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Home > Historical, Cultural, and Comparative Studies > History of Buddhism and Bon > A Brief History of Dorjey-drag Monastery

A Brief History of Dorjey-drag Monastery

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

The major monastery transmitting the Nyingma Northern Treasure Text Tradition (byang-gter) is Tubten Dorjey-drag Ewam-chogar Monastery (Thub-bstan rDo-rje brag E-wam chos-sgar dGon-pa), also known simply as Dorjey-drag (rDo-rje brag dgon-pa). It is located in the Lhoka (Lho-ka) region of southern Central Tibet. It is one of the six major Nyingma monasteries: Mindrol-ling and Dorjey-drag in central and south central Tibet, Katog (Ka:-thog) and Pelyul (dPal-yul) in Kham (southeastern Tibet), and Zhechen (Zhe-chen) and Dzogchen (rDzogs-chen) in between.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Ngari Panchen Pema-wanggyel (mNga’-ris Pan-chen Pad-ma dbang-rgyal) (1487-1542) founded Ewam-chogar Monastery (E-wam chos-sgar dGon-pa). His tulku reincarnation, Jangdag Tashi-tobgyel Wangpodey (Byang-bdag Bkra-shis stobs-rgyal dBang-po sde) (1550-1602), enlarged it. Many famous masters resided there and it became a center for the study and practice of sutra, tantra, and the traditional Buddhist fields of knowledge, such as medicine and astrology. The main system taught was that of the Mayaguhyagarbha Tantra (sGyu-‘phrul gsang-ba snying-po, sGyu-‘phrul dra-ba, The Essence of Hidden Illusion Tantra).

Soon, it was felt that this location was unsuitable for the monastery. In 1630, Jangdag Wangpodey’s son, Rigdzin Ngaggi-wangpo (Rig-‘dzin sNgags-gi dbang-po) (1580-1639), counted as the Third Dorjey-drag Lineage Holder, reestablished the monastery at its present location. Because the rock mountain behind the monastery has a footprint of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava (Gur-ru Rin-po-che Pad-ma ‘byung-gnas) and a naturally formed crossed vajra, people considered the site very special. The monastery was named Dorjey-drag, literally Vajra Rock, in honor of this auspicious sign. The fuller name of the monastery, Thubten Dorjey-drag Ewam-chogar, is an amalgam of this and the original name.

The Fourth Dorjey-drag Lineage Holder, Rigdzin Kunzang-pema-trinley (Rigs-‘dzin Kun-bzang pad-ma ‘phrin-las) (1641-1718), was enthroned and ordained by the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang-lozang-gyatso (rGyal-dbang lnga-pa chen-po Ngag-dbang blo-bzang rgya-mtsho) (1617-1682). With the patronage of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the monastery was further expanded. Together with Mindrol-ling Monastery, Dorjey-drag was given charge of performing certain rituals for the Tibetan Government, which its reestablished monastery in exile still continues to do .

In 1717, Dorjey-drag was destroyed by the Dzungar Mongol army. It was reconstructed starting in 1720 with the patronage of the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang-gyatso (rGyal-ba bdun-pa sKal-bzang rgya-mtsho, rGyal-dbang sKal-bzang) (1708-1757). In 1959, it had approximately 170 monks. It was destroyed once more by the Chinese and, in 1985, its rebuilding was begun.

The line of reincarnations of Rigdzin Godem Jey (Rig-‘dzin rGod-ldem rJe) (1337-1408), having the title Rigdzin-chenpo (Rig-‘dzin chen-po), Great Lineage Holders, have been the traditional heads of Dorjey-drag Monastery. Rigdzin Godem Jey was one of the main revealers of the Northern Treasure Texts. Beneath the Rigdzin-chenpos are the lines of Gyelsay Tulku Rinpoches (rGyal-sras sPrul-sku Rin-po-che) and Chusang Tulku Rinpoches (Chu-bzang sPrul-sku Rin-po-che), who serve as Regent Throne Holder during the minority of the Rigdzin-chenpo or between his incarnations. The present Dorjey-drag Lineage Holder is the tenth of his line, Rigdzin Tubten-jigmey-namgyel-gyatso (Rig-‘dzin Thub-bstan ‘jigs-med rnam-rgyal rgya-mtsho), born in 1936. He remains in Tibet.

The Fifth Dalai Lama was a great revealer of Nyingma treasure texts. The set of 25 deity practices of the Sangwa Gyachen (gSang-ba rgya-can, Bearing the Seal of Secrecy), derive from his pure visions. The Fifth Dalai Lama transmitted them to the Fourth Dorjey-drag Lineage Holder, Rigdzin Kunzang-pema-trinley. The Fifth Dorjey-drag Lineage Holder, Rigdzin Kelzang-pema-wangchug (Rig-‘dzin sKal-bzang pad-ma dbang-phyug) introduced them, in turn, to the Nechung Monastery (gNas-chung Grva-tshang) of the Nechung State Oracle. The Fifth Dalai Lama also transmitted them to his Namgyal Monastery (rNam-rgyal Grva-tshang). All three monasteries have maintained their practice ever since.

The Fifth Dalai Lama, in turn, took up the Northern Treasure Text Tradition from Dorjey-drag, since the holders of its lineage were blood descendents of the great religious kings of Tibet. Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava had advised that if this lineage were not supported and upheld, it would be detrimental for Tibet. Thus the Namgyel Monastery of the Dalai Lamas and the Nechung and Gadong Monasteries (dGa’-gdong Grva-tshang) of the State Oracles of Tibet follow the Northern Treasure Text Tradition of Dorjey-drag.

Monks at Dorjey-drag pursue the study and practice of sutra, tantra, and the traditional Buddhist fields of knowledge. The emphasis is particularly on the practice of the various tantric deity systems, and the monks must make meditation retreats for a period of one to three years. The monastery maintains very strict discipline. Alcohol and meat are forbidden. If meat is to be used in a ritual offering, it must be from an animal that has died a natural death, rather than from one that has been slaughtered.

Dorjey-drag Monastery has been reestablished in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India under the supervision of Taglung Tsetrul Rinpoche (sTag-lung Tshe-sprul Rin-po-che). It still maintains its close relation with the Namgyel, Nachung, and Gadong Monasteries in Dharamsala.

[See also: Brief History of Dzogchen.]