International Drikung Kagyu Council
Honoured to organise the 800th Commemoration of Lord Jigten Sumong's Maha Parinirvana.

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Drikung Thil  |  Drikung Dzong  |  Yangrigar  |  Drikung Tse  |  Nyima Changra  |  Katsel

Katsel001The small monastery of Katsel is situated in the vicinity of the town of Medrogungkar at the bottom of the Kyichu Valley's eastern scarp. 

Built in the 7th century, Katsel (ska tshal) is one of the oldest Buddhist temples of Tibet. In ancient times, according to legend, Tibet was ruled by a giant demoness named Sinmo, who periodically ravaged the land with disasters. Her body was formed by the topography of the country. King Songtsen Gampo had four temples and monasteries built on geomantically significant places in order to subordinate the demoness to the Buddhist faith. These religious buildings served to symbolically nail Sinmo down. Katsel was one of those geomantic temples (ru gnon), pinning the demoness’ right shoulder.

Katsel’s varied and eventful history is typical of many Tibetan monasteries. It was founded by the Nyingma, was transferred to the Drikungpa in the 13th century, and was taken over by the Gelugpa in the 17th century and held by them until it was returned to the Drikung Kagyu order in the 19th century.

Katsel002After having been partially destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, Katsel has been gradually rebuilt. The Thugdam Tsuglagkhang, which was originally built during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo, has been restored on the old pattern. The temple has a narrow portico leading into the small pillared assembly hall with the inner shrine room (lha khang) surrounded by a path for circumambulation. There used to be a large statue of Jigten Sumgon and of of Maitreya in the assembly hall. On the roof there is another small shrine-room. The walls of the shrine-room are painted with murals of the Drikung lineage and a new image of the Achi Chokyi Dolma. They are decorated with old thangkas of Palden Lhamo, Guru Rinpoche, Shantarakshita and the Emperor Trisong Detsen. Behind the assembly hall is the lukhang (klu khang), the residence of the naga that Guru Rinpoche subdued and turned into a protector. This temple also housed a large reliquary stupa (gdung rten) of the 17th lineage holder Gyalwang Rinchen Phuntsog (1509-1557).

Nyima Changra

Drikung Thil  |  Drikung Dzong  |  Yangrigar  |  Drikung Tse  |  Nyima Changra  |  Katsel

Nyichang001The poor educational level in his monasteries was of greatest concern to the 6th Chetsang Tenzin Shiwe Lodro (1886–1943). He therefore established in 1932, with the help of generous sponsors like the aristocrat Khyungram, the Nyima Changra Shedra (nyi ma lcang rwa bshad grwa), an academy of higher Buddhist studies. 

In earlier times the building had been the summer palace of the 5th Chetsang Thukje Nyima (1828–1885). It was named Nyima after him and received its epithet, Changra, because it was surrounded by a park with beautiful willow trees (lcang ma). Shiwe Lodro persuaded Nyarong Tulku Jamyang Wangyal of Kham to come and teach at the Nyima Changra. Thus the institute grew in fame, and Drikung enjoyed an intellectual upswing. The institute’s basic texts, the Thirteen Great Treatises on Buddhist Philosophy, were newly edited and new wood printing blocks were commissioned. The Drikung community was convinced that it was the blessing of the Chetsang Rinpoches, Thukje Nyima and Shiwe Lodro, that had brought about the Nyima Changra’s fame and rise to prominence.

The most intelligent monks from all the nearby Drikung monasteries were sent to study at the Nyima Changra Shedra. In the beginning 30 monks were studying at the Shedra. With the spread of its fame, more monks arrived to study there, many of them from other monasteries and schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Unfortunately the Nyima Changra enjoyed only a brief period of flourishing as it was destroyed after 1959 and especially during the time of the so-called Cultural Revolution. On the ruins of the Nyima Changra Shedra the new town of Drikung Qu, with its dreary, monotonous buildings, was constructed.

Drikung Tse

Drikung Thil  |  Drikung Dzong  |  Yangrigar  |  Drikung Tse  |  Nyima Changra  |  Katsel

Tse001Drikung Tse Saten Dorje Ying ('bri gung rtse sa brtan rdo rje dbyings), about eight kilometers upstream from Drikung Dzong, is said to having been built originally by Tibetan King Mutik Tsenpo (764-817) as a manor house (pho brang) in a narrow gorge off the upper Kyichu river crossing the Lungsho valley which leads to Lake Namtso. The building was first consecrated as a monastery by Chogyal Rinchen Phuntsog (1547-1602), the 21st throne holder of the Drikung order, in 1560. Chogyal Rinchen Phuntsog made it his main residence. From then on, the enthronement ceremonies of the new lineage holders were traditionally first performed here and only subsequently at Drikung Thil. The main building of Drikung Tse was enclosed by a wall and could be entered by a low, wooden-framed gateway.

