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Purbuchok Hermitage (Purbuchok RitröPhur bu lcog ri khrod)1
by José Ignacio Cabezón
April 28, 2006

Location and Layout

Purchok Hermitage (Purchok RitröPhur lcog ri khrod) as viewed from the mountain behind it.

Purbuchok Hermitage (Purbuchok RitröPhur bu lcog ri khrod), one of the most beautiful and best restored of the hermitages of Sera (Seré ritröse ra’i ri khrod), is located halfway up the northern mountains in the LhasaLha sa suburb of DodéDog bde at the northeastern corner of the LhasaLha sa Valley. It takes about two hours to walk to PurchokPhur lcog from LhasaLha sa, and almost as long from SeraSe ra, but most people today take a bus to DodéDog bde and then walk north (up the mountain) from there. PurchokPhur lcog is the last hermitage (ritröri khrod) that pilgrims visit on the “Sixth-Month Fourth-Day” (Drukpa TsezhiDrug pa tshe bzhi) pilgrimage route. (To see images of this pilgrimage taken in 2002, please click here.)

As with most of the hermitages of Sera, the surrounding landscape is considered blessed (jinchenbyin can), and this blessedness or holiness is inscribed into the natural landscape around the monastery. Given its historical association with the so-called “Three Protectors (Riksum GönpoRigs gsum mgon po)” – Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī and Vajrapāṇi – it is not surprising that several aspects of the landscape surrounding PurchokPhur lcog are associated with these three deities. Here is a summary of one account of the mountains around the hermitage:

  • To the west is a mountain in the shape of two auspicious golden fish (trashi sernyabkra shis gser nya)
  • To the north, the Soul-Mountain of Mañjuśrī (Jampelyangkyi Lari’Jam dpal dbyangs kyi bla ri), known as MoktogoRmog tho ’go
  • On the side of that mountain there is a rock-outcropping that resembles a drawing of a white conch
  • The mountain to the east is associated with the palace of Avalokiteśvara
  • Another mountain, that appears as if it had a flag on its pinnacle, is considered the mountain-abode (nerignas ri) of Vajrapāṇi, who serves as watchman or “door-keeper” (gosungsgo srung) for the entire area.

As for the actual site on which the hermitage was built, different meditators have had different visions of it. In what we have elsewhere called the “metaphysical rhetoric of sacred space,”2 sometimes PurchokPhur lcog is claimed to be identical to the six-syllable mantra (ngaksngags) (oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ), sometimes it is seen as the Palace of Cakrasaṃvara (Demchokgi PodrangBde mchog gi pho brang), and at other times as the paradise of the Three Protectors.

The history of the different buildings at the site is described in the History section below. What follows here is a description of the hermitage as it existed in 2004. Purchok Hermitage has three basic sections:

The Temple of the Three Protectors.
The main temple.

With the exception of a portion of the Temple of the Three Protectors – whose original walls remained intact up to the height of the top of the windows – the main compound has been rebuilt from the ground up. Informants report that there has been an attempt to maintain the original layout of the compound as a whole.

Like many of the mountain hermitages, this main temple compound is built in a tiered fashion that conforms to the landscape. Beginning from the highest (and easternmost) point, we find a large yellow building that towers over the rest of the monastery. This temple was built under the direction of DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa, the founder of the hermitage.3 It is the Temple of the Three Protectors. All of the original images on its main altar were destroyed, but they have been replaced with new images of the Three Protectors – Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī, and Vajrapāṇi – as well as other minor images. Adjacent to the temple is a room for the temple caretaker, with an adjoining kitchen.

The interior of one of the monks’ rooms off of the middle courtyard in the main temple compound.

As one follows the steps down from the Temple of the Three Protectors, one arrives at the next major tier of the compound, which contains a courtyard with several doorways:

  • On the northern side of the courtyard are two monks’ rooms that have ornamental yellow windows. In former times these may have been the quarters of high-ranking members of the Purchok Lama’s estate (Purchok LabrangPhur lcog bla brang). Today ordinary monks live there.
  • On the southern side are the private rooms of Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog bla ma (easternmost), and a reception room (westernmost).

To view the panorama of the middle courtyard at Purbuchok, you must have QuickTime installed. Left-click on the movie and move the mouse while keeping the button depressed. Press the shift key to zoom in and the control key to zoom out.

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If one proceeds towards the west past the monks’ rooms, one passes through an entryway that leads to a much smaller courtyard with two doorways: to the right (north) is the doorway to Scripture Chapel (Kangyur LhakhangBka’ ’gyur lha khang), a room that houses the portion of the canon that is considered the Buddha’s actual word. Across from this is a doorway that leads to residential rooms atop the main temple. These rooms are presently being used by an elder teacher who is responsible for providing instruction to the junior monks of the hermitage.

Below this level where the residential and reception rooms are found, there is a small area where firewood is kept. Here there also hangs the gong used to call the monks for prayers and meals.

The lowest level of the main temple compound contains (from west to east):

The interior of the main temple

Proceeding west out the principal door of the main temple compound, one comes immediately to the entrance of the compound that contains the Dharma enclosure (chörachos rwa) and the new library. That library, which in 2004 was just being completed, is being built so as to house a collection of the TengyurBstan ’gyur. The vast open space that is the Dharma enclosure once housed the famous “Dharma Enclosure Assembly Hall” which we know was much bigger than the other temple at PurchokPhur lcog. This temple, however, was destroyed and has not been rebuilt. Today only a few of the murals along the base of one of the walls in the Dharma enclosure remind us of the existence of such a building.

Exiting from the Dharma enclosure compound and proceeding west once again, we come to the area of the individual monks’ huts. It seems that before 1959 most of the administrators and workers of the Purchok Lama’s estate lived in the main temple compound. Many other monks, however, lived in these individual huts. In the early history of the hermitage, these huts were most likely the residences of meditators, and even today oral lore has it that some of the greatest masters of the GelukDge lugs school lived in one or another of these various buildings.

[1] There is a constitution (ChayikBca’ yig) for Purchok Hermitage (Purchok RitröPhur lcog ri khrod) written by Purchok Lozang Tsültrim Jampa GyatsoPhur lcog blo bzang tshul khrims byams pa rgya mtsho (1825-1901), see TBRC W2982, but this was not available to me at the time of the writing of this piece. In the account that follows I have relied chiefly on a short history published recently in Tibet: Phun tshogs rab rgyas, Phur lcog rigs gsum byang chub gling gi byung ba mdo tsam brjod pa dad gsum ’dren pa’i lcags kyu [A Brief History of Purchok Riksum Jangchup Ling: A Hook to Draw in the Three Types of Faith; hereafter Phur byung], Bod ljongs nang bstan [Tibetan Buddhism] 1 (2004), and on Bshes gnyen tshul khrims, Lhasé Gönto Rinchen PunggyenLha sa’i dgon tho rin chen spungs rgyan [A Catalogue of the Monasteries of Lhasa: A Heap of Jewels] (Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2001), 79-81.
[3] Dung dkar blo bzang ’phrin las, Dungkar Tsikdzö ChenmoDung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo [The Great Dungkar Dictionary] (Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2002), 739, in the biographical entry on DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa.
Purbuchok Hermitage , by José Ignacio Cabezón

Table of Contents

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