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Keutsang Hermitage (Keutsang Ritröke’u tshang ri khrod)
by José Ignacio Cabezón
April 27, 2006

Location and Layout

A view of the Keutsang Hermitage (Keutsang RitröKe’u tshang ri khrod)

The word keutsangke’u tshang means “cave,” “cavern,” or “overhang.”1 TsongkhapaTsong kha pa (1357-1419) lived for a time in a very precariously situated cave over a steep gorge to the east of the original Keutsang Hermitage, and it is possible that the hermitage derives its name from this cave. While TsongkhapaTsong kha pa was living there, there was a serious earthquake, and he exclaimed “amaa ma”!2 The letters “a” and “ma” then imprinted themselves onto a rock next to the cave, and these, we were told, can be seen to this day. The cave itself fell in a landslide, and no longer exists.

The present Keutsang Hermitage is the rebuilt version of Keutsang West (Keutsang NupKe’u tshang nub), which today lies in ruins. The rebuilt KeutsangKe’u tshang abuts the ruins of Keutsang West on the former’s eastern side. Rather than rebuilding on the ruins of the old hermitage, the monks chose to start from scratch and to relocate the hermitage just to the west of Keutsang West, which they say was a site more suitable to building.

KeutsangKe’u tshang is located to the east of SeraSe ra on the side of a mountain above LhasaLha sa’s principal cemetery. KeutsangKe’u tshang is also located just below (about a five-minute walk from) Rakhadrak Hermitage (Rakhadrak RitröRa kha brag ri khrod). It takes about fifty minutes to walk from SeraSe ra to KeutsangKe’u tshang. The hermitage is the second-to-last stop on the Sera Mountain Circumambulation Circuit (Seré Rikhorse ra’i ri ’khor) route that pilgrims navigate as part of the Sixth-Month Fourth-Day (Drukpa TsezhiDrug pa tshe bzhi) festivities. (To see images of the pilgrimage taken in 2002, please click here.)

The hermitage is enclosed by a perimeter wall with two gates, one to the west and one to the east. Outside the western gate there is a tiny chapel that houses a self-arisen rock-image of the deity Acala (MiyowaMi g.yo ba) that was originally on a boulder in the area that is presently the “Dharma courtyard” (chörachos rwa). It was moved from the Dharma courtyard to its present spot because the head of the hermitage believed that at its former site it was too close to an area where the monks urinated.

At the center of the compound is the (two-story) main temple. The first floor contains the monastery’s principal assembly hall (dukhang’du khang). The second story contains a reception and meeting room. Just to the east of the temple is the monastery kitchen. The monks for the most part eat communally, and all of the meals are prepared here. Flanking the temple-kitchen complex on both sides are two wings of monks’ living quarters. Just to the west of the western wing of monks’ rooms, adjacent to the western gate, is a new guest house that was just being completed in 2004.

The monks of KeutsangKe’u tshang in a prayer-assembly inside the main temple. They wear the yellow ceremonial robe (chögöchos gos).

Behind the main temple is the large, three-story “ secondary temple building.”

  • The first floor of this building contains little more than the stairway to the second floor and some storage rooms.
  • The second story contains, on one side, a Scripture Temple (Kangyur lhakhangBka’ ’gyur lha khang) that houses the collection of scriptures. This room also contains a small protector deity altar. The main figure in the middle of the alter is Penden LhamoDpal ldan lha mo; she is flanked on one side by Dorjé YudrönmaRdo rje g.yu sgron ma, the “site deity” (nedakgnas bdag) of this location, and on the other by Nyangdren GyelchenNyang bran rgyal chen. These three are the chief protector deities of the hermitage. On this same level but at the other end of the building there is a Tengyur chapel (Tengyur lhakhangBstan ’gyur lha khang) that houses the collection of the translated Indian treatises.
  • The third floor contains the private quarters of the Dalai LamaDa lai bla ma, the rooms of the Keutsang LamaKe’u tshang bla ma and the Maitreya Chapel (JamkhangByams khang), whose main image is a famous two-story Maitreya (JampaByams pa) that overlooks the cemetery below the hermitage. Like the stone Buddha image at Pabongkha Hermitage (Pabongkha RitröPha bong kha ri khrod), this Maitreya (JampaByams pa) is said to guarantee rebirth in a pure land to any individual whose remains are brought to the cemetery beneath KeutsangKe’u tshang. According to another tradition, this Maitreya statue and the one in the Maitreya Chapel in the northern end of the BarkorBar skor in LhasaLha sa are said to constantly exchange rays of light with one another.

The two-story Maitreya image on the top floor of the secondary temple building at KeutsangKe’u tshang.

Finally, to the east of the secondary temple building (in the northeastern corner of the hermitage) there is a large “Dharma enclosure” or chörachos rwa that in 2004 was just being completed. Since KeutsangKe’u tshang is a ritual monastery, the younger monks principally use the Dharma enclosure as a place to sit and memorize ritual texts when their rooms become cramped and they want some fresh air.

All of the images in KeutsangKe’u tshang’s various temples and chapels are new.

[1] An informant, a former monk of the hermitage (ritröri khrod), says that the word ke’u tshang means “small monastery.”
[2] The Tibetan word a ma literally means “mother,” but it is also a cry of fear.
Keutsang Hermitage , by José Ignacio Cabezón

Table of Contents

  1. Location and Layout
  2. History
  3. Glossary
  4. Notes
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