Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Purbuchok Hermitage
by José Ignacio Cabezón
Section 2 of 4


According to tradition, the site where PurchokPhur lcog was built was originally a place where Padmasambhava (Pema JungnéPadma ’byung gnas) meditated. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama (Dalai Lama Kutreng ChuksumpaDa lai bla ma sku phreng bcu gsum pa), in the biography of his teacher, the third Purchok incarnation Yongdzin Jampa Gyatso (Purchok Kutreng Sumpa Yongdzin Jampa GyatsoPhur lcog sku phreng gsum pa yongs ’dzin byams pa rgya mtsho), says that the main cave at PurchokPhur lcog was the practice-place of Padmasambhava known as the Cavern of Dochung Chongzhi (Dochung Chongzhi PukpaRdo cung cong zhi’i phug pa).4 Later, the founder of the Tselpa KagyüTshal pa bka’ brgyud school, Zhang Drowé Gönpo YudrakpaZhang ’gro ba’i mgon po g.yu brag pa (1123-1193), founded a practice center here in the twelfth century, and it is from this time that the site came to be known as Purchokphur lcog (literally, “a dagger at its pinnacle”5 because the top of the mountain behind the hermitage resembles a dagger).6 At the time that DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa (see Introduction to the Hermitages) built the Temple of the Three Protectors at the site (more than five centuries after Lama ZhangBla ma zhang [1123-1193]) there could still be seen vestiges of the original KagyüBka’ brgyud institution, like the so-called “Little White Stūpa” (Chöten KarchungMchod rten dkar chung).

A detail of an eighteenth century painting in the collection of the Rubin Museum of Art (Image no. 105 on the www.himalayanart.org website) identified as DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa.

During Drupkhang Gelek GyatsoSgrub khang dge legs rgya mtsho’s (1641-1713)7 peregrinations throughout Tibet in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, he decided to visit ZangriZangs ri, the place where, several centuries earlier, the great female saint Machik LapdrönMa cig lab sgron (twelfth century) had founded her famous center of Zangri KarmarZangs ri mkhar dmar. On the night before he was to visit ZangriZangs ri, DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa had a dream in which a man wearing a black hat communicated to him that in a place called DodéDog bde there was a white stūpa. The man told him that a house was to be built there, and then a great light filled the area around the stūpa. The next day, when he visited the temple at Zangri KarmarZangs ri mkhar dmar, he saw that the man in his dreams was depicted in a statue on the main altar, and he learned that it was none other than Machik LapdrönMa cig lab sgron’s son, Tönyön SamdrupThod smyon bsam grub (twelfth century). Later, after DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa moved back to SeraSe ra – to the hermitage that he made his permanent home, Sera UtséSe ra dbu rtse – he began to search for the exact site in DodéDog bde where the white stūpa of his dreams was to be found. After a long search, he finally identified it as PurchokPhur lcog. He blessed the site with the necessary preparatory rituals and prayers. The sources disagree as to the precise date, but it seems that these events took place sometime between 1701 and 1706.

The first Purchok incarnation Ngawang Jampa (Purchok Kutreng Dangpo Ngawang JampaPhur lcog sku phreng dang po ngag dbang byams pa, 1682-1762), one of DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa’s chief students, made a cave at the site his home. Building apparently started after Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che was able to garner the support of various sponsors. The first structure built at PurchokPhur lcog was a residence (zimkhanggzim khang), perhaps as an extension of Ngawang JampaNgag dbang byams pa’s cave. Monks came from DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa’s hermitage of Sera UtséSe ra dbu rtse to celebrate the completion of the first building, and Ngawang JampaNgag dbang byams pa himself gave an extensive teaching on bodhicitta at this time.

An old statue of Purchok Ngawang JampaPhur lcog ngag dbang byams pa preserved in the Cave Temple at Purchok Hermitage.
The entrance to Purchok Ngawang JampaPhur lcog ngag dbang byams pa’s cave.

