gling, abbots were elected by secret lot. The abbots are the supreme head of these monasteries, but in other places the head of the monastery can be hereditary (gdung brgyud, gdung ’dzin), i. e. the monastery was founded by a member of a family in a nearby place. The family usually continues to provide a man to be the head of the monastery and in this sense he is qualified as dgon bdag, “owner of the monastery”. In this system, other important figures within the same monastery often take turns to be the head of the monastery and are in charge of the monastic affairs on a periodic basis under the authority of the dgon bdag.

However, the system of headship varies from one place to another. The head is often selected or appointed by general consent, but rarely did an individual monk take a personal initiative to be the head of a monastery, but after 1959 the system of appointing the head of a monastery had completely broken down. At the beginning of the 1980s when monasteries were allowed to be rebuilt, either an individual or a group of monks took the reconstruction initiative and as a result of this, in many places the question of the head of a monastery remains unsettled to this day.

Under the authority of the head of a monastery, there are different functions held by monks in varying positions. This hierarchical system also varies slightly from monastery to monastery. There is a host of technical terms relating to the monastic administration and duties and we have grouped them together under the title of “Terms of governing system and duties in monasteries” in order to avoid the repetition of their English translation in each account of the monasteries.

5. Current number of monks

After 1959, none of the monasteries regained their former status. On the contrary, the number of monks and nuns is restricted and checked.

6. Current education

Under this heading, the current education of young monks and nuns in the monasteries and convents is meant to be discussed, but as will be seen in many places the situation is so desperate that there is hardly anything to be indicated. In many cases, this item is left out since it simply does not exist in the monastery under review.

7. Educational exchange

Before 1959, the educational exchange of young monks between monasteries was considered as the key instrument for training young monks. In some respects, this tradition is still kept up, but inevitably it tends to be less frequent and more symbolic and in many monasteries it simply does not exist anymore.

8. Daily rituals

This heading is intended to show the daily rituals performed by the monks collectively or in private, but it has been somewhat impracticable and complicated for the surveyors to record them separately from the annual rituals performed in assembly.

9. Annual rituals

Under this item a summary of the ritual events in the monasteries is given. This is important since ritual traditions and their dates vary enormously from monastery to monastery. In such a survey, no details concerning the identification of divinities and ritual texts devoted to them could be provided. These obviously need separate studies. One of the elements of these ritual events is the performance of various ’cham dances that takes place either as part of a ritual in private or as entertainment for public spectators.

10. Books held in the monastery

In large monasteries, there used to be separate libraries, but in many cases the books were simply kept as part of the three rten and so were usually found in the chapels. As will be seen, during the Cultural Revolution archives, manuscripts and books mostly perished, but in certain cases some brave people managed to hide them away. It is still with much reluctance and fear that these hidden treasures are gradually revealed. This explains why this section is left blank or not even entered in many cases of the monasteries.

11. Income and expenses

Under this heading the income and expenses of the monasteries and monks were intended to be discussed, but given the situation as we know it, there is little to be said about them in the present circumstances.

12. Local community

Villages or nomadic tents clustered in the proximity of monasteries have always been important for the monasteries as their main livelihood, but in descriptions of Tibetan monasteries they are very often ignored. The surveyors were therefore requested to give a fair amount of information about them. Such information in fact gives an interesting idea whether the villagers regard themselves as still being Bon believers, and as it has been found in certain places that they in fact do not differentiate between Bon or Buddhism in clear cut terms. However, there are still many villages in various regions whose populations declare themselves to be followers of the Bon religion to this day.

13. Local festivals

Local festivals are either organized as common ones for both clergy and laymen or separately. When laymen carry out their celebration the members of the clergy do not normally participate in it, particularly when it is about the propitiation of local deities. Moreover, one village does not even allow members of villages from other regions to join with them. It is considered strictly private. On the other hand the villagers almost always attend the ceremonies in monasteries if these are intended for the public. Monasteries also often have their own “local deities” and the members of the clergy propitiate them normally on their own.

Another type of local festival takes the form of a pilgrimage which consists of walking round a nearby sacred mountain (gnas ri). In this festival it is not only the local people and clerics who join together in the celebration but also people from neighbouring regions join in. The content of this celebration is purely religious. In a forthcoming article I have tried to analyse the notions of the local deity and the development of the gnas ri pilgrimage based on early documents such as Tibetan Dunhuang manuscripts: “Concepts of Territorial organization and sacred sites”. This will appear in the Proceedings of the 8th Seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, July 25-31, 1998).

14. Occupation of the local people

Here it is intended that the life mode of the local people as farmers, nomads, semi-nomads and traders should be indicated.

Editorial work

While Dondrup Lhagyal wrote his accounts of monasteries first in Tibetan and then translated them into English himself, Phuntsog Tsering wrote his accounts in Tibetan. Later an English translation of them was made by someone else. The introduction and epilogue sections of his work could not be included in the present volume due to the problem of length and relevance. However, Phuntso Tsering will publish the whole of his original Tibetan version. Tsering Thar wrote his accounts directly in English, but he intends to write a Tibetan version which he hopes to be able to publish before long.

In all the three cases, a heavy and long editorial process has been involved not only in order to make the English language acceptable but also to improve the coherence of the work and make it presentable as scholarship.

However, in editing their works, the editors made strenuous efforts to keep the gist of each account as far as possible, and each author is therefore directly responsible for the accuracy and reliability of his own statements. An attempt is also made to standardize the various approaches adopted by each author, but their personal styles have largely been left as they are.

References
  • Dondrup Lhagyal
    2000. Bonpo family lineages in Central Tibet. In Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano (eds.) New Horizons in Bon Studies. Bon Studies 2 (Senri Ethnological Reports 15), pp. 429-508. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology.
  • Karmay, Samten G.
    1998. The Arrow and the Spindle --- Studies in History, Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Tibet. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point.
  • Kvaerne, Per
    1970. Remarques sur l’administration d’un monastère bon-po. Journal Asiatique, 187-192.
  • Richardson, Hugh
    1998. The Fifth Dalai Lama’s Decree Appointing Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho as Regent. In Michael Aris (ed.) High Peaks, Pure Earth, Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture, pp. 440-461. London: Serindia Publications.
References to Tibetan sources
  • sDe srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho (1653-1703)
    1989. Vaidurya ser po, dGa’ ldan chos ’byung vaidurya ser po. Krung go bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun.
  • Brag dgon dKon mchog bstan pa rab rgyas (1801-1866)
    1982. mDo smad chos ’byung, Yul mdo smad kyi ljongs su thub bstan rin po che ji ltar dar ba’i tshul gsal bar brjod pa deb ther rgya mtsho. Kan su’u mi dpe skrun khang.
  • Khri byang Blo bzang ye shes (1901-1982)
    n.d. rGyan chen bstod ’grel, dGe ldan bstan pa bsrung ba’i lha mchog sprul pa’i chos rgyal chen po rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal gyi gsang gsum rmad du byung ba’i rtogs pa brjod pa’i gtam du bya ba dam can rgya mtsho dgyes pa’i rol mo. xylographic edition, Gangtok.
  • 1993. Bod ljongs nag chu sa khul gyi lo rgyus rig nas, deb bdun pa: Nag chu sa khul gyi dgon sde khag gi lo rgyus. Nag chu sa gnas srid gros lo rgyus rig gnas dpyad yig khang.
  • ’Gos gZhon nu dpal (1392-1481)
    1949. Deb ther sngon po (George. N. Roerich, The Blue Annals, Calcutta).
  • Me ston Shes rab ’od zer (1058-1139)
    1960. ’Dul ba kun las btus pa, Published by Sangye Tenzin and Samten Gyaltsen, Kalimpong.
animals
For more information about this term, see Full Entry below.
Acknowledgments

The editors would like to express their gratitude to Veronica Martin, Mrs. Natsuko Miyake, Françoise Pommaret and Howard Solverson who all gracefully helped us on various matters for the present survey work. We owe a special thank to Satoko Suzuki who dealt with various tasks with a great skill and patience in preparing the publication of this volume.

List of the monasteries surveyed
TIBET AUTONOMOUS REGION
dBus gtsang
  • (1) sMan ri Monastery
  • (2) Ra lag gYung drung gling Monastery
  • (3) Ri rgyal Monastery
  • (4) Ri zhing Monastery
  • (5) bDe chen sgang Hermitage
  • (6) bZang ri Monastery
  • (7) mKhar sna Monastery
  • (8) Pus mo sgang Monastery
sNye rong rdzong
  • (9) sNang gsal Monastery
  • (10) Chab mdo Monastery
  • (11) Sha ri Monastery
  • (12) rTing ngu Monastery
  • (13) gSang sngags rtse Hermitage
  • (14) rGyal po shel khur Hermitage
dPal mgon rdzong
  • (15) Shel phug Monastery
Nyi ma rdzong
  • (16) ’Om bu bSam gtan gling Monastery
  • (17) gYu bun Monastery
  • (18) Phyug tsho Monastery
  • (19) Ser zhig Monastery
’Bri ru rdzong
  • (20) Sen tsha Monastery
  • (21) dGa’ ri Monastery
  • (22) Klu mkhar Monastery
  • (23) dNgul kho Monastery
  • (24) rDo rting Monastery
  • (25) gSa’ mda’ bon Monastery
sBra chen chen rdzong
  • (26) sPa tshang Monastery
  • (27) Lung dkar Monastery
  • (28) sGra rgyal Monastery
  • (29) A krong Hermitage
  • (30) Phur nag Monastery
  • (31) Klu phug Monastery
  • (32) sPu la Monastery
  • (33) rMa rong Monastery
  • (34) Khrom tshang Monastery
sTeng chen rdzong
  • (35) sTeng chen Monastery
  • (36) sTeng chen Hermitage
  • (37) Ko bo Monastery
  • (38) Ka legs gYung drung gling Monastery
  • (39) sMon rgyal bla brang
  • (40) Nag ru Monastery
  • (41) Zhe nang Monastery
  • (42) Zhu tshang Monastery
  • (43) Ri dmar Monastery
  • (44) sGang ru Monastery
  • (45) Be sgo Monastery
  • (46) rGya sgo Monastery
  • (47) gNam steng Monastery
  • (48) dMu g-yad Monastery
  • (49) Yang rdzong Monastery
  • (50) Tsha ne Hermitage
  • (51) Ma rdzong Monastery
  • (52) Phug leb Monastery
  • (53) Kha spungs Nunney
  • (54) Mar khu Monastery
  • (55) rTse drug Monastery
  • (56) Wa dge Monastery
  • (57) Bya chen Monastery
  • (58) lHa lung Monastery
  • (59) gYu mtsho Monastery
  • (60) Ga shel Monastery
  • (61) Re ne Monastery
  • (62) Ngang rdzong Monastery
  • (63) lJong phu Monastery
  • (64) Zla shel Monastery
  • (65) sBra hor Monastery
’Jo mda’ rdzong
  • (66) sTag gzhi Monastery
  • (67) Zha zhi Monastery
  • (68) rDis bon Monastery
  • (69) sPong Monastery
  • (70) Bla khri Monastery
  • (71) dKar tshang Monastery
lHo rong rdzong
  • (72) Khra rgan Monastery
  • (73) Lam lha Monastery
  • (74) Bal tho Monastery
  • (75) Brag dkar Hermitage
mDzo sgang rdzong
  • (76) sTong mda’ Monastery
  • (77) La ngu Monastery
  • (78) Sa bla Monastery
  • (79) Ri sna Monastery
  • (80) mDangs ’phyar Monastery
  • (81) Shug rdzong Monastery
  • (82) Rab pa Monastery
  • (83) dByibs pa Monastery
  • (84) lTag tsha Monastery
dPa’ shod rdzong
  • (85) dBen mdzod Monastery
  • (86) ’Bur lung Monastery
  • (87) bKra shis rtse Monastery
Nying khri rdzong
  • (88) Srid rgyal Monastery
  • (89) sTag rtse gYung drung gling Monastery
mNga’ ris
  • (90) Gu ru gyam Monastery
GANSU PROVINCE
The bo County
  • (91) gTso tshang Monastery
  • (92) rGod po Monastery
  • (93) Nags gong Monastery
  • (94) Chags ri Monastery
  • (95) Shing skam Monastery
  • (96) bSam ’grub Monastery
  • (97) gTer ri Monastery
  • (98) rTswa ring Monastery
bSang chu County
  • (99) rTse zhig Monastery
MTSHO SNGON (QINGHAI) PROVINCE
Reb gong County
  • (100) Bon brgya Monastery
  • (101) Bon brgya Temple
  • (102) Mag gsar Temple
  • (103) rGya mtsho dpal Temple
  • (104) Gad pa skya bo Temple
  • (105) gDong mgo Temple
  • (106) Ngo mo Temple
  • (107) Gyang ri Temple
  • (108) Gling rgya Temple
  • (109) Zho ’ong nyin tha Temple
  • (110) Dar grong Temple
  • (111) Khyung bo thang Temple
  • (112) sDong skam Temple
  • (113) Hor nag Temple
  • (114) sTong che Temple
  • (115) Khyung bo la ga Temple
gCan tsha County
  • (116) Zhwa khra Temple
rTse khog County
  • (117) So nag Temple
Ba yan County
  • (118) To shes Temple
  • (119) Shar steng Temple
  • (120) sTong chung Monastery
  • (121) sTong chung Temple
Khri ka (Hua long) County
  • (122) Ser kywa Temple
  • (123) Khyung mo Monastery
  • (124) sGar ba Temple
  • (125) sBra ser Temple
  • (126) gZe ma Temple
  • (127) sKa rgya Temple
Mang ra (Gui nan) County
  • (128) ’Brog ru stong skor Temple
  • (129) ’Brog ru’i dPon tshang Tent Temple
  • (130) Bon brgya Tent Temple
  • (131) Bon brgya Khyung smon Monastery
Chab cha (Gong he) County
  • (132) Dung dkar Monastery
  • (133) sKa gsar Temple
  • (134) A rig stong skor Temple
SICHUAN PROVINCE
sDe dge County
  • (135) Khro tshang Monastery
  • (136) sMon rgyal Monastery
  • (137) ’Bum rmad Monastery
  • (138) Shar rdza Hermitage
  • (139) rDza sTeng chen Monastery
  • (140) Zer ’phro Monastery
  • (141) ’Phen zhol Monastery
  • (142) Ri spun Monastery
  • (143) Thar bde Monastery
  • (144) Rab rgyal Monastery
dPal yul County
  • (145) Kha rag Monastery
  • (146) Zla ’od Monastery
  • (147) gTsug ’od Monastery
  • (148) lCang lung Monastery
dKar mdzes County
  • (149) Gong lung Monastery
Nyag rong County
  • (150) Ye shes Monastery
  • (151) rGyal zhing Monastery
  • (152) Gong rgyal Monastery
  • (153) Klu ’bum Monastery
  • (154) La kha Monastery
  • (155) dBal khyung Monastery
  • (156) Brag dben Monastery
  • (157) Mi nub Monastery
Brag ’go County
  • (158) rBa mda’ Monastery
  • (159) rGyal rong Monastery
  • (160) gZhung ring Monastery
rTa’u County
  • (161) bSam ’grub Monastery
  • (162) Chu mig Monastery
  • (163) dGu rdza Monastery
  • (164) Dam pa rang grol Monastery
Nyag chu County
  • (165) ’Du ra Monastery
  • (166) Thang sgang Monastery
Li thang County
  • (167) ’Gro mgon Monastery
Rong brag County
  • (168) Bye ’bur Monastery
  • (169) sPang gi lung Monastery
  • (170) gYung drung dar rgyas Monastery
  • (171) Khyung lung Monastery
  • (172) rJi ngo Monastery
  • (173) dPag bsam lhun ’grub Monastery
  • (174) rDo zur mo Monastery
  • (175) Bya ti lo Monastery
brGyad zur County
  • (176) Mi rgod Temple
Dar rtse mdo County
  • (177) Grib srib Monastery
rNga ba County
  • (178) rTogs ldan Monastery
  • (179) gDong li Monastery
  • (180) sNang zhig Monastery
  • (181) Cog lo Monastery
’Bar kham County
  • (182) ’Bo la Monastery
  • (183) Kun ’brog Monastery
  • (184) Ka ca Monastery
  • (185) Ka co Monastery
  • (186) dGon gsar Monastery
Chu chen County
  • (187) gYung drung lha steng Monastery
  • (188) mTsho mtho Monastery
  • (189) dGra lha khyung Monastery
  • (190) Bla med Monastery
  • (191) bZod sgom Monastery
rMe ba County
  • (192) Mag gsar Temple
  • (193) Tsha lung Monastery
mDzod dge County
  • (194) A skyid sKyang tshang Monastery
  • (195) Nyos zhing Monastery
  • (196) rGur skyang Monastery
  • (197) gYung drung bSam ’grub Monastery
  • (198) mDa’ chen Monastery
Zung chu County
  • (199) sNa steng Monastery
  • (200) Rin spungs Monastery
  • (201) sNang zhig dngul sku Monastery
  • (202) sKyang tshang Monastery
  • (203) mKhar yag Monastery
  • (204) Gla ro Monastery
  • (205) gSer gling Monastery
  • (206) Sa ’brug Monastery
  • (207) Brag g-yung drung Hermitage
  • (208) dGa’ mal Monastery
  • (209) New dGa’ mal Monastery
  • (210) Shar khog gTso tshang Monastery
gZi tsha sde dgu County
  • (211) rTsub ma Monastery
  • (212) Dar rgyas Monastery
  • (213) Sa dbus Monastery
  • (214) lDong dpal Monastery
  • (215) Rab dben Monastery
Wen Chuan County
  • (216) Bla ma Temple
  • (217) mChog gsum Temple
Yan yuan County
  • (218) La tha Temple
NEPAL
Mustang District
  • (219) Klu brag Monastery
Dolpo District
  • (220) gYung drung shug tshal gling Monastery
  • (221) Dar rgyas phun tshogs gling Monastery
  • (222) Yang dgon Monastery
  • (223) bSam gling Monastery
  • (224) mTha’ srung Monastery
  • (225) sPung mo and sPu mer Temples
  • (226) gYung drung ’Gro ’dul gling Monastery
  • (227) Srid rgyal Monastery
  • (228) Dorpatan Monastery
  • (229) Mon ri zur gsum Temple
  • (230) Khri brtan nor bu rtse Monastery
INDIA
(231) sMan ri Monastery in Dolanji (232) Gling tshang Monastery (233) Zhu gYung drung kun grags gling
Bonpo monasteries and temples in Central Tibet
(1) sMan ri Monastery
1. Name

bKra shis sMan ri

2. Location

sMan ri Monastery is located in Thob rgyal xiang in rNam gling rdzong, Shigatse. From the sTag gru kha ferry, it is a full day’s ride on horseback. On the way there are two farming villages, mDzob bzang and Glang phu. Two high mountain passes called Gong nyag la and dByar rnga la must be crossed before reaching the monastery. Another route, passable by car, starting at Shigatse, goes through rNam gling rdzong up to Thob rgyal xiang. From there to the monastery, halfway up the mountain, is a half-day ride on horseback.

3. History

The monastery was founded in 1405 by mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan (1356-1415), formerly a monk in gYas ru dBen sa kha. His successor, rGyal tshab Rin chen rgyal mtshan, enlarged it with several monks’ living quarters. After having been gradually expanded over four centuries, the monastery became an important centre for the propagation of Bonpo doctrines. Apart from having two assembly halls, it had many buildings and there were about three hundred monks divided among four monastic colleges: Gling stod, Gling smad, Gling skad and Gling zur and six hostels (khang tshan): A sta, Rong mi, La dbyil, rGyal rong, Grub thob and Drel pa. The monk students came from various regions of Tibet. Among the Bonpo, the monastery was considered the source of all their monastic and liturgical traditions.

From the founder of the monastery, mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan, to the abbot Shes rab blo gros, there were thirty-two abbots. The last abbot, Shes rab blo gros, fled to India in 1959 and later died there. The monastery itself was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and remained unrestored for about twenty years. Rebuilding of the monastery did not begin until 1984, and it is still under reconstruction.

In 1970, the new sMan ri Monastery was founded at Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh, India. With this establishment, the monastic tradition of sMan ri has been revived through the efforts of its abbot, Lung rtogs bstan pa’i nyi ma (b.1929), who is now counted as the thirty-third abbot of sMan ri.

The monastery had a system of abbotship. Abbots were appointed by a lottery from among those well versed in religious philosophy and holding the dge bshes degree. The line of abbots is as follows:

  1. Shes rab rgyal mtshan (1356-1415)
  2. Rin chen rgyal mtshan
  3. Nam mkha’ ye shes
  4. Kun bzang rgyal mtshan
  5. bsTan ’dzin rin chen rgyal mtshan
  6. Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan
  7. bSod nams ye shes
  8. bSod nams g-yung druung
  9. She tsu drung mu
  10. Shes rab ’od zer
  11. gYung drung rgyal mtshan
  12. Shes rab blo gros
  13. Shes rab ’od zer (2nd)
  14. gTsug phud ’od zer
  15. gYung drung tshul khrims
  16. Rin chen ’od zer
  17. Rin chen lhun grub
  18. Shes rab bstan ’dzin
  19. Shes rab dbang rgyal
  20. gYung drung dbang rgyal
  21. Phun tshogs rnam rgyal
  22. bSod nams blo gros
  23. Nyi ma bstan ’dzin
  24. bSod nams phun tshogs
  25. Shes rab g-yung drung
  26. Sangs rgyas bstan ’dzin
  27. bsTan ’dzin Tshul khrims
  28. Phun tshogs blo gros
  29. rGyal ba blo gros
  30. bsTan pa blo gros
  31. Nyi ma dbang rgyal
  32. Shes rab blo gros
  33. Lung rtogs bstan pa’i nyi ma
4. Hierarchical system
  • mkhan po
  • slob dpon
  • dbu mdzad
  • dge bskos
  • bla brang gnyer pa
  • grwa tshang spyi gnyer
  • spyi gnyer
  • spyi khyab
  • las pa
  • dkon gnyer
  • khang tshan dge rgan
5. Current number of monks

Sixty novices and monks

6. Current education

Students receive two lessons daily, each lasting one to two hours. In summer and autumn, the monks usually go back to their homes.

7. Educational exchange

Bonpo monasteries in Hor and Kong po regions send their young monk students to be trained in sMan ri, where they receive education in traditional learning, such as poetry, and training in elementary and advanced studies in Bonpo metaphysics. Upon graduation, they return to their monasteries.

8. Daily rituals

Besides their daily studies, the monks perform regular and frequent religious services dedicated to the tutelary (yi dam) and protective (bka’ skyong) deities.

9. Annual rituals performed in former times, based on the Tibetan calendar
  • First month: on the 4th and 5th days, commemoration of the anniversary of the birth of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan; from the 6th to the 15th, the examination of the candidates for the dge bshes degree; on the 8th, the bya mjal ceremony; on the 10th, a performance of the ritual cycle of Tshe dbang rig ’dzin; on the 14th and 15th, the memorial service of the birth of sTon pa gShen rab.
  • Second month: from the 19th day of the second month to the 9th day of the fourth month, twenty-one monk students went into retreat at dByar skya hermitage to devote themselves exclusively to debate.
  • Fourth month: from the 10th day, all the hostels held assemblies of their own for prayers.
  • Fifth month: a performance of the dgu gtor rite, which ended with the gtor rgyag ceremony and the ’cham dance.
  • Sixth month: on the 10th day, performance of the ritual cycle of Tshe dbang rig ’dzin at ’Khrungs gzhis, the house of the Bru family situated below the monastery.
  • Seventh month: from the 25th to the 29th, a performance of the ritual known as sPyi rim chen mo, based on the ritual cycles of Khro bo and Phur pa; the ceremony ended with the following ’cham dances: gShen rab dgu ’cham, gYung drung dgu ’cham, rNam brgyad, sTag ’cham and Seng ’cham, and the gtor rgyag ceremony called Me ri rtse.
  • Eighth month: the celebration of the New Year, for thirteen days, during which all the monks were customarily served tea and barley flour.
  • Ninth month: a performance of the ritual devoted to sMra ba’i seng ge, deity of wisdom, for a week, ending with the empowerment ceremony.
  • Tenth month: offerings of the sacrificial cake a thousand times to sTag la me ’bar.

About the twelfth month some monks from the monastery were sent to perform various rituals at the palace of the sacred Bonpo family known as Bru, situated below the monastery. From the 17th century the palace was called ’Khrungs gzhis, the ‘Birth place’, since the Second Panchen Lama, Blo bzang ye shes (1663-1737), and the Fifth Panchen Lama, bsTan pa’i dbang phyug (1854-1882), were both born to the Bru family.

The monastery provides tea and gruel at noon for monk students. As for the regular monks in the monastery, their families are responsible for their living expenses or in some cases the monks make a living reciting prayers and conducting religious ceremonies outside the monastery. In summer and autumn almost all the monks return to their homes.

10. Books held in the monastery

There is a set of the bKa’ ’gyur published by Ayung Lama and sKal bzang phun tshogs in Chengdu, 1985-87, and a printed copy of The Collected Works of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan printed in Chamdo.

11. Income and expenses

Money and articles donated by patrons are used mainly for the restoration of the monastery and meals for the monk students.

12. Local community

There are two villages, Gang kha and sDing phu, at the foot of Mount sMan ri; the villagers, who are farmers, are all followers of Bon.

13. Local festivals

On the 3rd day of the first month and 14th of the fifth month of the Tibetan calendar all the villagers take part in the ceremony of propitiation of the local deity of Mount dBal ri behind sDing phu village.

14. Occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(2) gYung drung gling

1. Name

Ra lag (or Ru lag) gYung drung gling

2. Location

Starting from the sTag gru kha ferry on the Lhasa-Shigatse highway, one arrives at gYung drung gling Monastery after crossing a small bridge on the ’O yul Ra chu river. When the river rises in summer, this small bridge is impassable; instead, one must take a roundabout way, crossing another bridge, which takes an hour to get to the monastery.

3. History

The monastery was founded by sNang ston Zla ba rgyal mtshan (b.1796) in 1834 on the bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo river, at the foot of Mount ’O lha rGyal bzang. Later, the second abbot, sKal bzang nyi ma (b.1841), extended it. Nyi ma bstan ’dzin (b.1813), the 23rd abbot of sMan ri Monastery, came to help set up philosophical studies and became the chief teacher there. Later, the 5th abbot of the monastery, mKhan chen Shes rab blo ldan, further extended the monastery by building the temple mThong grol lha khang, and Shes rab grags pa, who was a chief teacher, had the large assembly hall (’du khang) built. There was a residence for the abbot (bla brang) and seven hostels (khang tshan) for the monk students, as well as individual houses for the chief teacher and the monks who completed their studies.

Formerly, the monastery possessed a great number of gilt-bronze and copper statues, including those of rNam par rgyal ba. In the temples there were reliquary gilt-copper stupas containing the remains of abbots. The monastery was an important seat of learning for Bonpo monks coming from Amdo, rGyal rong, Khyung po, Hor, Khams and nomad regions in Byang thang. It was particularly renowned for its extensive library and had its own woodblocks for printing religious texts. There were normally about two hundred monks resident in the monastery.

The 9th abbot, Shes rab bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan (1911-1979), had a large gilded rooftop erected on the main hall; he also had a gilt-copper statue of rNam par rgyal ba made, two storeys high. In 1959 he fled to India, and the monastery itself was razed to the ground in 1965 during the Cultural Revolution. In 1982 Shes rab bstan ’dzin and Kun gsal blo gros, who were monks in the monastery before its destruction, were put in charge of its reconstruction. They managed to have the assembly hall and two temples rebuilt.

The monastery had a system of abbotship. Abbots were appointed by a lottery from among those well versed in religious philosophy and having the dge bshes degree. The line of abbots of the monastery is as follows:

  1. sNang ston Zla ba rgyal mtshan
  2. sKal bzang nyi ma
  3. Phun tshogs dbang rgyal
  4. Tshul khrims dbang rgyal
  5. Shes rab blo ldan
  6. Shes rab bstan pa’i nyi ma
  7. Blo gros rgyal mtshan
  8. Blo gros nyi ma
  9. Shes rab bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan
4. Hierarchical system
  • mkhan po
  • slob dpon
  • dbu mdzad
  • dge bskos
  • bla brang gnyer pa
  • sgrub khang a mchod
  • mchod dpon
  • las pa
  • dkon gnyer
  • khang tshan dge rgan
  • ja g-yog
5. Current number of monks

Presently the monastery has no abbot, but there are about forty monk students.

6. Current education

Monks are required to study both elementary and religious philosophy, mainly in winter and spring. Since its reconstruction after the Cultural Revolution, the monastery has kept seven dge bshes.

7. Educational exchange

At present, other Bonpo monasteries, mainly in dBus and gTsang regions, send their monks to study in gYung drung gling, and they are to return to their own monasteries after completing their studies. In addition, various monasteries, such as sKyid mkhar Ri zhing (No.4) and Pus mo sgang (No.8) in Gro mo, invite tutors from gYung drung gling to their monasteries for a few months at a time.

8. Daily rituals

These consist of offering daily prayers and the propitiation of the monastery’s protective deities.

9. Annual rituals, based on the Tibetan calendar

- First month: on the 5th day, the memorial service of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan; then, up to the 15th day, a debate on metaphysics ending with the examination for the dge bshes degree.

- Fourth month: a congregation for prayers and debate for fifteen days.

- Fifth month: on the 15th, a performance of the ’Dzam gling spyi bsang ritual, based on the brNgan bsang chen mo by sTong rgyung mthu chen.

- Eighth month: a festival celebrating the founding of the monastery.

- Eleventh month: on the 7th, the memorial service for the death of the founder of the monastery.

- Twelfth month: from the 25th to the 30th, a performance of the dgu gtor rite, ending with the performance of religious dances. In addition, the bskang gso ritual is regularly performed for the guardians of the monastery.

During the summer the monks go to recite scriptures at private homes of farmers and herdsmen in areas such as Nagchukha, Hor, and Khyung po. The rest of the time the monks stay in the monastery, and their families provide their daily necessities.

10. Books held in the monastery

These include five sets of the bKa’ ’gyur published by Ayung Lama and sKal bzang phun tshogs in Chengdu, 1985-87, and two sets of The Collected Works of mNyam med Sherab rgyal mtshan and more than ten separate volumes of scriptures.

11. Income and expenses

The money the monks earn by conducting religious ceremonies and reciting prayers is used mainly for the renovation of the monastery. No detailed account is set up for this.

12. Local community

There are fifty households in Ru lag village, where followers of Bon and rNying ma pa live together. The villagers are farmers who engage mainly in grain production and also keep a small number of livestock.

13. Local festivals

Only the men and boys of each household participate in the propitiation ceremony dedicated to the sacred mountain, ’O lha rGyal bzang, on the 3rd day of the first month and the 15th of the fifth month.

(3) Ri rgyal Monastery
1. Name

Dar sding (also lding) Ri rgyal dgon; its formal name is Khri brtan nor bu rtse.

2. Location

A six-hour drive from Shigatse brings one to the seat of bZhad mthong smon rdzong. From here it takes two hours to reach the monastery on foot. One can also go there by bus.

3. History

Initially, there was only a small temple of the gShen family. In 1360 dMu gshen Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, the fifteenth successor in the gShen lineage, not only expanded the temple but also built the assembly hall and renamed Ri rgyal Khri brtan nor bu rtse. It is situated on Mount Ri rgyal behind the village called Dar sding. The seat of the gShen family is in Dar sding village, where the temple known as gSer sgo khra mo was built in 1173 by Kun mkhyen Ye shes blo gros, who was the ninth successor after gShen chen Klu dga’ (996-1035). In the village there was the famous stupa called sKu ’bum rig byed khang. From the beginning of the 15th century, the monastery became renown for its statues, scriptures and stupas of the Bon religion. In 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, the monastery on the mountain, the temple gSer sgo khra mo and the great stupa were all completely destroyed. In 1982 the monks began to rebuild the monastery. Led by Nor bu dbang rgyal, they first restored gSer sgo khra mo in the village, then rebuilt Khri brtan nor bu rtse. It is said that there have been twenty-five abbots from Kun mkhyen Ye shes blo gros to the present Nor bu dbang rgyal.

4. Headship

Leadership was ensured by a system of abbotship, with the abbots coming mostly from the gShen family.

5. Current number of monks

Twenty monks

6. Current education

As the monastery has not organized any study classes for the monks, they have to look for private tutors for their studies.

7. Educational exchange

So far, this work has not yet begun.

8. Daily rituals

Religious services dedicated to the tutelary and protective deities are performed everyday.

9. Annual rituals, based on the Tibetan calendar
  • First month: on the 3rd day, a ceremony of offerings to the deities.
  • Fourth month: on the 10th, offerings according to the Ma rgyud cycle.
  • Fifth month: on the 10th, offerings according to the Ma rgyud cycle.
  • Sixth month: on the 4th, a general ceremony of offerings to the tutelary deities.
  • Seventh month: on the 1st, a general ceremony of offerings to the tutelary deities.
  • Tenth month: on the 10th, offerings according to the Ma rgyud cycle.
  • Eleventh month: on the 20th, a religious assembly for the practice of the Ma rgyud ritual cycle.
  • Twelfth month: on the 15th, the anniversary of the birth of sTon pa gShen rab Mi bo.

Now and then, monks go to recite prayers and scriptures for Bon followers in the nomad areas of Byang thang. They usually stay in the monastery or in their homes, but they must be present for the offerings during the religious assemblies and the religious services observed at certain times prescribed by the monastery.

10. Books held in the monastery

These include three sets of the bKa’ ’gyur published by Ayung Lama and sKal bzang phun tshogs in Chengdu, 1985-87.

11. Income and expenses

Each year the monastery organizes the monks to conduct religious ceremonies and recite prayers at the homes of the herdsmen in the nomad area of Byang thang. The money earned is used for the restoration of the monastery and for the expenses of offerings during the religious assemblies and services observed at certain prescribed times during the following year.

12. Local community

To the south of the monastery there is a village called Ne nang with about one hundred households, and to the north a village named sKyid gzhong with about forty households. The villagers in both are followers of Bon and are farmers.

13. Local festivals

Each household in the village normally participates in all the following ceremonies: a ceremony of offerings to the local deities on the 3rd day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, an important activity during the Tibetan New Year; the Bumping Harvest Festival (called ’Ong skor) on the 4th of the sixth month; a general ceremony of offerings to the local deities on the 1st of the seventh month.

(4) Ri zhing Monastery
1. Name

sKyid mkhar Ri zhing dgon

2. Location

One can either drive from Pa nam rdzong, about thirty kilometres, or ride on horseback directly from Gyantse by climbing over Yang ga pass. In the past, when there was no road going straight there, one would go on horseback from Gyantse. Ri zhing Monastery presently belongs to the sKyid mkhar xiang administration.

3. History

Ri zhing Monastery was founded by Zhu yas Legs po in the eleventh century. Zhu sKye se chen po and Zhu sGrol ba gshen rgyal initiated the way of expounding scriptures and practising Bonpo teachings, and because of this the monastery became very famous. At the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), Zhu bsTan ’dzin nyi rgyal was recognized as one of the high-ranking lamas in Tibet. It is said that Zhu bsTan ’dzin nyi rgyal once had an audience with the Manchu emperor and the Manchu court gave him a large number of gifts.

The monastery owned thirteen estates, which were donated by the Tibetan government. It is said that there were once, in its heyday, East, West and Middle hostels (khang tshan) with three hundred monks in the monastery. Before 1959 there were sixty monks. It was totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and now only its ruins remain. About 1984 Tshe ring rdo rje, a descendant of the Zhu family, organized a few households to restore the hermitage called gYu ’brang phyug mo. Later, a small temple was gradually built, but the site of the monastery has been moved to another place.

4. Headship

In the past, the heads of the monastery were men of the Zhu family.

5. Current number of monks

Ten

6. Current education

After joining the monastery, monks go for elementary studies and the study of Bon doctrines in gYung drung gling (No.2) for a few years. Upon completion of their studies, they return to the monastery to take part in normal religious services.

7. Educational exchange

With the exception of sending some monks for studies in gYung drung gling, there are no exchanges with other monasteries.

8. Daily rituals

These consist of daily prayers to the tutelary deities and religious services dedicated to protective deities of the monastery.

9. Annual rituals, based on the Tibetan calendar
  • First month: on the 3rd day, the ceremony of offerings to the local deities on Mount sPo bo rtse dmar and also on Mount Zhu bo, which is situated behind the monastery; the celebration is joined in by all members of the local community.
  • Sixth month: on the 15th day, the celebration of the festival known as sKyid po bla ma’i dus chen, ‘Festival of the joyous Lamas’; the celebration, which is held at the monastery, is attended by both the clergy and laymen.

The monks return to their homes whenever there are no religious assemblies in the monastery. Although supplemented by the money they earn by going to recite prayers and scriptures for laymen, they depend mainly on their families for their daily necessities.

10. Books held in the monastery

These include a set of the bKa’ ’gyur published by Ayung Lama and sKal bzang phun tshogs in Chengdu, 1985-87, and seven cases of the Chamdo edition of the Collected Works of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan.

11. Income and expenses

The monastery itself has no income at all, so each household in the village contributes to the provision of all the expenses for the ceremony of offerings.

12. Local community

There are, altogether, five villages with two hundred households, where followers of Bon and Buddhism (dGe lugs pa) live together.

13. Local festivals

See Annual rituals above

14. Occupation of the local people

Although the area is regarded as semi-agricultural and semi-nomad, the villagers are mainly engaged in agricultural work.

(5) bDe chen sgang Hermitage
1. Name of the hermitage

dPal ri khud yang dben bde chen sgang

2. Location

After driving 480 kilometres from Shigatse, one reaches Mount Mu la, whence a further drive of thirty kilometres takes one to La phu village. The hermitage is located near the village. Travellers on foot usually stay one night in Tingri, then reach the hermitage early the next day.

3. History

bDe chen sgang was originally a hermitage established by the recluse sPa ston dPal mchog (b.1040) of the sacred Bonpo family known as sPa, whose seat was found in La phug village. Later, the hermitage was extended into a monastery by sPa dPal ldan bzang po and then became an important centre of learning for Bonpo followers in Western Tibet. The monastery produced several monk-scholars: for example, Tre ston rGyal mtshan dpal who had compiled a type of encyclopedia, in the monastery, of Bon and Buddhist doctrines, entitled Bon sgo gsal byed and the well-known historian, sPa bsTan rgyal bzang po, who wrote several works in the same place in the 15th century. Later, a branch of the sPa family migrated to Ye tha, in the Hor region, northern Tibet, where it became prosperous, and as a result the monastery at La phug declined and became once again a hermitage. It is still a small hermitage where a few married religious practitioners (ser khyim) reside.

4. Headship of the hermitage

The hermitage has no one leading it.

5. Current number of residents

One monk and four ser khyim

6. Current education

The only monk has gone to study in gYung drung gling Monastery (No.2). He is expected to return and teach other people.

8. Daily rituals

These consist of performing frequent religious services dedicated to the tutelary and protective deities in the sgrub khang sanctuary.

9. Annual rituals

The hermitage cannot afford to hold any religious assemblies and is not expected to do so.

Apart from going out to recite scriptures and prayers, the ser khyim live with their families most of the time.

10. Books held in the hermitage

There is a set of the bKa’ ’gyur published by Ayung Lama and sKal bzang phun tshogs in Chengdu, 1985-87.

11. Income and expenses

The meagre income of the hermitage is used for its renovation.

12. Local community

The local village is called La phug, where followers of Bon and Buddhism live together.

13. Local festivals

The villagers propitiate local deities and erect propitiatory flags on the mountain behind the hermitage on the 3rd day of the first month and the 14th of the fifth month.

14. Occupation of the local people

A semi-agricultural and semi-nomad settlement.

(6) bZang ri Monastery
1. Name

bZang ri dgon (often wrongly spelled Zangs ri); its formal name is lHun grub mthong smon gling.

2. Location

The monastery is situated on Mount bZang po ri, behind bZang ri village. It is accessible by car. After reaching Nye mo bridge on the way from Lhasa to Shigatse, and driving northward for eight kilometres, one arrives at the county seat of Nye mo. From here a drive of three kilometres takes one to bZang ri village.

3. History

bZang ri Monastery was founded in 1096 by mKhas pa Tshul khrims dpal chen. It became a great centre for studies in metaphysics, where, over the years, hundreds of monks studied. It was also a place where tantric meditation and rituals were commonly practised. However, the monastery soon began to decline, and did so for several generations. Later it was looked after by sPa ston ’Od gsal rgyal mtshan, a descendant of the sPa family. This master’s main seat was at sMan gong in Shangs. His chief disciple was Zhang ston Ba thang pa. There then followed several masters, such as Zhang ston Tshul khrims blo ldan, Sum ston lHa ’bum, Sum ston ’Dul ba bzang po, Sum ston bZang po dpal, mKhas grub rGyal mtshan mchog legs of rMe’u and Rong ston Shes rab ’od zer, all of whom were active in the monastery. The monastery was mainly maintained by the members of the rMe’u family. There have been, altogether to date, forty descendants of the rMe’u family down to the present rMe’u Nyi zla dbang grags. The monastery was originally located east of bZang ri village and was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In 1982, its site was moved up to the top of the hill behind the village and was then rebuilt.

4. Headship system

The monastery had successive abbots, who mainly came from the rMe’u family.

5. Current number of monks

Fifteen.

6. Current education

This consists mainly of two aspects: 1) sending monks to gYung drung gling Monastery (No.2) for elementary studies in philosophy; 2) teaching Bonpo knowledge and conducting various rituals under the guidance of the old monks within the monastery.

7. Educational exchange

See No. 6 above.

8. Daily rituals

These comprise mainly the reciting of prayers to invoke the tutelary (yi dam) and protective (bka’ skyong) deities.

9. Annual rituals, based on the Tibetan calendar
  • Sixth month: on the 4th day, a ceremony of colouring the Bonpo images.
  • Twelfth month: on the 29th, offerings to the local deities.
10. Books held in the monastery

There is a copy of the bKa’ ’gyur published by Ayung Lama and sKal bzang phun tshogs in Chengdu, 1985-87.

11. Income and expenses

Normally it costs the monastery a large sum, in money and materials, for the provision of meals at religious assemblies and for the renovation of the monastery. So far no clear account is kept at hand. While the monastery provides the monks with one meal every day, the monks have to bear the rest of their living expenses themselves. From what he earns reciting prayers at private homes, a monk is required to turn in one yuan per day to the monastery; he is allowed to keep the rest.

12. Local community

There are 114 households in bZan ri village, all follow the Bon religion.

13. Local festivals

A ceremony of offerings by the whole village to the local deities on Mount bZang ri is performed on the 4th day of the sixth month and the 29th of the twelfth month.

14. Occupation of the local people

The villagers mostly make their living as farmers, and are engaged in grain production.

(7) mKhar sna Monastery
1. Name

mKhar sna bsam gtan gling

2. Location

mKhar sna Monastery was situated at the foot of Mount sMan ri. Since there is no road leading to the place it can only be reached on horseback or on foot.

3. History

Originally it was a hermitage in the hills where monks of gYas ru dBen sa kha Monastery practised meditation. Shes rab g-yung drung (b.1838), the 25th Abbot of sMan ri Monastery(No.1) expanded it into a monastery. It was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. To date, the monastery has not been formally restored.

(8) Pus mo sgang Monastery
1. Name

The full name is gSang sngags theg chen g-yung drung gling.

2. Location

After a nine-hour drive from Shigatse, one reaches Ya tung in Gro mo, whence a three-hour journey on foot takes one to Pus mo sgang. One can also drive there.

3. History

Pus mo sgang Monastery was founded by gYung drung dbang rgyal, who was a hermit living on Mount sKyid mu sman ri in Gro mo. The monastery was then maintained by a series of fourteen masters up to bsTan pa rgya mtsho. He fled to Bhutan in 1959. The monastery was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In 1985 its restoration began. Before 1959, there were sixty monks. gYung drung tshe ring and his son Tshe ring dbang ’dus are in charge of the monastery.

4. Headship system

The monastery had a system of abbotship.

5. Current number of monks

Six

6. Current education

Two monks have been sent to study in gYung drung gling Monastery (No.2). Since there are no formal study classes in the monastery, the rest of the young monks learn prayers and scriptures under the guidance of the old monks.

7. Educational exchange

With the exception of sending one or two monk students to study under the master Kun gsal blo gros in gYung drung gling, there are no exchanges with other monasteries.

8. Daily rituals

These consist of the frequent performance of religious services dedicated to the tutelary and protective deities, and the recitation of prayers and scriptures.

9. Annual rituals, based on the Tibetan calendar
  • First month: on the 5th day, the memorial service of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan based on the gYung drung klong rgyas.
  • Second month: on the 10th, a performance of the tshes bcu ceremony in which prayers are said to Dran pa nam mkha’ and his twin sons Tshe dbang rig ’dzin and Pad ma mthong grol.
  • Third month: from the 13th to the 16th, a religious assembly.
  • Fifth month: on the 13th and 16th, performances of religious services dedicated to the tutelary and protective deities, in which the common people near the monastery participate.
  • Eleventh month: from the 7th to the 16th, a ceremony of offerings to the tutelary deity, during which time religious dances take place the whole day, as well as the propitiation of the local deity Brag btsan rgod ’bar ba on the mountain behind the monastery.

In summer and autumn the monks return to their homes to live with their families; in winter and spring they go back to the monastery for religious activities and studies.

10. Books held in the monastery

There are sixteen cases of the Khro skyab edition of the Khams chen, a set of the Ngan song sbyong ba’i gzungs written in gold and twelve cases of scriptures given by gYung drung gling Monastery.

11. Income and expenses

Since the monastery has a meagre income, the relevant expenses are mainly borne by patrons.

12. Local community

There is one village with thirty-five households, all of whom are Bon followers.

13. Local festivals

On the 3rd day of the first month, the 15th of the fourth month and the 16th of the eleventh month, all the villagers take part in the ceremonies of offerings to the local deities on Mount sPo bo tshe dmar and Mount Zhu bo ri at the back of the monastery.

14. Occupation of the local people

The villagers are mainly engaged in farming, with lumbering as a side occupation.

Bonpo monasteries and temples in Nagchu, Chamdo and Ngari regions
The Nagchu region

One hundred and sixty kilometres west of Lhasa, along the Qinghai Tibet highway, lies a marvellous snow mountain called gNyan chen Thang lha, one of the Five Great Holy Mountains of Bon (bon gyi gnas mchog gangs ri chen po lnga). It is about 7,117 metres in height. The abode of the deity gNyan chen Thang lha (known in Buddhist tradition as lHa chen rDo rje ’bar ba rtsal), distinguished among the nine mountain divinities, gNyan chen Thang lha externally appears in the shape of a simple snow mountain, while internally it holds a crystal treasury glittering with various jewels. At the foot of the mountain is a lake topped with waves of nectar, half way up is a pretty rainbow-coloured tent. The mountaintop is covered with white clouds of mizzly jewels. The pastureland, blanketed with flowers, looks like a mandala of various flowers offered to the deity, and the whole area, surrounded by the crystal stupas; the snow mountains is a pilgrimage site of great superiority. There is no definite iconographic description of gNyan chen Thang lha, but the lHa bskyed nang gsal describes it as follows: “gNyan chen Thang lha would be smiling, allowing his canine teeth to be seen slightly, his three brilliant eyes emitting light, his hair bound with fine white silk, being thoroughly dignified, holding a cane with a five-edged vajra in his highly raised right hand, and a crystal rosary in his left hand, clad in a tricoloured cloak of fine silk, his head crowned with blazing jewels, and beautifully dressed up, all over, with varieties of precious stones.”

gNam mtsho phyug mo, the goddess of the lake (also known as rDor rje kun grags ma or Rang byung rgyal mo in Buddhist tradition), the consort of gNyan chen Thang lha, is one of the twelve brTan ma, the ruling goddesses of Tibet. These twelve goddesses are Kun grags ma, Ya ma skyong, Kun bzang mo, bGegs kyi gtso, sPyan gcig ma, dPal gyi yum, Drag mo rgyal, Klu mo dkar mo, Bod khams skyong, sMan gcig ma, gYar mo sil and gYu sgron (in Buddhist tradition the name of each of these goddesses is preceded by the word rdo rje). Among these goddesses Kun grags ma takes precedence. She is superb, having a turquoise-coloured body, one face, two hands and three eyes of wisdom. Holding a banner of crowning victory in her right hand and a mirror of sanctity in her left, she has a great loveliness. Her indigo-blue hair hangs down to some length, and she is mounted on a turquoise-blue dragon in the centre of a swirling white cloud. It is believed that Kun grags ma, the consort of gNyan chen Thang lha, is the principal one among the twelve brTan ma, the protective goddesses of Bon.

The mountain deities surrounding gNyan chen Thang lha, in all directions, are rDo rje ’bar ba rtsal in the east, rDo rje ’bar ba rtsal in the south, rDo rje ’bar ba rtsal in the west, rDo rje ’bar ba rtsal in the north, lHa chen sKyes bu bzhin bzang in the south-east, ’Brong g-yag zhol dkar in the south-west, rDo rje ’bar ba rtsal in the north-west and lHa mchog Tshangs pa chen po in the north-east. All these deities are said to be engirded: by the 360 companion deities and trillion armed deities in circumference, by the white conchs of miraculous transformation circling around in the sky, and by a pack of white wolves of both sexes and a herd of long-haired wild yaks, excited in anger, from above and all directions.

gNam mtsho phyug mo is a holy lake of Eternal Bon just like the other lakes, including Dwang ra g-yu mtsho, Ma pang g-yu mtsho and Ma ma mtsho. It is a very large lake, extending about seventy kilometres from east to west, and about thirty kilometres from north to south. More than half of its area belongs to dPal mgon rdzong in Nag chu. As it is possible to travel by car from ’Dam gzhung via gNam mtsho up to dPal mgon rdzong, the lake can be visited and thoroughly enjoyed.

In shape, gNam mtsho phyug mo resembles rDo rje phag mo, foremost among goddesses, lying on her back: the rivers Ngang chu and Gri chu look just like her right hand, holding a sword and lifted high into the sky; the three small ponds on the upper side of the lake bear a resemblance to the three eyes of wisdom looking upward; the lHa lcam khan pa looks like her bound hair; Ma chags Se mo do looks like the left hand of the goddess holding a skull filled with blood in front of her breast; the counterpart of Ma chags Se mo do is a cave, which represents her right leg, bent; the lower end of the lake represents her left leg, stretched out; and Hal po gdong lies just like the mattress of the fainted figure under the goddess’ foot. Because of these, a mere glance at the lake may be enough for devotes of Bon to have a feeling of real experience with Yum chen rDo rje phag mo. In their hearts, devoted reverence to the lake may arise, as well as sincerity of supreme virtue.

Similarly, the glorious ’Khor lo bde mchog has as the seats of his body, speech and mind the following: the snow mountain Ti se (Mount Kailash) as the seat of his body, gNam mtsho phyug mo his speech and Tsa ri his mind, each of which has an auspicious season for making pilgrimages. Ti se should be visited in Horse years, gNam mtsho phyug mo in Sheep years and Tsa ri in Monkey years.

gNam mtsho phyug mo can be divided into three parts: bKra shis do do che as the seat of his body of speech, Bya do Nam mkha’ do as the seat of his speech of speech, and Ma chags Se mo do as the seat of his mind of speech. These are subdivided yet again into thirteen do chen and thirteen gdong chen. Furthermore, gNam mtsho phyug mo has so many other characteristic sites, such as rGa lo gzim phug, mGon po phug, sGrol ma phug, O rgyan phug, bKa’ thang phug, Zhabs drung phug, Bar do’i phrang, Cong zhi phug pa, Karma phug, Klu khang phug and Nam mkha’ mdzod, that it looks like the sky strewn with clusters of stars.

Both gNyan chen Thang lha and gNam mtsho phyug mo should be circumambulated in Sheep years, the auspicious pilgrimage time. It can take from fifteen to twenty days and nights on foot. A pilgrimage to gNam mtsho alone can take at least seven to nine days. It is difficult to visit the island (do) called Se mo do in summer because it is the centre of the lake and there is no boat, while bKra shis do and Bya do may be very accessible. Currently a great many pious people both clergy and laity frequently offer prayers in front of gNyan chen Thang lha in various ways, such as erecting cairns, burning incense, raising prayer flags or white ceremonial scarves, casting their possessions into the lake, and so forth. The sacred gNyan chen Thang lha has now become a particularly celebrated site to which numerous clerical and lay devotees of Bon pay a visit in search of protection or in order to offer prayers, irrespective of their sect, school or party.

The town of Nag chu is 154 kilometres from ’Dam gzhung. Then from Nag chu, a ten-kilometre drive northward on the highway and a further eighty-two kilometres in a north-easterly direction lead one to sNye rong rdzong. Because of the rather bad condition of the road between Nag chu and sNye rong rdzong, the trip can take some two and a half hours.

sNye rong rdzong

sNye rong lies to the north of Nag chu, south of the famous Thang khug la mountain range. It is about 14,560 square kilometres in area, and is 4,700 metres above sea level. Pastureland covers an area of 11,800 mu. sNye rong, with a population of 25,000, has one qu under its immediate supervision and thirteen xiang, in which there are 165 village committees.

At one time, when sNye rong was under Sa skya pa rule, there were three major tribes in the district, and another one was formed during the time of Phag mo gru pa rule. These four then joined with several other tribes of the area, including ’Bri ru, sBra chen and sTeng chen, to be united into the so-called Thirty-nine Tribes (Tsho ba so dgu), which is very famous in Tibetan history. In the middle of the Ming Dynasty during the time of the Phag mo gru pa, the Thirty-nine Tribes was were absorbed into the Mongolian Tumed and Khalkha tribes in mTsho sngon. It came under Mongolian control in 1637; and in 1732, the central government of the Qing Dynasty ceded it back to the Tibetan government. But in 1751, the Qing official (am ban) in Tibet looked after the Thirty-nine Tribes. In 1916, the Tibetan government established the post of governor-general of Hor (Hor spyi khyab), and put part of the Thirty-nine Tribes under its control. But in 1942, the Tibetan government abolished the post of governor-general of Hor and divided the Thirty-nine Tribes into six divisions and sNye rong rdzong is one of the six. On August 1st, 1960, the sNye rong rdzong office was established.

(9) sNang gsal Monastery

A brag sNang gsal g-yung drung gsal ba’i gling is under the jurisdiction of Dar ’dzum xiang (also known as mTsho dbyang qu), which lies more than twenty kilometres to the north of sNye rong rdzong. Although it is not very far, it takes more than an hour to get there by car because of the terribly muddy road, which makes the going difficult. This monastery is set in a fairly good natural environment.

The monastery was founded in 1906. The predecessor of this monastery was sMad sog gYung drung ’dzin pa’i gling (ruins of an ancient monastery near Nag chu kha were recently identified as those of this monastery) which was founded by Khyung po A bla grags pa and Sha ba sang grol. It was prosperous, with hundreds of monks and nuns. In spite of the extensive work devoted to the three noble deeds “keeping, defending and spreading the teachings of Eternal Bon” through generations of lamas, the monastery was upset by, needless to say, the troops of the Mongolian Jungar. During that time the Mongolians subjected the two Khyung po lamas, dBu se and dBu nag, to imprisonment and eventually murdered these two faultless lamas. The sight of this incident made their great many followers tremble and the lives of their followers subsequently fell into hopelessness.

Then a monastery called Khri dkar was set up on the bank of the Yag chu river and the teachings of Bon were spread by several generations of lamas. Destiny, however, reduced the monastery to a deteriorated state. Khyung po bsTan rgyal grags pa then laid the foundation for the next one at Khyung rdzong, situated at Gad ngas la, and maintained it for a while, but it, too, collapsed in the Eleventh Rab byung.

Then Mi ’gyur grags pa, rGyal skyid grags pa, Nyi dbang, lHa dbang, Tshe dbang g-yung drung and others, all from Khyung po, established the residence (bla brang) of Khyung po sBra nag in A stod district, which burdened them with the expectations of many proponents of Eternal Bon that their thirst for a monastery would be satisfied.

In 1882, a miraculous baby, who emitted many auspicious signs, was born to a couple, Khyung dkar gDung pa lha bu, the father, and Gur bza’ dPal ’dzoms, the mother. The baby was called Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan. From childhood he stood out prominently among other children, with his varied talents. Endowed with auspicious signs, he was praised by everyone. Until the age of twenty-five, he lived as a herdsman in the manner of a yogi in order to avoid being possessed by unclean transmigratory existence. At that time, his parents repeatedly murmured their hope that their son would succeed to the leadership of the family, but he did not accept this, for he wanted to take an oath to become a monk.

In 1906, Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan was ordained in the presence of sMon rgyal Nam mkha’ dbang rgyal in rDza khog. In his mind, he conceived the idea of building a monastery at a certain rocky place surrounded by many outstandingly sacred sites such as the meditation cave of the great lama Dran pa nam mkha’, his foot-prints and the like. Then a prophecy was made by the yogi A lo, and in accordance with it, in 1911 Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan went to seek the place where a new monastery should be built.

It was a place with many auspicious signs, such as the following: to the right, lHa ri spang mtho, whose summit consists of a crystal rock; at the front, Un chen dur krod nor bu spungs ri and gNyan chen wa ra, which look like dextral white conchs; and mountains, including, at the back, ’Bul ri, the gathering place of deities, the klu, and the gnyan. As the place was filled with many springs, herbs and other auspicious symbols, he decided to build a new monastery there, which he did in 1918. A brag sNang gsal Monastery was thus established.

He then established the monastic discipline in the establishment with the establishment of the Three Trainings. He made pilgrimages to many places, such as the Four Divisions of Central Tibet (dbus gtsang ru bzhi), Ti se, Bon ri and so forth. He studied various doctrines under many teachers, irrespective of their sects, including ’Gro mgon Shes rab g-yung drung, bZod pa rgyal mtshan, and the great treasure-discoverer of A dbang, Rig ’dzin rgya mtsho, who was a Buddhist priest. He received from them the threefold lineages “initiation, transmission and explanation of texts” of the entire doctrine of inner, outer and secret. All the good deeds he had learned and performed over a decade led him to a state of knowledge of the most excellent quality. Every sign of his achievement thrilled the common people. Since he had obtained omniscience and omnipotence, he came to be known everywhere as the one who would save all the people in this and the next life, by the designation of A bla sNang gsal, from Khyung lung dNgul mkhar in the west to mTsho sngon in Amdo in the east.

As for the account of his previous lives, his origin is traced back to Tshad med ’od ldan in the time of gShen. The line then leads successively down to sTong rgyung mthu chen in the time of Bla chen Dran pa nam mkha’ in the early stage of Bonpo dissemination, and sPyang sprul Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan in the latter stage of Bonpo dissemination. To make the long story of his life short: he trained himself in the three deeds of hearing, thinking and meditating, and moved on into the three deeds of teaching, debating and writing; he preached extensively for his own sake and for the sake of others, which was openly praised everywhere, in consequence of which he turned into the one like the vast ocean of summer.

Main religious objects and activities of the monastery:
Shar gling sham po lha rtse.

At the centre of this mezzanine-high building was a gilt-bronze statue of sTon pa Khri gtsug rgyal ba as tall as a mezzanine. There was also the sacred gilt-bronze statue of gShen rab Mi bo accompanied on either side by the cubit-high Four Principal Buddhas (bDe gshegs gtso bzhi).

