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.

Derge County

(138) Shar rdza Hermitage

1. Name

As its name indicates, it is a hermitage founded by Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan (1858-1934). Since the mountain on which the hermitage is located is called Gyer bza’, the hermitage is also referred to as Gyer bza’ Ri khrod.

2. Location

The hermitage is located on the northeast bank of the rDza chu river, about two hours on horseback from ’Bum rmad Monastery (No.137) following the track along the river. There is no motorable road leading to the hermitage.

3. History

Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan is the most famous and important Bonpo master and scholar in the 20th century. He is believed to have obtained the ‘rainbow body’ (’ja’ lus). His popularity and influence over the Bonpo community and culture continue to grow, especially in Khams and Amdo where more and more statues of him are appearing in Bonpo and even Buddhist monasteries. Both an accomplished spiritual master and scholar, his teachings, contained within the eighteen volumes of his collected works, have become a fundamental reference in Bon. His history of the Bon religion was translated into English and analyzed by Samten G. Karmay, and published under the title of The Treasury of Good Sayings: A Tibetan History of Bon (London Oriental Series, Vol.26, Oxford University Press, 1972).

At the age of thirty-three, Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan (1890, the biography, pp.112-119) established the hermitage; during his life time, it was occupied only by his disciples who gathered there to receive his teachings and practise meditation under his guidance. After his extraordinary death at the hermitage, the place became a holy site not only for Bonpos, but also for Buddhists, and large gatherings of Bonpo tantric practitioners from Khams and Amdo take place there. As a result the hermitage has been enlarged and has become one of Tibet’s major religious sites. Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan’s original hermitage (where he lived and practised), the bDe chen ri khrod, is located on the upper part of the mountain and commonly referred to as Ri khrod gong ma, ‘upper hermitage’.

The hermitage’s small printing house (par khang) and meditation cells are located on the lower part of the mountain and are known as Ri khrod zhol ma, ‘lower hermitage’.

4. Hierarchical system

Before his death, Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan appointed his nephew Blo gros rgya mtsho (1915-1954) as his apostle (rgyal tshab) at the hermitage, but the latter died at the age of forty. Before Blo gros rgya mtsho left for Lhasa, he appointed Zer ’phro Tshul khrims dbang phyug as his rgyal tshab, the latter died in 1960. In 1984, mThu stobs rnam rgyal of ’Bum rmad Monastery was elected as the rgyal tshab but after twelve years, relations between sTeng chen Monastery (No.139) and the rgyal tshab became strained and so the latter returned to ’Bum rmad, his original monastery, A ’jigs, a monk from Ye shes Monastery (No.150) in Nyag rong, is now in charge of the hermitage. When I visited Shar rdza ri khrod in August 1997, fourteen monks from Khams and Amdo were practising at the hermitage under his guidance. He must be in his thirties and is called mKhan chung, ‘younger abbot’ by the monks at the hermitage, although his appointment is temporary and unofficial.

5. Current number of monks

There are fourteen monks residing at the hermitage.

6. Current education

Shar rdza ri khrod is a place reserved for individual religious practice, particularly the three-year retreat. Practitioners at the hermitage may also receive special teachings and tantric empowerments from the mkhan po and other masters.

7. Educationa exchange

Before Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan’s time, Bonpo monasteries sent their monks to sMan ri to study philosophy and practice meditattion. Indeed, sMan ri and gYung drung gling were the only place for Bonpo monks to pursue their studies and obtain the dge bshes degree (for an account of the two monasteries see Nos.1 and 2). Monks who had been to these two monasteries were generally highly respected back in their own monasteries. Although this is still true to some extent, the situation has changed considerably since the Cultural Revolution. Thus sMan ri and gYung drung gling no longer receive the support it used to and are gradually losing their influence throughout the whole Tibetan cultural area; they no longer run the complete programme of Bonpo studies leading to the dge bshes degree which formerly attracted monks from as far as Amdo and Khams. In the meantime Shar rdza bKra shis rgyalmtshan’s influence, owing to his scholarly and spiritual accomplishments and miraculous death, has been steadily growing, and, moreover, Shar rdza Hermitage is much closer than sMan ri or gYung drung gling for the Bonpo monks of Amdo and Khams. Thus, at present most Bonpo monasteries in Amdo and Khams send their monks to Shar rdza Hermitage instead of sMan ri or gYung drung gling. The number of monks at the hermitage varies and there is a constant turn over. In the last fifteen years, Derge county government founded several religous schools for monks of all different religious traditions and Shar rdza Hermitage was included among the schools for Bonpo teachings and thus may officially accept monks, but the educational system remains traditional and it is still mainly a retreat center.

8 / 9. Rituals

Since Shar rdza Hermitage is not a monastery, apart from the occasional empowerment ceremonies, there are no collective rituals or ceremonies.

10. Books held in the monastery

The hermitage has a small traditional printing house, and owns some printing woodblocks (par shing).

11. Income and expenses

The practitioners residing at the hermitage must provide their own food; the hermitage receives offerings from the faithful in the form of rtsam pa, yak meat, etc, which it keeps for visitors.

13. Local community

The entire population of the Shar rdza area is Bonpo. There are four Bonpo monasteries around the hermitage: ’Bum rmad, sTeng chen (No.139), Zer ’phro (No.140) and ’Phen zhol (No.141), with their respective local lay communities. The hermitage however does not have a specific community.

14. Occupation of the local population

Mainly farmers and some nomads


(1) Interviews

(August 1997): mThu stobs rnam rgyal (b.1926), the rgyal tshab of Shar rdza Hermitage, and the head of ’Bum rmad Monastery

(2) Texts

RJe btshun bla ma dam pa nges pa don gyi g-yung drung ’chang dbang dpal shar rdza ba chen po bkra shis rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po’i rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar nor bu’i phreng ba thar ’dod mkhas pa’i mgul rgyan by dBra ston bsKal bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan (1897-1959), Beijing: Krung go bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1990


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.