The Situation of Buddhism in Central Tibet 1994

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The Revival of Monasteries in Central Tibet

In Central Tibet, a great many of the monasteries, even smaller ones, are being rebuilt. Local disrobed monks, usually with financial aid from geshes and lamas in the West, are doing much of the work, reconstructing the buildings according to old architectural plans. The Chinese authorities have helped to rebuild a tiny part of Sera Monastery, and use this in their propaganda to claim that they are officially rebuilding all of the monasteries. They have also been carefully controlling the renovation of the Potala Palace and the Norbulingka, and are currently tearing down the traditional Zhol village below the Potala, with plans to build a Disneyland-type theme park in its place.

Very few farmers or nomads visit the monasteries and temples in Lhasa during the spring and summer, since they are working in the fields. Furthermore, many monks from remote areas re­turn to their homes during these seasons to help with the field work. Local Lhasa Tibetans visit the monasteries mostly on Sundays, when they are free from work. Tibetans are allowed to visit the Potala only on certain days of the week, whereas foreigners can go every day. There are so many monasteries around Lhasa, it is difficult for the local Tibetans to sup­port everyone at them. Monks and nuns live mostly on dona­tions received from visitors, although the Chinese authorities regularly take a certain proportion of the offerings in the temples for themselves. In larger sites such as the Potala and Norbu­lingka, they confiscate all the offerings. The Chinese government is provi­ding some fi­nan­cial sup­port to Tshurphu, for propaganda pur­poses con­cern­ing the Kar­mapa. Up until the death of the former Pan­chen Lama in 1989, they were also giving financial aid to Tashi­lhunpo, which they have now discon­tinued.

Pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama are found prominently displayed in almost all monasteries. They used to be forbidden and con­fiscated. But since they kept on re-appearing, the Chinese are allowing them to be sold in the Barkhor and are taxing them.

The Situation in Some of the Major Monas­teries and Temples in the Lhasa Area

(1) Jokhang (Jo-khang), with 111 monks, although the Chinese allow only 100. They are building new monk quarters next door. They study debate following the Panchen textbooks and have daily communal prayers. Twice a month they perform Lama Chopa (bLa-ma mchod-pa) with tsog (tshogs) offering and also the Yamantaka sadhana.

(2) Sera (Se-ra), with 560 monks. Je (Byes), Me (sMad) and Ngagpa (sNgags-pa) Dat­sangs (Grva-tshang) have all been restarted and the monks are study­ing debate and doing tantric rituals. Sera Ngagpa Datsang follows the Je­tsunpa (rJe-btsun-pa) textbooks for debate.

(3) Drepung (’Bras-spungs), with 540 monks. Loseling (bLo-gsal gling), Gomang (sGo-mang), Deyang (bDe-dbyangs) and Ngagpa Datsangs have all been restarted and are studying debate and doing tantric rituals. Drepung Ngagpa Datsang follows the Panchen textbooks for debate, while Deyang follows those of Jamyang Zhepa (’Jam-dbyangs bzhad-pa). The four Datsangs do tsog offer­ing ceremon­ies toget­her, not separately.

(4) Ganden (dGa’-ldan), with about 500 monks. They have re­built the Tsedung Room (Tshe-gdung khang), hous­ing Tsongkhapa’s (Tsong-kha-pa) remains, and are using this as the temporary tsogchen (Tshogs-chen) or assembly hall, while they are rebuil­ding the old one. They have also rebuilt the Trido Room (Khri-mdo khang), hous­ing the Ganden Tripa’s (dGa’-ldan Khri-pa) throne. They have started to rebuild Shartse (Shar-rtse) and next year will begin the reconstruction of Jangtse (Byang-rtse). They have rebu­ilt five temporary khamt­sen (khang-tsan) temples and the housing quar­ters of Jangtse and Shartse, but there is no divi­sion yet into the two Da­tsangs. Ever­yone does tsog together, stud­ies both sets of text­books (that is, those of Jetsunpa and Panchen), and debates toge­ther in the Jangtse Choedra (Byang-rtse Chos-grva) or Dharma debate ground. There are only five teachers, three of whom studied at the Govern­ment Bud­dhist School or Nangten Lobdra (Nang-bstan slob-grva) below Nechung (gNas-chung) Monastery outside Lhasa. Many of the young monks at Ganden are very rough, un­edu­cated boys from remote areas. They seem to lack any dis­cipline and many do not even understand Lhasa dialect. The young monks help with the rebuilding and do not wear robes.

(5) Nechung, with 20 monks, who perform tantric rituals.

(6) Namgyal (rNam-rgyal), with 35 monks, of whom only three are old, acting primarily as room attendants at the Potala. They study pri­vately at night and offer tsog twice a month.