On the sculptured wooden shelves to the right were the cubit-high Sixteen Arhats (gNas brtan bcu drug) in gilt-bronze. Along the left wall was a varnished wooden shelf with an outward appearance of Pho brang gling dgu, the Mandala of Peace, and an inward appearance of the gSas mkhar bcu drug, the flame of the potential nature of wrath. In front of sTon pa gShen rab Mi bo was the cubit-high silver statue of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan. Painted on the wall were murals of the Thousand Buddhas. Such was the magnificence of this shrine’s religious objects.

bKa’ ’gyur lha khang

On the right-hand side of this two-storey building was a life-sized gilt-bronze statue of sMra ba’i seng ge, and on the left-hand side was that of Byams ma. Along the walls on either side were three hundred volumes (po ti) of the bKa’ ’gyur of both Buddhism and Bon, along with one hundred thumb-sized images of gShen rab made of silver, and another nine hundred of copper.

sKu gdung khang, gYu rtse khang and dBu rtse khang

The two-storey sKu gdung khang had a triple-headed stupa of Lo pan mchod rten, which nearly reached the roof of the building, and murals of the Forty-five Peaceful deities (Zhi lha zhe lnga).

gYu rtse khang had a complete set of religious objects: at its centre was a statue of ’Brug sras chem pa the height of an arrow, made of a compound of gold and silver. To the right was a cubit-high silver statue of Phur pa together with another nine of gilt-bronze. On both sides of Phur pa were one hundred stupas in gilt-bronze, and on the walls were murals of the thousand gShen lha ’od dkar.

Similarly, dBu rtse khang was adorned with many religious objects. At its centre was a gilt-bronze statue of gShen lha ’od dkar as tall as a two-storey house. To the right and slightly in front of the statue was a magnificent, elaborately worked gilt-bronze mandala, organized with holy elements to the height of a mezzanine. It was constructed of, from the bottom, the following: the four continents; the four islands; the seven mountains; the seven lakes; the abode of the Thirty-three gods, where the temple rNam rgyal khang bzang was found; and, on the top, the Garuda subduing the three worlds. To the left and slightly in front of gShen lha ’od dkar was a shrine of the Eighty-six Wrathful deities (Khro rgyal gya drug) in gilt-bronze. And above the gShen lha ’od dkar were the Forty-five Peaceful Deities (Zhi lha zhe lnga) in gilt bronze.

The construction of these five buildings, together with the fields around, presented a resemblance to that of the heart of ’Ol mo lung ring, the Holy Land. The beautiful and lovely scene of the purest land raises a deep faith and reverence in one’s mind when it comes into sight.

There were two meditation halls (sgrub khang), the old one and the new, with many religious objects in each. In the old one was a gilt-bronze statue of sTag la me ’bar, a thangka of Srid pa’i rgyal mo and masks of some Bonpo guardian deities. In the new one was a statue of the hundred-headed, thousand-armed lJang nag made of gold and silver, and the Four Queens (rGyal mo rnam bzhi) in gilt-bronze. There were also thangka embroidered with silk, and many other religious objects.

Of the two residences (bla brang), the older one had the Thang gsas lha khang, inside which were many religious objects, such as the following: a gilt-bronze statue of rNam par rgyal ba; a gilt-bronze reliquary stupa of lHa bu, the father of sNang gsal Rinpoche; murals of about five hundred figures of Thang gsas sgrol ma, a wheel of life and the kings of the directions (rGyal chen sde bzhi); a statue of sTon pa made of pure gold, rediscovered in Kong po Bon ri by sNang gsal Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan; an image of the diety Zhi ba a gsal, which was an old relic of the Khyung po family; an Indian-made copper statue of gShen rab named “Black Gold of Thirteen Horse Head” (gSer nag rta mgo bcu gsum); large and small conchs called dBu yang.

Annual religious activities and monks of the monastery
  1. During the three days from the 3rd to the 5th of the first month, a memorial service was held in honour of mNyam med Shes rab rgyas mtshan, during which assemblies were held to make flower-offerings.
  2. From the 13th day of the second month to the 18th of the third month, prayers were offered in a memorial service for sNang gsal Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan, in the course of which an extensive procession of monks was arranged on the 27th day of the second month.
  3. From the 30th day of the second month to the 18th of the third month was the period in which the rituals of sKye sgo, rNam klong gnyis, and Zhi khro were performed. From the 8th to the 15th of the third month, the ritual cycle of Khro bo and the recital of the Kanjur and Katen, were staged in the Shar rtse khang. The ritual of the Grub sman rnam bzhi, the hundred offerings of Ma rgyud and other rituals were performed on a grand scale in the dBu rtse khang. During the three days from the 15th, a large group of devotees of Bon got together to enjoy the glory of the artistic religious dances performed by the monks; these dances included sNa sel, A tsa ra, Sa ’dul khro ’cham, Srid rgyal dus drug, gZe ma dgu ’cham, Ha shang, Ma rgyud tshogs ’cham, rNga chen mo, dPal mgon gral brgyad, Dur khrod gnas brgyad, the Snow Lion (seng ge), the Tiger, the Leopard, the dBal stag, the dBal ’brug, the dBal g-yag and the dBal kyung.
  4. In the fourth and fifth months, primary and principal instructions, along with various other teachings, were given, as well as guidance on general and detailed knowledge.
  5. From the 6th to the 9th day of the sixth month, rituals rNam rgyal stong mchod, gYang skor and dGra lha dpang stod were performed. Similarly, there was propitiation of mountain deities and circumambulation of holy mountains, followed by a horseracing competition customarily organized by the monastery and the A brag community. The competition was a social occasion.
  6. From the 13th to the 20th day of the seventh month rituals of Kun gsal byams ma’i tshogs brgya and Yi dam kun ’dus las tshogs were performed.
  7. During the three months from the eighth month to the tenth, most of the monks and lamas visited each village to give religious services; otherwise they stayed in the monastery for daily tea.
  8. From the 23rd to the 30th day of the eleventh month, the dgu bzlog rite, based on the ritual cycle of sTag la, was performed.
  9. In the twelfth month, from the 3rd to the 5th day, the bskang gsol ceremony was held on a grand scale according to the Zhu tradition; from the 23rd to the 30th day, the dgu bzlog rite, based on the cycle of Phur pa, was held.

Formerly, the monastery had five hostels (khang tshan) each of which had a lama and a teacher: the lama Tshul khrims blo ldan and the teacher rMa rong Thar dkar in Shar rtse hostel, the lama Dwangs ra Zla zla and the teacher Seng ge in bKa’ ’gyur hostel, the lama Don nyid and the teacher bsTan tshul in sKu gdung hostel, the lama ’Bum thar and the teacher A ’jab in gYu rtse hostel, and the lama Nam mkha’ g-yung drung and the teacher A chig in dBu rtse hostel. There were 139 monks. The lama and teacher of each hostle took, in rotation, all the responsibilities for the annual religious activities.

At present, this monastery consists of the following buildings: one temple with one hundred long pillars, the assembly hall with four, the bKa’ ’gyur khang four, and the two meditation halls have four each; a new kitchen and more than thirty monks’ quarters have been built. Something that should be stressed is that a collection of religious objects remains in perfect condition. It includes the following: the relics of sNang gsal Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan; a mezzanine-high, three-headed stupa made of a compound of gold and silver; a mezzanine-high gilt-bronze statue of gShen lha ’od dkar; a life-sized gilt-bronze statue of Byams ma and a reliquary stupa of the lama Nyi grags.

There are ten lamas and more than forty monks at present. The monastery’s main source of revenue is the circulation service around the village. It depends on every household for support.

(10) Chab mdo Monastery

The monastery’s full name is Chab mdo dgon dPal gShen bstan g-yung drung bde chen gling. It is located in Shag chu xiang, in the south-eastern part of the rdzong. Although it is no more than thirty kilometres from the rdzong to the monastery, it takes about one and a half hours by car because of the bad road condition. This is one of the Bonpo monasteries that has a long history. It was destroyed in 1641 when Mongolian troops led by Gushri Khan bsTan ’dzin chos rgyal invaded Tibet. Reconstruction was undertaken in 1917.

In the time of gNya’ khri btsan po, the teachings of Bon became widespread in Tibet. During this period, however, the monastery experienced a rise and fall, and met with great misfortune in that many masters of Bon gshen scattered to mDo khams and the nomad area because of the religious oppression by bTsan po Khri srong lde btsan. In the nomad area, those Bon gshen masters who had escaped established many monastic communities in order to get a foot-hold there, so that the precious teachings of Eternal Bon did not degenerate. At that time Khyung po A bla grags pa and Sha ba rang grol, who both came from the upper Dwang ra Khyung rdzong, established Sog gYung drung ’dzin pa’i gling monastery and greatly increased the number of monks. The three deeds of keeping, defending and spreading the precious teachings of Eternal Bon became widespread everywhere.

However, at the same time, Gushri bsTan ’dzin chos rgyal first captured mDo khams and then gradually penetrated gTsang by waging war against Karma bstan skyong dbang po, the king of gTsang, and brought it under his control.

In 1642, the Tibetan government began to organize itself and the doctrine of the dGe lugs pa sect began to spread widely in Tibet. Simultaneously, a large number of monastic communities of the bKa’ rgyud pa and Eternal Bon were, as a matter of course, destroyed by the military power of Gushri bsTan ’dzin chos rgyal. Many Bonpo monks and nuns were ferociously tortured and eventually murdered. After that, although Khyung po bsTan rgyal grags pa, Khri bde gung grags and Khyung po ’Bun snang tried their best to practise the three deeds “keeping, defending and spreading the teachings” they gradually declined.

At that time, Khyung po Nang chen grags pa brought the statue Zhi kro rgyab bkrod and other religious objects to A smad district and took care of the monastery of Khyung po sBa nag bla brang. Khyung po sMan ri grags pa, gShen sras grags pa and sNang gsal grags pa are said to have followed successively in the line of this Bla brang.

A brag sPyi ba grags pa then put up a yak-hair tent on the pastureland so that they could declare that their monastery was settled there. They raised funds and scraped together enough monastic implements, including the offerings to the deities and costumes for religious dance. Besides that, they also obtained many religious objects such as the Zhi khro rgyab bkrod and other invaluable relics. Gathering a number of devotees in the nomad area, they performed prayer services and rituals to the satisfaction of the people.

There were about twenty, mostly tantric practitioners, but some of them were real monks. They practised chanting and meditation. They performed religious services based on the ritual cycles of dBal gsas, gTso mchog, Phur pa, sTag la and Byams ma. They also propitiated Srid pa rgyal mo drel nag, Mi bdud, A bse, rGyal po Nyi pang sad and dGra bla’i rgyal mo. Since they performed these rituals extensively, the monastery became the object of worship for the people, for this life and hereafter.

From among these lamas came bsTan ’dzin grags pa in the lineage of sBra nag bla brang, who had accomplished complete deliverance from every attachment of this world. But after his leaving for the purest land Bon dbyings (after his death), even the sBra nag bla brang lineage fell into a state like that of a rosary broken into pieces. Later on, this situation caused the sBra nag bla brang to invite, willingly or unwillingly, lamas of the Khyung po lineage from A stod district.

About the same time, in 1880, dBang phyug gYung drung tshul khrims, an accomplished yogi of the Nag ru lineage, one of the three lineages of Khyung po “White, Black and Yellow” was born, emitting many auspicious signs. From childhood, gYung drung tshul khrims had inborn knowledge quite unlike all other children. Being a master in the fields of calligraphy and arithmetic, he became the one most admired by all the laity and priests. When he grew up, he felt so deeply sad about the cyclic existences that he made pilgrimages to Central Tibet, Mount Kailash in Western Tibet, Bon ri in of Kong po; and when he visited monasteries including sMan ri (No.1), gYung drung gling (No.2) and mKhar sna (No.7) and he studied under many matchless teachers to receive initiations and instructions of outer, inner and secret. He then thoroughly learned the Sutra, Tantra and rDzogs chen. Adjusting himself to the monastery, he took the full ordination of Drang srong, consisting of 256 vows.

A prophecy was made at that time by sKal bzang nyi ma, the great abbot of gYung drung gling, that a new monastery would be built in sNye rong district. In accordance with the prophecy, a large group of devotees of Bon having united with some leaders of Shag chu smad community in sNye rong rdzong apprised mKhan chung Grags rnam, the governor-general of Hor that they would establish Chab mdo dPal gShen bstan gYung drung bde chen gling, which they did in 1917.

gYung drung tshul khrims maintained the monastery by the observation of monastic discipline, such as the Three Trainings, in consequence of which he became the very guide of the three deeds of keeping, defending and spreading the precious teachings of gShen. Furthermore, he developed his unique abilities: he left a number of handprints and footprints all around the monastery, including places on the hills in front and at the rear; the flag of his reputation as Chab mdo rTogs ldan fluttered high.

However, due to the unfortune of devotees, he died on the 23rd day of the eighth month, 1947 with the signs of summer thunder booming through the sky above the monastery.

After that, until the Cultural Revolution, the monastery was looked after by his nephew, Bla chung tshe dpag of the Khyung po Nag ru family. During this time the monastery was enlarged and the necessary religious objects, such as statues, scriptures, stupas and implements of offerings, were greatly increased. Among many Bonpo establishments, this monastery had the high reputation of having grown just like a lotus that comes out of the mire.

Religious objects and rituals of the monastery:
sKu gdung lha khang

The main religious object of this three-storey temple was the gilt-bronze reliquary stupa of the sage of Chab mdo, gYung drung tshul khrims, in the style of the gYung drung bkod legs stupa, as tall as a two-storey house. To its right was a statue of Li shu about the same size as the stupa. Further to the corner was a gilt-bonze statue of sMon lam mtha’ yas. To the left of the stupa was a gilt-bronze statue of Dran pa nam mkha’ about the same size. Among these, there was also a gilt-bronze statue of rNam par rgyal ba as high as the ceiling.

On the upper floor was a gilt-bronze statue of sTon pa gShen rab as high as the ceiling. In front of it were religious objects that included the mandala, built at a cost of two thousand Chinese yuan, the butter lamp stand that cost one thousand yuan, a set of seven silver cups that cost one hundred yuan, the mandala of the Twelve Rituals (Cho ga bcu gnyis), an embroidered thangka, and a great many other equally sacred religious objects.

The assembly hall (’du khang)

At the centre of this two-storey building, which had fifty-two pillars, was a clay image of rNam par rgyal ba as tall as the building itself. Beside it, on both sides, were bronze statues of the four Buddhas and the four wrathful deities, and five large golden thangkas of the Thousand Buddhas. There was also a chamber with 122 wooden stupas in it. In addition to these, the number of invaluable religious objects in this building was beyond counting.

The Meditation hall (sgrub khang)

In this building there was a statue of the guardian rGyal po Shel khrabs and a number of masks of other guardians.

The Lama’s residence (bla brang)

Of the two bla brang, the upper bla brang was a building of three storeys. It consisted of bKa’ ’gyur khang, Zhabs brtan khang and Rig sngags lha khang. In the two Rig sngags lha khang were small gilt bronze images of Byams ma, gDugs dkar, sTag la me ’bar, Ma rgyud, Phur pa and many others.

The main religious object in the lower bla brang was the clay image of rGyal ba rgya mtsho, about half the height of the ceiling. On either side of it were cubit-high clay images of the Sixteen Arhats (gNas brtan bcu drug). In front of the relics of the Sage gYung drung tshul khrims was a mandala, built at a cost of two thousand Chinese yuan, small butter lamp stands of silver, silver water bowls in various sizes, and many other things.

The Communal quarters (khang tshan)

There were four khang tshan in Chab mdo Monastery: bDe chen smon grol, ’Dod ’byung phun tshogs, Lung rig grags rgyas and Srid gsum dbang bsgyur. There were more than thirty rooms for the 102 resident monks.

Annual religious services of the monastery
  1. The 2nd day of the first Tibetan month is the commemoration of mNyam med Shed rab rgyal mtshan. Flower offerings are made for three days beginning on that day.
  2. During the five days from the 15th day of the second month, there are assemblies of the Twelve Rituals (Cho ga bcu gnyis).
  3. In the third month, assemblies are held for prayer services.
  4. During the ten days from the 1st to the 10th day of the fourth month, a thousand offerings of rNam rgyal are made; simultaneously, the dancers of the monastery perform religious dances such as rGya nag Ha shang, Sa phyag, rNam brgyad, rGya tsha, Ging ’cham, sTag la’i rnga ’cham, Seng ’cham, gTor rgyag and others. These are very well performed in a manner perfectly true to the origin.
  5. From the 13th to the 25th day of the fifth month there are recitals of the bKa’ ’gyur.
  6. During the seven days from the 5th day of the sixth month each khang tshan holds rituals to meditate on its own Yi dam. Concurrently with this, the lay and clerical devotees propitiate the local deities and they enjoy the summer festival by participating in competitive track events.
  7. In the seventh month the Zhi khro ritual was performed.
  8. During the three days from the 23rd day of the eighth month, a memorial service is held in honour of gYung drung tshul khrims, the sage of Chab mdo, and flower offerings are made.
  9. From the 3rd to the 10th day of the eleventh month, the ritual cycle of Me ri is performed.
  10. From the 3rd to the 30th day of the twelfth month, two rituals of Khro bo and Phur pa are simultaneously performed, finishing with the gTor rgyag che mo rite.

At present, there are three lamas and more than fifty ascetic monks in the monastery. Its buildings include the temples, the assembly halls, a kitchen and another building of about sixty pillars. Monks’ quarters number more than twenty. Moreover, the monastery is well equipped with the religious objects it needs. The religious services and rituals are also practised in a manner true to the tradition.

(11) Sha ri Monastery

rDza dmar Sha ri dgon Dar rgyas gling is located in the southern rDza dmar xiang, which covers the north-western part of sNye rong rdzong.

The monastery stands on top of a small hill, to the north of which stretches a range of magnificent rocky mountains. The plain around the monastery is beautiful, large and spacious. A great many people, both lay and clerical, would be fascinated at the sight of it.

The monastery was founded in 1890 by bSod nams g-yung drung of the sKam clan. The story of the monastery’s beginnings is as follows:

The great abbot of sMan ri (No.1), bSod nams lhun grup dbang gi rgyal po, came to stay in rDza dmar in the Thirteenth Rab byung. During his stay he fasted on the tenth day of every month, and made flower-offerings. Having seen this, some senior Bonpo took it as being most important for them and adopted it as a part of their collective works. The accomplished saint repeatedly shouted out an oath to the territorial deities such as Ri rgan Bum rdza se mo, and made them take vows so that they would protect the peaceful communities.

Later, when the great abbot of sMan ri, Nyi ma bstan ’dzin, came to rDza dmar, he not only urged and explained the necessity of building a monastery there, he also made the most careful preparations he could afford.

Then another great abbot of mKhar sna (No.7), ’Gro mgron Shes rab g-yung drung, came to rDza dmar and built a five-storey stupa at bKra shis na mo che. In addition to this, he identified the sacred hill on which a monastery should be built, and made a thorough investigation of the place.

The story of the origin of the name rDza dmar Sha ri goes as follows: Once when gShen gSang ba ’dus pa captured some witches, he bound them all firmly to a chicken-shaped rock, on the part that looked like the head of a bird. But two of them, Me bza’ brag sbyor and Chu bza’ rlung sbyor, managed to escape, barely, and disguised themselves as deer. Later, however, gSang ba ’dus pa killed them with his sword, which made him famous as a deer hunter, Sha ba ri (hence the name Sha ri).

To the south of rDza dmar Sha ri there is a rocky mountain called Tshe bum in which a number of treasures are kept, including the magical objects of sTag la me ’bar, the mysterious stick of ’Od ldan ’bar ba and the like.

To the east is Shel rdzong, the abode of Yum chen Thugs rje Byams ma. There is also a cave called the Shel phug, the abode of Kun bzang rGyal ba ’dus pa, in which there are many self-grown (rang byon) letters on the rock and self-grown figures of particularly eminent ones still visible. In 1892, sKam bSod nams g-yung drung founded rDza dmar Sha ri Monastery in accordance with the prophecy made by Shes rab g-yung drung, undertaking mass fasting, which had previously been practised by senior Bonpo on the tenth day of each month as the basis of their activities.

The altar and religious objects were completely renewed and the monastery was looked after by mKhan nag bla chung, Khro bla sKal bzang rgya mtsho, bZod pa dge slong and A mchod Ge khod. Although bsTan pa tshul khrims, who was then sent from sMan ri, became widely known as the Sha ri abbot, the unfavourable climate gave him no choice but to finally return to his home in rGyal rong.

The next to take care of the monastery was mTshams pa Shes rab. However, to his misfortune, a gush of water from underground caused the temple and the schoolhouse to be ruined. The monastery suffered greatly, on the brink of annihilation.

At that time, in the course of a discussion involving officials, citizens and monks, an expectation grew that sKam Tshe dbang ’gyur med (generally called sKam ’Gyur dga’ Rinpoche) would restore and maintain the monastery. They told him the essentials of the discussion, which he fully accepted.

Tshe dbang ’gyur med was exceedingly venerable; he had taken the monastic oaths in the presence of the abbot of sMan ri, Phun tshogs blo gros, had studied under many great teachers and had completed the quintessence of the three Sutra, Tantra and rDzogs chen. For the sake of all beings, he spread the teachings of gShen widely, so that his fame reached every part of the Bonpo community. All Bonpo experienced such heartfelt gratification that they respected him as their head.

He spent everything that had been given to him by many patrons and proponents, lay and clergy, solely on good deeds. Since there was no choice but for the monastery to be transferred to another place and rebuilt, the great abbot of sMan ri, Nyi ma dbang rgyal, and some others inspected Nor bu gdong, the plain below Ri rgan bum rdza. However, the officials, citizens and monks of rDza dmar all raised an objection to this with the reason that the place was too far from Ge mo where the lord Kham pa Ge khod resided, along with other reasons. A discussion was then held among Tshe dbang ’gyur med, Zhwa khra ’Chi med, the chieftain of rDza dmar, and Kham pa Ge khod, the chieftain of Ge mo. They reached an agreement to build the monastery midway between rDza dmar and Ge mo.

As almost all the religious objects of the monastery except for one set manuscript of the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten and some fine incense had been dispersed by that time, sKam ’Gyur dga’ began to gather together the religious objects and the people and the government of rDza dmar began to work on the temple. Since they participated in the construction in this way, the religious objects and the temple were soon nearly completed, when sKam ’Gyur dga’ was struck down with an illness. Taking over his work, two of his disciples, bSod nams lhun grub and Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan of the sKam clan, completed the task.

With respect to the family of sKam, it is known to be in the line of the sGo, one of the five great clans of early Tibet: sGa, sGo, gDong, dBra and ’Bru. The forefather of the sKam transformed himself into a deity’s offspring called dGa’ ba mdangs ldan, and descended to this world for the sake of religious trainees, so that they would be led by the clear light of the deity. In order to tame the devil Bhyo ra nag po, he came down to a place called Yul bla ra na se with a turquoise drum booming in his hand. There he was known by the name of sGo rgyal lha bon thod dkar.

The reason why he was known by the name of sKam is as follows: there was once a time when the lake Dwang ra g-yu mtsho overflowed naturally, and sGo rgyal lha bon thod dkar appeared and demonstrated his acquired ability by drying up the flood. After this, his clan came to be called by the name of sKam (which means drying).

Subsequently, in some districts, including Dwang ra g-yu mtsho, sDe dge, and Hor sBra chen, men of the sKam family through successive generations became the most talented leaders. It is said that that there have been some 180 masters in the sKam family, such as sGo A lod shig gzan, gYung drung nyi rgyal, the tutor of Nyi ma bstan ’dzin, the great abbot of sMan ri; sKam Khro rgyal grags pa, Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, the abbot of So brgyad, and others.

The way in which the sKam family formed the foundation of prosperity in the Hor sBra chen district was as follows: Once when a quarrel was provoked in the sDe dge district between sKam bsTan ’dzin gtsug phud and Ga lhug, the chieftain of dKar shul, they asked the king of sDe dge at lHa thog to deal with it. sKam bsTan ’dzin gtsug phud won the decision that the monastery should be exempt from taxation. Hearing this, the chieftain of dKar shul developed a hatred for him, and threatened that no monk would be allowed in the monastery. However, sKam bsTan ’dzin gtsug phud felt generous enough to leave an excellent mark at the rTsi chu river as witness of his spiritual accomplishment. The Hor lineage eagerly wanted to leave for rTa sgo in upper Nag tshang. However at that time, Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, the elder son of the religious teacher of the Klu phug monastery in the Hor sBra chen district, repeatedly expressed his hope that he would fix his permanent abode in Hor sBra chen. Because of this, sKam bsTan ’dzin gtsug phud took up permanent residence in the Hor sBra chen district so that he could give full support to the hope of Nyi ma rgyal mtshan. Descendants of sKam gradually increased and the teachings of gShen became widespread in rDza dmar in the sNye rong district. The reputation of the sKam family thus came to be widely known in Hor sBra chen.

Structure and religious objects of the monastery

The monastery consisted of the following buildings: the assembly hall with four long pillars and sixteen short ones; two temples, rNam rgyal lha khang and Dran pa lha khang, each with four long pillars and four short ones; the two-storey bla brang; the meditation hall; and the large quarters for monks.

Formerly, this monastery possessed an abundance of religious objects including the following: a sacred gilt-bronze statue of gShen rab rNam par rgyal ba as tall as a two-storey house, the Four Buddhas of gilt-bronze and a gilt-bronze statue of gShen rab Mi bo. In the Dran pa lha khang were the reliquary stupas of sKam ’Gyur dga’ and some other relics.

Among the many religious objects, the ones of particular importance were the following: the treasure-trove statue of sTon pa gShen rab; the big conch called bKra shis ’od ’bar; multiple relics called Yid bzhin dbang gi rgyal po; three small tsha tsha clay images belonging to ’Chi med Dran pa, the father and sons; the golden flat-bell of self-deliverance; the self-grown white letter A, found in rTsa ri mtsho dkar by Karma pa Rang byung rdor rje; the footprint of mKha’ ’gro Klu yang sgong brgyad; the silver statue of gShen lha ’od dkar called bKra shis ’od ’bar, rediscovered by Nyag gter gSang sngags gling pa; the “red gold” stupa discovered by Khro tshang ’brug lha in the rDzu ’phrul phug cave on Mt. Ti se; the self-grown image of Zhi ba Kun tu bzang po, which came out of the teeth of a Shel sku Khro bo rgyal mtshan; the self-grown image of gShen lha, which appeared on the skull of Khyung po Gyer chen zla med; “six relics of the six directions”; and a phur pa dagger made of bronze.

There were also a great many precious manuscripts including a high quality set of bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten, the Khams brgyad, the Mi nub mtshan mdo and the Dri med gzi brjid.

Annual religious activities and rituals

This monastery followed various traditions such as that of Zhu, Bru and the New Tradition.

  1. In the first Tibetan month a fast was performed.
  2. In the sixth month there was an annual festival during which an assembly was held on the tenth day, concurrently with which a religious dance was performed.
  3. During the three months from the tenth to the twelfth, the dgu gtor rite was performed once each month, three times in all. In the old days when the monastery flourished, there were monthly prescribed services.

At that time, this monastery was an establishment where there were both monks and tantric practitioners. There were about twenty monks and some sixty trantric practitioners.

It is said that there were “the eighty generations of Bonpo tantric practitioners of rDza dmar”. Some of these must have observed the tantric vows properly. Among the monks there were many who observed their vows strictly. The famous chanting master of sMan ri, called the Teacher sBa ba, was also a monk from Sha ri Monastery.

At present, this monastery has eight lamas and twenty-five monks whose conditions are good in every respect.

(12) rTing ngu Monastery

Sog rTing ngu bon dgon Nor bu gling is located in Khro bo la xiang, to the north-east of sNye rong rdzong. It is about eighty kilometres from the rdzong to the monastery. As the road is very bad, it is impossible to get there by car in summer. Even on horseback it is an extremely difficult task to reach it.

The monastery was founded in 1748 by lHun grub dbang ldan. He was born in 1703 in the sDe dge district of Khams. From childhood, he had innate knowledge and intelligence of remarkable lucidity. He devoted himself to the practice of meritorious deeds. He had love and compassion for all religious trainees. In the manifestation of right discernment that he displayed he was quite unlike any other child.

When he reached the appropriate age, he received the most careful initiations and transmissions of Sutra and Tantra in the presence of the great abbot of sMan ri, gYung drung tshul khrims. Having done this, he made rapid progress in practising meditation. He circumambulated the holy mountains in Amdo and Central Tibet, regardless of the schools they belonged to. At the same time, he studied under many excellent masters of several monasteries. Since he respected them as his chief masters and received profound initiations, text-transmissions and religious teachings, he reached a state worthy of praise from everyone.

Then he went to see lHo rTogs ldan dkar po, whose name was widely known. He prostrated himself, bowed his head and asked for blessed initiation and teachings. lHo rTogs ldan dkar po said,

“O You, the noble one, protector of fortunate religious beings!

Having easily obtained selfhood without searching or exertion,

Today we have met here naturally without motivation,

You have had the fate [to see me] pulsing in your veins without fading,

The fate of sentient beings lies on you; I shall tell you without concealment,

You are the one called the Possessor of Self-created Power (lHun grup dbang ldan) of lHa thog,

Act true to your name, and you will gain the ear of all the people.”

Following the instruction, lHun grup dbang ldan continued reciting prayers and devoted himself to making pilgrimages and sitting in hermitages, carrying with him the scriptures and a medical kit. Then he went northward, close to the yak hair tent of the chieftain of the Sog community, and asked for alms.

There were three brothers in the chieftain’s family: the elder, middle and younger, whose names were, respectively, Khro bo rgyal, Khro bo dar and Khro bo srung. At that time, Khro bo rgyal, the elder one, had been suffering from an illness for a year, during which all medical care and religious rituals had no effect at all. The three brothers invited the saint lHun grup dbang ldan into their tent, and the elder one, Khro bo rgyal, said,

“Happiness is welling up inside me at the very sight of you,

Flowing through my body is energy that I have never felt before,

I would like to remember what name you bear,

I prostrate myself with reverence,

I wonder what caused me to suffer from illness,

I beg from you the best divinatory service to turn my illness away.”

lHun grup dbang ldan said in reply: “I am the one called lHun grup dbang ldan, but I am not the one who tells whether the divination comes out good or bad. What I can do for you is to give you medical treatment.” Then he made an examination of urine and faeces, and gave the most careful medical treatment to satisfy the elder brother’s wishes.

Forty-nine days later the patient finally got far better than their expectation, which, at the same time, raised faith and reverence in the brothers’ minds. Though they repeatedly asked him what kind of thing he wanted as a doctor’s fee, he said “I do not need any kind of doctor’s fee, but I have a wish to build a monastery in accordance with the prophecy made previously by the superior saint. Therefore I shall request you to give me a small piece of land where a monastery could be built. The three brothers were so happy to hear his words that they said, “We shall do as you tell us.”

Then the saint lHun grup dbang ldan, accompanied by the three brothers, went on to examine all the area under their jurisdiction within the Sog district, and encamped for a night at a place called Pha bong thang, where they saw many auspicious manifestations that night.

Therefore, in 1797, a decision was made to establish a monastery on this distinctive land. The future monastery was given a good name, the Glorious Nor bu gling, and an elaborate purification ritual was performed.

With regard to the surroundings of this square piece of land, they appear to be very good, described as follows: to the east is the protective mountain rGya stag khro bo, a white rocky mountain with the appearance of a haughty tiger that is thirsty, to the north is the protective Rus sbal ser po, a meadowy hill shining like a hero’s helmet, to the west is the protective Bya dmar mtshal lu, a beautiful scarlet hill of slate mingled with verdigris, to the south is the protective gYu ’brug sngon po, a blue rocky mountain sticking high into the sky.

All the lamas, leaders, patrons and priests were summoned, and worked without being lazy or negligent. Because of this, they managed to build the assembly hall of the monastery within the very year of the decision being taken. Not only that, by mutual agreement among the assembled monks of the Three Trainings, they increased the number of monks from four to six, then gradually from six to thirteen. In the early days, when there were only four monks, they were called “the four young qualified ones” (mTshan ldan khye’u bzhi), when six, “the six gShen who guide the beings” (’Dul ba gShen drug), and when increased to thirteen, they came to be known everywhere as “the thirteen gShen” (Ye gshen bcu gsum). From that time, the Bon doors of outer, inner and secret were opened and the great tradition of the teachings of chanting services and meditation came to be established, especially the rNam rgyal and gYung drung klong rgyas which were performed according to the tradition established by the former adepts. This contributed to the increase of the monastery’s activities and the spread of Eternal Bon.

The lineage of the monastery is as follows:

  1. lHun grub dbang ldan, the founder of the monastery
  2. rGyal tshab lHun grub ’od zer
  3. bKra shis tshul khrims
  4. Tshul khrims ’od zer
  5. dPal ldan tshul khrims
  6. gYung drung rgyal ba
  7. mChog gyur grub dbang bsTan ’dzin rin chen nam mkha’ bde chen snying po
  8. bsTan ’dzin rgyal dbang
  9. bsTan ’dzin lhun grub
  10. Kun dga’ dbang ldan
  11. Kun mkhyen Sangs rgyas grags pa
  12. mNyam med Tshul khrims grags pa
  13. bsTan pa’i nyi ma
The size of the monastery and its religious objects
’Du khang ka dgu ma

At the centre of this assembly hall, built by bsTan ’dzin rin chen bde chen snying po, was a gilt-bronze statue of rNam par rgyal ba, about the height of an eight-year-old child. On the shelves on either side of the statue were some eighty poti of bKa’ ’gyur written in a mixture of gold and silver. On the walls were murals of the Thousand Buddhas.

sKu gdung lha khang dmar bkod ma

At the centre of this two-storey reliquary temple was a gilt-bronze statue, as tall as the ceiling, of sTon pa Khri gtsug rgyal ba sitting on the throne. On either side of the statue were rows of four gilt-bronze reliquary stupas of Ka ru grub dbang bsTan ’dzin lhun grub, rGyal tshab bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal and bsTan ’dzin lhun grub, and the tomb, in the style of the gYung drung bkod legs stupa, of a senior master of the gShen lineage, about the height of the ceiling. Similarly, there were murals of the Twelve Rituals (Cho ga bcu gnyis).

bKa’ ’gyur lha khang

In the bKa’ ’gyur lha khang, built by Kun mkhyen Sangs rgyas grags pa, was a number of religious objects such as the gilt-bronze tomb, in the style of the gYung drung bkod legs stupa, of sKyab mgon bsTan ’dzin lhun grub. To the right of the tomb was a life-sized gilt-bronze statue of sMra ba’i seng ge, the deity of wisdom. To the left was a life-sized gilt-bronze statue of Yum chen Shes rab byams ma. On the shelves along the walls on either side were complete sets of the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten. There were, as well, many other sacred objects, including stupas.

lHa khang Khri smon lha rtse

At the centre of this two-storey, twenty-pillared building was a gilt-bronze statue of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan. To its right was a gilt bronze statue of Tshad med ’od ldan, and further towards the corner was a gilt-bronze statue of Kun dga’ dbang ldan. To the left of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan was a gilt-bronze statue of ’Brug sras chem pa, and towards the corner were gilt-bronze statues of the Four Buddhas (bDe gshegs gtso bzhi). In front of mNyam med was the tomb of lHun grub dbang ldan in the style of the gYung drung bkod legs stupa. On the eastern walls were murals of paternal and maternal figures of Bonpo guardian deities. In the gNas brtan lha khang upstairs was a complete mural of the Sixteen Arhats (gNas brtan bcu drug); drawn there, as well, were many kinds of diagrams with poetic verses written in them (sNyan ngag gi sgra ’khor).

sKu gdung lha khang

In this building, built by mNyam med Tshul khrims dbang rgyal grags pa, was a gilt-bronze tomb, in the style of the gYung drung bkod legs stupa and as tall as a two-storey building, of Kun mkhyen Sangs rgyas grags pa.

There were many marvellous murals: on the walls on either side of the tomb were gShen lha ’od dkar, at the porch were the Ten Guardian Deities (Phyogs skyong bcu) and above the porch were the Twelve Deeds (mDzad pa bcu gnyis) of gShen rab.

Kun bzan rgyal ba ’dus pa’i lha khang

At the centre of this large three-storey temple, built by mNyam med Tshul khrims dbang grags, was a gilt-bronze statue, as tall as a two-storey house, of Kun bzang rgyal ba ’dus pa with five faces and ten hands. To the right of it was a gilt-bronze statue of Nam mkha’i lha mo, and to the left was a gilt-bronze statue of Byams ma. On the walls were murals of the Thousand Buddhas (bDe gshegs stong sku).

’Dzam gling dpal ’bar ’du khang

On the ground floor, at the centre of the inner temple of this large eight-pillared, three-storey assembly hall, built by mNyam med Tshul khrims dbang grags, was a gilt-bronze statue of rNam par rgyal ba. To the left of it was a gilt-bronze statue of Shes rab byams ma.

On the first floor up, at the centre, was a gilt-bronze statue, as high as the ceiling, of rGyal ba rgya mtsho with a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. To the right of it was the Wheel of Time (dBang ldan Dus kyi ’khor lo), and at the back of it were the images of the Twelve Rituals (Cho ga bcu gnyis). Further to the right corner was a stupa of bKra shis sgo mang, as high as the ceiling. To the left of rGyal ba rgya mtsho was a gYung drung bkod legs stupa. Further to the left corner was a gilt-bronze statue of rNam par rgyal ba, as tall as a two-storey house, accompanied by the Eight Glorious Protectors (dPal mgon brgyad) at the back.

In one room on the top floor was a mural of mNyam med. In another room were murals of the thousand sTag la me ’bar and the Thousand Buddhas, between which were murals of the hundred-and-twenty mandalas. Similarly, another room had a figure and a mural of a Bonpo protective deity. Another room had murals of the master Pad ma ’byung gnas, the Lord Tsong kha pa, and the line of thirteen reincarnations of the Dalai Lama. A mural of a complete set of the Sixteen Arhats (gNas brtan bcu drug) was drawn in the last room on the top floor.

The Lama’s Residence (bla brang)

The residence was a two-storey building with ten rooms. At the centre of the chapel upstairs was a gilt-bronze statue of Dran pa nam mkha’, and on the wall was a mural of Yi dam Sram dkar khyung ba. On the shelves behind the statue were volumes of scriptures of many kinds. In the meditation hall on the ground floor were several figures of Bonpo protective deities, masks, murals and many other sacred objects.

Annual religious activities and rituals
  1. In the first Tibetan month, flower offerings were made and the ritual based on the rTsa sgrup bla ma sgrup pa was performed, as well as the recitation of the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten.
  2. On the 13th day of the fourth month, the recitation of the gSer ’od gzugs chen nyi ma shar ’bum, the Yab sras tshogs ’khor, the sTong rgyung brngan bsang and the renewal ceremony of gSas khang kha bstod, and invocation of dGra lha, Lam lha and the Yul lha of the four directions.
  3. About the sixth month, sacrificial offerings to the Bonpo protective deities were elaborately made in rituals such as the bZlas chog bum sgrub, the ritual rNam rgyal stong mchod, the Khro phur zhang gsum and others. There were performances of various artistic dances such as rNam brgyad gar ’cham, Zhwa nag tshogs ’cham, brTan srung ’bag ’cham, dPa’ bo’i ging ’cham and gYung drung dgu ’cham, performed in a way that can hardly be imagined.
  4. In the tenth month, chanting services were performed in the most profound manner; there was a complete programme for the ritual performances of sTag la me ’bar, as well as that of Byams ma.
  5. In the twelfth month the following rituals were performed: the great dgu gtor rite; the evocation of the two tutelar dieties, Khro bo and Phur pa; the mdos ritual based on the Khro bo ngo mtshar rgyas pa; and the srung zlog ritual in which the deity ’Brug gsas chem pa is invoked. Moreover, there were artistic events that featured various dance performances such as Zhwa nag tshogs ’cham, bsTan srung ’bag ’cham and dPa’ bo’i ging ’cham.

Presently there are two lamas and more than one hundred monks in this monastery. The temple, assembly hall and other buildings are held up by fifty-five pillars in all, and the monks’ quarters consist of one hundred and ten individual rooms.

This monastery has an abundance of religious objects including the tombs of the successive lamas of this monastery, the relics of the saint mNyam med, scriptures and a great many other objects. Annual religious services and rituals are practised as they were in former ancient times.

(13) gSang sngags rtse Hermitage

The gSang sngags rtse Hermitage is located in gYu rtse xiang, west of the sNye rong rdzong. The hermitage has a certain number of religious objects. Three monks are under training here.

(14) rGyal po shel khur Hermitage

This hermitage is in Be gzhung xiang, north-east of the sNye rong rdzong. Twenty-four monks and two lamas reside here. Considerable difficulties lie on the way to the hermitage.

After arriving from sNye rong rdzong at the uneven Qinghai-Tibet highway, one must travel nineteen kilometres along the highway and then leave it and head west. From there it is about 176 kilometres to dPal mgon rdzong. It is a very difficult road to travel and the trip takes more than six hours by car. However, there are several stopping places, like tea houses or petrol stations run by the local people, which make the going very convenient for pilgrims.

dPal mgon rdzong

dPal mgon rdzong is situated between the two celebrated lakes, gSer gling mtsho and gNam mtsho, on the Northern Plateau of Tibet. Higher in elevation to the north and lower to the south, the rdzong is blessed with beautiful mountains and large areas of pastureland.

The rdzong is 101,992 square kilometres in area, 14,500 mu of which is pastureland. With a population of about 29,000, the rdzong has one qu and eighteen xiang under its direct control. There are one hundred and four village committees in the rdzong, as well as one Bonpo and nine Buddhist monasteries.

During the time of the Qing dynasty, dPal mgon rdzong was a part of gNam ru rdzong, classified into one of the four tribes on the Northern Plateau, and was taken care of by the Am ban, the Manchu official in Tibet. The regional government of dPal mgon rdzong was established in 1959.

(15) Shel phug Monastery

dPal gShen bstan Shel brag phug pa monastery is located in Khyung shog xiang, the southeastern part of dPal mgon rdzong. Although it is fifty-four kilometres from the rdzong, one can reach the monastery within an hour by car as the road is in good condition.

The monastery was founded by mKha’ yag gYung drung ye shes in 1716. He was a distinguished master who started on a pilgrimage from sGang ru in Khyung po and eventually entered the cave Shel brag phug pa, where he practised meditation. After sitting there for three years, when he reached the age twenty-five, he built a new private room, kitchen and storehouse at ’Bum pa near the cave. In addition, he named the site Shel phug, “Crystal Cave”, and stayed there for several more years.

When he reached the age of forty-seven, the Mongolian troops of Jungar invaded the region, inflicted extreme brutalities, and finally killed him by beheading. They plundered all his properties.

In 1747, Rig ’dzin Zangs skyong dbang po Tshul khrims bstan ’dzin, the reincarnation of mKha’ yag gYung drung ye shes, was born in sTeng chen, Khyung po dKar ru. From childhood he recognized himself as the reincarnation and when he reached the age of nine, he left on a journey to sTod in search of his own monastery. Upon arriving at Shel phug he said, “This is my seat”, and he stayed there for thirteen years as a hermit, practising meditation. He said that it was necessary to build Shel phug Monastery at the very site where the hermitage lay.

Later, at the age of thirty-three, he made a pilgrimage to Kong po Bon ri and other places. When he came back, after travelling for three years, he again devoted himself to meditating in the hermitage. He was sixty-eight when he died.

A long time passed before the birth of the next reincarnation took place. During this period, there was a hermit called Nang do mtshams chen, who was reincarnation of Li shu. He spent many years practising meditation in the hermitage. He piously consecrated the place.

Then in 1831, the third master in the line of incarnation, bsTan ’dzin ’od zer rgyal mtshan, was born in a family called sDe rnying Nor lha tshang. He was enthroned as soon as he was recognized as the reincarnation by sNang ston Zla ba rgyal mtshan (1796-1862).

At the age of nineteen, he constructed at the cave a new red-painted meditation hall, Zhi khro lha khang, kitchen and storehouse. He also renewed part of the monastic equipment.

It was during his time that an agreement was made that this monastery should be a branch of Ra lag gYung drung gling (No.2) and he devoted his whole life to meditating on his tutelary dieties in all their aspects and was able to call upon religious protectors such as Ma, bDud and bTsan. He strongly advised against making a distinction between the teachings of Buddhism and Bon. He died at the age of eighty-four.

In 1879, the fourth in the line of incarnation, sKal bzang bstan ’dzin grags pa, was born in the vicinity of the monastery. He had only his mother when he decided to go to gYung drung gling in order to be ordained as a monk. Having done this, he later took full ordination.

Then, at Shel phug Monastery, he built an eight-pillared assembly hall with a complete entrance hall and five rooms upstairs, a meditation hall, another three-roomed building, a kitchen, a residence for the head of the monastery (bla brang). He spent his whole his life looking after the monastery. He maintained the doctrine of non-differentiation between Buddhism and Bon. He lived to the age of eighty years.

In 1915, a boy was born to be recognized as the reincarnation. The recognition was made by Shes rab blo ldan, the 5th abbot of gYung drung gling, who gave him the name Shes rab bstan ’dzin rgyal mtshan. He was the fifth in the line of this monastery, and was enthroned at the age of five. He built a bla brang and greatly spread the teachings of Eternal Bon. In 1945, motivated by the prophetical words of sTag lung sgrol sprul chos sgrol (alias sTag lung mkha’ ’gro), he revealed Shel brag as a sacred site. In 1948 he established the ritual called bDud rtsi bum sgrub, and among the hills behind the monastery he hid twenty-five sets of treasure bottles of all-wish-fulfilling.

On the whole, it was during the days of the dGe slong sKal bzang bstan ’dzin grags pa and Shes rab bstan ’dzin (rgyal mtshan) that the monastery flourished vigorously.

The main religious objects of this monastery in those days were the life-sized gilt-bronze statues of Buddhas of the three ages and another two-cubit-high Buddha, a life-sized silver statue of rNam par rgyal ba, a gilt-bronze statue of Byams pa five cubits tall, a life-sized gilt-bronze statue of sNang ston Zla ba rgyal mtshan, a cubit-high statue of sGrol ma, clay images of many kinds, two gilt-bronze reliquary stupas bigger than a person, eight sets of wooden stupas, many poti of scriptures, and sixty-seven thangka of the Twelve Rituals (Cho ga bcu gnyis), tutelary dieties and religious protectors.

There were also implements used in making offerings, such as various water bowls and butter lamp stands made of silver or copper, eight silver vases and eight complete sets of costumes for religious dances.

At that time, this monastery had such treasures as these, and fifty-three monks under training.

Annual activities and rituals
  1. During the days from the 24th of the twelfth Tibetan month to the 6th of the first month, there were many rituals including the dgu gtor rite and the thousand offerings.
  2. For more than a month, from the 29th day of the third month to the 8th day of the fifth month, the monks gathered together for prayers.
  3. During the whole period from the 29th day of the sixth month to the end of the seventh month, a summer fast was observed.
  4. Assemblies were held for twenty-one days of the eighth month.
  5. Assemblies were customarily held for seven days of the eleventh month.

To sum up, 149 days of the year were spent practising the regular above-mentioned services.

This monastery raised a considerable number of livestock, including according to one record 379 cattle, 698 sheep and 593 goats as a source of income.

At present, the number of monks is twenty-five. There is an assembly hall and a temple containing religious objects which are kept in very good condition.

Next, one must go to Nag tshang Nyi ma rdzong. It is 381 kilometres from dPal mgon rdzong to Nyi ma rdzong and, moreover, it is very difficult to get through the mud before reaching the highway. To relate our experience, it was too difficult for us to find our way and we wound up facing a serious problem: after finding an old, wide road, we proceeded one kilometre, depending completely on a map, when we found we had lost our way. We did not know what to do as we were at an empty place without a single person around, where we could see nothing but the sky above, the ground below. It was after a good while that we happened to meet a kind-hearted nomad, who knew the area and was able to help us. Following his guidance, we went back about ten kilometres eastward, turned to the left, went another ten kilometres straight north, and finally came upon the highway from Amdo to mNga’ ris. After driving eighty kilometres on the highway, we saw a by way which led us to Nag tshang Nyi ma rdzong.

The highway is good and wide, with many services such as tea houses, small grocery shops, petrol stations and guesthouses along the way. These services provide comfort to pilgrims.

Nyi ma rdzong

Nyi ma rdzong lies to the west of Nag chu. It once belonged to the Nag tshang tribe, which gave it the name Nag tshang Nyi ma rdzong, which has now become familiar to many people of this area. Late in the 17th century, it was governed by the Tibetan government, and functioned as an important access point for travelling to mNga’ ris, Nepal, Ladakh and other places. It is now possible to reach sGer rtse rdzong in mNga’ ris by car in one day or less.

Nyi ma rdzong has an area of about 150,000 square kilometres and a population of about 30,000. Two qu, thirteen xiang and ninety-nine villages are under the immediate supervision of this rdzong.

This area is surrounded by mountains, such as the Kun lun mountain range in the north and the sacred snow mountain Ti se in the south, and the land is, on average, more than five thousand metres above sea level.

In this region, at present, there are many places of pilgrimage: three Buddhist monasteries, including ’Gro dpal bDe chen ’gyur med gling; four Bonpo monasteries, including ’Om bu bSam gtan gling; as well as the mountain rTa sgo and the lake Dwang ra g-yu mtsho. This is also a perfect treasure house of mineral resources and animals, both carnivorous and herbivorous. The district was established as Nyi ma rdzong in 1983.

(16) ’Om bu bSam gtan gling Monastery

’Om bu bSam gtan gling is in ’Om bu xiang, seventy-six kilometres south-west of Nyi ma rdzong. This xiang lies on the northern side of the lake Dwang ra g-yu mtsho.

The monastery was established by bSod nams g-yung drung around 1890. He is regarded as one of the Thirteen Spiritual Leaders of Lake Dwang ra (Dwang ra g-yu mtsho’i ’gro ’dren bcu gsum) and belonged to the lineage of Guru. This lineage is traced back to Guru gYung drung phun tshogs, from which it descends to bZod pa and down to the Guru ’Od zer, who is the fourth in the line.

The main religious objects are the sacred statues of Bla chen Dran pa nam mkha’ with his twin sons. It is said that there used to be an important old manuscript called Bya rgod mchu bris (“written with the beak of vulture”).

Every year in the first Tibetan month, a large-scale, prescribed service of the bum sgrub ritual is held, during which the monks meditate mainly on the deity Khro bo. Otherwise, services on a smaller scale are performed frequently.

In the old days there used to be more than twenty monks, but now there are no more than ten monks and one lama; the present condition of the monastery is not as good as it was previously.

Some degree of restoration was carried Guru ’Od zer. The main source of income, to maintain the monks and the lama, is donations from each household and the performance of religious services in the village.

rGya rgod xiang lies thirteen kilometres away. The road is convenient for driving between the two xiang, ’Om bu and rGya rgod, and rGya rgod xiang has good facilities for travellers. We met more than one hundred pilgrims who were on their way to Ser zhig Monastery (No.19) or Mount rTa sgo, and we took many pictures of each other.

(17) gYu bun Monastery

The monastery is in the eastern part of rTa sgo xiang. It is a whole day’s ride on horseback from the rTa sgo xiang. The location of this Bonpo monastic community is an earthly sphere of purity in the middle of Zhang zhung.

More than three thousand years ago, there was a group of eighty great masters of Eternal Bon, the first ten of which, the gShen, reigned over the area. Among the ten gShen was Mu khri btsan po, the son of gNya’ khri btsan po, who had a very high regard for the teachings of Eternal Bon. During Mu khri btsan po’s time, the thirty-seven tantric communities (’Du gnas so bdun) were established. Dwang ra gYu bun Monastery was founded in the places where the Gangs gnyan rta sgo and Dwang ra’i mtsho ’gram of the thirty-seven communities were situated.

The place where the monastery is found is, moreover, one of the twenty-four sacred places mentioned in the Bonpo Ma rgyud tantra. The self-grown five jackal-headed mKha’ ’gro can still be seen in this place, as stated in the text of the Ma rgyud tantra.

The sPyi spungs khro bo dbang chen states that Sad ne ga’u of Zhang zhung trained himself in Dwang ra gYu bun. This implies that it was Sad ne ga’u of Zhang zhung sgo pa who first established gYu bun Monastery. He is one of the thirteen masters found among the eighty adepts of the Bon tradition.

Sad ne ga’u was born in Zhang zhung. His father was rGyal mtshan bde ba and his mother was rGyal bza’ klong yang. He studied under several teachers, like A nu ’phrag thag, so that he was finally able to accomplish his learning.

He exhibited many miraculous signs in the gYu bun community, such as curing leprosy patients just by looking at them, forcing back attackers and floods, taming wild carnivorous animals so that he could use them for transportation, igniting himself, subduing wickedness, being able to cross the lake Dwang ra riding on a drum and being able to build a crystal stupa in a river.

After having meditated for attaining perfection, he vanished just like the light of a rainbow. After that, history tells us, many great masters appeared one after another. Although the monastery sometimes experienced periods without strong leadership, there were other times when it had several holy ones who maintained universalism and remained meditating. Among them was mTshungs med rNam dag tshul khrims, who came to the monastery around 1687. He promoted the development of the monastic community and it continued to grow through the time of his disciples, including Tshul khrims lhun grub, up until the time of the fourth master. After that the monastery was suppressed, but was taken care of and rehabilitated by sKyid gsum bla brang, who was the benefactor of the master gYung drung lha rtse.

In short, this monastic community was one that was outstandingly blessed, to which many excellent masters came at every stage of the early development of Bonpo teachings, and where many holy ones of Zhang zhung died, passing into the rainbow light.

The monastery possessed a number of important religious objects, some of which were later moved to other places: for example, Sad ne ga’u’s conch was taken to Thob rgyal sMan ri Monastery (No.1).

In the 1980s the monastery was reconstructed under the responsibility of the reincarnation bsTan ’dzin dbang grags. At present the monastery has one lama and twenty-two monks.

(18) Phyug tsho Monastery

Travelling about forty kilometres straight south from rGya rgod xiang, we arrive in rTa sgo xiang. Turning right at the top of a small mountain pass, and travelling another fifty kilometres, we reach Phyug tsho Monastery. Since the sacred sites of the snow mountain rTa sgo, the lake Dwang ra g-yu mtsho and the mountain called dGe bsnyen are visible from the top of the pass, love and respect arise in people’s minds, which may inspire them to prostrate themselves with all their faith, to perform the bsang ceremony as an offering and to raise ritual flags. Many of them, moreover, pile up as many stones as their own age to make a cairn.

Like Gangs Ti se, rMa chen sPom ra, Yar lha Sham po, gNyan chen Thang lha and sPu rgyal, the sacred snow mountain rTa sgo is an important pilgrimage site for both Bonpo and Buddhists.

The lake Dwang ra g-yu mtsho, as one of the three greatest pilgrimage sites, is a “soul lake” (bla mtsho). On its shore is a two-metre-high phallus made of dried mud, in accordance with the ancient custom in token of worship of the Bonpo protective deities. The term dwang ra is a Zhang zhung word meaning lake (mtsho).

A number of devotees from Nag tshang Nyi ma rdzong, mNga’ ris mTsho chen rdzong and other regions have infinite belief in the sacred blue lake and the snow mountain. There are always many pilgrims circumambulating the mountain, but on the 15th day of the fourth Tibetan month in particular, a huge number of lay devotees and clergy come to accumulate merit through performing the circumambulation because it is the great pilgrimage day (ri bskor che mo). Some of them repeatedly prostrate themselves and circumambulate the mountain.

The road between the above-mentioned pass and Phyug tsho Monastery is not very good, but it is nice that wild asses, rock goats, cranes and many other wild animals can be seen on the fields stretching out on both sides.

Phyug tsho Monastery is situated on the hill beside the lake Dwang ra g-yu mtsho. One can see at a glance that among the monasteries of Eternal Bon it is particularly distinguished.

This monastery was built around 1849 by gYo lag sgom chen, a disciple of sNang ston Zla ba rgyal mtshan. After being founded, it was taken care of by Khyung ser sMon lam bstan pa, the lama of gcod practice, who had prodigious knowledge. Thereafter followed the two lamas, the famous Khyung dkar bsTan pa rgyal mtshan, who had the qualities of wisdom, compassion and power, and his attendant, the Sa ge gYung drung ye shes. During their time, Bonpo teachings were kept, defended and spread so well that the monastery flourished greatly.

Later, when the dge bshes of gYung drung gling (No.2), gYung drung bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan from Shar khog in Amdo, became the abbot of this monastery, he renovated it and collected many religious objects.

Then the dge bshes Khyung dkar bsTan pa lhun grub followed him as abbot. He arranged for the future supervisor and abbot of this monastery to be sent from gYung drung gling and that their principal practice should be based on the mKa’ ’gro gsang gcod.

At present, Phyug tsho Monastery has a number of buildings: the assembly hall, a temple, bKa’ ’gyur khang, protector’s temple, monks’ quarters and others. As for the religious objects, there is a statue of sTon pa gShen rab and many kinds of scriptures, including the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten. Of particular note are the knotted knife and the knotted needle which are believed to be examples of proof of the spiritual accomplishment of the masters. There are also a great many medicine-pots, because the bum sgrub ritual has customarily been performed in this monastery.

In the protector’s temple there are only the images of the Bonpo protective deities. They look very fearsome.

At present, there are fifty monks and one lama in the monastery. Some of the regular religious services are synchronized, for the most part, with those of gYung drung gling.

Now, retracing our way southward from the lakeshore of Dwang ra g-yu mtsho to the above-mentioned mountain pass, and travelling several kilometres south-eastward, we reach the river rTa sgo gtsang po. rTa sgo Ser zhig Monastery is situated on the west bank of the river. Although it is only a little more than ten kilometres from the xiang to the monastery, the summer flooding period makes it very difficult for a car to cross the river.

(19) Ser zhig Monastery

From the description written by the supreme master who belonged to the celebrated eighteen Zhig families, it appears that rTa sgo Ser zhig Monastery was contemporaneous with sMan ri (No.1). It is therefore apparent that the monastery was named Ser zhig after the family name of the lama who founded the monastery in 1405. Ser zhig Monastery is the biggest one in the Nag tshang Dwang ra g-yu mtsho area. Because of this, the Fifth Dalai Lama recognized it as a monastery of the government and permitted it to have a certain number of the local people as its retainers. The monastery is also called Se zhig skor lde, since it is one of the seven Nag tshang sger tsho.

The monastery consisted of a two-storey temple, the bla brang and monks’ quarters. There were many religious objects and books. Besides these, there were religious objects transferred from Nyi lung ’gram, the seat of ’Dzi bon dBang gi rgyal mtshan, when it was destroyed. However, invaded by the barbarous Mongolian forces of Jungar, Ser zhig Monastery was turned into a military camp, and the temple and monks’ quarters were soon destroyed.

After that, a number of people launched themselves into its reconstruction, as well as maintaining the doctrine. They included the one called Zhang zhung Lama, a descendant of Gu ru lama, a lama of the Zhu family from ’Jed spang lung, a lama of the Shel zhig family and others.

The main religious objects of the monastery were as follows: a black square stone called A ma sa gsum with the three white letters A, Ma and Sa on it; a small conch made of a devotee’s teeth; a tooth of the sTon pa gShen rab’s horse with a self-risen letter A on it; a Garuda’s claw as big as a yak’s horn; and a self-grown figure of Zhi ba Kun du bzang po within a crystal stupa.

Besides these, the monastery had a small drum, which is said to be a present given to a Ser zhig lama by the local deity gDong dmar lha btsan of rTa sgo. Among the patrons of the monastery it used to be the custom for patrons to appeal to the abbot to let one of them beat the drum when the ritual Ma tri bum sgrub was performed, for it was said that if one could beat the drum three time, he might get rid of all the bad luck or misfortune of the whole year, and his wish might be fulfilled. The patron was expected to offer five silver tam kar and a ceremonial scarf for each beat. All the people in the neighbourhood, lay and clergy, both Buddhists and Bonpo, showed boundless respect for this drum. At mass meetings, three beats of the drum by the abbot preceded the chanting; only then was the prayer conductor to begin leading the chorus.

In the protector’s temple was a mask of the deity A bse, called Nga ’dra ma. This designation was derived from the words spoken by the deity to the mask maker, “this mask looks like me” (nga ’dra), which turned the mask into an object of great rarity.

It is said that there were many old, important religious objects in the monastery, such as the skull of sTon pa gShen rab with a self-produced letter A on it, his teeth with a self-produced Gu ru on them, a statue of sTon pa with a self-produced mantra Om ma ti ma ye sa le’du on the upper right part of it, and armour that belonged to sTon pa (said to have been taken to Xian in China).

