Gongphur Monastery is situated on the side of Tegla Kar Mountain, 1 kilometer from
Purang County. The monastery is open to pilgrims and visitors seven
days week. It has six cave-temples: Du-Kang (the main hall), where
the sacred objects are kept on the altar and the monks get together
to practice Dharma activities; Kagyur Lhakang (the Sutra Temple),
where the 108 books of Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings are kept; Gon
Khang (Dharma Protectors' Room), where masks and paintings of Dharma
Protectors are displayed; Palde Lhakang (a small shrine); and Kayab.
The last two are retreat caves where both monks and lay people go
for secluded religious practices.
An oral history of Gongphur
Monastery says that once upon a time, Purang was recognized as the
Kingdom of Jangchog Ngadhen, whose king was Gyalpo Norsang. Still
today, elders can prove this with names of local places dating back
to the time of King Norsang. Gongphur Monastery was the residence
of the celestial wife of King Norsang, Yedrog Lhamo. "Gongphur"
means "flew in space". The oral story tells how the celestial
wife, Yedrog Lhamo, flew to the realm of the gods through the rock
of the cave when she was put in danger by the two thousand and five
hundred jealous wives of King Norsang. As a result, the cave is
sacred and was turned into a place of worship. There are also a
number of other caves below Gongphur which were said to be the residences
of the king's two thousand and five hundred wives. The fort of King
Norsang, Gyalte Khar (the fort of the king), was discovered opposite
Gongphur. Today, a Chinese military camp is based where the fort
used to be. There are many more places in Purang connected with
the legend of King Norsang.
the 12th century, Gongphur Monastery was offered to Druptop Senge
Yeshi by Tagtse Krimbar, the king of the Purang Kingdom, as payment
for his Buddhist teachings. Drupthob Senge Yeshi was a close disciple
of Kyabpa Jigten Sumgon, the founder of the Drikung Kagyu Order.
Up to the present day, a continuous reincarnation of Druptop Senge
Yeshi (Limi Tulku) has served as the head of Gongphur Monastery.
In 1994, the current Reincarnation of Senge Yeshi, Senge Tenzin
Rinpoche, was recognized and enthroned by His Holiness the Drikung
Chetsang at Janchub Ling Monastery in India.
In the 1960s, the Cultural
Revolution was launched in Tibet. No monasteries escaped its devastation.
In the Purang Region and Gongphur many holy articles were lost,
caves were damaged, and balconies and stairs were destroyed. Despite
this, some people managed to enter the main hall by making a hole
in the side of the cave. Fortunately, during the night, concerned
monks of the Drikung Kagyu Order and fellow villagers secretly carried
away many holy images from under the noses of the Chinese guards
and, with the agreement of the villagers, the images were deposited
in the Tel Kunzom Ling Monastery in Nepal, in 1967. After nineteen
years, the government of China gave the Tibetan people what it called
"freedom of religion". Seeing the light of spirituality
rising in the east, people from the two villages of Geshing and
Dosa in Purang went to Limi in Nepal, to bring back the precious
images and the other objects. For three years, the villagers kept
the sacred objects in a temporary room at Geshing village. In 1985,
Gongphur was re-installed, mainly thanks to the hard labor of the
sincere villagers of Geshing and Dosa (two villages in Purang which
practice the Drikung Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism). Now, Gongphur
is like a pillar sustaining their religion for the inhabitants of
Purang and visitors from outside the region.
The contents of Gongphur Monastery
are as follows:
Gathering Hall houses a great number of sacred old objects.
Its main contents are: A standing statue of Achie Chokyi
Dolma. We have yet to find out in what period of history
the Achie came to Gongphur Monastery. It is made of silver and plated
in gold. It is believed that a finger of Jigten Sumgon is one of
the objects inside it. It is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition that there
is a wide range of material requirements to fill newly-made images
and Stupas. The jewels ornamenting the Achie image were offered
by the villagers of Purang and visiting pilgrims. Many of them were
owned by people who had already passed away.
Achie is one of the Dharma
Protectors of the Drikung Kagyu Order. "Achie" translates
as grandmother. "Choe" means Dharma in Sanskrit and Buddhism
in English. "Kyi" means of, "Dolma" means escort
and translates as Tara in Sanskrit. Achie Choe Kyi Dolma was a female born in 1027 in the village of Kye Drag, in Tibet.
When she was alive, she showed her compassion toward all sentient
beings without making any distinction between them. Therefore, she
was named Choe. The principle of Buddhism is to benefit others.
She was believed to be an emanation of Tara and was referred to
as Dolma. Tara was an Indian woman, who is believed to have gained
the state of liberation thorough her spiritual practices and has
emanated to show the path of the liberation. She was called "Achie",
because she was the grandmother of Kyabpa Jigten Sumgon, the founder
of the Drikung Kagyu Order.
