Dharma Gathering at Nyenlung

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Photos © Holly Gayley

Since 1996, each year Nyenlung Monastery holds a dharma gathering (chos tshogs) during the auspicious month of Sagadawa. When Tare Lhamo was alive, the couple sat side by side on a peacock throne in the outdoor pavilion to give teachings to large gatherings of a thousand or more seated on the hillside below. These photos come from the dharma gathering I attended in 2006 with Namtrul Rinpoche presiding. It shows the crowds gathered and its varied activities, including an elaborate procession to consecrate anew the sacred structures on the monastery grounds. Today, Namtrul Rinpoche’s son, Tulku Laksam, presides over ritual occasions at Nyenlung.

Read an excerpt from Love Letters from Golok describing this event:

When I attended the dharma gathering at Nyenlung Monastery in June 2006, there were up to a thousand participants. Monks traveled from as far away as Rebkong and lamas gathered from Serta and Jigril counties, while the Tibetan laity consisted mainly of locals, along with a group of thirty who journeyed from Dzamthang. Almost half of those in attendance were Han Chinese disciples from various provinces of China, who began coming to Nyenlung in the late 1990s and early 2000s having met Tāre Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche in Chengdu or heard about them from a friend. Quite possibly some first came to Serta to meet the other Jigme Phuntsok in Serta, namely Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok of Larung Buddhist Academy, and later made their way to Nyenlung.

Over the ten days of the 2006 dharma gathering, Nyenlung Monastery became like a small village, with make-shift shops and restaurants in tents lining the road. Visitors crowded into every corner of the monastery: dignitaries stayed in the guesthouse they had constructed in 2005, Chinese disciples clustered in cabins rented from monks, and an empty storage room above the kitchen housed the thirty Tibetans from Dzamthang. The action alternated among the main assembly hall, the lawn where a teaching pavilion had been constructed for the couple, and a small courtyard beneath Namtrul Rinpoche’s residence where he sometimes gave teachings from a window. This meant a steady flow of foot traffic between sites within the monastery as different constituencies often attended different events. On most days, lamas and monastics gathered in the assembly hall for initiations and teachings, while the Tibetan laity assembled on the lawn beneath the teaching pavilion to recite prayers. Meanwhile, the Chinese disciples convened in the downstairs of the new guesthouse for teachings by Tulku Laksam, who is fluent in Chinese, or made offerings in a small temple across from the main assembly hall. At night, an intimate cluster of his entourage and close disciples gathered in Namtrul Rinpoche’s quarters for a feast offering, and sometimes he gave Dzogchen teachings on the Six Dharmas of the Profound Path (Zab lam chos drug) from Aphang Terchen’s corpus to a small group who had completed their preliminary practices (sngon ‘gro) and congregated in a courtyard outside. On several occasions, the whole group filled the lawn for teachings by Namtrul Rinpoche, and also crowded into the assembly hall for two feast offerings and one public initiation.

Altogether, the dharma gathering had a festival-like atmosphere. During prayer sessions on the lawn, as the liturgy was recited over the loudspeaker, children played, the elderly spun prayer wheels, and the youth strutted and gossiped. In the assembly hall, feast offerings began as solemn devotional occasions with speeches and praises given by Tibetan dignitaries and ended in a playful yet earnest scramble for handfuls of candy and bottles of soda, which had been blessed as offerings during the ceremony. One day was dedicated to the annual consecration of the monastery, when Namtrul Rinpoche visited all the shrine halls, stūpas and small temples to bless them anew and re-sanctify each site. On this day, a stream of saffron and burgundy, the colors of the Tibetan monastic garb, wended through the monastery grounds, followed by a stream of yellow robes, worn by the Chinese monks and nuns, while the laity, both Tibetan and Chinese, jostled on the roadside to catch a glimpse or snap a photograph of Namtrul Rinpoche.

Excerpted from: Holly Gayley, Love Letters from Golok: A Tantric Couple in Modern Tibet (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016): 270-1.

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