Shortly after the first building went up at PurchokPhur lcog, several sponsors committed to providing the funds necessary to build the Temple of the Three Protectors. DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa once again took to the road to garner further financial support for the project. Meanwhile, construction on the temple began. In the spring of 1705, with the temple just about completed, the construction of the statues began, and DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa entered into retreat. When the statues were finished, extensive offerings were made and elaborate rituals were performed in order to consecrate them. At several times during these events it rained flowers (metog charbapme tog char babs), a sign of the power of the prayers, and of the efficacy of the rituals. While the consecration was taking place, DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa had many auspicious dreams, including one in which he saw the site of PurchokPhur lcog as being of the same nature as the six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteśvara (oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ), and another in which Padmasambhava arrived to bless the site. By 1706, there were eight8 fully ordained monks living at the site, fulfilling DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa’s original plan for the hermitage. In that same year DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa ordered the building of the assembly hall (dukhang’du khang)9 and kitchen complex. In the summer, the Queen Tsering Trashi (Gyelmo Tsering TrashiRgyal mo tshe ring bkra shis) donated the funds for the statues inside the assembly hall. The next year, DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa himself filled the statues with the appropriate substances zungbülgzungs ’bul, and, together with his eight monks, spent many days performing the consecrations. Throughout all of this, Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che, rather than assuming the privileged position of the great scholar that he was, took part in the actual construction work – hauling earth, stones and water, mixing mud, painting, and so forth – all of this so as to fulfill his teacher’s vision of creating an institution at PurchokPhur lcog.10

The first monastic confession ritual (sojonggso sbyong) was held in the new assembly hall in 1708. In that same year, Penchen Lozang YeshéPaṇ chen blo bzang ye shes (1663-1737), Ngawang JampaNgag dbang byams pa’s ordaining abbot, wrote the constitution (chayikbca’ yig) for the new monastery. With all of the work of founding the monastery having reached its conclusion, DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa called for Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che, and revealed to him that Purchok Mountain (Purchok RiPhur lcog ri) was in actuality the Palace of Cakrasaṃvara. He advised Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che to institute the practices of this deity at the hermitage, for, given the auspiciousness of the site, “accomplishments were within easy reach.” He advised him to institute a system of examinations and of giving “public admonition” (tsoktamtshogs gtam)11 to the monks, and, with these words, he handed the monastery over to him. DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa, in preparation for his impending death, had his personal library of over two hundred volumes moved to the Temple of the Three Protectors around this time. He died at PurchokPhur lcog on the seventh day of the first Tibetan month in the year 1713.

Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che had been initiated into the practices of the deity Penden LhamoDpal ldan lha mo by DrupkhangpaSgrub khang pa, and at this time he did a five month retreat on this deity. He had many visions during his retreat, and from this point forward, Penden LhamoDpal ldan lha mo has been considered the special protector deity of the hermitage. Her statue, found in the protector deity chapel in the hermitage, is considered extremely holy.

The protector deity chapel at PurchokPhur lcog, the site of the famous statue of Penden LhamoDpal ldan lha mo.

Under Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che’s abbacy, the hermitage flourished. Tremendously devoted to the institution, he left it only when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, he was continuously in residence, maintaining an extremely active teaching schedule from the time he was thirty-six years of age until he died at the age of eighty. His lectures focused mainly on graded stages of the path (lamrimlam rim), and he was especially fond of two texts: the Fifth Dalai Lama’s (Dalai Lama Kutreng NgapaDa lai bla ma sku phreng lnga pa) famous graded stages of the path, The Revelations of Mañjuśrī: A Lamrim (Lamrim Jampel ZhellungLam rim ’jam dpal zhal lung), and The Easy Path: A Lamrim (Lamrim DelamLam rim bde lam). These two texts he taught, respectively, every spring and autumn. Ngawang JampaNgag dbang byams pa also gave tantric teachings at PurchokPhur lcog, but the emphasis clearly was on graded stages of the path.

As might be expected, under Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che’s tenure the number of monks grew. With the patronage of the Tibetan king PolhanéPho lha nas (1689-1747),12 in 1733 work began on a “Dharma enclosure/courtyard”13 and (next to it) a new and larger assembly hall. Within the span of a few years, however, the Dharma enclosure once again proved too small to hold the large numbers of monks and laypeople that came from all over Tibet to listen to graded stages of the path teachings at PurchokPhur lcog,14 and it had to be expanded once again.

The Dharma enclosure, the site of Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che’s graded stages of the path teachings. There used to exist another large assembly hall here, but it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

Other major renovations and additions to the hermitage continued to occur throughout the years of Ngawang JampaNgag dbang byams pa’s tenure. In 1735, with the patronage of a LhasaLha sa family known as Padrong ShakpaDpa’ grong shag pa, he ordered a major renovation of the Temple of the Three Protectors, and in 1742 he commissioned a set of scriptures written in gold for the monastery, which he housed in the new, larger assembly hall next to the “Dharma enclosure.”15 One source16 states that toward the end of Ngawang JampaNgag dbang byams pa’s life there were about one thousand monks in residence at the hermitage, though this seems like a tremendous exaggeration.17

After Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che’s death, the monastery passed into the hands of the second Purchok incarnation Lozang Jampa (Purchok Kutreng Nyipa Lozang JampaPhur lcog sku phreng gnyis pa blo bzang byams pa),18 and continued to flourish as an institution. However, without the charismatic leadership of Ngawang JampaNgag dbang byams pa – who was a committed contemplative – the hermitage began to take a different path from this point in time, emphasizing tantric ritual cycles19 rather than graded stages of the path teachings and meditation.

