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 Chamdo region

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.


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.