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.

Reb gong

(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




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.


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.