The third Purchok incarnation Lozang Tsültrim Jampa Gyatso (Purchok Kutreng Sumpa Lozang Tsültrim Jampa GyatsoPhur lcog sku phreng gsum pa blo bzang tshul khrims byams pa rgya mtsho) served as tutor to both the Twelfth and the Thirteenth Dalai Lamas (Dalai Lama Kutreng ChuksumpaDa lai bla ma sku phreng bcu gsum pa). Given his position as tutor to two Dalai LamaDa lai bla mas, it is not surprising that during his tenure Purchok Hermitage received from the government the Dodé LhomönDog sde lho smon estates for the support of the hermitage. Both the hermitage and the Purchok Lama’s estate greatly increased in wealth during the last half of the nineteenth century, and the number of monks at the hermitage itself grew, reaching a total of eighty by the end of the nineteenth century. Beginning in 1882, major renovations were done to several of the buildings at the hermitage. Some buildings were rebuilt from scratch, others gained second stories, and at least one new major temple – dedicated to housing a large statue of Maitreya (JampaByams pa) – was constructed during this time.

In the last few years of the third Purchok incarnation Yongdzin Jampa Gyatso’s (Purchok Kutreng Sumpa Yongdzin Jampa GyatsoPhur lcog sku phreng gsum pa yongs ’dzin byams pa rgya mtsho) life, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama visited Purchok Hermitage. This is seen as a major event in the history of the institution. After his teacher’s death, it was the Dalai LamaDa lai bla ma himself who took upon himself the responsibility of creating and consecrating the funerary stūpa and various memorial statues (including a statue of his teacher). All of these were placed inside the temple next to the Dharma enclosure.

Because of the extensive building and renovation done at PurchokPhur lcog by the third Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che, very little had to be done at the hermitage by his successor. The fourth Purchok LamaPhur lcog bla ma did do some renovation on one of the assembly halls and he refurbished some older portions of the lamabla ma’s residence that were in poor condition. He also built a building at the so-called Pond Park (Chapdzing LingkhaChab rdzing gling kha).

In 1959, the hermitage housed somewhere between eighty and one hundred monks. Between residential rooms, kitchens, meeting and storage rooms, etc., the lamabla ma’s household ended up utilizing about fifty rooms. All together the various temples occupied a space the equivalent of “150 pillars.”20 There were about thirty huts in the vicinity of the main hermitage compound, and about ninety monks’ rooms inside the compound itself.

After the Cultural Revolution, most of these buildings were in a state of near total collapse. Then came the period of liberalization. Permission to rebuild the hermitage was requested from the local authorities in 1984. The preparatory rituals to ensure the success of the project were enacted the following year on the fifteenth day of the fourth Tibetan month. With some funds from the Chinese government and with considerable monetary contributions and volunteer labor from local people, the hermitage has been restored to about seventy percent of its former state.21 Several of the individual monks’ huts that lay outside of the main compound were never rebuilt, and rather than rebuilding the assembly hall that used to be located next to the Dharma enclosure, the residents of PurchokPhur lcog chose instead to build there a “library” to house a collection of scriptures (TengyurBstan ’gyur). This library was still under construction in 2004.

Monks perform rituals during the Sixth-Month Fourth-Day pilgrimage day. PurchokPhur lcog is the last hermitage that laypeople visit when they make the Sera Mountain Circumambulation Circuit (Seré RikhorSe ra’i ri ’khor) on this day.

