by José Ignacio Cabezón and THL.
Jetsün Lama Ngawang NamdrölRje btsun bla ma ngag dbang rnam sgrol, seen by the monks who live here as the founder of the monastery.
One contemporary Tibetan author states that according to oral tradition Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling may date to the time of the Buddhist king (of Tibet) Songtsen Gampo (Chögyel Songtsen GampoChos rgyal srong btsan sgam po), that is, to the seventh century, being known at that time not under its present name, but rather as Dukyur GönGdugs yur dgon.7 The first real evidence we have of a monastic institution existing at the site, however, is much later. According to one contemporary Tibetan historian,8 Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling is the place where the Mongolian ruler of Tibet, Lhazang Khan (Lhazang KhangLha bzang khāng), housed the monks of his private ritual college during the winter months. We know from different historical sources that LhazangLha bzang’s ritual college – the monks who were responsible for performing all of the necessary merit-making and protection rituals for the king – met in Northern Tibet (JangByang) during the summer months, and then moved to a site just north of LhasaLha sa for the winter. Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling, it seems, was that site.
Shortly after LhazangLha bzang came to power in 1705, he came to an agreement with the monks of SeraSe ra. Seeing that the Sera Assembly Hall – the place where all of the monks gathered for communal rituals – was too small to fit the entire monastic population, he offered to build the community a new assembly hall. The monks, from their side, had to surrender the old assembly hall to the king, who proposed to use it as the permanent home for his private ritual college. An agreement was reached, and the king built what is today the Sera Great Assembly Hall. The old assembly hall then became the headquarters for the ruler’s ritual college. After the death of LhazangLha bzang in 1717, his ritual college became the Sera Tantric College,9 an institution that continues to flourish to the present day.
Lhazang Khan (Lhazang KhangLha bzang khāng), from a mural in the Sera Great Assembly Hall (Sera TsokchenSe ra tshogs chen).
Although the monks of LhazangLha bzang’s ritual college moved to SeraSe ra permanently, it seems clear that they did not give up their rights to their old winter residence at Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling in the mountains northwest of SeraSe ra. And when LhazangLha bzang’s ritual college became the Sera Tantric College, then, of course, ownership of Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling passed on to the Sera Tantric College. For 200 years – from the early eighteenth century until the early twentieth century – we know little about Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling except for the fact that it was (or so it seems) the property of the Sera Tantric College. Dungkar RinpochéDung dkar rin po che informs us that there was a tradition that the Sera Tantric College had to send twenty-one monks to Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling to maintain the hermitage and to enact its ritual cycles, and this is certainly consistent with the facts as we know them.
In the early twentieth century, the Pabongkha Dechen NyingpoPha bong kha bde chen snying po did an extensive retreat in some caves close to Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling at a site called Takten DruppukRtags bstan sgrub phug. This established PabongkhapaPha bong kha pa’s connection to this general area. Later, when Pabongkha RinpochéPha bong kha rin po che’s fame and reputation grew, the Sera Tantric College offered the monastery of Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling to him as his private hermitage or retreat.10 In return, Pabongkha RinpochéPha bong kha pa rin po che agreed to officially enter the Tantric College (an action that brought this institution a certain prestige, given the lamabla ma’s reputation). From that point on, then, PabongkhaPha bong kha had two affiliations at SeraSe ra: the Tantric College, and the Mé College. Informants tell us that from then on Pabongkha RinpochéPha bong kha rin po che lived at Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling during the summer months, and in private rooms in a section of the Bombora ChikhangSpo ’bo ra spyi khang at SeraSe ra during the winter months.
A statue of Pabongkha RinpochéPha bong kha rin po che in the main temple at Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling.
Under Pabongkha Dechen NyingpoPha bong kha bde chen snying po the hermitage was extensively refurbished and expanded. It was perhaps under him as well that a very large temple to the protector deity Dorjé ShukdenRdo rje shugs ldan11 was built on the topmost tier of the complex. Today, as had been mentioned, this lies in ruins.
After the events of 1959 Trashi ChölingBkra shis chos gling suffered the fate of all of SeraSe ra’s hermitages. Over thirty years of neglect brought the site to the brink of complete collapse. Restoration did not begin until a monk – a student of Pabongkha Dechen NyingpoPha bong kha bde chen snying po – undertook the labor of renovating the hermitage as a personal project in the early 1990s. The hermitage is maintained today by two elder monks who serve as temple attendants and caretakers of the site. They also receive help from the nuns of Takten Hermitage (Takten RitröRtags brten ri khrod), who live just up the hill.