Tse002The most sacred image at Drikung Tse was a statue of the Buddha created of a mysterious metal alloy. It is said that it had been made during Buddha’s lifetime and that it had been consecrated by him personally. Allegedly the Indian master Jowo Atisha (982-1054) brought it from India. Drikung Tse housed many beautiful statues, thangkas, and ancient manuscripts. Some very rare precious jewels were kept in the Achi treasury. In it also some kind of wooden miracle box was kept with the image of an elephant that was held to have magic properties, providing accumulation of wealth. When Drikung Tse was destroyed after 1959, the local populace was amazed to see all the treasures that were brought out from the Achi treasury during the pillage, like a sizable bag filled with precious Dzi stones. Eyewitnesses also recounted that they had seen the elephant on the magic box beginning to bleed.

Today only a few monks live in the compound. They try hard to refurbish the buildings and restore religious life in this historically important Drikung Kagyu monastery.


Drikung Thil  |  Drikung Dzong  |  Yangrigar  |  Drikung Tse  |  Nyima Changra  |  Katsel

Yangri002The complete name of this monastery is Drikung Yangar Thubten Dezhi Rabgyeling ('bri gung yang sgar thub bstan sde bzhi rab rgyas gling). It was located 10 kilometers up the Shorongchu, a tributary of the Kyichu river to the east of Lhasa. At this place the river ran in quite a deep gorge near the monastery. Yangrigar stood in the valley at the base of a scarp on the left bank of the river. The monastery was built in the 17th century by Thrinle Sangpo (1656-1718), the 2nd Chetsang Rinpoche. There actually was a small monastery at this place in earlier times, which was severely damaged during battles with Mongol troops. Eventually Thrinle Sangpo constructed a spacious new monastery there in 1681. Besides Drikung Thil it was considered the most important and largest of the Drikung monasteries. The 6th Chetsang Tenzin Shiwe Lodro (1886–1943) arranged for the renovation of Yangrigar and the addition of a building for storing the wooden blocks used for printing Buddhist texts.

Cultivated fields surrounded the monastery and there were several old stupas outside the compound. The massive, five floors high red painted main temple (lha khang chen po) of Yangrigar was topped by a band of white masonry. It was entered past a line of stupas through a gateway in the west side of a white wall which surrounded the whole monastery and where the monks’ cells and storerooms were located. On top of the high central building the residences of the Chetsang and Chungtsang Rinpoches were situated. It also included the quarters of the manager (phyag mdzod) of the Labrang (the estate of a Tulku). A broad white tower to the south was used for the display of large ceremonial religious banners (gos sku).

Yangri001Fine life-size statues of all the lineage holders from Vajradhara (rdo rje 'chang) to the 6th Chetsang Shiwe Lodro lined the walls of the Temple of the Throne Holders (gdan rabs khang). Another much revered figure in this shrine room was a “speaking image” (gsung byon ma) of Chenrezig made by the 3rd Chungtsang Chokyi Nyima (1755-1792). In the large assembly hall with its 48 pillars were tall statues of Maitreya, Chenrezig and Buddha Shakyamuni. The Achi treasure room housed a great variety of precious offering objects, among those a series of thangkas painted mainly in gold (gser thang), which were brought out from the Achi treasury only every twelve years during the Drikung Phowa Chenmo. Several enormous silk brocade thangkas were displayed once a year outside the front elevation of the monastery.

Before the destruction of the monastery, 500 monks were residing in the compound. In 1960 the entire structure was torn down in order to build a Chinese military base. For fifteen years only one wall of a temple remained standing. After a series of deaths amongst those engaged in the destruction no one dared to ruin the wall. Legend has it that the Drikung protectress Achi would reside inside this wall and anyone tampering with the goddess' residence would die soon. Only in 1985 this last remaining structure of Yangrigar Monastery was demolished.  

In the vicinity of the old monastery recently a new Yangrigar Monastery was erected, but compared to the splendor of the original building it is only a distant echo. The Yangrigar Monastery still owns a large piece of land, but financial means are still lacking in order to rebuild a large monastery there. The monastery of Yamari (g.ya' ma ri dgon) in the vicinity has not been restored, but is still active and the monks of Yangrigar and Yamari help each other in their efforts of refurbishment and education. Presently there are about 100 monks residing in both the monasteries.

