Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
A Survey of Bonpo Monasteries
by Dondrup Lhagyal, Phuntso Tsering Sharyul, Tsering Thar, Charles Ramble and Marietta Kind
Edited by Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano
National Museum of Ethnology and THL
Reproduced with permission from the authors
under the THL Digital Text License.

The Nagchu region

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.

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Note Citation for Page

Dondrup Lhagyal, Phuntso Tsering Sharyul, Tsering Thar, Charles Ramble, and Marietta Kind, A Survey of Bonpo Monasteries and Temples in Tibet and the Himalaya (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2003), .

Bibliographic Citation

Dondrup Lhagyal, Phuntso Tsering Sharyul, Tsering Thar, Charles Ramble, and Marietta Kind. A Survey of Bonpo Monasteries and Temples in Tibet and the Himalaya. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2003.