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A Study on Hor-sTag-lung Monastery

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 Lying at the southern foot of Mount Jishi in Jishishan County bordering Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, Hor-sTag-lung Monastery (thereafter abbreviated to sTag-lung Monastery) is a well-known Tibetan Buddhist monastery built in the early period of Tibetan Buddhism. It has a history of more than 400 years and was affiliated with bKra-shis-lhun-po Monastery. Its full name is "sTag-lung-dgon-thub-bstan-dar-rgyas-gling", which means "a place in the valley of the tiger's lair where Buddhism flourishes". Thanks to the painstaking efforts of sTag-lung-tshang of different generations, in Qing Emperor Tongzhi's reign this monastery had three Grwa-tshangs including Tantric college, Time-wheel college and Medical College, as well as a Buddhist nunnery and a temple of the rNing- ma-pa Sect, with 3000 monks and nuns altogether. At that time it included a Sutra hall, three Buddhist palaces, more than one hundred premises and nine pagodas. Equipped with such a complete array of colleges and magnificent palaces and temples, it is honored as the originator of monasteries in central Tibet (dBus) and demonstrates its importance in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. At the invitation of the Rin-po-che from the sTag-lung-tshang in this monastery and local Buddhist believers, the author conducted a close investigation into its establishment and development, history, main buildings, transmission system of Rin-po-che and its subordinate temples. Based on historical material in Tibetan and new material available, this article attempts to provide a brief account of this re-search on sTag-lung Monastery.

I. The Establishment and Development of sTag-lung Monastery

sTag-lung monastery was established in 1543 (the 22nd year of the Jiajing reign in the Ming Dynasty) when Tibetan Buddhism was at the height of its glory after "the Period of Later Prosperity". gTsang rTa-nag- pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras, the founder of this monastery, is honored as the originator of the transmission sys- tem of Rin-po-ches in the sTag-lung-tshang.

According to the Buddhist History of Amdo (in Tibetan) by Brag-dgon-pa bsTan-pa-rab-rgyas, "gTsang rTa-nag-pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras was born in gTsangrta- nag (now Shetongmon or bzhad-mthong-smon County in Shigatse region) though his dates of birth and death are not certain. When he was a little boy, he became a monk in bKra-shis-lhun-po Monastery which was newly finished at that time, and studied Tantra and Sutra of Buddhism under the Third Panchen Lama named dBen-sa Blo-bzang-don-grub (1505-1566). Being clever and hard working, he was the best among the learners and won the Panchen's high praise. After he had learned all doctrines, the Panchen Lama instructed him, 'Walk eastwards to reach a valley with blooming yellow flowers in the north of Amdo region. Looking into the distance, you will see a dense forest on a terrace. The place where a white spotted female tiger roars is the site you can build a monastery and develop Buddhism.' Having heard these words, gTsang rTa-nag-pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras, with an entourage of 12, traveled across mountains and rivers and altogether covered more than a thousand li before arriving in Amdo region. He passed Chab-mdo, dKar-mdzes, Gyi-thang (now xining), Dwangs-rivi-mtsho-nag (now Mengda Holy Lake in Xunhua), and went on eastwards, resting in Byams-pa-vbum-filing (now Bingling Monastery in Yongjing County). In this monastery, he changed the statue of a Bonist mountain deity en-shrined for 2000 years into a statue of Maitreya, painted golden powder on the new statue and held a consecration ceremony to make it efficacious. Then he continued southwards and came into the Lung-khya valley (that is Lung-khya lung-pa, the present location of sTag-lung Monastery) at the east foot of Mount Jishi. As he and his entourage were making a fire to cook tea, a terrifying roar came out of a fores on a terrace in the distance and immediately a fierce tiger jumped out of the trees and lay down across the path. gTsang rTa-nag-pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras and his entourage immediately began divination. According to the result of the divination and the geomantic omen of this place, they believed what had happened proved that the Panchen's words before the journey were efficacious. Therefore, they decided to settle there and commenced preparations for constructing a monastery." gTsang rTa-nag-pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras advocated such basic Buddhist doctrines as the cycle of cause and effect, freeing oneself from worries about life and death as well as good being rewarded with good and evil being rewarded with evil. As these teachings satisfied the needs of the ruling class at that time to consolidate their feudal rule, his plan for building a monastery won the support of the local headmen and rTa-mgrin, head of the rGod-lung-tsho-bcul tribe. It is said that through begging alms gTsang rTa-nag-pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras got a plot of land as large as that enclosed with leather strips cut from three pieces of ox-hide, but eventually he got a larger plot which was as large as that enclosed with a strip cut from four pieces of ox-hide. This land was donated by A-e-mkhar-mo, a wealthy local herdsman. Having heard the news of the proposed monastery, he insisted on contributing this piece of land to gTsang rTa-nag-pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras, though it was part of his winter grazing pasture of high quality. gTsang rTa-nag-pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras decided to build the monastery on this plot of land, and named it after its location, that is, sTag-lung Monastery (meaning the monastery of Tiger's Lair Valley). 'Hor'in Hor-sTag-lung Monastery is the initial character of Hor-nag-glad-kha (now Tongren in Qinghai Province). Long ago, the ancestors of some locals in Tiger's Lair Valley moved from Hor-nag-glad-kha. This is why this monastery is called Hor-sTag-lung.