Drikung Dzong

Drikung Thil  |  Drikung Dzong  |  Yangrigar  |  Drikung Tse  |  Nyima Changra  |  Katsel

Dzong001The stronghold of Drikung Dzongsar Tashizug ('bri gung rdzong gsar bkra shis gzugs), on a rocky spur at a distance of ten kilometers from Yangrigar Monastery, commands the mountain ridge at the junction of the rivers Shorong and Kyichu. This Drikung monastery and fortress (rdzong) was built on this site in the 17th century after the repeated destruction of the previous stronghold during battles of Mongol troops. The original structure was situated on a mountain slope across the valley to the south. Drikung Dzong became the administrative headquarters of the district belonging to the Drikung Kagyu order. 

Drikung Dzong’s building style, with steep stairways clinging to the slope and mighty, pitched walls was reminiscent of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Drikung Dzong has inspired reverence and envy throughout the centuries and was often the object of hostile encroachment. During the 1st Chungtsang Rigzin Chodrak’s (1595-1659) lifetime the central government had confiscated Drikung Dzong. The 2nd Chetsang Thrinle Sangpo (1656-1718) entered into negotiations with the government and was granted permission to take over the Dzong again in 1715. In the meantime, the government in Lhasa had built up the area around the Barkhor and had removed costly roofs and expensive building materials from Drikung Dzong and carried them off to the capital.  

Drikung Dzong was divided into four main residential quarters, the upper, the lower, the western and the eastern. The large assembly hall (tshoms chen) and the temple of the three Drikung protector deities were situated in the center. The residences of the Kyabgon Rinpoches were on top of the building. In the upper section lived the Kyabgon Rinpoche’s servants, household servants, the shrine master, the cook, the teachers of the Kyabgon Rinpoches (yongs 'dzin), the secretary, and the commissary of stores. The lower area accommodated the secular administration of Drikung, consisting of the manager, the bursar, the secretary for external affairs, the undersecretary, the head purchasing agent, the steward of firewood, and the stableman.  

Drikung Dzong owned an important library which not only housed many invaluable religious and historical texts, but also all the contracts the Drikungpa had signed with the central government since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama. Significant documents for the history of the Drikung Kagyu order kept there included comprehensive lists of all Drikung monasteries and of Rinpoches and lamas as well as minute inventories of all the major monasteries. The temples in the compound were decorated with many beautiful statues and thangkas. The library was destroyed and all the valuable objects in the entire edifice were taken away when Drikung Dzong was looted soon after the Tibetan Uprising of 1959. Subsequently the buildings decayed as the local populace carried off wooden beams and other material they could use for heating or building. 

Today only a small part of Drikung Dzong has been restored and a few monks are looking after it. Gelong Tsondu Tsundu has made considerable efforts to rebuild the monastery, but it is impossible to reconstruct the main building. With the help of a few monks he has reconstructed the main assembly hall and the living quarters of the Kyabgon Rinpoches. 

Recently the Chinese built a dam for a hydroelectric plant and flooded the entire large valley just below Drikung Dzong. Quite a few families had to be relocated and many villages disappeared. Now the remnants of Drikung Dzong are overlooking a lake instead of fields and rivers. There is no regular monastic live at Drikung Dzong at present. Only a handful of monks live there permanently to look after the buildings.

Drikung Thil

Drikung Thil  |  Drikung Dzong  |  Yangrigar  |  Drikung Tse  |  Nyima Changra  |  Katsel

The Founding of the Main Monastery of the Drikung Kagyu Order


Thil010Drikung Thil Ogmin Jangchubling ('bri gung mthil 'og min byang chub gling) was established in 1179 by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon ('bri gung skyob pa 'jig rten gsum mgon, 1143-1217), the founder of the Drikung Kagyu tradition. It was actually built at the place of a hermitage erected in 1167 by Minyak Gomring (mi nyag sgom rings), an illiterate ascetic and like Jigten Sumgon a pupil of Phagmodrupa (phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1110-1170). 

Drikung Thil is the main seat of the Drikung tradition. It is located on the brow of a long mountain ridge some 120 kilometers to the north-east of Lhasa overlooking the Shorong valley. Legend has it that Jigten Sumgon had selected this place for the monastery while following a dri (a female yak), who lay down at that place. The horns of the dri are still shown today at Drikung. Because of this the whole area supposedly was called Drikung. According to the historical chronicles of Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375) Mirror of the Royal Genealogies (rgyal rabs gsal ba'i me long) in reality the land was a fiefdom of Dri Seru Gungton ('bri se ru gung ston), a minister of King Songtsen Gampo (srong btsan sgam po, ruled 617-649), and the district was named after him.

