Restoration of Palpung | More articles on Kham
HISTORY OF PALPUNG MONASTERY
This selection was translated from the Chinese book "Annals of Dege County" published in 1995 by the Sichuan People's Publishing House, pp. 498-9. The translation was done mostly by Miss Jane Saw, with additional work by Pamela Logan to resolve technical Tibetan terms such as toponyms, personal names, and Buddhist terms. This work is not yet complete, and some names have been left in their original Pinyin versions because we don't know the proper Tibetan. If anyone has additions or corrections to offer, they would be most appreciated; please contact the Kham Aid Foundation.
Translator's comments are given in brackets. Words in red are as yet unresolved pinyin versions of Tibetan names.
In the period 1181 to 1189, a man called Drigungba Renqing Bei sent his disciple Palden Shangchub Lingpa from Drigung Til Monastery in Tibet [Autonomous Region] to Palpung to transmit Drigung Kagyu teachings and oversee the building of a chanting hall for Xiongli Monastery, Palpung Monasterys predecessor.
On two neighboring mountains he built two other buildings, Zhoulanggan Teaching Institute [tratsang] and Wuchhen Meditation Hall. The temple had a gathering of monks at Quchixi (the present-day location of Palpung Township offices) to study Buddhism. Then, in the middle of the 16th century Xiongli Si was burned down by a kitchen worker named A-re. In the beginning of the Qing dynasty there was a wandering Sakya monk of high rank from Ngari in western Tibet who came to Derge. His name was Cicheng (Tsultrim?) E-re. He liked Palpungs beautiful landscape, which resembled "three elephants playing in water," [this may be a reference to a story from the sutras] so he built a Sakya temple in the place where Xiongli Monastery had been. It was small, and didnt have many monks, so it never achieved much power.
[Note: Other sources report that Palden Shangchub Lingpa was originally from Denkhog in the Derge region and was of the Sakya order. They also say that Palpung was formed from the merger of several smaller monasteries: Tragnag Gonpa, Yanong Gonpa, Langrog Gonpa, and Wuchhen Ri Gonpa.]
In the sixth year of the Qing Dynastys Yongzheng Emperor (1728), there appeared in Derge a famous Kagyu monk. He was born in Deges Gongya district on Aluo Dingri Hill, recognized by the 10th Gama Rinpoche Duoji Gaixi as the Eighth Tai Situ Rinpoche. His seat was then in Karma Gon Monastery in [the Lhato area east of] Chamdo. Chökyi Jungne was 28 years old when he was given approval by king Denba Tsering to use Gongya Bangjue Monastery as his seat. At the site of the destroyed Xiongli Monastery he started to build Palpung Monastery, of the Karma Kagyu sect. Denba Tsering appointed him as the Abbot of Palpung, so he was honored as Palpungs first generation of Situ Rinpoche. From then on, every incarnation of Situ Rinpoche became the leader of Palpung and was no longer the leader of Karma Gon Monastery.
When Palpung Monastery was completed, it began to develop religious and political influence. The monastery called itself "nation teacher temple." (guoshimiao). The Yuan emperor had given the title of "nation teacher" to the Gama Baxi (who was from Wangbuding in Dege), abbot of Xiongli Monastery, in past dynasties offerings were made to gold-rimmed black hat of Gama Baixi. The book "Overview of Xikang Province" records that the eighth Situ Rinpoche received the honorary title of "Four treasure Law-King" from the Qing Dynasty and Palpung was awarded half of the land and people in the Dege Kingdom. The next emperor Qinglong himself wrote the words of praise on a plaque awarded to Palpung, saying "Qi dao Xiang gen Dayi Situ." (pray incense great benefit for Situ) He twice summoned the 8th Situ Rinpoche Chökyi Jungne to the capital to teach.
During the Republic period in China, the Nationalist Party government was concerned about religion and politics in Tibetan areas. In 1938 [the warlord-cum-KMT commander] Liu Wenhui invited Situ Rinpoche to teach at the Five Brightness Institutes north Kham religious teacher [?]. The Dege government appointed Situ Rinpoche as a representative to the provincial senate . In 1940 Dege sent eight Palpung and Muslim people to Chongqing to attend a celebration of the victory against Japan and a prayer meeting where Chiang Kaishek gave them presents and was photographed with them.
Palpung Temple was the Derge Kings first home [or family] temple, and it played a very important role in maintaining and solidifying his religious rule. The temple had a quite high special political privilege. Situ Rinpoche had the authority to attend the kings highest administrative meetings. The king had to consider the opinion and approval of Situ Rinpoche in matters related to his domain, including politics, economics, war, and culture, and when preparing to issue major laws, and in the promotion or demotion of political appointees, and selection of the next King. At the same time, the Dege King was also the "Dharma King" of Palpung Temple.
In the last few hundred years, Palpung Temple has produced many high monks, religious intellectuals, rinpoches, and lamas famous for following the "Study of Five Brightnesses" These luminaries left behind rich teachings in Buddhism, astronomy, poetry, literature, medicine, grammar, history, and art, etc. All these writings were very influential in their day.
Palpung is divided into a mother temple and branch temples. The mother temple has a large and small sutra hall, one lecture hall, and three meditation halls called Naruo, Gengren, and Gejiemu. The more than 100 branch temples are spread over Qinghai and Yunnan Provinces, and Ganzi Prefecture in Sichuan. Palpung has four rinpoches Situ, Kongtrul, Khyentse, and Wongon. At the time of liberation , the temple had a total of 725 members, including four rinpoches two of whom had studied abroad, fivc khenpos, 18 titled lamas, 83 ordinary lamas, 613 traba (student monks). The monastery had forest, 4000 square km of pasture, 2000 mu of agricultural land, 43,000 head of livestock, more than 1000 households of farmers and herdsmen, also some businessmen and money-lenders, The temples cultural treasures included seven gold-plated images, 9,835 images in red, yellow, and copper, 10,150 thankas from all different periods, 32,400 volumes of books, 129,845 printing plates, a set of Kangyur printed in pure gold ink, other Buddhist implements from different periods, chops, and 5,000 imperial letters.
After liberation Palpung lost its special political and economic privilege, and during the Cultural Revolution some revolutionary groups [e,g, Red Guards] tried to stamped out old traditions. The monastery lost its belongings and cultural treasures. After 1981 the temple had a 16-member management committee, who collected money and resources to restore the temple. Slowly they developed a means for the monastery to provide for itself. In 1988, rebuilding of the temples main building was completed [not true; major work is still ongoing]. They installed a 15 meter tall by 8 m wide Maitreya statue [note the statue and probably most repairs during the 1980s were paid for by Situ Rinpoche] and they built a College of Buddhism [an old crummy building; a large new one was just completed in 1998 above Palpung]. They restored two meditation halls up on the hill. The temple now has 375 monks, four rinpoches [three of whom live in exile], and three khenpo. The self sufficient economic system of the monastery consists mainly of production of pharmaceuticals, sculpture, art, construction, animal husbandry, and they also print and sell texts. The annual income is about 50,000 yuan [about US$6,200].
[Note: the actual population of monks resident in the monastery seems to be much smaller than 375. There are perhaps 40 monks permanently attached to the monastery and living within its buildings, plus some 60-100 students--transient residents who live in the newly completed tratsang. A large (but difficult to confirm) number of other monks live at home and come to Palpung only on special occasions.]
Restoration of Palpung | More articles on Kham