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Drepung: An Introduction
by Georges Dreyfus
January 30, 2006
Section 6 of 7

The Sources

Writing about Drepung’Bras spungs is not an easy task, for the sources are rather limited. This is particularly true for Drepung’Bras spungs’s history, which is quite difficult to reconstruct. The main source is Desi Sanggyé GyatsoSde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s Ganden Chönjung Baidurya SerpoDga’ ldan chos ’byung bai ḍūrya ser po, especially for the earlier period. This is a work written by an exceptionally broad-minded and curious person but it is still a traditional historiography. Hence, this text suffers from the problems of such a genre, which is often more hagiographic than historical in the strict modern sense of the word. Moreover, Sanggyé GyatsoSangs rgyas rgya mtsho, who was the Fifth Dalai Lama’s prime-minister, comes to his historical task with a very clear agenda, that of extolling the role of the Dalai Lamas. This is quite clear in his discussion of the history of Drepung’Bras spungs where the role of these hierarchs is constantly emphasized, hagiographical descriptions of their lives taking more space than the discussion of all the other events that concerned Drepung’Bras spungs. Although I have tried to account for such a bias, I must recognize that it has influenced my own discussion, which cannot but rely on Sanggyé GyatsoSangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s presentation.

Other sources are also useful in reconstructing Drepung’Bras spungs’s early history, particularly some of the histories of the GelukDge lugs tradition. Several texts deserve particular mention:

  • Cha har dge bshes blo bzang tshul khrims (eighteenth century). Rje thams cad mkhyen pa tsong kha pa chen po’i rnam thar go sla bar brjod pa bde legs kun kyi byung gnas. In Cha har dge bshes blo bzang tshul khrims kyi gsung ’bum. Vol. 2 (KHA), 7-791. New Delhi: Chatring Jansar Tenzin, 1971.
  • Las chen kun dga’ rgyal tshan (perhaps end of the fifteenth century). Bka’ gdams chos ’byung gsal ba’i sgron me. Lhasa: Tibetan People’s Press, 2003.
  • Phur lcog ngag dbang byams pa (seventeenth century). Grwa sa chen po bzhi dang rgyud pa bstod smad chags tshul pad dkar ’phreng ba. Lhasa: Tibetan People’s Press, 1989, 2003.

There are a few other relevant texts such as Mkhar nag lo tsa ba (seventeenth century), Dga’ ldan chos ’byung dpag bsam gdong po mkhas pa dgyes byed, but I have not been able to consult it. There are also several contemporary texts examining the history of Drepung’Bras spungs that seem to be based on these earlier sources. They contain some useful oral sources but their reliability is problematic. Hence, the history of Drepung’Bras spungs remains uncertain.

For the discussion of the structure and life of Drepung’Bras spungs, I have relied on a variety of sources. I have used my own recollections as well as the fieldwork that I have done in Tibet and in India. I have also relied on several works by contemporary Tibetan scholars. Some of them have not been published and hence will not be mentioned here. Two are available and have helped me a great deal:

  • Dge bshes dge ’dun blo gros. “’Bras spungs chos ’byung.” In Geshichte der Kloster-Universität Drebung. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1974.
  • Bstan pa bstan ’dzin. Chos sde chen po dpal ldan ’bras spungs bkra shis sgo mang gi chos ’byung chos dung gyas su ’khyil ba’i sgra dbyangs. Gomang Library, 2003.

There are several works in English on Tibetan monasticism that could be mentioned here, including my own The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, but these works are not specifically about Drepung’Bras spungs. In fact, there are few works in English that focus on this monastery. Two deserve mention:

  • Lobzang Gyatso. Memoirs of a Tibetan Lama. Translated and edited by Gareth Sparham. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1998. This autobiography provides an excellent account of the life of a monk at Drepung’Bras spungs. The great merit of this work is to focus not just on the scholarly aspect of monastic life but also on its practical and administrative tasks, thus delivering a very realistic, though by no means cynical, account.
  • Goldstein, Melvyn. “The Revival of Monastic Life in Drepung Monastery.” In Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet, edited by Melvyn Goldstein and Matthew Kapstein. Berkeley: University of California, 1998. This article by Goldstein, whose articles have helped to forge a more grounded view of Tibetan monasticism, provides useful information on the recent history of Drepung’Bras spungs.
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Drepung: An Introduction, by Georges Dreyfus

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Founder
  3. The History
  4. The Organization
  5. The Present
  6. The Sources
  7. Glossary
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