“Khyentse Foundation should be proud of Dzongsar Monastery. More than 200 khenpos have been trained at the shedra over the last 27 years and these khenpos can now teach throughout Asia and the West.”
— Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Dzongsar Monastery was founded in 746 by a Bönpo lama. Located on a promontory overlooking the great Khamje Valley in Derge (pronounced De-gay), Sichuan, China, the monastery is the birthplace of the Khyentse lineage. Today it is a vibrant Tibetan community that includes a large monastery, a shedra (monastic college), a clinic, retreat centers, and a school. Dzongsar is home to both lay and monastic practitioners, who are dedicated to the study and practice of Dharma. Khyentse Foundation supports many facets of this community.
Dzongsar Khamje Shedra was founded in 1871 on a plain below Dzongsar Monastery by the great scholar and mystic Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Because of the unique geomancy of the site, he and Chökgyur Lingpa prophesied that establishing a college at this location would greatly benefit the Buddhadharma. Under the direction of Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, the original structure was expanded and the shedra became an important ecumenical center of learning, supporting the study and practice of the spiritual traditions of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In its golden age, the monastery encompassed 23 temples and many hermitages and retreat areas. The rimé library of Jamgön Kongtrül, Chökyi Lingpa, and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo contained an extensive nonsectarian collection of texts that made it possible for monks and others to study all sects of Buddhism.
The shedra was destroyed in the 1960s, but reconstruction began in 1986 at the behest of the late Panchen Lama and sponsored by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. The basic structure of a new college was completed in 1989.
Dzongsar is thriving. “We are amazed at how fast the population of the monk body has grown over the past few years,” said Amelia Chow, KF Monastic Project coordinator, “from a few hundred to 1,900 at last count, with approximately 700 in retreat, 1,000 studying, and 200 performing pujas. Many graduates of Dzongsar Shedra have become teachers themselves. These monks are really determined to study the Dharma and to do practice in retreat.”
The families and communities of the residents provide most of their support. In addition to basic living subsidies, amounting to about 10% of the total required, KF’s support helps the monastic leadership in developing strategic projects to help them transition into the 21st century, such as Tibetan typesetting and computer courses to assist their work in publishing and archiving Buddhist texts.
The current curriculum of the shedra, which was set by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, includes study of the Buddhist scriptures such as the tripitaka, the shastras, the tantras, and the sciences of poetry, astrology, and medicine. Many khenpos have also expanded their studies to explore other philosophical traditions, reading texts by Karl Marx and Immanuel Kant. They are eager for opportunities to learn and put their knowledge into practice. Rinpoche wants to provide khenpos with much more diverse courses, including economics, finance, and social studies. He said, “I have noticed that many Tibetan lamas may need some leadership training.” Khyentse Foundation is now developing plans for leadership and educational programs at Dzongsar.