(7) Gyume (rGyud-sMad), with 52 monks, studying the rituals of the three main tantras and doing tsog five times a month. They have been unable to re­start their study of the Guhyasamaja root tantra because there are no qualified teachers there.

(8) Gyuto (rGyud-sTod), with 112 monks, of which seven are old, also studying the rituals of the three main tantras and doing tsog five times a month. The monks do not have daily communal prayers and must live at their own homes, scatter­ed around the city. A few study privately at home and even do retreats at home, although this is difficult.

(9) Lukhang (Klu-khang), affiliated with Namgyal Monastery, used to run the Lukhang School (Klu-khang slob-grva) between 1982 and 1989, with 200 young boys study­ing Tibe­tan in preparation for becoming monks. They have re­cently restarted this program informally, with eight boys study­ing at present.

(10) Pala Lapu (Pha-la lha-phug), with 60 monks, doing most of the tantric rituals of Namgyal Monastery except Kala­cakra and the Nyingma rituals of the Fifth Dalai Lama. It is under Kundeling (Kun-bde-gling) Monastery, which has now been relo­cated at the Drolma Lhakang (sGrol-ma’i Lha-khang).

(11) Ani Tsamkhung (A-ni mTshams-khung), with about 70 nuns doing tan­tric rituals and prayers.

Next to Nechung Monastery is the old Government Buddhist College. It func­tioned between 1982 and 1993. At first it had 200 monks, but then the numbers gradually decreased with each class. It had only one tulku student. The curriculum included debate, poetry and composition, Chinese, English and Leninism. Only a small num­ber of graduates became teachers in the monasteries.

The mosque for the Tibetan Muslims in Lhasa is decorated like a traditional Tibetan Buddhist temple, but with minarets. The Hui Muslims are building their own mosques, and the two Muslim communities do not seem to mix very much.

[See: History of the Muslims of Tibet]

Outside of Lhasa:

(1) Tsurphu (mTshur-phu), with 400 monks in two divisions, Choegar Oma (Chos-ngar ’og-ma) of the Karmapa (Karma-pa) and Choegar Gongma (Chos-ngar gong-ma) of Gyaltsab Rinpoche (rGyal-tshab rin-po-che). Almost all of the monks go home in the summer and the monastery seemed dead, with no rituals or study except for one monk in each of the protector rooms. During the win­ters, they offer tsog five times a month. There is only one tea­cher and a few old monks. By contrast, the Karma Kagyu monasteries in Kham, for instance Palpung (dPal-spung) of Situ Rinpoche, have been rebuilt and are alive and vibrant. They have no study, but do rituals. Tsurphu, by contrast, has hardly been rebuilt at all, al­though there can certainly be no lack of money. ­­There are, however, two groups of sixteen and thirteen monks each, doing three-year retreats.

The Karmapa holds a public audience each day after lunch. He sits on a high throne at some distance from the people and blesses them with a long stick having ribbons on its end. Two monks play horns very loudly throughout the audience so that it is impossible for the Karmapa to hear anything anyone might say to him, or for him to say anything himself. Although the Karmapa has a strong presence to him, he seemed completely bored and an unhappy prisoner.

(2) Samye (bSam-yas), with 130 monks, half of whom study debate according to the Sakya tradition, and half of whom do tantric rituals according to primarily the Nyingma, but also the Sakya and Gelug tradi­tions. Two of the State Oracles appointed by Guru Rinpoche are still located here: U Thug Kyi Gyalpo (dBus Thugs-kyi rGyal-po) with his minister Tsimar (rTsi-dmar) and Lo Yonten Gyalpo (lHo Yon-tan rGyal-po). At present, however, there are no Kuten mediums for these oracles.

(3) Mindrolling (sMin-’gro gling), with 60 monks, four of whom are old, doing tantric rituals. The reconstruc­tion has been fi­nanced primarily by Tarthang Tulku. They have not yet re­started the study of debate or the ten sciences, due to a lack of qualified teachers.

In the Nedong (sNe-sdong) region,

(4) Yumbulakhang (Yum-bu rlag-khang), with five monks doing tantric rituals;

(5) Trandruk (Khra-’brug), with 50 monks, performing both Nyingma and Gelug tantric rituals;

(6) Tsetang Ganden Chokorling (rTsed-thang dGa’-ldan chos-’khor gling), with 25 monks doing the tantric rituals of Ganden monas­tery. When I went there, they had built the powder sand mandala of Chakrasamvara and were doing the self-initiation;

(7) Ngachoe (rNga-chos), with 22 monks, doing tantric rituals; and

(8) Nedong Tsetsangpa (sNe-sdong Tshe-tshang-pa), with ten monks, also doing tan­tric rituals.