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.

Nyag rong rdzong

(159) rGyal rong Monastery

1. Name

The monastery’s full name is gTo lung Yang dben dpal dgon. It is also called gTo sgang gYung drung gling.

2. Location

The monastery is located in a valley called gTo khog, 20 km southwest of Brag ’go, the county seat in dKar mdzes Prefecture.

3. History

Because rGyal rong gYung drung ye shes, the founder of the monastery, came from rGyal rong, the monastery was called rGyal rong Monastery. There are no reliable written Sources concerning the site’s history before that time. According to legend, following King Khri srong lde btsan’s persecution of Bon in the 8th century A.D., many Bonpo masters in Central Tibet fled to Amdo and Khams. One among them, rMe’u bSod nams g-yung drung, established a hermitage in Tre hor29, Khams. Because the hermitage attracted ten thousand disciples, he extended the hermitage into a monastery which then became known as Khri tsho, meaning “Ten Thousand”. After its destruction by fire, rTsa ra sTobs ldan ’od zer rgyal mtshan founded another monastery called Shug sgang (“Hill of Cypress Trees”, after the cypress forest on the mountain on which it was located). It had an assembly hall (’du khang) with eight rooms and more than twenty monks’ cells below the assembly hall. It was again destroyed by fire.

Following is a list of the successive masters:

  1. rMe’u bSod nams g-yung drung
  2. rTsa ra sTobs ldan ’od zer rgyal mtshan
  3. bKra shis bsam ’grub
  4. gYung drung rgyal mtshan
  5. gYund drung phun tshogs
  6. Pad bsod
  7. bsTan ’dzin dbang ldan
  8. dGu na Tshe bstan
  9. Lo god
  10. Lung phug
  11. sKal bzang skyabs
  12. Chos bstan
  13. Blo ldan
  14. gYung drung rgyal mtshan
  15. rGyal rong gYung drung ye shes
  16. gYung drung rgyal mtshan alias gYung drung bstan ’dzin
  17. gSang sngags grags pa
  18. Grags pa
  19. Nyi ma rgyal mtshan
  20. gYung drung rgyal mtshan
  21. Tshe dbang bstan ’dzin
  22. bKra shis don ’grub
  23. Zla ba grags pa

rGyal rong gYung drung ye shes, the 15th master, was a son of the king ’Gran rdzong in rGyal rong. He was a disciple of bSod nams g-yung drung, an abbot of sMan ri Monastery (No.1). While he was at sMan ri, he also received teachings from Tre ston bSod nams ’gyur med, Bru bla dBang rgyal, Zhu sgom Khri btsun and sTag dbra Nam mkha’ ’od zer. After completing his studies he began to practise meditation in many hermitages throughout Amdo and Khams and finally founded gTo lung Yang dben dpal dgon in gTo khog.30 In his time, there were about a hundred monks in the monastery. It is said that there were two traditions of ’cham dances, one belonging to the monastery and the other to the residence of the head of the monastery (bla brang).

rGyal rong gYung drung ye shes was succeeded by bla ma gYung drung bstan ’dzin who received teachings from many masters at sMan ri. The latter became the abbot of rGyal rong Monastery and founded a new monastery called gZhung ring (No. 160). During his time, lHa brtan Padma rnam rgyal, a dGe lugs pa master, came to gTo khog and succeeded in converting rGyal rong Monastery to the dGe lugs pa tradition. He renamed it dGa’ ldan phun tshogs gling. The new name was inscribed over the entrance of the assembly hall in which statues of the Jo rje ’brom gsum (Jo bo rje, rJe Tsong kha pa, ’Brom ston rGyal ba’i ’byung gnas) were installed. However, when the king of Rab brtan was later defeated by the Manchu emperor Qianlong, the monastery reverted to the Bonpo tradition.

Zla ba grags pa, the 23rd master, is said to have dissolved into a rainbow body (’ja’ lus pa) when he died. The monastery was knocked down during the Cultural Revolution and was rebuilt by Rig ’dzin nor bu and Nam mkha’ ’od zer.

4. Hierarchical system

  • one khri pa
  • one dbu mdzad
  • one dge skos
  • one mchod dpon
  • one bdag gnyer

The incumbents are reappointed on rotational basis every two years. The khri pa must be a monk who has taken his vows at sMan ri Monastery.

5. Current number of monks

There are forty novices and monks at the moanstery.

6. Current education

There are no organized classes; the novices are trained by the elder monks.

7. Educational exchange

The monks go to sMan ri Monastery to take their ordination.

8 / 9. Rituals

The ceremony based on the Ngan song dong sprugs for five days, the smon lam ceremony for five days, and the tshogs brgya offering and the ritual of Kun rig for four days during the Tibetan New Year period; the general religious service (sku rim) for one month starting in the 5th month; the dgu gtor rite with ’cham dance in the 12th month.

10. Books held in the monastery

The monastery has one old manuscript copy of Khams chen in sixteen volumes, one old manuscript copy of Dri med gzi brjid in twelve volumes, (the copyist of both manuscripts remains unknown), one printed copy of the Bonpo Kanjur, one printed copy of Shar rdza bKra shis rgyal mtshan’s collected works (Chamdo edition).

11. Income and expenses

The monastery depends on offerings from its followers and the monks provide their own food.

12. Local community

The local lay community consists of one village with twenty-two families.

13. Local festivals

Mount Khri tsho sgang located southwest of the monastery is believed to be the abode of the local deity Khri tsho ’brug lha who has a dragon as mount. It was sanctified by Zla ba grags pa as a sacred mountain and is venerated in the Monkey-Year. There is also a hill near the monastery called Gor gor mig associated with the local deity Lung ye. Both Khri tsho ’brug lha and Lung ye are regarded as attendants of another local deity called sKu bla Yong mgon31.

14. Occupation of the local population

Farming supplemented by animal husbandry.


(1) Interviews

With ’Chi med grags pa (b.1936), a monk at the monastery


[29] Tre hor corresponds to the former/original division of the territory comprising dKar mdzes County --with the exception of Zla thang ma township-- and Tre hor township of Brag ’go County, in dKar mdzes Prefecture, Sichuan Province).
[30] gYong drung bon gyi bstan ’byung phyogs bsdus by dPal tshul, Bod ljong mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Lhasa, 1988.
[31] gnas bdag sku bla yongs mgon gyi bsang mchod, p.3, MS

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.