Thil003It is interesting to note that from its founding days Drikung had a very well organized administrative structure. While the abbot was the supreme spiritual authority, the secular administration including civil and military powers were in the hands of a Gompa (sgom pa) or Gomchen (sgom chen). Like the throne holders, most of the secular rulers came from the Kyura (skyu ra) clan, the paternal lineage of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon. The Kyura clan claimed its descent from king Ralpachen (ral pa can, ruled 815-838). Until the 16th century the throne of Drikung was hereditary among the clan with only very few exceptions. 


Historical Developments


During the 13th century Drikung Thil rose to an important center of political power. It became one of the major rivals to the Sakya rule in the period of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. The power struggle on the background of opposing Mongol groups exerting their influence in Tibet culminated in a military attack on Drikung Thil. This conflict would later go down in history as the war between Drikung and Sakya. It was not a feud between two schools of Tibetan Buddhism, as is often claimed, but rather an attempt on the part of a few provinces of central Tibet to revolt against the overlordship forced on them by Khubilai Khan (1215-1294) with support from rival Mongol groups. The actual local conflict centered on disputes concerning the succession in Phagmodrupa’s monastery of Densa Thil. At Densa Thil branches of the familial lines of the Lang (rlang) clan were pursuing interests that were at variance with each other. One branch was supported by the Sakyapa and the other by the Drikungpa. The war broke out under the 7th lineage holder of Drikung, Tsamche Drakpa Sonam (1238-1286), and in 1290, under his successor Nub Chogo Dorje Yeshe (1223-1293), Drikung Thil Monastery was devastated by Mongolian troops. This disaster did not come unexpected for the local population. As Dorje Yeshe was not a member of the Kyura clan, but of the Nub clan, he lacked support in difficult times, since Jigten Sumgon had prophesied that choosing a throne holder outside the Kyura clan would bring misfortune to Drikung. 

Drikung Thil was rebuilt under the 9th lineage holder, Chunyi Dorje Rinchen (1278-1314), with support from the Emperor and the Sakyapa. But the powerful influence that the monastery had exercised for decades in Tibet was gone. After this period of decline in political influence, Drikung Thil slowly regained its prominence and became an important intermediary in Sino-Tibetan relations throughout the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). 


The Buildings and Shrine Rooms


Thil006From the beginning Drikung Thil was and still remains one of the preeminent Kagyu centers of study, tantric teaching, and retreat. Up until the 19th century, the main emphasis was on rituals, practice, and religious dances. Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon stressed that his line should follow the view of Mahamudra and the conduct of the training in higher ethical self-discipline. Subsequently, the monks’ discipline at Drikung Thil has always been very strict. Following its destruction during the Chinese occupation Drikung Thil has been undergoing reconstruction since 1983. Before its abandonment in 1959 and subsequent ruin, the monastery housed about four hundred monks, sixty meditation practitioners, six Lama’s residences (bla brang), and eight incarnate Lamas. 

The main shrine hall, the Tsuglakhang (gtsug lag khang), with the large terrace in front of it, is built on a solid stone rampart about twenty meters high. On this terrace Jigten Sumgon and many of his followers on the seat of Drikung used to give instructions to the monks in the winter time dressed only in a light cotton garment. Scattered on the ridge are numerous smaller buildings, rustic hermitages serving as meditation cells of the Eastern (sgrub grwa shar) and Western Practice Colleges (sgrub grwa nub). The buildings dispersed on different levels are joined by steep stone steps and in some cases by wooden ladders.

Thil004The treasures that were kept in no less than fifteen temples of the monastery (seven of which have been since rebuilt) in ancient times bear evidence of the prominence of Drikung Thil. The most important of these Lhakhangs (shrine rooms) is the so called Golden Temple (gser khang), filled with remarkable statues and stupas. The central figure in the Golden Temple is an effigy of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon made of gold and copper in his likeness ('dra sku) and filled with numerous rare relics and jewels.

The third shrine room housed another very famous statue of Jigten Sumgon. The story goes that Jigten Sumgon once was angry at his monks and left the monastery for a secluded retreat in the Tsaug cave (tsha 'ug dpal gyi nags khrod). This was at the time when his fame was spreading wide and he was said to have had 180.000 pupils. His students begged him to return and offered countless khatags. These white silk scarves were eventually burned and the ashes were mixed with ground jewels. From this mixture a statue in the likeness of Jigten Sumgon was built, called Darkuma (dar sku ma) which became very famous. 

The renowned Red Earth Throne (sa khri dmar po) of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon can be found in the fourth Lhakhang, surrounded by elaborate paintings of the Kagyu Lineage Lamas, Yidams and protectors on the walls. Adjacent to this shrine room is the assembly hall and in front of it a place called Nela Yelthang (gnas bla g.yel thang), which is the main place for pujas and teachings by Lamas and Rinpoches. According to a prophecy by Jigten Sumgon, whoever sets a foot on this place will not be reborn in the Lower Realms.

