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Home > Historical, Cultural, and Comparative Studies > History of Buddhism and Bon > A Brief History of Drug Sang-ngag Choling Monastery

A Brief History of Drug Sang-ngag Choling Monastery

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

The principal monastery of the Drugpa Kagyu Tradition (‘Brug-pa bKa’-brgyud) is Sang-ngag Choling (gSang-sngags chos-gling dGon-pa). It was founded in 1512 by the Third Drugchen Rinpoche, Jamyang-chokyi-dragpa (‘Brug-chen ‘Jam-dbyangs chos-kyi grags-pa) (1478-1522). According to some histories, however, it was established by his reincarnation, the Fourth Drugchen Rinpoche, Pemakarpo (‘Brug-chen Pad-ma dkar-po) (1527-1592).

Jamyang-chokyi-dragpa was the son of Tashi-dargyay (bKra-shis dar-rgyas), the Prince of Jar (Byar). From his childhood, Jamyang-chokyi-dragpa had studied with many great masters of the Drugpa Kagyu Tradition and had achieved a high level of tantric realization. When he decided to build a monastery, he asked his father for material assistance. Because of his father’s gracious generosity, the monastery was also known as Jar Tashi Tong-yon (Byar bKra-shis mThong-yon), "The Gift from Tashi of Jar’s Esteem." It was started with a Shaydra Teaching College (bShad-grva) of 200 monks.

The Drugpa lineage is one of the eight minor Dagpo Kagyu Traditions (Dvags-po bKa-brgyud brgyud-chung brgyad) deriving from disciples of Pagmodrupa (Phag-mo gru-pa rDo-rje rgyal-po) (1110-1170). Pagmodrupa, in turn, was a great disciple of Gampopa (sGam-po-pa, Dvags-po Lha-rje bSod-nams rin-chen) (1079-1153). It was founded by Ling-raypa Pema-dorjey (gLing Ras-pa Pad-ma rdo-rje) (1128-1188) and his disciple Tsangpa Gyaray Yeshey-dorjey (gTsang-pa rGya-ras Ye-shes rdo-rje) (1161-1211). The line of Drugchen Rinpoches (‘Brug-chen Rin-po-che), reincarnations of Tsangpa Gyaray, has been its traditional head.

In 1205, Tsangpa Gyaray had founded Namgyipur Monastery (gNam-gyi phur dGon-pa) in Kyimay (sKyid-smad). At its opening, there were three extremely loud thunderclaps. Because of this, the monastery was given the popular name of Drug Gon (‘Brug dGon), or Thunder Monastery. "Drug" is Tibetan for "thunder." The Drugpa Tradition received its name from this monastery.

Drugpa Kagyu has three divisions: Todrug (sTod-‘brug), Maydrug (sMad-‘brug) and Bardrug (Bar-‘brug) – the Drugpa of Upper, Lower, and Middle Tibet, respectively. They derive from three disciples of Tsangpa Gyaray. Sang-ngag Choling Monastery is from the Bardrug, the Middle Drugpa Tradition.

Several lines developed within the Bardrug Tradition. The Lhodrug (Lho-‘brug) or Southern Drugpa lineage was begun by Ngawang-namgyel (Ngag-dbang rnam-rgyal) (1594-1651), the First Zhabdrung (Zhabs-drung) of Bhutan (‘Brug-yul). Zhabdrung Ngawang-namgyel was the reincarnation of the Fourth Drugchen Rinpoche, Pemakarpo. As there was another claimant to the throne of the Drugchen Rinpoche, Zhabdrung Ngawang-namgyel went into exile in Bhutan. He founded many monasteries there and politically unified the country. His reincarnations, the subsequent Zhabdrungs, became the spiritual and political rulers of Bhutan.

The Tibetan name for Bhutan "Drug-yul" (‘Brug-yul), "Thunder Land," derives from the Drugpa Kagyu Tradition. Sang-ngag Choling Monastery is sometimes associated with the Southern Drugpa line.

The monks at Sang-ngag Choling trained in the teachings that are common to all Dagpo Kagyu lineages and in those that are specific to the Drugpa Kagyu. Thus, like the other lineages deriving from Gampopa, they studied and practiced the Six Doctrines of Naropa (Na-ro chos-drug, Six Yogas of Naropa). The special teachings of the Drugpa Kagyu are "Ro-nyom" (ro-snyoms), "The Equal Taste." They were hidden as a treasure teaching (gter-ma) by Rechungpa (Ras chung-pa rDo-rje grags-pa) (1083-1161) who, like Gampopa, was a disciple of Milarepa (Mi-la Ras-pa bZhad-pa rdo-rje) (1040-1123). The Equal Taste teachings were discovered and spread by Tsangpa Gyaray. The other special teaching of the Drugpa Kagyu is "Tendrel" (rTen-‘brel), "The Dependent Arising" tradition.

Prior to 1959, Sang-ngag Choling had over 400 monks. It has been the traditional seat of the Drugchen Rinpoches, who have served as its abbot. The present Twelfth Drugchen Rinpoche has reestablished Sang-ngag Choling in Darjeeling, West Bengal.