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

A Brief History of Nalendra Monastery

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

Nalendra Monastery (Na-len-dra dGon-pa) was established in the Penpo (‘Phan-po) District of Central Tibet in 1425 by the great Sakya master Rongton Sheja-kunrig (Rong-ston Shes-bya kun-rig) (1367-1459) and his disciple Kunkyen Tashi-namgyel (Kun-mkhyen bKra-shis rnam-rgyal). The placement of the monastery on the land was fully in accordance with the rules of Tibetan geomancy. This science had developed from the Chinese geomantic system brought to Tibet by the Chinese queen of King Songtsen-gampo (Srong-btsan sgam-po) (629-710).

Originally, Nalendra had four colleges: Tongmon (mThong-smon), Dukor (Dus-‘khor, Kalachakra), Tsegyay (Tshad-rgyas) and Tsezhi (Tshad-gzhi) Colleges, 45 divisions, and approximately 1500 monks. The course of study was based on two lineages, that of the Three White and Two Red Masters of Sakya (Sa-skya dkar-po rnam-gsum dmar-po rnam-gnyis) and that of Ngog Lotsawa Loden-sherab (rNgog Lo-tsa-ba Blo-ldan shes-rab) (1059-1109). The Three White Masters, who were all laymen, were Sachen Kunga-nyingpo (Sa-chen Kun-dga’ snying-po) (1092-1158), Sonam-tsemo (bSod-nams rtse-mo) (1142-1182), and Dragpa-gyeltsen (Grags-pa rgyal-mtshan) (1147-1216). The Two Red Masters, who were both monks, were Sakya Pandita Kunga-gyeltsen (Sa-pan Kun-dga’ rgyal-mtshan) (1182-1251) and Chogyel Pagpa (Chos-rgyal ‘Phags-pa) (1235-1280).

During the tenure of the first five abbots, Nalendra flourished. The monk population grew to more than 2000. Subsequently, great obstacles occurred to the monastery during the time of the sixth and seventh abbots, and the number of monks declined sharply. Dagchen Lodro-gyeltsen (bDag-chen Blo-gros rgyal-mtshan) (1444-1495) at Sakya was requested to perform ceremonies to eliminate the hindrances. After fulfilling the request, Dagchen appointed Kuzhang Kyenrab-chojey (sKu-zhang mKhyen-rab chos-rje) as the eighth abbot of Nalendra. From that time onward, there were never less than 400 monks at the monastery, and sometimes as many as 700.

The two main lines of Incarnate Lamas who have cared for the spiritual needs of Nalendra have been the Chogye Trichen Rinpoches (bCu-brgyad Khri-chen Rin-po-che) and the Zimog Rinpoches (Zi-mog Rin-po-che). The present Chogye Trichen (b. 1920) is the head of the Tsar Tradition (Tshar-lugs) of the Sakyas. This tradition is traced from Tsarchen Losel-gyatso (Tshar-chen Blo-gsal rgya-mtsho) (1502-1566) of Dar Drangmochen Monastery (Dar ‘Phrang-mo chen dGon-pa) in the Central Tibetan province of Tsang (gTsang). The Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang-lozang-gyatso (rGyal-dbang lnga-pa chen-po Ngag-dbang blo-bzang rgya-mtsho) (1617-1682), had received the Sakya "lamdray" (lam-‘bras) "path and its results" teachings from Gonpo Sonam-chogden (mGon-po bSod-nams mchog-ldan), whose teacher, Kyabdag Wangchug-rabten (Khyab-bdag dBang-phyug rab-brtan), had been a disciple of Tsarchen. The Lamdray teachings have two levels, the "tsogshay" (tshogs-bshad) "explanation for assemblies" and "lobshay" (slob-bshad) "explanation for private disciples." The Fifth Dalai Lama received primarily the latter, and was instrumental in preserving and transmitting it further.

In its later period, Nalendra Monastery had only two colleges, the original Tongmon College for sutra debate studies and the Sangchen College (gSang-chen Grva-tshang) for tantra. The latter had been founded by Rinchen-kyentsey-wangpo (Rin-chen mkhyen-brtse dbang-po). The sutra training concentrated on thirteen great scriptural texts. Tantra study and practice focused on thirteen tantric systems. Kalachakra, Hevajra, the lobshay level of the Lamdray Path and Its Stages, and the Thirteen Golden Teachings of the Sakyas (Sa-skya’i gser-chos bcu-gsum) were the principal among them. Monks also studied medicine, astrology, grammar, and ritual art and music.

In 1959, Nalendra Monastery was mostly destroyed by the Chinese. What remained was burned to the ground during the Cultural Revolution. Its reconstruction was begun in 1980. At present, there are 40 monks.