The teaching and practice of this monastery have actually experienced rise and fall in every stage of its history. The recent significant figures of this monastery are as follows: Grags dbang Rinpoche of the Zhu family; sTag la dbang rgyal of the Zhu family; the lama called Zhang zhung mKhan po; ’Og tshom dkar po; and the young Shel zhig. The early ones are said to be in the ’Prang lugs lineage of Nag tshang.

The monastery is administered by a lama, a prayer conductor, a dge bskos, a treasurer and an assistant. Besides them, two monks are charged, in turn, with the detailed tasks of religious activities, such as the accounts of Ma tri bum sgrub, and so on.

Practice of Rituals and Religious Services

Rituals are practised in the manner of the so-called sTod Nag tshang ’phrang tradition, prominent among other old traditions of Zhu. The way of chanting the ritual text of the deity Khro bo is considered special and the text is said to have been composed when the masters had visions of the deity. The same manner is said to have been adopted by the other monasteries of the region, including ’Om bu Monastery (No.17).

  1. In the third Tibetan month the following religious activities take place: Preparations, which take five days, are made for the great bum sgrub ritual based on the Ma tri rin chen sgrol ma; the great bum sgrub ritual is thereafter performed for fifteen days. Religious dances are performed inside and outside the monastery, one day for each, and another two days are spent giving initiation.
  2. In the course of the bum sgrub ritual, lamas and monks from the monasteries of Phyug tsho, gYu bun and ’Om bu, besides the permanent resident monks of Ser zhig itself, are allowed into the monastery, and so are any others, including hermits and pilgrims, who know how to chant the Ma tri mantra. More than 150 people may enjoy a share of the offerings at times of great mass meetings.
  3. In the twelfth month the dgu gtor rite of Phur pa is performed. Initiations are given at the end of the month.

Besides the above-mentioned activities, several other small-scale services are performed throughout the year.

There are a number of sacred sites surrounding Ser zhig Monastery: to the south-west lies the rTa sgo mountain range. At a good distance from the monastery, towards the range, at the foot of a hill, is a marvelous meditation cave called Shod tram phug pa. It was the abode of the master dMu Shod tram chen po, who was in the exalted ’ja’ lus lineage of Zhang zhung oral tradition. Near the cave is a spring filled with limpid water that is said to cleanse sins.

At quite some distance up towards the rTa sgo mountain range, there is another meditation cave called rTa sgo rDzu ’phrul phug (the Miraculous Cave of rTa sgo); it is about the size of a two-pillared room and is shielded in the four cardinal directions by big rocks and overhead by a heap of big stones. It is also called rTa sgo gDong dmar lha btsan gyi phug pa, in which resided the yogi Nam mkha’ blo ldan, one of the three chief masters of gShen Nyi ma rgyal mtshan. There is a limpid spring beside the cave.

Further up, at the top of the hill, is a lake called Nag mer mtsho, edged with piles of stones. It is a blessed holy lake with two different aspects: the external, which looks like the right eye of Dwang ra; and the internal, like the eye of mKa’ ’gro sKye ma ’od mtsho. Innumerable Buddhists and Bonpo, both lay and clergy, visit the lake to circumambulate it or to pay respect to it. It is believed that every pilgrimage site brings many blessings, especially in Tiger years.

Climbing up into the mountain range, at a good distance from the hilltop, midway up the slope of the ice-capped mountain Ngo dmar lha btsan, there is an area where heaps of the btsag (a kind of mineral used for medical purposes) can be found around the edge of the snow. It is actually the spot where the divine btsag of rTa sgo can be obtained.

Another source of btsag, according to some people, is in the mountains to the east of the rTa sgo gtsang po waterfall, which can be reached via the route in front of Ser zhig Monastery. Many people believe it to be the divine btsag of rTa sgo, because the mountain rTa sgo casts a shadow over the site.

Formerly there were more than twenty monks in Ser zhig Monastery. At present there are fifteen monks and one lama. Many Bonpo, laity and clergy, come to make pilgrimages.

From Ser zhig Monastery back to Nyi ma rdzong is about 180 kilometres, and it takes about six hours by car. The distance from there to dPal mgon rdzong generally requires stopping for a night, but the direct way to Nag chu may be chosen as an alternative.

From the town of Nag chu, driving seventy kilometres eastward on the Nag chu-Chab mdo highway, one arrives at ’Bri lung xiang. Turning south-eastward and driving another seventy kilometres, one reaches ’Bri ru rdzong. Although the road is good between the highway and the rdzong, two mountain passes must be crossed.

Of the rdzong within Nag chu region, this is one with relatively good local characteristics.

’Bri ru rdzong

’Bri ru rdzong lies in the eastern part of Nag chu region. It has an area of 11,456 square kilometres, out of which 3,300 mu is farmland, 30,000 mu forest, and 11,566 mu pastureland. The population is about 39,000. The average altitude is no more than 4,000 metres. At present, it is an area of semi-nomadic people with eleven xiang and 176 village committees.

In ancient times when Tibet was divided into twelve small kingdoms, ’Bri ru was under the jurisdiction of one of them, Sum pa. A battle for the unification of Tibet broke out in the time of gNam ri slon btsan, and thereafter, during the time of Srong btsan sgam po in the 7th century, Sum pa was absorbed into Tibet and was formed into one of the four Ru of Tibet. At that time, ’Bri ru was still under the jurisdiction of Sum pa.

In 1732, ’Bri ru came under direct control of the Manchu officials posted in Tibet (am ban).

The revolution having taken place in China in 1911, the government of Tibet took ’Bri ru back under its rule. In 1941, the Tibetan government abolished the governor-general of Hor (Hor sPyi khyab), and established six rdzong there. ’Bri ru rdzong was one of the six. At the end of September in 1951, the people’s commune of ’Bri ru rdzong was established.

The territory governed by the rdzong is very rich in mineral resources and carnivorous and herbivorous animals. It is convenient for communication and is blessed with natural beauty.

In ’Bri ru rdzong, at present, there are nineteen Buddhist monasteries, including O rgyan chos gling in Chags ri, and six Bonpo monasteries, including gSa’ mda’ bon dgon. ’Bri ru rdzong has more monastic communities than any other rdzong in Nag chu region.

(20) Sen tsha Monastery

The monastery’s full name is Sen tsha dgon rNam rgyal kun grags gling. Travelling sixty-four kilometres southward from ’Bri ru rdzong and crossing two mountain passes, one reaches Sen tsha village in gYang shod xiang, which lies halfway up the mountain on the north side of the river rGyal chu.

In its early years, Sen tsha Monastery was situated in the village of Sen tsha itself, but around 1440, Kun dga’ dbang ldan of the Bru family, who was a disciple of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan, regarding the recess at the foot of Byug ri phyug mo as auspicious, built a temple there. It is said that there were many auspicious signs when it was built.

This establishment became a monastery, which had many buildings and blessed religious objects, as well as many lay priests. Many lay priests of gYang shod Mar thang later moved, one after another, into the vicinity of the temple. This caused not only a blurring in the distinction between clergy and laity, but also a serious hindrance to the development of the monastery.

In 1918, when the great abbot of sMan ri (No.1), sKu ’dun Phun tshogs blo gros, came to rGyal shod, he decided to transfer the monastery in accordance with the plan made by the lord of Sen tsha, bSod nams lha rgyal, and others. However, there was slight internal discord at that decision. Therefore, in order to avoid the merging of monks and lay priests, a monastery called Phun tshogs glang chen ’gying ri spo ra dgon rNam rgyal kun grags gling was established.

The monastery’s religious objects at that time included the following: a statue of sTon pa gShen rab within which was a relic of his body as big as a skylark egg, the reliquary stupa of Khyung btsun bSam gtan nyi ma, several bigger clay statues, scriptures written in gold on a black ground, a treasure-trove consisting of such items as a helmet and a coat of mail, and many scriptures, including a complete set of the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten.

The youngest son of bSod nams lha rgyal, the chief of Sen tsha, was ordained in the presence of the abbot, sKu ’dun Phun tshogs blo gros, and was given the name Tshul khrims rgya mtsho. He was esteemed as the head of the institution, which then became a veritable monastery. In order to collect donations, Tshul khrims rgyal mtsho travelled to the nomad area of Hor, where there was a good number of contributors, which was useful for the subsistence of the monastery. His paternal lineage was in the Zhu family, which had branched from the family of the rDzum chief. He kept a close patron-priest relationship with Hor, hence the alternate name of the monastery, Sen tsha Zhu tshang gYang shod dgon.

Religious services and practice of rituals

The rituals mainly practised in this monastery were divided into two sections: rituals based on the rNam rgyal and Klong rgyas of the non-Tantric section and the dBal gsas zhi drag of the Tantric section and the propitiatory texts for the religious Bon protectors, especially the deity Brag btsan A bse.

The main annual religious services were the chanting of the ritual cycles of Khro bo, dBal gsas and Phur pa. Besides these, the ritual Ma tri bum sgrub was practised, religious dances were performed, initiations were given and other services were performed.

The organization of the monastery’s personnel was just like every other monastery: dbu bla (head), dge bskos, dbu mdzad, and las sne (monk officials).

It was Thugs dga’ of rMe’u who took responsibility for the reorganization of the monastery. The temple, assembly hall, monks’ quarters and other buildings were restored to their former condition. A collection of religious objects of body, speech and mind was also completed.

At present, this monastery has six lamas, including Thugs dga’, and fifty monks. The annual activities and religious dances have been revived. Moreover, the monastery has been undergoing restoration and expansion under the guidance of Thugs dga’, who has broad knowledge of Sutra, Tantra and the Mind class of the Bon doctrines, as well as magnificent conduct.

(21) dGa’ ri Monastery

Sen tsha dGa’ ri Monastery is also in gYang shod xiang, but located on the other side of the river rGyal chu. In 1697 or so, mKhas btsun bSam gtan nyi ma established the site as a place for meditation practice. There he meditated upon the tutelary deity dBal phur nag po and finally attained realization.

The monastery is regarded as the sacred site of Phur pa. It is said that there are clear traces of a tiger, a snow lion, a Garuda and a dragon having landed on the cardinal points of this monastery. To the north is the mountain sBas yul gtsang ma dga’ ba’i ri. The fact that the mountain is said to have a hidden place (sbas yul) where Tshe dbang rig ’dzin attained realization explains why it is called dGa’ ri (the Mountain of Joy).

bsTan pa’i nyi ma, who was a disciple of the great saint bsTan ’dzin rin chen bde chen snying po, practised meditation in this place and attained realization. He built a temple and collected religious objects, so that the hermitage was finally transformed into a monastery. He attracted many disciples by giving teachings based on the dMar khrid dug lnga rang grol, which is a mental-treasure (dgongs gter) of Grub dbang bsTan ’dzin rin chen. He lived a long life.

After that, in the second half of the Fifteenth Rab byung, sKal bzang rgya mtsho, a lama of the rMe’u lineage, was recognized as the reincarnation of bsTan pa’i nyi ma. He looked after the interests of dGa’ ri Monastery. He took an oath to be a monk in the presence of Phun tshogs blo gros, the great abbot of sMan ri (No.1), and rendered great services during his whole life.

The main religious objects of this monastery are a reliquary stupa of mKhas btsun bSam gtan nyi ma, a gilt-bronze statue of rNam par rgyal ba as high as the ceiling, a statue of rGyal ba mNyam med pa made of a mixture of medicine and clay, and statues of rGyal yum Byams ma and Dran pa nam mkha’ with his twin sons. There is also a great collection of scriptures written in gold and silver.

The principal deity of this monastery is dBal phur nag po, but offerings are constantly made to Khro bo, dBal gsas and sTag la, as well as the performance of the ceremony of “thousand offerings” to rNam rgyal.

In 1940, bsTan pa’i nyi ma, the reincarnated lama of Srid rgyal dgon chen (No.88) of Bon ri in Kong po, after paying a visit to his native land, stayed at dGa’ ri Monastery in solitary meditation. At that time there were seventeen monks there. At present, his descendant, lama Tshul khrims blo gros, and fifteen other monks reside there.

Travelling about six kilometres eastward from gYang shod xiang up to Ban dkar xiang and another five kilometres eastward from there leads one to Klu mkhar Monastery.

(22) Klu mkhar Monastery

This is a “Tantric monastery” (sngags dgon) built in 1460 by gYung drung khri ’od of the Zhu lineage. When the brutal military forces of the Mongolian Jungar invaded the Northern Plateau (Byang thang), this monastery was completely destroyed.

Later, reconstructed by a descendant of the Zhu lineage, the monastery was protected by a branch of the Zhu family based in gDong rdzong and became known as Klu mkhar dgon. Its main religious object is a sacred statue of sTag la, celebrated as the one bestowed by rGyal ba mNyam med pa. The monastery is called Klu mkhar (the fort of Klu) after a small lake that only appears in summer and is situated behind the monastery. The lake is believed to have been a residence of a water spirit (klu).

Thereafter, the monastery was regarded as having been managed by the lama sPu la, but in fact it was taken care by Shes lding. Lama sPu la originally came from Sog rdzong and later moved into sBra chen rdzong. He was in the line of Khyung nag, one of the thirteen families of Khyung, which was recognized as such by the Tibetan government. Historical documents do not state clearly how long he maintained Klu mkhar Monastery.

The lamas who appeared after him were Rig ’dzin g-yang skyob, gYung drung bstan ’dzin and bSod nams chos rgyal. Then bSod nams ye shes supported the reconstruction of the monastery, which involved a great deal of expense, with his own property.

The principal image of this monastery, the gilt-bronze statue of sTon pa gShen rab as high as the ceiling, was said to have a bit of body heat in its breast, and so was called the Golden Statue of Baby Warmth (gSer sku Byis drod ma). This statue had been brought from somewhere else. Besides this, there were several other religious objects, including the statue of gShen lha ’od dkar made of “red gold” (dzi gim) and a statue of sTag la.

The religious services performed in the monastery were the Zhi khro, rNam rgyal stong mchod and others. Formerly there were thirty-one resident monks there.

At present, Klu mkhar Monastery is surrounded by homes of common people. In the monastery there are several thangka and small implements used for offerings. Upstairs is a small altar room. There is one lama and thirty monks, most of whom are said to be lay priests.

On either side of the outer gate there is a stone pillar on which the term rnam gzhag is carved in dbu can letters. There is also a marvellously colourful bluish stone called Shar rGya stag khra bo. It is heart-breaking to see the poor condition of this monastery.

From Klu mkhar Monastery, travelling five kilometres eastward on the highway, dNgul kho village can be seen lying half way up the mountainside on the northern side of the road. dNgul kho Monastery is near this village, on the west side.

(23) dNgul kho Monastery

dNgul kho dgon gYung drung dar rgyas gling was built by Kyu ra ’od zer in 1240 in the present-day dNgul kho village. It is a traditional “Tantric monastery”, small but influential, and has been in a state of stability with no serious ups and downs for a long time. History does not tell clearly the individual names of every lama who has cared for and protected the monastery so far, but it is said that descendants in the Ko bo lineage, one of the three descent groups of the region called Ko bo, Rag shi and Shel sku took care of the monastery and rendered great service in keeping, defending and spreading the doctrine of Eternal Bon.

Later, in the Fifteenth Rab byung, Me ston Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, a hermit from Brag dmar ri ’dun in Khyung po, and sTag zhig Rin chen dbang ldan, a disciple of Grub chen sMon lam rgyal mtshan, on their way to Kong po, established a close patron-priest relationship with the villagers and monks of rGyal shod. Acceding to the wishes expressed by the Shel sku villagers, these hermits decided to take care of the dNgul kho Monastery.

Several years after that, sTag zhig Rin dbang, accompanied by some others, arrived in rGyal shod and became the head of this monastery.

At the end of the Fifteenth Rab byung, dNgul kho Monastery was moved from dNgul kho village to the western outskirts, midway up the slope of the mountain. It now takes about twenty minutes to go up to the monastery by car.

When the monastery was built, Ban dkar stag phu chos rje Ngag dbang bstan ’dzing rgya mtsho, who was of the dGe lugs pa school, gave a huge amount of tea, grain and the like, by way of offering congratulations for the completion of the monastery.

Having fully completed dNgul kho Monastery with excellent buildings and religious objects, sTag zhig Rin dbang summoned all the monks of the Eternal Bon monasteries and hermitages in rGyal shod district to his monastery and performed the “medicine rite” (sman sgrub) based on the Khro bo ’od zer ’khyil ba. This was the first time such a rite, on such a grand scale, was performed in the region. He bestowed upon the participants all the teachings they wished for. Not only that, according to the manner of each monastic community, he continually arranged plentiful offerings and brought back the lost rules of the regular services of dNgul kho Monastery and recruited more monks and lay practitioners than before.

Since this lama himself relied upon those laymen who had taken some vows, he obtained the real nature of power of wisdom and compassion by means of Tantric practices. He is said to have been a man of outstanding virtue and deeds, and who had rediscovered the Tshogs bdag rol pa and the statue of Tshe dbang rig ’dzin among the rocks of Sen ge gnam rdzong in gSa’ phu.

According to the description in his biography, he was born in 1883. A special ordinance was given to the monastery by His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thub bstan rgya mtsho.

During the time of sTag zhig Rin dbang, dNgul kho dar rgyal gling made progress in deserving its name. Later, around the 1920s, both the lama and his disciple died, one after the other.

Since this monastery was a mixture of old and new Bonpo tradition, the regular prayer services and rituals are also practised accordingly.

Main religious objects

The monastery’s religious objects, which were in perfect condition, included the following: a bronze statue of Zhi ba Kun bzang a skor; one of Tshe dbang rig ’dzin, rediscovered in gSa’ phu by sTag gzhi Rin dbang; a conch of enlightenment that belonged to sTag gzhi Rin dbang; and the three relics of sTag gzhi Tshul khrims called sha ri ram, me ri ram and chu ri ram, which came out of his brain. However, after the death of sTag gzhi Rin dbang, the monastery declined, due to many problems.

This monastery had a slob dpon, a dbu mdzad, a dge bskos and a spyi phyag. The latter took all the responsibilities for supervising the monastic work. There used to be about forty monks.

This monastery was recently restored to some degree by A bu bSam med and others, and has about thirty monks at present. It is situated in a beautiful environment, and near it there is a sacred graveyard.

At present, dNgul kho Monastery is, on the whole, in a state of more serious decline than ever before.

From dNgul kho Monastery, travelling about six kilometres eastward along the river rGyal chu, we come to Ban dkar xiang, in which rDo rting Monastery is located. The monastery is situated on a hill to the south-west of the river rGyal chu. It takes about twenty minutes on foot to reach the top of the hill.

(24) rDo rting Monastery

rDo rting dgon Ngo mtshar Phun tshogs gling was founded in 1420 by Kun dga’ dbang ldan of the Bru family. It stands in the middle of Bon lung skya mo in rGyal shod, as if protected all around by the Eight Sisters of Mo nam smug po. It is a pleasant place, with a hill resembling a Garuda stretching its wings at the back of the monastery, an eight-spoked wheel in the sky, double-petalled lotus flowers on the ground, and five big juniper trees, symbol of the “five families” (rigs lnga), at the front.

When Bru ston mTshungs med bsod blo, the heart-emanation of sTong rgyung and one of the eighteen gYas ru teachers who were greatly famed in the latter stage of Bonpo development, travelled all over mDo khams, he paid a visit to this place and gave a blessing. Before the establishment of this monastery, it is said that there was already the residence (bla brang) of the Shel sku family in rDo rting.

Some call this monastery rDo gter because Bru Kun dga’ dbang ldan built it at the very site where Shel sku Khro bo rgyal mtshan rediscovered a nine-edged black iron vajra (rdo rje) from a mine (gter). Kun dga’ dbang ldan not only established rDo rting Monastery but also taught cosmogony and monastic discipline according to the Bru tradition and, moreover, developed the practice of rituals. rDo rting became a veritable monastery preserving the pure tradition of rGyal ba sMan ri ba and came to be reputed as sMan ri bar ma.

There were two residences (bla brang) in rDo rting Monastery called Bru tshang and Shel tshang. A big juniper tree planted by Bru Kun dga’ dbang ldan himself, in order block the view of inauspicious geomantic signs, is still seen to the north of the Bru tshang residence.

At the time of Kun dga’ dbang ldan, there were about one hundred monks at this monastery. They performed the following religious services every three years: the great medicine-completion ceremony of Khro bo ’od zer ’khyil ba, the great initiation of Gu ya and the mdos ritual based on the mKha’ klong gsang ba’i mdos chen. These were normally performed just like the regular services of rGyal ba sMan ri ba.

The lamas of the Bru and Shel sku residences took turns, for three years each, to look after the monastery. At the time, the monastic buildings were extraordinarily beautiful. At the centre of the monastery were nine long pillars, on which vases were carved. They were topped by a carved Garuda and supported by a base that was a carved turtle. The roof rafters, fashioned into a pa tra, the family crest, were supported around the edge by eight pillars. There were four large mandalas drawn on the ceiling (facing down). They were of the mDo g-yung drung klong rgyas, the Zhi ba g-yung drung yongs rdzogs, the Khro bo dbang chen and the Mu tra lha’i dkyil ’khor. In the verandah outside were carvings of reticulated swastikas.

With respect to the Shel sku residence of this monastery, there has been a steady succession of lamas:

  1. Shel bla sMon lam bkra shis
  2. Nam mkha’ ’od zer
  3. gYung drung rgyal mtshan
  4. Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan
  5. rNam rgyal tshul khrims
  6. Grags pa rnam rgyal

These were all in the line of descent from gNam gsas rgyal po of the Shel zhig family, a branch of the line of sTang chen dMu tsha gyer med. Then followed the Shel lamas invited from the Shel zhig family in the north:

  1. rGyal mchog nyi ma
  2. Nam mkha’ rgyal po
  3. Nam mkha’ bsod rgyal
  4. lHun grub dbang rgyal
  5. rGyal ba tshul khrims

These lamas first began by making preparations to set up their residence in the monastery. Then, in collaboration with the Bru family, they established rDo rting Monastery. For a period of time, care for the monastery was shared with the lama Be ’o, who had come to stay here; later on, its religious teachers were just Shel sku lamas.

Of the above-mentioned Shel lamas, some were monks, and some were text-discoverers, that is to say, married. Not only that, they recreated one of their unique traditions called bDud rtsi khi khar: the practice of religious festivals wherein the way the ritual was carried out was inspired by the early masters, both men and women. Shel bla gYung drung rgyal mtshan rediscovered a crystal image called Dri med shel sku at the Shel sbug of Kong po Bon ri, the holy mountain. bTsan rje dmar po, the local deity of Bon ri, is also one of the protective deities of rDo rting Monastery. Some of the Shel zhig lamas were thus referred to by the abbreviation Shel bla.

The religious object of major importance in rDo rting Monastery at that time was the statue of Khro bo gtso mchog as high as the ceiling. It had been rediscovered by Shel bla Khro bo rgyal mtshan from the source of the river Khro tshang, which runs through the side of the monastery. In the temple there was said to be a golden statue and many other religious objects.

As for scriptures, there were sixteen volumes of the Khams chen, written in gold, called ’Dzam gling rgyan (the ornament of the World). It was also called gSer chos zho ’bru skar tsheg. The name denotes that every single letter (yig ’bru) of the golden text (gser chos) is written with as much gold as one zho of gold, and every tsheg with one skar ma of gold. The gold was provided by the protector of water, the great dge bsnyen of Yag zam kha, who offered a pair of goldfish in honour of the Shel sku lama and the monastery. According to oral tradition, the lamas and the monks, considering the possibility that the powerful local lord might come to seize the gold if the news leaked out of the monastery, smelted it secretly so that they could use it to write the Khams chen with it.

Later, the monastery experienced a change that was considerable. As is quite a common course of events in the human world, the Shel sku family broke up into several factions. Even the Shel sku bla brang in the monastery itself was spilt up, and the family finally abandoned the monastery altogether. The members of the family became common people like any other. The Bru tshang bla brang also became helpless with no protector.

At about the same time, Be ’o Lama, who had come from the north, took up permanent residence in rDo rting Monastery. At first he tried to help the monastery, but this elicited much criticism internally and as a result the monastery suffered further. Caught by the tide and destiny, the interests of the monastery and the deeds of the lamas were all reduced to a state of withered winter flowers.

rDo rting Monastery, in spite of its previous reputation as sMan ri Bar ma, eventually declined into a lay establishment. Not only that, the religious objects that were easily carried became scattered everywhere. The two lamas, lHa thog and lHa mgon, went elsewhere, and the monastery itself was threatened with complete destruction.

At that time, the community leaders of the four tents, having learned a lesson from the past, launched a reconstruction of rDo rting Monastery in order to avoid its total decline. They took on responsibility for the work and took the decisions that the two Shel sku lamas who had fled to Glas rgyud should, by turn, take care of the monastery as religious teacher and that the number of lay practitioners (ser khyim) should not be reduced to less than forty. They distributed the monastic funds and other properties to all the villagers so that the villagers would be able to help maintain the yearly expenses of the establishment.

Then they restored the temple, and made continuous efforts to bring back the scattered religious objects and resolve other issues. Having succeeded in regaining the image of Khro bo gTso mchog, they relocated the dBu rtse temple and made a new clay image. The large and small conchs, which were the ritual instruments of Sad ne ga’u, and those of Ti ti mi slag can, were well kept in the monastery.

The principal religious services practised at the monastery were based on texts such as the Bon skyong sgrup pa, the mKha’ klong gsang mdos, the Ngo mtshar rgyas pa and the Zhi khro. Formerly, rDo rting Monastery was one of the thirteen monastic communities of rGyal ston lding dgu.

The monastery now exists in its restored condition and contains an assembly hall, a temple and several religious objects. At present there are twenty-seven monks and one lama.

(25) gSa’ mda’ bon Monastery

gSa’ mda’ bon dgon Mi g-yo bsam gtan gling is situated to the south of the river rGyal chu. Although a road has been built from gYang shod xiang to the monastery, there is no bridge over the river rGyal chu capable of carrying traffic. So a ride of about five hours on horseback is required.

The monastery was founded by Zhu btsun gYung drung khri ’od in 1465. rGyal shod, the seat of the monastery, is one of the so-called Four Rong (gorge) and Eight or Eighteen Shod (lowland) that a number of holy men have visited. In ancient times, the district was called Sum pa’i stong bu chung and was part of sGo pa, one of the three regions of Zhang zhung known as sGo, Phug and Bar. During the reign of Srong btsan sgam po, Tibet was divided into four ru and the core of the third ru, called rGyal shod sTag pa tshal, corresponds to the present-day rGyal shod.

The derivation of the monastery’s name is as follows: This monastery was built on a protruding from the hill site called gSa’ mda’ (gSa’ lung mda’), which was counted as one of the Thirteen Treasures (Rin chen bcu gsum) in a region where various flowers of surpassing beauty bloom, such that the place was called rTsi thog steng (Plateau of fruits and flowers). The monastery was commonly called gSa’ mda’ bon dgon, which was a combination of the alternate name of the site and the name of the religious tradition, while its real name is Mi g-yo bsam gtan gling.

The area has a mountain called Phu ru lho yi ’dzam bu klu ri and a lake, gSa’ phu mgon lha dkar po. These are regarded as two of the Thirteen Treasures of gSa’ (snow leopard). Around them, to the right lies rGod kyi dar rgyas bcu gsum, to the left lies La gong gi drag rtsal bcu gsum, and in front, Mo nam smyug mo mched brgyad, just like servants surrounding their king. They are places of outstanding sacredness where teacher Kun tu bzang po meditated and bestowed blessings. In the caves of these places Dran pa nam mkha’ and his twin sons are believed to have concealed texts containing profound teachings and had also left marks of their spiritual attainment.

As the site is a meeting point for travellers between China and Tibet, the name gSa’ mda’ bon dgon frequently appears in documents and is, therefore, a well-known place. Over the years the fortunes of the monastery have risen and fallen.

In regard to the origin of gSa’ mda’ bon dgon, it is difficult to specify from historical documents. According to a document, before gSa’ mda’ was founded, there was another monastery called Mar khu thang established by either Ko bo Ye shes rgyal mtshan or Khu btsun gYung drung khri ’od.

According to recent study on the origin of the Bon religion and its lamas, it was the masters of the Zhu g-yas lineage that had established many monastic centres, including Sog gYung drung gling and Khra rgan nyi yu in the latter stage of Bonpo development, when the dying embers of teaching began to rekindle all over Tibet. The Zhu g-yas is a powerful lineage whose forefather is Zhu g-yas Legs po, the authorized proprietor of the Bon tantric and Mind class teachings, which had been handed down from gShen chen Klu dga. The latter was the principal one among the one hundred text-discoverers who had opened the door to Bonpo teachings.

In 1465, Zhu btsun gYung drung khri ’od founded Mi g-yo bsam gtan gling. It generally followed the Zhu tradition called Zhu lugs Sog zam and the rituals were practised following the manner of Sog gYung drung gling Monastery.

Ko bo Ye shes rgyal mtshan meditated in the gSa’ bu mdzod ’chang smug mo hermitage. During the latter half of his lifetime he went to Khyung po and founded a monastery, and worked hard for the sake of sentient beings. The monastery was taken care of by the adherents of Ko bo Ye shes rgyal mtshan, including Ko ston sByin pa rgyal mtshan and Ko bo Kun bzang, who had appeared in succession. Since these Ko lamas were benevolent enough to look after the monastery, they developed it by giving continuous teachings based on Sutra, Tantra and the Mind texts so that the monastery developed further, making its name known everywhere. It is said that when Ko bo Ye shes rgyal mtshan passed away, many self-grown relics appeared (from the cremation of his body) which were worshipped as the most auspicious objects in this monastery.

In 1718, misfortune befell Mar khu thang Monastery when the vicious Mongolian troops of Jungar came to rGyal shod district and plotted to destroy the monastery. The two Bonpo local leaders, lHa rje skyen ga yu and Thod pa thad ga yu, undertook armed operations and killed some of the vicious Mongolian soldiers, including the chief, but could not prevent the rest of the Jungar entering the monastery. They plundered the monastery beyond all imagination, destroying it totally. All the religious objects were instantly turned into a ball of fire. However, one of the main religious objects, the word-uttering statue of gShen rab (sTon pa gsung byon ma), escaped destruction, along with the two short pillars, and they were regarded as the auspicious symbol of the monastery’s restoration.

Preparations for restoration of the monastery were made. Of all the things that were lost, they searched in particular for one of the main religious objects, called ’Phar chen dkar po rGyang grags ma (the Big White Conch of Far-flung Fame), made of sTon pa gShen rab’s teeth, which had gone missing in the chaos. It was found on a rock at gSa’ yar kha, which influenced the decision to rebuild the future monastery there.

During the several years of hard work that was being done making preparations, Sangs rgyas gling pa, alias Byang chub rdo rje, who upheld the tradition of the New Bon, was travelling in the regions of the four rong, such as Kong po and the eight shod where he made rediscoveries of texts. In 1727, he came to rTsi thog steng and carried out the ceremony of consecration of the new location. The officials, lay practitioners and people of the Bu rdzum tribe made him the religious teacher of this monastery, and he bestowed upon the new monastery the name Mi g-yo gsam gtan gling, the same as before, plus abundant funds and materials to make continual offerings. The monastery maintained its ritual practices of the Zhu tradition, but Sangs rgyas gling pa also introduced some of those of the New Bon.

At that time there were about sixty monks and lay practitioners in all, so some people began to call the monastery the Sixty Monastic College of gSa’ ’mda (gSa’ mda’ grwa tshang drug cu).

Later, Mi ’gyur rgyal mtshan, an incarnate lama, visited rGyal shod. He resided at Kong po Bon ri and was one of the twenty-five Red Hat masters who were regarded as the masters of Sangs rgyas gling pa’s teachings.

Mi ’gyur rgyal mtshan began to have a close patron-priest relationship with the officials and people of the Bu rdzum tribe. Formerly, when Sangs rgyas gling pa was the head of the monastery, the officials, people and priests of Bu rdzum expressed a strong hope that the holy man Mi ’gyur rgyal mtshan would be the proprietor of both rGyal ri and gSa’ mda’ monasteries, which he accepted.

To the religious dances performed during the Ma tri bum sgrub festival of gSa’ mda’ bon dgon, Mi ’gyur rgyal mtshan added some elegant styles following those performed in rGyal ri Monastery. He gave gSa’ mda’ bon dgon a mask of mKha’ ’gro seng gdong ma crafted by ’Brel ’Gyur med rgyal mtshan, as an object of worship. He worked, in particular, on reframing the written moral code of the monastery by rectifying its defect; this was regarded as an invaluable deed for the entire community and was indeed very beneficial to the interests of the monastery.

The reconstruction of gSa’ mda’ bon dgon began with the building of the twelve-pillared assembly hall. It had a porch and stairway. Then the monks’ quarters and other buildings were built, all in a good fashion.

The main religious objects of the monastery were as follows: the big conch made of gShen rab Mi bo’s teeth; the relic stupas of the successive Ko bo lamas; a bronze statue of gShen rab; a gilt-bronze statue of mKhan chen Mu zi gsal bzang; statues of gShen lha ’od dkar, Khro bo gtso mchog and gShen gSangs ba ’dus pa, all made of a mixture of medicine and clay; as well as stupas, including rNam rgyal mchod rten. In the assembly hall were murals of the Twelve Deeds (mDzad pa bcu gnyis) and the deities of gSas mkhar mchog lnga. At the porch were, in common with every other monastery, the murals of the Four Great Kings (rGyal chen sde bzhi), the wheel of existence and so forth, and, not common to all monasteries, murals of the territorial deities of peaceful nature (yul lha), such as gSa’ yi nor bu bcu gsum and Chis kyi rin chen bcu gsum. In the tantric room upstairs were images of principal religious protective deities of peace and wrath, and on both sides of them stood the Six Bonpo Protectors (Bon skyong sde drug) and Zhu btsan Grags rgyal in a frightening aspect, as if guarding the Bonpo doctrine.

A brief history of the influential Zhu lineage, which had maintained gSa’ mda’ bon dgon in Bu rdzum, is as follows:

Once there was the chief gYung drung bsod nams, one of the successive Bu rdzum chiefs. It is said that originally these were offspring of the local deity. gYung drung bsod nams had only a daughter named Rin chen lha mo, who remained without offspring. There were no chiefs for the community and so there was the danger that the chieftain lineage might be ended. However, she was a person capable of leading her community. The members of her community, both lay and clerical, decided that they should try to look for a suitable man of a good family who would marry her. At that time, in 1777, the gTer ston Yung drung grags pa of the Zhu family, who was learned and compassionate, began to have a very close relationship with gSa’ mda’ bon dgon. The leaders of the monastery therefore requested him to marry Rin chen lha mo so that he could look after the monastery.

He provided a powerful remedy for the local community and the Bonpo doctrine. He established a close patron-priest relationship with Tshe ring rab brtan, the king of Hor, and became the king’s spiritual master.

gYung drung grags pa rediscovered hidden texts in the sacred site Brag dkar lha lung, situated in the vicinity of Klu phug Monastery (No.31) in sBra chen, and recognized the place as a pilgrimage site as well as tracing the path around it. At that time, the people of the Bu rdzum tribe, both laity and clergy, thought that since the monastery was founded by a man of the Zhu family and its tradition belonged to this family, it would be most appropriate if the Zhu family also now looked after it, and they congratulated the lama. From that time on, in the Bu rdzum tribe, the lineage of the local chief was united with that of Zhu g-yas.

Concerning the way in which this Bonpo monastery, whose inmates were a mixture of monks and lay practitioners, was transformed into a proper monastery, it happened as follows: When Sangs rgyas bstan ’dzin dbang gi rgyal po, the incarnation of rJe btsun Byang pa Khro tshang ’Brug lha and the twenty-fifth throne holder of sMan ri Monastery (No.1) in gTsang, where the Second Buddha mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan resided, came to the lower rGyal shod, he said that if the monastery followed the monastic tradition of sMan ri it would be a great benefit in the future for the interests of monastery itself and living beings. Every Bonpo devotee in the place, lay and clerical, willingly accepted the proposal. The leaders of the region, members of the monastery and ordinary people took vows to respect the recommendation.

mGon lha, the younger son of the chief Zhu g-yas Pad ma rin chen, took monastic vows and was given the name bsKal bzang gtsug phud. The lay practitioners in the monastery also took monastic vows. Moreover, many people from the tribe became monks, so that the number of monks grew by nearly one hundred. The abbot wrote the regulations of the monastery based on the Vinaya and Sutra.

When the abbot was about to leave for sMan ri Monastery, he called at Mi g-yo bsam gtan gling and gave an instruction saying that they should follow the Bru tradition, in accordance with the sMan ri practice, but the Zhu tradition of the dGu gsum festivals is of such magnificence that it should be maintained as before. For this reason, the Zhu tradition of the festivals has been kept till the present day.

Later on, the above-mentioned mGon lha vacated the throne and went to live with the family of the Sen tsha chieftain. However, he continued to do a lot of work that was beneficial to the monastery: he had many invaluable monastic articles made in the assembly hall, such as victorious banners decorated with various ornaments, the ’phan, the phye ’phur and canopies, all made of thick Hor cloth.

bsTan pa ’brug grags became a monk in this monastery. He was one of the four nephews of the king of Hor, Tsung chen hu Tshe dbang lha rgyal. The latter was a son of Zhu g-yas bSod nams dpad rgyal, the chief of Bu rdzum. However, bsTan pa ’brug grags could not do much for the monastery.

After that the local community needed another lama. The leaders of Bu rdzum, therefore, sent a messenger with one rdo tshad of silver and many other things to Ri zhing Monastery (No.4) in the upper Nyang in gTsang in order to invite a lama of the Zhu family. A lama called sTon pa of rTsa phu bla brang in Ri zhing, who was learned in the tradition of srid gshen, considering the benefit to sentient beings, accepted the invitation and came to rGyal shod. As a departing gift, the rTsa phu bla brang gave him the so-called He la nam mkha’i ’phur mo che, which is a statue of Phur pa rediscovered by gShen chen Klu dga’. It was made of five different precious metals with three faces and a Garuda hovering above its head.

The lama sTon pa lived among the people of rGyal shod as if he were a simple layman. He worked a great deal for the beings, not caring for either wealth or fame. He had four sons. One of the middle two took monastic vows in the presence of the abbots of the upper and lower monasteries, and received the name bsTan ’dzin gtsug phud. He received initiations and teachings of the outer, inner, and secret so well that the proper practice of rituals spread everywhere. As hoped by the people, priests and officials, he became the head of gSa’ mda’ bon dgon. He travelled often to the nomad areas of Hor in order to collect donations. In 1916, he completely rebuilt the monastery with new buildings, such as the temple with forty-eight long and short pillars, the dBu rtse with its stairway, the dance hall and so forth. However, he did not live to see the religious objects and murals completed.

After the death of bsTan ’dzin gtsug phud, bsTan pa rgya mtsho of Zhu g-yas took over the work. Many lay and clerical devotees made donations, so that the murals and religious objects were completed. In the dBu rtse temple were the following: a gilt-bronze statue of rGyal ba rgya mtsho with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes, as high as a two-storey house; a life-size gilt-bronze statue of Tshe dbang bod yul ma; clay images of rNam par rgyal ba, sMra ba’i seng ge, Thugs rje byams ma, mNyam med chen po, gTso mchog mkha’ ’gyings and sTag la me ’bar, each of which stood as high as a two-storey house, installed on fully draped thrones.

On the shelves, on both sides of the assembly hall, are said to have been a collection of countless scriptures, including the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten of Eternal Bon, the ’Bum and mDo gzer mig written in gold and the ’Bum of the three versions: detailed, standard and compact. There were the murals of the Thousand Buddha, Cho ga bcu gnyis, the Twelve Deeds of gShen rab Mi bo, the deities of gSas mkhar mchog lnga and the protective deities of Bon. Around the upper structure of the temple were murals of the lineage of the masters of monastic tradition. At the porch were the murals of the Four Great Kings and the wheel of existence.

Upstairs, in the bsKangs gso khang, were clay images of sTag la spu gri dmar nag and the religious protectors of Bon. On the lattice-work fence were clay images of dBal gsas and Tshe dbang Bod yul ma. The murals were of the assembled deities of Zhang zhung Bon skor.

Zhu g-yas bsTan pa rgya mtsho was the younger of the two sons of Pad ma rnam rgyal, a chief of Bu rdzum. He was born in 1905 and his lay name was bSod nams grags pa. He later took monastic vows in the presence of sKu ’dun Phun tshogs blo gros of sMan ri Monastery, and was given the name bsTan pa rgya mtsho. He received teachings in the presence of the mKhan chen Phun tshogs blo gros, the yogi bZod pa rgyal mtshan from Khyung po and the hermit gYung drung ye shes. He mastered the esoteric learning of Bon and became the head of gSa’ mda’ bon dgon, which consequently brought great prosperity to the monastery. In the latter half of his life he handed over all the responsibilities of teaching to his nephew Nyi zla tshe dbang, alias bsTan pa rgyal mtshan, and practised meditation for the rest of his life at the cave gSa’ phu. He passed away in 1966.

Nyi zla tshe dbang is the present head of gSa’ mda’ bon dgon. He was born in the family of the chief of Bu rdzum and was the younger of the two sons of Zhu g-yas Rin chen dbang rgyal. In 1934, he took monastic vows in the presence of bsTan pa blo gros, the abbot of sMan ri, and was given the name bsTan pa rgyal mtshan. He studied the precepts of Bon under the same master and bZod pa rgyal mtshan, the yogi of Khyung po. Similarly, he received teachings from the three other masters: Zhu g-yas gYung drung rgyal mtshan from Yung drung dpal ri in Khyung po; Shel zhig gYung drung rnam rgyal, a personal disciple of Grub dbang Shar rdza pa; and bsTan pa rgya mtsho, his paternal uncle. He also studied the general culture of Tibet, including Tibetan linguistics. He has been in charge of all aspects of the headship of this monastery up to the present day.

Annual Religious Services and Practice of Rituals

For about fifteen days, from the 3rd day of the first Tibetan month, there were ceremonies of lnga mchod and from the 16th, for three days, the smon lam festival is celebrated. Besides these, normally after finishing daily tea, the monks assemble to perform various rituals: the eight-day ritual based on the sGrib sbyong mun sel sgron ma, called the dPon tshang ma a dkar; the Zhi khro ritual, for over twenty days; the seven-day ritual of Ma rgyud; the five-day ritual of gDugs dkar; the Twelve Rituals (Cho ga bcu gnyis), for twelve days; the recitation of the bKa’ ’gyur; and the five-day ritual of Phur pa. On these occasions, a number of local devotees come to make flower offerings.

In the sixth Tibetan month a summer retreat is observed for about thirty days. Then comes the end of the month, when the dgu gtor rite called Khro bo dmar chen, which is the short one (dgu chung), is performed.

In the eighth month there is a big festival, Ma tri bum sgrub, for twelve days. On this occasion, religious dances that consist of thirteen different ones are performed over two days and on another day the public initiation is given.

On the 24th day of the tenth month another dgu gtor rite is performed, this time an elaborated one (dgu chen), based on the recital of the Khro bo ngo mtshar rgyas pa.

From the 3rd day of the twelfth month the ritual sTag la tshogs stong is performed, and at the end of the month the dgu gtor rite of sTag la is performed, leading to the New Year’s general celebration.

To sum up, they assemble for rituals for more than ten months of the whole year.

As for the organization of this monastery, it consists mainly of a dbu bla (head), four las sne (official), dbu mdzad and dge bskos. In addition to these, there are several senior monks from Khyung po and Ya nge thod pa in the lineage of old Bonpo masters, who take responsibility for managing the big festivities. For prescribed monastic activities the first four above-mentioned members should take responsibility. The main annual ceremonies are Nag po spam chen, Tshogs stong, lNga mchod, sMon lam, Zhi khro, Ma rgyud, gDugs dkar, Phur pa, Dung yon, bsNyen bsnyung, the dGag dbye, sNgags rgyun, dBu rtse mar chen, sNgags rgyun mar chen, ’Khor chen, Khyi khrud, gSar ’phar, and sPyi gso. The expenses of the eight-day ritual of A dkar are met by the chief of Bu rdzum. Funds for the above-mentioned activities are raised from livestock and farmland production. In the old days, it was with tea and silver that they raised funds to erect the so-called Four Stupas (mChod rten bzhi) of Nag po spam chen. Out of the funds, they must save cash to hand over so that the budget for the rest of the year might be met. There was a special rule in the monastery that according to the amount of the funds, four or two monks must take responsibility in turn for the funds.

With regard to monastic discipline, the legal document of the monastery serves as its basis. For example, if a monk breaks one of the four primary rules, he must be punished with a fine of eighteen tam rdo and he must find a substitute to be his replacement. Although the monastery used to be called “the Sixty Monastic College of gSa’ mda’”, because it had only sixty monks, it actually now has more than one hundred monks. The regulations of the monastery are very strict. The monks are not even allowed to wear undershirts at any time, and even in the courtyard of the public houses, including the four or five monks’ quarters, they were under close surveillance.

During the recent period of its history (i.e., the Cultural Revolution) the monastery declined markedly for many internal and external reasons. However, it was rebuilt in 1985. Several religious objects hidden and kept safe by the senior monk Byang chub grags pa, bsTan ’dzin bzang po and the dKar ya nge family were returned to the monastery. rDo rgyal kha ba rNam rgyal dbang grags of the Zhu family purchased a complete set of the bKa’ ’gyur in two hundred volumes printed in Chengdu, and presented it to the monastery.

After all this, at present this monastery is in pretty good condition in terms of size and equipment, and has come out as one of the principal Bonpo monasteries of Nag chu region. In the monastery there are three lamas, including Lama Nyi zla tshe dbang, mentioned above, who is very learned in Bon culture, and there are about forty-seven monks.

A trip of about 250 kilometres from ’Bri ru rdzong takes us to sBra chen rdzong.

sBra chen rdzong

sBra chen rdzong is located in north-eastern Tibet. It is 10,326 square kilometres in area and averages 4,500 metres in altitude. The people of the rzdong all believe in the Bon religion. There are two qu and six xiang within the jurisdiction of the rdzong – sBra chen qu, Gla shi xiang, sKar rgod xiang, gYa’ mnga’ xiang, Chab mda’ xiang, Ye tha xiang, lCang smad qu and Mam tha xiang – within which there are 161 village committees.

The place name sBra chen is an abbreviation of sBra gur chen po, which means "the big yak-hair tent". There used to be many of these and they were also called Khri langs stong bzhugs, which means that such a tent could hold ten thousand people standing and one thousand seated.

Hor sBra chen originally belonged to Sum pa, a part of the Tibetan empire. During the Mongol empire it was under the local Hor kings who paid allegiance to the Mongol emperors of China. During the Ming dynasty of China it was incorporated into Sichuan province, and during the Manchu rule it was one of the Thirty-nine Tribes (Tsho ba so dgu). In the time of the emperor Guang xu, it was taken back by the Tibetan government. In 1941, the Tibetan government established Hor sBra chen rdzong. After China’s “peaceful liberation” of Tibet in 1951, it came under the jurisdiction of the liberation committee of Chab mdo, and in 1959, the people’s commune of sBra chen rdzong was set up. In 1960, it was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Nag chu regional committee.

The whole population of the rdzong, 30,000, followed the Bon religion. Before the democratic reform was carried out, Bonpo monasteries were not allowed to tile their roofs and, they did not have anything like real estate, farmland, taxpayers or servants, but just a few livestock that could not even cover living expenses. Because of this, they had to live on the help received from each household and on the visiting prayer services they provided. Bonpo monasteries had neither privileges nor duties to provide labour or pay tax to the Tibetan government.

Around the time of democratic reform in the rdzong there were nine Bonpo monasteries with 1,031 monks, and six hermitages with twenty-three monks. After the democratic reform, all the monasteries were totally destroyed except Klu phug, Lung dkar and Phur nag Monasteries, and these three remained monasteries only in name.

In 1978 restoration of monasteries was started and there are now eight Bonpo monasteries that have been rebuilt. In these there are 520 monks. There is one hermitage in which three illustrious sages live: Rag shu rTogs ldan Dri med g-yung drung, Kha bo rTogs ldan Shes rab phun tshogs and A drung Tshul khrims dga’ ba.

The local population in the vicinities of the monasteries in dBra chen rdzong is as follows:

  1. Klu phug Monastery: 2,835 people in 399 households
  2. Phur nag Monastery: 2,835 people in 445 households
  3. sPa tshang and sPa ma Monasteries: 4,624 people in 736 households
  4. Lung dkar Monastery: 3,476 people in 469 households
  5. rMa rong and Khrom tshang Monasteries: 3,827 people in 510 households
  6. sGang ru Monastery: 1,459 people in 236 households
  7. On the whole, sBra chen rdzong is an important bastion of the Bon religion. Today the Bonpo monasteries in this rdzong are kept in good condition in many respects.

(26) sPa tshang Monastery

sPa tshang dgon gYung drung rab brtan gling belongs to Ye tha xiang and can be reached within ten minutes, walking from sBra chen rdzong. It was founded in 1847 by sPa ston gYung drung nam bzang, who was of the holy sPa lineage. The sPa is one of the six sacred families: Bru, Zhu, gShen, sPa, rMe’u and Khyung. The Bon Sources and some other historical documents give reasons why the sPa family is important:

lHa bu sPa ba spa thog, a son of Sangs po and Chu lcam, was born in heaven. He descended to earth from rTsa gsum lha and preached Bon. Then he went to Zhang zhung rNam rgyal lha rtse. From there he went to the Crystal Cave on Mount Ti se where he practised meditation on the tutelary deity Me ri for three years and so attained the divine body and was called Kri smon lcags kyi bya ru can. At that time, in Zhang zhung, people used to say, “In the sky the divine son is beautiful. On earth the king is great.” Lha bu’s descendants were ancestors of the sPa family and some of its members held the position of prelate at the court of kings of Tibet.

sPa ston Khyung ’bar, who had obtained spiritual power of mysticism in the latter stage of Bon development, demonstrated his acquired abilities. He transformed himself into a wrathful deity in order to subdue heretics and into a garuda bird to subdue the naga spirits.

Other masters who belonged to the sPa family were as prodigious:

  1. Zhig po Kun rtse
  2. Shes rab rgyal mtshan
  3. sPa rTogs ldan drang srong
  4. sPa ston rGyal ba shes rab
  5. sPa ston dPal ldan bzang po
  6. Nyi dpal bzang po

There were other masters of the sPa lineage who were based at La phug in Western Tibet called the “Thirteen good masters” (sPa bla bzang po bcu gsum); to name six of them, we have the following:

  1. Zla rgyal bzang po
  2. sTobs chen bzang po
  3. dPal mchog bzang po
  4. dPal ’bar bzang po
  5. mKhas grub Nam mkha’ bzang po
  6. gYung drung bzang po

However, their seat in Western Tibet declined and some members of the family migrated to mDo smad.

One of these was sPa ston gYung drung rgyal po, who had two sons: dGra ’dul bstan rgyal and bSod nams dbang grags. They proceeded from Amdo to the domain of the Hor Ye tha tribe and finally settled there. Their offspring were gYung drung nam bzang, lHun grub grags pa, Shes rab grags pa and Yon tan. gYung drung nam bzang became the prelate of the king of Hor and later he founded sPa tshang Monastery. After that, the centre of activities of the sPa family was shifted from west to east. All Bonpo sources agree that the monastery in Hor Ye tha constituted the most important monastic centre of the sPa lineage.

Later, sPa ston gYung drung bstan pa ’brug grags had other assembly halls built, with passages around them, on the three storeys of a building that had one hundred pillars. He also had the following religious objects erected: a stupa of bDud ’dul sgra sgrags, and statues of sTon pa rdzogs sku and rNam par rgyal ba, all gilt-bronze works. They were as high as a three-storey building. There were many small images as well. There was also the temple of bKra shis sgo mang that had twenty-pillars and contained a stupa of bKra shis sgo mang, a giant reliquary stupa and gilt-bronze images of rGyal ba rgya mtsho and sMra seng as tall as a three-storey building. He also had a large number of new religious objects built in the gTso bzhi temple.

The Bonpo doctrine was spread widely through the setting up of a flawless preaching school, under the system of the monastic tradition of sMan ri (No.1) and gYung drung gling (No.2) as well as the teachings of Shar rdza, the one who attained the “rainbow-body”. Thus the members of the sPa family made the Bon religion flourish there.

The lineage of the masters of sPa tshang Monastery in Ye tha is as follows:

  1. sPa gYung drung nam bzang
  2. sPa ston Nam mkha’ sgrol gsal
  3. sPa ston Nyi ma ’bum gsal
  4. sPa ston gYung drung bstan pa ’brug grags (alias ’Brug Rinpoche)
  5. sPa bsTan pa rgyal mtshan (alias Nyi ’bum sprul sku)
  6. sPla Zla ba rgyal mtshan
  7. bsTan pa ’brug grags
  8. Kho bo rTog ldan Shes rab phun tshogs

The last master did not belong to the lineage of the sPa family, but observed the rules of monastic discipline according to the sPa tradition.

Among the above-mentioned lamas, Nyi ma ’bum gsal, who was very active in the development process of the monastery, is described in some historical documents as follows:

He was born in 1825. He took full ordination in the presence of Zhu ston rGyal mtshan nyi ma and mKhan chen sKal bzang bstan pa’i nyi ma and heard teachings from these masters. He acquired an extraordinary knowledge of Buddhism and Bon under the tutelage of Me ston Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, ’Gro mgon Shes rab g-yung drung, Grub dbang bsTan ’dzin rin chen and gTer ston Tshe dbang grags pa. As mentioned above, he had temples built and various statues made as well as making copies of the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ bren. Having established the practice of preaching and meditating, he passed away at the age of sixty-seven.

Another important figure in the development of sPa tshang Monastery was gYung drung bstan pa ’brug grags. He was born in 1832. He took ordination at an early age in the presence of his paternal uncle, Nyi ma ’bum gsal. He received the entire course of initiation, transmissions and explanations of Sutra, Tantra and Mind. While practising these three, he also studied and became very learned. He wrote many books, about ten volumes on Bon, and established a school of metaphysical studies in the monastery. He had a gilt stupa of bKra shis sgo mang built, and another stupa of bDud ’dul sgra sgrags, as mentioned above. His deeds and name came to be known all around, and he passed away at the age of sixty.

Annual Religious Services and Rituals
  1. At the end of the eleventh Tibetan month the ritual of sTag la me ’bar was performed for five days.
  2. In the twelfth month, at the end of the year, the dgu chen ritual based on the ritual cycles of Kho bo and Phur pa was performed over seven days, and on the 30th day the ceremony of confession was held.
  3. In the first month flower offerings, A dkar bum sgrub and bCo lnga mchod pa were performed, occupying seventeen days in all.
  4. In the second month the ritual based on the mKha’ klong gsang mdos was performed for nine days.
  5. In the third month Dus chen che mo was performed for seventeen days, as well as religious dances (dbang ’cham) and the ritual based on the Rig ’dzin gsang sgrub.
  6. In the sixth month the rituals of Ma rgyud and rNam rgyal were performed and the summer retreat was observed for seventeen days.
  7. In the seventh month the ritual based on the Zhi khro was performed for fourteen days.
  8. In the eighth month the ritual of Ma tri bum sgrub was performed for nine days and there were religious dances.
  9. In the tenth month a debate on metaphysics was conducted for ten days.

The organization of the monastery at that time consisted of the following:

  • mkhan po
  • dpon slob
  • dbu mdzad
  • dge bskos
  • grwa dpon
  • phyag mdzod
  • spyi gso
  • gnyer pa

There were 250 monks in the monastery.

In the assembly hall and at its porch, there were excellent murals of deities. In the assembly hall from the right, there were the following:

  1. Srid rgyal Drel dmar: a goddess with a dark blue body, three faces and six arms; the three faces are of different colours, the right being white, the left red, and the centre blue. She holds a zhing dbyug (a stuffed object made of human skin), a sword and a sash in her three right hands, and in the left three are a swastika, a trident and a skull cup. She is adorned with rosaries of fresh skulls around her neck and rosaries of dry skulls on her limb joints. She is mounted on a red mule whose four legs are supported by the Four Great Kings.
  2. mKha’ dbyings lha mo: a goddess with a red body, nine heads and eighteen arms. She is mounted on a white mule in a state exhibiting bravery.
  3. Dus yum lha mo: a goddess with a blue body, nine heads and eight arms. She is mounted on a blue mule and has a frightening air.
  4. Srid rgyal drel nag ma: a goddess with a dark blue body, three heads and six arms. Her faces being white to the right, red to the left and blue in the centre, she possesses a perfect beauty. She holds a banner, a sword and a peg in her three right hands, and a mirror, an iron hook and a skull filled with blood in the left three. Mounted on a black mule, she presents a wrathful appearance.
  5. Bya ra ma gsum: 1) dKar mo srid rgyal: a goddess with a white body, one head and two arms. Sitting astride a bird, she exhibits a comfortable wrath. 2) sMug po srid rgyal: a goddess with a brown body, one head and two arms. Riding a leaping mule, she exhibits a terrifying air. 3) Nag mo srid rgyal: a goddess with a blue body, one head and two arms. In some murals she is mounted on a Garuda and in others an iron wolf.
  6. rDzu ’phrul sman bzhi: 1) gNam phyi gung rgyal: a single headed, two-armed goddess with a white body. Riding a snow lion, she exhibits a brave look. 2) Ye phyi gung sangs: a single-headed, two-armed, yellow-bodied divinity. Mounted on a dragon, she has an air of glory. 3) Phyi ma ye sangs: a divinity with one head, two arms and a red body. She is a terrifying divinity riding a Garuda. 4) gNam sman che mo: a goddess with a dark blue body, one head and two arms. Riding a sheep, she shows an air of magnificence.
  7. Ma rgyud yi dam gsang mchog: a divinity with a blue body, seven heads and sixteen arms. Possessing Garuda’s wings, he shows an air of passionate wrath.
  8. sTag la me ’bar: a divinity with a red body, one head and two arms. His attributes are a gold wheel in his right hand, lifted up into the sky, and nine crossed swords in the left hand.
  9. Phur pa, the Deity of Action: a divinity with a blue body, three heads and six arms; the lower part of his body is in the form of a frightening dagger.
  10. dBal chen Ge khod, the Deity of Virtue: a divinity with a blue body, nine heads and sixteen arms. He presents fierce looks while holding, to his bosom, his consort, who has a red body, three heads and six arms and is in a rage. In his peaceful form, he is called A ti mu wer in the Zhang zhung language, and Sangs rgyas mkha’ rgyal in Tibetan.
  11. gTso mchog mkha’ ’gyings, the Deity of Mind: a divinity with a blue body, three heads and six arms. His consort has a red body, one head and two arms. When in his peaceful form, he is called gYung drung yongs rdzogs.
  12. lHa rgod thog pa, the Deity of Speech: a divinity with a blue body, four heads and eight arms. His consort has a green body, one head and two arms. In his peaceful form he appears as sMra ba’i seng ge.
  13. dBal gsas rngam pa, the Deity of Body: a divinity with a blue body. Adorned with a tiger, snow lion, Garuda and a dragon above his head, he presents a wrathful appearance. His peaceful form is Kun bzang rgyal ba ’dus pa.
  14. Mi bdud ’byams pa khrag mgo: Ge ta ge rgya in the Zhang zhung language, he has a dark blue body, one head and two arms. He brandishes an axe in his right hand, and holds either a bow and arrow or a black banner in his left. He is mounted on an otter or a black horse.

Besides all these, there are the Four Principal Peaceful Deities (bDe gshegs gtso bzhi) of Sutra rituals, rNam par rgyal ba and rGyal ba rgya mtsho with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes.

