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Home > Historical, Cultural, and Comparative Studies > History of Buddhism and Bon > A Brief History of Drigungtil Monastery

A Brief History of Drigungtil Monastery

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

Drigungtil Ogmin Jangchubling Monastery (‘Bri-gung mthil ‘Og-min byang-chub gling, Drikung Thil Monastery) was founded in 1179 by Drigung Kyobpa Jigten-gonpo-rinchenpel (‘Bri-gung sKyob-pa ‘Jig-rten dgon-po rin-chen dpal) (1143-1217), the founder of the Drigung Kagyu (Drikung Kagyu) Tradition. Drigung Kagyu is one of the eight minor Dagpo Kagyu lineages (Dvags-po bKa’-brgyud brgyud-chung brgyad). The eight derive from the disciples of Pagmodrupa (Phag-mo gru-pa rDo-rje rgyal-po) (1110-1170), who was a great disciple of Gampopa (sGam-po-pa, Dvags-po Lha-rje bSod-nams rin-chen) (1079-1153). Drigungtil is the main monastery of this tradition. It is located 150 kilometers to the east of Lhasa in a low-lying valley. The monastery is named after the district in which it is found, Drigung, and the tradition is named after the monastery.

From the time of its founding until the present, there have been thirty-eight abbots of Drigungtil. The population of the monastery has been greater and smaller at different times in its history. In 1959, there were all together about four hundred monks, sixty meditation retreatants, six Lama’s residences (Bla-brang), and eight Incarnate Lamas.

Drigungtil Monastery has always emphasized meditation practice, particularly of the tantric specialties of its founder. There is a long tradition of meditators living in caves above and around the monastery, engaged in intensive practice of the six teachings of Naropa (Na-ro chos-drug, six yogas of Naropa) and the Possessing Five Tradition (lnga-ldan). From time to time, these yogis living in retreat would have to demonstrate their meditation accomplishments before the two heads of the Drigung Tradition, the Drigung Chetsang (‘Bri-gung Che-tshang) and Drigung Chungtsang (‘Bri-gung Chung-tshang).

When Drigung Kyobpa Jigten-gonpo founded the monastery, he began the custom of giving discourses twice a year on selected sutra and tantra topics. These were known as the Summer and Winter Dharma Sessions. The succession of abbots continued this tradition, but the level of studies at the monastery remained low. Up until the nineteenth century, the main emphasis was on rituals, practice, and religious dances, all undertaken mostly based on faith. There were only two colleges, Drubdra Shar (sGrub-grva shar) and Drubdra Nub (sGrub-grva nub), the Practice Colleges of the East and West, respectively. Then, the Thirty-fourth Abbot, Kyabjey Zhiway-lodro (sKyabs-rje Zhi-ba’i blo-gros), and Chokyi-jungnay (Chos-kyi ‘byung-gnas) invited Nyagtrul Jamyang-wangyel Rinpoche (Nyag-sprul ‘Jam-dbyangs dbang-rgyal Rin-po-che) to establish a Teaching College at Drigungtil. This was named Nyichang Shaydra (gNyis-‘chang bShad-grva). The monks of the monastery would rotate spending five years at this Teaching College studying thirteen great scriptural texts through the medium of logic and debate.

Drigung Kyobpa Jigten-gonpo stressed that his line should follow the view of mahamudra (phyag-chen, the great seal) and the conduct of the training in higher ethical self-discipline. Subsequently, the monks’ discipline at Drigungtil has always been very strict.

After 1959, the monastery was destroyed by the Chinese. Its reconstruction was begun in 1980. In India, its traditions have been revived in 1989 at Dehra Dun, Uttar Pradesh, at the Jangchubling Drikung Kagyu Institute.