Dzongsar Tashi Lhatsé Gonpa (Monastery), Shedra (Academy), and Hospital: Introduction

The Dzongsar Tashi Lhatsé Gonpa (Monastery), Shedra (Monastic College), and Tibetan Hospital complex is located on Lhatsé hill in the Menshö valley in south Dêge County near the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. Dzongsar is a Sakya monastery with a Rimé, or non-sectarian orientation. Prominent in the history of Dzongsar is its association with the Khyentsé lineage. This lineage began with Jamyang Kyhentsé, who is credited with rebuilding Dzongsar after it was destroyed in the 1860s by a local warlord. This lineage continues to the present day with the living Khyentsé Rinpoche Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentsé Rinpoche.

The monastery complex sits on a site where there was an eighth century Bön temple. Built by a yogi named Tashi, this temple contained one locally made wooden statue of the Buddha and had one pillar. As such, it came to be known as the Temple of One Buddha and One Pillar. Between the eighth and thirteenth century little is known of the history of Dzongsar. In the thirteenth century it became the site of a Sakya monastery.

Loge Pensal is the current Head Lay Administrator of Dzongsar. He is a family man with a wife, children, and grandchildren. When he welcomes guests to Dzongsar he emphasizes its importance to the Rimé movement. Much of Loge Pensal’s life has been associated with Dzongsar. Born in 1946, he began studying scripture at the monastery when he was six or seven. When he was thirteen the monastery was destroyed during a period of political unrest in the region. At thirty-seven he would see it rebuilt and be named the Head Lay Administrator.

At its height, the Dzongsar monastery consisted of somewhere between nineteen to twenty three temples of various sizes, three hundred to five hundred monks in residence, an assembly hall, the Utsé printing house, and holy caves in the surrounding hills. Dzongsar now consists of six temples of varying sizes, a residence of the Khyentsé’s, and one hundred and eighty monk residences.

Sitting below the monastery is the Khamjé Shedra (place of teaching or monastic college) and the Dzongsar Tibetan Medicine Institute. The original Shedra was founded in 1918 by Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö.

The Dzongsar Monastic College was rebuilt in 1986. There was a sense of urgency around the re-establishment of the college so that the elders in the Dzongsar community could be consulted on the curriculum. The college enrolls upwards of sixty to one hundred monks, participating in a multi year course of study. The non-sectarian curriculum is focused on foundational Tibetan Buddhist texts. The curriculum includes courses in logic, the perfection of wisdom, ontology, mantra, and the Tantric cycles. Debates are used as a way to practice and refine textual understanding and interpretation.

The study of Tibetan medicine at Dzongsar dates at least to the time of Jamyang Khyentsé. Doctor Lodre Phuntsok currently directs the Dzongsar Tibetan Medical Institute. At the age of nine Phuntsok began his monastic studies at Dzongsar. At sixteen he began an eighteen-year course of study in Tibetan medicine. In addition to offering medical treatment, the hospital produces Tibetan medicines and a well regarded healing incense made from local organic materials that give it an earthy aroma.

The Dzongsar complex is an important cultural and economic center for the Menshö valley. Associated with Dzongsar are workshops, training centers and health facilities. Workshops support thangka painting, sculpture, pottery, and medicine. The work associated with the Dzongsar workshops is in high demand through out the region.

In addition to the materials associated with Dzongsar on the ChinaVine website, additional video documenting the complex can be found on the website of the Kham Film Project. This video results from a participatory project in which the residents of Dzongsar created the videos in partnership with the Kham Film Project. The video is available at http://www.khamfilmproject.org/dzongsar/ .