After its establishment, sTag-lung monastery experienced the regimes of Jiajing, Longqing, Wanli, Tianqi and Chongzhen during Ming Dynasty. As the Ming and Qing emperors conferred honorific titles and bestowed inscribed boards on this monastery, it attracted a great number of worshippers and pilgrims. During over sixty years, guided by three generations of sTag-lung Rin-po-che, Sutra halls, Sutra colleges, holy palaces, pagodas, premises, palaces of Dharmapala, and corridors for circumambulation were built in the monastery. The area around Tiger's Lair Valley had been the centre of the Jo-sras-lags Regime and it became more prosperous with a brisk market and swarms of traders and worshippers. Therefore, this area was honored as "dBus" or "Byang-pa-vbag-chen" the abbreviated form of northern Tibet; later mistakenly written as dBus-gtsangz) and this monastery became well known at that time in Tibet. In the 12th year of Qing Emperor Qianlong's reign (1747), when vjam-dbyangs-bzhad-pavjigs-med-dbang-po, the second Rin-po-che of Bla-brang-bkra-shis-vkhyil Monastery, came to Tibet to learn Buddhist Sutras and doctrines, dPhal-ldan-ye-shes, the Sixth Panchen Lama, instructed him that bla-brang-bkra-shis-vkhyil Monastery should directly manage all affairs of sTag- lung Monastery. Since then sTag-lung Monastery has officially become one of the subordinate monasteries of bla-brang-bkra-shis-vkhyil Monastery. In the 13th year of Qing Emperor Tongzhi's reign (1874), Hui people rebelled and sTag-lung monastery did not escape from this disaster. The monastery was destroyed nd more than 3000 monks were killed in a single day. o commemorate those deceased monks, thousands of local Buddhists worked together and built a pagoda containing the bones of the dead on the ruins of the monastery and it was named "Hundred-Bone-Pagoda". In addition, in the 21st year of Qing Emperor Guangxu's reign (1895) and in the 29th year of the Republic of China (1940), the monastery was sacked. Consequently, the buildings were seriously damaged and almost all Sutras, statues of Buddha, Buddhist objects and offerings were taken away. After 1949, especially since the 3rd Plenary Session of the rith Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the Communist Party and the government implemented a policy of religious freedom. In September 1984, a small Sutra hall, approved by the county government, was built on the ruins of the monastery and opened to the public.

II. The Transmission System of Rin-po-che in sTag-lung Monastery

At the end of the 14th century, sTag-lung Monastery began to enlarge its recruitment of monks to preach Buddhist teachings. Moreover, it sent talented and virtuous monks to study in Tibet, some of who studied Sutras for more than 30 years and did not come back until they got a dGe-bshes degree (Doctor of Divinity). Those who came back with the degree to the monastery would recruit their own students and preach Buddhist texts. They eventually became emi- nent monks and reincarnated in succession. In this way, a transmission system of Rin-po-che in the monastery came into being. There were three transmission systems of Rin-po-che: (i) the vjigs-med-rgya-mthso Rin-po-che system, lasting 18 generations; (a) the sTag-lung tshang Rin-po-che system, lasting io generations; (3) the Thar-mdo-rgya-mtsho Rin-po-che system, lasting six generations. Among the three Rin-po-ches, sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che was the abbot responsible for all religious and political affairs of the monastery.

This article attempts to provide a brief account of the sTag-lung tshang Rin-po-che transmission system so that readers are able to get a more complete and systematic picture of this monastery and its transmission system of Rin-po-che.

sTag-lung tshang Rin-po-che was the abbot of Hor-sTag-lung Monastery, but also the head of stag-lung Monastery in Songshan, Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County, Gansu Province. He was one of the disciples taught personally by the Fourth Panchen Lama, and also "State Tutor" of the Qing Dynasty, and Hutuktu in Beijing, which was a title appointed by the Qing Central Government. After the establishment of the transmission system of Rin-po-che in the first half of the 17th century, each generation of sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che built new monasteries and promoted Buddhism in Amdo area under the Panchen Lamas' instructions. sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che is now the tenth reincarnation.

The full name of the first sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che was gTsang rTa-nag-pa Kun-dgav-rnam-sras. According to the Buddhist History of Amdo, he was the reincarnation of Pan-chen-ye-shes-rtse-mo. He was born in Tibet in the late Ming Dynasty. When he was a little boy, he became a monk in bKra-shis-lhun-po monastery where he studied Buddhism and learned many doctrines of Tantra and Sutra. After he had es- tablished his reputation in Buddhism, he followed the Panchen Lama's instruction and came to the A-mdo region to spread Buddhism. At the invitation of rTa- mgrin, a local headman in the Jishi region, he went to Jishi to preach Buddhism. With the support of this local headman, he established dBus-gtsang Monastery (Hor-sTag-lung Monastery in Tibetan). In addition, he set up School of Dharmayata (later on this school was integrated with the Tantric College of sTag-lung Monastery) and started formal monastic education. Thus he cultivated a great number of Buddhist talents specializing in various subjects and greatly promoted Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture.

The second sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che was named Blo-bzang-bstan-pa cho-yi-nyi-ma, a State Tutor whose dates of birth and death are uncertain. After the first sTag-lung tshang Rin-po-che passed away, following the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, the Fourth Panchen Lama concluded by divination that the reincarnated soul boy of the first sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che was in the sTod-pa Tribe near Bya-khyung Monastery in Qinghai Province. Then this boy was found and brought back to sTag-lung Monastery where he was enthroned. Later he went to Tibet and studied Sutras for many years in sGo-mang grwa-tshang. Then he debated Sutras in Ngam-ring Monastery and earned a dGe-bshes degree. After that, he became the mKhan- po (abbot) of the Tantra College in bKra-shis-lhun-po Monastery. Having retired from this post, he went back to his hometown under the fourth Pan-chen Lama's direction to spread Buddhism and build monasteries. He was successively the abbot of Youning Monastery (dgon-lung byams-pa-gling) and Xianmi Monastery in Qinghai Province, and of Tiantang and Dongda mon-asteries in Gansu Province. Form 1642 to 1644; he established Shimen Monastery and stag-lung Monastery in Tianzhu. In order to attract more worshippers and pilgrims to the two newly built monasteries, he went to the hinterland and Tibet four times. During his stay in Beijing, he won the favor of Qing Emperor Kangxi, as he released the soul of the emperor's late mother by chanting Sutras. Emperor Kangxi conferred on him the title of "Hutuktu in Beijing" and bestowed on him three seals respectively made of carbonados, white sandalwood and white jade, a set of gilded saddles decorated with dragons, as well as imperial edicts and decrees. In addition, Emperor Kangxi wrote' "Zhu Qing Si (Zhu Qing Monastery)" for sTag-lung Monastery in Tianzhu and had a horizontal board with the three characters. This board was of the same size as that written by Ming Emperor Taizu for Hor-sTag- lung Monastery but had no character for "Da (great)". This was probably because it had a shorter history and was on a smaller scale than sTag-lung Monastery. With the support of Emperor Kangxi, the second Tag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che took the post of Guru (Master) of Qiaguan Monastery in the Royal Palace and wrote several Buddhist works.