Below the porch the murals of the wheel of existence and the Four Great Kings were drawn. All this vividly shows the particular tradition of the Bonpo tradition.

sPa tshang Monastery in Hor Ye tha was an important seat of the sPa family, and it still plays an important role as the centre of the sPa tradition. At present, this monastery’s chief lamas are Kho bo rTogs ldan Shes rab phun tshogs, bsTan pa ’brug grags and Nam mkha’ dbang grub. sKal bzang dbang grags, the aged dance master of sPa tshang Monastery, is very skilled in the art of the ’cham dance. Twice a year, therefore, they customarily perform religious dances. They maintain the art of ’cham well and have good costumes for it. In fact, we saw the staging of the ’cham dance based on the Rig ’dzin gsang sgrub, which consists of several dances, such as gSer skyem, mTshams bcad, sPyan ’bebs, sPyan ’dren, rNam brgyad tshogs ’cham, sKu bstod, Nang ’cham and others. These are of the Bonpo tradition but have unique features. The present sPa tshang Monastery has over one hundred monks, and the religious activities are kept in the way they used to be.

(27) Lung dkar Monastery

The monastery’s full name is Ye tha Lung dkar dgon gShen bstan rin chen gling. Travelling thirty-odd kilometres from sBra chen rdzong, we reach Ye tha xiang. Lung dkar Monastery is located on top of a hill at the western outskirts of the xiang. It is possible to approach the gate of the monastery in a car, but the track to the top of the hill is not very good.

The seat of Lun dkar Monastery is called Upper Ye tha, and that of sPa tshang Monastery Lower Ye tha. The limpid stream gliding past the front of sBra chen rdzong is called Ye chu. Ye tha, which is one of “the Thirty-nine Tribes”, is an important local community.

Lung dkar Monastery derives its name from the local deity (gzhi bdag) Lung dkar. He is a deity that wears a hat made of felt, holds a gem in his right hand and is mounted on a white horse.

The predecessor of this monastery is said to be Sog gYung drung gling (already mentioned in connection with the Zhu family in the section of ’Bru ru rdzong).

It was located in Cham mda’, the border area of the two rdzong, sBra chen and Sog. At present, to the best of my memory, this area is no more than a vast plain with a stone dyke and many prayer flags fluttering. Concerning Sog gYung drung gling Monastery, the sKal bzang mgrin rgyan, a Bonpo work, describes it as follows:

“It is not certain when this monastery was founded, but it certainly existed in the Third Rab byung (1147-1206). There were four monastic colleges and more than two thousand monks. It is said that the establishment was so big that horn-calls for assemblies had to be blown in the four directions.

After the destruction of Sog gYung drung gling by the barbarous Mongolian Jungar, the Mongol hordes plundered several important religious objects, which they carried away and gave to Sog Tsan dan dgon, an important dGe lugs pa monastery situated in the same region.

The belongings of lamas of Khyung and dBu, who were members of thirteen individual establishments in Sog gYung drung gling, and some irreplaceable sacred objects, including the golden statue of sTag la me ’bar and the skull of dBu ri lama, were given to Lung dkar Monastery. This was why Lung dkar Monastery considered Sog gYung drung gling to be its predecessor.

Lung dkar Monastery’s history can be presented in three parts. First, in 1715, Chos ’bum, chief of the Hor Ye tha tribe, and his son Mu khri rgyal ba tshul khrims, who was a lama, founded the hermitage called Ri khrod dkar po in Lung bzang. The objective of this was to perform religious services for the lama and peace in the region. In that year bsKal bzang rgya mtsho, the Seventh Dalai Lama, passed through the Hor area from mGar thar in Khams on horseback. Chos ’bum successfully solicited him to issue a decree officially recognizing the hermitage. But after the death of Mu khri rgyal ba tshul khrims, the hermitage collapsed due to internal discord.

Second, Ye tha Nor bu tshe rgyal, the scholar bSod nams lhun grub of dBu ri house and dBra Khyung rGyal ba bstan ’dzin founded gYu lung Monastery in 1808 at the same place. The king of Hor, Tshe ring rab brtan, issued a proclamation, with a preamble by rTa tshag Ho thog thu of Kun bde gling in Lhasa, that this monastery, which was an establishment for the leaders of the Ye tha community, should be lead by the lamas of sPo la and dBu ri. It actually became a real monastery from the time of dBu bla rGyal ba tshul khrims, the reincarnation of Mu khri, and it was called gYu lung. However, in 1868 it was destroyed by an avalanche of snow.

Third, rNam rgyal dbang ’dus, the king of Hor, then gave orders that the monastery should be restored at once, for it was an extremely bad omen that the monastery was destroyed by an avalanche and he gave twenty ’bri (young female yaks), along with a measure of Chinese silver, as a contribution to the restoration of the monastery. In 1925, on the 22nd day of the 9th month, dBra khyung sKal bzang dbang grags and dBu ri bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal - supported by the local people and in accordance with a prophecy by gYung drung dbang rgyal, the Twentieth abbot of sMan ri - began to restore the monastery. On this occasion, important prelates of the Bon religion, such as Nyag gter gSang sngags gling pa, his wife mKha’ ’gro bDe chen dbang mo and Me ston Kun dga’ rgyal mtshan all came and the monks of the monastery, joined by the local people, welcomed them with a procession.

On the same occasion, at the holy mountain called gSang brag nor bu lha rtse situated behind the monastery, the secret abode of the three wrathful deities blessed by the three holy ones, a profound text was rediscovered by gSang sngags gling pa and he, after tracing the path of circumambulation of the mountain, wrote a guide to it. There was a performance of the debate between gods and demons, in which the gods won and their sons went up to occupy the upper part of the Lung dkar valley and those of demons defeated went down to the lower part of the valley.

Around the holy mountain there are other mountains such as gYu lung, Lung dkar and dByi dkar with all their spirit proprietors. The proprietor of Mount dByi dkar is a white Tibetan lynx as the name indicates. There is a “soul-lake” (bla mtsho) called Ma ma mtsho, which is said to be the source of the lake of Ma pang gYu mtsho. There are footprints of gShen rab Mi bo and mKha’ ’gro bDe chen dbang mo, and the treasure cave of gSang sngags gling pa as well as the meditation caves of the eighty adepts. There is also the head-print in the rock of dBu ri bSod nams rgyal mtshan.

The principal religious objects of this monastery were as follows: the bronze statue of gShen rab Mi bo that remained unburned when Sog gYung drung gling Monastery was destroyed; a five-finger-breadth-high bronze statue of gNam phyi gung rgyal; a statue of Kun dga’ rgyal mtshan that had not been caught in the fire; an icon of gShen lha ’od dkar drawn on cotton; the skull of the dBu ri bsTan ’dzin phun tshogs, which contains his skylark-egg-size relic; a ghost-exorcising knotted knife used by dBu ri sKar ma rgyal mtshan; a small white conch derived from a Khyung Zla sras can and a self-grown letter A. Similarly, there were a great many scriptures, including a complete set of bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten.

There were four important lamas in this monastery: dBu rGyal ba tshul khrims, sPo bSod nams g-yung drung, sGang ru bsTan pa kun khyab and dBu Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan. From among these, I shall give a brief account of rGyal ba tshul khrims and Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan:

dBu rGyal ba tshul khrims was born in 1864 to the father Rin chen phun tshogs and the mother dMar rtsa bza’, as their second son among four – the eldest bSod nams gYung drung, the second himself, the third sKar ma rgyal mtshan and the youngest bsTan ’dzin phun tshogs. From childhood, he had an intellectual power incomparable with any other children. gSang sngags gling pa mentioned his name in his book on a prophetic lineage entitled the sKyes phreng gsol ’debs as follows:

“The emanation who converts the sentient beings may come having the following names:

Yongs su dag pa, the gShen of the gods, in heaven;

Dam pa rgya gar, the great saint;

U ri bsod nams rgyal mtshan, the incomparable;

Shes rab seng ge, in the land of rGyal rong;

Ban rde Rin chen, in the valley of Kong po;

bSod nams ye shes, in gTsang;

rGyal ba tshul khrims, in the land of Gyi ghir.

To this lineage of rosary of pearl I pray.”

dBu rGyal ba tshul khrims was exceedingly intelligent when he was young. He could grasp, when he was just showing how to write, read and recite, which brought him public praise. When a deep compassion for the cyclic existence arose in his heart, he became absorbed in meditation in hermitages and accomplished his self-training. In the presence of sPa ston Nyi ma ’bum gsal, Nyag gter gSang sngags gling pa and Grub dbang sMon lam rgyal mtshan he took initiations and received the very essence of the ocean of precepts. He excelled in all learning. Not only that, he showed signs of unparalleled spiritual accomplishment. His name, rGyal ba tshul khrims, became widely known all over the district, like an ensign fluttering. He was only seven when he took over responsibility as the head of Lung dkar Monastery, and passed away at the age of ninety-six.

As for dBu Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan, he was born in 1924 as the eldest of four sons of the father sKal bzang bstan ’dzin and the mother Zo bza’ dgyes skyid. When he was six he began writing and reading, and before long he attained the highest perfection. He took ordination to enter the priesthood in the presence of dBu rGyal ba tshul khrims and received the name Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan. He received complete instruction in the rediscovered holy texts in the presence of Tri bo bSod nams rgyal mtshan, and learned metaphysics mainly from Khyung slob Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan. He spent six years learning such subjects as grammar, phonetics, poetics, dkar rtsis and nag rtsis, chanting and mandala-painting. As he also studied Sutra, Tantra and Mind, he became a veritable scholar.

In the presence of rGyal ba tshul khrims, Khyung po bZod ba rgyal mtshan, sPa ston ’Brug Rinpoche and Khyung slob Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan, he asked for numerous initiations and instructions on texts. In the presence of the rGyal tshab Blo gros rgya mtsho he took a complete course of initiations and transmissions of texts by Grub dbang Shar rdza, and took the dge tshul vows of monk. He worked hard for Lung dkar Monastery to develop its study and practice and made sure that it followed the Bru tradition. In 1984 he passed away. He was sixty-one.

Besides those mentioned above, this monastery has produced many other great meditators: Tre bo bSod nams rgyal mtshan, brDa snga gYung drung rab brtan, sGyes sum Byams pa tshul khrims and lCags tsha Tshul khrims bstan dbang, who all gave their lives to meditation.

Practice of rituals and religious services of this monastery
  1. In the first Tibetan month there is the commemoration of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan.
  2. In the second month the A dkar bum sgrub ritual is performed.
  3. In the third month the ritual cycle of Khro bo and Phur pa is performed.
  4. In the fifth month the propitiatory ritual for Bonpo religious protectors is performed.
  5. In the sixth month the ceremony of rNam rgyal stong mchod is held.
  6. In the seventh month the Ma tri bum sgrub ritual is performed.
  7. In the eighth month the Me tog mchod pa ceremony is held.
  8. In the eleventh month rituals based on the cycle of Khro bo are performed.
  9. In the twelfth month there is a performance of the complete ritual cycle of sTag la me ’bar.

In each of the three winter months there is the performance of the dgu gtor rite. In all, the monks gather together for eighty days of the year for the purpose of performing rituals.

As for daily ceremonies, there is a morning assembly preceded by the sounding of a big white conch, along with the playing of a long oboe and a drum. Tea is served seven times a day, and meetings are observed seven times a day. The main rituals are based on the following texts: Phur nag, Khro bo, Kun rig, rNam rgyal, Me tog mchod pa, rGyal ba rgya mtsho, Kun rig, Byams ma, ’Dul chog, rNam ’joms, sMan lha, Dus ’khor, Phar phyin, Kun dbyings, sMon lam mtha’ yas, dGe bsnyen and rNam dag.

The head and other leaders of the monastery in 1998 were as follows: the abbot Nyi ma lhun grub, who was sixty-one years old; Tshul khrims ’byung gnas of Lung nag, who was twenty-nine; bShad sgrub rab ’phel, also of the Lung nag lineage, who was seventeen; bsTan ’dzin mtshungs med of the sPa family, fifteen years old; and Drang srong g-yung drung of sGrub, who was sixty-six.

Other members of the monastery were as follows: teacher, Drang srong gYung drung; senior chanting conductor, Blo gros brtan pa; the younger chanting conductor, Tshe dbang phun tshogs; and disciplinarian, gYung drung phun tshogs. There were more than forty ordinary monks.

For the main source of income, the monks receive financial help from their own families and they perform visiting services in the village one hundred days a year, for which they are paid ten yuan each day. In summer, when the people leave for gathering the dByar rtswa dgun ’bu (“grass in summer, worms in winter”, Cordyceps sinensis) in the mountains, most of the monks return home and help look after their families’ livestock. The monastery itself has no property apart from about thirty yaks.

(28) sGra rgyal Monastery

sGang ru sGra rgyal Monastery is situated in lCang smad qu, sBra chen rdzong. The qu is ninety kilometres north of the rdzong, and the monastery is reached by travelling two hours further northward on horseback.

In this nomad area of sGang ru, initially, a lama from Khyung po founded a monastery called Chu lung dgon, which, after a long time, declined. After that, another lama, also from Khyung po, founded a monastery in the same place and called it Na g-yang dgon, which also collapsed, having nobody to look after it. Thereafter, for a long period there was neither a communal leader nor a lama. Many believers longed for a new monastery to be built.

At that time, however, there was a monk named Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan, who was the former chief teacher in gYung drung gling Monastery (No.2). He was himself a native of sGang ru. He had a great reputation as an accomplished scholar. After leaving his duty in gYung drung gling he devoted himself to meditation for eight years on the island of the lake Gyer ru mtsho. He had a close connection with the chief of the Kre ba tribe, one of the seven Sa skya tribes that inhabited the area around the lake gNam mtsho. The monks and laymen of the sGang ru Byang ma district held repeated discussions and sent bsTan pa lhun grub as a delegate to invite Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan, who, however, refused to accept the invitation. This left the people of sGang ru helpless. The following year, Tshe rab, the brother of Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan, appealed to him and this time he agreed to come.

Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan returned on horseback to his native land. He looked for a good site and in 1957 he founded sGra rgyal Monastery in front of Mount Gung sman yul sa. This mountain had the look of a white conch and is situated at the back of the monastery.

The monastery closely followed, in all its ceremonies, the tradition of gYung drung gling. There was the performance of the ritual cycle of Khro bo, the commemoration of sNang ston Zla ba rgyal mtshan and annual rituals such as the Zhi khro khri mchod and rNam rgyal stong mchod. The head of the monastery was lHa dge of Khyung nag. He was assisted by gDung pa me gsas and sKar yu.

As for religious objects, the monastery possessed a gilt-bronze statue of rNam par rgyal ba, another statue of Sa trig er sangs and a complete manuscript set of the bKa’ ’gyur. There was also a large gilt-bronze reliquary stupa of bZod pa rgyal mtshan, which bDud ’dul of Khyung po had had made.

At present the monastery has fifty-five monks. It has several chapels and some religious objects.

(29) A krong Hermitage

From sBra chen rdzong, driving twenty-four kilometres westward on the highway and then another ten kilometres northward, we come to sKar rgod xiang. A krong Hermitage is reached by travelling nine more kilometres eastward. It is at an altitude not less than 5,000 metres, and because of the difficulty the ascent presents to cars, one must go on foot from the bottom of the hill.

The hermitage was established by rTogs ldan Tshul khrims dga’ ba in 1981 at a place where previously there was nothing but a cemetery and a small temple. At the spot backed by the holy mountain A krong and fronted with another holy mountain, Yi ge, he built a temple adorned with religious objects of body, speech and mind, and a mural of local deities of considerable quality. Although it is not very long since the hermitage was established, it has been a place of pilgrimage for many people because of the cemetery, which is regarded as very special.

With regard to the way the monks perform funeral rites, they maintain the distinct traits of Bonpo tradition. Firstly, at the death of a person, the family invites a monk called the dbugs chad lama, and then on the third day another monk called the zhag gsum lama, to whom it presents a horse saddle. On the forty-ninth day the family invites a monk called the zhe dgu lama. The funeral rite is based on the Kun rig. Many flat, hand-sawn wooden boards are inscribed with scriptures in gold and silver to be burned in the cremation. So for the funeral rite, a rich family spends over 100,000 yuan and one that is not so rich about 50,000. For very poor families, it has been a custom to leave the corpse strewn with barley flour up in the mountains.

No more than three monks reside in this hermitage.

(30) Phur nag Monastery

The monastery’s full name is Phur nag dgon gYung drung ’o tshal gling. Travelling from A krong Hermitage back to sKar rgod xiang, then sixteen kilometres towards the north, which includes a river-crossing on the way, we arrive at Phur nag Monastery. It was easy going for us, with a Tantrist guide who had a fearful look.

This is an excellent Bonpo tantric establishment, a glance at which can inspire one with delight and awe. It was founded in 1864 by bSod nams g-yung drung, a Tantrist of A skyid, and his assistant, Dar dga’. Before the tantric establishment, it is said that there was a custom of the local community making offerings on the 15th day of the month at the same site. bSod nams g-yung drung, the founder of the establishment, belonged to a long lineage of able Tantric practitioners. He was much respected by the local people as he was able to perform the funeral rite for the dead and carry out religious services for the living. Lama Dar dga’ was also esteemed as he belonged to the lineage of rMe’u.

As the main tutelary deity of the establishment was dBal phur nag po, it was called Phur nag. The temple and assembly hall had their religious objects and were fully equipped. In the temple there were statues of gSas mkhar mchog lnga and Bonpo religious protectors in all their majesty. As there was a fair number of Tantric practitioners in Phur nag it was one of the three famous Tantric establishments in the Hor region known as Klu rTing Phur gsum, i.e. Klu phug (No.31), rTing ngu (No.12) and Phur nag (No.30). The ritual tradition of Phur nag followed closely those of the families gShen, Bru, Zhu and rMe’u.

The monastery has murals of its own protective local deities, which are as follows:

  1. rGyal mtshan po: a deity with one head and two arms. His body is white like a conch, and he holds a white conch in his right hand and a jewel in his left. He is mounted on a white horse.
  2. Yi ge rag sna: a local deity with a red body, one head and two arms. Holding a red lance in his right hand and a lasso in his left, he is mounted on a stallion.
  3. mKhan chen: a local deity that resides to the left of the mountain behind the monastery complex. He has one head, two arms and a snow-white body. Mounted on a light-bay horse, he holds a lance with a banner in his right hand and a white conch in his left. He exhibits a peaceful air.
  4. ’Brig gu: a local deity with a white body, one head and two arms. Holding a white conch in his right hand and a jewel in his left, he is mounted on a white yak with a turquoise mane.

There were a number of mural paintings of other local deities as well.

As for activities, offerings are made on the 15th day of each month. The practitioners gather together for religious services eight times during the year. Formerly the establishment had about seventy inmates. At present, there are sixty-six, who continue reviving the earlier tradition.

(31) Klu phug Monastery

The monastery’s full name is Klu phug dgon gYung drung bde chen gling. From Phur nag Monastery, there is a direct road that leads to Klu phug Monastery, but it is a trip of extreme difficulty and danger. To the right of the road stretches a high mountain range with yawning craggy abysses. To the left runs the reddish river Sog chu, swirling waves. Before reaching the monastery seven narrow ledges must be traversed, the mere sight of which can make one’s hair stand on end. People call these the “Seven ledges intermediate between death and rebirth” (bar ma do’i ’phrang bdun). Thus we arrive at rDza gseb xiang. This xiang is completely surrounded by green-clad mountains. Herds – black, white or other colours – on the verdant plain look just like the stars scattered in the sky. To the far north-west of the xiang is a high, white, rocky hill that looks like an elderly monkey sitting on his haunches, the appearance of which may strike one as strange.

To reach Klu phug Monastery, which is situated in sBra chen qu, one must travel further away from the riverbank. It is one hundred kilometres from the rdzong to the monastery, but twenty-four kilometres of this can be covered conveniently by car on the highway.

Here I shall give an account of where and how this monastery originated: this monastery is situated on the upper part of Brag dkar lha lung valley in sBra chen qu. On the hill at the back of the monastery there was a cave in which, it is believed, a water spirit klu lived. That is why the monastery is called Klu phug.

There was a Tantric establishment called mKhar dmar bla brang founded in 1626 by Khri rgyal rje chen, the twelfth king of the Thirty-nine Tribes of Hor. He was a tantric practitioner and followed both Bon and ’Bri gung bKa’ rgyud pa traditions.

mKhar dmar was situated at a saddle-shaped craggy red hill called Gung lhag. It was a two-storey building. On the top of the roof it had various emblems unique to the ancient Bon tradition, such as the perch of birds. In the centre and at the four corners of the roof there were spears erected and decorated with yak’s hair on their tips, surrounded by deer and wild yak horns. In the assembly hall on the upper floor there were four pillars and it was the place where twelve Tantric practitioners gathered together. There were the following religious objects: clay images of the four-armed sPyan ras gzigs, sGrol dkar, rNam par rgyal ba and Khri gtsug rgyal ba; scriptures, including the Khams chen in sixteen volumes and the bDal ’bum in twelve volumes; eight stupas made of a mixture of medicine and clay, each of which was as tall as an arrow. On the west side of the floor there was a single-pillared meditation room in which Khri rgyal rje chen erected gilt-bronze statues of Kun bzang rgyal ba ’dus pa and dBal gsas rngam pa (this statue still exists) less than a cubit in height. These had been concealed in the ground at Sham po during the suppression of Bon in Central Tibet and was rediscovered by rMa ston lHa rgod Shes rab seng ge. Moreover, there were images of Dran pa nam mkha’ with his twin sons made of the li from Zhang zhung, a span in height (two of these statues still exist). These were rediscovered in Phyug mo dpal ri by Bon zhig gYung drung gling pa.

In 1786, lHa mkhar bstan rgyal, the elder son of Khri rgyal rje chen, was enthroned and maintained the mKhar dmar establishment as his father did. He married gShen bza’ dPal ’dzin, a lady of the gShen family. He abandoned his family’s tradition to follow ’Bri gung bka’ brgyud and was content to keep only the Bon tradition. Dpal ’dzin, the queen, became a nun in her later life and lived in a cave to devote herself to meditation. Her cave can still be visited.

Tshe ring rab brtan, the son of lHa mkhar, succeeded his father. However, he was more concerned with politics. He had two tent residences. One of these two was in sBra chen and it was in this that he used live and it became the seat of his government.

In mKhar dmar, there was lHa bla bsTan pa phun tshogs, who is said to be a native of rGyal rong. He looked after the tantric establishment (which usually had twelve tantrists). lHun grub ’od zer (alias Shang blang Drang srong) of rTing ngu Monastery came to join him and he was ordained by bsTan pa phun tshogs. So mKhar dmar started having monks in its midst. lHa bla also established there the ritual practice of the Zhi khro dgongs ’dus according to the New Bon tradition. This was to be performed in the eighth month every year.

Here is an account of how Klu phug Monastery was founded. In 1827 Nyi ma bstan ’dzin, the twenty-third abbot of sMan ri Monastery (No.1), travelled to the region of Hor. He came and stayed in Klu phug Monastery. There he presided over the ceremony of the enthronement of bsTan ’dzin dbang grags, the reincarnation of lHa bla bsTan pa phun tshogs, at mKhar dmar bla brang. On the same occasion, he encouraged bsTan ’dzin dbang grags and the twelve tantrists to take monastic ordination. Klu phug then with its mKhar dmar bla brang became a real monastery and the abbot gave it the name gShen bstan gYung drung bde chen gling and wrote a monastic code for it entitled the Thar lam them skas, setting out regulations in accordance with the Bonpo monastic tradition. Not only that, he issued an edict establishing the monastery as being the first branch of sMan ri in the region. He entrusted the monastic management to Ma bdud btsan rgyal bzhi, the Bonpo protectors, and bestowed upon the monastery a large flat bell discovered in rGyal rong Brag steng and it has been one of the principal religious objects of this monastery up to the present day.

bsTan ’dzin dbang grags maintained the time-honoured custom of mKhar dmar bla brang, except that the twelve tantrists were now all monks. He added an eight-pillared assembly hall and established the commemoration of sTon pa gShen rab’s birthday on the 15th day of the first Tibetan month, and the performance of the ritual Ma tri bum sgrub on the 15th day of the eighth month.

Later, bsTan pa dar rgyas, a prince of the royal house of Hor, became the head of the monastery. In his childhood, he was recognized as the reincarnation of a high lama in rGyal rong. So a number of gifts, including a copy of the Khams chen, written in gold, were presented to Khri dbang rab brtan, the sixteenth king of Hor, in the hope that he would permit the child to leave for rGyal rong. However, the king was powerful enough to hold back the child (his own son) from leaving and returned the gifts. So bsTan pa dar rgyas eventually decided himself to become a monk and later ascended the throne of Klu phug Monastery. In addition to the dgu gtor rite, formerly performed by the Twelve Tantrists, he established a new custom of a complete ritual practice of the Red Yamantaka (gShin rje gshed dmar). Following this, religious dances were performed, to which he added new dances: sNang bgyad, Tshogs ’cham, and the Yamantaka.

rNam rgyal dbang ’dus, a brother of bsTan pa dar rgyas, entered the priesthood and succeeded his brother in the monastery, but the seventeenth king of Hor, Nor bu dbang rgyal, died prematurely, so he had to leave the monk body and succeed to the throne. As a confession (of having broken the monastic vows) a two-storey temple with six pillars was build in the monastery. There were gilt-bronze statues of rNam par rgyal ba and the Four Principal Buddhas, a span in height. Families of the ’Brog shog and Bon tha tribes of the Thirty-seven Tribes of Hor took an oath that they would send their second son (if there was one) to become a monk. From that point the monastery began to have many monks.

bsTan pa rgyal mtshan, of the royal house of Hor, ascended the monastic throne. From childhood he was faithful, industrious and intelligent, so that he became the focus of praise from all the people. He took monastic vows at the age of thirteen. After that, according to custom, he made offerings to the three monasteries, including sMan ri. In the presence of sKal bzang nyi ma, the second abbot of gYung drung gling, he took full ordination. He then set out on pilgrimage to Mount Ti se and the soul-mountain of Bon in Zhang zhung and also the lake Ma pang g-yu mtsho. There he made circumambulations and prostrations.

He then returned to his monastery where he had various stupas built, including a reliquary stupa of a gShen lama in the form of gYung drung bkod legs and another reliquary stupa of bsTan pa dar rgyas in the form of rNam rgyal mchod rten made of silver, the height of a person and adorned with varieties of vivid gems. He had a temple built to house the stupas he had had made. His main spiritual masters were gTer ston Nam mkha’ khri khyung of Zhu and Grub dbang sMon lam rgyal mtshan of Khyung po. gTer ston gYung drung grags pa of Zhu, who was the prelate of the king Tshe ring rab brtan, made Mount Brag dkar lha lung, where the monastery is situated, into a sacred site and established a new custom of circumambulating the sacred hill in the region.

bsTan pa rgyal tshan made copies, by himself, of the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten in vermilion ink and had a temple with eight pillars built to house them. This temple also contained a gilt-bronze statue of sTon pa gShen rab and a reliquary stupa of Zhu Nam mkha’ khri khyung the height of an arrow. An assembly hall was also built, with two storeys and six long pillars and sixty-six short ones. In the inner sanctuary there was a complete set of lTung bshags lha ’khor of gilt-bronze. On the right wall were murals of the Bya rgyud and sPyod rgyud deities. On the left wall were the principal deities of the Ye shes and Ye she chen po’i rgyud. On the walls around the upper structure were the Four Principal Buddhas and the masters who maintained the monastic tradition. On both sides of the door were Bonpo religious protectors, both male and female. In the front hall were murals of the eight dPal mgon chen po brgyad, the Four Great Kings and the local deity lHa dbang dgra ’dul.

This monastery followed the Bru tradition in its activities as exactly as that of sMan ri Monastery: in the eighth month, the ritual of Khro bo, and in the third month that of Phur pa, finishing with a whole day’s dance performance.

In 1912 the Thirty-nine Tribes of Hor came under the control of the Manchu officials resident in Tibet and then, later, the Tibetan government began to rule over the tribes. This Tibetan (dGe lugs pa) rule over the region soon had an adverse effect on the Bonpo monasteries.

Then Sangs rgyas bstan ’dzin, a Hor lama, took care of the mKhar dmar Bla brang residence. sGo ston Nyi ma rgyal mtshan succeeded him. The latter was born in 1937 at lHa thog in sDe dge, in a family of the sKam lineage. He later became the head of Klu phug Monastery. He reorganized the cemetery in the vicinity of the monastery by subduing the ground and building a stone mandala there. The place was the abode of mKha’ ’gro Seng gdong ma and the ground looks like the crooked knife of a mkha’ ’gro ma and the bare hills nearby resemble a woman’s breasts.

mKhan chung Grags rnam, the first Hor governor, assigned by the Tibetan government, appointed the head of Klu phug Monastery as the abbot of thirty-eight monasteries among the Thirty-nine Tribes by issuing an edict and a seal. This official position of the abbot is called So brgyad mkhan po.

After that, Thugs rje nyi ma of sKam, using his own resources and assisted by gYung drung ye shes of Kha btags, made gilt-bronze statues of the deities of gSas mkhar mchog lnga and sTag la the height of an arrow, and two large reliquary stupas of bsTan pa rgyal mtshan and Tshe dbang lha rgyal as tall as a two-storey house.

rMe’u ston sKal bzang rgyal mtshan succeeded sGo ston Nyi ma rgyal mtshan as the head of the monastery. He was born in 1912 and was recognized as the reincarnation of his predecessor by Phun tshogs blo gros, the twenty-eighth abbot of sMan ri. In the presence of the abbot he took monastic vows, then ascended the throne of Klu phug Monastery. He twice carried out restoration work at mKhar dmar bla brang, during which he built a new twelve-pillared temple containing religious objects such as gilt-bronze statues of rNam pa rgyal ba, rGyal ba rgya mtsho and sMon lam mtha’ yas, each of which was as tall as a two-storey house. He paid visits to the Three Principal Bonpo Monasteries in Central Tibet and distributed, in accordance with old custom, much of his own wealth among the monks there. He, moreover, took full ordination in the presence of Nyi ma dbang rgyal, the thirty-first abbot of sMan ri. At his own monastery he had two copies of the bKa’ ’gyur made. When the Bonpo monasteries were persecuted by the garrison, consisting of five hundred guards, posted in sBra chen by the Tibetan government, he was obliged to escape for a short period of time; consequently he was unharmed. He died in 1954.

gYung drung rgyal ba of the royal house of the king of Hor succeeded rMe’u ston sKal bzang rgyal mtshan as head of the monastery. He was born in 1936 and was recognized as the rebirth of Sras smyon pa. The latter was regarded as the reincarnation of gYung drung bstan pa rgyal mtshan. gYung drung rgyal ba took monastic vows in the presence of rGyal tshab gYung drung rgyal mtshan of mKhar sna (No.7). At the age of five, he entered Klu phug Monastery and then travelled from one monastery to another. He obtained initiations and teachings from a number of masters living in Khams and Amdo. In 1956, he took full ordination in the presence of bsTan pa blo gros, the ex-abbot of sMan ri. While helping maintain Klu phug Monastery, he was particularly involved in political affairs of both laity and clergy.

The hierarchical system of the monastery is as follows:

  • mkhan po and sprul sku
  • phan tshun che mo
  • dge rgan, five teachers selected from the four colleges: Ke’u tshang sGron gsal gling, dGa’ ldan ’bul sde gling, bsTan pa yar dar gling and gSer sde bde chen gling
  • dbu mdzad
  • dge bskos
  • phyag mdzod
  • sphi gnyer
  • rgyun gnyer
  • tshang dpon

Formerly there were about three hundred monks.

Among the eighty-seven Bonpo monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Klu phug Monastery is, at present, one of those that have good facilities such as assembly hall, temple and other buildings. Its religious objects are in good condition. A broad range of teachings on study, practice and meditation are taught by the following individuals: the abbot sKal bzang g-yung drung; rTogs ldan Rag shu; Dri med g-yung drung (alias Dri med rdo rje), the highly illustrious one who has reached the age of ninety years; Rag shu Kun bzang snying po; sGo rigs Ye shes kun ’byung; sPa tshang ’Phrin las rgya mtsho; and Zhu gYung drung rang sgrol. Altogether, there are 130 monks presently living there.

Principal among the religious objects still kept in this monastery is the pair of statues of rGyal ba ’dus pa in tranquil aspect and dBal gsas rngam pa in wrathful aspect. They are regarded as rediscoveries of rMa ston lHa rgod. As well, there are numerous other religious objects of great importance: the silver image of gShen lha ’od dkar, rediscovered by Bon zhig Khyung nag; bronze statues of Dran pa nam mkha’ and Pad ma mthong grol, alias Pad ma ’byung gnas, both considered to be rediscoveries.

The mountain called Nor bu lha rtse, behind the monastery, is regarded as a holy mountain blessed by Dran pa nam mkha’ and his twin sons - Tshe dbang rig ’dzin and Pad ma ’byung gnas. The mountain to the right is called Nyi ma lha rtse and the one to the left is Zla ba lha rtse. There are three hills designated as gatekeepers: Phyi Gung ma, Bar rGyal po brag dmar and Nang bSe ru. There is a cave that is supposed to be that of Dran pa nam mkha’ and a lake called sPyang thang mtsho nag.

There are twelve tantrists: dGe ’dun grags pa, dGe slong dBang dga’, Ban sal Blo bzang dpal ldan, Nag ru tshul khrims, sTag rtse bsTan pa dge grags, Nag ru bsTan ’dzin ye shes, Ba ha bon dkar, gTsang tsha Tshul khrims bstan rgyal, Khor bSam gtan tshul khrims, rGyu ne bsTan ’dzin lhun grub, Hor Tshul khrims nyi ma and Ba ra bsTan ’dzin lhun grub. All are, in fact, monks strictly observing their tantric vows.

The main protective deities of this monastery are as follows: Srid rgyal drel dmar, Srid rgyal drel nag, Ye shes dbal mo, Bya ra ma gsum, rDzu ’phrul sman bzhi and Mi bdud ’Byams pa khrag mgo. There are murals of the following deities:

  1. gNam sman che mo: a goddess with a blue body, one head and two arms. Mounted on a sheep, she has the look of great bravery.
  2. dGra lha rgyal mo: a goddess with a midnight-blue body, one head and two arms. She holds a sword in her right hand and a breath-gathering bag in her left. Dressed in black silk, she is mounted on an iron wolf.
  3. Yum sras Ma bdud khro gnyer ma: a goddess with a midnight-blue body, one head and two arms. Holding a club in her right hand and a lasso in her left, and presenting a frightening appearance, she is mounted on a black waterfowl.
  4. lCam mo lam lha: a goddess with a yellow body, one head and two arms. She holds a lance and a key in her right hand, and an axe and a gem in her left. Mounted on a gold bee, she is in a state of ever-lasting stability.
  5. gCan lha mig dgu: a three-headed, six-armed deity with a brown body. He presents his right face as a bird, his left face as a pig and the centre one in a wrathful state. He is mounted on a nine-headed black-pig.
  6. rMa rgyal spom ra: a deity with a white body, one head and two arms. Well clad in armour and a conch-shell helmet, he holds in his right hand a lance with a flag fastened to it and in his left hand, a gem. Mounted on a snow lion, he presents a brave look.
  7. bTsan rgod hur pa gsod skyen: a deity with a red body, holding a lance in his right hand and a lasso in his left. He is mounted on a blue horse with a blackish lower half.
  8. dMag dpon rgyal po yang ne wer: a deity with one head, two arms and a yellow body. In his right hand he holds a symbolic lance with a flag attached to it and in his left, a lasso. Mounted on a blue horse with a blackish lower half, he presents a frightening appearance.
  9. Brag btsan A bse rgyal ba: a deity with a red-body, holding a noose made of a snake in his right hand and a big owl in his left. He is mounted on a horse with a blackish back and whitish feet.
  10. rGyal chen Nyi pang sad (also called Nyi ma’i rgyal po): a deity with a white body. His right hand holding a lance with a flag fastened to it and his left hand holding a lasso, he is mounted on a white horse with a reddish back.
  11. bTsan rgod Grags pa rgyal mtshan: a deity with a red body, holding in his right hand a lance with a flag fastened to it and in his left, the heart of an enemy. He is mounted on a red male horse.
  12. Pho lha gNam thel dkar po: a deity of Hor with a white body and hair tied up at the top. Dressed in glossy white silk, he is adorned with turquoise, coral and pearls. He holds a crystal sword in his right hand and in his left, on which he wears a silver bracelet, he holds a white lasso; his arms are equipped with white wooden conchs. Mounted on a white horse with a reddish back, he presents a brave appearance.
  13. sGra bla dpa’ stod: a deity with a white body, a single head and two arms. Clad in a leather helmet and golden armour, he holds a sword in his right hand and a lasso in his left. A tiger, a snow lion, a Garuda and a dragon hover above his head, and he is mounted on a white horse.
  14. rGyal chen Shel khrab ’bar ba: a deity with a white body and wearing a coat of crystal mail. His right hand is giving a signal of unravelling an enigma, and the left holds a multi-coloured ice-conch. He is mounted on the best breed of A mdo horse.
  15. Dzam sngon ku be ra: a deity with a midnight-blue body. Holding a golden sword in his right hand and an ichneumon in his left, he displays an imposing air. He is mounted on a horse with a turquoise mane.
  16. bSe ru: a deity with a blue body, riding a fish. He terrifies even violent serpents.

In regard to daily activities of the monastery, they perform the bsang ritual in the morning and, in the evening, rituals to propitiate the protective deities.

Since the monastery has neither farmland nor livestock, they have to rely on each household for financial support, so more than one hundred of the monks go out to give prayer services in villages. In payment, they receive one hundred yuan a day in the highest paid cases, twenty to fifty in moderate cases, and about ten yuan in the lowest.

With regard to Klu phug ri khrod, which is an hermitage, it is situated close to the monastery itself, on the mountain to the south. Its main religious objects are the relics of gYung Nyi ma rgyal mtshan and sGo Thugs rje nyi ma. At present there are four monks in the hermitage.

(32) sPu la Monastery

The monastery is also known as sPu la ri khang dgon. From Hor sBra chen rdzong, travelling twenty kilometres eastward on the highway, another eight kilometres northward, and then crossing a big river, we reach sPu la Monastery in Ye tha xiang. This monastery is situated at the foot of a mountain that is the source of the river. It was founded by Khyung nag Shes rab rgyal mtshan in 1853.

Shes rab rgyal mtshan’s family belonged to one of the four lineages of Khyung: Khyung dkar, Khyung nag, Khyung ser and Khyung khra. Thog la ’bar of Khyung dkar, Mu khyung rgyal of Khyung nag, lHa khyung rgyal of Khyung ser and Khyung ’phags khra bo of Khyung khra each built a temple near a soul-lake and soul-rock. I will not take up in detail the process by which they built the temples and spread the Bon doctrine, but I shall give here an account of the masters of sPu la who belonged to the lineage of Khyung nag Mu khyung rgyal.

In this line, there was Khyung po sGom nag and his two sons, Gyer mi nyi ’od and Khyung nag Klu rgyal. Of these two, the latter is said to have founded Sog gYung drung gling Monastery. From Khyung nag Klu rgyal a line continued as follows: Mu la ti ro, Khod rtsal hur min, Zla ri a kag, Gu ra ta kra, lHun grub ’phrin las, (who is said to be the founder of gZu bon Monastery), and Mu ri ha ra, whose two sons were dPon dge and dPon ’ud. It was these two brothers who were the leaders of Sog gYung drung gling Monastery when the Mongolian troops of Jungar began to attack their monastery and destroy it.

After that, Drung mu tshul ming of Khyung came to sPu la kha by way of dKar shod. He stopped there for the night. During the night he was shot and killed by accident when there was an archery contest organized by the local chief, gZu pa. This news reached Khyung nag Sa trig, who took the case to court and obtained the sPu la kha land as compensation for the killing. Khyung nag Sa trig then became known as sPu la Lama.

Shes rab rgyal mtshan of Khyung nag then founded sPu la Monastery. It was destroyed by the Jungar troops, but restored by Khyung A bla. The latter’s son, dBang rgyal lhun grub, is said to have rediscovered a statue of sTon pa gShen rab on the island in the lake gNam tsho. It is still preserved in the monastery. dBang rgyal lhun grub’s son was A ti mu wer. The latter’s son was Ge khod dBang rgyal, who was regarded as a manifestation of the deity A ti mu wer and is said to have rediscovered a statue of rNam par rgyal ba, which is also kept in the monastery. Ge khod dBang rgyal had a son called Khyung A dar. From him the line continued through Bla sgur, gYung drung tshe mchog, dBang dbang and gYang ’job. In the monastery there was also the dagger called gNam lcags phur pa, rediscovered by Khyung Rin chen dbang rgyal, and relics of various sizes produced from the cremation when he died.

When the abbot of sMan ri, Nyi ma bstan ’dzin, came to sPu la Monastery, he bestowed upon it the name dPal gShen bstan gYung drung gling. Following that, there were masters such as Khyung nag bSod nams g-yung drung and bSod nams chos rgyal at the monastery. There were about sixty-five tantric practitioners strictly observing the tantric vows.

The main religious objects, in addition to those mentioned above, were as follows: three excellent statues of Byams ma; those of Nang chen grags pa and sTag la, a cubit in height; a small one of Dran pa nam mkha’; rGyal ba rgya mtsho, a cubit in height; two excellent ones of sTon pa gShen rab; and a multi-coloured statue of Kun tu bzang po. All were made of copper. Besides these, there was a thangka of the Twelve Deeds and a large thangka made of the silk of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan. As for scriptures, there was the Khams chen in four volumes, written in gold, called ’Dzam gling rgyan gcig ("the only gem of the world"). There were also the following objects: a black stone with a self-risen letter A formed of tricoloured onyx on it; bone relics the size of a goose egg; four knotted knives made when the spirits sPyang ’gag were subdued; eight reliquary stupas made of gold, silver and copper; eight cubit-height stupas made of sandalwood and juniper; a maroon coloured conch; a dragon flint; a horse-whip made of native onyx; a sacred gold horse-saddle; a serpent made of turquoise; a cannibal demon’s right hand made of coral; a maroon coloured precious stone; and a pair of oboes made of gold. This monastery had this manifold wealth of religious objects and innumerable treasures.

The range of holy mountains behind the monastery includes gYung drung dpung rdzong, sTag la me ’bar, A rngul ’bri ri phyung mo and Pha bong bon ri. It is said that if one performs circumambulation around Mount Pha bong bon ri it is equal to doing that once around Kong po bon ri. There are footprints of sTon pa gShen rab and the four scholarly men. Near the lake mTsho chen ma there is the footprint of Srid pa rgyal mo drel dmar.

The monastery closely follows the sMan ri tradition. The monks assemble sixty times a year amounting to seventy-nine days. There are fifty monks, including the abbot gYung drung rgyal mtshan, sKal bzang dbang grags, who oversees the observation of the fasting ceremony, Rin chen blo gros, the disciplinarian, and bsTan pa tshul khrims, the chanting conductor. Among the fifty monks there are the teachers who have twenty-two monk students.

(33) rMa rong Monastery

The monastery’s full name is rMa rong dgon gYung drung lha brag gling. From sPu la Monastery, driving twenty-five kilometres further eastward on the highway leads us to the lower terrace of rMa rong village. To reach rMa rong Monastery, a further thirteen kilometres must be driven northward on a terribly bad road, which can take an hour.

In 1390 dBra khyung Nam mkha’ rin chen built a hut in this place for the purpose of retreat. It then gradually developed into a monastery.

This monastery is found near Mount sPu rgyal gangs bzang and is one of four monasteries situated at the four cardinal points of the mountain. It is also known as Nang mdun dgon. sPu rgyal is a holy mountain for both Bonpo and Buddhists. Its being a holy site was prophesied by early sages and this is particularly clear in the guide written by gTer ston bDe chen gling pa. rMa rong Monastery was later enlarged by Drung mu, who had overcome many obstacles brought on by the local deities. He tells this story in his ’Dzam bu yig chung, as well as in the communication he had with the local deity, entitled ’Dzam bu lha rtse.

Khyung po Kun bzang grags pa and his brother were living in dByis stod, where they were involved in a dispute with Rong po dgon, a dGe lugs pa monastery. Intending to migrate to Western Tibet, they arrived at the residence of the rMa rong local chief. A rgya, the chief of rMa rong, was a patron of Kun bzang grags pa. A rgya and his people requested Kun bzang grags pa to be the head of rMa rong Monastery. However, Kun bzang grags pa and his brother declined the offer. They continued their journey. A rgya then informed Khri rgyal rje chen, the twelfth king of Hor. The king told Kun bzang grags pa that not only could he not leave for Western Tibet, he should settle down in the pastureland where the king had his herd of mdzo animals, as well as look after rMa rong Monastery. From that point the monastery had to perform religious services for the benefit of the king and, in return, the king issued an edict in recognition of the monastery.

Khyung po gYung drung rnam dag, the son of Khyung po Kun bzang grags pa, had a temple called rNam rgyal lha khang built in the monastery, containing many religious objects. He made majestic masks of the religious protectors such as the Ma (Srid pa rgyal mo), the bDud (Mi bdu ’byams pa khrag mgo) and the bTsan (Brag btsan A bse rgyal ba). The mask of the bTsan is regarded as special since no dust ever stays on it.

Of the three sons of gYung drung rnam dag, the eldest, Nam mkha’ rgyal po, made many copies of scriptures for the monastery. He had two sons, Nyi ma ’jig rten and dBang po. Nyi ma ’jig rten is said to have been chivalrous. His son was Khyung po g-yung dpal. When Khyung po g-yung dpal died, it is said that where his corpse was buried the tree stag ma grew from his tongue. His son was gYung drung phun tshogs, whose sons were Blo ldan grags pa and Tshe dbang grags pa. Tshe dbang grags pa brought considerable development to the monastery. After that, Blo ldan grags pa was involved in a dispute with bSod nams bkra shis, the brother of the rMa rong chief, so Blo ldan grags pa strongly wished to leave for Western Tibet, but was prevented by the king of Hor. The king told him that unless he would live in rMa rong he would have to live in either Khrom tshang or sGong ru. So Blo ldan grags pa stayed in Khrom tshang for several years, during which rMa rong Monastery declined a little. After that, bSod nams dbang ’dus, the son of the rMa rong chief, requested the lama to come back to the monastery, but the lama was unwilling. Through the mediation of a representative of the king and the Be hu of the Sog tribe, the lama was reinstalled as the head of the monastery. He undertook as much restoration as he could. He lived to one hundred years of age. His son is Khyung po Bla rgan gYung dga’, who is presently at the monastery. There were nine lamas in the line of succession, from Kun bzang grags pa to Blo ldan grags pa. The king of Hor recognized a number of them by issuing offical letters to them.

The monastery’s main religious objects, all of which were of great sublimity, were as follows: a large white conch whose sound travelled very far, rediscovered by gTer ston gYung drung grags pa of Zhu; the horn of a female deer, which was the private property of Khyung A sha ba rang grol; the reliquary stupa of Khyung po Nang chen grags pa, called gSer ’od ’bar ba or rTen bya ’phur ma; and a statue of Dzam bha lha made of A ya sbug ge, rediscovered in dKyis ’khor thang in rTa shod by rTa shod Bu mo pad ma mtsho. In the temple of the monastery there were the following religious objects: statues of sTon pa gShen rab, rNam par rgyal ba, Byams ma, Khro bo gtso mchog, sTag la, Dran pa nam mkha’ and his twin sons Tshe dbang rig ’dzin and Pad ma ’byung gnas; a number of gold-painted thangkas; and scriptures including the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten .

This monastery is surrounded by the holy mountains sPu rgyal, ’Dzam bu, Jag pa, gYe rtse and lHa brag.

There are six lamas in the monastery: rGyal mtshan nor bu, dGe dbang, gYang rgyal, bSam ’phel nor bu, dGa’ ’degs and Sri thar, who all belong to the Khyung po lineage. The disciplinarian is sTag skyabs, and Nor dga’ is the chanting conductor. Of the forty inmates presently at this monastery, three are proper monks and the rest are lay religious practitioners.

There are four annual rituals, held in different seasons: the rNam rgyal ritual in summer and autumn, and the rituals of sTag la, Phur pa and Byams ma in winter and spring, each lasting twenty days. The monastery is regarded as a branch of Klu phug Monastery (No.31).

As for the main source of income, the monks have to depend on their families for support. People usually offer from ten to fifteen yuan for the occasional religious services the monks perform in villages. As there are only three proper monks, the temple of the monastery and its contents are in a pitiful condition.

(34) Khrom tshang Monastery

The monastery’s full name is Khrom tshang dgon gYung drung kun grags gling. From the lower terrace of rMa rong village, travelling thirteen kilometres eastward on the highway, one reaches Khrom tshang Monastery lying on the hillside to the north. This monastery is in a beautiful environment.

In the Seventh Rab byung (1387-1446) Kun mkhyen Ye shes snying po, who was a disciple of mNyam med gShes rab rgyal mtshan and supported by Nyi ma legs chen, chief of Khrom, founded the monastery Dar lung dgon in Khrom. It was then maintained by a series of lamas of the Khrom family and others:

  1. Khrom sras bsTan pa lhun grub
  2. Khrom sprul gYung drung mthong grol
  3. Kun mkhyen Sangs rgyas grags pa
  4. sNgags ’chang bKra shis rgyal mtshan
  5. Khrom tshang bsTan ’dzin nor bu
  6. dBang chen dge legs

The monastery was a well developed centre, with its temples full of religious objects and scriptures including the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten. However, it was completely destroyed by the evil Jungar troops of Mongolia and remained a monastery only in name. After that, the lamas of the Khrom family lived in tents made of the yak hair or in hermitages.

After a long period of misfortune, Shes rab g-yung drung, the Twenty-fifth abbot of sMan ri Monastery (No.1), paid a visit to the region. He instructed the Khrom family to rebuild the monastery and restore its tradition. After examining the place, he decided upon a site for it, and in 1845 rNam rgyal grags pa, the chief of Khrom and Blo mgar began to rebuild the monastery as they had promised in the presence of the abbot. It was called gYung drung kun grags gling. The head of the monastery was dGe bzang gYung drung dbang rgyal. A series of six heads of the monastery followed him, down to Yon tan rgya mtsho. In 1998 there were fifty-two inmates, both monks and tantric practitioners.

The principal religious objects of this monastery were two reliquary stupas and statues of rNam par rgyal ba, sMon lam mtha’ yas, rGyal ba ’dus pa, Kun snang khyab pa, sTon pa of the nine ages, Khro bo gtso mchog, dBal gsas, lHa rgod, sTag la and the eight Lo pan gshen. Other religious objects were a large conch, relics of sTon pa gShen rab; a dextral conch made of the teeth of lHun grub grags pa, and an image of Kun bzang that had risen from the central energy channel of dGe bzang Bon chung. Besides these, there was a set of the bKa’ ’gyur and eighty volumes of works on Tantra.

As for the annual activities, the inmates assemble five times a year:

  1. In the fourth Tibetan month Me tog mchod pa and rNam rgyal stong mchod were celebrated for ten days. During these ceremonies 11,000 butter lamps were lit.
  2. In the sixth month there was the observation of the smyung gnas fasting for eleven days and 20,000 butter lamps were lit.
  3. In the seventh month the ritual of A dkar bum sgrub was performed for ten days with 50,000 butter lamp being lit.
  4. In the ninth month the Zhi khro ritual was performed for eleven days.
  5. In the eleventh month Ma rgyud was performed for eight days.

Because the monastery customarily offered a huge number of butter lamps, people called the monastery the Butter Lamp monastery (Mar me’i dgon pa). As for the funds for the above ceremonies, the monastery had about six hundred ’bri (female yak) which had to be taken care of and whose number had to be kept at six hundred by a certain number of the local villagers.

The personnel of the monastery were as follows:

  • dbu bla
  • dbu mdzad
  • dge bskos
  • gnyer pa
  • spyi gso

All held their positions for a certain number of years.

At present there are four head lamas: gYung drung yon ten rgya mtsho, bSod nams g-yung drung, Ye shes dbang ldan and Shes rab blo gros. The disciplinarian is Tshul khrims dbang rgyal, and the chanting conductor is sTobs ldan ye shes. There are one hundred and six monks.

The holy mountains around the monastery are Gangs ri sPu rgyal, lDe’u chen and rTsa ri rtsa gsar. The holy lakes are Srid rgyal bla mtsho, sPu rgyal bla mtsho and Rum mtsho rgan. The protective deities are Srid rgyal drel nag, Mi bdud ’Byams pa khrag mgo, A bse and rGyal po Shel khrab can; these four are called Ma bdud btsan rgyal bzhi.

As daily activities, they perform the bsang ritual in the morning and chant the Zhi ba a gsal. When we visited the monastery, they were in the course of the rNam rgyal stong mchod ceremony. Of the rituals performed in the monastery, the four important ones are based on the gYung drung klong rgyas, rNam rgyal, Byams ma mdo lugs and rNam dag pad ma klong yangs.

This monastery is a branch of sMan ri. Apart from sixty-two yaks, it has no material means of food production or income generation. Income to cover all expenses comes from performing religious services in villages, for which they are paid from two to fifteen yuan.

Driving 190 kilometres south-eastward on the highway, one reaches sTeng chen rdzong. As three high mountain passes must be crossed on the way, it takes eight and a half hours.

The Chamdo region
sTeng chen rdzong

sTeng chen rdzong is in Khyung po, north-eastern Tibet. It covers an area of 11,562 square kilometres, of which 110,000 mu is farmland, 11,500 mu pastureland and over 35,000 mu natural forest. It has a population of about 53,000 and consists of sixteen xiang and sixty-five village councils.

During the period of the Mongol empire and the Ming dynasty of China, sTeng chen formed a part of the Sog sde territory. In 1647, it came under the direct control of the Manchu government. In 1751, it came to be ruled by the Manchu officials resident in Tibet and in 1916, control was handed over to the Tibetan government. In 1959 sTeng chen rdzong was established and absorbed into Chab mdo region. At one point in history it was called Sum pa glang gi gyim shod, a territory of Zhang zhung sgo pa, which was one of the three provinces of Zhang zhung called sGo, Phug and Bar.

The story of the Khyung lineage begins with three brothers: lHa lung rgyal, Khyung Thog la ’bar, and dMu khyung rgyal. Around the 10th century, Shes rab rgyal mtshan, of the dMu khyung lineage, migrated to Sum pa glang. As the Khyung lineage prospered there, the place came to be known as Khyung po.

(35) sTeng chen Monastery

The monastery’s full name is sTeng chen dgon gYung drung bstan rgyas gling. sTeng chen Monastery comes under the administration of the municipality of sTeng chen and is situated on the hillside to the west of the rdzong. It was founded in 1061 by Khyung dbus Shes rab rgyal mtshan.

The story of the Khyung lineage is told as follows: A long time ago, a big Garuda (khyung) flew into a flower garden and there it produced three crystal-like eggs, from each of which appeared a very beautiful boy. The eldest was called lHa khyung, the second Thog la ’bar and the youngest dMu khyung rgyal. The latter had two sons and a daughter, sTag sgra dun gtsug, dPal gyi gir ti and Khyung bza’ Ye shes mtsho rgyal. The daughter, Khyung bza’, married Lig mi rgyal, the king of Zhang zhung. Her elder brother, sTag sgra dun gtsug, flourished in sTeng chen. He had a son called Gyer nam zur rtse, who had two sons, sTong rgyung rin mo and sTag la skyes. The former had three sons, Khyung sgom mu langs, Khyung ’phags khra mo and Khyung sder sngon mo. Khyung sgom mu langs’s son was Khu byug, and his three sons were sTag pa, Zur dkar ba and mDo bkra ba. sTag pa’s son was Myes tshab, and he had four sons, sTon pa ’bar, Dam pa Khyung sgom (alias Shes rab sgom), dBen pa ma lugs (alias sTon lug), and Dam pa Khyung dbus (alias Dad pa rgyal mtshan). sTon pa ’bar’s son was sTon thar, and he had six sons, sTon sras, Shes rab rgyal mtshan, sTon mnyan Dam pa bang bkra, dPon dge, dPon dbus and sTon ’bum. The mother of these six was a rGya lady, so they came to be known as “The Six rGya tsha Brothers” (rGya tsha spun drug). Of the six brothers, Khyung dbus Shes rab rgyal mtshan was guided by a prophecy as follows:

“The one who holds the lineage of dBra dkar Khyung po

Must go to mDo khams smad.

The doctrine rises and falls like the sun and the moon,

Even if they fall tonight, they would shine tomorrow.

At the bottom of Sum glang lies rNgu rdzong,

In front of the six magnificent fortresses of crystal.

sTeng chen is situated like the gold fish in a lake,

There is the site for a seat of the Khyung family.

Now go towards that site.

The river of knowledge will wind there,

And the flag of the Khyung lineage will be stable there.”

When Khyung dbus arrived in sTeng chen there was a Chinese man there called gTsug gtor nyi ma ’brug grags (hereafter, Nyi ma ’brug grags). He was a man both powerful and learned. He realized that the time had come and that his was a suitable place to welcome Khyung dbus.

At that time, Khyung dbus was travelling in the places called Khri, rDo, rMa and La. Nyi ma ’brug grags constructed a throne at Khyung khri thang in rMa and gave a reception for the lama. Then the lama was invited to go to a fortress called Khams gsum dbang ’dus. From there he proceeded to sTeng chen, which he thought corresponded to the description in the prophecy. The lama first founded two colleges called Kun khyab gling and bsTan rgyas gling. The first one was for practising meditation according to Sutra and the second according to Tantra. bsTan rgyas gling produced a series of eminent monks and Kun khyab gling had tantric practitioners such as Tha yud wer zhi and the eighteen masters in the Do khung line, who were all tantrists with long locks.

Nyi ma ’brug grags then offered his adherence to Khyung dbus by telling him:

“I have my own Chinese culture in China.

I must return to my own country.

I offer you this seat of mine as your abode.

And this large field for which I paid a bowlful of gold,

As a seat for yourself, king of Khyung.

The plateau up there,

Is the place where I play the gold dice.

Make it your royal seat, you, the king.

Below the junction of the three gSer ru valleys,

Above the confluence of the two rivers,

This is the land I, the old China man, bought.

Make it your royal seat, you, the king.

The red rock, which is like a fortress of fire (down there),

Is like a Garuda lying in its nest.

Make it your royal seat, you, the king.

It is there where you should build your fortress and palace…”

And he added,

“The spring of water in rDza dkar so ma,

Is the place for your horse to drink.

All this is given to you, please accept them.”

Khyung dbus replied: “I am simply a monk who has abandoned the family life, so I would not know how to manage a fortress and be a leader of a community. If you mean to give your land and fortress to the Khyung family, my brother’s sons A brla and Nang chen grags pa are at Khyung lung in Zhang zhung. I hope you will be able to send two messengers with a present from me to go to Khyung lung.

Then Khyung dbus, as a sign of assurance, gave a dagger with a white haft to the messengers dispatched by Nyi ma ’brug grags. They called on Khyung A brla, offered the present and told him why they came to see him. Khyung A brla consented to come to sTeng chen. He, with the two messengers, travelled by the southern road. They happily arrived in the land of Khyung po.

Then Khyung dbus and Nyi ma ’brug grags met Khyung A brla. Nyi ma ’brug grags, having given all the land to Khyung A brla, went back to China accompanied by his own servants. Khyung dbus and all the people saw him off. Khyung dbus passed away on the shore of the river rNgul chu after exhibiting immense miraculous signs of his spiritual accomplishment.

Later Nang chen grags pa paid a visit to China and had an audience with the emperor. Upon returning to sTeng chen, he fixed his residence at sTeng chen itself. Thereafter, sTeng chen’s spiritual and temporal laws became very famous. A brla continued working for the monastery and exhibited signs of spiritual accomplishment. He finally died at the age of sixty-two. He had many religious objects of body, speech and mind made.

