Nechung Monastery

The following article is from the Winter, 1997 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

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Gangchen Kyishong Dharamsala, India

IN echung Dorje Drayang Ling Monastery has an important place in Tibetan history as the seat of Nechung, the State Oracle of Tibet. The original Nechung Monastery in Tibet lies just below Drepung Monastery, four miles west of Lhasa, the nation's capital.

During the reign of King Tri-Song Deu-Tsan, in the eighth centuiy, the Nechung Oracle was appointed protector of Tibet's Buddhism at the temple of Samye by the great Indian Buddhist Master Guru Padmasambhava. Later the son of King Tri-Song Deu-Tsan built a small monastery near Lhasa and named it Nechung Yulo Ko. The monastery was rebuilt during the reign of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-82), who was also the architect of Nechung Monastery and renamed it Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling. It was expanded in 1681 and completed in 1683 during the regency of Desi Sangye Gyatso. Since then, the monastery was instituted as the official residence of the State Oracle of Tibet.

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Nechung Choktrul Rinpoche and the Medium of the State Oracle

Following the popular uprising against the Chinese military occupation of Tibet in 1959, six senior Nechung monks led by the Nechung Kuten (the medium) were able to escape from Tibet. Eventually they were able to establish a modest monastery in an old colonial bungalow in Dharamsala, North India. The exiled Tibetan Administration later gave land for the Nechung monks to reconstruct their monastery. The monks began their building work in 1977 and the new monastery was completed in 1984. The monastery was officially inaugurated and consecrated by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama on March 31, 1985 and later further consecrated by the late Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

Currently the monastery has about 70 monks headed by Nechung Kuten and Nechung Choktrul Rinpoche. The monks study various subjects: Buddhist philosophy, sutra and tantra, psychology, as well as traditional rituals, ritual dance, creation of mandalas and so forth. The monastery also has an associate center, Nechung Dorje Drayangling, in Pahala, Hawaii.

The current Nechung Kuten (medium of the chief state oracle), Ven. Thupten Ngodup, was born on July 13, 1958 in Phari, Tibet. He is a descendant of the famous Tibetan Tantric Master Nga-dak Nyang-relwa (1136-1204). In 1984, after the passing away of the previous medium, Ven. Lobsang Jigme, Ven. Thupten Ngodup, a monk at the monastery since 1971, showed signs ofbeingthe new medium. His Holiness advised Ven. Ngodup to commence a retreat. On July 25, 1987 he was recognized by the Kashag with confirmation by H.H. the Dalai Lama. On September 4 of the same year, His Holiness officially enthroned Ven. Ngodup as the fourteenth Nechung Kuten.

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An Applique Artist at Nechung Monastery

Sacred art has always played an important role in Tibetan Buddhist culture. Among the varieties of Tibetan sacred art, the silk and brocade applique thangka is especially highly regarded. Nechung monks were famous in upholding the tradition in cultural arts and in particular the art of embroidery and applique. Two monk masters of this tradition, Ven. Thupten Phuntsok and Ven. Thupten Sherap, escaped into exile in 1959 and in the early 1960's taught this skill to a group of young monks at Nechung including Ven. Gyaltsen Chopel. Ven. Gyaltsen Chopel is now passing this skill on to yet another generation of young Nechung monks. Ven. Gyaltsen Chopel is renowned for his exquisite applique work not only in Tibetan society but also abroad. ä_æ

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Above:Nechung Doije Monastery Below: Applique thangka by Ven. Gyaltsen Chopel

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