The Third sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che was called State Tutor Blo-bzang gnam-mkhav rgyal-mtshan, whose life and dates of birth and death are not clear. According to records, from Blo-bzang gnam-mkhav rgyal-mtshan, sTag-lung tshang Rin-po-ches went to live in the area of Huari, where they built monasteries and preached Buddhism, in order to escape from in- ternal strife and other problems.

The Fourth sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che, State Tutor Blo-bzang bstan-pavi rgyal-mtshan, whose dates are also not clear, 'devoted his life to building monasteries, recruiting disciples and preaching Buddhism. With the great support of the Qing government, he had sTag-lung Monastery expanded and established four colleges - namely; Tantra College, Thos-bsam-gling College, Medical College and Timewheel College, so the monastery gradually prospered and eventually was named by the Qing Government as a ‘Buddhist Monastery for Defending the State'. In his later years, he had Yangjia Monastery, Shijingdong Monastery and others in present day Yongdeng County built. All of them were subordinate monasteries of sTag-lung Monastery.

The Fifth sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che was called Blo-bzang bstan-pavi nyi-ma. His life and dates are also not clear. The Sixth sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che, though there is also no record of his dates, was famous for his great learning. He wrote many books including the Annals of Four Monasteries in Liangzhou. The seventh sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che was Blo-bzang bsam-gtan rgya-mtsho (dates unknown) with an alleged life span of more than ion years. He once studied Buddhism directly under a renowned and eminent monk called Lung-rtogs bla-ma, and was a distinguished scholar of Buddhism. With the name of Blo-bzang vjam-dbyangs rgya-mtsho, the Eighth is generally called " Yhri-rgan-tshang". His dates of birth and death are also uncertain. Born in Bazha Township in Huzhu County, Qinghai Province, he studied Buddhism and practiced asceticism all his life in sTag-lung Monastery. Finally he became a sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che and achieved much. The Ninth, Blo-bzang bstan-vdzin rgya-mtsho, was born in present Xidatan Township in Tianzhu County in the fire-hare year of the 16th sixty- year cycle by the Tibetan calendar (1927). He was en- throned at five and was sent to Bla-brang (dgon-pa) Monastery to study Buddhism. He returned to the monastery he had originally lived in and then became the abbot of Tiantang Monastery. After 1949, he successively took the post of vice chairman of the Buddhist Association of Gansu Province, member of Political Consultative Conference of Tianzhu County and vice chairman of the Buddhist Association of Tianzhu County. He passed away in the fire-tiger year of the 16th sixty-year cycle by the Tibetan calendar (1986). The Tenth, Blo-bzang vjam-dbyangs rgya-mtsho, was born in Ehua Village in Jiujia Township, Xiahe County in the earth-snake year of the 17th sixty-year ycle by the Tibetan calendar (15 Oct. 1989). His father is vjigs-byid-skyabs and mother bDe-skyid sgrolma. At five, he became a monk in Bla-brang dgon-pa Monastery and adopted vJam-dbyangs-bkra-shis as his monastic name. He studied the basics of Buddhism in the Time Wheel College of this monastery and prac- ticed vChams (religious dances). In 1994, this boy was confirmed to be the reincarnation of the Ninth sTaglung-tshang Rin-po-che by the divination of the Sixth Great Master vJam-dbyangs (Blo-bzang thub-bstan chos-kyi-nyi-ma) and by the rite of whirling a small ball in the silvery basin in front of the funerary Stupa of Great Master Bla-khe-tshang in the Sutra hall of the Time Wheel College in Bla-brang (dgon-pa) Monastery. This was done at the insistent request of the Buddhists of Tibetan, Han and Tu nationality in Songshan, Qianbao and Dong Daguan Townships in Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County, and with the approval of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Office in Wuwei Region and the government of Tianzhu County. The Sixth Great Master vJam-dbyangs gave him Blo-bzang vjam-dbyangs rgya-mtsho as his new monastic name, and appointed dGe-bshes vJam- dbyangs vphrin-las in Bla-brang (dgon-pa) Monastery to teach him Sutras. Blo-bzang vjam-dbyangs rgyamtsho is currently studying Buddhist texts in Bla-brang (dgon-pa) Monastery.

III. The Main Buildings of sTaglung Monastery

sTag-lung Monastery, with an elevation of 2280 meters, is 35 kilometers south of the town of Jishishan County The area around it was once agricultural and pastoral, though now is completely agricultural, and has 12 villages with 4320 people in over 720 households. The inhabitants, mostly Han, mainly engage in agri-cultural activities and sideline production. Those of Tibetan and Tu nationality are scattered in this area. Though from different ethnic groups, the inhabitants live in peace and harmony.

