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Home > Historical, Cultural, and Comparative Studies > History of Buddhism and Bon > A Brief History of Mindrol-ling Monastery

A Brief History of Mindrol-ling Monastery

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

Ogyen Mindrol-ling Monastery (U-rgyan sMin-grol-ling dGon-pa, Mindroling Monastery) is the main Nyingma monastery of the Southern Treasure Text Tradition (lho-gter). It was founded in 1676 south of Lhasa by Terdag Lingpa Gyurmey-dorjey (gTer-bdag gLing-pa ‘Gyur-med rdo-rje), also known as Terchen Chokyi-gyelpo (gTer-chen Chos-kyi rgyal-po) (1646-1719). Terdag Lingpa, one of the great Nyingma revealers of treasure texts, was both a teacher and a disciple of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang-lozang-gyatso (rGyal-dbang lnga-pa chen-po Ngag-dbang blo-bzang rgya-mtsho) (1617-1682). The Fifth Dalai Lama had bestowed upon him the authority and all facilities for establishing this monastery based on several older monasteries. From this time onward, Mindrol-ling was entrusted with performing rituals for the Tibetan Government. Its reestablished branch in exile in India continues this function.

Mindrol-ling was destroyed in 1718 by the Dzungar Mongols from East Turkistan. It was rebuilt during the reign of the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang-gyatso (rGyal-ba bdun-pa sKal-bzang rgya-mtsho, rGyal-dbang sKal-bzang) (1708-1757). Dungsay Rinchen-namgyel (gDung-sras Rin-chen rnam-rgyal) and Jetsun Migyur-peldron (rJe-btsun Mi-‘gyur dpal-sgron), the son and daughter of Terdag Lingpa, supervised its reconstruction. The son had fled to Kham and the daughter to Sikkim during the Dzungar persecution of the Nyingmas. The reconstruction of the monastery and the revival of its lineages had the patronage of the Regent of Tibet, Pholhanay (Pho-lha-nas bSod-nams stobs-rgyal), who drove out the Dzungars from Tibet in 1720 in advance of the Manchu army.

In 1959, there were approximately 300 monks at Mindrol-ling. Subsequently, the monastery was destroyed once again by the Chinese. At present, the monastery is slowly being reconstructed in Tibet.

The position of Mindrol-ling Throne Holder (sMin-gling Khri-can) passed from father to son, starting from Terdag Lingpa, for nine generations. The Tenth Mindrol-ling Throne Holder was the tulku reincarnation of Terdag Lingpa, named Kunga-tendzin (Kun-dga’ bstan-‘dzin), a descendent of the treasure text revealer Terton Rangrig-dorjey Rinpoche (gTer-ston Rang-rig rdo-rje Rin-po-che).

The Eleventh Mindrol-ling Throne Holder, Dondrub-wanggyel (Don-grub dbang-rgyal), was the son of Kunga-tendzin. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Tubten-gyatso (rGyal-ba Thub-bstan rgya-mtsho) (1876-1933), finding certain aspects of Dondrub-wanggyel’s conduct inappropriate, placed him in permanent retreat and appointed a Regent Throne Holder, Dordzin Namdrol-gyatso (rDo-‘dzin rNam-grol rgya-mtsho). During the minority of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tendzin-gyatso (rGyal-ba bsTan-‘dzin rgya-mtsho) (b. 1935), the Regent of Tibet, Radreng Rinpoche (Rva-sgreng Rin-po-che), appointed Dondrub-wanggyel’s brother, Ngawang-chodrag (Ngag-dbang chos-grags), as the next Regent Throne Holder of Mindrol-ling. Following his period of tenure, the son of Dondrub-wanggyel, Kunzang-wanggyel (Kun-bzang dbang-rgyal), became the Twelfth Mindrol-ling Throne Holder, living at present in exile in India.

The first Abbot of Mindrol-ling was Gyelsay Tenpay-nyima (rGyal-sras bsTan-pa’i nyi-ma), the brother of Terdag Lingpa. For eight generations this position passed from father to son. Thus, for almost two centuries, the Throne Holders and Abbots of Mindrol-ling Monastery were all family descendents of Terdag Lingpa.

There are three classifications of teachings transmitted in the Nyingma tradition: the distant lineage of the enlightening words of the Buddha (bka’-ma ring-brgyud), the near lineage of treasure texts (gter-ma nye-brgyud), and the profound lineage of pure visions (dag-snang zab-brgyud). The course of study and practice at Mindrol-ling combines the teachings from the first of these two.

Monks study dzogchen (rdzogs-chen, the great completeness) based on the guideline instructions of texts brought from India, which were buried in Tibet and Bhutan, and later unearthed as the southern tradition of treasure texts. In addition, Mindrol-ling has been a center for the study and practice of the traditional Buddhist fields of knowledge of medicine, astrology, and grammar. Many scholars have trained there from the central Tibetan province of U (dBus), as well as the eastern provinces of Kham (Khams) and Amdo (A-mdo).

Within the context of study and practice of the great texts, the emphasis at Mindrol-ling has always been on practice. Each year, the monastery engaged in the full rites of eight tantric mandala systems (sgrub-pa bka’-brgyad). In addition, monks traditionally studied thirteen major sutra and tantra texts, many with the explanation lineage (bshad-brgyud) deriving from Terdag Lingpa. At present, Mindrol-ling Monastery has been reestablished in Clement Town, Uttar Pradesh, India.

[See also: Brief History of Dzogchen.]