by José Ignacio Cabezón and THL.
The Mé College (Dratsang Mégrwa tshang smad)
Künkhyen Jangchup BumpaKun mkhyen byang chub ’bum pa, founder of the Mé College. From a photo in Se ra theg chen gling, p. 44.18
The Mé College (Dratsang Mégrwa tshang smad) is the smaller, but older, of SeraSe ra’s two philosophical colleges (tsennyi dratsangmtshan nyid grwa tshang). Its official name is The Jewel-Island for Study and Contemplation (Tösam Norlingthos bsam nor gling). The word mésmad means “lower,” and the college was probably called this because it sits at a lower elevation (farther south) in SeraSe ra’s tiered landscape. Shortly after the founding of the monastery, the third holder of the SeraSe ra throne divided the institution up into various sections or colleges, appointing his senior students as preceptors of these different sections. Künkhyen Jangchup BumpaKun mkhyen byang chub ’bum pa (fifteenth century) was appointed preceptor (loppönslob dpon) of the Mé section, and today he is reckoned as its founder.
In time, the Mé College evolved a fixed educational curriculum that focused on the study of the great Indian Buddhist classics. As was the case with the Jé College (Dratsang Jégrwa tshang byes), there appears to have been a good deal of diversity in the types of textbooks (yikchayig cha) used in the early days of the Mé College. Geshé Yeshé WangchukDge bshes ye shes dbang phyug, a contemporary historian, for example, tells us that the textbooks of Gungru Gyeltsen ZangpoGung ru rgyal mtshan bzang po, the third SeraSe ra throne-holder, were popular for almost a century at Mé. Eventually, however, these early textbooks were banned in favor of the textbooks of Khedrup Tenpa DargyéMkhas grub bstan pa dar rgyas. Although the chief mission of the Mé College was to instruct monks in the exoteric, philosophical/textual tradition, less than 25 percent of all monks in the college were textualists (pechawadpe cha ba). The remaining monks were mostly workers.
The assembly hall of the Mé College, Sera-Tibet.
The center of the college, where its administration was housed and where its abbot lived, was the assembly hall (dukhang’du khang). The present Mé assembly hall in Tibet, built in 1761 by the Seventh Demo Rinpoché (Demo Rinpoché Dünpade mo rin po che mdun pa), Demo Delek GyatsoDe mo bde legs rgya mtsho, contains a huge meeting hall and several ancillary chapels (lhakhanglha khang), each with its own altar and “theme.” Click here to gain access to a database entry on the Mé College assembly hall, with photos.
The most important of the smaller chapels inside the Mé College is the Taok Protector Chapel (Taok Gönkhangtha ’og mgon khang) located in the northwest corner of the temple. View a video of the Taok Chapel in which the Ven. TsültrimTshul khrims, the caretaker, gives a guided tour of this chapel (to play this video you must have the free QuickTime player installed on your computer). The tour is in Tibetan.
The Tsador Regional House was one of the mid-size regional houses of the Mé College, Sera-Tibet
Philosophical colleges were divided into smaller units called regional houses (khangtsenkhang tshan). The Mé College was divided into sixteen regional houses, which ranged in size from fifty to several hundred monks. Monks from different parts of Tibet would usually enter one or another of these houses depending upon the geographical region of the country from which they hailed. Here are the regional houses of the Mé College. Click on the regional house name to see a brief narrative description about that particular regional house, and to access photos of its headquarters (where still extant). In that window, beside “Regional House Affiliation,” click on the regional house name to go to a data-window with demographic and other information about that particular regional house.
- ZhungpaGzhung pa
- PomborSpo ’bor
- GyelrongRgyal rong
- MetsaSmad tsha
- KongpoKong po
- YerpaYer pa
- MetsangSmad gtsang
- TsadorTsha rdor
- TawenTā dben
- RongpoRong po
- GungruGung ru
- MinyakMi nyag
- TewoThe bo
- AraA ra
- MarnyungSmar nyung
- PowoSpo bo
In Tibet today the Mé College has lost many of the traits that made it a unique institution. Since the consolidation of the Jé and Mé Colleges in the 1990s, the monks of both colleges meet together for all educational activities. So, for example, debate sessions now take place jointly: only in the Jé College debate ground. Monks also only use one set of textbooks – that of the Jé College.19 The JéByes and MéSmad monks also meet together for all of their ritual activities. There is one exception to this rule, however. Both colleges still observe the famous intensive, weeklong prayer assemblies that take place in the winter term. For one week the monks of JéByes and MéSmad will meet in their respective assembly halls. The event at the Mé College is called the Great “Maitreya” Prayer Meeting (Jammön Chenmobyams smon chen mo). During this weeklong event the monks of the Mé College spend many hours each day reciting a prayer to the future Buddha, Maitreya (Jampabyams pa), and laypeople flock from LhasaLha sa and the surrounding areas to make offerings.
It was dedicated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the summer of 2003. The Mé College was also reestablished in exile in 1970, at the time of the refounding of SeraSe ra in the Bylakuppe settlement (Karnataka, India). Unlike the Mé College in Tibet, in India the college continues to retain its individual institutional identity, preserving its own unique educational/ritual practices and its own administration.
The newly built Mé College Assembly hall (dukhang’du khang) in Sera-India.
Young monks on their way to classes at the Sera Mé College, Sera-India.
In the mid-1980s, following the example of the Jé College, the Mé College in India founded a separate school within the college for young monks. Today, the “SeraSe ra MéSmad School,” as it is known, provides monks up to the age of sixteen with a well-rounded education in a variety of both traditional and modern subjects – from Buddhist philosophy to world geography. At the age of sixteen, monks then enter the traditional debate-based curriculum. Before 1959, the Mé College in Tibet had between three thousand and five thousand monks. Today, in Tibet, it has about 125 monks. In India, the Mé College has about 1500 monks. Click here to gain access to more detailed demographic information and other tabular data related to the Mé College. Click here to learn about the Tantric College (Ngakpa Dratsangsngags pa grwa tshang).
- Types of Colleges and Their Mission
- The Rise and Evolution of Sera’s (se ra) Colleges
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