According to Tibetan historical records, sTag-lung Monastery faced south and stood against Mount Guanlin, so its foundations were higher in the north and lower in the south. The scene around the monastery looked very beautiful with the forest on Mount Guanlin and Daxia River nearby. In front of it was even ground extending several hundred meters in width. Because of geographical constraints, the whole layout of the monastery turned out to be a rectangle, with the northeastern side the longer and the southwestern side shorter. According to the oral material from old locals, the total area of the monastery was around seven square li, consisting of three entrance courtyards called the front, the middle and the back. From the gate of the monastery, along the central axis stood the Sutra Hall, the Gilt Tiled Palace, the Palace of Precious Light, the Palace of the Dharmpala, the Tantric College, the Time-wheel College and Medical college, the Corrida for circumambulation, the Buddhist nunnery and the temple of the rNing-ma-pa Sect. The buildings were in graceful order, looking majestic and exhibiting the rich artistic features of Tibetan architecture.

Compared with Buddhist monasteries built in later periods, sTag-lung Monastery was more splendid and magnificent in terms of architectural style, exterior appearance and interior layout. In order to provide readers with a more complete knowledge of the monastery, the author intends to supply a brief intro- duction to the architectural scale and style of major palaces in the monastery, both interior and exterior, on the basis of his research into the Tibetan historical material.

1. Architectural Characteristics

The buildings in sTag-lung Monastery exhibited the typical characteristics of integrating construction and decoration.

(1) The Exterior. The enclosing wall of the monastery was built with gray cubes made of quartz sand from the local area. It was very solid and durable. Except for the premises, all palaces had several stories. The highest was the Gilt-tiled Palace, or "gSer-khang then-mo" in Tibetan. With five stories, this palace had a gilded bronze gable roof and upturned eaves. At the central point of the roof was a bronze Dharma wheel with two gilded deer standing on either side. With these decorations, the whole palace looked resplendent and magnificent. The exterior walls of the buildings were painted red or yellow, though red was used more often. For example, the palaces and the buildings in the three colleges were usually painted red. Yellow color was only used to paint the buildings serving as the living quarters of Rin-po-ches (moreover, only those who had been abbot in a Tibetan monastery were qualified to use yellow). The upper half of palace walls was generally a brown wooden structure, usually one meter high and two chi thick (one chi is one third of a meter - translator). This part was inlaid with bronze and the colors were harmonious. The palace eaves were solid with black slab-stones placed at the bottom and two layers of adobe bricks covered with mud at the top.

The layout of sTag-lung Monastery extended along an axis. Each courtyard had a great palace at the centre, in which a major statue of Buddha was enshrined, with premises at either side. This architectural form manifested a symmetrical and solemn beauty generally expressed by traditional monasteries.

(2) The interior. Wood was the main material used for the interior of sTag-lung monastery. All windows, fences, beams and columns were made of wood, including richly ornamented wooden beams, eaves and bucket arches in sTag-lung Rin-po-che's living quarters. The wooden beams and columns used in Sutra halls were as long as several tens of zhang (a zhang is ten chi - translator) and also strongly decorated. In the villages near sTag-lung monastery, there were many skilled craftsmen, especially stonemason good at cutting and engraving. The important parts in this monastery, including steps, columns in the halls and pagoda bases,} usually employed engraved granite slabs produced locally. Those used for buildings were common slab stone, which did not look as pleasing as granite slabs. Paved with pebbles of different colors from rivers, the yard grounds were solid and looked tidy and attractive. Another feature of the interior layout of the monastery was buildings shaped like siheyuan (residential compound with houses around a courtyard) with one entrance. Facing the entrance was a two-storey wooden building in Tibetan style and the other houses around the courtyard were of one storey with a flat roof. The walls of one-storied houses were supported by stone bases and connected with an interior wooden framework, forming a structure with a yard at the center. Each building was five meters deep and roughly the shape of a rectangle with a wide front face. These premise buildings had upturned rafters along the eaves. Their windows were wooden and decorated with patterns. Between the corridor columns were wooden railings in ancient style. These buildings had no windows on the walls but a window in the roof for natural lighting. This sort of roof window had no glass and its design was a creation of ancient Tibetan architectural art.

In short, sTag-lung Monastery was built with earth and wood according to the geographical circumstances, and its exterior surface was mainly of stone and its interior structure of wood. This reflects an old saying about Tibetan architecture: "we cannot see wood from the exterior, or earth from the interior."3

2. Palaces and Sutra Halls

sTag-lung Monastery is well known for its buildings in simple and unsophisticated style and its stone carving. Next, I will introduce its major buildings from north to south.

i) The Front Courtyard

Two temples stood in the front courtyard. One was gSang-chen rdo-rje phun-tshogs-gling Temple of the rNing-ma-pa Sect and the other was sTag-lung jo-mo-dgon bsam-gtan-vphel-rgyas-gling Temple of Zhi-byed- pa Sect. The former lay near the entrance of the exterior enclosure wall of sTag-lung Monastery. Since the mid-16th century, this temple had been a major temple of the rNing-ma-pa Sect in the "north part of Tibet". It is said that this temple had a gTsug-lag-khang Pal- ace facing east. With a spacious front gallery, the pal- ace enshrined a statue of Sakyamuni at the center of the hall and a statue of Guru Rin-po-che (Padmasam-bhava) at the right side. The back part of this palace was a special area for monks to get together and chant Sutras. At its peak this temple had several hundred monks. Outside the-Sutra hall were premises in separate yards. There were no corridors around the palace. Except for the enshrined statues, the palace and buildings in this temple were the same as those of other sects in terms of layout and construction material. The meaning of sTag-lung jo-mo-dgon bsam-gtan vphel- rgyas-gling temple is "the place to alleviate worries". This temple lay at the foot of a mountain to the right of the gSang-chen rdo-rje phun-tshogs-gling Temple. According to records, it was built by Ma-cig-lab-kyi- sgrol-ma (1031-1129), a female master of the Sutric school and the founder of the gCod-pa-ba Sect, in the 11th century when she came to the area of vBag-chen- khog in Ri-rgyal-lung-pa Gishishan in Mandarin) to spread Buddhism. This temple was situated at the foot of a mountain and faced east. Though its original scale was small, it was expanded again and again. In the 13th year of the Qing emperor Tongzhi's reign, it had Sutra hall, Buddha Palace and several hundred buildings. The Sutra Hall was eight rooms wide and eight long. On he platform along the four sides were enshrined stat- ues of Buddha in various forms. For example, at the centre of the platform along the rear wall was a statue of the r2-faced Avalokitesvara, with Manjusri on its left and a Buddha of Longevity on its right. The central statue along the left wall was Tsong-kha-pa with rGyal-tshab-rje on his left and mKhas-grub-rje on his right. The central statue along the right wall was the Auspicious Goddess with White Tara (White Goddess of Mercy) on her left and the Green Tara (Green God- dess of Mercy) on her right. The central statue along the front wall was a Horse-headed Diamond-king with Dharmapalas at either side. This temple was not very large, but it had a rational layout, especially in that its Sutra Hall was square. With black tiles and red walls, this temple exhibited the beauty of primitive simplicity and the significant style of Tibetan architecture.

