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Home > Historical, Cultural, and Comparative Studies > History of Buddhism and Bon > A Brief History of Menri Monastery

A Brief History of Menri Monastery

Alexander Berzin, 1991, expanded September 2003
Original version published in
"Bön Monasteries." Chö-Yang, Year of Tibet Edition (Dharamsala, India), (1991).

The first great revealer of treasure texts (gter-ston) in the Bon (Bon) tradition was Shenchen Luga (gShen-chen Klu-dga’) (996-1035). He entrusted to his disciple, Druchen Namka-yungdrung (Bru-chen Nam-mkha’ g.yung-drung), the responsibility for establishing a debating tradition for the study of the Bon texts. In 1072, Druchen’s close relative, Drujey Yungdrung Lama (Bru-rje g.Yung-drung Bla-ma), established Yayru Ensaka Monastery (g.Yas-ru dBen-sa-kha dGon-pa) in the Central Tibetan district of Tsang (gTsang) for this purpose. The monastery was destroyed by a flood in 1386.

Tashi Menri Monastery (bKra-shis sMan-ri dGon-pa), located at Tobgyel (sTobs-rgyal) in Tsang, was built to replace Ensaka. It was established in 1405 by Nyammey Sherab-gyeltsen (mNyam-med Shes-rab rgyal-mtshan) (1356-1416), and became the main Bon monastery of Tibet.

The site of Menri is very extraordinary. When the founder of Bon, Tonpa Shenrab (sTon-pa gShen-rab), traveled to Kongpo (Kong-po), he stopped at Tobgyel. With his miraculous powers, he left his footprint in a rock, saying, "Little boy, in the future your monastery will be here." The mountain behind Menri is like a drawn curtain of white silk. In the middle of it, there is an expansive flat rock slab with the naturally formed figures of 1000 Buddhas, 80 vidyadharas (rig-‘dzin, holders of pure awareness), and 1000 dakinis. The mountains in front of the monastery have many naturally formed wondrous shapes. The surrounding mountains are covered with hundreds of types of medicinal plants and medicinal springs, from which the name Menri derives, which means "Medicine Mountain."

When Nyammey Sherab-gyeltsen first stayed at Menri, he asked his disciple, Rinchen-gyeltsen (Rin-chen rgyal-mtshan), to fill his monk’s shawl with white pebbles, close his eyes, and walk, dropping a pebble every nine paces. Rinchen-gyeltsen did this, but after a short while a loud noise caused him to open his eyes. Nyammey Sherab-gyeltsen told him that where the pebbles had been dropped, there would be twelve divisions of the monastery and sixty monk’s quarters. He explained that had Rinchen-gyeltsen finished dropping all the pebbles with his eyes never having opened, then everything that remained from the previous Ensaka Monastery would have been reestablished. But now that the replanting had not been carried out properly, then although the continuity from the former monastery would be maintained for a long time, everything would not be accomplished fully.

Nyammey Sherab-gyeltsen and Rinchen-gyeltsen wrote many texts and tried to establish a debating college at Menri, but were unsuccessful. Until the founding of the Bon debate monastery Yungdrungling (g.Yung-drung gling dGon-pa) in 1836, the Menri monks studied sutras through the debate technique at the nearby Sakya monastery of Druyul Kyetsel (Bru-yul sKyed-tshal dGon-pa) and could receive the Sakya Geshe (dGe-bshes) degree. They would study Bon tantra and dzogchen (rdzogs-chen, great completeness) teachings at Menri.

In 1947, Menri itself established a debating college. Although Ensaka had the debate tradition study of sutra, tantra, and dzogchen, Menri was only able to institute it for sutra. The monastery carried out a full calendar of tantric rituals and practice.

Menri Monastery had four colleges: Lingmey (gLing-smad), Lingto (gLing-stod), Lingkey (gLing-ske) and Lingzur (gLing-zur). The colleges had twelve divisions and all together, in 1959, between 400 and 500 monks. Menri had 250 branch monasteries, in all areas of Tibet except U, as well as in India, China, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, and Mongolia.

In 1978, the debate college of Menri, Pel Shenten Menriling (dPal gShen-bstan sMan-ri gling), was reestablished in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, India. At present, there are 70 monks. The monks study not only sutra, but also tantra and dzogchen through the medium of debate. They study the traditional fields of knowledge of medicine, astrology, art, poetry, and grammar as well.