One of A brla’s four wives, ’Dan bza’, had three sons, Khyung zhig Ye rgyal ba, dBang rgyal grub and Byang nang pa Byang shes. Ye rgyal ba was an eminent monk. He practised meditation on Khro bo and Phur pa. Kindling his divine power, he reinforced his deeds for religious beings. He died at seventy. A brla’s son bSod nams rgyal mtshan by the lady of Rong was a very learned man. He possessed awe-inspiring dignity, convincing speech and foresight, and his reputation spread. He passed away when he was eighty-two. Drung chen Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan, another son of A brla by Rong mo za, was a man with a broad knowledge of Bonpo scriptures. With the great power and skill obtained from constant meditation on Srid rgyal drel dmar, in particular, he laboured for sentient beings. At the age of seventy-two, he died in sTeng chen. From here the offspring of A brla were succeeded as the head of the monastery by a series of masters:

  1. Rin chen rgyal mtshan dar
  2. gYung drung rgyal mtshan
  3. Rin chen rgyal mtshan
  4. bsTan pa’i rgyal mtshan
  5. Ye shes rgyal mtshan
  6. lHun grub bsod nams dbang rgyal
  7. dBang gi rgyal mtshan
  8. Yid bzhin rgyal ba
  9. rGyal ba don grub
  10. Khyung po Blo gros rgyal mtshan
  11. Blo ldan snying po (b.1360)
  12. Khyung chen Yon tan rin chen
  13. Khyung dkar
  14. Khyung po A ’je
  15. Khyung po rNam rgyal
  16. sPyang Be zhu Blo bzang
  17. sKyang ’phags Tshe dbang bstan rgyal

Blo ldan snying po, the eleventh, was born of the dBra clan in the lower part of Khyung po. He received the Oral Tradition, which he wrote down, filling about fifty-four volumes, including the mDo Dri med gzi brjid. He is said to have had a five-storey temple built, called bKra shis ’od ’bar. It had statues of deities of the forty-five vehicles, as well as the Khams chen nag phran ma written in gold. He died at forty-seven.

sKyang ’phags Tshe dbang bstan rgyal, the seventeenth, studied at gYung drung gling Monastery (No.2) and obtained the degree of dge bshes there. Having thoroughly mastered dozens of subjects, he received completely perfect teachings of texts and instructions from Lama rGyal mtshan in sTeng chen. At that time, gTer ston bDe chen gling pa arrived in sTeng chen. He visited the place called gTer sgrom kha and prophesied that there would be a monastery there. Since Tshe dbang bstan rgyal had been given the very same prophecy by sKyabs mgon Zla ba rgyal mtshan, Tshe dbang bstan rgyal fulfilled the prophecies of the two masters by uniting the two establishments, gYung drung bstan rgyal gling - the monastery of Khyung dkar lineage holders in the Upper sTeng chen - and the one called Kun khyab gling - which had been the abode of eighteen series of Khyung tantric practitioners - into one and moving them to gTer sgrom kha in 1862.

The new monastery was large with a number of monks. It had over four hundred households to support it. Moreover, he had over a hundred temples built, of various sizes. These establishments followed a strict monastic tradition; assemblies were to be held fifteen times a year. The monastery had many important visitors, so it became known all over Tibet.

Then, in sTeng chen Monastery, there was the accomplished scholar gYung grags pa (gYung drung Tshul khrims dbang grags), who had the whole bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten copied to the best quality and made an excellent catalogue of the collection. After gYung grags pa, Khyung sprul Tshe dbang g-yung drung followed as the head of the monastery in 1913. During this time, China and Tibet were at war with each other which caused the monastery to be burnt down. However, Khyung ser sga sprul Tshe dbang g-yung drung took the initiative to rebuild it. A large and splendid temple was built, containing many religious objects. At that time, bsTan pa, having obtained the degree of dge bshes in metaphysics in gYung drung gling, returned to his native monastery. When Nyi ma dbang rgyal, the Thirty-first abbot of sMan ri Monastery (No.1), came to this monastery, the abbot appointed bsTan pa as head of the monastery. mKhan po bsTan pa had many religious objects made and did great deeds for sentient beings.

Before 1959, there were about 180 monks in sTeng chen Monastery. At present there are sixty-one monks, led by the following: the abbot, rGya mtsho nor bu, who is thirty-three years old in 1998; the chanting conductors, ’Chi med g-yung drung and bsTan pa tshul khrims; and the disciplinarians, bSod nams bkra shis and sNying rje bstan ’dzin. There are, in fact, no more than fourteen who reside permanently in the monastery.

As daily activities, in the morning the monks recite the rtsa rlung prayer. Then they perform the bsang purification ritual and the water offering based on the bDud rtsi chu rgyun and the rTsis ’go bdun pa.

Other rituals that the monks perform on different occasions are based on the texts sMon lam mtha’ yas, ’Dul chog (during the summer retreat), Ma tri, rNam rgyal and mKha’ klong gsang mdos. They also perform rituals for wrathful deities, gShed dmar, Khro bo and the propitiation of the religious protectors.

The mountain behind the monastery is called Brag dmar ri ’dus, the abode of the local deity Rin chen ’bar ba, and at its left are those called gZi yar sku, Mar sku and Gong rgyal. In front of the monastery is the holy mountain known as Ri rtse drug.

The monks’ main source of income is religious services in the neighbouring villages of Ye tha, which have a population of more than 3,200 farmers and nomads, in over 500 households. For these services the people customarily pay the monks from five to twenty yuan a day.

(36) sTeng chen Hermitage

This is a hermitage that lies to the east of sTeng chen Monastery, less than a stone’s throw away.

The hermitage has a large temple of magnificent design. The main religious objects are the reliquary stupa of sMon lam rgyal mtshan at the centre, another reliquary stupa of Me ston Nyi ma rgyal mtshan to the right and that of Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan to the left. There is also an old thangka of the Twelve Deeds of sTon pa gShen rab.

Before 1959, there were about fifty monks in this hermitage. Presently there are two lamas, lHun grub rgya mtsho and Yon tan rgya mtsho, and the chanting conductor, bKra shis dbang ’dus. It is considered to be a branch of dGyes ri Monastery in Kongpo.

With regard to the main daily activities, in the morning the monks perform the bsang ritual and the water offering; at midday they recite the mantra of the tutelary deities; and in the evening, they chant the bKa’ skyong.

Every year, in the fourth Tibetan month, from the 23rd to the 30th day, the monks perform the Cho ga bcu gnyis ritual. From the fifth month to the end of the sixth month, the ritual of rNam rgyal is performed. In the ninth month, from the 21st to the 30th day, they perform the dgu gtor rite based on deities, sometimes Yi dam Dran pa drag po and other times the goddess Srid pa rgyal mo.

(37) Ko bo Monastery

Ko bo Monastery is under the administration of the sTeng chen villages. It is about nine kilometres from the rdzong. It lies on a small hill west of the rdzong and access to it is difficult.

This monastery was founded by Ko bo Ye shes rgyal mtshan in 1408. It is below the sacred mountain - the abode of the local deity ’Jag rgyal smug po - which is on the highland between the rivers rNgul chu and rDza chu in Khams.

The line of masters of the monastery is as follows:

  1. Ko bo Ye shes rgyal mtshan
  2. Zla grags Rin chen rgyal mtshan
  3. Zla grags Rin chen dpal bzang
  4. Zla grags Nyi ma ’od zer
  5. Zla grags Tshul khrims dbang rgyal
  6. Ha Rinpoche
  7. Zla grags Rin chen phun tshogs
Main Religious Activities
  1. In the first Tibetan month, from the 3rd day, annual activities begin with the commemoration of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan. The monks perform the ceremony based on the Klong rgyas, as well as chanting the Bla ma mchod pa and the ’Tshogs ’don. The ritual cycle of Phur pa is performed while two monks perform that of Ge khod separately.
  2. In the second month, on the 24th day, the commemoration of Zla grags is celebrated with the ceremony based on the rNam dag and Klong rgyas. On the 27th day there is a recitation of the ’Tshogs ’don. The monks practise silent reading of the Khro bo and the Ma tri rin chen sgron ma. On the same occasion they make offerings to the klu spirits.
  3. In the fifth month, on the 29th day, the summer ritual (dbyar sgrub) begins. There is a ritual of A dkar and a performance of the sDe brgyad bzlog mdos. Besides these, the bsKang ’bum is chanted. In the gNas brtan lha khang, two monks chant the gNas brtan bcu drug, a rediscovery of Sangs rgyas gling pa. The dbyar sgrub is adjourned on the 6th day of the sixth month.
  4. In the sixth month, on the 7th and 8th days, there are religious dances. On the 9th day, all the laity and clerics come, making the circumambulation called ’bum bskor. The zhi khro and gsol kha rituals are performed during the day, the bKa’ skyong in the evening and the bsKangs ’bum during the night.
  5. During the Summer retreat (dbyar gnas) there is a recitation of Sutra, such as the mDo dri med.
  6. In the tenth month, on the 23rd day, the ritual cycle of Khro bo is performed according to the local tradition, as well as the ceremony of the Yab sras tshogs ’khor. The chanting of the bsKangs ’bum by two monks takes place separately. On the 29th day, there is a religious dance and the gtor rgyag ceremony. On the 30th day, the gathering is adjourned.

As there are many great and complete murals in the assembly hall and at the porch of Ko bo Monastery, I shall give here the names of the main deities and some remarks concerning their iconography.

The four great local deities (gnyan chen sde bzhi):

  1. rMa chen sPom ra: a deity riding on a white horse
  2. Thang lha Yar bzhur: a deity riding on a red horse
  3. Ti se: a deity riding on a snow lion
  4. Yar lha Sham po: a deity riding on a dragon

The local deities of the holy mountains surrounding Ko bo Monastery:

  1. sMug po ri btsun (alias Brag btsan thog rgod ’bar ma): a goddess with one head, two arms and a red body. She holds a white conch in her right hand and a gem in her left. Wearing a black hat on her head, she is mounted on a black horse.
  2. Rin chen ’bar ba, the proprietor of Mount Rin chen ’bar ba: a deity with a red body, one head and two arms. Mounted on a black horse, he exhibits a terrifying air.
  3. ’Ga’ rgyal Rin chen spungs: a deity with a white body, one head and two arms. He holds a lance with a flag fastened to it in his right hand and a gem in his left. Mounted on a blue horse, he has an air of bravery.
  4. sPen ne ri bkra: a deity with a white body, one head and two arms. Dressed in a king’s garment, he holds a gem in his right hand and a lance with a flag fastened to it in his left. He is mounted on a light-bay stallion.
  5. Jo mo g-yu rtse: a goddess with a white body, one head and two arms. She holds a lance with a flag fastened to it in her right hand and a vase in her left. Mounted on an antelope, she has a peaceful appearance.
  6. Ri dmar dBu lha btsan rgod: a deity with one head, two arms and a conch-like white body. He holds a lance with a flag fastened to it in his right hand and a gem in his left. Clad in a king’s garment, he rides a red horse.
  7. dMag dpon rTa rgod ’bar ba: a deity with a white body, one head and two arms. His right hand is clenched in a fist and in his left hand he holds a gem. Standing on a blazing fire, he shows extreme bravery.
  8. sTag lo kha yan: a goddess with a yellow body, one head and two arms. She holds a sword in her right hand and a gem in her left. Mounted on a tigress, she is in an extreme rage.
  9. rDzong dmar: a deity with a red body, one head and two arms. He holds a lance with a flag fastened to it in his right hand and a lasso in his left. Riding a reddish-brown horse, he is in a rage.
  10. Grogs rdis Nor skyong dpal ldan: a deity with a white body, one head and two arms. He holds a vase in his right hand and a gem in his left. Clad in a nomad’s garment, he sits peacefully on a cushion.
  11. Rag pa g-yu rtse: a deity with a blue body, one head and two arms. He holds a lance with a flag fastened to it in his right hand and a gem in his left. Riding a light-bay stallion, he exhibits an air of bravery.
  12. sTag thus bon mtshan: a deity with a blue body, one head and two arms. He clenches his right hand while holding a vase in his left.
  13. sTag thus bon rgan: a deity with a white body, one head and two arms. He holds his hands in the manner of a meditating monk.
  14. rTa sgo: a deity with a white body, one head and two arms. He holds a drum in his right hand and a flat gold bell in his left. Riding a divine yak, he exhibits an air of dignity.
  15. Gangs rgyal: a deity with a white body and plaited hair. He has one head and two hands. His right hand holds a lance with a flag fastened to it and the other holds a gem. He is mounted on a light-bay stallion.

There are also murals of the thirteen mGur lha:

  1. gNyan rje Gong sngon, mounted on a red Garuda
  2. gTsang lha Bye yug, on a white horse
  3. Srog lha Gangs dkar, on a yellow gander
  4. sGyog chen sDong ra, on a divine white yak
  5. ’Brong nam Yang rtse, on a blue buffalo
  6. Dung lha Byang rtse, on a red horse
  7. lCog lha Tshal rtse, on a blue dragon
  8. lHa ri gYu rtse, on a yellow deer
  9. sPom ra Nag po, on a black mule
  10. ’Gyu chen lDong khram, on a red mule
  11. dByig chen Ra rngam, on a white horse
  12. Ba ru Ser glang, on a white ox
  13. ’Bri chen sDong ra, on a red horse

The twelve brTan ma goddesses, the guardians of the Bon religion:

  1. Kong btsun De mo, mounted on a tigress
  2. Gangs dkar Sha med, on a yellow gander
  3. rMa ting ’Phrul mo, on a white horse
  4. sKyi mthing Ya ma, on a sorrel yak
  5. Ma btsun ’Brog chen, on a blue ox
  6. rMa ri Rab khyams, on a blue horse
  7. lHa ri Ya ma, on a light-bay horse
  8. sKyi mthing Nag mo, on a blue deer
  9. Gangs kyi gYu sgron, on a blue parrot
  10. Ka ga Ser mo, on an antelope (Hodgson’s)
  11. Kha rag Khyung btsun, on a black mule
  12. gDa’ la bTsun mo, on a deer

Ko bo Monastery has, moreover, a magnificent mural of ’Ol mo lung ring. People of different countries call it by different names: bDe ba can by the people of U rgyan, Mi ’gyur g-yung drung can by the people of Shar gling, dBang bsgyur ’khor lo can by the people of Byang gling, Me tog bkod pa can by the people of Nub gling, and Yid bzhin bkod pa can by the people of ’Dzam gling.

Further, it was named Sham bha la by the Indian people, Mu khyud gter gyi gling by the Chinese people, dBang ldan ’khor lo gling by the people of Za hor, Gar ma gar shom spro by the people of Yu gur, ’Gyur med ’od ma tshal by the people of Bru sha, Kha la g-yu gshog by the people of Kha che, dPag bsam ljon pa’i gling by the people of Li bal, Nub byang rtag gzigs khyim gyi yul by the people of Zhang zhung, Nub phyogs ’Ol mo lung ring or ’Od mo gling by the people of Tibet, rTag gzigs ga sho nor gyi gling by the people of Mon yul, and dMu yul ’phyo ba gling by the people of ’Jang.

At present there are two lamas in this monastery, Zla grags Rin chen phun tshogs, who is fifty-eight, and Bla chung mKhyen rab rgya mtsho, who is twenty-two in 1998. There are two abbots, dGe legs tshul khrims and rNam rgyal gtsug phud. There are more than eighty monks. In the vicinity of the monastery there are over three hundred households. The population of this area is about 3,500.

The main source of income for the monks is the religious services they perform in villages. The lamas of high rank are customarily paid from fifty to one hundred yuan a day and the common monks from ten to twenty yuan a day.

The location and murals of this monastery possess special qualities that distinguish it from other Bonpo monasteries. This monastery is now undergoing significant restoration and enlargement.

(38) Ka legs gYung drung gling Monastery

Ka legs dgon gYung drung gling is under the administration of the sTeng chen villages. From sTeng chen rdzong, travelling about twelve kilometres westward on the highway, we reach the village of Ra khrom. After crossing a small bridge, a walk of more than half an hour in a south-westerly direction leads us to the monastery. Situated on a hill and surrounded by a number of holy mountains, it lies to the east of the Four Great Sacred Places of Tibet, south of the Thang lha range, on the highland between the rivers rNgul chu and rDza chu, and near sTeng chen Monastery (No.35). It was the place where sPrul sku Blo ldan snying po received the mDo Dri med gzi brjid as an oral tradition and wrote it down.

The monastery was first supported by benefactors gSas sar Nam mka’ g-yung drung, the owner of the land, ’Be ru bon srung and sTag rtsa rGyal mtshan. The Shel masters played an important role in the monastery. The origin of the Shel lineage is as follows: long ago in China, there was a man called Kun dga’ ’od ’phro. He lived amidst flowers in an ocean that emitted lights. He miraculously produced a white crystal egg from which a little man appeared. He had turquoise hair and a white chin-tuft; he was dressed in white silk and was holding a lotus. He was found by the king of China, who called him Zing ba mthu chen. He became a prelate in the court and came to have the name Legs tang mang po. bSam gtan rgyal mtshan, one of his descendants, migrated to Tibet, where he subdued many gods and demons. He was followed by Khro bo rgyal mtshan and Zhig chung Nam mkha’ mtha’ bral.

In 1454, Yag snya bSod nams rgyal mtshan founded the monastery at gYang ra brag rtsar. He named the monastery Ka legs gYung drung gling. He raised funds for the commemoration of the great master mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan and made sure that the rituals he established in the monastery closely followed the teachings of the master. There were only seven monks, including the lama Tshe dbang rgyal mtshan of rDzogs mda’ and Tshul khrims. There was a complete set of religious objects and implements for making offerings, such as the gandi, a drum, a stone gong and a conch. There was also the tradition of studying the tshad ma logic.

In 1564, reasons for moving the monastery to a new place arose. The old site was small and unsafe. So, in the time of lHun grub rgya mtsho, a discussion was held among all the laity and clergy and it was agreed that the monastery should be moved to Ka bzos sribs. It was therefore rebuilt and the religious objects of body, speech and mind were installed. Celebrations and the study of the tshad ma logic were re-established. There were about twenty-five monks at that time and the monastery became known even among the people of Amdo and rGyal rong.

There was a series of masters as the head of the monastery:

  1. ’Gro mgon bsTan pa ’brug grags
  2. lHun grub bzhi
  3. gYung drung mi zhig rdo rje
  4. Yid bzhin rgyal ba tshul khrims
  5. bSod nams ye shes
  6. Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan
  7. Zla ba grags
  8. Phun tshogs rgyal mtshan
  9. bsTan ’dzin grags pa
  10. Nyi ma bstan rgyal
  11. gYung drung rgyal mtshan

However, in 1914, the Tibetan troops led by the commander rTa nag (who were of dGe lugs pa obedience), came to the area and they began to murder many of the local people. They also completely burned the monastery. Phun tshogs bstan ’dzin grags pa (1888-1954) and his three disciples, Nyi ma grags pa, bsTan pa’i rgyal mtshan and gYung drung rgyal ba, could no longer live there. They left for Hor where there were benefactors of the Bon religion.

The teacher Phun tshogs bstan ’dzin grags pa was a capable physician. He was able to cure illnesses of man and animal, and prevent epidemics.

At that time, there was, in sTeng chen, the famous governor-general of Hor, Grags pa rnam rgyal. He assigned A drung to the restoration of the monastery and sent him to Hor in order to bring back the above-mentioned monks. The governor-general ordered the chief of dKar ru and his people to provide labour, as well as to transport the timber that was needed.

In 1914, Phun tshogs bstan ’dzin grags pa himself laid the foundation of the main hall. He maintained the monastic tradition of sMan ri as was established by mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan. He also established the study of the five minor and five major sciences, the summer and winter festivals for fifteen days each and the dgu gtor rite based on Khro bo and Phur pa, as well as the chanting of the bKa’ skyong.

There were two gilt-bronze stupas in the form of gYung drung bkod legs and a statue of rNam rgyal as tall as a two-storey house. He also had new copies of the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten made and obtained new offering implements, as well as having thangka made. New monk quarters were built. At that time, there were more than seventy monks in the monastery.

A reliquary gilt-bronze stupa of Phun tshogs bstan ’dzin grags pa (1888-1954) as tall as a two-storey house was made.

A prayer for a quick birth of his reincarnation was offered, in consequence of which his reincarnation was born in 1956. In the process of searching for the reincarnation, Ka legs Monastery made offerings of twelve thousand sacrificial cakes (tshogs) to the tutelary deity Phur pa and to the protective deities. It was known that the reincarnation himself said, “I am going to Ka legs”, and showed many miraculous signs, which were actually heard by the attendant monks. The father of the reincarnation, who was called Tshang stobs rgyal mtshan, belonged to the lineage in which Me ston Shes rab ’od zer in Yar ’brog was born and the mother belonged to the lineage of Zhig po. At that time there were about seventy monks in the monastery. Among them were Rin chen tshul khrims, bsTan pa rgyal mtshan, Ye shes dbang ldan and bZod pa mthar phyin, who were all very learned, having studied logic and Sanskrit, as well as being accomplished in meditation according to the Oral Tradition of Zhang zhung.

In short, this monastery has experienced rises and falls in the course of its own history, but it had the capacity to produce a series of eminent monks who were able to uphold the Bon doctrine and it is one of the oldest and important Bonpo monasteries.

The monastery is surrounded by the following sacred sites: Sa yi brag ri sgor mo, where the mDo Dri med gzi brjid was written down by Blo ldan snying po; Sa sho mda’, where there is the self-risen Ma tri mantra and swastika; bDe chen lha ri gnam rdzong; Chu na ma; and the holy mountain Dong rdzong smug po mched brgyad, regarded as the site blessed by Dran pa nam mkha’ and his son Tshe dbang rig ’dzin. There is a place called gYang ra nang, which was the previous site of the monastery.

Before 1959, there were seventy monks in the monastery. At present there are sixty-two, including the lama Tshe dbang stobs rgyal. Rituals are performed according to the old custom, and all the religious objects, murals and the like in the assembly hall are kept in reasonably good condition.

(39) sMon rgyal bla brang

This is a residence of an important lineage and is under the administration of the sTeng chen villages. It is located four kilometres to the south of the rdzong. It was established in 1842 by Nam mkha’ dbang. Before 1959, there were seven monks in the residence. At present there are no more than seven monks and a lama. It is very limited in scale, and in poor condition in every respect.

(40) Nag ru Monastery

The monastery is usually known as Nag ru dgon bSam gtan gling.

From sTeng chen rdzong, travelling three kilometres eastward on the highway, turning right, then southward to cross a bridge and travelling another five kilometres, we reach lHa mthong village, which lies at the foot of a mountain. It takes an hour on foot to reach the monastery from the village, climbing up the mountain behind the monastery. There is another route that leads to it from its front side.

Nag ru Monastery was founded in 1751 by Li shu stag ring. The present lamas are Pad ma kun legs and gYung drung grags pa. Before 1959, there were 105 monks in the monastery. At present there are forty.

The successive heads of the monastery were as follows:

  1. mTha’ zhu bDud ’dul sprul sku
  2. bZod pa
  3. Pad ’byung
  4. sTag dbang
  5. Grags sdis
  6. gYung drung grags pa
  7. Pad ma kun legs

The main religious object of this monastery was the gilt-bronze statue of Li shu stag ring. There were also statues of the four deities Srid rgyal, bTsan and bDud. The monastery obviously followed the tradition of sMan ri Monastery (No.1).

The monastery is surrounded by the following sacred sites: The mountain behind the monastery is called rDzong gseb, whose proprietor is Ba lha btsan. There are caves regarded as those of Dran pa nam mkha’, sTag la me ’bar and gShen gSang ba ’dus pa, and footprints of a hawk, a falcon and a wolf.

As daily activities, in the morning the monks recite the ’Tshogs ’don and perform the bsang ritual, at midday the ritual texts of dBal gsas, and in the evening those of Byams ma and sTag la.

The monastery performs the following annual services:

  1. In the first Tibetan month, from the 1st to the 3rd day, they recite the Klong rgyas.
  2. In the fourth month, from the 13th to the 16th, they recite the bDe shegs bsdus pa.
  3. In the fifth month, from the 26th to the 29th day, there is the commemoration of an abbot.
  4. In the ninth month, from the 22nd to the 29th day, they perform the dgu gtor rite.

For the main source of income, the monks and lamas must go out to perform religious services in villages, which comes to no more than ten yuan every four days.

This monastery has fallen into decay. At present the only religious objects are two masks and two drums, one big and one small.

(41) Zhe nang Monastery

The monastery’s full name is Zhe nang dgon gYung drung dpal ri.

From sTeng chen rdzong, Zhe nang Monastery is reached by travelling three kilometres eastward on the highway and another eight kilometres along the waterway on the left. It is located to the west of the river Zhe zhung, in front of the mountain Gangs chen dbang po. It is a place of beauty and interest, surrounded by glorious forest-covered mountains, and the harmonious singing of birds is heard.

This monastery was founded in 1735 by Bru zhig Yon tan rgya mtsho. It was the seat of the Khyung sprul series. Later it was maintained by the hermits gYung dga’ Rinpoche and rNal ’byor bZod pa Rinpoche. The latter undertook its renovation.

The lineage of Khyung sprul starts with the sage Kun dkar ’Od ldan and then later continued as follows:

  1. gYu sgra snying po
  2. Shes rab blo ldan
  3. Grags pa rgyal mtshan
  4. lHun grub rgyal mtshan
  5. gYung drung phun tshogs
  6. gYung drung bstan ’dzin phun tshogs
  7. Gangs rgyal who was four years old in 1998

Around the monastery are the following sacred mountains: Mount Gangs chen dbang po, regarded as the abode of Dran pa nam mkha’ and his twin sons Tshe dbang rig ’dzin and Pad ma ’byung gnas, is situated at the back of the monastery; to its right is Mount gYag se, to the left, Ra mdung, and in front, sPen ne ri bkra. There are also the two lakes of sPas thang mtsho, the large and the small.

The monastery has the following religious objects: a relic of sTon pa gShen rab as big as a hen’s egg, a conch made of his teeth and a tooth of bZod pa Rinpoche. Before 1959, there were 130 monks in the monastery. At present, there is the lama ’Chi med rig ’dzin and more than eighty monks.

(42) Zhu tshang Monastery

Zhu tshang Monastery is in lNga stod village, sPa zla xiang. The xiang lies seventy-six kilometres west of sTeng chen rdzong. To reach lNga stod village, a further ten kilometres of difficult driving northward is required.

This monastery was founded by bsTan ’dzin grags pa in 1567. Before 1959, there were sixty monks in the monastery. At present there are sixty-one. There used to be three lamas, but now only one. The condition of this monastery is reasonably good in many respects, like the assembly hall, the temple and the religious objects. The main source of income is, as with other Bonpo monasteries, the performance of religious services in villages.

(43) Ri dmar Monastery

Ri dmar Monastery is in Wang khog village, Khri rdo xiang. From the rdzong, after travelling sixty-five kilometres westward on the highway, another two-hours eastward and towards the mountain pass is required to reach Wa khog village.

This monastery was founded by Shel rgya Shel zhig dbu dkar in 1573. Before 1959, there were eighty monks in the monastery. At present there are no more than twenty monks and one lama. The temple and religious objects of this monastery are in a somewhat poor condition. They have no source of income other than the religious services the monks perform in villages.

(44) sGang ru Monastery

The monastery is known as sGang ru dgon Dar rgyas. It is situated to the east of Srib mda’ village in Khri rdo xiang. From the rdzong to Khri rdo xiang is a distance of sixty-five kilometres along the main road. From there, it is five kilometres further to Srib mda’ village.

This monastery was founded by Rin chen bstan ’dzin in 1310. Before 1959, there were eighty-seven monks in the monastery. At present there are fifty-six monks and one lama.

(45) Be sgo Monastery

Be sgo Monastery is situated in gTam stod village, in gTam stod xiang, which lies to the south of sTeng chen rdzong. It is a distance of forty-five kilometres from the rdzong to the xiang. As there is no road, the monastery is extremely difficult to reach.

This monastery was founded by dBal ’bar stag slag in 1590. Before 1959, there were seventy monks in the monastery and now there are twenty-eight.

(46) rGya sgo Monastery

rGya sgo Monastery stands within gTam stod village, gTam stod xiang. From the rdzong, gTam stod xiang is reached by travelling forty-five kilometres northward, which, however, is very difficult because of the absence of a road to the xiang.

This monastery was founded by bSam gtan tshul khrims in 1869. Before 1959, there were twenty monks in the monastery. At present there are fifty monks and one lama. The condition of the assembly hall, temple and religious objects remains good. Rituals and services have been preserved as they used to be.

(47) gNam steng Monastery

The seat of gNam steng Monastery is a place called gZi, which lies to the south-west of gTam stod village in gTam stod xiang. gTam stod xiang is reached by travelling forty-five kilometres southward from the rdzong. To reach gZi, it is necessary to travel ten more kilometres in a south-westerly direction from gTam stod village, which is very difficult because there is no road.

This monastery was founded by sMon lam ’od zer in 1496. Before 1959, there were twenty-one monks in the monastery. At present there are thirteen monks and one lama. The assembly hall, temple and religious objects of this monastery are in poor condition.

(48) dMu g-yad Monastery

dMu g-yad Monastery is located to the south-east of gNu khug village in gTam stod xiang. It is a distance of forty-five kilometres from the rdzong to gTam stod xiang. From the xiang, the monastery is reached by travelling four kilometres in a south-easterly direction. As there is no road to this xiang, it is very difficult to reach the monastery.

This monastery was founded by Kun dga’ rgyal mtshan in 1910. Before 1959, there were forty-five monks in the monastery. At present it is taken care of by seventeen monks and one lama, who maintain the time-honoured customs of Bonpo rituals and services. The assembly hall, temple and religious objects are in reasonably good condition. The monks have no source of income other than performing religious services in villages and support from each household.

(49) Yang rdzong Monastery

The location of Bya ze Yang rdzong Monastery is east of Kha thang village in a place called Bya ze which is in Ser tsha xiang. From the rdzong, it is reached by driving forty-five kilometres in a north-westerly direction.

This is a magnificent monastery. It was founded by Khyung po ’Bum rgyal grags pa in 1413. sPrul sku Blo ldan snying po came to this monastery and he is said to have been aided by the local deities in his efforts to improve the monastery. By miraculous means, he constructed the magnificently-designed main hall on top of the high craggy hill. It had many sacred objects.

Before 1959, there were 350 monks in the monastery. Now there are seventy monks and three lamas.

(50) Tsha ne Hermitage

This hermitage is located to the east of Ru pha village in Ser tsha xiang. From sTeng chen rdzong, Ser tsha xiang is reached by driving forty-five kilometres in a north-westerly direction. Travelling another three kilometres eastward from the xiang one reaches Ru pha village.

The hermitage was established by Shes rab phun tshogs in 1838. Before 1959, there were ten hermits in the hermitage; now there are five.

(51) Ma rdzong Monastery

Ma rdzong Monastery is situated to the west of ’Bu tshab village in Ser tsha xiang. It is a distance of forty-five kilometres from the rdzong to Ser tsha xiang. From there to ’Bu tshab village is a further five kilometres. As there is a road, it is reasonably convenient for cars to reach the village.

This monastery was founded by gYung rgyal in 1774. Before 1959, there were forty-five monks in the monastery. At present there are twenty-one monks and one lama.

The temple and religious objects of the monastery look reasonably good. Similar to other Bonpo monasteries, the monks have no means of earning a living other than performing religious services in villages and gathering support from their own parents and relatives.

(52) Phug leb Monastery

Phug leb Monastery is situated to the west of ’Bu tshab village in Ser tsha xiang. Ser tsha xiang is forty-five kilometres north-west of the rdzong. ’Bu tshab village is five kilometres from the xiang. As there is a road, it is a relatively convenient trip.

This monastery was founded by Khyung po ’Bum chen in 1413. Before 1959, there was one lama and two hundred monks in the monastery. At present there are twenty-one monks and one lama. This monastery, being one of the centres of the Khyung lineage, follows the old school of Bonpo tradition. The assembly hall, temple and monks’ cells are elegantly made on a grand scale, and it has a great number of statues of sTon pa gShen rab, Dran pa nam mkha’, sTag la me ’bar and rNam rgyal. There are many books of excellent quality.

Like all other Khyung po monasteries, rituals and services are held many times a year. Various aspects of this monastery, such as the temple and religious objects, are kept in relatively good condition.

(53) Kha spungs Nunnery

Kha spungs Nunnery is located in Kha spungs village in Ga ngad xiang. From sTeng chen rdzong, travelling more than eighty kilometres westward on the main road and then more than ten kilometres further northward, one reaches Kha spungs village, in the south-east part of which lies Kha spungs Nunnery.

The nunnery was founded by Tshul khrims dbang mo in 1928. Before 1959, there was the head nun and twenty-two other nuns in the nunnery. At present there are twenty. The assembly hall, temple and the religious objects of the nunnery are in fairly good condition. The activities, such as annual religious services, have been successively preserved. As the nunnery has no property, for their living the nuns must receive support from their own families and earn money giving religious services in villages.

(54) Mar khu Monastery

Mar khu Monastery is located to the west of Ngas pa village in Ga ngad xiang, sTeng chen rdzong. From the rdzong, Ga ngad xiang is reached by travelling more than eighty kilometres westward on the main road and then more than ten kilometres northward. Ngas pa village is a further five kilometres from the xiang and the monastery lies to the west of the village.

This monastery was established by lHun grub rgyal mtshan in 1691. Before 1959, there were thirty-nine monks in the monastery; now there are twenty-five. The condition of the assembly hall, temple and religious objects is reasonably good. The monks perform the bsang ritual every morning and other rituals every evening. Their source of income is the same as other small Bonpo monasteries.

(55) rTse drug Monastery

rTse drug Monastery is situated in Sa sgang xiang in sTeng chen rdzong. Travelling thirty kilometres in a south-easterly direction from the rdzong, one reaches the foot of the hill on which rTse drug Monastery is located. It is a two hour’s traverse on horseback from the west side of the hill up to rTse drug Monastery at the top.

All around the monastery is a land of great beauty where birds, big cuckoos and small ’jon mo, are heard singing. Along the mountains and gorges stretching right and left, there are many legends woven around Ge sar, the King of Gling, and Seng lcam ’brug mo, his wife. There are also numerous tales of the local deities.

The monastery was founded by Blo ldan snying po in 1383. It is one of the places blessed by innumerable sages and is often called Shel le rdzong drug. Its formal name is Shel brag gShen bstan Dri med gling. It is regarded as one of the five holy places in the world:

“Ri bo rtse lnga, abode of the mkha’ ’gro in China,

rTsa ra’i tsha khang, abode of the mkha’ ’gro in India,

Me tog spungs mdzes, abode of the mkha’ ’gro in O rgyan,

Bho di, abode of the mkha’ ’gro in Shambhala,

Shel le rdzong drug, abode of the mkha’ ’gro in Tibet…”

“The hill at the back looks like an elephant lying,

With a gem held in its mouth.

The hill to the right looks like the rising moon,

With little stars in the sky.

The hill to the left looks like a snow lion leaping,

With turquoise mane on its chin.

The mountain range looks like white silk spread…”

The monastery is surrounded by many marvelous signs and self-grown objects. Beneath the heap of boulders in front, there is a footprint of sTon pa gShen rab the length of a cubit, which is still visited by devotees. At the back of the monastery is a self-grown statue of rGyal ba rgya mtsho, a miraculous foot print of sTon pa ’Chi med gtsug phud and the self-grown letters A and Ma as evidence of teachings of Buddha having been spread. On a rock regarded as the throne of Bla chen Dran pa nam mkha’ there is a self-grown swastika and a self-grown letter A. To the left of the craggy hill is a self-grown statue of the mkha’ ’gro Seng gdong ma. In front of the monastery there is a cemetery called Dul khrod bsil ba gling. Beside it is a large rock resembling a human lying on his back; it is regarded as the seat the mkha’ ’gro Seng gdong ma.

On the surface of a boulder is a verse that Sangs rgyas gling pa wrote with his fingers, as if he were drawing in mud:

“All the virtuous work that I have accomplished

with my body, speech and mind in sincerity,

I share it with the sentient beings of the three realms,

May it aid them all to purify all their misdeeds, and

Rapidly obtain Buddhahood, endowed with three perfect bodies!”

On the surface of another boulder within an arrow’s range, there are the self-risen letters Ya, Ra, Kha, Sru and A, which can actually be seen. On the surface of the high crag Bon ri, there are clear footprints and letters, around which is a self-grown statue of Khro bo gTso mchog mkha’ ’gyings and a statue and a mandala of Sangs rgyas sman bla. Moreover, in rTa rgyas rdzong, there is a cave of Gyim tsha rma chung with a spring in the middle of it, a self-grown conch on the peak of Shel brag dri med dngos dga’, and caves of Dran pa nam mkha’, Tshe dbang rig ’dzin, Padma ’byung gnas and Blo ldan snying po.

Blo ldan snying po, founder of the monastery, was of the dBra clan. He was born in 1360 in Khyung po. From childhood he naturally displayed cleverness and dexterousness unlike other children. He quickly mastered writing and reading. He was such a miraculous one that he inspired awe and respect in the minds of the people at the first sight of him. He met the scholar Rin chen blo gros, and in his presence took monastic vows and was given the name dBra btsun Nam mkha’ rin chen. He became an eminent scholar versed in Sutra, Tantra and Mind.

In a vision, he received an oral transmission, which he wrote down, filling fifty-five volumes. They are about the Bon doctrine and the deeds of sTon pa gShen rab, such as the following works on Sutra: Dri med gzi brjid in twelve volumes, mTshan mdo in six volumes, lHun po brtsegs mdo, bKra shis dal ’bar khab and Ma tri rin chen sgron ma. There were also works on Tantra: dBal gsas rtsod zlog, Phur pa spyi ’dul gshed dmar, gSang mchog rig pa khu byug and Thabs chen mkha’ rgyud. He wrote other works on Dran pa nam mkha’, the local deities of the place, as well as various religious songs (mgur) and instructions (zhal gdams).

He had a number of statues and stupas made, as well as a copy of the Khams chen in gold. He practised meditation in other sacred places, such as Bya ze yang rdzong.

His close disciples were sGo rigs rGyal mtshan ’od zer and ’Be tsha Grags rgyal. Other disciples were Khyung po Yon rin, sTogs ldan Nam mkha’ rin chen of A ba, rGya ra bSam gtan rgyal mtshan, rGya po Rin chen ’od zer rgyal mtshan, Gru zhig Nam mkha’ ’od zer and La dpyil rGyal mtshan ’od zer. Having completed these deeds, Blo ldan snying po passed away.

The reincarnation of Blo ldan snying po was Mi shig rdo rje, who produced fifteen volumes of writings on Bon doctrines, including the sNyan brgyud zhi khro dgongs ’dus.

The Third Blo ldan snying po was Sangs rgyas gling pa, who greatly developed rTse drug Monastery. His benefactors were the chiefs of Khyung dkar, Khyung nag and Khyung ser in the Khyung po region. He was invited to go to rGyal rong by the king of dGe bshes. In rGyal rong he gave teachings to the people. When he was about to return to rTse drug Monastery, he was invited to the hall rNam rgyal khang bzang in the palace of the dGe bshe king. The king gave him the following gifts: an image of rGyal ba rgya mtsho that uttered words by itself, a pair of dragon-figured cymbals and a bronze gong named Khro chen dgu ’phar ma. The king also called on thirty young men to be ordained and become monks of rTse drug Monastery. The king of Brag steng gave Sangs rgyas gling pa the following gifts: thirty pairs of cymbals and thirty pairs of little flat bells of the Bon tradition. The king of Rab brtan gave him a large pair of cymbals named lHa mo rang grags and another called Srid pa rang grags, a large flat bell, canopies called rTa rgyugs ma and Khyung lnga ma, and the curtain called Seng thod ma. The Chinese emperors gave him large plaques (pan), on which there were words in Chinese characters written in gold.

Sangs rgyal gling pa, who was venerated by all, wrote many works, which are in two categories. First, the Oral Traditions he received, which are as follows: gNas brtan bcu drug, gSang mchog rol pa, Dran pa bdud ’dul, Gu ru zhi drag, Tshe dbang g-yung drung, Gur khang, sTag la, and rDzong ’phrang le’u gsum pa. Second, the texts he rediscovered, which are as follows: Tshe sgrub rdo rje’i go khrab, Bla ma dgongs ’dus, bKa’ thang kun snang gsal sgron and Che mchog dran pa drag po.

There were also sacred objects that he rediscovered: a blue statue of Pad ma ’od ’bar; a skull of the Brahman; a figure of the mkha’ ’gro Thugs rje kun sgrol and her belongings, such as her flat bell, dagger and vajra; as well as the tsha tsha image that belonged to Vairocana.

Sangs rgyas gling pa, the great treasure-rediscoverer and savior of beings, having carried out the keeping, defending and spreading of the doctrines of Bon, and having done great deeds for sentient beings, finally passed away.

Sangs rgyas gling pa’s successors at the monastery were:

  1. dMu btsun Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan
  2. Mi pham ’gro ba’i mgon po
  3. Zhu sprul bSod nams dbang rgyal
  4. Me ston Nyi ma rgyal mtshan
  5. Pad ma gar gyi dbang phyug
  6. sNyan rgyud dPal ’bar stag slag
  7. bSod nams blo gros dbang gi rgyal po
  8. Khyung dkar Yon tan

Me ston Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, the fourth in the line, was regarded as the embodiment of Dran pa nam mkha’. He gave up eating food, yet lived on at rTse drug for a long time. He established the hermitage of Gyim shod yang dben mthong grol near the monastery.

In 1926, Nyag gter gSang sngags gling pa was invited to the monastery. He rediscovered various texts from the cave called Seng ge g-yu rtse and he established in the monastery the “religious dance of the 10th day” and the sman sgrub ceremony. On this occasion there were over five hundred monks and nuns, a larger number of pilgrims, plus the local people all gathered together. The number of Bonpo pilgrims and spectators rose to nearly one hundred thousand.

In 1934, Kun grol hum chen ’Gro ’dul gling pa was invited to the monastery. On this occasion, when he gave teachings concerning the Zhi khro, there were people from Hor, Khyung po and Tsha ba rong; about 700 monks and nuns came to listen.

The monastery also invited Khyung nag Tshul khrims phun tshogs - a disciple of ’Ja’ lus pa Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan - who gave extensive teachings there and initiated the making of copies of the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten, consisting of five hundred volumes, and paintings of more than fifty thangka of the life of Sangs rgyas gling pa; as well, he initiated the restoration of temples. His disciples were Phun tshogs dbang rgyal, Tshul khrims dar rgyas, bSod nams blo gros dbang gi rgyal po (the fifth rebirth of Sangs rgyas gling pa), Gar dbang rNam rgyal gYung drung rgyal mtshan and Tshul khrims rnam rgyal.

gYung drung bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan and Tshul khrims rnam rgyal are presently resident in the monastery. They have set up a new monastic school there, in which they have established the practice of meditation based on the Che mchog dran pa drag po, and the performance of the tshogs ’khor ceremony on the 10th, 15th and 22nd day of every month. There are seven permanent resident monks.

The monastery has many invaluable religious objects:

In the gSer gdung khang: a solid gold reliquary stupa of Sangs rgyas gling pa in the form of gYung drung bkod legs as tall as the ceiling, which contains his remains; a reliquary stupa of Sangs gling Pad ma gar dbang; a statue of Tshe dpag med made of a mixture of medicine and clay; a statue of Sangs gling nga ’dra ma carved by ’Gro mgon; and murals depicting the life stories of Sangs rgyas gling pa.

In the bKa’ ’gyur khang: a statue of sMon lam mkha’ yas as tall as a two-storey house, its back curtain adorned with the assembled deities of Cho ga bcu gnyis; and murals depicting the twelve deeds of sTon pa gShen rab.

In the bedroom: a bronze image of Guru Rinpoche; images of him in eight forms, made of dzi gim (red gold); and murals of Mi shig rdo rje and the Bonpo deities, including sMra ba’i seng ge, Gu ru Drag dmar and dPal mgon bdun cu.

On the outer walls of the bedroom: murals of the Sixteen Arhats, the thousand images of sTon pa gShen rab, Guru, Nyi pang sad, the guardian of rTse drug and Me srung ral gri.

In the ’Tshogs chen lha khang: a life-sized statue of Dus kyi ’khor lo; eight pairs of stupas; and murals of the Bonpo deities according to the Ma tri rin chen sgron ma by Blo ldan snying po, Phur pa, gShed dmar and Las gshin nag po chen po.

In the gSeng khang: a gilt-bronze statue of gShen lha ’od dkar of good quality; statues of Shes rab smra ba’i seng ge, Dus ’khor, Tshe dpag med and rNam par rgyal ba, each an arrow’s length in height; hundreds more statues of gNas brtan and others; and murals of the assembled deities of the Che mchog dran pa drag po and of the three Seng, Ma and gShin.

In the Pod brtsegs kun dga’ rwa ba bskang gsol khang: a stuffed image of rGyal chen Shel khrab and the supports of other religious protectors.

In the ’Khor khang: statues of Yum chen Shes rab byams ma and rGyal ba rgya mtsho, made of a mixture of medicine and clay; murals of the Eight Guru; and three conch-shell ornaments.

In the upper storey of the gSeng khang: Nor bu me ’bar made of gilt-bonze and a banner of victory.

In the back room of the large assembly hall: a statue of gShen lha ’od dkar made of a mixture of medicine and clay; statues of sTon pa Khri gtsug rgyal ba, sTon pa gShen rab and gYung drung mthong grol, each of which is as tall as a three-storey house; 108 stupas and murals of Blo ldan snying po, Mi shig rdo rje, Sangs rgyas gling pa, Kun grol grags pa, bDe chen gling pa and the deities of Cho ga bcu gnyis.

In the bShad grwa’i ’du khang: a statue of Yum chen Kye ma ’od mtsho and a life-sized one of ’Ja’ lus pa Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan.

There are also caves of Mu cho ldem drug, Dran pa nam mkha’, Tshe dbang rig ’dzin, Pad ma ’byung gnas and Blo ldan snying po.

There were six sanctuaries of the religious protectors in the monastery, in each of which lay many statues beyond all value. Among the objects in these sanctuaries were the following: a word-uttering statue of rGyal ba rgya mtsho made of dzi gim, a cubit in height, which was rediscovered in rGyal rong by Sangs rgyas gling pa; large and small conchs made of the teeth of sTon pa gShen rab, rediscovered at Pha bong g-yag ro in the south by Go bde ’phags pa alias dBang ldan gShen sras lha rje.

There were, as well, the following: the statue of Pad ma ’od ’bar, rediscovered in the dBus phug cave of Bon ri by Sangs rgyas gling pa; a statue of Rig ’dzin Dran pa bdud ’dul, rediscovered in rTa shod dkyil ’khor thang by Blo ldan snying po; a small flat bell worn by the mule of the goddess Srid rgyal drel dmar and rediscovered by gShen chen klu dga’; a statue of Hum chen, the 6th Kun grol; a statue of gShen lha ’od dkar rediscovered at rTse drug by ’Gro ’dul gling pa; and a statue of sTon pa Khri gtsug rgyal ba rediscovered at rTse drug by sPa tshang gter chen. There were also the rediscoveries by gSang sngags gling pa: a bronze statue of Zhi khro gSang ba ’dus pa, two phur pa daggers and a statue of ’Chi med gtsug phud made of iron.

Later a new development took place in the monastery. Gar dbang rNam rgyal and his associates began to take an interest in the teachings of Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan. They began to unify various meditation establishments in the monastery and appointed Khyung nag Tshul khrims phun tshogs as the head of the monastery. Then a new meditation centre was established, where the new head of the monastery began to give teachings based the “Five mDzod” of Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan. His disciples were brTson ’grus rgyal mtshan, sMon lam bstan ’dzin, gYung drung dge legs, sKal bzang g-yung drung and Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan.

The successive abbots of the new establishment were as follows:

  1. Khyung nag Tshul khrims phun tshogs
  2. brTson ’grus rgyal mtshan
  3. sMon lam bstan ’dzin
  4. gTsug phud tshul khrims
  5. gTsug phud ’od gsal (d.1923)
  6. gTsug phud tshul khrims (a second time)

gTsug phud tshul khrims continued giving teachings based the “Five mDzod” of Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan.

Annual Services and Rituals at present
  1. In the first Tibetan month there is the commemoration of mNyam med chen po, based on the Klong rgyas.
  2. In the second month, the gDugs dkar cycle is performed.
  3. In the third month there is the commemoration of Sangs rgyas gling pa.
  4. In the fourth month there is the performance of the rituals for offerings of the sacrificial cake (tshogs) one thousand times to Ma, gShin and Seng.
  5. In the fifth month, with the monks from several monasteries, the ceremony based on the Bla ma rig ’dzin ’dus pa is held, and on the 10th day, the tshes bcu ceremony with a religious dance.
  6. In the sixth month the summer retreat take place.
  7. In the seventh month the ritual based on the Zhi khro dgongs ’dus is performed.
  8. In the eighth month there is the performance of the ritual based on the Ma mo rbod gtong.
  9. In the ninth month, with the monks from other monasteries, the ritual cycles of Khro bo and Dran pa drag po are performed.
  10. In the tenth month there is the performance of the rite based on the rTa mgrin ga’u dmar nag.
  11. In the eleventh month the srung zog rite based on the ritual cycle of Phur pa is performed.
  12. In the twelfth month there is the performance of the rite based on the ritual cycle of Gu ru drag po.

During the months from the ninth to the twelfth, all the monks also follow a programme of meditation based on the rDzogs chen sku gsum rang shar by Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan. During this course of meditation the monks practise rtsa lung, gtum mo, ’phrul ’khor, lus sbyong, rlung sbyong, chu sbyong, rlung ras, chu ras, rgyab thur, and bcud len.

rTse drug Monastery had the following branches: Wa dge dgon Phun tshogs g-yung drung gling, rDa shis Bum steng dgon, sBra kho Dar rgyas dgon, Gyim shod Yang dben mthong grol ri khrod, Bon dgon gSas gdong g-yung drung gling, Na ba dgon gYung drung bstan rgyas gling, sBis tho dgon gYung drung lha steng, Lam lha dgon gYung drung gtam brag gling, dByibs dgon gYung drung lhun po rtse, rTa ’tshel dgon, Phug la dgon, Ru tha Ngang rdzong dgon and dGyes ri dgon, all of which were deemed to correctly maintain the tradition of rTse drug Monastery.

The storekeeper and the treasurer of the Bla brang were fully responsible for all the procedure and financial affairs. In the sGrub grwa khang, seven lamas and monks practised the four stages of the tantric meditation while they learn other subjects. Likewise, the abbot and teacher gave lessons to more than fifteen monk students, on the first four of the “Five mDzod” by Shar rdza.

In the sGom grwa khang, twenty lamas and monks, headed by the abbot, practised the rDzogs chen meditation based on the dByings rig rin po che’i mdzod, one of the “Five mDzod”.

In the Srung ma khang, three monks continuously performed the bskang gso ritual for the Bonpo religious protectors.

In the ’Khor khang, three persons continuously turned the three wheels of rolled scripture. Besides those who had responsibility in the monastery, there were other lamas who had to make visits to the branch monasteries twice a year in order to see if the monastic codes were observed; others appointed monk officials, exchanged offerings and performed rituals for the people and for the dead. The other duty of these monastic officials was to collect donations.

This monastery’s main sources of revenue were its manors - brDa shes, Kha lung, Wa dge, sPra kho, sBa nag and Brang rtswa thang - which produced as much as 250 khal of seed, and Upper and Lower rTa shod in dKar smad, Kha lung and Wa dge, from which they received payment for the rituals of rain-bringing and protection from drought and hail.

The total grain earning of the monastery was: from Bam sting, Bal tho, Shog lnga, and Chu gzhung. The monastery also received gifts such as rape-oil. When the year’s harvest was bad the monastery lent about 500 ’bo of grain to the villages below the monastery, such as Wa dge, for which it received interest.

In brDa shes and other places, the monastery possessed real estate with animals for ploughing, seventy or eighty mdzo mo for dairy purposes and about forty horses and mules for transport.

Two families of herdsmen kept the monastery’s 180-plus yaks and ’bri, and one hundred goats and sheep. In the nomad areas, such as dNgul phug, ’Gis nang, Om thog kha and brDa ris mda’, the monastery had nomadic people called Thab gsos dud gsum who provided much of the annual expenditure, such as butter for making butter-lamp offerings.

The material revenue of the abbot and high lamas covered the cost of living for about forty monks.

As for the great hermits in the caves of Mu cho ldem drug, Dran pa nam mkha’, Tshe dbang rig ’dzin, Pad ma ’byung gnas and Blo ldan snying po, they were customarily supported by the well-off families, such as the chiefs of dKar stod, dKar smad, sGar khang, Bya ze, and Nag ru.

Before 1959, there were about five hundred monks in this monastery. At present there are six lamas, including Gar dbang rNam rgyal, and about 210 monks. This monastery has an assembly hall with thirty-six pillars, gSer gdung khang, a meditation hall, a college building and other buildings, all of which are adorned with excellent interiors. The main religious objects, of immense value, are as follows: the word-uttering statue of Jo bo nga ’gro, which, having been hidden by many lay and clerical devotees during the Cultural Revolution, was presented to the monastery; a cubit-high statue of Kun bzang rGyal ba rgya mtsho made of rdzi gim; a pair of large and small conchs, which are the transformations of gShen rab’s teeth and his melodic voice; a blue statue of Pad ma ’od ’bar; a statue of gShen lha ’od dkar made of pure gold; a statue of sTon pa Khri gtsug rgyal ba; a statue of Rig ’dzin Dran pa bdud ’dul; a bronze statue of Phur pa ten cubits high; and a seal of Dran pa nam mkha’. All of these can still be seen in the monastery.

Annual services and rituals are performed according to the age-old tradition. In particular, in 1984, there was the sman sgrub medicine ceremony based on the dBal phur ’od zer ’khyil ba’i sman sgrub, during which as many as eighteen thousand lay and clerical devotees from Hor, Shog lnga, Lam lha, Khyung dkar, Khyung nag, Khyung ser, lHa ru and Bag sre crowded into rTse drug Monastery in order to receive initiation and the “medicine” distributed at the time, as well as to enjoy the religious dances. All who gathered there made the festival a great occasion.

(56) Wa dge Monastery

From sTeng chen rdzong, travelling south-east for forty-three kilometres on the main road, we reach Sa sgang xiang. Crossing a small bridge on the right, half an hour’s walk eastward leads us to Wa dge Monastery.

This monastery was founded by Blo ldan snying po in 1383 as one of the main branches of rTse drug Monastery. Before 1959, there were forty-two monks and at present there are ten. This small monastery is now in poor condition.

(57) Bya chen Monastery

This monastery is situated in the eastern part of gYam tha village in dMu tha xiang, on the northern edge of sTeng chen rdzong. As it is 170 kilometres from the rdzong to dMu tha xiang, it is difficult to reach unless travelling by car.

Bya chen Monastery was founded by gYung drung rgyal mtshan in 1885. Before 1959, there were sixty monks. At present there is one lama and twenty-five monks.

(58) lHa lung Monastery

This monastery is located in dMu tha village, dMu tha xiang, which is on the northern edge of the rdzong. It is 170 kilometres from the rdzong to the xiang, so it would be very difficult to travel there without a car.

lHa lung Monastery was founded by gYung drung dbang rgyal in 1636. Before 1959, there were six lamas and fifty-eight monks in the monastery. At present there is one lama and thirty monks. The monastery is suitably equipped with an assembly hall, a temple, religious objects and implements for making offerings.

(59) gYu mtsho Monastery

The monastery is located to the west of sPyang tha village, Ga tha xiang. From the rdzong, one reaches Ga tha xiang by travelling 130 kilometres in a north-westerly direction. This monastery is forty kilometres north of the xiang. As there is no road between the xiang and the monastery, it is a very difficult trip.

The monastery was founded by rGyal rong bla ma in 1494. Before 1959, there were ninety-eight monks in the monastery and at present there are thirty. The monastery is fairly well equipped with an assembly hall, a temple and other buildings. There are religious objects and offering implements appropriate to such an establishment.

(60) Ga shel Monastery

The monastery is in the western part of Shar ’dra village, Ga tha xiang. It is reached by travelling 130 kilometres in a north-westerly direction from sTeng chen rdzong, which is an extremely hard journey because there is no road; one must go on horseback or on foot.

This monastery was founded by Nam mkha’ mtha’ bral in 1585. Before 1959, there were four lamas and 145 monks. At present there is one lama and fifty-two monks. This monastery is counted as one of the rather large Bonpo monasteries in the northern part of sTeng chen rdzong. It has an assembly hall, a temple, a meditation hall and other fairly large buildings, inside of which are religious objects, implements and the like, which are in good condition. Annual services and the practice of rituals have been, as is the case with the large majority of Bonpo monasteries, maintained in accordance with the old tradition.

(61) Re ne Monastery

This monastery is situated on a hill on the eastern outskirts of Re ne village, Zam zhig xiang. It is seventy-five kilometres from the rdzong to the monastery.

The monastery was founded by sNang zhig Zla ba rgyal mtshan in 1704. Before 1959, there was one lama and 120 monks in the monastery. At present there is one lama and sixty monks.

This monastery is counted as one of the larger Bonpo monasteries belonging to sTeng chen rdzong. The buildings include an assembly hall, meditation hall and a temple, inside of which there are religious objects and implements, all well kept. The practice of annual ritual services has been, on the whole, maintained as it was before.

The lama and monks must earn their living, as those in other Bonpo monasteries do, by going out to perform religious services in villages.

(62) Ngang rdzong Monastery

The monastery is in Ru tha village, ’Bo tha xiang. ’Bo tha xiang is seventy-five kilometres from the rdzong and Ru tha village is thirty kilometres south of the xiang. It is accessible by car.

This monastery was founded by Rin chen rgyal mtshan in 1941. Although there were fifty-three monks in the monastery before 1959, there are no more than fourteen at present. This is a small monastery, with a temple, meditation hall and religious objects in poor condition.

(63) lJong phu Monastery

lJong phu bon dgon Monastery is located to the east of lJang shod village, Sa mdo xiang. From the rdzong, the xiang is reached by travelling south-east for forty-five kilometres on the main road. It is a mere ten kilometres from the xiang to the monastery, but the trip can be difficult because there is no road.

This monastery was founded by Blo ldan snying po in 1446. There were only ten monks in the monastery before 1959. This number has increased to fifteen today. Although this is one of the old Bonpo monasteries established in sTeng chen rdzong by Blo ldan snying po, it has shown little development over the past five hundred odd years.

(64) Zla shel Monastery

Zla shel bon dgon Monastery is located in Zla shel village, Sa mdo xiang. From the rdzong, Sa mdo xiang is reached by travelling forty-five kilometres in a south-easterly direction on the main road, and the monastery is fifteen kilometres from the xiang. However, one may find it very difficult to reach because there is no road from the xiang.

The monastery was founded by Blo ldan snying po in 1446. The number of monks in the monastery before 1959 was thirty-two, which, today, has increased to thirty-nine, plus one lama. Although Zla shel bon dgon is also counted as one of the ancient Bonpo monasteries, the past five hundred odd years have brought it little prosperity. It is now in a rather poor condition, in every aspect of the monastic buildings and religious objects.

(65) sBra hor Monastery

sBra hor Monastery is located to the south of sBra hor village, Gyang sngon xiang. From the rdzong, Gyang sngon xiang is reached by travelling south-east for sixty-five kilometres on the main road. The road between the xiang and sBra hor Monastery, which is just one kilometre, is very good.

This monastery was founded by Blo ldan snying po in 1446. Before 1959, there were fifty-eight monks in the monastery, but now there are only eighteen. Although this is also one of the old Bonpo monasteries from the latter stage of Bonpo development, internal and external affairs have prevented it from developing during the past five hundred odd years, so it is still small.

From sTeng chen rdzong, a six-hour drive eastward on the Nag chu-Chab mdo Highway leads us to Chab mdo district. Then driving another six hours eastward, we reach ’Jo mda’ rdzong. It is an extremely dangerous and difficult trip from Chab mdo to ’Jo mda’ rdzong because we must cross mountain after mountain.

’Jo mda’ rDzong

’Jo mda’ rdzong lies in the north-east of Tibet. It covers an area of 13,155 square kilometres, of which 77,080 mu is farmland and 10,823 mu is natural forest. It has a population of about 58,000. There are 152 local councils, eighteen xiang, two townships and one city.

’Jo mda’ is also called sDe dge ’Jo mda’ because the ruler of sDe dge once governed it. In 1909, the self-governing body of sDe dge was abolished and ’Jo mda’ began to have close relations with Sichuan province. In 1959 the people’s commune of ’Jo mda’ rdzong was established.

