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Trashi Chöling Hermitage (Trashi Chöling RitröBkra shis chos gling ri khrod)
by José Ignacio Cabezón
April 27, 2006

Location and Layout

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Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling1 – literally “The Place of Auspicious Dharma” – is located about three kilometers from SeraSe ra in the mountains northwest of the monastery. It takes about one hour to walk from SeraSe ra to Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling. The hermitage (ritröri khrod) also lies approximately halfway between two other important hermitages – PabongkhaPha bong kha, which is about half a kilometer to the west and downhill, and Takten DruppukRtags bstan sgrub phug, which is slightly less than half a kilometer to the east, across a gorge, and then uphill. Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling is, together with these latter two sites, one of the main stops on the famous Sera Mountain Circumambulation Circuit (Seré RikhorSe ra ri ’khor), a pilgrimage route that thousands of people from LhasaLha sa and the surrounding area traverse as a merit-making activity on the “Sixth-Month Fourth-Day” (Drukpa TsezhiDrug pa tshe bzhi) religious festival. To see images of this event taken in 2002, click here.

Two pictures of the hermitage showing the way that buildings have been erected in tiers, conforming to the landscape. The two top tiers of the hermitage are now in ruins.

The hermitage faces south. As is typical of many mountain monasteries, Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling is built in a tiered fashion on terraces that conform to the landscape. At the lowest level there is a large open courtyard surrounded by a perimeter wall. Proceeding north (uphill), one enters the main compound where one finds, from south to north (downhill to uphill), the following buildings at different levels:

The first two tiers of the hermitage – the monks’ quarters and the main temple – still exist today, although we know from old photos and informants’ accounts that they are only a fraction of their former size. The last two tiers – the private residence of the lamabla ma and the Dorjé ShukdenRdo rje shugs ldan temple – are in ruins, and have not been rebuilt. This is perhaps due to the fact that Dorjé ShukdenRdo rje shugs ldan is a controversial deity whose propitiation has been banned by the present Dalai LamaDa lai bla ma.2

An old photo of Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling taken before 1959. It shows the original temple with all four of its floors intact. The set of three windows in the lowest portion of the picture belong to the second floor of the monks’ living quarters.
Trashi Chöling Hermitage (Trashi Chöling RitröBkra shis chos gling ri khrod) as viewed from the front.

Prior to 1959 the main image on the altar of Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling was a statue of Maitreya (JampaByams pa) called the Maitreya as Lord of Men (Miwang JampaMi dbang byams pa).3 There was also an important set of images of the Sixteen Arhats (Neten ChudrukGnas brtan bcu drug), and of Cakrasaṃvara (DemchokBde mchog). All of these have been destroyed or are missing. All of the images in the temple today are new, with the exception of one old statue of Cakrasaṃvara found on the altar in the northwestern corner of the temple, and this, in fact, may not have originally belonged to the hermitage. The central figures on the main altar are TsongkhapaTsong kha pa (1357-1419) and his two disciples. To the left of these large (one-story) statues are two smaller statues of the Buddha. To the right of the TsongkhapaTsong kha pa triad are life-size statues of Trijang RinpochéKhri byang rin po che (1901-1981),4 Pabongkha Dechen NyingpoPha bong kha bde chen snying po (1878-1941), and Jetsün Lama Ngawang NamdrölRje btsun bla ma ngag dbang rnam sgrol, purportedly founder of the hermitage. To the right of these, along the eastern wall of the temple, are three funerary stūpas (dungtengdung rten) of these same three figures.

The front façade of the present temple.

The top floor of the main temple contains, along its southern wing, (to the east) a reception room, where guests are received, and (to the west of the reception room) the private living quarters of Pabongkha RinpochéPha bong kha rin po che. It also contains a kitchen and monks’ quarters.

The only portion of the monks’ dormitory that remains is that found in front (south) of the main temple, where two floors of rooms have been preserved.

Dungkar RinpochéDung dkar rin po che tells us that there were twenty-one monks living at Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling in 1959,5 though it seems clear from the number of monks’ rooms at the hermitage that this number does not include supporting staff. If one includes the entire staff of the Pabongkha Lama’s estate (Pabongkha LabrangPha bong kha bla brang), there could have easily been three times that many men living at the hermitage.

The remaining wing of monks’ rooms on the left, and the kitchen on the right.

[1] The institution corresponds to TBRC G2482.
[2] On the history of this controversy, see Georges Dreyfus, The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy, at http://www.tibet.com/dholgyal/shugden-origins.html. To see a tangkathang ka painting of the deity in question, see http://www.himalayanart.org/image.cfm?icode=90554.
[3] The main images that existed at Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling before 1959 are mentioned in 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), 24.
[4] Lozang Yeshé Tendzin GyatsoBlo bzang ye shes bstan ’dzin rgya mtsho (1901-1981), junior tutor to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Dalai Lama Kutreng ChuzhipaDa lai bla ma sku phreng bcu bzhi pa), and one of the chief Dharma-heirs of PabongkhapaPha bong kha pa (1878-1941). It was Trijang RinpochéKhri byang rin po che, for example, who was responsible for compiling Pabongkha RinpochéPha bong kha rin po che’s teachings on the graded stages of the path (lamrimlam rim) into the classic text known as Liberation in Our Hands (Namdröl LakchangRnam grol lag bcangs). That work has been translated twice into English. See Artemus B. Engle,tr., Liberation in Our Hands (New Jersey: Mahāyāna Sūtra and Tantra Press, 1999.
[5] Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 24, gives the number of fully ordained monks as twenty-five.
Trashi Choling Hermitage , by José Ignacio Cabezón

Table of Contents

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