Thil001The seventh temple was the monastic treasury Achi Kordso (a phyi dkor mdzod). It was opened only once in the lifetime of a lineage holder at the time of his enthronement. Instead of wooden beams the roof was held up by ancient muskets and the room used to be stuffed with a colossal amount of incredible treasures, some of which were said to pertain to the times of the legendary king Gesar. All the treasures in the Achi Kordso disappeared after 1959. 

The tenth and eleventh Lhakhangs pertain to the many meditation dwellings scattered above and around the central monastery building. The twelfth shrine room, called the Big New House (khang gsar chen mo), among many very unusual Dharma treasures used to house a very famous statue of Jigten Sumgon with an imprint of his tooth on it. Also the horns of the Dri said to have prophesized the place where the monastery would be built, was kept in this place. 

In the 15th and last Lhakhang there were many beautiful funeral stupas (gdung rten mchod rten) containing the relics of the throne holders, among them an incredibly beautiful one of Peme Gyaltsen, the 4th Chetsang Rinpoche (1770-1826). Here precious costumes for the Cham dances were kept too.

Drikung Thil, the monastery founded by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon and the pride of the Drikung lineage, was looted and heavily damaged before and during the Cultural Revolution. Almost all of the beautiful statues, stupas, thangkas, ancient manuscripts and Dharma objects were stolen or destroyed, with a few noticeable exceptions. Some of the smaller statues were hidden during the time of turmoil. These can be seen today in the rebuilt monastery edifices, were religious life came back into being. The most important achievement was the reconstruction of the assembly hall and the Golden Temple built upon the original high platform. 


Sky Burial Ground (Drikung Durto) 


Thil008On the shoulder of the mountain west of Drikung Thil lies Drikung Durto ('bri gung dur khrod), the renowned sky burial ground, compared in fame to Sitavana (bsil ba tshal) near Bodh Gaya, one of the eight Indian charnel grounds. Still today bodies are brought from far away places in Tibet for being dismembered and fed to the vultures at Drikung Durto. According to legend a rainbow joins Sitavana with the sky burial ground of Drikung. A vulture's footprint in stone still to be seen here is said to belong to Sitavana’s protector. Part of the boundary around the place with stupas and lhakhangs is also a circle of boulders representing the mandala of Chakrasamvara ('khor lo bde mchog). There is also a self-arisen mani-stone and a stupa that marks the place of Jigten Sumgon’s throne with his footprint in rock.

Drikung, The Main Seat of Drikung Kagyu Order

Drikung Thil  |  Drikung Dzong  |  Yangrigar  |  Drikung Tse  |  Nyima Changra  |  Katsel

The four main monasteries of the Drikung Kagyu Order are situated in the Drikung region in Central Tibet: Drikung Thil, Yangrigar, Drikung Dzong, and Drikung Tse. These monasteries were the centers of the religious activities customarily carried out throughout the year in the presence of the Kyabgon Rinpoches. Therefore the throne holders split their time between these monasteries on a regular basis. In spring the Chungtsang and Chetsang Rinpoches resided in Drikung Tse, in summer they moved to Yangrigar, in autumn to Drikung Thil, and they spent the winter in Drikung Dzong.

Beside these, there were and still are numerous other Drikung Kagyu monasteries and nunneries in this area. Notable among those is the monastery of Katsel, because it ranges among the oldest in Tibet, and the nunnery of Terdrom, situated close to a sacred thermal spring at the entrance to a valley with various holy places, including famous caves of Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal. This highly revered zone of pilgrimage is considered to be the heart of the Drikung Mandala.

Other notable monasteries of the Drikungpa in the region include Yamari, Drongur, Cholung Nunnery, and of course the famous academy of Buddhist philosophy, Nyima Changra Shedra.



The Birth of Buddha
Buddha's Renunciation
In Search of Truth
Turning the Wheel of Dharma
Buddha's Parinirvana
Buddha's Teachings

The Four Noble Truth
Dharma Practice

What is the Mind?
Loving Kindness and Compassion

What is Vajrayana?
Why Practice Vajrayana?
Authentic Vajrayana
Levels of Vajrayana
Attachment and Vajrayana
What to Meditate On
Sitting in Meditation
Preparing for Meditation
The Meditation Session
A Meditation Schedule

The Kagyu Lineage
Meaning of Hung Symbol
Meaning of Drikung
Life Story of Achi
The Three Protectors