Historically, ’Jo mda’ is a place well known for its handicrafts and other skilled work such as iron-work, silver-smithing and other metal work, as well as wood carving. It is particularly celebrated as being one of the homes of Tibetan musical dramas.

At present in the domain of this rdzong there are six Bonpo monasteries to which many lay and clerical devotees associate themselves. The Sa skya school of Buddhism also flourishes there. The monastic buildings and religious objects of Bon and Sa skya monasteries are in good condition in every respect.

(66) sTag gzhi Monastery

sTag gzhi Monastery is situated near Kha srub village, dBang po steng xiang. From the rdzong, dBang po steng is reached by driving thirty kilometres northward. From dBang po steng, the monastery is a whole day’s trip further northward on horseback.

The monastery was founded in 1180. Before 1959, there were five monks in this monastery. At present there are two lamas, sKu gsung blo gsar and Ye shes nyi ma, and thirty monks. This is one of the earliest Bonpo monasteries of the latter stage of Bonpo development. However, it is still rather small because of the rise and fall in the history of the Bon doctrine.

The monastery has fifty statues, including those of sTon pa gShen rab, Dran pa nam mkha’ and sTag la me ’bar. It also has about sixty thangka. The main source of income is, as with other Bonpo monasteries, the performing of religious services in villages, from which the monks and lamas make their living.

(67) Zha zhi Monastery

Zha zhi Monastery is situated in Khra dge xiang, which is reached by driving forty kilometres northward from the rdzong. The monastery is a whole day’s ride on horseback from Khra dge.

The monastery was founded in 1409. Before 1959, there were eighty monks and at present thirty-five. The monastery is one of the old Bonpo monasteries in the Chab mdo region. It is a rather large monastery, but over the past six hundred years, due to grave adversity, both internal and external, it has been unable to develop itself. It has the look of being very small from outside. As regards religious objects, it has twenty statues including those of sTon pa gShen rab, gShen lha ’od dkar, rNam par rgyal ba and Byams ma, as well as twenty-odd thangka. The monks raise, as a source of income, sixty-three ’bri and yaks, given by devotees. Besides these, they receive support from households and go out to perform religious services in villages.

(68) rDis bon Monastery

rDis bon Monastery is located in the vicinity of Ri mda’ village, Thung phu xiang. Thung phu xiang is within a stone’s throw of the rdzong and Ri mda’ village is seventy kilometres from the xiang. The road between the rdzong and the monastery is reasonably good. One can drive right up to the monastery.

The monastery was founded in 1600 and is situated on the eastern side of the mountain Ma gling khrib bya ba. To the south-west of Ma gling khrib bya ba at sPa rdis steng, there is a large hermitage. To the left of the monastery is a holy mountain called Shugs chen, and in front is a big river called mDo chu, which comes from mDo gzhung, the upper part of the valley.

In the 17th century, when the Be ri king ruled over the region, the master lCe tsha mKhar bu of Mi nyag became the prelate of the king. He established a hermitage on top of the mountain sPa rdis, halfway up the mountain Ma gling khrib bya ba.

In 1641, the Mongol chief Gu shri Khan (of dGe lugs pa obedience), leading his horde, destroyed the monasteries of the bKa’ brgyud pa and Bonpo in the area, including rDis bon Monastery, and overthrew the Be ri king. Later, sTag gzhi bKa’ bo rgyal and Khram Tshe dbang rgyal po, who were disciples of Ba ya dKar ’dzang and had been hiding themselves when the Mongol horde was about in the region, rebuilt rDis bon Monastery and it became a fairly large establishment. Later, in bSod nams dbang ldan’s time, there were two important residences (bla brang) of lamas in the monastery, one was called rTse gzhung and the other Bla gzhung. There was a series of masters belonging to the Se family:

  1. Se zhig Mu la thogs med
  2. Se Nam mkha’ thogs med
  3. Se kho Nam mkha’ dbang phyug
  4. Se kho Ra rna mkha’ spyod
  5. Se sprul Tshe dbang mchog legs

At present, there is a monk called rTogs ldan bsTan ’dzin who was sixty-two years old. In spite of his being in the course of three years’ retreat, he was kind enough to grant us an exceptional audience. This monastery is counted as one of the large Bonpo monasteries in the Chab mdo region.

Before 1959, there were forty-four monks and at present there are forty-seven. This monastery now has an assembly hall, a temple and a meditation hall (sgrub khang), all well designed and spacious. There are religious objects such as statues, scriptures and reliquary stupas.

As for annual services and daily activities, they follow the sMan ri tradition only. In the morning they say prayers, then they chant the Kun rig, followed by more prayers. In the evening they perform the gsol kha ritual to the protective deities, including Srid rgyal drel dmar.

The annual rituals are as follows:
  1. In the first Tibetan month the ritual of sTag la me ’bar is performed, followed by a five-day ritual of Phur pa.
  2. In the fifth month there are commemorations, the observance of the summer retreat, and the performance of rituals based on the Klong rgyas and rNam rgyal.
  3. In the ninth month there is a performance of the ritual based on the Khro bo ngo mtshar rgyas pa and the ’cham dance of Khro bo.

(69) sPong Monastery

sPong Monastery is located near Tar grong, sPang ge xiang. The xiang is reached by driving eighty kilometres northward from the rdzong; from the xiang to Tar grong takes several hours on horseback. The long distance makes it difficult to reach the monastery.

The monastery was founded in 1697. Before 1959, there was a lama and eighty-three monks and at present there are thirty. In spite of its long history, it has seen little growth due to the rise and fall of Bonpo fortunes. There is only a temple, an assembly hall and a meditation hall, all very small. Religious objects in its possession include twenty statues, large and small, including those of gShen lha ’od dkar, Dran pa nam mkha’ and Yum chen Byams ma, and six thangka. The monastery depends upon ten yaks and a small number of horses and mules for income. The monks must make their living, as in other Bonpo monasteries, by obtaining support from households and by going out to perform religious services in villages.

(70) Bla khri Monastery

Bla khri Monastery is located in the vicinity of Bla khri village, sPang dge xiang. sPang dge xiang is reached by driving eighty kilometres northward from the rdzong. Then it is a few hours on horseback from the xiang to the monastery.

The monastery was founded in 1754. Before 1959, there were eighty monks and at present there are fifty. The head of the monastery is sPrul sku rGyal ba g-yung drung. Its assembly hall, temple and meditation hall are all fairly large. There are many religious objects, including about twenty statues, tall and short, of such figures as sTon pa Khri gtsug rgyal ba, gShen lha ’od dkar, rNam par rgyal ba, Khro bo, sTag la me ’bar, Dran pa nam mkha’, his son Tshe dbang rig ’dzin and Srid rgyal drel dmar, twenty-five thangka and scriptures, including the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten.

Compared with other Bonpo monasteries in ’Jo mda’ rdzong, this monastery is in better condition in every respect. It has thirty ’bri and yaks, thirteen goats and sheep, five horses and mules, and a car.

(71) dKar tshang Monastery

dKar tshang Monastery is located near Bla khri village, like Bla khri Monastery, for whose location, see above.

The monastery was founded in 1696. Before 1959 there were fifteen monks, but at present no more than ten. Although this is an old monastery with a long three-hundred-year history, it is still very small. Its religious objects include the following: seven statues, tall and short, of sTon pa gShen rab and Dran pa nam mkha’; forty thangka; and several books.

For their source of income, as in other Bonpo monasteries, the monks depend on the support of households and earn money by performing religious services among the people in the villages. They have no property apart from eight yaks and thirteen sheep, given by devotees.

From ’Jo mda’ rdzong to Chab mdo, it takes six hours by car. To go up to lHo rong rdzong, we must drive a further seven hours via Ri bo che. On our way, at a pass near Chab mdo, we were all of a sudden struck by a heavy snowfall, which caused us difficulty and risks. Between Ri bo che and lHo rong rdzong the road is fairly good and does not, therefore, present that much difficulty.

lHo rong rdzong

lHo rong rdzong is in the north-east of Tibet. It covers an area of 8,108 square kilometres, of which 85,000 mu is farmland, nine million mu is pastureland and 1,270,000 mu natural forest. It has a population of about 36,000. There are eleven xiang and one town.

During the period of the btsan po, it was under the Tibetan imperial government and later under Mongol rule. Around 1644, the area was incorporated into the land holdings of Chab mdo Monastery. In 1725, control of the rdzong was transferred to the government of Tibet. In 1959, the people’s commune of lHo rong rdzong was set up. The rdzong is within the administration of Chab mdo region.

lHo rong is highly productive. It possesses about twenty mineral veins, such as gold, silver, copper, coal, asbestos and others. It’s people are largely semi-nomadic, and the area is home to a great many animals, such as leopards, bears, wild yaks, deer, musk deer, otters and other carnivores and herbivores.

(72) Khra rgan Monastery

The formal name of the monastery is Khra dgon gYung drung kun grags gling. It is also known as Nyi phug sgrub. It is located in Wa sgo xiang, dMar ri qu. From the rdzong, dMar ri qu is reached by travelling twenty kilometres eastward. Then, driving ninety kilometres in a north-easterly direction, one reaches Khra rgan Monastery. The monastery was founded in 1699 by Khra chags med bKra shis rgyal mtshan.

Khra chags med was the son of Gling Ra khra rgan po of the royal lineage of Gling ’Gu zi. During his childhood, Khra chags med lived in Yag yul. At that time prophecies were made by Ma mchog Srid pa rgyal mo that Khra chags med should go and preach the Bon doctrine in sacred places in mNga’ ris, Western Tibet and Central Tibet in order to establish places for the practice of meditation.

In accordance with these prophecies, Khra chags med visited several sacred places in mNga’ ris, and in particular, lHun grub sgang, the monastery of the Zhu family in gTsang (also known as Ri zhing Monastery, No.4). He obtained initiations and teachings of Bon in the presence of Blo gros bstan rgyal of the Zhu lineage, who upheld the Zhu tradition. Motivated by the prophecies, he went to Khams and searched for a place to settle down. He found the place, where he later founded Khra rgan Monastery, very auspicious. Before he founded the monastery a small religious establishment was already there. It is said that the monastery is called Khra rgan (old falcon) because the mountain behind the monastery looks like a falcon warming itself in the sun.

There was no line of reincarnation in this monastery, but a series of successors. Khra chags med was succeeded by Zhu btsun gYung drung khri bde as the head of the monastery. From him a succession of masters coming from the Zhu family followed. The lineage of the monastery was, therefore, as follows:

  1. Khra chags med bKra shis rgyal mtshan
  2. Zhu btsun gYung drung khri bde
  3. Zhu ston Tshul khrims grags pa
  4. Zhu btsun gYung drung dbang grags
  5. Zhu gYung drung bsod nams
  6. Zhu Nyi ma grags pa
  7. Zhu Phun tshogs dbang rgyal
  8. Zhu Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan
  9. Zhu rGyal ba dbang grags
  10. Zhu bsTan pa dbang grags
  11. Shi cu drung mu
  12. Zhu ston gYung drung rgyal ba
  13. Zhu Shes rab bstan ’dzin
  14. sNan zhig Grub thob
  15. Zhu Zla ba grags pa
  16. Kun mkhyen Nyi ma bsod nams grags pa
  17. rGyal sras Phun tshogs rnam rgyal
  18. Zhu rNam rgyal dbang grags
  19. Zhu lHun grub rgyal mtshan
  20. Zhu gYung drung ye shes
  21. Zhu Nyi nyi lags
  22. bsTan ’dzin lhun grub
  23. bsTan pa dbang rgyal
  24. A drung
  25. Zhu bsTan ’dzin gtsug phud
  26. Zhu bsTan ’dzin grags pa
  27. Nyan sgom Rin chen rgyal mtshan
  28. Zhu ston bsTan pa lhun grub
  29. Zhu Khri ’od
  30. Zhu khri gYung drung grags rgyal
  31. mKhan po sKal bzang g-yung drung

In 1951 mKhan po sKal bzang g-yung drung was still the head of the monastery and his successors right up to 1991 have maintained the tradition of studying, practising and preaching the Bon religion in the monastery.

This monastery is large and its architectural design is elegant. It stands in marvelous surroundings with a forest of many different trees where one hears large and small birds singing here and there. It is a wonderful place of beauty rarely seen elsewhere.

As for religious objects, there are twenty-two gilt-bronze statues such as gShen lha ’od dkar, sTon pa gShen rab, rNam par rgyal ba, Byams ma, Dran pa nam mkha’, sTag la me ’bar, Khro bo and Srid pa rgyal mo. There is also one silver statue, one bronze statue, twelve copper statues, three fine thangka, a reliquary stupa, scriptures and a complete set of ceremonial implements, including a white conch, a pair of cymbals, a large oboe, a trumpet made of bone and a silver incense burner. Before 1959, there were thirty-one monks and this number has been maintained, led by bSam gtan tshul khrims.

Annual Services and Practice of Rituals according to the Zhu tradition
  1. In the first month there is a congregation and performances of religious dances.
  2. In the second month there are religious services for thirty days.
  3. In the third and fourth months there is a performance of rituals of sTag la me ’bar for seven days.
  4. In the fifth month there is the commemoration of Khra chags med bKra shis rgyal mtshan for two days.
  5. In the sixth month there is the performance of the ceremony stong mchod and the observance of the smyung gnas fast.
  6. In the seventh month there is the performance of the ritual Ma tri ’bum sgrub for seven days.
  7. In the ninth month the ritual cycle of Khro bo is performed.
  8. In the twelfth month the dgu gtor rite is performed.
Daily activities

In the morning, prayers are said, followed by the practice of meditation and performance of the ceremony of water offering. In the evening, the propitiation of the religious protectors such as Ma, bDud and bTsan is performed. The religious protectors are known as bka’ skyong. In addition to these religious services, the ritual cycles of Khro bo, dBal gsas, sTag la, Phur pa, Ge khod, sPyi ’dul and Khyung dmar are also performed.

The monastery’s personnel consists of a lama, an abbot, a disciplinarian, two chanting conductors, a storekeeper for the bla brang and two storekeepers for the monastery.

With regard to their source of income, at present the monks themselves raise sixty-two ’bri and yaks. Apart from this, they must derive their living mainly from the support of their own parents and the religious services they perform in villages. They are customarily given a ’bri or a yak, along with one hundred yuan, for a programme of religious service lasting three days, performed by five monks.

(73) Lam lha Monastery

Lam lha Monastery is in Shog lnga xiang, Nag lcog qu. From lHo rong rdzong, Nag lcog qu is reached by driving two hours in a south-easterly direction. It is a day’s ride on horseback up to Lam lha Monastery. There is also a shorter way, from dPa’ shod rdzong.

The date of this monastery’s establishment remains uncertain, but it is counted as one of the earlier monasteries in Khams. Before 1959, there were sixty-eight monks in the monastery. At present there are thirty-three. The condition of the assembly hall, temple and religious objects is reasonably good. As in other Bonpo monasteries, the monks must earn their living by going out to perform religious services in villages as well as receiving support from their own families.

(74) Bal tho Monastery

Bal tho Monastery is near Bal tho village, Shing rong xiang. From the rdzong, Shing rong xiang is reached by driving northward for one hour. Then, to reach the monastery, a five-hour ride further north on horseback is required.

No clear record of the date of establishment of this monastery has been found, but it is said to be one of the earlier ones. At present there are twenty-four monks.

The monastery is somewhat in decline in all aspects of its exterior and interior. Like other monasteries, for means of livelihood it is dependent on support from the monks’ families and going out to perform religious services in the villages.

(75) Brag dkar Hermitage

This hermitage is in Ri dmar xiang, lHo rong rdzong. Ri dmar xiang is reached by driving twenty kilometres eastward from the rdzong.

This is a very small hermitage. Nothing seems to have been written about this establishment before 1959. At present there are three hermits.

From lHo-rong rdzong to mDzo sgang rdzong, it is 330 kilometres. Since the region is so mountainous within lHo rong rdzong, travelling can be laborious. Going by way of sPom mda’ airport, the road is easy, but it can take eleven hours.

mDzo sgang rdzong

mDzo sgang rdzong lies in the south-west of Tibet. It covers an area of 11,726 square kilometres of which farmland occupies 42,000 mu, and forest 392 mu. The population of this rdzong is about 380,000, most of which is engaged in agriculture. Forestry and livestock farming are doing quite well. The rdzong has one qu, sixteen xiang and 160 village councils under its direct control.

This rdzong, which had been under the rule of the government of Tibet, was set up as the people’s administration of mDzo sgang in 1959. The rdzong is blessed with such animals as wild yaks, leopards, bears, otters and musk deer, which thrive in the vast forest, and, moreover, with considerable mineral resources, such as gold, silver, iron and coal. There are nine Bonpo monasteries in this rdzong. This is the most prosperous rdzong, in terms of Bonpo tradition, next to sTeng chen rdzong.

(76) sTong mda’ Monastery

The monastery is also known as mDo dar dgon. Driving for twenty-six kilometres eastward from the rdzong, we come to mDo dar village in dBu yag xiang, from which a one hour’s drive up the mountain brings us to sTong mda’ Monastery. This monastery is situated in the midst of several agricultural villages.

The monastery was founded by gTsug phud tshul khrims, from whom the lineage of the heads of the monastery has led down to the ninth. Religious objects possessed by the monastery are as follows: a clay image of sTon pa gShen rab six cubits high; two white stupas, six cubits high; and more than ten masks of various kinds. Before 1959, the monastery had twenty-eight monks; this has now decreased to only seven. The practice of rituals is much the same as those of other Bonpo monasteries.

Fifteen kilometres west of the monastery is a holy mountain called sGro ra Pad ma ’byung gnas. It looks just like a Garuda flying with its wings fluttering. Every year on the 15th day of the sixth month, the local people get together to circumambulate the mountain, perform religious dances and engage in other festivities.

(77) La ngu Monastery

The monastery is located near Srib gru kha village, Krung gling kha xiang. The village is fifty kilometres south-west of mDzo sgang rdzong. The absence of a road makes travelling there very difficult. The place called Srib gru kha used to be the site of one of the main ferries across the river rGyal mo rngul chu.

This is one of the oldest Bonpo monasteries and is said to have been founded by Rin spungs dBang rgyal. It stands in front of Mount Rin chen spungs. Initially, it was built on verdant grassland. Later, it was moved to a larger place up the mountain. Though small, La ngu Monastery has special old architectural characteristics. A story tells why the monastery is called La ngu: at the time of its inauguration, musical instruments such as conch, oboe, drum, and cymbals were played, making the local deities of the four directions and those who resided on the mountain pass (la), cry (ngu) for joy. The monastery’s religious objects are of considerable quality and include statues of sTon pa gShen rab, Byams ma and sTag la me ’bar. There was also an image of the Buddha, said to have descended to the monastery by itself.

In the old days, there were sixty-two monks in this monastery. This number had diminished to thirty-five in 1959, and at present there are only fifteen monks, led by Tshul khrims rnam dag ’od zer. This lama is very learned in the Bon tradition, its history and other sciences.

Practice of Rituals
  1. In the first Tibetan month, from the 4th day to the 6th, there is the commemoration of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan.
  2. In the third month, from the 14th to the 22nd, the ritual cycle of Phur pa is performed.
  3. In the fifth month there is the thousand offerings of sacrificial cake to sTag la me ’bar.
  4. In the ninth month, from the 1st to the 9th day, the rtsa rlung meditation is practised and from the 14th to the 21st, there is the performance of the gunacakra offerings to Khro bo.
Daily Activities

From five o’clock to seven in the morning, the monks practise meditation. In the evening, from seven to eight, they perform the bsang ritual and recite prayers.

(78) Sa bla Monastery

The monastery is located near gCig yon village, sTobs ’bangs xiang. It is sixty kilometres from the rdzong to the village. As there is no road the trip can be very difficult.

It is said that this monastery was founded in 1497. Before 1959, there were ten monks in the monastery. The number has been reduced to only five now. In spite of its long history of some five hundred years, it has remained something like a small hermitage and has only a few religious objects, such as the statues of sTon pa gShen rab, rNam par rgyal ba, Byams ma and sTag la me ’bar.

(79) Ri sna Monastery

The monastery is located in Krung gling kha xiang, on the eastern bank of rGyal mo rngul chu, in the southern part of mDzo sgang rdzong. In the old days the place was called Rab pa. The distance between the rdzong and the xiang is no more than sixty kilometres, but it is very difficult to traverse.

No record concerning the date of establishment of this monastery has remained. Still it is one of the fairly old Bonpo monasteries.

Before 1959, there were nineteen monks; today there are ten. In the temple there are just a few religious objects, like the statues of sTon pa gShen rab and Yum chen Byams ma. In terms of facilities, it is poorly equipped.

Rituals are practised in the same manner as those of other Bonpo monasteries. The monks rely mainly on support from their own families for their living and occasionally go out to perform religious services in villages to supplement their income.

(80) mDangs ’phyar Monastery

This monastery is located near Bal stod village, in the northern part of the former Rab pa village, in the present Krung gling kha xiang, which lies on the eastern side of the river rGyal mo rngul chu, in the southern part of mDzo sgang rdzong. It is a mere sixty kilometres from the rdzong to the village, but it is still a difficult distance to be travelled.

There are no historical documents clearly recording the date of the monastery’s establishment and there is little oral information. Still, based on the architectural aspect of the building, it is said to be one of the fairly old Bonpo monasteries.

Before 1959, there were thirty monks, and at present thirty-two. The assembly hall, temple and religious objects are in quite good condition. The monastery’s activities have no unique characteristics, but are much the same as other Bonpo monasteries.

As for their source of income, the monks mainly receive support from their families and the occasional performance of religious services in the monastery or in villages.

(81) Shug rdzong Monastery

The monastery is near ’Os bab village, Krung gling kha xiang. Originally, the present Krung gling kha was called Rab pa, and is located on the east side of the river rGyal mo rngul chu, in the southern part of mDzo sgang rdzong. It is sixty kilometres from the rdzong to Krung gling kha, and ’Os bab village is in the northern part of the xiang, close to Bal stod village. The absence of a road makes travelling very difficult.

It is not clear when this monastery was founded. Before 1959, there were eighty-five monks and at present there are thirty-five. There is an assembly hall, a temple and other buildings of appropriate design and size. There are religious objects of considerable quality, such as the statues of sTon pa gShen rab, Byams ma, mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan and Khro bo. As for scriptures, there is the bKa’ ’gyur and other books of ritual practice.

In regard to rituals and services, they practise what is commonly done in other Bonpo monasteries, and have no special activities. For their living, the monks depend mainly on their own parents and relatives for financial support. Occasionally they are invited to perform religious services, such as conducting funerals, which helps supplement their income.

(82) Rab pa Monastery

Rab pa Monastery is located near Rab pa village (which is now called Krung gling kha) on the east side of the river rGyal mo rngul chu, in the southern part of mDzo sgang rdzong. From the rdzong to Rab pa is a distance of only sixty kilometres, but as there is no road, the going is very hard.

Although there is no recorded date for the establishment of this monastery, it is said to be one of the oldest Bonpo monasteries.

Before 1959, there were no more than eight monks, but at present there are fourteen. The name of this monastery is said to be related to the fact that the area where the monastery is located is so large that it would take a day on horseback to circumambulate it. The place is therefore the best among the local areas and that is why it is called Rab pa, the “Best”.

In the temple of the monastery are several statues of sTon pa gShen rab, Dran pa nam mkha’ and Byams ma, a few thangka and Bonpo scriptures. Otherwise the facilities are very poor.

As for the monks’ main source of income, they depend, just as in the other small Bonpo monasteries, on their own parents and relatives for support. Besides this, to make their living, they must supplement this support by going out to perform religious services.

(83) dByibs pa Monastery

dByibs pa Monastery is located near dByibs pa village, which is to the west of Gug pa village in Zhwa gling kha xiang. Zhwa gling kha is situated on the east side of the river rGyal mo rngul chu, in the southern part of mDzo sgang rdzong. From the rdzong to Zhwa gling kha is a distance of more than fifty kilometres. Although the distance is not great, travelling it is very hard because of the absence of a road.

The date of this monastery’s establishment is unknown, but according to oral history it is one of the oldest Bonpo monasteries. Before 1959, the monastery had forty-seven monks. At present, it is a moderate-sized Bonpo monastery of thirty-one monks, with an assembly hall, a temple, monks’ quarters and other buildings. It has religious objects appropriate to its size and needs, such as statues of sTon pa Khri gtsug rgyal ba, Dran pa nam mkha’, his son Tshe dbang rig ’dzin, sTag la me ’bar and Srid pa rgyal mo, thangka, the bKa’ ’gyur, and other books concerning religious practice. Rituals and services are practised in this monastery as they are in other Bonpo monasteries of average size. It has no special activities.

As for the monks’ main source of income, they receive financial support from their own parents and relatives. The monastery itself has no other means of earning revenue. Occasionally the monks are invited to perform religious services, such as funerals, in villages, which helps supplement their income.

(84) lTag tsha Monastery

lTag tsha Monastery is located near Su mgo village, on the bank of the river rGyal mo rngul chu, to the south of Gug pa village, Zhwa gling kha xiang. Zhwa gling kha xiang is in the southern part of the rdzong and Su mgo village is more than forty kilometres from the rdzong. It is a very difficult distance to travel because there is no road.

In spite of there being no recorded date for its establishment, this monastery is also customarily said to be a fairly old Bonpo monastery.

Before 1959, there were seven monks in the monastery, but at present there are fourteen. The main religious objects in the monastery’s temple are statues of sTon pa gShen rab, mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan, Byams ma and others, as well as several thangka and books. Apart from these it has hardly any facilities.

As for rituals and services, the monks perform the bsang ritual in the morning and recite prayers in the evening. They perform the common daily activities. There are no rituals or services specific to this monastery. The monks’ main source of income is, much the same as in other poor Bonpo monasteries, financial support from their own parents or relatives. The monastery itself has no means of generating revenue. Occasionally the monks are invited to perform religious services, such as funerals, in villages, which helps supplement their income.

Proceeding north from mDzo sgang rdzong by car, through the grassland of sPom mda’, where an airfield is situated, and along the river rGyal mo rngul chu, one arrives at dPa’ shod rdzong. Driving from mDzo sgang rdzong to dPa’ shod rdzong takes six and a half hours. When we reached the district of dPa’ shod rdzong, the way had been blocked to traffic by road construction, which prevented us from proceeding. After a long wait of five and a half hours, the road was finally opened.

dPa’ shod rdzong

dPa’ shod rdzong is in eastern Tibet and is part of Chab mdo region. The rdzong was created by the Tibetan government about eighty years ago. It covers an area of 12,564 square kilometres, of which 734,000 mu is forest. It has a population of 33,000 and administratively consists of one qu, one town and fourteen xiang, which contain 125 village councils.

dPa’ shod is said to have got its name from the village that used to be near (shod meaning “nearby place”) Mount dPa’ rgod. dPa’ shod Bla brang was founded in 1694. In 1959, the people’s administration of dPa’ shod rdzong was established.

This rdzong stretches over the basin of three rivers, rGyal mo rngul chu, rDza chu and ’Bri chu. While higher and mountainous in the north-east, the rdzong contains deep gorges formed along the river rGyal mo rngul chu.

This rdzong is rich in natural resources, such as iron, coal and aluminum, and is inhabited by many wild animals, including monkeys, deer, musk deer, otters, the rna ba (Ovis ammon hodgsoni), wild sheep and wild yaks. Moreover, it is an area highly productive in medicinal materials like the dByar rtswa dgun ’bu (Cordyceps sinensis), antlers and musk, as well as agricultural products.

(85) dBen mdzod Monastery

dBen mdzod Monastery is situated halfway up the hill, to the west of dBen mdzod (Wa ’bru) village in ’Jo ’ju xiang, dPa’ shod rdzong. From the rdzong, the monastery is reached by driving twenty kilometres eastward on the highway and then riding south for six hours on horseback.

This monastery was founded in 1256. Before 1959, there were only four monks, but at present there are twenty. It is counted as one of the oldest Bonpo monasteries in Chab mdo region, but has not shown much development because of the lack of transport facilities and because of other unfavourable conditions. Currently it has an assembly hall, a temple, monks’ quarters and other buildings, and is fairly well equipped with religious objects such as statues of sTon pa gShen rab, Dran pa nam mkha’, his son Tshe dbang rig ’dzin, rNam par rgyal ba, sTag la me ’bar, mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan and Srid pa rgyal mo, as well as several thangka and Bon scriptures.

Rituals and services of this monastery are much the same as those of other Bonpo monasteries of this region. It does not have any special activities.

As the monastery itself has no means of providing a living for the monks, they depend on their own parents and relatives for support.

(86) ’Bur lung Monastery

’Bur lung Monastery is situated halfway up the hill to the east of dBen mdzod (Wa ’bru) village in ’Jo ’ju xiang, dPa’ shod rdzong. From the rdzong, ’Bur lung Monastery is reached by driving twenty kilometres eastward on the highway and riding south on horseback for six hours.

This monastery was founded by Khro tshang ’Brug lha in 1096. Before 1959, there were only ten monks, but at present there are thirty. This was the oldest Bonpo monastery in the whole of Tibet. The newly built assembly hall and temple are very fine looking buildings. The religious objects include a clay image of sTon pa gShen rab as tall as the ceiling, statues of Dran pa nam mkha’, mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan, Byams ma and Khro bo, as well as several thangka and Bon scriptures.

The monks, like those in other Bonpo monasteries, depend on support from their own parents and relatives for their livelihood, as the monastery has no means of providing a living for them.

(87) bKra shis rtse Monastery

bKra shis rtse Monastery is also called Wa dag bon dgon. It is located near the village of Wa dag in Gla ge xiang, dPa’ shod rdzong. From the rdzong, Wa dag village is reached by driving twenty kilometres eastward on the highway. The monastery is situated halfway up the hill to the south of Wa dag village.

This monastery was founded in 1589. Before 1959, there was a fairly large assembly hall and a temple containing religious objects that included the following: a statue of sTon pa gShen rab as tall as the ceiling, statues of rNam par rgyal ba, Byams ma and the three guardian deities - Ma, bDud and bTsan - each of which was as tall as the ceiling, and other gilt-bronze statues numbering over three hundred. There used to be eighteen monks; at present there are twenty.

The mountain at the back of the monastery is the abode of Dam can Yul lha dkar po, a local deity with one head and two arms. He is depicted as mounted on a nanny goat, holding a knife in his right hand and a black flag in his left. The mountain in front of the monastery is the abode of gZhi bdag Bon thung, a local deity with a blue body. He holds a knife in his right hand and an ensign in his left. The mountain to the right is called lHa g-yag dkar po and the one to the left, rDo rje gzer ’phrang.

As regards rituals and services, in the morning the monks recite prayers, then practise the rtsa lung meditation, followed by further recitation of ritual texts of the tutelary deities. In the evening they propitiate the protective deities, as well as performing the bsur ceremony, which involves casting barley flour into fire.

For their main source of income, the monks depend on their own families for support. Customarily they are not paid for performing religious services in villages, but are paid ten yuan a day for funeral services.

To go to Nying khri from dPa’ shod rdzong, one passes through the regions of sPo smad, mThong smad and Klu nang.

The roads in Khams are fraught with difficulty and extreme danger. When we came to the boundary between dPa’ shod rdzong and sPo smad rdzong, we were struck all of a sudden by a small flood from above, and our car was stuck in the mud. We were quite helpless and could not move, but after finally getting help from Chinese soldiers, over thirty in number, who dredged up mud and pulled our car up, we were able proceed on our way. As there were no bridges on the way, we fell into difficulty and danger again.

Another time, when in despair, we received help from a Khams pa tribesman with a devout disposition. He guided us along the route, which led us out of danger.

Then again, when we were passing in front of a sand hill on the confines of mThong smad, our car sank into the sand and we had no way to get out of it. A shovel was the only tool we had and we struggled with it to get our car out of the sand. At the same time, rocks began to roll down frequently from above us, so we had to keep watching out for them. At last we managed to drag the car out and headed in the direction of Nying khri.

It took us seventeen and a half hours to travel from dPa’ shod rdzong to Nying khri.

Nying khri rdzong

Nying khri rdzong lies in the south-western part of Tibet, at the confluence of the rivers Nyang chu and Yar lung gTsang po. It covers an area of 10,238 square kilometres, 28,000 mu of which is farmland, 565,000 mu is pastureland and 5,020,000 mu forest. Its population is about 26,000. Administratively, it consists of one town.

In 1959, the three old rdzong - Kong po rTse la rdzong, bDe gling rdzong and Jo mo rdzong - were joined together to form Nying khri rdzong and at the same time its people’s administration was established; but in 1964, the administration was dismantled and Nying khri rdzong came under the direct control of Lhasa. Then, in 1976 the administration of Nying khri rdzong was restored again.

The rdzong is situated along the river Yar lung gTsang po. It contains beautiful mountains and the region is rich in natural forest. Along the river there is good farmland where the agriculture is fairly prosperous, as is the pasturage. Various medicinal herbs grow here, cattle thrive and the area is abundant in carnivores and herbivores. Roads are good for travellers. Moreover, this rdzong has much that is of interest, scenically and historically, including Kong po Bon ri, celebrated in Tibet and beyond.

Bon ri, the Great Sacred Place

From rTag gzigs ’Ol mo lung ring, sTon pa gShen rab, accompanied by five attendants, came to rescue his seven horses, which were stolen by the demons of Kong po. sTon pa gShen rab and his attendants travelled down the river Yar lung gTsang po to Kong po, the land of demons. While travelling, sTon pa gShen rab was obstructed along the way by the three evils - klu, bdud and btsan - out of envy, but in spite of all the serious obstacles, he subjugated the land, which belonged to black demons by performing miracles that were beyond all imagination.

Then sTon pa gShen rab and his attendants reached the palace rTse la ’bar ba, where they were welcomed:

“The lady Kong btsun De mo was the first to honour him. Holding a nectar-producing bough of juniper in her hand, she proposed a way in which restitution could be made for the seven horses. The matter was settled through offers of compensation: firstly, by offering the lady Kong bza’ khri lcam to sTon pa gShen rab as his wife; secondly, by offering bushels of gold and turquoise; and thirdly, Kong rje, the king of the demons, offered himself and his subjects, who then became sTon pa gShen rab’s attendants.”

sTon pa gShen rab then buried many treasures, including the gold and turquoise he received, at the foot of the craggy hills that looked like scattered jewels, so that they would be the essence of the soil of the four quarters of Tibet. Saying prayers to the nectar-producing bough of Kong btsun De mo, he thrust it into the ground there as a sign of eternity.

On top of Mount gNyan, he also planted a juniper tree as tall as himself, where handprints of his four distinguished disciples still remain. The tree is called sKu tshad sku shug ldem drug.

He preached the Bon of the Nine Vehicles and he, himself being the lord of the dMu lineage, identified a mountain and gave it the name dMu ri smug po. This is the central peak of Mount Bon ri. The summit is also called lHa ri gyang tho. He entrusted the local deities who reside on various peaks to guard the treasures he had concealed: gYung drung lha gnyan rtsal as the guardian of treasure in the centre, Gangs gnyan stag rtse as the king of the east, Nyang lha btsan drug as the king of the north, bDud nag rngams sgra sgrogs as the king of the west and gYu ’od sman btsun as the goddess of the south. Kong btsun De mo is the overall protectress of the place and rDzu ’phrul klu dbang is the special protector of treasures.

The sacred mountain Bon ri and its surroundings became a centre of the teachings of Bon. gNya’ khri btsan po is said to have descended from the sky onto the summit lHa ri Gyang tho. He was the first king of Tibet. Co’u and ’Tshe mi were the first religious attendants of the king; between them and the king there was the “priest-patron” relationship. The king and his religious attendants resided at the foot of Mount dMu ri smug po and inspired the spreading of the Bon teachings.

Since then a number of the gshen religious practitioners have come up to this holy place and established places for religious practice. dMu ri smug po, the main peak of Mount Bon ri, is the very highest among the peaks, which include lHa ri Gyang tho, Nor bu ri and gShen ri bde ldan. On the slopes and in the valleys of Mount Bon ri, there were the following religious sites: Srid rgyal, sTag bro sa, dGyes ri, dGon rnying, Srin mo phug, dBus phug, Yang dben, Bya de phug, lHa ri Gyang tho, gSang gling, Phug gu, Nyi ma phug, sNang ngog, Thugs dkar brag, Brag dkar zhabs rjes, rDzong chung steng, Shel sku sbug and the cemetery Mi yul skyid mthing. Mount Bon ri is, therefore, not only a special place for the Bonpo, but Buddhists as well, who join in its veneration.

Mount Bon ri still receives a stream of pilgrims who accumulate merit by making circumambulations and many prostrations. Mount Bon ri and its surroundings present unearthly scenery, with the beautiful high mountains filled with pine trees, bamboo, medicinal herbs, flowers, herbivores and various kinds of birds.

There were periods of great celebration in the vicinity of the mountain. One of the major festivities in a cycle of twelve years was an event called Nyang po lha gsol, held in the tiger year, from the 1st to the 8th day of the eighth month. During this period, people got together in the seven Bonpo monasteries, including sNang ngog, and went through the ceremonies, true to the time-honoured tradition, of initiation, the fortune-call ritual and religious dances. The lay folk also performed dances, horse-racing, horseback archery and the fortune-call parade.

In the mouse year, on the 8th day of the eighth month, there was the performance of the fortune-call ceremony by the religious practitioners, and dances and songs by the lay folk, as in the case of the tiger year. The origin of this festival goes back to a Bonpo hermit:

In the Sixth Rab byung (1327-1386) a lama of Shel zhig from the Khams province rediscovered a crystal image of sTon pa gShen rab called Dri med shel sku, in the place called Shel sku sbug, and took it back to Khams. Similarly, three text-rediscoverers from Khyung po found, in Thugs dkar brag, a conch believed to be self-grown from the teeth of sTon pa gShen rab and took it back to Khyung po. Following that, in Kong po, a mountain crumbled, rainfall became rare, fields produced little harvest, disease spread among people and cattle, famine struck and many other disasters ensued, which reduced the people to a state of helplessness. During this time, the hermit dPon gsas Ri pa ’brug gsas was in meditation at the cave Thod g-yu phug in Nying khri. The hermit understood the reason for the disasters and said, “The fertility of the soil had been weakened because of the excavation of the treasures, the image Dri med shel sku and the tooth conch.” He therefore made the people perform the ritual of propitiation dedicated to the local deities and the fortune-call ceremony. When these ceremonies ended, rain began to fall, people had a good harvest and the epidemic abated.

The local people propitiated the goddess Srid pa rgyal mo in her various aspects: at Srid rgyal Monastery, it was dKar mo Srid rgyal; at rDzong chung steng Monastery, sMug mo Srid rgyal; and at sTag bro sa, Srid rgyal drel nag. The people of the three villages of Nya mgor propitiated the goddess A ma Yu mo. They also kept the tradition of performing the bsang ritual on the 15th and 30th of every month at different sacred sites of Mount Bon ri where there were special signs, such as footprints of early sages on rocks. This holy mountain, to which all devotees pay homage and make pilgrimages, is one of the most important religious sites in the world and, as such, it is well known.

(88) Srid rgyal Monastery

Srid rgyal dgon chen is situated close to Nying khri rdzong, halfway up the holy mountain Bon ri. Cars can reach the foot of the mountain.

One of the thirty-seven centres of Bon was rKong yul Se mo thang. These centres were established during the time of Mu khri btsan po, a son of gNya’ khri btsan po. It is at Se mo thang in Kong po that Srid rgyal Monastery is located.

The lineage of lamas of this monastery goes back to Ri pa ’Brug gsas. He is said to have been the emanation of the tutelary deity sTag la med ’bar. A historical document states:

“In the land called Bon ri

There will be a hermit named ’Brug gsas

Who will possess a ‘magic-stone’,

Will be courageous and avert wars,

And guide 300,000 people to salvation.

Anyone who contacts him will be rewarded.”

This hermit was born in 1270 in rDza rong into the clan of sMa ra. sMa ra is a subdivision of the clan Rang bya. He was the second son of dKon cog dge, the father, and A lcam U gu, the mother. Having been in religious service until the age of thirteen years, he was given the name ’Brug gsas rgyal. From the time he was fourteen until he was nineteen years of age, he practised meditation. He then listened to various masters in China, ’Jang and Mi nyag. He then became conscious of the impermanence of life. He therefore travelled to Central Tibet and began to practise more meditation, as well as to perform circumambulation around sacred sites such as Ti se, Ma pang, Bye ma g-yung drung and sPos ri ngad ldan. He then travelled down to Kong po in accordance with a prophecy of Srid pa rgyal mo. In 1330, he “opened the door of Bon ri” (that is to say, he identified the mountain), because people had forgotten the fact that the place was one of the thirty-seven religious centres of Bon. This was due to the long period of time that passed since sTon pa gShen rab’s visit to the place and also due to the chequered history of the Bon religion.

’Brug gsas took up residence in the cave gYu phug, near which the three streams of Nyang meet. He remained there in meditation for three years and countenanced deities of tranquil and wrathful aspects from whom he received more prophecies. He was able to make the eight kinds of demons serve him. While devoting himself to retreat-practice of Khro bo and Phur pa on the mountain, he received signs from the goddess dKar mo Srid rgyal for founding a monastery at this place. He therefore founded Srid rgyal Monastery there. The interior and exterior of the monastic buildings were of good design and their religious contents were rich. More than one hundred monks from all directions gathered together there.

He left traces of his body and footprints on rocks around the site of the monastery and passed away at the age of eighty. He promised that he would come back in the form of a bird to see the monastery every year on the 13th day of the fourth Tibetan month. A festival called dGon chen Bya mjal was, thereafter, held on this day and it was the occasion when people went to see the bird.

The line of the heads of the monastery was as follows:

  1. Ri pa ’Brug gsas
  2. Rag shi Nyi ma rgyal mtshan
  3. Bru ston Nyi ma rgyal mtshan
  4. La tri hri rda (Zhang zhung language: Dam pa blo gros)
  5. sDong sgom bsTan pa lhun grub
  6. rNal ’byor Nam mkha’ lhun grub
  7. Tshe dbang lhun grub
  8. bsTan pa rgyal mtshan
  9. gYung drung rnam rgyal
  10. Rin chen tshul khrims
  11. Kun bzang lhun grub
  12. rGyal ba gtsug phud
  13. Tshe dbang legs mchog
  14. gYung drung rgyal mtshan
  15. rGyal ba blo gros
  16. Mi ’gyur rgyal mtshan
  17. lHun grub dbang rgyal
  18. gYung drung dbang rgyal
  19. Tshe dbang ’od zer
  20. Khyung sprul gYung drung phun tshogs
  21. Zla ba don ’grub
  22. Tshul khrims blo gros
  23. mTha’ yas rgya mtsho
  24. Nor skyabs Rinpoche

Dam pa blo gros, the fourth in the line, founded the monastery called rDzong chung kha. gDong sgom bsTan pa lhun grub, the fifth, founded sTag rtse Monastery (No.89) in his later life. bsTan pa rgyal mthan, the eighth, carried out all the duties delegated to him by sPyan gsal Kun ’phel gling, an official serving under the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682). As a reward, the Dalai Lama granted the monastery the special privilege of establishing an independent monastic code, building a rooftop and making a double tamarisk-stems-work on the outer wall of the monastic building. At that time there were four hundred monks in the monastery. Mi ’gyur rgyal mtshan, the sixteenth in the line, founded dGyes ri Monastery. Khyung sprul gYung drung phun tshogs, the twentieth, founded dGon sding Monastery.

At present there are nineteen monks in the monastery. It has a complete set of the printed edition of the bKa’ ’gyur and a complete set of manuscripts of the bKa’ brten. Besides these, there are ritual texts and more than two hundred volumes of manuscripts.

Annual Ritual Services
  1. In the first month the birthday ceremony of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan is celebrated on the 5th day, and the memorial service of sTong rgyung mthu chen was held for fifteen days.
  2. In the second month there is a recitation of the bKa’ ’gyur and on the occasion of the festival of sTon pa gShen rab’s conversion of demons.
  3. In the third month the ritual cycle of one of the five tutelary deities is performed for ten days.
  4. In the fourth month, on the 10th day, the birthday of Dran pa nam mkha’ was celebrated; on the 13th, the memorial service of Ri pa ’Brug gsas was held. For the latter, the Zhi khro khri mchod ceremony was performed. This festival, called dGon chen Bya mjal (“Meeting the bird of the great monastery”), was the occasion when the local people would dance and sing, and expect to see the vulture, as Ri pa ’Brug gsas had promised that he would come in the form of the bird every year.
  5. In the fifth month, starting from the 5th day, the memorial service of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan was held for ten days.
  6. In the sixth month, on the 10th day, the birthday ceremony of Tshe dbang rig ’dzin and Pad ma ’byung gnas was held.
  7. In the seventh month, starting from the 15th day, the confession ceremony was held for five days.
  8. In the eighth month there was the performance of the ritual cycle of dBal gsas and the offering of the sacrificial cake a hundred times to the guardians of the Bon religion for eight days.
  9. In the ninth month, starting from the 13th day, there was the performance of the Ma tri ’bum sgrub ceremony as a memorial service of sTon pa gShen rab for fifteen days.
  10. In the tenth month, on the 15th day, a general religious service was held.
  11. In the eleventh month, there was the performance of the thousand offerings of the sacrificial cake to sTag la me ’bar and the short dgu gtor rite for fifteen days.
  12. In the twelfth month, there was a the performance of the birthday celebration of sTon pa gShen rab on the 15th day, based on the gYung drung klong rgyas and the dgu gtor rite based on the ritual cycle of Khro bo for fifteen days.

Daily assemblies are held to make offerings to the deities.

Tea is served twelve times a day, and meals with meat and butter are provided according to availability. Apart from this, the monks must make their living by going out and performing religious services in villages and receiving support from their parents and relatives.

(89) sTag rtse gYung drung gling Monastery

sDong sgom bsTan pa lhun grub, the fifth head of Srid rgyal Monastery, was a native of Amdo. He founded sTag rtse gYung drung gling in 1680.

The line of the heads of this monastery is as follows:

  1. sDong sgom bsTan pa lhun grub
  2. Tshe dbang lhun grub
  3. Rin chen tshul khrims
  4. sKal bzang lhun grub
  5. rGyal ba gtsug phud
  6. Tshe dbang mchog legs
  7. lHun grub dbang rgyal
  8. gYung drung dbang rgyal
  9. bsTan pa rgyal mtshan
  10. Tshe dbang rnam rgyal
  11. Tshe dbang bdud ’dul

This monastery formerly possessed such religious objects as the following: a marvelous precious stone found on the peak of Bon ri by sDong sgom bsTan pa lhun grub; the latter’s image, called lCe me thub; and statues of Phur pa, rTa mgrin and Padmasambhava. There were more than two thousand manuscripts including the bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten.

At present the monastery possesses relics of sDong sgom bsTan pa lhun grub, a large white conch, more than ten statues, including Phur pa, rTa mgrin, and bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ brten. There are no more than twelve monks in this monastery now.

Near the monastery there is a rock-face upon which sDong sgom bsTan pa lhun grub inscribed the five syllables stag, rtse, g-yung, drung and gling with his fingers, and a stone with his handprint on it. At the back of the monastery there is a meditation cave of the four scholarly ones; to the north there is a rock with an amazing shape, called Ye shes dbal mo; up the valley there is the meditation cave of sDong sgoms bsTan pa lhun grub. The area around the monastery is covered with dense forest of various kinds of trees and is considered to be the abode of the three protective deities, Ma, bDud and bTsan. It stands in a magnificent place surrounded by mountains, the abodes of the local deities, including lHa gnyan gYung drung rtse in the centre, rGyal po Kong gnyan rgyal in the east, bDud nag rNgams sgra sgrog in the west, Ma mo gYu ’od sman in the south and Nyang lha bTsan drug in the north.

Services and Rituals
  1. In the first month there is the memorial service of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan for six days starting from the 1st day of the month, and the performance of the offering of sacrificial cake one hundred times to sTag la me ’bar and one thousand times to the protective deities for nine days.
  2. In the second month, offerings of the sacrificial cake are made to Ge khod gsang drag for eleven days.
  3. In the third month, starting from the 8th day, offerings of the sacrificial cake are made to dBal gsas for ten days.
  4. In the fifth month, starting from the 8th day, the ritual of rNam rgyal stong mchod is performed for seven days.
  5. In the ninth month, starting from the 22nd day, offerings of the sacrificial cake are made to sTag la me ’bar for ten days.
  6. In the eleventh month, starting from the 9th day, the sTag rtse me mchod is performed for seven days.
  7. In the twelfth month, starting from the 22nd day, the dgu gtor rite is performed for ten days.

As for daily activities, the day is divided into four parts: in the first, the bsang ritual; in the second, water offering and the bsur ceremony; in the third, prayers; and last, propitiation of the protective deities.

The local deity residing on the hill behind the monastery is called Pho lha ’Ba’ ba dpal ldan and the local deity of sTag rtse village is the goddess A ma Pad mo.

For their means of living, the monks receive an annual stipend of 2,880 yuan from the lama, and the local devotees offer over ten thousand yuan for the expenses of the performance of the rituals mentioned above.

To go to rTse thang in lHo kha from Nying khri rdzong one takes the route that passes through Glang rdzong. The road is reasonably good, but it is very often winding and, moreover, one must go up and across the big mountain pass called sPor thang la. It can, therefore, take some twelve hours to reach rTse thang.

From rTse thang to sNye mo rdzong is a drive of three and a half hours, crossing the large bridge at Chu shur.

The Ngari region
sGar rdzong, mNga’ ris

sGar rdzong lies in the west of Tibet, along the river valleys of the Seng ge gtsang po and sGar gtsang po, and is one of the eighteen rdzong in this region. It is 17,018 square kilometres in area, 8,900 mu of which is farmland. Administratively, it consists of four qu, one town and eleven xiang. There are thirty-six village councils.

The name sGar is said to have come from the many military camps (sgar) that dGa’ ldan tshe dbang set up in this area as reinforcements for the government of Tibet. After that the area came to be called sGar. The rdzong was created in 1959.

The region of sGar is populated by semi-nomads. There are many livestock animals, such as yaks, goats and sheep, oxen, bulls, mdzo and mdzo mo, horses and mules. There is also a considerable amount of wheat, barley and beans harvested. The rdzong is rich in minerals, including coal, white salt, gold, lead and salt. It is, moreover, the habitat of a great many animals, such as wild yaks, yellow leopards, wild asses, black bears, Tibetan lynxes, antelopes, Tibetan antelopes, foxes and wolves. There are also many unique characteristics of sGar rdzong to be seen in the popular old legends, myths, music, dances and other facets of the culture.

sGar rdzong possesses a number of sites of historical interest, including the monasteries of Dri bda’ spos ri, Gyam smyug lha khang, mDun chu Monastery and Gu ru gyam, the Bonpo monastery. Many of the important Bonpo monasteries can still be visited.

(90) Gu ru gyam Monastery

Gu ru gyam Monastery is located in Mon mtsher qu, sGar rdzong. It is 250 kilometres from sGar rdzong to Gangs sTi se. From there, one must travel sixty kilometres further to Mon mtsher xiang, then seven kilometres to Dri bda’ spos ri, and another seven kilometres westward. The distance is long, but the road is in good condition.

The place where Gu ru gyam Monastery is located is called Khyung lung dngul mkhar, which is one of the oldest Bonpo religious sites. It was there that the capital of the Zhang zhung kingdom was found. It was there too that gShen chen Dran pa nam mkha’, one of the most important Bon masters, flourished. Then the Bon religion’s fortune declined and its religious establishments fell as lamp-light dying from lack of oil. Now they are nothing but names.

In 1936, Khyung sprul ’Jigs med nam mkha’i rdo rje founded the monastery mDo sngags grags rgyas gling at Gu ru gyam. It has now become fairly large and the condition of its buildings, religious objects and offering implements is reasonably good. At present, the monastery is taken care of by the scholar bsTan ’dzin dbang grags, and there are seven monks and three nuns.

In regard to annual services and rituals, those practised at this monastery are much the same as other Bonpo monasteries.

The main Bonpo religious sites in Pu rang rdzong

Pu rang rdzong is in the south-western Tibet. It is 12,497 square kilometres in area, which includes 11,000 mu of farmland. It has a population of 7,300, and consists of three qu and ten xiang. There are fifty-one village councils.

Pu rang is one of the oldest and most celebrated places in Tibetan history. There are a number of sacred sites in this rdzong: Mount Ti se; sPos ri ngad ldan; Mount sMan mo nag snyil, the abode of the goddess Gangs can ma; Gangs tshe ring, where the cave of Mi la ras pa is situated; Mount rTse brgyad, the abode of the goddess Tara; the lake Ma pang g-yu mtsho; the spring mThong ba rang grol, said to be the source of the river Ganges; the cliff Gad pa gser gyi bya phibs; and the lake Gung brgyud dngul gyi mtsho mo. There is also the famous Buddhist monastery ’Khor chags.

Pu rang rdzong is populated by semi-nomadic people, and produces one-third of the grain output of the whole mNga’ ris region. It also has good pasturage for yaks, goats and sheep, cows, bulls, horses, donkeys, mules, mdzo and mdzo mo.

Moreover, this rdzong is very rich in mineral resources, such as iron, white salt and gold, and animals, such as yellow leopards, wild yaks, Tibetan lynxes, wild asses, wild sheep, foxes, otters, antelopes, rgo ba, wolves, wild geese and cranes.

Mount Ti se

Mountain Ti se was, originally, in ancient times, a specific holy place of Bon. With the spread of Buddhism in Tibet, it became a holy mountain of both Bonpo and Buddhists, but due to the history of the Bon doctrine, the monastic communities around the mountain were gradually taken over by various Buddhist orders such as bKa’ gdams pa and bKa’ brgyud pa. The venerable Mi la ras pa even claimed to be the proprietor of the mountain.

Ma pang g-yu mtsho

Ma pang g-yu mtsho is an important sacred site for both Bonpo and Buddhists, and is visited every year by many lay and clerical devotees of Bon and pilgrims from other countries. They make circumambulations of the lake, prostrating themselves with all their devotion.

Bonpo monasteries and temples in Tibetan regions in Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan

Note: refer to the list of abbreviations at the end of this section for the full bibliography of Tibetan Sources.

The bo County
Introduction

The bo, sometimes called The bo gorge (The bo rong) is a long, deep gorge with numerous side-gorges through which flows the The bo Chu nag or ’Brug chu. Geographically it belongs to the sGang gsum rong drug (“three hills and six gorges”).

The bo County is located in southeast Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu province in China. The county covers an area of 51,480000 sq km, 60% of which are covered by forest. The county is divided into twelve districts (xiang): sTeng ka, Gyi ba, Kha pa, sTag ra, Nyin ngo, dBang bzang, Huayuan, A zha, rDo ra, Ri dbang, Bya ’bab and La rtse khog. It comprises a total of two hundred and twenty-one villages. The population is 3201, about 80% of which are Tibetan. Most of the inhabitants are farmers who practise both agriculture and animal husbandry.

History

The bo was occupied by A zha in the sixth century, and descendents of A zha’s people may still be found in the following thirteen villages in A zha valley (A zha khog), one of the side-gorges in A zha district (xiang): Nags sked, A rta srib, Khe lam, Phyug bcu, Pe gseb, Nags gong, Nyin pa, bTsun mo, sMad lung, rGyab klu gong ma, rGyab klu ’og ma, lTag srib, Sa dkar sgang. Shortly after A zha’s invasion, the Tibetan army defeated A zha’s forces and annexed the whole The bo area to Tibet. Ancient Chinese Sources refer to The bo as Di Zhou (Di is the Chinese pronunciation of The, Zhou the Chinese word for prefecture), and state that it was established as a prefecture in 577 A.D. It is also mentioned that at the time, in addition to the present The bo county area, the prefecture included mDzo dge and Nan ping located in present day southern Gansu. In recent history The bo was conquered from the North by the King of Cone and remained under the control of Cone until the nineteen-forties. The bo was intergrated into Cone Autonomous Region in 1950 and established as a separate county in 1962.

It is not certain when Bon first reached the area; according to oral history, it was during the Imperial period when the Yarlung kings unified Tibet and the ’Phags pa rnams gsum spread Bon in Amdo. Later, with the development of Buddhism in the area, many Bonpo monasteries were converted to Buddhism, especially to the dGe lugs pa tradition.

There are more than twenty Buddhist monasteries in The bo, all of which are dGe lugs pa with the exception of sPe gu Monastery which is Sa skya pa. The first Buddhist monastery in The bo appears to be sTeng ka Monastery, which was founded by dPal Shes rab ’bar, a famous disciple of ’Phags pa Blo gros rgyal mtshan (1235-1281), and which was later converted to the dGe lugs pa tradition. The dGe lugs pa began to establish monasteries in the area from the late sixteenth century onwards --three monasteries at the end of the sixteenth century, six in the seventeenth century, six in the eighteenth century, three in the nineteenth century, whose foundation date remains unknown.

(91) gTso tshang Monastery

1. Name

gTso tshang Monastery’s full name is gSang sngags smin grol dar rgyas gling. gTso is the family name of gTso ’phags Zla ba rgyal mtshan whose descendents founded the three monasteries -Ze kha, Bya brang and gSer gzhong- that constitute gTso tshang. Since the monastery is presently located in Legs lung village, it is also known as Legs lung Monastery. In the local dialect, the name of the village used to be La lo, but since no one no longer knows the original meaning of the term, the monastery’s name was recently changed to Legs lung, “Good Valley”, because of the term’s positive connotation.

2. Location

In the early nineteen-eighties, the authorities granted permission to rebuild Ze kha, Bya brang and gSer gzhong monasteries together as one monastery at the site of Bya brang Monastery in Bya brang village, where the main assembly hall (’du khang) had escaped destruction. However, since there was no longer enough land there to rebuild all three monasteries, Legs lung village was chosen as a new site. The site is located in Drongtsa (’Brong tsha) valley, 2 km east of the The bo county seat. The mountain behind the monastery (rgyab ri) is part of the sTag sgang range. The monastery, nestled in the mountain, is situated on the north bank of the eastward flowing ’Brug chu river and faces south (latitude: 34°02’93”N, longitude: 103°15’22”E).

The original site of Ze kha monastery (latitude: 34°02’41”N, longitude: 103°14’67”E) is located 1 km northeast.

The original site of Bya brang Monastery is located 2 km east of county town on the opposite river bank (latitude: 34°02’27”N, longitude: 103°15’35”E).

The original site of gSer gzhong Monastery (latitude: 34°35’45”N, longitude: 103°30’27”E) is located 5 km east of county town on the north bank of the river.

3. History

According to oral tradition, the three brothers and great Bonpo masters Do ’phags chen mo, sKyang ’phags Nyi ma rgyal mtshan and gTso ’phags Zla ba rgyal mtshan came to Amdo to spread the Bon doctrine. They “opened” many hermitages (ri khrod), some of which later became monasteries (for instance, sNang zhig Monastery No. 180, one of the largest Bonpo monasteries in Tibet, was originally a hermitage founded by Do ’phags chen mo). The three masters played a key role in the first spread of Bon in Amdo. There are descendents of gTso still living in The bo, Khri ka, Shar khog (=Zung chu) and rGan rgya in Amdo. Kyang za Yig rtsis ma, the mother of the three masters, also a fervent Bonpo, established her main residence at a site known as dGu skyang. gTso ’phags Zla ba rgyal mtshan is believed to have travelled extensively throughout the area, actively spreading the Bon religion. Although he founded only a number of sacred sites (and no monastery), he made a profound impression on the local culture and traditions. One of his mother’s sacred sites and his main ritual and cremation sites are located at Chu gter rdzong, on Brag dkar bya rgod, a sacred mountain (gnas ri) in Amdo. The first Bonpo monasteries were founded much later (only four to five generations ago) by gTso ’phags’s descendents. At present the remaining known descendents of gTso ’phags live in the three villages that are financing the reconstruction of the three monasteries. Five of the families live in Ra nang village which is responsible for Ze kha Monastery, four in Bya brang village which is responsible for Bya brang Monastery, and two in gSer gzhong village which is responsible for gSer gzhong Monastery. There is no doubt that the ’Phags pa rnams gsum were lay people and that their religious tradition was permeated by indigenous customs and beliefs. However, the monasteries - which emerged much later - seem to have been strongly influenced by Buddhism.