Today, the monastery has about thirty-eight monks – thirty official and eight unofficial – and it is principally a ritual institution (just as it has been for most of the past two centuries). Its monthly ritual cycle includes the performance of the self-initiation (danjukbdag ’jug) rituals of Vajrabhairava (Dorjé JikjéRdo rje ’jigs byed) and Sarvavid Vairocana (Künrik Nampar NangdzéKun rig rnam par snang mdzad), as well as the rituals of the Medicine Buddha (MenlaSman bla), the Sixteen Arhats (Neten ChudrukGnas brtan bcu drug), and the monastery’s protector deities. In the year 2000, a class for younger monks that focuses on the classical philosophical texts was inaugurated at PurchokPhur lcog, and from that time a senior textualist has resided permanently at the monastery in a teaching capacity. This represents a departure from tradition, given that PurchokPhur lcog monks who wanted to study philosophy would have traditionally matriculated at SeraSe ra. However, it is consistent with the widespread shift in the ethos of contemporary Tibetan monasticism, where a basis in doctrinal studies is seen as necessary even for monks who are ritualists.22

[4] PurjungPhur byung, 56.
[5] PurjungPhur byung, 56-57, gives a slightly different etymology.
[6] See PurjungPhur byung, 57, for the sources of this tradition. The author of the PurjungPhur byung also considers (and rejects) the tradition that sees PurchokPhur lcog as the place where the famed Sera dagger (Sera purpase ra phur pa) supposedly fell from the sky (see PurjungPhur byung, 58).
[7] On this important figure, see the “History” section of the “Introduction to the Hermitages.”
[8] PurjungPhur byung, 60, and Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 79. Other accounts claim that his original plan was for a hermitage of one hundred fully ordained monks. The confusion is perhaps attributable to the fact that the words brgyad (eight) and brgya (one hundred) are very similar in Tibetan.
[9] It is unclear why the Temple of the Three Protectors could not serve as an assembly hall, given that it is about the same size as the assembly hall of the hermitage.
[10] See, for example, Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 80.
[11] PurjungPhur byung, 62, states that from this time on, Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che meticulously instructed the monks of Phur lcog on the constitution of the monastery and gave the public admonitions on a yearly basis on the fifteenth day of the sixth month. Such a tradition is, of course, reminiscent of the system of public admonitions practiced at SeraSe ra. See José I. Cabezón, The Regulations of a Monastery, in Religions of Tibet in Practice. ed. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 335-51.
[12] On this important figure, see the History section of the Introduction to the Hermitages. PurchokPhur lcog enjoyed the patronage of the various rulers of the day – not only of PolhanéPho lha nas, but after him of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kelzang Gyatso (Dalai Lama Kutreng Dünpa Kelzang GyatsoDa lai bla ma sku phreng bdun pa skal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757). For example, it was the “government” who acted as patron (jindaksbyin bdag) during the annual graded stages of the path teachings at PurchokPhur lcog, offering “seven teas and two soups” (ja dün dang tukpa nyija bdun dang thug pa gnyis) daily to the one-thousand or so people in attendance.
[13] It appears that part of the function of the Dharma enclosure was to serve as the site of large public teachings. PurjungPhur byung, 63, says that the original enclosure could hold up to six-hundred monks.
[14] The schedules for the annual spring and autumn teachings given by Ngawang JampaNgag dbang byams pa at PurchokPhur lcog are given in extenso in PurjungPhur byung, 64, and Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 80-81.
[15] According to PurjungPhur byung, 65, this set of texts is today housed in the Eastern Assembly Hall (Tsomchen Shartshoms chen shar) of the Potala.
[16] Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 80.
[17] SeraSe ra itself had only about fifteen-hundred monks around this time.
[18] PurjungPhur byung, 66, mentions that it was this figure who was responsible for building the first structures at the Purchok Lama’s estate at SeraSe ra.
[19] PurjungPhur byung, 66, mentions that the following ritual cycles began to be practiced yearly during the tenure of the second Purchok RinpochéPhur lcog rin po che: the self-initiation rituals (danjukbdag ’jug) of Guhyasamāja (Sangwa DüpaGsang ba ’dus pa), Yamāntaka, and Cakrasaṃvara (DemchokBde mchog), as well as various other ritual cycles related to Tārā (DrölmaSgrol ma), DukarDugs dkar, and the Lion-Headed Ḍākinī (SengdongmaSeng gdong ma).
[20] Buildings in Tibet are often measured by the number of pillars they have.
[21] See the description of the present layout of the hermitage above.
[22] For example, the Dalai LamaDa lai bla ma, in exile, has inaugurated doctrinal/philosophical studies at his own ritual monastery of NamgyelRnam rgyal, and has encouraged similar undertakings at ritual institutions like the two tantric colleges (ngakpa dratsangsngags pa grwa tshang) – Upper Tantric [College] (GyütöRgyud stod) and Lower Tantric [College] (GyüméRgyud smad).
Purbuchok Hermitage , by José Ignacio Cabezón

Table of Contents

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