Dear friends around the world,
Chupzang Nunnery has had a rich history and culture. It is an interesting and beautiful nunnery with their practice intact for hundreds of years. They have many sacred Buddhist treasures such as self arisen images of holy beings that are a great blessing. They have a ‘Terma Buddha’ which was discovered naturally hidden in the environment and found by 5th Dalai Lama and installed in the monastery for all to see. This monastery of nuns practices primarily Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka) and Vajra Yogini as their main yidams. How blessed they are to be focused on these sacred practices. Even His Holiness the great Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche Dechen Nyingpo gave his famous Lam Rim discourse there for one month in the last century. I am most happy to share this beautiful place with you and may you be blessed.
Chupzang Nunnery (Chupzang Gön)
by José Ignacio Cabezón
Copyright © 2006 by José Ignacio Cabezón and THL.
Location and Layout
The phrase chu bzang means “good waters,” indicating that this was probably the site of a spring in former times. Chupzang Nunnery is located in the foothills of the northern section of the suburb of Nyangdren, directly north of Lhasa and northwest of Sera. It takes about forty minutes to walk from Sera to Chupzang. The hermitage (ritrö) faces south in the direction of Lhasa.
The site can be divided into three major areas:
Farthest north (and uphill) one finds a field of stūpas and large boulders with carvings or self-arisen images (rangjön).
Directly below (south of) the field of stūpas in the northernmost area of the hermitage are the main temple complex, the dharma courtyard (chöra), and the secondary temple.
Below the temples, farther south on the hillside is the residential (and by far the largest) area of the nunnery that contains dozens of private nuns’ huts.
The two temple complexes are located just below the stūpa field. These are:
The upper (main) temple, where the nuns gather for communal rituals. To the left of the main temple there is a small butter-lamp offering house (chömé khang, built in 2004), and a kiosk where tourists and pilgrims can buy snacks and religious memorabilia. The main temple has a two-wheel mani [wheel] temple (mani lhakhang) at its southwest corner (access to which is from outside the temple). The principal figures on the main altar of the assembly hall (dukhang) are Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) and his two disciples. At the northwest corner of the temple (entrance through the assembly hall) there is a protector deity chapel (gönkhang) that contains a small statue of Nechung, as well as statues of Lhamo, Six-Armed Mahākāla (Gönpo Chakdruk), Dharmarāja (Damchen Chögyel), Dorjé Yudrönma, and of the two tutelary deities (yidam) of the nunnery, Vajrabhairava (Dorjé Jikjé) and Vajrayoginī (Dorjé Neljorma).
West of the main temple complex one finds the dharma enclosure (chöra), an area where nuns sit when they want to memorize texts outdoors. Inside this courtyard there is also a small chapel to the protector deity Dorjé Yudrönma.
The reception room and the secondary (building) temple – located south (downhill) from the dharma enclosure – share a courtyard. This temple contains the stone image (doku) of the Buddha said to have been “discovered as treasure” (terné tönpa) by the Fifth Dalai Lama.
Trinlé Gyatso (d. 1667), considered the founder of Chupzang, was a student of the Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lozang Gyatso (Dalai Lama Kutreng Ngapa Ngawang Lozang Gyatso). Trinlé Gyatso served as regent (desi) of Tibet from 1665 until his death in 1667, and he hailed from Nyangdren, the suburb of Lhasa to the west of Sera where the hermitage is located. Trinlé Gyatso is arguably best known as the uncle of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s famous student (and the next regent of Tibet), Desi Sanggyé Gyatso (1653-1705), who, like his uncle, was also born in Nyangdren.
In the latter part of his life, Trinlé Gyatso decided to build a hermitage in the foothills above Nyangdren. He requested permission for this, and invited the Fifth Dalai Lama to perform a “site investigation” (satak) to determine the most auspicious location on which to build. The Dalai Lama chose the site that is presently Chupzang. He is also the one who provided the institution with this name. It is perhaps at this time as well that the Fifth Dalai Lama made the treasure (ter) discovery of the self-arisen stone image of the Buddha that still resides in Chupzang’s lower temple.
The site was originally founded as a monks’ hermitage with eight monks. Some sources say that later there developed a tradition of maintaining a group of sixteen fully-ordained monks in residence at the hermitage – eight from each of the Jé and Mé Colleges (Dratsang Mé) of Sera. This served as the ritual core of the monastic community. Today the nuns can still point to a set of ruins that they say is the original residence of those eight/sixteen monks.
Seven years after its founding, the hermitage passed into the hands of Chupzang Yeshé Gyatso (1789-1856), who built a four-pillar temple with rear chapel and porticos at the site. After that, the hermitage came under the aegis of the sixty-ninth throne-holder of Ganden (Ganden tripa), Jangchup Chöpel (1756-1838). Eventually, it seems, the hermitage became the property of Trijang Kutreng Sumpa Lozang Yeshé, the junior tutor to the present Dalai Lama.
Among contemporary Gelukpas, Chupzang is perhaps best known as the place where, in 1921, Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo (1878-1941) gave the “graded stages of the path” (lamrim) teachings that would eventually be compiled into his most famous work, Liberation in Our Hands (Namdröl Lakchang).
Informants tell us that in the 1950s the site began to be used as a retreat by elderly Lhasans, who constructed small huts in which they could live out the final years of their lives in intensive Buddhist practice. The area around Chupzang thus became a kind of religious retirement community. During the Cultural Revolution, Chupzang was simply used by lay people as residences. Nuns began repair work at the site and started moving there in 1984. Today it is one of the largest nunneries in the Lhasa Valley.
Chupzang, however, is not a typical nunnery, but rather something more like a communal living situation for nuns. Nuns get together for rituals only on special holy days (on the new and full moon, and on the eighth, tenth and twenty-fifth of the lunar month) or when there is a sponsor. The houses are owned individually by the nuns and are not the property of the nunnery itself. Despite this, Chupzang has many of the traits of a standard monastic community. It has an administrative body, a site for communal gathering, and a well-defined group of deities that are worshipped and propitiated. The tutelary deities of the nunnery are Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka) and Vajrayoginī, and the two protector deities are Pelden Lhamo and Dorjé Yudrönma.
Originally, the hermitage portion of the site – the part that contained the monastic residence and the temple – appears to have been the property of Sera as a whole (Sera chiso). Given its historical ties to Pabongkha Rinpoché, however, some sources count it as one of the hermitages that belongs to Sera Mé (Pabongkha Rinpoché’s home college). Today Chupzang is an autonomous institution with minimal ties to Sera.
For more interesting topics:
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- TOO MANY MONKS!
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