2) The Middle Courtyard

The middle courtyard contained the major building complex of sTag-lung Monastery, including Tantric College, Time-wheel College and a Medical College.

(a) The Tantric College (rGyud-pa grwa-tshang) lay in the center of the middle courtyard and faced south. It was one of the earliest buildings in the monastery. It is said that it was built by a brilliant disciple of an eminent Tibetan monk named sTag-lung-ma Rin-po- che, who was from sTag-lung Monastery of the bKav-brgyud-pa Sect in vPhan-yul.4 The architectural style of the college was typically Tibetan, though not large in scale. Facing south, the major palace had a front yard but no corridors. This palace was three-storied with green tiles on the eaves. Its Sutra Hall was nine rooms wide and it rooms long. With its rich decorations, the whole building was magnificent. At the top of each pillar was square timber, on which were placed dou and gong (a bracket system - translator) as its main load-bearing part. Along the interior walls of the palace were various statues of Buddha. In front of the central point of the rear wall was the seat for all previous abbots of this monastery. Behind the seat were enshrined the statues of Guhya-sam ja, Yama ntaka, Samavara (gSang-vdus, vJigs-byed and bDemchog) and the statue of Dharmapala. To the left and right of the statues were enshrined Buddhist cannons - bKav-vgyur (Buddhist teachings) and bsTan-vgyur (explanations of Buddhist Sutras and commandments). At the top of the palace were Buddhist decorations, including gilded bronze Dharma wheels, columns and banners, gold deer and precious vases.

(b) The Time-wheel College (Dus-vkhor grwa-tsharig), facing east, lay to the right of the Tantric College. Enclosed by walls, it included a two-storied Sutra Hall at the centre. The hall was nine rooms wide and five rooms deep major. The corridors, courtyards, gilded roofs and bronze deer in this college demon- strated much Tibetan architectural style.

The central point of the Grand Hall was used to place the seat for the previous abbots. To the west of the seat was the Palace of the Guardian Deity and to its east was the Palace for Altars. At the platform were enshrined the statues of Time-Wheel Vajra-Buddha, rNam-snang mngon-byung and Kun-rig.

(c) The Medical College (sMan-pa grwa-tshang) lay on the flat land to the left of the Time-wheel College and "o metres away. The Medical College, facing west, was larger than the Time-wheel College with a width of ii rooms and depth of seven rooms. Its enclosing wall was red. Facing the gate of this college was a big courtyard where a great palace lay at the centre. The major Buddha of the college, the Buddha of Medicine, was enshrined in the palace. The two wing-rooms were small but the corridor rooms at either side were spa- cious and bright. Their walls were painted with herb specimens, atlases of human anatomy, and the charts in the form of a wish-fulfilling tree illustrating human arteries and veins. The buildings for caretaker monks lay at either side of the college gate. The architecture in this college was mainly in stone and wood, with stone used for the exterior and wood used for the interior structure. The major palace had gilded roof and up- turned eaves. At the top of the roof was a bronze Dharma-wheel and a pair of kneeling deer.

The ground floor of the major palace had a hermitage, which could hold more than 300 monks, and the seats used for meditation were made of IS pieces of woolen tweed. The top floor was in the shape of Siheyuan and the central part of the courtyard was used as natural lighting for the ground floor. The major palace was a special place for the monks to get together, chant sutras and teach medicine.

3) The Rear Courtyard

The square rear courtyard, enclosed by a wall, occupied an area of 1.8 hectares. Its total floor area was over ten thousand square meters. The front building was a Sutra Hall, which was opposite the Dharmapala Palace. At either side of the Sutra Hall were the Precious Light Palace and Gilt Tiled Palace. The whole layout of the rear yard was well proportioned and graceful.

(a) The Sutra Hall at the hollow of the hills was built at the foot of a hill. Facing south, it had a sym- metrical layout with a width of 2s rooms and a depth of ii rooms. With a floor area of more than 900 square meters, this hall could hold over 2ooo seats for monks to chant Sutras. As a typical Tibetan clay and wood construction of three stories, it was crowned with a gilded, gently sloped hip and gable roof. Its ridge was decorated with gilt bronze deer and a Dharma-wheel. In addition, it had giant dougong and upturned eaves. Each floor of the Sutra Hall had different furnishings and purposes. The ground floor was used for monks to chant sutras. At the center of this floor lay the seat of sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che. At either side of the seat were the statues of previous sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-ches, iooo clay statues of Buddha, and Tibetan Buddhist cannons. In addition, there was a courtyard at the center for natural lighting. Decorated by colorful banners, columns draped with Tibetan carpets as well as statues of Buddha along the wall, the first floor looked solemn and graceful. The second floor was used to enshrine niches. At the center were the statues of Buddhist Trinity. To their left was the statue of Tsong-kha-pa and to their right was the statue of Manjusri. All of them were made in the early period of the dGe- lugs-pa Sect, so their shape appeared very old and had significant artistic and archaeological value. The third floor was roughly square and had a gilt gable roof. In- side the hall was enshrined an exquisite mandala.