Since gTso tshang Monastery in fact comprises three monasteries - Ze kha, Bya brang, and gSer gzhong - it is important to mention here the information concerning their respective historical backgrounds.

Ze kha

The date of Ze kha Monastery’s foundation and the identity of its founder remain obscure; even A skal, the only surviving monk who has some knowledge on the history of gTso tshang and who wrote the only historical account of the monastery (TGLG) is uncertain. The first master of Ze kha Monastery, Shar ba khri skyang, was born in sTod mtsho ’phel into one of the three Khri skyang villages of Zung chu County in rNga ba Prefecture; the second master was born in rGya myi ya ru (the exact location of which remains unknown). The third master was born in En ’dzin mtsho ’dus. During his lifetime the monastery’s assembly hall was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. He travelled to Central Tibet and Khams. He was renowned as a saint, and was believed to be endowed with miraculous powers (grub rtags); He is said to have founded the monastery’s ’cham (monastic dance). The fourth master remains unidentified. The fifth, Bla ma skyabs, was born in lDong ba village of Brag sgom ba; his father was called A dam and his mother Klu mo. He broke his religious vows, so three influential monks of Ze kha - Dran pa skyabs, bSod nams dar rgyas and A rdo - invited Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan, a descendent of Do ’phags chen po, then aged five, from rNga khog to take his place in 1930. However, the new incumbent also broke his vows when he turned twenty-five, and was replaced by his brother Bon slebs Nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin, the present master of gTso tshang Monastery. Before 1958, Ze kha Monastery comprised a two storey assembly hall with five rooms on each floor, a common house (spyi khang) with nine rooms and a two-storey building with five rooms called rNga sgra khang. According to oral tradition, the monastery was built on the site of an ancient Chinese Han fort.

Bya brang

Although the real name of Bya brang Monastery’s first lama remains unknown, he was locally known as gSer so can and was born in dGu skyang. According to oral tradition, he left dGu skyang with a retinue in search of an auspicious place to build a monastery. Disappointed by the first two sites where he expected to receive some favourable omen, he continued his search. As he was passing through a place called Nags ’bul beyond Tsha bzo mountain, he came upon a dead body which turned out to be that of the son of the A bze village chief who had been killed by a gang of robbers. He covered up the corpse, left his favourite dog behind to guard the corpse, and went to look for the deceased man’s father. He eventually met the chief and his entourage who were looking for the son. The chief, moved by the Lama’s solicitude for his dead son, requested him to become his spiritual master and offered him land on which to build the monastery, as well as fields and an estate to support it. The chosen site was known as Bya brang (“Bird’s chest”) because of its garuda-like shape. gSer so can accepted the offer and thus Bya brang Monastery was built. His successor and incarnation was born in Mar sgur village not far from the monastery. Not much is known about the third incarnation except that he too was born in Mar sgur. However there are many fantastical tales relating his miraculous deeds circulating among the local Bonpo community. The fourth incarnation was born in En ’dzi’i snya bza’. The fifth was born in 1918, and his father was Klu ’bum bsod nams. He studied under Hor btsun bsTan ’dzin blo gros and obtained the Rab ’byams pa degree at gYung drung gling Monastery (No.2), and thus acquired a reputation as a learned lama. He built a new assembly hall. He died in 1958 at gYung drung gling. Before 1958, the monastery comprised a new assembly hall built of wood with five rooms on each floor, and a two-storey common house (spyi khang) with five rooms on each floor, likewise built of wood.

gSer gzhong

The first master of gSer gzhong Monastery, a descendent of gTso ’phags called Thor cog can, arrived from Dwang ra in the North to look for a place to build a monastery. He stopped at the site of gSer gzhong one night to rest and dreamt that a fox had stolen one of his boots, thus preventing him from travelling further. However, he found the fox’s den with his boot inside. Thor cog can took this as a favourable omen and decided to build the monastery there. Its construction was financed by A nag dbang chen and gShen tsha glang thar.

Thor cog can’s reincarnation was born in sTag ri snya nang. The following incarnation and third lama of the monastery was born in En ’dzi’i nyin ri. The fourth, Shes rab bstan ’dzin was born at sGang ri kha in 1907 and was enthroned at the age of six. He studied under Kun bzang tshang from sNang zhig in The bo and later went himself to sNang zhig to further his studies. He also travelled to central Tibet with an entourage. On the way, at Sog sde in Nag chu kha, he subdued a demon, a feat which earned him considerable fame and popularity. After spending three years at gYung drung gling and seven years at Grwa sa ’og ma i.e. sTag rtse ri khrod in Kong po to study and collect funds for the monasteries, he returned to The bo where he died in 1954 at the age of forty-seven.

Another incarnation of the same lama was born almost at the same time, in 1916. His father was named Klu ’bum and his mother gNam sman ’tsho. He was enthroned at the age of twelve and his appointed tutor (yongs ’dzin) was Tshe dbang shes rab. He left the monastery at a young age to search for his own spiritual teacher and whom he found in the person of bSe ba drung ram pa Shes rab phun tshogs at sKyang tshang Monastery (No. 202). He studied and practised assiduously for many years until his master’s death, after which he returned to The bo where he spent four years at bDe gsal ri khrod, a hermitage he had founded. He then travelled to Central Tibet with two students via rKyang phyag. There is a record of all the Bonpo and Buddhist monasteries and sacred sites of Amdo, Khams, gTsang, dBus, Nag chu kha, mNga’ ris which he visited on his way. He also studied under Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan for two years. While in Central Tibet, he made a three-year retreat to practise the secret Ma rgyud tantra in a cave at lHa ri gyang tho where King dMu khri btsan po is said to have practised the sPyi spungs tantra of the Bon religion. A message from his monastery informing him of a disaster and requesting him to return drew him from his retreat. Back in The bo he chose to stay at the hermitage which he had recently established and not at his residence in the monastery. He became renowned throughout the area as an outstanding lama. He died in 1958 in Cone.

In addition to the above-mentioned lamas of the main lineage, there are many other famous masters and practitioners whose stories are well known by the local population. Before 1958, the monastery comprised a three-storey assembly hall with seven rooms on each floor, a three-room sgrub khang and a five-room spyi khang, all built of wood.

In the early nineteen-eighties, the elder monks from all three monasteries gathered to discuss how to rebuild the three monasteries together (permission was granted for only one monastery). They sought the advice of Bon slebs Nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin, the head lama of Ze kha at the time, and requested him to supervise the reconstruction of gTso tshang Monastery. The new assembly hall has twelve pillars. The most sacred objects within are a statue of sTon pa gShen rab which was discovered by dBal khyung sMon lam rgyal mtshan at gNas chen gSang ba yang rdzong, and brought to the monastery by Bon lsebs Nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin.

4. Hierarchical system

  • bla ma
  • dbon po
  • dbu mdzad
  • dge skos
  • gnyer pa,
  • ’go bdag bla ma
  • las sne
  • spyi ba
  • dkor gnyer or lha gnyer
  • mar chen
  • ja mar
  • ja g-yog
  • chu len

Two common practices in monasteries are mang ja, tea offering and ’gyed phogs, money and other offerings distributed among the monks during assemblies.

5. Current number of monks

There are thirty-three monks and novices in gTso tshang Monastery.

6. Current education

At first A skal only taught the young monks reading and reciting. Later he began to teach a little grammar from texts such as the Sum bcu pa and rTags ’jug. In 1996, Bon slebs Nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin sent sTag tsha Kun grol from rTogs ldan Monastery (No.178) to gTso tshang to be the head of a meditation college, to teach Tibetan, Bonpo theory and practice to all the monks, and to guide the three-year meditation retreat (lo gsum) following the tradition (phyag len) of rTogs ldan Monastery. According to this tradition, The lo gsum must begin on the 11th day of the 4th month according to the Tibetan calendar and the first period of the first year begins with the practice of meditation according to the Khrid yig dmar mo mdzub tshugs for one hundred nights. The second period of the first year begins on the 1st of September with the practice of meditation according to the rTsa lung gsang mdzod by Kun grol grags pa for one hundred nights. The first period of the second year is devoted to the introduction (sngon ’gro) to the rDzogs chen tradition according to the bKa’ lung rgya mtsho by Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan (1859-1934) for one hundred nights, and the second period to rDzogs chen meditation for one hundred nights. In the third year, the Khrid yig dmar mo mdzub tshugs is again used as a base for practice as sngon ’gro and bcud len for one hundred nights, followed by the Tshe dbang bod yul ma, including the mun mtshams (meditation in darkness), for one hundred nights. Teachings during the lo gsum are based on the following works: the Ma rgyud cycle; Khrid yig dmar mo mdzub tshug of Kun grol grags pa (b.1700); the bKa’ lung rgya mtsho, the sDe snod mdzod and the bsKyed rdzogs lha gnyen shel gong by Shar rdza; the Bon rang lugs kyi khrid gzhung du ma las btus pa’i byang chub lam gyi rim pa’i dmigs khrid gshen bstan gsal ba’i sgron me (also known as Tshul chen lam rim) by Tshul chen Tshul khrims bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan.

7. Educational exchange

gTso tshang Monastery has close ties with rTogs ldan Monastery, the seat of Bon slebs Nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin. Thus Bon slebs sends educated monks to gTso tshang to teach and gTso tshang sends some of its young monks to rTogs ldan to study. rGod po (No.92) and gTer ri (No.97) used to be branch monasteries of gSer gzhong Monastery.

8 / 9. Rituals

  • 1st month, 3rd-5th day: celebration of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan’s anniversary during which the monks perform the dge spyod ritual and invite mNyam med for the gling skor; the 6th day marks the beginning of smon lam during which the bDe gshegs stong gi mtshan brjod is recited once a day. Ze kha Monastery had their ’cham dance on the 8th day followed by the gtor bzlog rite on the 9th day. Bya brang Monastery performed their ’cham on the 13th day, which was also followed by gtor bzlog rite. gSer gzhong Monastery exhibited its gos sku (a large embroidered tangkha) on the 15th day and its smon lam ceremonies ended on the 16th day with the gtor bzlog rite.
  • 3rd month, 1st-17th day: the Du tri su recitation practised, without interruption, by the monks and lay people together (male and female alike); participants must practise in silence (thun), while circumambulating the monastery (skor ba) the whole time. The transmission (dbang) of the Du tri su cycle is given on the 8th.
  • 4th month, 7th-16th day: the mChod pa stong mchod ritual is performed (7th-12th day: the stong mchod ritual in conjunction with the Klong rgyas ceremony, 13th-16th day: the ceremony of fasting known as the smyung gnas yar tshogs together with the dGe bsnyen lha lnga ritual).
  • 5th month, 1st-15th day: the dbyar gnas ritual in which all the monks of different grades, drang srong ba and gtsang gtsug pa must participate in the great ritual known as Ma tri sgrub chen. The practitioners of the dbyar gnas must also recite the Kun dbyings sku lnga’i cho ga and the sPang skong once a day. The transmission of the bzlog chog was given on the 16th day.
  • 8th month, 1st-7th day: the ritual service (zhabs brtan sku rim), consisting of one thousand bskang ba and tshogs for the tutelar (yi dam) and protective deities (bka’ skyong) in conjunction with the ritual cycle of the deity gSang drag, had to be completed withintat period. The ritual ended with the performance of the srung zlog bsad gsum of the gSang drag cycle.
  • 10th month, starting on the 26th day: seven-day ritual of the dBal gsas cycle with the ’cham dance on the 29th.

12th month, 21st-29th day: ritual known as dgu gtor during which the srung zlog of the deity sTag la is performed.

In addition to the above-mentioned annual ceremonies there are monthly rituals known as the Cho ga bcu gnyis, “The Twelve Rituals” sponsored by each of the monks in turn:

  1. dPal ldan dus ’khor in the 1st month
  2. Byams ldan rgyal ba in the 2nd month
  3. Kun dbyings sku lnga in the 3rd month
  4. rNam dag byams ma in the 4th month
  5. Kun rig sgron ma in the 5th month
  6. dGe bsnyen lha lnga in the 6th month
  7. Kun gsal byams ma in the 7th month
  8. sMon lam mtha’ yas in the 8th month
  9. gYung drung rnam ’joms in the 9th month
  10. sMan bla in the 10th month
  11. dGe spyod in the 11th month
  12. rGyal ba rgya mtsho in the 12th month

10. Books held in the monastery

Seven copies of the Bonpo Canon (the second edition printed in Chengdu), one copy of the Dran pa bka’ thang in eight volumes, one copy of the Tshe dbang bka’ thang in four volumes, one copy of the Slob dpon bka’ thang in four volumes, one copy of the mKha’ ’gro’i bka’ thang.

12. Local community

In the past the communities of three monasteries were organized, following the traditional Tibetan military system, into three units (dmag ru), which, in the past, functioned as military divisions during critical times and which were stationed in open valleys: Nyin pa unit comprising Ra nang, Yang le, rDza ri, Kha lung, Lag lab, Gyi rong, lDong bzo and A ro, the manor villages of Ze kha Monastery; Srib pa unit comprising mDa’ lung, Yar sgur, Mar sgur, Bya brang, dPa’ brgya, sBas skyes, sNgo sngo and Nges sa, the manor villages of Bya brang Monastery (since the Bonpo monastery in Kha ba’i klong was a branch monastery of Bya brang, its villages, as well as half of Kha ba, Shug steng kha and Ri bo sgang also belonged to Bya brang Monastery); sMad ma khag gsum unit comprising Chag sgo, Nyin lung kha, Shing ’bras, gSer gzhong, Ci nges nang, Kha nang, sGur mgo, Ban chung (no mention in KBTL), Nyin srib, and gSer gzhong Monastery’s villages. Altogether three hundred and sixty families. All of them now belong to sTeng ka district (xiang) of The bo.

13. Local festivals

The mountain behind (rgyab ri) of Ze kha is called Ho ri. Mount Brag nag behind Ho ri is the abode of the local deity Brag nag. The mountain range to the east of Ze kha is called sTag sgang and and is the rgyab ri of gTso tshang Monastery, and the range to the west of Ze kha is called gZig sgang.

gTso tshang Monastery is located at the foot of the sTag sgang range and the la btsas that was built at its summit with the help of Bon slebs Nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin in 1986 is propitiated on the 13th day of the 4th month.

14. Occupation of the local people

Farmers, who, in the past, were organized into military units (see above section). A wide variety of crops grow in the valley - wheat, barley, beans, potatos, peas, and maize. Most of the farmers also keep animals of some kind - cows, horses, donkeys, mules, sheep and goats.

Sources

(1) Interviews

Interviews with A skal and sTag tsha Kun grol on 26 August 1996 at the monastery. A skal was a monk at Ze kha Monastery and was born in De bzo in 1932.

sTag tsha Kun grol was born in rNga khog in 1960. He is a monk at rTogs ldan Monastery in rNga khog, and was sent to gTso tshang by Bon slebs Nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin to teach the monks there and guide the three-year retreat (lo gsum).

On 29 August, I visited Nyi ma bstan ’dzin, a monk from gSer gzhong Monastery, born in 1908, on account of his knowledge of the monastery’s history. Unfortunately, owing to his old age, he had lost much of his memory and could not assist me.

(2) Texts
  1. BHMT
  2. DBSJ
  3. KBTL
  4. KNGL
  5. KTSD
  6. TGLG
  7. TLPY
  8. ZNYZ
(92) rGod po Monastery

1. Name

There used to be a Bonpo monastery called Bya ’bab gser thang whose foundation date and founder remain unknown, and which, according to oral tradition, was forcefully converted to Buddhism, together with many other Bonpo monasteries, when the Cone Chief conquered The bo (probably during the time of Tshe dbang don grub (1642-1692), the ninth chief of Cone and Blo bzang don grub, (?-1692), his successor (See DMCB, pp.661-663; CNTK, pp.372-373; ZNYZ, pp.41-55). Several monks, unwilling to submit, fled from the monastery and built a new Bonpo monastery. Because they were considered rgod po “brave people”, the new monastery was called rGod po.

2. Location

rGod po Monastery is located in La rtsa khog district. The seat of the district is mKhar steng, 95 km east of county town. The La rtsa chu is a small northward-flowing tributary of The bo river. rGod po Monastery is located in Chas ra village, on the east bank of the La rtsa chu, around 120 km from the county town, the seat of The bo county (latitude 34°08’02”N, longitude 103°55’41”E).

3. History

Two articles written in Tibetan without any references to their Sources say that the monastery was built in ca. 1770 by gYung drung bstan ’dzin, and that the first lama of the monastery was born in mKhar steng village and was known as mKhar steng Lama. His reincarnation was discovered twenty years after his death. There were two assembly halls and sixty-three cells accomodating seventy-five monks in the first half of the twentieth century (DBSJ, p.101; TLPY, pp.69-70). According to oral tradition, a Lama from Shar khog rebuilt the monastery at the present site after the monastery was destroyed by monks from a Buddhist monastery in mKhar steng when the lama of rGod po was still a child. At present the monastery is in a state of disrepair.

7. Educational exchange

rGod po was a branch of gSer gzhong Monastery.

12. Local people

There are fourteen families in Chas ra village.

14. Occupation of the local people

farming

Sources

(1.) Interview:

All the information besides the two articles mentioned above was collected from an interview on 27 August 1996 with Blo bzang (b.1929) and rDo rje (b.1923) who were both monks at the monastery for a few years.

(93) Nags gong Monastery

1. Name

The monastery’s real name is bSam ’grub, but since it is located at the foot of Nags gong village it is locally known as Nags gong or Nags gong bSam ’grub dgon.

2. Location

Nags gong Monastery is located on north bank of the ’A zha river in ’A zha valley, about 90 km southeast of the county town (latitude: 33°48’18”N, longitude 103°41’58”E).

3. History

The monastery was founded in ca. 875 A.D. by sKyang ’phags Nyi ma rgyal ’mtshan and is now a branch monastery of dGu skyang Monastery (No.196), the main seat of dGu skyang Nyi ma rgyal mtshan. Prior to 1959, the monastery comprised one assembly hall, and living quarters consisting of thirty-nine cells accomodating fifty monks (DBSJ, p.101; TLPY, p.69). It was rebuilt in 1991. At present it comprises one assembly hall, the residence of the head lama, and ten cells.

When I visited the monastery, the assembly hall was under construction, but all the monks were away performing a ritual at a private home. I found the head lama of the monastery in Pe gseb village. He was born in 1968. He is not considered an incarnation but was chosen a few years ago by the monks. Since he has been busy with rebuilding the monastery, he has had little time to study and knows almost nothing of the monastery’s history, even though he is considered the most learned person in the area.

5. Current number of monks

The monastery has twelve monks, five or six of whom live outside the monastery with their families.

6. Current education

The head of the monastery is a young monk called bSod nams ye she. Since all the monks are very young, they study mainly Tibetan and ritual practice under the head master.

8 / 9. Rituals

The monks go to dGu skyang to perform the ’cham dance with the monks there on the 13th day of the 3rd month. Occasionally, they also perform funerary rites and rituals for health, fortune, abundant crops etc, in private homes at the behest of the families.

12. Local community

The local lay community of the monastery consists of five villages: Nags gong with twenty families, Pe gseb with thirty-eight families, Gro mang with twenty-two families, dNgul ba with twelve families and sTag dpung with ten families (one hundred and three people in total).

14. Occupation of the local people

Farming

(94) Chags ri Monastery

1. Name

Chags ri Monastery. Its formal name is dPal ldan g-yung drung gling.

2. Location

The monastery is situated on the east bank of sTag ra chu dkar river in sTag ra valley (sTag ra district, Xiang), 60 km southeast of the county town (latitude: 33°51’65”N, longitude: 103°22’06”E).

3. History

The monastery was founded by a chief of the mGo rje village named Tshe lung (or Tshe lhun) in ca. 1868. It was moved to another site but because of some sort of threat to the monks’ lives, the monastery was moved back to its original site. Later, another disaster occured: three of the monks held up three horses belonging to the chief of Cone for reasons that remain unexplained. The chief of Cone retaliated by burning down the monastery. There is little information concerning the monastery’s history besides the fact that it was connected to A skyid sKyang tshang Monastery (No.194) in mDzod dge, and for this reason a monk of sKyang tshang called Dri med ’od zer undertook the reconstruction of the monastery in 1993.

5. Current number of monks

At present there are thirty-two and novices monks living in the monastery. As head of the monastery, Dri med ’od zer visits the site every year to inspect the reconstruction work and perform rituals.

7. Educational exchange

sKyang tshang Monastery of which it is a branch.

12. Local community

The local lay community of the monastery consists of six villages: mGo rje, sGang leb, Kun gtsang, Phu ba, mGo rtse and bSe shang. There are forty families in mGo rje, thirty-four in sGang leb, eleven in Kun gtsang, twenty in mGo rtse, and about twenty in bSe tshang.

13. Local festivals

There are three la btsas on Mount Ha mtsho the rgyab ri or mountain behind the monastery: two la btsas at the top belonging to two of the villages, Khro bo and sGang leb, and a common la btsas at the foot of the mountain propitiated by the entire local lay community. All three la btsas are renewed on the same dates: 13th day of the 1st month and the 13th day of the 4th month.

14. Occupation of the local people

Farming.

Sources:

(1) Interviews

In autumn of 1996 with: gYung drung ’gyur med (b.1935) and a monk of the monastery.

(2) Texts
  1. BHMT
  2. DBSJ
  3. KBTL
  4. KNGL
  5. KTSD
  6. TLPY
  7. ZNYZ
(95) Shing skam Monastery

1. Name

The monastery was originally named Khis ri after an old village, but later it came to be known as Shing skam Monastery, the name of the village where it was located. The name is only known by its pronunciation and thus its exact meaning remains obscure. Shing skam in Tibetan, if spelt the way it is pronounced, literally means “dead tree”; this interpretation corresponds to one legend according to which the monastery was built on a site where many trees died. The monastery is also known as Kha ba lung, since it is situated in Kha ba lung.

The local Bonpo community simply calls it Kha ba lung, but it should not be confused with the Buddhist monastery of the same name in the vicinity. To distinguish them, the Buddhist monastery, which is located above the village, is referred to as Kha ba lung dgon pa gong ma (upper Kha ba lung Monastery) and the Bonpo monastery, which is located at the bottom of the village, as Kha ba lung dgon pa ’gab ma (lower Kha ba lung Monastery) (’gab ma has the same meaning as zhol ma in Amdo dialect). Some people also refer to the monastery as Shel sgo dgon pa because it was the first monastery in the valley to have its windows fitted with glass panes.

2. Location

Shing skam Monastery was situated near the Kha ba village of Kha ba district (xiang), located 34 km east of county town, the seat The bo County (latitude: 33°58’78”N, longitude: 103°29’66”E).

3. History

The monastery seems to have been founded in 1466 (DBSJ, p.100; TLPY, pp.65-66). The original monastery was located on a slope in En ’dzi valley near a Buddhist monastery. It was later moved by Tso ke don grub, the village chief, to its present site near the village because its original location was too remote and made it an easy target for thieves. The monastery was destroyed in 1958 and so far has not been rebuilt nor has the reincarnation of its trulku been found. At present, the local Bonpo community goes to other Bonpo monasteries in the area.

The monastery’s lineage of masters ran for at least four generations, since the names of four of the masters are mentioned: Nyi ma, A gsas, Blo bzang and rDo rje (DBSJ, p.100; TLPY, pp.65-66).

12. Local community

There are more than fifty Bonpo families in Kha ba village which formerly constituted the monastery’s lay community.

14. Occupation of the local people

Farming

Sources:

(1) Interviews

Interview with ’Od zer (b.1936), a monk at the Buddhist monastery. I could not find anyone among the local Bonpo community who knew more about the destroyed monastery.

(96) bSam ’grub Monastery

1. Name

gYung drung bsam ’grub dgon

2. Location

The monastery is situated about 55 km from the county town of The bo, in the center of Kha ba Township, at the confluence of Nya len black river and Myi chen river which flows southwards to The bo valley.

3. History

Three lamas, Shes rab dbang phyug, rGyal mtshan and Nya le bla ma, from three different hermitages, came together and founded bSam ’grub Monastery in ca. 1395. It is not clear how and when this occurred but the monastery is affiliated to A skyid sKyang tshang Monastery (No.194) in mDzod dge. Until the nineteen-fifties the monastery comprised an assembly hall, thirty-three cells, and housed seventy-seven monks. The monastery had a series of masters as follows:

  1. rGyal ba, from Myi che ba village, he was also the lama of another Bonpo monastery called Shes rab Monastery.
  2. Chos ’byor rgyal ba
  3. bSam gtan rgyal ba
  4. Shes rab dngos grub
  5. Nya len Bla ma
  6. rGyal mtshan of Myi che ba village
  7. Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan
  8. Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan from Nyin srib village at sTeng ka in The bo, travelled to Central Tibet to receive teachings and then returned to secular life in Kong po
  9. A monk of the Myi che ba village, name is unknown.
  10. Rin chen nor bu of Myi che ba village
  11. Ye shes tshul khrims of Mi rgod kha village
  12. bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal of Myi che ba village; he travelled twice to Central Tibet to study and receive teachings, and became a renowned teacher when he returned to the monastery.
  13. sKal bzang ’jam dpal of Myi che ba village; according to legend, he went to Lhasa, India and Hongkong to study, and was renowned as a sculptor.
  14. dNgos grub tshogs pa of Nya len pa village, was a renowned teacher and artist (he executed the murals in the previous assemly hall). He died in 1958.
  15. bsTan ’dzin rgyal mtshan, the present master of the monastery. He is currently rebuilding the monastery. Permission to rebuild the monastery was obtained in 1981 and work began in 1982. An assembly hall and forty-one cells have been rebuilt.

7. Educational exchange

Since the monastery is a branch monastery of A skyid sKyang tshang Monastery, Dri med ’od zer, a reincarnation from A skyid sKyang tshang, regularly visits the monastery to inspect the work and to give teachings. However, the monks are currently busy with the reconstruction rather than studying.

8 / 9. Rituals

- The smon lam festival from the 6th to the 16th day of the 1st month, and the dbyar gnas retreat from 15th to 21st of the 6th month. An annual ’cham dance is performed on the 8th and 9th days of the 1st month during the smon lam festival.

10. Books held in the monastery

The monastery possesses complete copies of the Bonpo bKa’ ’gyur and bKa’ rten.

11. Income and expenses

Economic circumstances of the monastery depends on offerings made by disciples. The government has given ten thousand Chinese Yuan for the reconstruction of the monastery. Account for offerings has never been done.

12. Local community

The local community of the monastery consists of three large villages, Nya len, Nyin ga’i kha and Myi che pa, altogether seventy-three families.

13. Local festivals

On the summit of the mountain behind the monastery are three la btsas, all three named after gSas mkhar lha ri snying po and propitiated twice a year, on the 11th day of the 4th month and the 11th day of the 11th month.

14. Occupation of the local people

Agriculture

Sources:

(1) Interviews

Interviews in autumn of 1996 with: Pad kho (b.1926), who spent several years as a monk in the monastery, was born in Nya-len village; bSod nams (b.1937) was born in Myi che ba village.

(2) Texts
  1. BHMT
  2. DBSJ
  3. KBTL
  4. KNGL
  5. KTSD
  6. TLPY
(97) gTer ri Monastery

1. Name

The monastery was called gTer ri, the “hill of hidden treasures”, because a cymbal (sbub chol) was discovered at the site on which it was built.

2. Location

The monastery is located near Tshong ’dus village, on the east bank of En ’dzi river in En ’dzi valley of Kha ba district (xiang) in The bo County, about 50 km from the seat of the county (latitude: 34°06’55”N, longitude: 103°25’61”E).

3. History

The monastery appears to have been founded in 1524 by Blo bzang don grub, a reputable lay person (DBSJ, p.100; TLPY, p.66). According to legend, shortly after its foundation the monastery fell into decline. Two lamas from gSer gzhong Monastery came to look after it, as it was a branch monastery of gSer gzhong. The complex comprised one assembly hall, one temple and living quarters housing more than twenty monks (DBSJ, p.100; TLPY, p.66). The monastery was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It has not been rebuilt and the Bonpo people living in the area go to the local rNying ma pa monastery for their religious affairs.

8 / 9. Rituals

The smon lam prayer ceremony at the beginning of the 1st month was performed in conjunction with gSer gzhong Monastery. There was the ’cham dance on the 11th day of the 11th month.

12. Local community

The local lay community of the monastery consists of six villages: lTag ga kha, Nyi ri kha, Be ri kha, ’Og sa kha, Tshong ’du and gNyan bza’ (more than thirty families in total).

13. Local festivals

The local people celebrate the renewal of the la btsas dedicated to the local deity of Mount Sa dkar on the 1st day of the 4th month. The la btsas is situated at the top of the mountain behind the monastery.

14. Occupation of the local people

Farming

Sources

(1) Interviews:

Interviews with: lH ba, born in 1932; A skal, a monk from Ze kha Monastery, born in 1932.

(2) Texts
  1. BHMT
  2. DBSJ
  3. KBTL
  4. KNGL
  5. KTSD
  6. TLPY
  7. ZNYZ
(98) rTsa ring (also rTsa ri, Tsa ri) Monastery

1. Name

The formal name of the monastery is rGyal myi gYung drung dmu ri.

2. Location

The monastery is situated near Zur lung kha village in Nyin ngo district (xiang) of The bo County, 56 km east of the county-town, the seat the county (latitude: 34°05’64”N, longitude: 103°34’58”E).

12. Local community

The local lay community consists of ten villages:

  1. Lung yul kha with eleven families (KTSD, p.47 and KBTL, p.39: Lung g-ye kha).
  2. gTer yul kha with thirty-five families (KTSD, p.47: rTing g-ye kha; KBTL, p.47: rTig g-ye kha).
  3. rDzong tsa kha with forty-five families (KTSD, p.47: dKyil bcugs kha).
  4. Nyin la kha with nine fimilies.
  5. Zur lung kha with seventeen families.
  6. Yar ru kha with twenty-eight families (KTSD, p.47 and KBTL, p.39: Ya ru kha).
  7. Srib ga kha with eighteen families.
  8. Gad srang kha with seven families (KBTL, p. 39: Sked srib).
  9. gDong ga kha with twenty-two families.
  10. Khog sde kha with nineteen families (KTSD, p. 47: Khog steng kha).

13. Local festivals

Mount dMu ri, which is the mountain behind (rgyab ri) the monastery, is the site for celebration of the renewal of the la btsas. The propitiation takes place on the 15th day of the 4th month.

14. Occupation of the local people

Mostly agriculture.

bSang chu County
(99) rTse zhig Monastery

1. Name

rTse zhig Monastery or gYung drung bon bstan ’phel rgyas gling is also called rTse dbus Monastery. rTse zhig belongs to the group of nine or eighteen great Bonpo tribes in Amdo known as Zhig (zhig chen dgu dang yang na bco brgyad).

2. Location

rTse zhig is the only Bonpo monastery in bSang chu (it also known as Xia he in Chinese) County of Kan lho (Gan nan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and is situated in rTa khra’i gzhung, 30 km north of the county town where Bla brang Monastery is located.

3. History

The monastery was founded by sGom chen gYyung drung rgyal mtshan, he is also called sTong nyid bya ’phur. His principal teacher was Zhu sgom ’phrul zhig chen po (KTGN p.8), a son of Zhu skye se chen po. The teaching lineage may be traced back to Zhu yas legs po, a famous disciple of gShen chen Klu dga’. Sras lha rje skyid po was a disciple of Zhu yas legs po and the teacher of Zhu skye se chen po; dGongs mdzod ri khrod chen po, another disciple of Zhu skye se chen po, was a contemporary of Zhu sgom ’phrul zhig chen po. dGongs mdzod ri khrod chen po was born in the the Earth-Tiger year of the first Rab byung (1038). Since dGongs mdzod ri khrod chen po and Zhu sgom ’phrul zhig chen po were both contemporaries of sTong nyid bya ’phur who founded the monastery (TZLD p.4, KTGN p.8), we may assume that the monastery was built at least nine hundred years ago. From the time of sTong nyis bya ’phur, the monastery was run by a continuous succession of abbots for about five hundred years until the 10th Rab byung (1567-1626) after which the monastery split into two branches: one headed by dGar ba Bla ma gYung drung rgyal mtshan regarded as a reincarnation of sTong nyid bya ’phur, and the other by rTse zhig A lags Shes rab. Even the ritual objects (mchod chas) of the monastery were divided among the two Bla brang. In addition to the rTse zhig Chos rje, there were three Bla brang which came to be known as Nang chen gsum, the “three residences of the Bla mas”. dGar ba Bla ma gYung drung rgyal mtshan went to study at sMan ri Monastery (No.1). He returned to rTse zhig Monastery where he taught for many years and became famed as a teacher throughout the whole of Amdo. Unfortunately, his reincarnation passed away in childhood. The next incarnation was found in a child born in sTong chung, Ba yan, northern Amdo (Hua long county in Qinghai). He does not seem to have lived at rTse zhig but to have remained in the Ba yan area where he greatly contributed to the spread of Bon and was locally known as sTong chung Zhabs drung (TZLD p.6).

The following incarnation was Zhabs drung bSod nams g-yung drung dbang rgyal (1894-1949) who was very active on both the religious and political scenes in Amdo in the early 20th century (cf. To shes Temple, No.118). His reincarnation is sKal bzang bstan ’dzin rgya mtsho (also known as A mgon bla ma or A lags Pad ma) who was born in the Iron-Tiger year of the 16th Rab byung (1950) into the mGon rgya family of A mgon tribe in Amdo, and who is the present rTse dbus tshang (TZLD p.5). A lags Shes rab, a contemporary of dGar ba bla ma gYung drung rgyal mtshan founded a separate Bla brang and visited almost all the Bonpo monasteries in Amdo. In addition to the Bla brang, he built a three-storey Lha khang at Khyung mo Monastery (No.123). Rab ’byams pa Shes rab rnam rgyal, A lags Shes rab’s nephew, was sent as a child to sMan ri Monastery to study under Rin chen lhun grub and Grub thob Nam mkha’ lhun grub, and after several years he obtained the Rab ’byams pa degree. Unwilling to return to Amdo, he remained there for most of his life. His uncle, disappointed, concealed the rTen gsum (three types of sacred objects, viz. images, books and stupas) inside some statues. Later however A khu rGyal ba, a disciple of A lags Shes rab from sTong che in Khri ka, went to sMan ri Monastery to beg Shes rab rnam rgyal to return and take his uncle’e place. He accepted and before leaving dPal ldan ye shes, the sixth Panchen Bla ma, gave him a gold seal and an official letter giving him authority over all the Bonpo monasteries and communities in Amdo (KTGN p.9, TZLD p.9). According to TGLR, he was the seventeenth abbot of the monastery in the 12th Rab byung. (1687-1746). His reincarnation died in childhood. The following incarnation was Nam mkha’ g-yung drung, an extremely learned Bla ma. Like his predecessors he was invested with authority over all the Bonpo monasteries in Amdo. He died at the age of eighty. Nam mkha’ g-yung drung’s reincarnation also died in childhood. The following incarnation was rTse zhig Khri chen Theg mchog ye shes. He studied under rTse zhig gYung drung bstan rgyas, Ches rje rGyal ba tshul khrims, sBra ser Nam mkha’ dbang phyug and rNga ba’i rTogs ldan Tshul khrims ye shes and specialized in the paractice of sMra seng dkar po. He looked after the Bonpo monasteries mainly around Khri ka, Reb gong and rTse zhig, and repaired the Tshogs chen ’du khang and the thirteen Lha khang of Khyung mo Monastery. Theg mchog ye shes’s reincarnation was Khri ba Kun bzang rgyal mtshan. Like his predecessors, he too was responsible for all Bonpo monasteries in Amdo. He died in the thirty-first year of the 16th Rab byung (1957). The following incarnation was a nephew of rTse zhig Bla ma Drung ram pa Shes rab rnam rgyal. He was very bright and studied many years at Bla brang Monastery, but died young. rTse zhig ’Gyur med kun bzang rgya mtsho, the following incarnation was a nephew and disciple of the Drung ram pa. Both he and his uncle counted several remarkable students among their disciples, such as So nag Grub chen thog ’dzin (see So nag gsas khang), Bon brgya sPal mkhar rgyal ba (see Mag gsar Temple, No.102) and mKhar nag grub chen of Khyung mo Monastery (KTGN p.11-12, TZLD p.11-12).

The next incarnation was rTse zhig gYung drung bstan rgyas who died at the age of seventy. He had several renowned followers including Bon brgya Rang shar rig grol and Khri chen Theg mchog ye shes. The next reincarnation was discovered in a child from Kho nag but he disappeared shortly after and as a result people believe that he was not the true reincarnation. The Bla ma’s third residence (Nang chen gsum pa) was built by the rTse zhig Chos rje Rin po che, rGyal ba Tshul khrims bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan, who was born in Wood-Hare Year of the 13th Rab byung (1795). He was a nephew and pupil of rTse zhig Nam mkha’ g-yung drung, and became in turn the master of dGar ba bla ma gYung drung bstan ’dzin. He was an assiduous practitioner all his life, and is supposed to have meditated in more than five hundred remote and wild places (gnyan sa), and wrote many works including commentaries on gSang gcod yid bzhin nor bu’i chu ’grim dmigs skor, ’Grel ba mkha’ ’gro’i zhal lung, Srung ma’i sgrub thabs, gYang sgrub ’phrin bcol, Nyams mgur, Zhal gdams, Blo sbyong, etc. He developed close ties with ’Jigs med skal bzang rgya mtsho, a rNying ma pa from sDe dge with whom he exchanged teachings and thus also became popular among the rNying ma pa community. Chin wang Chos rgyal bSod nams dar rgyas, seems to be a contemporary chief of Mongolian tribes, gave him the title of Chos rje and appointed him his official spiritual preceptor. Both Bon brgya Rang shar rig grol and sBra ser Nam mkha’ dbang phyug, two important figures of that period were his disciples. He died in the Wood-Dog Year of the 15th Rab byung (1874). There are three reincarnation lineages of Chos rje Rinpoche representing his body, speech and mind. The first body incarnation was Chos rje Tshul khrims ’od zer, born in the Wood-Pig Year of the 15 th Rab byung (1875). He studied under Khri ba Theg mchog ye shes and Pan ti ta Kun bzang rgyal mtshan, and practised mainly gSang gcod yid bzhin nor bu. He died in the Wood-Pig Year of the 16th Rab byung (1935). The reincarnation of Chos rje Tshul khrims ’od zer was Chos rje Tshul khrims lhun ’grub (also known as Shes rab g-yung drung bstan pa’i sgron me), the third son of Zhabs drung bSod nams g-yung drung dbang rgyal. He was born in the Earth-Tigre Year of the 16th Rab byung (1938). Following his father’s wishes, he studied under sKyang sprul Lung rtogs skal bzang rgya mtsho but unfortunately he died in the Earth-Dog Year of the 16th Rab byung (1958) at the age of twenty. The reincarnation of gYung drung lhun grub is Shes rab bstan pa’i zla ba, born in the Iron-Dog Year of the 16th Rab byung (1970) to the rTse dbus bla ma family. His father, sNgags bon Shes rab blo gros, was the eldest son of rTse dbus A lags and Kun bzang ’tsho. He took his monk’s vows from rGya ’obs Rinpoche of sNang zhig Monastery and entered rTse zhig Monastery in 1983. He was recognized as the incarnation of rTse zhig chos rje gYung drung lhun grub by rGya ’obs Rinpoche, Bon blon Nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin and, more especially, by Bon brgya dGe legs lhun grub rgya mtsho, and thus became the fourth rTse zhig chos rje and present head bla ma of rTse zhig Monastery. Chos rje Rinpoche’s first speech incarnation was Chos rje bsTan pa ’od zer or Ba lung chos rje who was born into the Ba lung family of the Mar nang khag gsum (“three tribes of Mar nang”), he spent all his life practising rDzogs chen and gCod in caves. The next incarnation was born at To shes in Ba yan (no further information available). Chos rje Rinpoche’s first mind incarnation was Bon brgya gYung drung phun tshogs mkhas grub ’jigs med, a disciple and nephew of Bon brgya Rang shar rig grol. He also studied under Kun bzang rgyal mtshan (sTong che), rGya ’obs bstan pa rab rgyas, rTogs ldan Tshul khrims bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan as well as other masters of different religious traditions, and became learned in all disciplines and aspects of Tibetan culture. He gave many dbang and lung at rTse zhig, sTong che and Reb gong, and was especially revered by the Reb gong bon mang (tantric practitioners of Reb gong) as their main teacher. He restored Bon brgya Monastery (No.100). He had eight monks and about a hundred sNgags pa as his main pupils including Bon brgya Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan, rTogs ldan dKon mchog sprul sku, sTong chung zhabs drung, sBra ser sprul sku, sTong nyams snang gsal lhun grub, ’Bum pa. Rig ’dzin kun bzang klong grol. He died at the age of sixty. The next and present mind reincarnation is Bon brgya dGe legs lhun grub rgya mtsho, born to the Khyung family. In his childhood he studied under Bon brgya Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan as well as sKyang sprul Lung rtogs skal bzang rgya mtsho and received many initiations and transmissions (dbang). He rebuilt Bon brgya Monastery. Like the previous bla mas of rTse zhig, in addition to Bon brgya Monastery, his main seat and residence, he is also responsible for Khyung mo, rTse zhig, Dung dkar monasteries, the Reb gong Bon mang, Khri ka and Ser brgya, as well as all the Bonpo lay communities of the area. In the nineteen-eighties he undertook the reconstruction of Khyung mo Monastery and its Bla brang prior to the enthronement of the Khyung mo sTobs ldan dbang phyug, the main reincarnation of Khyung mo Monastery. In Bon brgya Monastery, he rebuilt the ’du khang, lha khang, bla brang, and some of the reliquary mchod rten. He acquired three copies of the Bonpo bka’ ’gyur and more than one thousand volumes of various Tibetan works. He is one of the most learnt Bonpo scholars in present Tibet.

5. Current number of monks

One reincarnate bla ma and fifty-six monks lived in the monastery in the first half of the twentieth century (TGLR p.6). At present there are more than thirty-monks.

6. Current education

The present educational system is as before: the monks are divided into groups according to their level and study under one teacher, in addition to performing regular rituals. For obvious reasons (see above), rTse zhig chos rje is the main teacher. rGya ’obs Rinpoche and Bon brgya Rinpoche are revered as the spiritual masters by all the monks.

7. Educational exchange

Occasionally the monastery invites teachers from sNang zhig Monastery (No.180). Traditionally, the Bonpo communities in rGan gya, Reb gong, Khri ka and Ba yan followed the masters of the rTse zhig lineage who have always been active throughout the area. Consequently Bon brgya dGe legs lhun grub rgya mtsho, undoubtedly the most erudite Bonpo scholar of the rTse zhig lineage, and probably in the whole of Amdo, is the main teacher and spiritual master of the region.

8 / 9. Rituals

The smon lam in 1st month together with the anniversary of mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan during which the thousand epithets of the Buddha are recited, Phyag mchod tshogs bsags, and the ritual of mKha’ ’gro gsang gcod yid bzhin nor bu; rGyal ba rgya mtsho, Du tri su and dbyar gnas in summer; rNam par rgyal ba’i stong mchod in autumn; dBal gsas bsnyen sgrub with las mtha’ srung bzlog and gar ’cham in winter. There are rituals of Kun rig, Kun dbyangs, sMan bla, Dus ’khor, rNam ’joms, Bla ma rtsa sgrub and Dug lnga rang grol.

Other rituals include the gso sbyong performed on the 1st, 8th, 10th, 15th of each month and dgu gtor on the 29th day of the last month of the year. Since the monastery was mainly a sgrub sde (tantric group) for many generations, it has inherited a rich tradition of rituals and there are about one hundred and fifty ritual days in the year.

10. Books held in the monastery

The monastery possesses a copy of the Bon po bka’ ’gyur, Dri med gzi brjid as well as Khams chen and more than two hundred volumes in total.

13. Local festivals

The mountain behind the monastery is called lHa btsun dkar po or rNga’i kha, and is propitiated on the 11th day of the 4th month. There are two la btsas near the monastery. The two la btsas represent rGan gya’i A myes dga’ bo and bKra shis dbang chen dgra ’dul. The former is propitiated on the 9th day of the 5th month, and the latter on the 4th day of the same month. There are two rlung rta which are dMar yag rlung rta and Seng ge rlung rta, the former is propitiated on the 7th day of the 8th month and the latter on the 15th day of the 6th month. The main difference between a la btsas and a rlung rta is that the top of the life-pole of a rlung rta is adorned with a flag of rGyal mtshan rtse mo, whereas that of a la btsas is adorned with feathers, otherwise the bsang offering and invocation of the deities are basically identical in both instances. Nearby the monastery, there is a sacred mountain called Brag dkar bya rgod. There were three texts concerning Brag dkar bya rgod: the long version by sKyang ’phags, the intermediate version by rGyal ba blo gros, and the short version by rGyal dbang (NBBK p.122). According to legend, there are self-originated images of rDzogs sku mkha’ ’gying dkar po at the top of the mountain. Twenty Maha Pantita are supposed to have meditated in twenty sacred meditation caves scattered all over the mountain. Li shu stag ring is supposed to have concealed treasures in the white rock, Gyim tsha rma chung in the blue rock to the North, Legs tang rmang po in the red rock to the West, Dran pa nam mkha’ in the green rock, and there is a guardian deity for every treasure. There is the meditation cave of sKyang bza’ yig rtsis ma, and the caves of sKyang ’phags and gTso ’phags. The mountain’s numerous holy sites are believed to be especially beneficial against gnyan type diseases. The mountain is also considered a favourable place to practise the four gcod rgyud, especially the mKha’ ’gro gsang gcod. Surrounding the mountain is an outer circumambulatory path (phyi skor) and an inner circumambulatory path (nang skor) and it is deemed especially auspicious to circumambulate the moutain three times, in the Horse, Sheep, Bird and Monkey years. Hor btsun bsTan ’dzin blo gros rgya mtsho, the author of NBBK, the dkar chag of the mountain, meditated on the mountain for fifteen years during which he says he was very happy. He had planned to write the dkar chag for a long time and finally composed it in 1964 at the request of sKal bzang ye shes, bSod nams rgyal mtshan and Blo bzang rgya mtsho.

14. Occupation of the local people

Nomads who breed mainly yaks and sheep for a livelihood, and horses for transportation.

Sources

(1) Interviews

(1) Interviews in autumn of 1996 with: Shes rab bstan pa’i zla ba (b.1970), the fourth reincarnation of rTse dbus chos rje of the monastery.

(2) Texts
  1. TZLD
  2. NBBK
  3. KTGN
  4. TGLR
Reb gong

Introduction

Reb gong represents a fairly large agricultural area: sheltered by the surrounding mountains, it enjoys a climate favourable to cultivation. The geography of the region however makes travel conditions difficult and the villages, which, for the most part, are scattered in the hills, are not easily accessible. The religious community of the area is composed of three distinct groups: Bonpo, rNying ma pa and dGe lugs pa. The Bonpo community consists of Bon brgya Monastery, fifteen village temples known as gsas khang and their adherents.

Since the Reb gong bon mang and Bon brgya Monastery share the same history, there is no need to repeat it here. Unfortunately, there is little information regarding the history of the fifteen gsas khang, probably owing to the spread and increasing influence of the monastic system. As a result Bon brgya Monastery has been the focus of attention, whereas the gsas khang, whose importance has decreased in recent centuries, and which now merely function as a gathering place for practitioners, have not been the subject of any kind of written record. The gsas khang of Reb gong are divided into four groups:

  • 1. Yar nang bon mang comprising:
  • Bon brgya gSang sngags dar rgyas gling (Bon brgya village)
  • Mag sar g-yung drung bstan dar gling (Mag sar village)

Practitioners of these two gsas khang are descendents of Khyung po bsTan pa dar rgyas, a famous practitioner in local history. Traditionally, the two villages do not participate in the spring ritual (dpyid cho) and the autumn ritual (ston cho) of the Reb gong bon mang. The last Bon brgya Tulku attempted to enroll them but was not very successful. Yar nang bon mang used to include a third gsas khang for the gDung nges village known as the gDung nges grub pa kun ’dul gling, in mDo ba village in the lower reaches of Bon brgya valley, and the three gsas khang were collectively known as Yar nang bon sde khag gsum. However, since most of the gDung nges families converted to Buddhism (at present only five Bonpo practitioners and eight Bonpo families remain in the village) the gsas khang was not rebuilt.

  • 2. sTod phyogs bon mang in the east of Reb gong comprising:
  • Theg chen bon ’khor lhun grub gling (rGya mtsho dpal or A rga steng village)
  • gSang sngags rig ’dzin dar rgyas gling (Gad pa skya bo village)
  • Theg chen smin grol rgya mtsho gling (gDong mgo village)

These three gsas khang were the seats of Grub chen ’Khor los bsgyur ba’i rgyal po, one among the first masters who came to Reb gong in order to spread the Bon religion, and the practitioners are considered to be his spiritual descendents.

  • rGyal bstan ye shes rgya mtsho gling (Ngo mo village)
  • Rig ’dzin thugs rje byang chub gling (Gyang ru village)

These two gsas khang were the seats of Grub chen Ye shes mtsho rgyal, another among the first masters who came to Reb gong to spread the Bon religion, and the practitioners are his spiritual descendents. It is said that in the thirteenth century Gyang ru Rig ’dzin thugs rje suppressed the evil spirit of a deceased monk in Ra rgya Monastery so the monks could continue living there. Morever, he is said to have been the rus dpon (family priest) of gTsang Pan ti ta, the head master of gTsang Monastery in Amdo and was greatly revered by the community.

  • 3. sMad phyogs bon mang comprising the five following gsas khang in the northeast of Reb gong:
  • mDo sngags phun tshogs dar rgyas gling (Gling rgya village)
  • Kun ’dus g-yung drung ’gyur med gling (Zho ’ong nyin tha village)
  • sGrub pa’i rgyal mtshan mi ’gyur gling (Dar grong village)
  • Khyung dkar rig ’dzin smin grol gling (Khyung bo thang village)
  • gSang sngags bdud ’dul lhun grub gling (sDong skam village)

rTogs ldan Kun bzang klong grol and his son sNang gsal lhun grub were born there in the fifteenth century, and as spiritual descendents of the famous practitioner Grub chen Khyung dkar tshang ba they greatly contributed to the spread of Bon in the region.

  • 4. sNyan bzang bon mang comprising the three gsas khang in the north of Reb gong:
  • gSang chen smin grol dpal ldan gling (Hor nag village)
  • Rig ’dzin kun ’dus rnam rgyal gling (sTong che village)

Since sTong che village and sTong che village of Khri ka share the same origin, the Bonpos of the former are disciples of Khyung mo sTobs ldan dbang phyung, the head master of Khyung mo Monastery in sTong che in Khri ka who has a throne in the gsas khang of sTong che in Reb gong.

  • Khyung dkar bstan pa rgya mtsho gling (Khyung bo la ga village)

This last gsas khang is very old although its date and founder remain unknown.

All the above-mentioned gsas khang are referred collectively to as the Reb gong bon mang’s one thousand and nine hundred holders of the Phur pa (Reb gong bon mang phur thogs stong dang dgu brgya). Bon brgya Trulku dGe legs lhun grub rgya mtsho is the master of all the Reb gong bon mang. Stod phyogs and sMad phyogs are the Reb gong bon mang’s two largest groups. The two gsas khang of the Yar nang bon mang group function independently, not only from the rest of the Reb gong bon mang, but also from one another, and do not participate in any of the other group’s collective activities. sNyan bzang bon mang joins sMad phyogs bon mang for major religious activities. Thus for the main ceremonies, the four groups of Reb gong merge into two groups under the leadership of sTod phyogs bon mang and sMad phyogs bon mang.

The rituals celebrated by the Reb gong bon mang may be divided into four categories:

  1. Two major annual rituals celebrated collectively by the entire Reb gong bon mang with the exception of Yar nang bon mang: the spring ritual (5th to 8th day of the 1st month) and the autumn ritual (8th to 10th day of the 10th month).

The preparations take one day so the practitioners gather on the day before, and those (especially the elderly) living in the remoter villages usually arrive a day before that and spend the night with families near the gsas khang where the ritual is to take place. The main practice is that of the dBal gsas cycle, as well as a short version of the ’Bum pa and sTag la ritual cycles. Each of the gsas khang hosts the rituals on a rotational basis. The gsas khang of Reb gong bon mang are conceived of and function as a whole, rather than as separate institutions, and share a common hierarchical system: two dge bskos, disciplinarian appointed for one year, one dbu mdzad, incantation master appointed for three years; one khri pa, leader and one gnyer pa, a treasurer appointed for one year; and one g-yung drung slob dpon, an officiator who is replaced every three years. One of the dge bskos must belong to the sTod phyogs bon mang, and the other from sMad phyogs bon mang, these two groups being the largest of the Reb gong bon mang’s four groups. In addition, there is one dbu mdzad who leads the chanting during ceremonies. The khri pa is the head of the whole Bon mang, and is also responsible for organizing the spring ritual while the gnyer pa is responsible for organizing the autumn ritual. During the rituals the throne of the khri pa is placed at the same level as that of Bon brgya Trulku. Even in his absence, the khri pa is honoured by the presence of his throne. The g-yung drung slob dpon is responsible for every ritual.

  1. The next major ceremony is the ritual dedicated to the Yi dam Kun ’dus which takes place from the 10th to the 13th day of the 5th month. The gsas khang host the ritual in turn. Participants must be over twenty-nine years old. The dbu mdzad for this ritual is selected for three years. The g-yung drung slob dpon and khri pa are the same as for the above-mentioned rituals. A separate gnyer pa is also appointed since the organiztion of the ritual requires a considerable amount of time and effort.
  2. The third category comprises the mKha’ ’gro gsang gcod and Zhi khro. The former is held from the 1st to the 4th day of the 4th month, and the latter from the 1st to the 4th day of the 5th month. The two rituals are performed by both the sTod phyogs bon mang and the sMad phyogs bon mang separately (see below). Other rituals performed by the groups separately include rituals dedicated to Tshe dbang, Kun bzang, dBal gsas and ’Bum pa (25th - 30th day of the 11th month), performed by the sTod phyogs bon mang, and rituals dedicated to Kun bzang, Tshe dbang and dBal gsas (17th - 20th day of the 10th month), performed by the sMad phyogs bon mang.
  3. The three-year dbu mdzad cycle dedicated to Yi dam kun ’dus ritual must be led by the dbu mdzad of one of the two ritual groups of Reb gong Bon mang to which he belongs, and the other group ought to find another one to be the dbu mdzad for themeselves. They also ought to find two new gnyer pa for the two groups. Both groups do not have a leader (khri pa) nor a ritual master (g-yung drung slob dpon) for the rituals they perform.
  4. These rituals do not require the presence of the khri pa and g-yung drung slob dpon, but the khri pa of Reb gong bon mang must be honoured by his throne, and two experienced practitioners are selected to occupy the first two seats of the front row and to take on the role of the g-yung drung slob dpon.
  5. The fourth category of ritual includes those performed by the gsas khang individually. All the gsas khang perform a ritual on the 10th of each month, in addition to other rituals on different dates that are listed in the descriptions of the gsas khang below.

The position of each practitioner in the collective rituals of the Reb gong bon mang is very important. I will describe here the order I observed when I attended the spring ritual in 1998 at the gsas khang of Hor nag la ga village.

The two front rows and their tables are always very attractive during rituals. The two bang kha occupy the first two seats at the head of the front row; bang kha is supposed to be a Zhang zhung word for master of the sphere (Tib. dkyil ’khor gyi bdag po). One of them must be the sgrub dpon, the ritual’s consultant or advisor. Prior to the nineteen-fifties, the two bang kha had to guard the gtor ma representing the tutelary deities (yi dam) and protective deities (bon skyong) placed on the table between the thrones of Bon brgya Trulku and the khi pa day and night, but at present their presence is required only during the day. The two bang kha must be experienced tantric practitioners, and are therefore usually elderly personages respected by the whole community. The dbu mdzad and g-yung drung slob dpon sit in the center of the two front rows. The dbu mdzad’s seat is higher than the others but lower than the thrones of the Trulku and the khri pa. The seats between the two bang kha at the head of the row and the dbu mdzad and g-yung drung slob dpon in the middle are reserved for the elder practitioners, usually former officials of the Reb gong bon mang with a reputation as experienced and powerful tantric practitioners. The seats between the g-yung drung slob dpon and dbu mdzad in the center and the musicians at the end of the row are occupied by those who chant best. The rows behind are occupied by the other practitioners. New practitioners attend the ceremony from the back seats.

The ritual is followed by the sde ’bod, invitation of the village, during which the villagers invite the practitioners to their homes to perform rituals for their families. These include purification rituals for the past year and the calling of fortune and happiness for the coming year. The family welcomes the practitioners by blowing trumpets and Chinese bamboo flutes, and by firing firecrackers. The practitioners, led by the dbu mdzad, perform the rituals inside each house. Each visit lasts around ten or fifteen minutes. The family offers the officiants a single fruit, usually an apple, as a symbolic offering. Since the villagers wait several years for this occasion, the practitioners must perform the sde bod regardless of the time it takes (sometimes the visits are not completed until well after dark).

Since Bon brgya Trulku is the head of both Bon brgya Monastery -- which is the only Bonpo monastery in Reb gong -- and the Reb gong bon mang, the influence of the monastic system in the area is growing stronger.

(100) Bon brgya Monastery

1. Name

The formal name of the monastery is Bon brgya sMan ri bshad sgrub smin grol gling.

2. Location

It is located in the upper reaches of Bon brgya valley in Chu khog district (xiang) of Reb gong, about 30 km southwest of Rong bo, the capital of rMa lho Prefecture.

3. History

There are no reliable written records concerning the origins of the Bon religion in the Reb gong area, but according to oral tradition, one of the “six great universal scholars” (’Dzam gling rgyan drug), Phrom gSer thog lce ’byams, a Bonpo from Phrom, spread Bon in his homeland, at a time corresponding to the earlier spread of Bon. During Khri srong lde btshan’s time, Dran pa nam mkha’ lived in Reb gong and built a large monastery at A ba ngos bzang. During the time of King U dum btsan, because of the persecution of Bon, the three grub thob, (“perfected beings”)--all three brothers of the Khyung lineage-- fled from Central Tibet to Reb gong. They first stopped to rest at Chad lung thang, a short distance from the present site of Bon brgya Monastery. Later the three brothers established their residences in three villages in Reb gong –’Khor lo bsgyur rgyal in sPyi sting village, Ye shes mtsho rgyal in Ngo mo village, and Khyung dkar tshang ba in Khyung bo village-- and began to propagate Bon in the region. Their descendents and spiritual heirs are still living in Reb gong (Bon brgya’i gsung, p.5). Around the same time, a Bonpo called dByings klong rin chen from sTong che in Khri ka arrived in Reb gong and married sTag ga’i rGyal mo byams. Their descendents became the Bon brgya village that established itself in Bon brgya village in the valley of the same name. Several members of the village founded a hermitage at the site of the present monastery and formed the first religious community of Bon brgya Monastery. Other members eventually became nomads. Originally Bon brgya village comprised only twenty families but at present there are more than seven hundred families, including the nomad families (Bon brgya’i gsung, p.6) which altogether constitute the local lay community of the monastery. Although the monastery has a long history and is renowned for its many remarkable tantric practitioners and monks, its development as a monastic institution is fairly recent and probably does not go far back beyond the time of Bon brgya gYung drung phun tshogs who lived at the beginning of the twentieth century and who built the Don gnyis lhun grub lha khang with statues of the Three Buddhas of the Three Ages, rNam par rgyal ba, the Thousand Buddhas and a stupa (mchod rten) dedicated to rNam par rgyal ba outside. Just as the statues and the stupa were being completed, Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan sent a letter to the monastery along with two hundred types of sacred objects (rten) with which to fill the statues and then visited the monastery in person. This event created a sensation among the local community and marked the history of the monastery. Bon brgya gYung drung phun tshogs not only became a student of Khri rgan ’Jam dbyangs thub bstan rgya mtsho who was the teacher of the sixth Shang tshang (the religious and political head of Reb gong at the time) but also became close to the sixth Shang tshang himself. As a result, Bon brgya Monastery enjoyed a period of prosperity and development. Later, however, the monastery was damaged twice by the army of Ma Bufang, the warlord of Qinghai (Ma Bufang tongzhi Qinghai sishi nian). In 1944, sKyang sprul Lung rtogs skal bzang rgya mtsho, a great master of mDzod dge, remained at the monastery for a year during which he visited many monasteries and gsas khang temples in the Kokonor area, giving teachings not only to the monks at the monastery but to all the Bonpo communities throughout the whole of Reb gong. Most monasteries and gsas khang in the Kokonor area payed hommage to him. During his visit to Reb gong in 1980, the tenth Panchen Lama proposed to rebuild Bon brgya Monastery and offered the monastery a statue of Amitabha together with one thousand and eight hundred Chinese Yuan for its reconstruction. Official permission was granted by the local government the following year; the first buildings to be reconstructed were the Don gnyis lhun grub lha khang and the residence of Bon brgya Trulku. In recent years, Bon brgya Trulku established a philosophical school (bshad grwa) and a meditation school (sgrub grwa) where the lo gsum (three-year retreat) is practised. The main assembly hall is large and has twelve columns.