Dharma Protectors or deities
are known by two names "Lha" or "Sungma" in
Tibetan. In general, there are two types of deity or Dharma Protector,
known as Yeshi Pe Lha and Jigten Pas Lha. Those deities who have
attained liberation from Samsara are known as Yeshi Pe Lha. It is
believed that they are free from the three root causes of Samsara
- ignorance, attachment and anger. In other words, on their liberation,
they made a commitment to protect Buddhism and religious practitioners
who request their support and protection in religious practices
and worldly activities. Deities or Dharma Protectors who are recognized
as Yeshi Pe Lha are depicted with a third eye in the centre of their
forehead and their specialty is to help sentient beings and cause
no harm to anyone. "Jig Ten Pe Lha" are those deities
who are still in Samsara and are same as any other living beings.
Therefore, when they get what they want, they protect and support
followers in accomplishing whatever they want. If they don't like
someone for any reason, they cause suffering. Those deities have
no ability to safeguard future lives or to show the path to liberation.
They are therefore known as worldly deities, Jegten Pe Lha in Tibetan.
Gongphur Monastery, the monks perform a daily ritual known as Achie
Kang Sol. "Kang" means to satisfy and "Sol"
means to pray. Before the monks practice the actual Kang Sol ritual,
they prepare offerings, which include Metog (flowers), Dugpos (incense),
Mermed (butter lamps), Shal-Zas (rolls made from Tsampa flour and
shaped like a stupa), Shebsal (cups of water, alcohol and tea),
music and many other things. In Achi Kang Sol, it is especially
important to offer the right foreleg of a sheep. There is a story
relating to this: Achie decided to give a wedding party but she
had no food for her guests. So the villagers offered her the right
foreleg of a sheep. She said, "this is very auspicious and
it signifies that I am going to give birth to four children, and
their descendants will carry out great religious activities".
It is believed that performing
in Achie Kang Sol, she enjoys the ritual words of praise and offerings
and she gives her protection and guidance for whatever purpose the
ritual is performed. Therefore, there are a regular visitors at
Gongphur Monastery requesting the monks to perform Kang Sol ritual.
The monks at Gongphur perform a wide range of ritual ceremonies
on different dates and occasions and at the request of visitors.
An statue of Jigten
Sumgon, is one of the most precious objects in the monastery.
The monks refer to the statue as Kyabpa Chim Jesma. "Kyabpa"
means savior, referring to Jigten Sumgon, the founder of the Drikung
Kagyu Order, and "Chim Jesma" means tooth printed one.
There is a story to relate the statue. When Jigten Sumgon was alive,
a thousand statues of Jigten Sumgon were made. Then, he was requested
to bless them. Jigten Sumgon bit one statue on the head. Maliciously,
the same teeth printed appeared on all the statues. Later, the statues
were distributed to the monasteries of Drikung Kagyu Order. It is
believed the statue in Gonghur spoke in the past.
There are many enlightened images
of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and some beautiful paintings on the
walls. Additionally, there is a hand print of Kyabgon Tenzin Shawe
Lodro (1889-1943), who was the predecessor of the current His Holiness
the Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche.
Gongphur Monastery is the bedrock of the people's
faith and a spark of spiritual light in Purang. Having the monastery
accumulates immeasurable merits and benefits to all sentient beings
and especially the regional villagers, who come to Gongphur when
they are celebrating or suffering any misfortune in their lives.
Kagyur Temple is the second largest cave at Gongphur Monastery. In the centre,
there is an image of Buddha Shakyamuni, which is made of Med-Dam
(a mixture of clay, herbal grass and other materials). The word
"Ka" means original and "Gyur" means translate.
Kagyur translates as the original teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni,
the founder of Buddhism. In the Indian Sanskrit language, the books
are known as Sutra. There are 100 volumes and it is believed these
books contain a complete teachings of Buddha Shakya. It takes one
day for a monk to read one volume and the monks at Gongphur put
all their effort into reading all the books once a year.
Gon Khang means
room of "guardians" and is a special temple, where only
the Dharma Protectors' masks, paintings and images are kept on the
altar. Most Tibetan monasteries have a Gon Khang and none of them
allow public access into this temple, except for the people and
the households who worship the Dharma Protectors. The main reason
not have public access to a Gon Khang is because Dharma Protectors
are not necessarily to be treated as Buddhas and they can effectively
cause both harm and support.
This was true at Gongphur when the monastery reopened in 1985. By then, there
was only one monk still living who had been at Gongphur before the
Cultural Revolution and who was able to perform ritual activities
in the monastery and teach novices and perform religious ceremonies
at the request of the villagers. Leles Puntsok, working alone, has
not been able to do much because Gongphur's five monks are too busy
taking care of the monastery and performing vital ritual services
at the villagers' request.
In times past, there was a tradition
of educating young monks in larger monasteries in profound and complex
studies in Buddhism. Branch monasteries and small monasteries like
those in Limi performed spiritual activities and ritual service
for the needs of the villagers. But today the old Tibetan traditions
are no longer practiced and only a few old monks are left to try
to train young monks in ritual practices and Buddhist philosophy.
However, most of them are unable to accomplish their goal because
of limited financial resources and cannot pay for food, clothing
or shelter for novices or for enough qualified teachers.
Gongphur now has a total of
thirteen monks; however the government only permits five monks to
live in the monastery. The rest of the monks have therefore joined
government schools in Tibet and four adult monks escaped to India
to pursue higher education in major monasteries, such as the Drikung