Both the exterior and interior design of this Sutra Hall incorporates Buddhist philosophy. This not only demonstrates the tremendous influence of Buddhist culture but also the superb skill of Tibetan's in architecture.

(b) The Precious Light Palace lay to the left of the Sutra Hall and was five rooms wide and seven rooms deep. This two-storey palace was about IS meters high and had a total floor area of more than 800 square meters with*a double-eave hip and a gable roof. At the center was a courtyard for natural lighting and on each side were corridors. On the platform inside the palace was a Bee-ro-tsa-na Five-Buddha Mandala. At the center of the mandala stood the statue of Bee-ro-tsa-na. At the right side were the statues of Lho-ngos-kyi-rgyal- mchog-rin-chen and Aksobhya (Mi-bskyod-pa). At the left side were Amitabha (Vod-dpag-med) and Amoghasiddhi (Don-phod-grub-pa). All those statues
were made of clay in an ancient design and painted in colors.

(c) The Gilt-Tiled Palace was situated to the right of the Sutra Hall and was seven rooms (containing six pillars) wide and eight rooms (containing seven pillars) deep. This was a three-storey palace with a courtyard for natural lighting at the centre. On the platform stood a gilt clay statue of rGyal-ba byams-pa as high as 11 meters. In front of this statue was enshrined a gold statue of Buddha, which had the same length from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. On the walls were painted exquisite murals and images. The eaves of the second floor and the roof of the third floor were covered with glazed or bronze tiles. The ridge of the roof was decorated with the Dharma-wheel and the gold deer. The copper bells hanging from the four upturned eaves produced a soothing sound in the wind. Hearing this sound, people felt as if they had come to the Land of Buddha, far from mortal life.

(d) The Palace of Dharmapala was named bTsan- khang in Tibetan and lay opposite the sutra hall 56 meters away. This palace was five rooms wide, five rooms long and had a gable roof covered with green glazed tiles. The statue of Dharmapala was in front of the rear wall, which was painted with the image of the Jirun mountain deity in a white coat and a felt hat, riding a horse and shooting an arrow. On the left and light side wall were painted the images of Four Heavenly Guardians. On the platform at each side were placed masks, clothes and accessories as well as animal models. All these were used in religious dances. The layout of the palace was simple and compact and the whole palace looked majestic and solemn.

(e) The Circumambulation Corridor was situated at the foot of Guanlin Mountain and near the Mani River, which was to the west of the monastery. The corridor's rooms are scattered in an area of 3 square 1i, where the locals frequently came to offer sacrifices to mountain deities, to hold the brang rituals and place arrows, as well as walk around the foot of the mountain. The structure of the corridor was very simple with a clay rear wall and wooden framework. Its front side was open and its roof was covered with tiles. At shoulder height on the interior wall were placed prayer wheels for worshippers to spin as they are walking in a clockwise direction.

IV. The Sutra Education System of sTag-lung Monastery

Based on the situation of sTag-lung Monastery in different periods and the established regulations of Bla brang (dgon-pa) Monastery, the three colleges have laid down a set of systematic teaching modes according to the characteristics of different subjects. Each academic year includes nine semesters, totaling 205 days: four longer semesters, each lasting one month, two medium ones lasting 2o days, and three shorter ones lasting 15 days.

1. Three Levels in Tantric College

At the elementary level, the student monks are re-quired to recite the Sutras, including rDo-rje-vjigs-byed, Six-armed Dharmapala (Phyag-trug-ma), King of Dharma (Chos-kyi vkhor-lovi mdo), gSang-vdu, bDe-mchog, rGyud-gzhung and others. Before they enter the intermediate level, they are required to be able to recite one of three sutras, that is, bDe-mchog bskyed-rim dang rdzogs-rim, gSang-vdus skyed-rim dang-rdzogs-rim and rDo-rje vjigs-byed-kyi skyed-rdzogs. At the intermediate level, they are required to recite gYang-vdus-bdag-vjug, bDe-mchog bdag-vjug, vJpgs-byed bdag-vjug, sByin-sreg, rGyud-gzhung, and Chos-spyod, altogether 8o volumes. They are also required to be able to make mandalas with colored sand. After they have met these requirements and before entering the advanced level, they have to chant vGrel-chen. At the advanced level, the student monks have to practice the procedures included in the bDe-mchog bskyed-rim dang rdzogs-rim. Having passed the oral debating on Sutrasoffered every year from February I7-21 by the Chinese lunar calendar, they could be awarded the degree of Rab-vbyams-pa, which is a degree of the Tantric School granted to only one candidate each year.

The training requirements of this college are stringent. The student monks have to follow the procedures offered in sNgags-rim chen-mo and test what they have learnt in meditation. They have classes four times each day. The first is from three a.m. They practice on and study the doctrines of Tantras. In addition, they learn four methods of baptizing, namely, baptizing with special vessels, with secrecy, with intelligence and with words. The main objectives of this college are leading the monks with a virtuous nature into the field of Tantric Vajrayana and helping them extricate themselves from worldly cares so as to become a Buddha.

As the monks of this college are very strict in practice, they have won the respect and credit of the public and are respectfully called "rGyud-pa lama".

2. Three Levels in Time-wheel College and Unlimited Learning Period.

At elementary level, the student monks mainly study Sutras, including vjam-dpal-mtshan-brjod, Blo- mchod, Chos-sbyod, bsKang-gso, and Kun-rig. They are required to be able to recite all these scriptures before entering the intermediate level. At this level, they study and recite Dus-vkhor-rtsa-rgyud, mNgon- byang, Dus-vkhor-bsdus-rgyud, and Dam-dbyangs- vchor-rgyud. Besides, they learn how to make Cakravajra mandalas, Kun-rig and mNgon-byang mandalas with colored sands. They are required to be able to recite Dus-vkhor-bskyed-rdzogs-kyi-rgyud before entering the advanced level. At the advanced level, they mainly study phonology, poems, astronomy astrology and calculation system, Sanskrit and Tibetan calligraphy. In addition, they need to know how to observe and study astronomical phenomena, how to calculate the time of sKar-rtsis, solar and lunar eclipses as well as the time of a particular festival, and how to predict the weather. They are also required to know the three concepts of the sun. They must be able to announce results and predictions. Last but not least, they need to learn baptism as a necessary step to be- come a Buddha.