4. Hierarchical system

  • The holder of the “gold throne” (gser khri) is Bon brgya dGe legs lhun grub rgya mtsho, often called Bon brgya Trulku, the reincarnation of Bon brgya gYung drung phun tshogs. He is also the chief teacher (slob dpon) of the monastery.
  • The abbot (mkhan po), selected for three years. The present mkhan po is Tshul khrims nam mkha’ bstan ’dzin who is the reincarnation of sKyang sprul Lung rtogs skal bzang rgya mtsho.
  • khri pa, the “leader”, also selected for three years. The present khri pa is Tshul khrims blo gros.
  • dge skos, the disciplinarian
  • two dbu mdzad, the incantation masters
  • two gnyer pa, the treasurers
  • two dkor gnyer, the care takers, all of whom are also replaced every three years.

5. Current number of monks

There are about eighty monks and novices in the monastery and an additional thirty who come from other monasteries to receive teachings from Bon brgya Trulku.

6. Current education

Monks attending the philosophical school study the following subjects: metaphysics such as bsdus grwa, blo rtags, phar phyin, as well as grammar, poetry, painting, astrology, medicine, and calligraphy. Those who have successfully completed the programme may compete for the dge shes degree. Students at the tantric school are required to complete the three year practice (lo gsum); several among them have completed the practice twice or even three times.

8 / 9. Rituals

- 1st month, 3rd - 11th day: the sMon lam chen mo, including a four-day rituals of the Klong rgyas mandala, the dBal gsas cycle on the morning of the 7th day, the chanting of the bKa’ skyong gdangs yig in the afternoon of the same day, the cycle of the Rig ’dzin bon skor on the 10th day; debates are held in between the rituals.

  • 4th month, 20th - 23th day: the ritual of the rTsa gsum cho ga bzhi sbrags
  • 5th month, 13th - 16th day: the ritual of the Yi dam kun ’dus kyi tshogs mchod
  • 13th day of the 6th month to 1st day of the 8th month: the gbyar gnas observation
  • 9th month, 15th - 23th day: the cycle of dBal gsas sgrub chen with the ’cham performance on the 22nd day, the monastery’s officials are reelected at end of the ritual if their terms came to an end.
  • 12th month, 24th - 29th day: the performance of gTor bzlog chen mo based on the bsTan pa’i lcags ri yi dam stag la’i srung zlog tshad ldan gyi sgrub pa

Besides the major rituals performed collectively by the Reb gong bon mang, there are various monthly rituals performed by the monastery separately: the Klong rgyas mchod pa on the 8th day, the Tshe dbang bod yul ma on the 10th day, the mDo chog cho ga bcu gnyis on the 15th day, the Kun rig gnas ’dren rgyas pa on the 25th day, and 8-day for the offering of the tshogs to the goddess Srid pa rgyal mo during the summer.

The daily practice: one hour is devoted to prayer (tshogs ’don), two hours to lessons, one hour to debate, one hour to recitation of texts. The rest of the day the monks study alone. Sunday is their day off.

10. Books held in the monastery

There are three copies of the Bonpo Kanjur, more than a thousand volumes of various Bonpo works, one copy of the Buddhist Kanjur and Tenjur, one copy of Shar tshang sKal ldan rgya mtsho’s complete works, one copy of ’Jam dbyangs bzhed pa’s works, one copy of Zhabs dkar pa’s works, and one copy of the Rin chen gter mdzod .

In the assembly hall, there are statues of rNam par rgyal ba, sMra seng, Byams ma, mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan, Bon brgya gYung drung phun tshogs, and thangka representing Byams ma, Kun rig, Kun dbyings, Dus ’khor, rGyal ba rgya mtsho, sMan bla, rNam ’joms, dGe spyod, sMon lam mtha’ yas, gNas brtan, Kun bzang zhi ba, dBal gsas, Grub chen brgyad cu, sTag la, Srid rgyal, and sTag gzig zhing bkod. In the chapel (mchod khang) of the Bon brgya residence, there are more than thirty finely executed thangkha representing mDzad pa bcu gnyis, gNas brtan, Zhi thang, Yi dam kun ’dus, rJe mNyam med yab sras gsum.

11. Income and expenses

In addition to general offerings made by the lay community, the monastery posesses one hundred female yak (’bri), as shi med and a truck, and has a total yearly income of around twenty thousand Yuan. The monastery also has a live-in wood-block engravor and a sculptor.

12. Local community

Since all the Bonpo villages in Reb gong belong to their own village temple and to Bon brgya Monastery at the same time, information concerning this question is dealt with in the detailed descriptions of the gsas khang. According to my estimate in 1996 during my fieldwork for the Japanese research project on Bon, there are forty-six major villages divided into numerous branches comprising six hundred and ninety-one families (about 4368 people) in Reb gong, in addition to seven hundred nomad families (around 4000 people) in the Bon brgya pasturelands.

13 / 14.

These sections are dealt with when giving accounts of the individual temples.

Sources

(1) Interviews

Interview in autumn of 1996 with: Bon brgya dGe legs lhun grub rgya mtsho (b.1935), the head of Bon brgya Monastery and master of all the temples in Reb gong area.

(2) Texts
  1. BGLD
(101) Bon brgya Temple

1. Name of the temple

Bon brgya gSas khang gSang sngags dar rgyas gling or briefly Bon brgya gsas khang.

2. Location

The temple is located in Bon brgya village in the middle of Bon brgya valley about 3 km east of Bon brgya Monastery (No.100).

5. Current number of priests

There are twenty one Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang and Tshe dbang in alternation on the 10th of each month. Rituals dedicated to Kun bzang and the sbyin sreg ritual known as the sNang srid zhi ba chen po from the 15th to the 24th day of the 1st month. Kun bzang and sPyi ’dul together from the 17th to the 22nd day of the 6th month, followed by the sbyin sreg ritual. Kun bzang and dBal gsas from the 11th to the 22nd day of the 11th month.

12. Local community

Three villages: La kha with twenty families, Thang tshang with six families, and Tshe dbang with ten families (one hundred and forty people altogether).

13. Local festivals

There are three la btsas connected to the temple: the la btsas of Bya khyung in Bon brgya thang built by rTse zhig rGyal ba tshul khrims, located 1 km from the temple the la btsas of gYung drung dgra ’dul, who is regarded as the spiritual son of rMa chen spom ra, is at the top of gSer khang thod hill, built by Bon brgya gYung drung phun tshogs, also located 1 km from the temple the la btsas sKyes ri on Ri dmar hill, 1 km from the temple; originally placed at the foot of the hill it was moved to the top by a practitioner called dByings rig rnam grol or ’Bum pa rgyal. All three local deities are propitiated on the 17th day of the 6th month.

At the top of Mount rGya rdung, 3 km from the village, there are two la btsas dedicated to the local deities known as A myes Bon sgang and A myes So ye that belonged to the no longer existing gDung nges Temple (see the introduction to this section).

14. Occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(102) Mag sar Temple

1. Name

gSas khang gYung drung bstan dar gling

2. Location

The temple is located in Mag sar village of Chu khog Township of Reb gong County, at the foot of Bon brgya Monastery, 100 m south of the monastery, (latitude: 35°25’58”N, longitude: 101°55’14”E).

3. History

The practitioners claim that they are the spiritual descendents of Khyung po bsTan pa dar rgyas, a famous local Bonpo practitioner.

5. Number of practitioners

There are twenty-six tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals and ceremonies

The tshogs ’khor rituals of the deities: Kun bzang, Tshe dbang, dBas gsas, Zhi khro and sPyi ’dul in alternation on the 10th of each month. Kun bzang and sPyi ’dul together from the 3rd to the 11th of the 11th month with ’cham. sPyi ’dul on the 25th to 30th of the 12th month.

12. Local community

The local community consists of four villages: Thang skor with twenty families; dGa’ skor also with twenty families, rTswa ring with five families, gNas lung with seven families. Altogether forty families and two hundred and twenty-six people.

13. Local festivals

There are three la btsas, cairn around the temple. 1. the la btsas of Zho lung built in the past by the village children for fun. It was later moved up to Mount Zho lung 1.5 km from the temple, following a prophecy made by Khyung mo sGrub pa mthar phyin. The local deity (yul lha) Zho lung is propitiated on the 9th day of the 5th month. 2. the la btsas of ’Dzoms lung is situated on Mount Ri rgod, 4 km from the temple, also propitiated on the 9th day of the 5th month. 3. the la btsas of rGya ’du is on Mount rNga skyes, 5 km from the temple, propitiated on the 17thday of the 6th month.

14. Occupation of the local population

Agriculture

(103) rGya mtsho dpal Temple

1. Name

gSas khang Theg chen bon ’khor lhun grub gling

2. Location

rGya mtsho dpal Temple is located in rGya mtsho dpal village which is also called A rga steng (latitude: 35°32’16”N, longitude: 102°04’59” E).

5. Number of practitioners

There are twenty seven Bonpo tantric practitioners in the gsas khang.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang, ’Bum pa and Tshe dbang in turn on the 10th of each month. Kun bzang and ’Bum pa from the 23rd to the 28th day of the 5th month. Kun bzang and ’Bum pa the 16th to the 21st day of the 11th month.

12. Local community

Five villages: mKhar gong ma with fourteen families, mKhar zhol with ten families, Shar tshang with ten families, ’Khyer yag with twelve families and Kha dbugs with eight families (fifty-four families and three hundred and twenty six people altogether).

13. Local festivals

The la btsas dedicated to the local deity mThar smug is located on top of Mount mThar-smug about 5 km from the temple and propitiated on the 11th day of the 4th month. The la btsas of Tshe lung 3 km from the temple and propitiated on the 9th day of the 5th month.

14. Occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(104) Gad pa skya bo Temple

1. Name

gSas khang gSang sngags rig ’dzin dar rgyas gling

2. Location

Gad pa skya bo village (latitude: 35°32’58”N, longitude: 102°04’64”E).

5. Number of practitioners

There are thirty-four Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang, ’Bum pa and Tshe dbang in turn on the 10th of each month. Kun bzang and dBal gsas from the 14th to 18th day of the 5th month. ’Bum pa from the 16th to 21st day of the 11th month. sPyi ’dul and sTag la from the 25th to 28th day of the 11th month.

12. Local community

Three villages: Gong ma with twelve families, gNya tshang with ten families and Ser grong with nine families (thirty one families and two hundred and seventeen people altogether).

13. Local festivals

The two la btsas of mThar smug and Tshe lung are propitiated on the same day by both Gad pa skya bo and rGya mtsho dpal villages.

14. Economic occupation of local people

Agriculture

(105) gDong mgo Temple

1. Name

gSas khang Theg chen smin grol rgya mtsho gling

2. Location

gDong mgo village of sPyi tshang (latitude: 35°32’17”N, longitude: 102°04’00”E).

5. Number of practitioners

There are twenty two Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang and ’Bum pa from the 21st to the 26thday of the 1st month. Kun bzang on the 10th day of each month. Kun bzang and ’Bum pa for five days at a suitable time in the 5th month. sTag la from the 16th to the 21st day of the 11th month.

12. Local community

gDong mgo village comprising forty-four families (three hundred and ten people altogether) is considered as the lha sde of the temple.

13. Local festivals

The two la btsas of mThar smug and Tshe lung are propitiated on the same day by the people of gDong mgo, rGyal mtsho dpal and Gad pa skya bo villages.

14. Economic occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(106) Ngo mo Temple

1. Name

gSas khang rGyal bstan ye shes rgya mtsho gling

2. Location

Ngo mo village (latitude: 35°30’19”N, longitude: 102°03’77”E)

5. Number of practitioners

There are twenty six Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang, Tshe dbang, ’Bum pa, each alternately on the 10th day of each month. Kun bzang and ’Bum pa from the 5th to the 10th of the 5th month. ’Bum pa, Rams pa and Khro bo from the 25th to 30th day of the 11th month.

13. Local festivals

There is a la btsas of the gsas khang, on top of a hill in front of the village temple, 3 km away and propitiated on the 9th day of the 5th month. The la btsas of gYung drung lha rtse is situated on top of the hill behind the gsas khang and propitiated on the 17thday of the 6ht month. The la btsas of Ngo mo, also called sMad kyi Ngo mo, 4 km from the gsas khang and propitiated on the 15th day of the 5th month.

14. Economic occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(107) Gyang ru Temple

1. Name

gSas khang Rig ’dzin thugs rje byang chub gling

2. Location

Gyang ru village (latitude: 35°28’95”N, longitude: 102°03’85”E)

5. Number of practitioners

There are sixty-seven Bonpo tantric practitioners in Gyang ru Temple.

8 / 9. Rituals and ceremonies

Kun bzang, Tshe dbang, dBal gsas and ’Bum pa, in turn, on the 10th of each month. A seven to eight-day ritual for the village in the 1st month, on a date determined beforehand by Bon brgya Trulku. dBal gsas and ’Bum pa, in alternation, from the 1st to the 8th day of the 5th month. Kun bzang and the ritual based on the sNang srid zhi ba chen mo for seven days starting on the 25th day of the 6th month. Kun bzang, dBal gsas and ’Bum pa from the 11th to the 7th day of the 11th month.

12. Local community

Two villages: Gyang ru gong ma with ten families and Gyang ru zhol ma with twenty-four families (two hundred and forty people altogether). The former village’s tutelary deity is dBal gsas, and that of the latter ’Bum pa.

13. Local festivals

There are seven la btsas connected to the temple:

  1. the la btsas of sTag lung constructed by A myes Thugs rje, about 20 km from the temple; the local deity is propitiated by the Bonpo, rNying ma pa and dGe lugs pa together on the 17th day of the 6th month, (the main officiants however must be Bonpo).
  2. the la btsas of sTag lung chung ba, located about 150 metres from the one just mentioned, and likewise propitiated on the 17th day of the 6th month.
  3. the la btsas of A myes gNyan steng on A myes gNyan steng hill, 2 km behind the temple, propitiated on 25 June.
  4. the la btsas of the local deities Bon rgan, Bon chung, Nyag ga and dBu rtse in Bon brgya khog 73 km from the temple; the last four are propitiated on the 6th day of th 7th month.

14. Economic occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(108) Gling rgya Temple

1. Name

gSas khang mDo sngags phun tshogs dar rgyas gling

2. Location

Gling rgya village (latitude: 35°35’96”N, longitude: 102°08’03”E)

5. Number of practitioners

There are one hundred Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Tshe dbang on the 10th of each month. Kun bzang, ’Bum pa and sPyi ’dul from the 13th to the 16th day of the 1st month. The initiation of the Yi dam kun ’dus and Zhi khro from the 14th to the 16th day of the 4th month. Tshe dbang and dBal gsas for abundant crops from the 5th to the 8th day of the 5th month. Kun bzang, ’Bum pa and sPyi ’dul from the 16th to the 18th day of the 11th month. The complete cycle of ’Bum pa from the 23rd to the 30th day of the 11th month. Kun bzang, ’Bum pa and sPyi ’dul from the 27th to the 30th day of the 12th month.

12. Local community

Three villages: dBang chen with twenty-four families, Tshe mkhar with twenty-four families, and rTen rgyal with twenty-seven families (seventy-eight families and three hundred and twenty-seven people altogether). There are one hundred and forty families of the rTen rgyal village living as nomads on the shores of the Kokonor, but they have been converted to Buddhism.

13. Local festivals

There is only one la btsas dedicated to the local deity rNgo tshang. According to some it was built by Grub thob Tshang pa, to others by Dung dkar Tshang pa. It is located 10 km from the temple and propitiated on the 9th day of the 4th month.

14. Economic occupation of local people

Agriculture

(109) Zho ’ong nyin tha Temple

1. Name

gSas khang Kun ’dus g-yung drung ’gyur med gling

2. Location

Zho ’ong nyin tha village (latitude: 35°36’34”N, longitude: 102°11’17”E)

5. Number of practitioners

There are twenty five Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang, Tshe dbang, Zhi khro and ’Bum pa alternately on the 10th of each month, Kun bzang, ’Bum pa and Rams pa from the 11th to the 18th day of the 1st month. The ritual of the Yi dam kun ’dus and Zhi khro from the 14th to the 16th day of the 4th month. An important ritual dedicated to the Ma tri cycle from the 25th to the 30th day of the 10th day. Kun bzang, ’Bum pa and Rams pa from the 13th to the 20th day of the 12th month.

12. Local community

Two villages: sGang skor and dPon skor, comprising a total of twenty-three families and one hundred and thirty people.

13. Local festivals

There are three la btsas:

  1. a common la btsas for both Bonpo and Buddhists dedicated to the local deity called dPa’ bo hri rgan. The la btsas was rebuilt by a dGe lugs pa Lama named mChu dmar Blo bzang rgya mtsho. It is located at the top of the hill Tsha nyed la kha, 2km from the temple and propitiated on the 17th day of the 7th month.
  2. the la btsas of Yar kha located 2 km from the temple and propitiated on the 9th April.
  3. the la btsas of Bon dkar 5km from the temple, propitiated on the 11th day of the 6th month.

14. Economic occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(110) Dar grong Temple

1. Name

gSas khang sGrub pa’i rgyal mtshan mi ’gyur gling

2. Location

Dar grong village

5. Number of practitioners

There are twenty-seven Bonpo Tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang and Tshe dbang alternately on the 10th of each month. Kun bzang, ’Bum pa and sPyi ’dul from the 16th to the 20th day of the 1st month. Kun bzang and sPyi ’dul from the 16th to the 20th day of the 12th month.

12. Local community

The community comprises twenty families (one hundred and eighty people altogether).

13. Local festivals

The la btsas of ’U gzur located 3 km from the temple, at the center of the mountain facing the temple and propitited on the 17th day of the 6th month.

14. Economic occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(111) Khyung bo thang Temple

1. Name

gSas khang Khyung dkar smin grol rig ’dzin gling

2. Location

Khyung bo thang sMad pa village (latitude: 35°39’90”N, longitude: 102°04’29”E)

5. Number of practitioners

There are one hundred and forty Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang and Tshe dbang alternately on the 10th day of each month. Kun bzang and dBal gsas from the 21st to the 30th day of the 1st month. Kun bzang, dBal gsas and Khro bo from the 21st to the 30th day of the 3rd month. mKha’ ’gro gsang bcod from the 15th to the 16th day of the 4th month. Kun bzang and ’Bum pa from the 5th to the 10th day of the 5th month. Kun bzang and sTag la from the 16th to the 21st day of the 11th month. Kun bzang, Tshe dbang, ’Bum pa and sTag la from the 20th to the 30th day of the 12th month.

12. Local community

There are two main villages, Gong skor and Phyi skor. The former comprises the following sub-villages: sTag a ’bum with seventeen families, Bonpo with twenty families, and dPon skor with ten families, and the latter mKhar sgo gong ma with twenty families, mKhar sgo zhol ma with ten families and lTag kha with fifteen families. These villages are considered as the lha sde of the temple.

13. Local Festivals

The la btsas is dedicated to the local deity dMag dpon dGra ’dul thogs med rtsal. It is a common la btsas for both Bonpo and Buddhists. Built according to instructions given by Bon brgya Trulku. It is located 1 km from the temple and propitiated on the 9th day of the 4th month. The la btsas of the local deity sTag shar on top of sTag shar sgang hill, which is the rgyab ri of the temple. It is 13 km from the temple and propitiated exclusively by Phyi skor village on the 11th day of the 2nd month. The la btsas of the local deity Bya khyung is located at the top of one of the three peaks known as ’Khyams tho spun gsum, the three ’Khyams tho brothers, around 67 km from the temple and propitiated on the 4th day of the 5th month.

There is another type of la btsas made of stones (rdo ’bum), associated with Phun tshogs bla ma. It is 3 km from the temple and is propitiated by Gong skor village only on the 18th day of the 2nd month.

14. Economic occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(112) sDong skam Temple

1. Name

gSas khang gSang sngags bdud ’dul lhun grub gling

2. Location

sDong skam smad pa village

5. Number of practitioners

There are fifteen Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

The fasting ceremony (smyung gnas) from the 15th to the 16th day of the 4th month. dBal gsas from the 5th to the 10th day of the 5th month. dBal gsas and Khro bo from the 21st to the 30th day of the 11th month.

12. Local community

There are four villages with a total of ninety-nine families in sDong skam village but most of them have been converted to the dGe lugs pa tradition and also the rNying ma pa in the recent centuries. Only thirty Bonpo families comprising a total of hundred and four people remain as the temple’s former villages. As a result the temple is used by all three religious groups but on different dates.

13. Local festivals

The la btsas dedicated to the local deity called dMag dpon is said to have been built by Tshe dbang bkra shis, a chief of sDong skam village. It is located 200 m from the temple and is propitiated by both Bonpo and Buddhists on the 15th day of the 5th month.

(113) Hor nag Temple

1. Name

gSas khang gSang chen smin grol dpal ldan gling

2. Location

The temple is located in Hor nag village about 15 km north of Rong bo, the capital of the Reb gong region (latitude: 35°37’02”N, longitude: 102°00’46”E).

5. Number of practitioners

There are twenty-eight Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Tshe dbang on the 10th of January. Khro bo and Pho nya gze ma from the 22nd to the 30th day of the 3rd month. On the 5th day of the 10th month, the ritual dedicated to Kun bzang is performed for rTse zhig chos rje, a master from rTse zhig Monastery in rGan rgya pasture near Bla brang Monastery. The ritual dedicated to Kun bzang is also performed by each of the Bonpo families in turn on the 29th of each month.

12. Local community

Six villages: ’Khyams skor with twenty families, Na tsang ma with five families, Tshe thar ’bum with six families, Sha rgya with thirteen families, dPon skor with one family and Cha g-yog with five families (fifty families and three hundred people altogether).

13. Local festivals

The la btsas of Rgya ye at the top of Zu lung built by rGya ye gNam go byams and propitiated on the 15th day of th 6th month. The la btsas of sKya ye at the top of bKra shis sgang, built by Hor nag Byams pa rgyal, often referred to as Hor nag A myes Byams pa rgyal and propitiated at a suitable date in the 5th month.

14. Economic occupation of local people

Agriculture

(114) sTong che Temple

1. Name

gSas khang Rig ’dzin kun ’dus rnam rgyal gling

2. Location

sTong che village (latitude: 35°37’06”N, longitude: 102°00’74”E)

5. Number of practitioners

There are twenty three Bonpo tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang and dBal gsas alternately on the 10th day of each month. Kun bzang, Tshe dbang, dBal gsas and sTag la from the 22nd to the 30th day of the 3rd month.

12. Local community

Three villages: rKe bcag with thirty families, Khyung mo with eighteen families, and Ka ye with eighteen families (sixty-six families and four hundred and twenty people altogether).

13. Local festivals

The la btsas of A myes rTen ’gyings, 2 km from the temple, propitiated on the 10th day of the 6th month. There is also a temple (lha khang) dedicated to A myes rGya thang. It is apparently the common local deity of the whole sTong che valley. In sTong che village of the Khri ka district there is also a temple dedicated to A myes rGya thang with the same appearence and origin.

14. Economic occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(115) Kyung bo la ga Temple

1. Name

gSas khang Khyung dkar bstan pa rgya mtsho gling

2. Location

Khyung bo la ga village (latitude: 35°37’68”N, longitude: 102°01’34”E)

5. Number of practitioners

There are thirty-two tantric practitioners in the temple.

8 / 9. Rituals

Kun bzang and Tshe dbang occur alternately on the 10th of each month and dBal gsas on the 29th of each month. Kung bzang, the sbyin sreg ritual of the sNang srid zhi ba chen mo and sPyi ’dul from the 17th to the 24th day of the 1st month. Khro bo and Pho nya gze ma from the 22nd to the 30th day of the 3rd month. A five-day ritual dedicated to dBal gsas at a suitable time in the 5th month.

12. Local community

Four villages: mKhar nang with thirty-one families, dGar ba with twenty-three families, Nyin skor with eleven families and sDong skam with twenty-four families (five hundred and sixty people altogether).

13. Local festivals

The la btsas, whose name is unknown, is located 1 km from the temple and propitiated on the 11th day of the 4th month. The local people say that it was built by unidentified Bonpo tantric practitioners in the remote past.

14. Economic occupation of the local people

Agriculture

(116) Zhwa khra Temple

Zhwa khra Temple is located in the Zhwa khra village which is 18 km south of the county town of gCan tsha. Bonpo community in this area is small. According to oral tradition, a tribe called Zhwa khra, was banished during the persecution of Bon religion by King Khri srong lde btsan. They arrived in gCan tsha after having settled in sGong dkam village of Reb gong for many generations. There was a series of chiefs starting from gYung drung rnam rgyal through Tshul khrims bstan ’dzin, gYung drung rgyal mtshan, rGya mtsho, dMar ris, gYung drung rgyal, Tshe thar and Khro rgyal. The latter became a monk and a nephew of his took his place to be the chief of the tribe.

A monk of La mo bde chen, a large dGe lugs pa monastery located in the same area, went to Lhasa for studying. He was kown as Zhwa khra Lha rams pa when he obtained the degree of lha rams dge bshes in Lhasa. Nobody seems to remember his real name today. He had a Ma ni khang built in Zhwa khra village when he came back from Lhasa, and the Ma ni khang was shared by both Buddhist and Bonpo people for centuries. The date of the foundation is not clear, but, according to dBang grags, a retired leader of gCan tsha county and comes from Zhwa khra village, and some old Bonpo such as Padma Tsering who were from the village as well, the Ma ni khang was founded about eight generations ago.

A lay Bonpo tantric called rNam thar rgyal had a statue and thangka of the divinity dBal gsas made in the Ma ni khang, and so tantrics of both Buddhists and Bonpo practised together for many years.

Today, there are eighteen lay tantrics in the Ma ni khang. They practise both Buddhism and Bon relgion. Ma ni khang has forty-two families as its local community. And then, rNam thar rgyal finally founded a Bonpo temple in the village called mTsho kha near Zhwa khra village and this was how Bon religion began to spread there. The temple was damaged in middle of the twentieth century and has not been yet rebuilt.

Another Bonpo lay tantric called rDo rje founded a new and small Bonpo temple separately in Zhwa khra village in the second half of the twentieth century to follow rNam thar rgyal’s example. rDo rje has his family and a few followers. In the temple, the ritual cycle of dBal gsas is performed from to time to time. There are no regular rituals either in the Ma ni khang or the gSas khang.

Source

(1) Interviews

Interview in 1996 with : dBang grags and Padma Tsering, a lay tantric, both from Zhwa khra village

(117) So nag Temple

So nag is a large community situated in the pasture of gCan tsha County. There were only lay tantrics in the gSas khang, but recently there are also some monks from the community, but since the monks do not have a monastery, both lay tantrics and monks practise togather in the gSas khang. No records seem to exist about the history of the gSas khang. I visited it in 1996, but unfortunately there was not any old tantric from whom one could get some information on local history concerning the gSas khang. I hope to be able to fill up this gap when this book appears in Tibetan edition in the future.

(118) To shes Temple

1. Name

The formal name of the temple is gSas khang gSang sngags bdud ’dul gling.

2. Location

It is located in To shes village in gSer gzhung (Jin yuan) district (xiang), Ba yan (Hua long) county, Qinghai province, 8 km north of gSer gzhung district (xiang) 45 km east of the Ba yan county town.

3. History

In rTse zhig Monastery at rGan rgya pasture, lived a renowned master called dGar ba gYung drung rgyal mtshan who taught for many years and had many disciples. Unfortunately, his trulku passed away in childhood. The following reincarnation was discovered in sTong chung of Ba yan, northern Amdo (Hua long county, Qinghai province). Apparently he did not return to rTse zhig but greatlly contributed to the spread of the Bon religion throughout the Ba yan area, where he became known as sTong chung zhabs drung (TZLD p.6b). The latter’s reincarnation was Zhabs drung bSod nams g-yung drung dbang rgyal (1894-1949), who was very active at the beginning of the 20th century in both the religious and political fields in Amdo. He was a disciple of sBra ser Pandita Kun bzang rgyal mtshan and Bon brgya gYung drung phun tshogs, and in turn became the master of monasteries of rTse zhig, To shes, Shar steng, sKa gsar, Khyung mo, Reb gong Bon mang and the Bonpo community in Cone. He founded Dung dkar Monastery (No.132). He was the family priest (gzhi dpon) of the tenth Panchen Lama’s family in sBis mdo (Xiong hua county in Qinghai). He also won the esteem of Ma Bufang, the famous Chinese warlord of Qinghai in the early 20th century, who offered him a seal with the following inscription: “the seal of rTse dbus who is the lama of all the tantric Bonpo monasteries and lay communities in the East” (Shar phyogs sngags bon dgon grong spyi’i bla ma rtse dbus pa’i tham ga). He was also offered a Yig gshib (shubs) lag the, which, as his son bsTan ’dzin (see below) explains, was a substitute for the postmark reserved for his personal use. His calling card states that he is “the overall master of all the Bonpo monasteries in Qinghai” (Guan li qing hai bai jiao ge si zong fo zhang) and he is referred to as rTse dbus tshang. He died on 22 September 1949. Following the instructions he left in his testament, sKyang ston rGyal ba’i dbang bo lung rtogs skal bzang rgya mtsho remained in the area for three years, to find his reincarnation whom he discovered in the person sKal bzang bstan ’dzin rgya mtsho (also known as A mgon bla ma or A lags Pad ma), who was born in 1950 to the mGon rgya family of A mgon village in ’Khyog chu (Chu ma xiang, Ba yan county) is the present rTse dbus tshang (TZLD p.5a-b). According to bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal, the son of the rTse dbus bla ma and a reincarnation from Kun bzang rin chen of sNang zhig Monastery (No.180), rTse dbus bSod nams g-yung drung dbang rgyal also founded To shes Temple at the age of twenty-five. Since the latter was born in the Wood-Horse Year of the 15th Rab byung, which corresponds to 1894, the monastery must have been founded in 1918. There are Chinese inscriptions inside the gsas khang stating that the temple was painted eight years later, in 1926, and its walls covered by decorated bricks, in 1941. More recently it was restored by bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal.

4. Hierarchical organization

  1. head lama
  2. two dge skos
  3. two dbu mdzad

Since the temple belongs to two villages, To shes and sBra ’og, there is one dge bskos for each village, and because To shes is larger than the other village, the dge bskos for To shes is reappointed each year, while that for sBra ’og is reappointed every two years. One of the two dbu mdzad is in fact the deputy dbu mdzad; he is appointed for two years and then is appointed dbu mdzad for another two years, on a rotating basis and according to seniority. The lama is the deputy of the temple’s principle master, and is responsible for disposing of the gtor ma during rituals.

5. Number of practitioners

There are eighty tantric practitioners in the gsas khang.

6 and 7. Current education and Educational exchange

The older practitioners teach the younger ones. Apart from Shar steng gsas khang with whom it shares the same master, bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal, it has no ties with any other gsas khang or monastery, since it is relatively isolated from the rest of the Bonpo community in the Kokonor area.

8 / 9. Rituals

Since the members of the gsas khang are lay practitioners and work as farmers, they practise individually on an irregular basis and gather only for the following rituals:

Tshes bcu, on the 10th day of each month: on the 10th of the 1st, 4th, 9th and 10th month, the practitioners perform the ritual of the tshogs ’khor offering to bla ma, yi dam and mkha’ ’gro, commonly referred to as rTsa gsum tshogs ’khor based on the text rTsa gsum kun ’dus mchog bsgrub zab mo yid bzhin nor bu by sKyang sprul Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan. The tshes bcu ritual of the remaining months is concerned with tshogs ’khor offering to mKha’ ’gro Kye ma ’od mtsho. The full title of the ritual text is mKha’ ’gro rtsa rgyud gsang chen rol ba zang thal mkha’ ’gro rgyud ’bum.

The gsas khang holds three major annual rituals: the tshogs ’khor ceremony for mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan on the 5th day of the 1st month, for dBal gsas from the 12th to the 19th day of the 6th month with ’cham on the 19th day; for dBal gsas again from the 2nd to the 11th day of the 11th month, with ’cham on the 9th day. There are three less important annual rituals: the tshogs ’khor ceremony based on the Yi dam kun ’dus from the 13th to the 15th day of the 5th month, commemorating the death of sKyang sprul Lung rtogs skal bzang rgya mtsho, who was the main master of the Ba yan Bon mang; the tshogs mchod ritual based on the Dug lnga rang grol from the 1rst to the 6th of the 10th month, the full title of the ritual text is: Theg pa chen po dmar khrid dug lnga rang grol gyi dgongs pa don ’dus by bsTan ’dzin rin chen. In addition there are two annual rituals of the Yi dam kun ’dus and Dug lnga rang grol held by To shes and Shar steng in turn and a ritual of the sTag la cycle from the 15th to the 20th day of the 11th month. Only ten practitioners gather for the three minor rituals. For the first of the three major rituals, two of the gnyer pa are responsable for collecting offerings and cooking for the participants; for the other two rituals, participants must bring their own food (but only rtsam pa, no meat or bread).

12. Local community

The lay community consists of two main villages: To shes with four branch villages: Yar nas, Mar nas, Srib lta and La ga, (forty families with a total population of more than four hundred), and sBra ’og, with twenty families and a population of one hundred eighty (altogether sixty families and a population of five hundred eighty).

13. Local festivals

There are four la btsas, all constructed with help of bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal Rinpoche: The renewal ceremony of the la btsas of Thang bzang rang skyes, takes place on the 9th day of the 5th month, that of Brag dkar rtse ’dzin on the 4th day of the 6th month, and that of dPal mkhar, also on the 9th day of the 5th month, that of Yos mo nyal sa on the 11th day of the 7th month.

14. Occupation of the local people

Farmers

Source

Interviews:

bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal, the master of To shes and Shar steng village temples and one of the most learned Bonpo scholars in the Ba yan area. He was born in 1932 and was recognized as the trulku of Kun bzang rin chen of sNang zhig Monastery where he was enthroned at the age of fifteen.

(119) Shar steng Temple

1. Name

gSas khang gSang sngags bdud ’dul gling

2. Location

It is located in Shar steng village 45 km east of Ba yan (Hua long), the seat of Ba yan county, near the gSer gzhung (Jin yuan) village.

3. History

The temple was founded by rTse dbus tshang bSod nams g-yung drung dbang rgyal, the founder of To shes Temple (No.118); he founded Shar steng Temple a year after To shes Temple in 1919.

4. Hierarchical system

There is one leader and two dge bskos and two dbu mdzad. One of the two dbu mdzad is in fact deputy dbu mdzad, the deputy dbu mdzad is appointed for two years and then is appointed dbu mdzad for another two years, on a rotating basis and according to seniority. The lama is the deputy of the Temple’s principle master, and is responsible for disposing of the gtor ma during rituals.

5. Number of tantric practioners

There are seventy-three tantric practitioners in the gsas khang.

6 / 7. Current education and Educational exchange

The older practitioners teach the younger ones. Apart from To shes Temple with whom it shares the same master, bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal, the temple has no ties with any other temple or monastery, since it is relatively isolated from the rest of the Bonpo community in the Kokonor area.

8 / 9. Rituals

Since the members of the temple, like those of To shes are lay practitioners and work as farmers, they practise individually on an irregular basis and gather only for the rituals which are exactly identical with those of To shes Temple.

There are two annual rituals based on the Yi dam kun ’dus and Dug lnga rang grol held by To shes and Shar steng in turn and a ritual of the gDugs dkar cycle from the 15th to the 20th day of the 11th month. Only ten practitioners gather for the minor rituals and these take place exactly the same way as those of To shes Temple.

12. Local community

The local community consists of fifty families (three hundred people in total) in Shar steng village.

13. Local festivals

Same as those of To shes Temple

14. Occupation of the local people

Agriculture

Source

(1) Interviews

Interviews in autumn of 1996 with: bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal, on him, see To shes Temple.

(120) sTong chung Monastery

1. Name

The site is locally known as Dung khyung. In certain written sources, such as the biography of Khri ka Kung bzang rgyal mtshan, it is referred to as sTong chung and is associated with sTong che in Khri ka. Not sure whether my interpretation is correct: this association however seems to have been made by later scholars, because for the local population in both areas the distance between sTong che in Khri ka and sTong chung in Ba yan is considerable. The two monasteries probably found out about each other after most of the Bonpo religious sites in Amdo were converted to the dGe lugs pa tradition and Bonpo masters began travelling back and forth between the few Bonpo sanctuaries that remained. With the exception of the biography mentioned above, the site is not referred to as sTong chung, neither locally, nor by the people of sTong che. According to another source, there were two masters in sTong che known as sTon pa che ba and sTon pa chung ba, “elder master” and “younger master” and the terms evolved into sTon che and sTon chung. Thus sTon chung in Ba yan is supposed to have been named after the younger master who went there. This version seems to be rather farfetched, and since Khri ka Kun bzang rgyal mtshan is renowned as a scholar, his version of the name’s origin is widely accepted, especially by the local Bonpo scholars.

2. Location

It is located in Dung khyung village in rTsa ba Township in Ba yan (Hua long) County, Qinghai province, about 100 km west of the county town of Ba yan.

3. History

According to oral tradition, the monastery was originally built on the present site of Bya khyung Monastery, one of the largest and most important dGe lugs pa monasteries in Amdo, where Tsong kha pa was ordained. Indeed, before Bya khyung Monastery was built, there was a Bonpo monastery surrounded by several villages whose the inhabitants were fervent Bonpo. When Bya khyung Monastery was built the Bonpo were expelled from the surrounding villages. They resettled at sTong chung village where they or their descendents built a large Bonpo monastery which was later destroyed by Hui Muslims. In the mid-20th century, the lama bDod nams gYung drung dbang rgyal of rTse zhig began to rebuild the monastery; twelve monks’ cells and the residence of the head lama were completed, but then, owing to the Chinese invasion, the main hall was never finished. The monastery was eventually rebuilt in 1998 through the efforts of bZod pa bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan.

5. Current number of monks

There were six monks in the monastery in 1996.

7. Educational exchange

Since the monks were very busy for rebuilding the monastery under the leadership of bZod pa bstan pa’i rgyal tshan. The latter is considered as reincarnation, but was not yet formally recognised. There was not any kind of monastic education when I visited the monastery, but, for historical reasons, the monastery has close ties with bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal of To shes Temple (No. 118).

Source

Interviews:

bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal, the master of To shes Temple and Shar steng villages, is one of the most learned Bonpo scholars in the Ba yan area. He was born in 1932 and was recognized as the incarnation of Kun bzang rin chen of sNang zhig Monastery (No.180).

(121) sTong chung Temple

1. Name

sTong chung gSas khang

2. Location

The temple is located in sTong chung village, 100 km west of Ba yan (Hua long), the seat of Ba yan county.

3. History

According to an old text concerning the lineage of gZungs ’bum, a local Bonpo family, religious gatherings of the village began eighteen generations ago. The original site of these gatherings is not specified in the text. Later rTse dbus bSod nams g-yung dung dbang rgyal, the founder of To shes Temple (No.118) and Shar steng Temple (No.119), built a temple there. According to bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal, the son of the builder, the temple was built in the early nineteen-forties.

4. Hierarchical system

  • principal master
  • bla ma, deputy principal master
  • two dge bskos
  • one dbu mdzad
  • one deputy dbu mdzad

Each member of the temple occupies the position of deputy dbu mdzad for two years and then that of dbu mdzad for another two years on a rotational basis and in order of seniority. The bla ma is responsible for preparing the gtor ma and disposing it during rituals.

8 / 9. Rituals

The dBal gsas cycle from the 15th to the 20th day in the 5th month and a ’cham performance on the 20th day of the same month.

Sources

(1) Interviews

In autumn of 1996 with bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal; on him, see To shes Temple.

(122) Ser kywa Temple

1. Name

Locally, Ser kywa Temple is referred to as a spyi khang, “Common House” and not as a gsas khang. Its full name is Ser kywa (also written as Se ky’a (TsGLNy, p.96) and Ser ky’a (KhKRL, p.128) Bon sngags bdud ’dul me ri ’khyil gling.

2. Location

The temple is located in Ser kywa village in Shar lung district (xiang), Khri ka county, 15km southeast of the county town (latitude: 35°57’01”N, longitude: 101°31’06”E).

3. History

As with the other gsas khang in the Kononor region, there are no reliable historical accounts of the monastery, whether oral or written.

5. Number of tantric practitioners

The gsas khang has one hundred and thirty-six tantric practitioners.

6. Education

According to some of the older members of the gsas khang, such as Kun bzang, the gsas khang was under the guidance of mKhar nag Tulku and sBra ser Tulku of sTong che (in Khri ka) until the nineteen-fifties.The present master is Bon brgya dGe legs lhun grub rgya mtsho.Young practitioners study ritual with their own private tutors, and also go to Bon brgya Monastery or other places where Bon brgya Rinpoche helps them receive further training. Bon brgya Rinpoche also occasionally visits the gsas khang to give teachings.

7. Exchanges with other gsas khang establishments

With the exception of the above-mentioned relations with Bon brgya Rinpoche and his monastery, the gsas khang has no traditional ties with any other monastery or gsas khang.

8. Monthly Rituals

Kun bzang, sPyi ’dul and sTag la rituals are performed on the 19th day of each month. Known as zla cho.

9. Annual Rituals

  • 1st month: 10th-15th: rGya lo’i smon lam. The rituals performed during this period are prescribed by Bon brgya Rinpoche on the 1st day of the 1st month when representatives of the gsas khang go to Bon brgya Monastery to pay their respects on New Year’s Day. Generally the smon lam rituals include the propitiation of Khro bo gtso mchog and A bswe.
  • 3rd month: 25th-30th, the rite of A bswe and performance of the sNang srid zhi chen ritual.
  • 4th month: 4th - 5th, the offering of 1000 times according to the sKye sgo gcod pa; 8th -13th, the ritual of fasting (smyung gnas) and of Kun bzang rgyal ba rgya mtsho; 20th - 24th, the Zhi khro ritual
  • 5th month: 1st -8th, Kun bzang. Since 28 families of Ser kywa village live as nomades in the Srin po mountain area, quite far from the village, the Kun bzang ritual is held only once a year.
  • 9th month: 25th-30th, the propitiation of Drag btsan.
  • 10th month: 8th-15th, the liturgy of Khro bo with the ’cham dance on the 14th.

In addition to the above rituals, there is a custom known as tsho mthun, “agreement between villages”, according to which certain rituals are held collectively by two villages.

These rituals include:

  1. Khro bo from the 25th to the 30th day of the 4th month, and the sTong gsum ’khrugs pa’i yo bcos, dGra bla’i dpung stod, Drug cu’i gdon sel and Rlung rta’i gar ’dzugs from the 1st to the 4th day of the 5th month held jointly by the Bon dkar and Yag nyes villages.
  2. sPyi ’dul, together with the sTong gsum ’khrugs pa’i yo bcos, Drug cu’i gdon sel, dGra bla’i dpung stod and Rlung rta’i gar ’dzugs, from the 5th to the 13th day of the 5th month.

12. The local community

The lay community consists of four main villages which may be subdivided into fifteen branch villages:

  1. Bon dkar comprising five branch villages: Srog tsha with ten families, Phar rka with eight families, Mar rka with eight families, La kha with eleven families, and So tshang with fifteen families.
  2. Slog brgya comprising three branch villages: Slog brgya with sixteen families, Shi glo’u tshang with six families and A yag tshang with five families.
  3. Se skong tshang comprising five branch villages: Hor tshang with 4 families, gDung tshang with six families, Bya brgya tshang with nine families, sNgo rgya tshang with three families and Nag rgya tshang with 2 families.
  4. Yag nyes tshang comprising two branch villages: Yag nyes tshang with eighteen families and Bon nag tshang with sixteen families.

There are altogether one hundred and thirty-seven families and eight hundred and thirty people. Ser kywa village is mainly a Bon po village with the exception of nine families which are rNying ma pa. There is also a dGe lugs pa monastery named Ser kywa nearby although there are no dGe lugs pa families living in the village.

13. Local festivals

The la btsas of the local deity Bla ri btsan gyi phye ma rnga rdung was built with the instructions given by Bon brgya Trulku, 2 km from the gsas khang, and propitiated on the day 9th day of the 5th month by the Bonpo, rNying ma pa and dGe lugs pa communities together. The la btsas of Bon dkar is located 15 km from the gsas khang, on top of Mount Srin po’i pad ma dbang rgyal. It was built by Rig ’dzin So lha khyab ril, and is propitiated on 15th day of the 6th month by the Bon dkar village.

14. Occupation of the local people

Farmers

Sources:

(1) Interviews

In autumn of 1996 with Kun bzang and other practitioners.

(2) Texts
  1. TsGLNy
  2. KhKRL
(123) Khyung mo Monastery

1. Name

The monastery was named after Khyung mo Trulku, the main reincarnate lama of the monastery. It is also known as gYung drung phun tshogs gling.

2. Location

The monstery is located in Ba rgya village in sTong che valley of Chu nub (Hexi) district (xiang) in Khri ka county, 18 km south of the county seat of Khri ka county.

3. History

Literary Sources: in addition to sBra ser Pandita Kun bzang rgyal mtshan’s unfinished autobiograghy, there are two more recent texts by sNying sangs rgyal and sBra ser Tshangs dbyangs. sBra ser Pandita, also known as Khri ka Kun bzang rgyal mtshan (or by his secret name Nam mkha’ dbang phyug) was a learned monk from sBra ser Monastery overlooking the village of the same name. There are no written Sources concerning the origin of Bon in sTong che. However, according to oral tradition, in the 14th century Ye shes rgyal mtshan, a Bonpo monk from gYas ru dben sa kha Monastery and originally from Sog sde in Nag chu kha, asked his main master, mTha’ bral bSod nams rgyal mtshan, about his future. His master told him that he was to spread the doctrine in a land called gYang lung ra gsum in northern Amdo. Following his master’s instructions, he left for Amdo in search of the place. The master gave Ye shes rgyal mtshan a reliquary for keeping sacred items exhorting him repeatedly not to open it before reaching his destination, but Ye shes rgyal mtshan’s treasurer, overcome by curiosity, opened the reliquary on the way and a pigeon escaped from it. The bird was in fact dMag dpon, a guardian of the Bon religion, which is why, it is believed, dMag dpon is propitiated by the Bonpos living in Kokonor to this day. When they reached the shores of Kokonor lake they learnt that gYang lung ra gsum corresponded to the three valleys of Khri ka, and thus proceeded in that direction. When they reached sTong che valley, the mule carrying their belongings dropped to the ground. Ye shes rgyal mtshan took this as an auspicious sign. He decided that they would settle there and drove his phur pa dagger into the ground. The gsas khang he built on the spot became Khyung mo lha khang which survived until the middle of the 20th century. (The temple was built in the old architectural style with the three Buddhas of the Three Ages at the entrance flanked by eight sems dpa’ on either side). The temple is the earliest of its kind in Amdo; indeed, since Ye shes rgyal mtshan arrived there from central Tibet, the temple was built in the original, central Tibetan style. Ye shes rgyal mtshan became renowned as sTong che ston pa, also called Sog btsun ston pa, the “monk from Sog sde” (in Amdo). He also built a monastery at the site of the present dPon tshang lha khang, but since its location in the center of the village was inconvenient, it was moved to the present site of Khyung mo Monastery a few generations after its foundation. It was during this period that the first temples in sTong che valley were founded: sBra ser lha khang, dPon tshang lha khang and sKa rgya stong skor spyi khang.

A lags Khyung mo is the most important reincarnation of the monastery. According to legend, A lags Khyung mo was a lama who practised the ’pho ba grong ’jug, “tranferring the soul from one body to another”. There are two lineages of the practice of ’pho ba grong ’jug, one from India and the other from China. The Indian lineage was discontinued when sKar ma mdo sde, the son of Mar pa lo tsa ba, was killed by Rwa lo tsa ba. A lags Khyung-mo is said to belong to the Chinese lineage. The third A lags Khyung mo Kun dga’ rgyal mtshan received the teaching of ’pho ba grong ’jug from Rong sgom rTog med zhig po, a master of the lHo yang ston lineage and initiated the practice of ’pho ba grong ’jug within the Khyung mo lineage. Kun bzang rgyal mtshan was born to the Khyung po village in Nag chu kha and was the son of the King of Hor (Hor spyi khyab rgyal po).

The elder people in the village remember that the eighteenth A lags Khyung mo was a Chinese man from Ziling (Xining), who came to Khyung mo Monastery and claimed to be the embodiment of the previous A lags Khyung mo who practised the ’pho ba grong ’jug. The monastery, after having investigated the matter, confirmed his claim and he was enthroned at the monastery. This took place sometime in the early 20th century. The present A lags Khyung mo, sTobs ldan dbang phyug, was recognized by rGyal ’obs Rinpoche of sNang zhig Monastery of rNga khog. There are no biographies of the A lags Khyung mo incarnations, only a list of their names:

  1. Sog btsun sTon pa Ye shes rgyal mtshan
  2. Sog btsun Grags pa rgyal mtsan
  3. Kun bzang rgyal mtshan
  4. Yon tan rgyal mtshan
  5. unknown
  6. Tshul khrims ye shes
  7. Kun bzang ye shes
  8. Nyi ma rgyal mtshan
  9. Grub dbang Nyi ma
  10. bsTan pa blo gros
  11. Tshul khrims ye shes
  12. bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal
  13. mTshan ldan rgyal mtshan
  14. bsTan ’dzin ye shes
  15. Phun tshogs dbang rgyal
  16. gYung drung rnam rgyal
  17. bsTan pa blo gros
  18. sGrub pa mthar phyin
  19. rGyal ’obs bsTan ’dzin dbang rgyal
  20. sTobs ldan dBang phyug, the present A lags Khyung mo

There was a mKhar nag Trulku popularly known as mKhar nag grub chen, who belonged to one of the three lineages of Khyung mo Monastery.

The monastery’s most remarkable scholar was sBra ser Pandita Kun bzang rgyal mtshan. He travelled throughout both Amdo and Khams. He finally arrived in gYing drung gling where he studied under the famous mKhan po Nyi ma bstan ’dzin. He is the author of a great number of works. Following is a list of those known to us: Ṇub phyogs stag gzig bde ba can gyi zhing smon; Ṣang rgyas sman lha’i cho ga ’bring po; Ṣhes rab byams ma’i bstod pa;MKhar nag btsan gzhung gi phyag bzhes; Gḍugs dkar bzlog bsgyur; Ḷegs bshad rin chen gter khyim and Brḍa sprod nyi shu bdun pa’i ’grel bshad. He was also a painter. A large zhing bkod type of thangka depicting ’Ol mo lung ring, the Bonpo sacred land in sTag gzig, is attributed to him. The image is regarded as the emblem of the Bonpo community throughout Amdo. As a result, it has been copied in many temples and monasteries in Amdo.

In the lineage of rTse zhig Lama of rTse zhig Monastery, there was a master called Shes rab, more commonly known as A lags Shes rab, who became the master of many temples and monasteries in Amdo including those in sTong che. He had several temples and a residence built in sTong che Monastery. He named the monastery gYung drung phun tshogs gling. Shes rab rnam rgyal, his nephew, travelled to Central Tibet where he lived and studied as a monk at sMan ri Monastery in gTsang. His aging uncle grew very sad for he was afraid he might never see his nephew again, so rGyal ba, a monk at Khyung mo Monastery, went to sMan ri to ask Shes rab rnam rgyal to return. The latter accepted and thus uncle and nephew were reunited. Shes rab rnam rgyal also developed close ties with the sixth Panchen Lama, dPal ldan ye shes (1738-1780), who offered him a title and seal investing him with authority over all the Bonpo communities throughout Amdo (KTGN, p.fol.9), and he became known as rTse zhig Drung rams pa.

He frequently returned to Khyung mo Monastery. From that time onwards, the masters of the rTse zhig lineage have been in charge of Khyung mo Monastery, and some among them as khri ba of the monastery even had a permanent residence there. Later, gYung drung bstan rgyas and rTse dbus rGyal ba tshul khrims from rTse zhig Monastery also put a lot of effort into the monastery.

Until the mid-20th century, monastery had three temples, one known as the dPon tshang gsas khang was built by dBang rgyal, a chief of sTong che valley, as an act of repentence for the killing of the seven brothers of Sha kya village by the Tsha kho army. According to legend, when gYung drung lha steng Monastery was destroyed by Chinese forces during the Manchu dynasty an orphan child from rGyal rong was adopted by a Chinese officer. When the boy grew up and became an officer like his adopted father, he asked permission to destroy one hundred and eight dGe lugs pa monasteries to take revenge on the dGe lugs pa for destroying gYung drung lha steng Monastery. Permission was granted and he was given the troops stationed at rGyal rong --known by the people of Khri ka as the Tsha kho army)-- to assist him in his task. When the troops finally arrived in sTong che valley to destroy Ba rgya Monastery, the last of the one hundred and eight dGe lugs pa monasteries located near Khyung mo Monastery, they met stiff resistence from the Sha kya village, the patron family of Ba rgya Monastery and their people. In the end only the Sha kya’s stag bdun (“seven tigers of Sha kya village”), in other words, the seven brothers of the village, were left to defend the monastery. The brothers took refuge in a castle to make their last defense. At this juncture the chief of sTong che proposed to act as mediator between the seven brothers and the Tsha kho troops and obtained from the latter the promise that the brothers would not be killed if they surrendered to the army. No sooner had the brothers surrendered than they were killed. Since the chief had urged the brothers to surrender he felt responsible for their deaths and built the temple as an act of repentence. We do not know the exact dates of these events, but the story is still well-known today.

In the eighteen-nineties permission was granted for the monastery’s reconstruction.

4. Hierarchical system

The head of the monastery is a sprul sku.

  • one dge skos
  • one dbu mdzad

6 / 7. Education and Exchanges with other monasteries

The elder men of this monastery have not taken vows of celibacy and have families in the village. However, since the monastery’s reconstruction in the early nineteen-eighties, Khyung mo Trulku is trying to impose religious vows on the younger monks. As a result both young monks who have taken the vows and elder men who have not coexist inside the monastery. Generally the elder men only go to the monastery for rituals and other religious activities and then return to their homes in the village, while the young monks live inside the monastery on a permanent basis. In the past, the establishment had close ties with rTse zhig Monastery of rGan rgya pasture, but is now closer to Bon brgya Monastery, especially with A lags Bon brgya, also called Bon brgya Trulku. rTse zhig Monastery was formerly the most important Bonpo monastery in the Kokonor area but now, even though their master, Trulku Zla ba, is a disciple of A lags Bon brgya, its influence has diminished. Thus the monks of Khyung mo go to Bon brgya Monastery to receive teachings from A lags Bon brgya.

12. Local community

There are seventeen large local lay communities around Khyung mo Monastery in sTong che, both farmers and nomads:

  1. Khyung mo lha sde with fifty families
  2. sBra ser with twenty families
  3. ’Bum kho with fifteen families
  4. sNying nge lha sde with sixty families
  5. Sha rgya with ten families
  6. mKhar nag with twenty families
  7. sKa rgya with twenty families
  8. sTong skor with twenty families
  9. Lhasa with ten families
  10. Nog wer sgang with five familes
  11. Zhwa dmar with six familes. All the above mentioned communities are farmers.
  12. ’Brog ru’i dpon tshang with sixty families
  13. ’Brog ru’i stong skor with fifty families
  14. Kro’u tshang with ten families
  15. Mar nang with twenty families
  16. Sha rgya bon tshang ma with fifteen families
  17. Bya mdo bon po tshang with about five hundred families, but most families converted to Buddhism, leaving only thirty Bonpo families.

All the above-mentioned communities are nomads. Altogether There are four hundred and twenty-one families (around two thousand five hundred people). All these families also support the four gsas khang of sTong che valley, as well as the gsas khang of ’Brog ru’i stong skor and the tent gsas khang (tshogs ras) of ’Brog ru’i dpon tshang.

13. Local festivals

(mentioned at the beginning of the document)

14. Occupation of the local people

Farmers

Sources

Interview

In autumn of 1996 with Khyung mo sTobs ldan dbang phyung, the present Khyung mo bla ma of the monastery; Tshangs dbyangs, a monk and the teacher of the present Khyung mo bla ma at the monastery.

Texts:
  1. KTGN
  2. KhKRL
  3. TsGLNy
Bonpo temples in sTong che
(124) sGar ba Temple, (125) sBra ser Temple, (126) gZe ma Temple,1 (127) sKa rgya Temple

1. Name

Among the four temples (Nos.124-127), the local people call the first three as lha khang (temple) and the No.127 as spyi khang, ‘commune house’. While only the tantrics and monks in sTong che use the term gsas khang, ‘temple’ since it is the Bonpo’s own term for a temple, the common people use the word lha khang, e.g. sGar ba lha khang.

2. Location

The four temples are located in sTong che valley which is under the administration of Chu nub (Hexi) Township of Khri ka county, Tsolho (Hainan) Prefecture in Qinghai Province. sGar ba and sBra ser are located in Ba rgya village 16 km from the county town and gZe ma and sKa rgya are located in ’Bum kho village south of Khri ka mkhar, the county town of Khri ka.

3. History

About history of Bon religion in Khri ka, specifically in sTong che, the only text that briefly mentions about it, is the Gṣhen gyi dge sbyong khri ka ba kun bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan gyi rnam thar, the autobiography of Khri ka Kun bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan who was born in sTong che valley, but unfortunately it has only eighteen leafs and is incomplete. So there is very little information regarding the history of Bon religion and its monasteries and temples in the area. According to oral tradition, the four temples were founded by Sog btsun Ye shes rgyal mtshan who also founded Khyung mo Monastery (No.123) located in the same area. It is said that Sog btsun Ye shes rgyal mtshan came from Sog sde of the Nag chu kha region2 and according to gYung drung lhun grub, the master came from Tsan tan Monastery3 situated in that region.

The four temples were damaged at the end of the 1950s and were rebuilt in the 1980s.

4. Hierarchical system

The four temples have no special headship system. Masters from the three lineages of Khyung mo Monastery, i.e. Khyung mo, mKhar nag and sBra ser, had looked after the temples until the middle of the twentieth century. Presently it is Khyung mo sTobs ldan dbang phyug who takes care of the four temples. Since all of tantrics of the four temples practise their rituals together either in one temple or another, they are called sTong che Bon mang as a collective name, and also for this reason, they have only one suit of administrative system. However, among the tantrics of the present day, dBang ba is regarded as the leader of all tantrics. When they gather together in the temples for the rituals there are positions as follows:

  • none dbu mdzad appointed from one to four years, depending on his ability
  • one dge skos appointed for one year
  • one gnyer pa for one year
  • one mchod g-yog for one year

The positions must reelected by lay tantrics during the ritual of Khro brgya and replaced on the thirteenth of the first month each year before the ritual finishing.