May 2014


KHYENTSE FOUNDATION | Where It All Began: Dzongsar, Derge

Dzongsar Monastery and Dzongsar Shedra:

Where Great Teachers Are Trained

In 2001, Rinpoche took several of his students on a rare pilgrimage to Derge (pronounced De-gay), a county in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, China. They were there to visit the original Dzongsar Institute. One evening, as they sat in the room that had once been Chökyi Lodrö’s private quarters, this small group asked Rinpoche how they could help relieve him of the pressure of personally supporting the huge number of monks at his various monasteries. No longer saddled with the financial responsibility of supporting the monasteries, Rinpoche would be free to turn his gaze outward, even further. From that meeting the idea of Khyentse Foundation was born. And later that year KF was established as a system of patronage. By 2003, KF’s Monastic Education Fund was set up, and since that time the Dzongsar Institutes in Derge have taken great steps toward becoming leading centers of Buddhist study and practice as they had been under Rinpoche’s predecessors.
Photo by Yuan Ren, (Derge, 2012)

“If you have tendrel with the Khyentse mandala, then Dzongsar Monastery is basically your Jerusalem,” said Tyler Gusich, multimedia engineer, who joined a group on a KF-sponsored trip to Dzongsar to provide technical training in 2013. “The industrious monks and villagers living in Dzongsar Valley maintain what is arguably the region’s most robust monastery, university, retreat center, hospital, medical school, pharmaceutical plant, sculpting house, and thangka-torium. They also make wildly popular incense. You have to see it all to believe it — and when you do, you can’t help feeling deeply connected and proud.”
Even with the Monastic Fund, KF can provide only a small percentage of the monastery and shedra expenses such as food for monks, staff, and students, administrative support, and a Tibetan typesetting and computer course.
But some of our most important support comes in forms other than direct financial aid. By offering human resources, technical training opportunities, and infrastructure guidance, we are able to help support Rinpoche’s vision of bringing the shedra into the modern era. For example, the recent KF-sponsored visit brought expertise and training in accounting, archiving of precious texts and objects, and electrical upgrades.
The monastery 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. These monks are really determined to study the Dharma and to do practice in retreat.”
“They subsist on the absolute minimum,” said Amelia. “It is fortunate that they have considerable support from family and community. It says a lot to have the community committed to support such a large number of monks pursuing the study of dharma.”
Dzongsar Monastery was built on a promontory overlooking the great Khamje Valley in Derge in 746 by a Bönpo lama. The Yangtze River (known in the Derge region as Golden Sands River) divides Kham from the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Throughout its 1,300 year history, the monastery was supported by the villagers of the surrounding areas. These devoted practitioners were the earliest patrons of the monastery. Dzongsar has been though many changes over time. “First it was a Bönpo monastery and later Nyingma, and even later it became a big Sakyapa seat,” said Rinpoche.
The team of volunteers shown helping with the Dzongsar Monastery archive are from left to right, Sherab, Ron Stewart, Tsong, and Dawa. (September of 2013)

Dzongsar Derge Today


KF food subsidies bring necessary relief to the monastery, especially with the significant inflation caused by prosperity in the rest of the country. With KF’s support in acquiring computers and office equipment, monastic leaders are able to launch programs to bring important changes to the monastery. According to Ron Stewart, who visited with the KF group in 2013, there is urgent need for fire preparedness at the shedra. “For the developing complex of timber buildings at Dzongsar Monastery and Shedra, the installation of fire preparedness equipment, development of a fire control action plan, and training in basic firefighting are essential,” he said. “Also, a reliable electrical power back-up system needs to be installed and a good power system maintenance protocol needs to be implemented.”
“If the monastery can provide the people to follow through,” said Cangioli Che, KF Executive Director, “KF will try our best to find the patrons to support the financial requirements.”
From Dzongsar Institute, it is a 3-day journey to reach Chengdu, the nearest major city, or 2 days to reach a fairly good-sized town, provided that weather and road conditions allow. Although it is a logistic disadvantage, the remoteness preserves the Dzongsar Valley as an ideal spot for studying and meditating, free from distraction.
Dr. Lodrö Phuntsho and Khenpo Phuntshok Namgyal, spearheads of Dzongsar’s new golden age. 

As we were about to post this issue of Focus, Rinpoche sent the following addition: “At the risk of sounding self-promoting, I must say that even though there are so many other monasteries, preserving Dzongsar Monastery is so important. It’s undeniable that some of the great teachers like Jamgön Kongtrül, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, the Fifth Karmapa, came to Dzongsar not just for a short visit but for extended stays. I think it is safe to say that there are very few monasteries where so many things have happened that have included all the different lineages, writing, teaching, producing students and practitioners. We still have a chance to continue that tradition with the help of people like Lodrö Phuntsho. If we lose that, then it is just like any other monastery that has some good paintings and statues and nothing special.”

“When I visited Dzongsar Monastery, I felt at home, comfortable and very blessed because it’s such a special place. A great many masters of the past have dwelt there, taught there, and have done amazing things. I once went to the roof and an old lama pointed out, ‘There’s where Shechen Gyaltsab lived’ and ‘Here’s where Jamgön Kongtrül stayed.’ Once upon a time it was where everyone went and where some very important things happened. Khyentse Foundation is attempting to make sure that great lamas continue to be generated out of Dzongsar.”

– Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

“One of the most important ways to support Dzongsar Monastery is to remember that Dzongsar Monastery is not a past phenomenon. Dzongsar Monastery is instead very much now. To realize that is to realize how much Dzongsar is worthy of our continued support.”
—Tyler Gusich 

Recent News

> In 2013, the KF Award for Outstanding Translation went to Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi. Read More
> New video about our partnership with Dharma Drum Buddhist College. Watch
> Our sister organization, Siddhartha’s Intent, has a new Facebook page for immediate updates on Rinpoche’s activities including the live stream of his April 18, 2014 public teaching.

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