3. Studying Tantra of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Medicines in Medical College.

The student monks are divided into three levels of classes; namely elementary, intermediate and advanced, according to their age and what they know about medicine. Each level has its practice stages and no limit to the study period. Anyone who has studied hard, finished the required tasks and passed the examinations can enter the higher level. Most of the teachers have rich theoretical knowledge and experience. The college allows individual students to be formally apprenticed to a private teacher besides attending classes. Generally speaking, every beginner has a fixed teacher, but it is possible that one teacher instructs several students or a student has several teachers. A student can be apprenticed to a particular teacher inside or outside the college according to their specific learning needs.

Above is the system of teaching sutras in the three colleges of the sTag-lung Monastery. Because the colleges belong to the Tantric School, they have more strict requirements in the transmission system, the content of practice and examinations. This is a major characteristic of the Tantric College of all Tibetan monasteries.

V. The Significant Religious Ceremonies of sTag-lung Monastery

Holding religious ceremonies is an important way of spreading Buddhism. Every year in Tibet there are several ceremonies that are different from each other in terms of content and form. sTag-lung Monastery has six major ceremonies each year, which are listed as follows.

1) The Grand Prayer Ceremony (sMon-lam chen-mo) is held in the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. sMon-lam then-mo in Tibetan means the Grand Prayer Ceremony. In Lhasa it is simply called "Prayer Ceremony" or "Chuanzhao Ceremony". In sTag-lung Monastery this ceremony lasts IS days from the third day to the seventeenth day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. This ceremony started in the period of Blo-bzang bstan-pa chos-kyi-nyi-ma, the second sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-the. So far it has had a history of over 340 years, and is the biggest and grandest in sTag-lung Monastery. The central task of the ceremony is to pray for the prosperity of Buddhism and peace for all living creatures.

2) The Festival of sMyung-gnas is also called "Fourth Month Meeting". This is a ceremony to commemorate Sakyamuni's birthday on the fifteenth day of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, his achieving enlightenment and his attaining Nirvana. On the day of this ceremony, Tibetans hold various activities including doing good deeds, abstaining from killing, meditating in isolation and chanting Sutras.

3) The bDun-pavi-rigs-grwa Religious Ceremony in July is also called Preaching Buddhism Ceremony. It is held from the first day to the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It is said hat this ceremony is used to commemorate the Drmapala, the King of Dharma and vJam-dbyangshos-rje (1379-1449), a disciple of Tsong-kha-pa who was the founder of dGe-lugs-pa Sect.

4) The Religious Dance Festival in September. vCham-chen on 13th September means religious dance and is held at noon on the rDo-gcal-thang (ground) in front of the Sutra Hall. This activity was initiated at the fourth Panchen.Lama's suggestion. It started in bKra-shis-lhun-po Monastery and spread to Bla-brang (dgon-pa) Monastery. Later on it gradually came to sTag-lung Monastery and became a major activity. More than 3o dancers and over 20 musicians take part in the festival. The festival begins with religious dances. All the dancers wear masks and the main roles are the King of Dharma, who is the god of death, and his concubine called Sakti. In addition, some dancers play the role of ghosts in charge of investigation and dress as skeletons; some play the role of messengers and dress as deer and yaks wearing horns. To the sound of music, these dancers first put the human shaped Ling-ga from the centre of the ground into boiling oil, which means evil spirits are repressed. Finally, the King of Dharma leads monks and the other dancers to bring gTor-ma to the edge of the monastery and have it burned there. This symbolizes the end of the festival as well as peace and happiness for the next year. These performances to a great degree satisfy the psychological needs of Buddhist believers.

5) The Lighting Lamps Festival on the twenty-fifth of the tenth month is called Day of Tsong-kha-pa's Nirvana or gLing-me in Tibetan. This festival was cre- ated to commemorate Tsong-kha-pa's attainment of Nirvana.

6) The Festival of "Dispelling Evil Spirits and Welcoming the New Year" on the twenty-ninth of the twelfth month of Tibetan calendar. On this day people get together and chant the Sutras to forestall misfortunes, repenting of their wrong doings in the old year and praying for a good harvest of food crops and happiness in the New Year.

Major religious ceremonies in sTag-lung Monastery are only six in number as listed above, but small ceremonies held in the three colleges are numerous.

VI. The Rare treasures and Historical Relics of sTag-lung Monastery

Because sTag-lung Monastery was built in the early period of Tibetan Buddhism, it had a rich collection of precious cultural and historical relics. However, most of them were destroyed by war or lost for various reasons. According to the author's investigations, the monastery has 107 relics in six classifications: (i) a gold statue of Buddha of elbow height made in Song or Yuan Dynasty, which was donated by the rTa-mgrin clan; (z) gilded clay statues of Tsong- kha-pa and his two disciples; (3) a horizontal board inscribed with "Zhu Qing Great Monastery", which was bestowed by Ming Emperor Taizu; (4) several hundred Thang-kas depicting the life story of Sakyamuni, which were painted by the Seventh sTag-lung-tshang Rin-po-che named Blo-bzang bsam-gtan rgya-mtsho; (5) a bell of about one metre in height and 2.5 chi in diameter, which was bestowed by Qing Emperor Qianlong; (6) a copper pot with a capacity of water, which was made in the Ming Dynasty.

These relics are precious material evidence concerning Tibetan culture. Their value and significance will grow with the passage of time.

