Tsechen Damchos Ling Buddhist Monastery


Historical Background


In the 11th century the great Lotsawa (translator) Rinchen Zangpo established hundreds of monasteries in the Ngari region of Tibet - Tsechen Damchos Ling is said to be one of them. The monastery was perched on the hill of Taklakot, Purang, near to the sacred Mount Kailash. It belonged to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism, and the abbot of the monastery was appointed from the Sakya Main Temple of central Tibet. At its peak the monastery had more than one hundred Buddhist monks, whose training consisted mainly of ritual recitations, retreat and meditations for spiritual accomplishment. In the past, some very highly accomplished monks have emerged from this monastery.

The ruins of Tsechen Damchos Ling Monastery after destruction by Chinese Communist forces

After the Chinese Communist occupation of Tibet, the monks and the monastery were the target of severe persecution. The monastery was totally demolished by the Chinese. Its priceless and rare artifacts and religious objects were looted and confiscated. The monks were mostly imprisoned and forced to give up their religious precepts. The monastic institution was totally destroyed along with the adjacent Shedphel Ling Monastery. Today, all that remains of these two ancient spiritual institutions are their ruins isolated on the Taklakot hill, serving as a constant reminder of Communist oppression to all the villages - Mugrum, Toyo, Drasgyas, Kungartod, Mugh, Chulung, Dotsa, Gyashing and Thayab in the valley below. Purang, once a great centre of spiritual activity, is now dominated by a large Chinese army base.

Exile to India

As the Chinese atrocities worsened, and news spread of the Dalai Lama's escape to India, Tibetans started to flee. Many people from Purang, including some monks from Damchos Ling, escaped over the Lipu-leh pass to India. Upon reaching the Indian border they were first detained and later temporarily placed in a small village in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The eight monks who had reached the village continued to carry out their spiritual practices in a small hut. It was here in early 1960 just a few months after leaving Tibet that the monks first had the idea of establishing the monastic community in exile.

After moving twice, in 1965 the monks finally settled in Mundgod in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Venerable Lama Jampa Rinpoche

The Damchos Ling monastic activities and prayers were carried out in the tiny room of Lama Jampa Rinpoche. Later they got a plot of land for the monastery in Tibetan Village No. 1 in the Tibetan Colony, Mundgod, one of the biggest Refugee Resettlements of Tibetans in India. This settlement was established with assistance from the Government of India in 1966-7. Tibetan Colony has a population of 13,200 of which 4,000 are monks and nuns. The colony is divided into nine villages and two Lama Camps. Tsechen Damchos Ling is in Tibetan Village No. 1.

With the help of the local Tibetan refugee community a small monastery was built. At that time some young boys were ordained as monks, but due to a lack of facilities their educational needs could not be properly met at Damchos Ling. One of the first monks to be ordained in exile was Acharya Guru Gyaltsen, who served for many years as Executive Director of the monastery. He is also an ex-Member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, as well as being Principal of a local school dedicated to providing a Tibetan cultural education alongside a modern curriculum.

Venerable Lama Jampa Rinpoche was the head of the monastery, and he was a great practitioner of Tantra, or Yogi. He was a life-long meditator and an extraordinary person. Gradually the older monks passed away one after the other, and there was a period when the monastery had only a few monks with Lama Jampa, who had become sick and frail.

Ven. Lama Jampa Rinpoche

On 8th December 1989, the Earth-Snake year, on the 10th day of the Tibetan tenth lunar month, at 10am, Lama Jampa Rinpoche passed away at the age of 85. His body stayed for five days in meditation (samadhi), which signified his spiritual accomplishments. Normally the dead body would begin decomposing with the scorching heat of December, but Lama Jampa's body remained fresh and his face retained the normal glow of life for five days. On the fifth day, the end of his meditation was indicated by a flow of white fluid and blood from his nostrils.

Venerable Lama Jampa's body was cremated with the Vairochana Buddha rituals performed by the ten monks of Sakya Monastery on the full moon day, 13th December 1989. There were many wonderful and extraordinary auspicious signs when the body was cremated, and there were many relics from the site of his cremation. In honour of Lama Jampa a three-foot high bronze statue of Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen holding his religious objects is installed in the monastic alter and a Bodhi Stupa was erected in front of the monastery. Lama Jampa was an ordinary person at birth, practiced Buddhadharma throughout his life, and died displaying the signs of an accomplished person. He was a true Bodhisattva and his kindness, simplicity and generosity touched all who knew him.

Recent developments

In the late eighties the monastery building had been renovated, but in 1995 an accidental fire destroyed the monastic alter and all the religious artifacts and scriptures.

In 1996 the people from Purang living in Tibetan Village Nos. 1,2,3 and 4 of Tibetan Colony, Mundgod held a meeting and requested the monastery to induct new monks and restore the monastic institution. Fifteen new monks were ordained but the monastery lacked the facilities to educate and maintain the new monks. The new monks were therefore admitted to another Sakya Monastery in Mundgod, Tsechen Do-Ngag Chos Ling, where they have all the facilities of a school and teacher. Some of these monks have now matured and have produced good results in religious studies.

Following the death of Venerable Lama Jampa Rinpoche, internal and religious affairs were taken over by Venerable Tsewang Norbu. The monks of Tsechen Damchos Ling rededicated themselves to restoring the monastic institution and made plans to admit new monks and establish the normal monastic activities. In 1998-9 a new building for the monks accommodation, kitchen and office was built. Also in 1999 eleven new monks were admitted to the monastery, opening the latest chapter in Tsechen Damchos Ling's long history.

Sadly, Venerable Tsewang Norbu died on 11th. September 2002.


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