by NIsheeta Jagtiani
In July 2017, I had the opportunity to visit Dzongsar Monastery in Derge, China, thanks to a grant I received from Khyentse Foundation. This research trip formed a vital part of my doctoral work. As a second-year PhD student at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois., I am researching the life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. For many years, I have been curious to learn about Khyentse Wangpo’s vision of Rimé (nonsectarianism). This visit to Dzongsar was the first time that I received satisfying answers to my questions about Rimé.
The principal of the monastery, Khenpo Phunshok Namgyal, kindly offered me much of his time to answer my incessant questions about Rimé, Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul, Chogyur Lingpa, and much more. Khenpo, a rigorous scholar and practitioner of the Dharma, guided me to Khyentse Labrang, where I had the rare opportunity to see sacred objects that belonged to Khyentse Wangpo. Not only did I get to interview Khenpo Phunshok Namgyal, I also interacted with many monks, and we visited neighboring pilgrimage sites together.
We embarked on two precarious motorbike expeditions (there aren’t any actual roads to these destinations). First, we went to Karmo Taksang, where Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal spent time in retreat. It is also the place where Khyentse Wangpo and Chogyur Lingpa discovered precious termas (hidden treasures). The next day we went to Pema Shelpuk, one of the 25 sacred sites of eastern Tibet. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche considered this site to the most holy place in all of Tibet. I was fortunate to meet long-term retreat practitioners at both of these sacred sites.
Although I spent more than two weeks in Dzongsar this summer, the time went by too quickly. I hope to visit the monastery at least once more before I write my dissertation. Nevertheless, I am thrilled to have connected with practitioners of Khyentse Wangpo’s tradition, which continues to flourish to this day.