VII. The Main Subordinate Temples of sTag-lung Monastery

The success of ideological rule greatly relies on economic power. When the reputation of sTag-lung Monastery was growing in the regions of Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, its economic power also quickly expanded. As a result, the system of integration of religion and politics was formed in this region and sTag-lung Monastery began to govern tribal powers.

With the political and economic development of sTag-lung Monastery, its organization, integrating po- litical and religious powers, was expanding and its in- fluence once reached to the areas of Gansu and Qinghai Provinces. Northwards it governed the areas of Tongren, Xunhua and Hualong in Qinghai Province and eastwards it controlled Hezhou, Yongjing and Kangle in Gansu Province. With the policy of "incorporating powers of different natures and using the church to consolidate politics" at that time, sTag-lung Monastery carried out a policy of uniform administration over these areas. After 1949, the border of Qinghai and Gansu was redefined and the Central Government permitted the local government to manage the local monasteries. Thereafter, in the two provinces the number of monasteries administered by sTag-lung Monastery decreased from io8 to 75. Then the manner of administration over the remaining subordinate monasteries also changed from direct management, where the monastery had equal status as a political power, to indirect management. According to the author's investigations, in Jishi and Linxia the number of sub- ordinate monasteries of sTag-lung Monastery is 70, hich are listed as follows.

1. In Jishi County: Dasitan Monastery, Guancen Monastery, Duoguoqian Monastery, Guolonggou Monastery, Maniqu Monastery, Xiejia Monastery, Lejia Monastery, Xiaowen Monastery, Shangjia Monastery, Tangzang Monastery, Dasi Temple, Yaofen Monastery, Wangshan Monastery, Ga Monastery, Da Temple, Shanchang Monastery, Fenwan Monastery, Guba Monastery, Jingchang Monastery, Shanzhuanghe Monastery, Jiashen Temple, Baye Temple, Zhaojia Monastery, Hongya Monastery, Xilu Monastery, ejiaping Temple, Qule Monastery, Songshan Monastery, Erjia Monastery, Huoerjia Temple, Yingba Monastery, Yangshan Monastery, Dongjia Monastery, Wushan Monastery, Shifo Monastery, Yangjia monastery, Fanjia Monastery, Dazhuang Monastery, Nangmao Monastery, Jiaojia Monastery, Dongping Monastery, Chima Monastery, Shanjia Monastery, Xinzhuang Monastery, Miaozhuang Monastery, Xifanzhuang Monastery, and Majia Monastery.

2. In Minhe County of Qinghai: Qule Monastery. The success of ideological rule greatly relies on economic power. When the reputation of sTag-lung Mon- astery was growing in the regions of Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, its economic power also quickly expanded. As a result, the system of integration of religion and politics was formed in this region and sTag-lung Mon- astery began to govern tribal powers and Songshan Monastery.

3. In Linxia County: Bali Monastery, Kangjia Monastery, Fanjia Monastery, Huoerjiabu Monastery, Dagou Monastery, Longwu Monastery, Shi Temple, Houjia Monastery, Majiabu Monastery, Han Monastery, Fuhan Temple, Hanjia Monastery, Hanjia Temple and Jiu Monastery.

4. In Yongjing County. Wanggeer Monastery, Shiyangjia Monastery, Xiugao Monastery, Zuojia Monastery and Wushan Monastery.

Now sTag-lung Monastery has 75 subordinate monasteries scattered in a vast area and none of them is large in scale. According to the author's statistics, the number of worshippers of these subordinate monasteries reached ioz,8oo in r3,8oo households in the year 1998, among which Han and Tibetan were greatly in majority and other ethnic groups including the Tu nationality were small in number. This suggests that nowadays sTag-lung Monastery still has great influence on the Buddhist believers in the Jishishan region and the bordering area of Gansu and Qinghai.

To summarize, sTag-lung Monastery has exerted a deep influence over the religion, culture, society and history of- the Jishishan region or even over the whole of North-western Tibet. In the past several hundred years, it enjoyed a higher reputation than many older monasteries in terms of architecture and the scholarship of its learned monks. It is the highest institute of learning in North-western Tibet, a treasure-house of Tibetan traditional culture and art, and the center for studying society, history, politics, religion, culture and architecture in the north of A-mdo area. Because of these social functions, we can conclude that restoring and protecting sTag-lung Monastery is significant for the development of local culture and tourism.


1. According to The History of the Song Dynasty, Gusiluo, a descen- dant of the royal family of the Tubo Kingdom, garrisoned in the area of Qingtang and Hehuang, and married a daughter of the local tribal chief named Qiao in Jishi region as his third wife. After his death, his offspring continued to control this area. When it came to the Yuan Dynasty, the court set up three pacification commissioner's offices (namely the Hezhou, the Dokhams, and U Tsang and Ngari Korsum pacification commissioner's offices) to govern the west part of Tibet more effectively. The Dokhams pacification commissioner's office was situated in Ka-chu (now the area of Linxia and Lintao), and the chief commander of the office was Rin-chen-brtson-vgrus, a descendant of the third wife of Gusiluo. Rin-chen-brtson-vgrus had two sons, bSod-nams-vbum and rTa-mgrin.

2. Another view on the origin of dBus-gtsang as the name of this area: as the founder of this monastery was from gBus-gtsang and "gBus" was pronounced "dBus" in Amdo, hence the area was named as dBus-gtsang.

3 Based on the traditional architectural features, including stone base, clay wall, wooden framework and clay roof, Tibetan architec- ture has formed its own characteristics by incorporating the best parts of buildings in ancient India, Nepal, Kashmir and palaces of Han style in the hinterland. These characteristics are typically reflected in monastic buildings.

4 Phan-yul is an ancient name for the present Linzhou County and the sTag-lung Monastery was in Puduo (Phod-mdo) region in Linzhou County.

From ChinaTibetology(Chinese Edition) No.2,2005
Translated by Qin Lili