Tsurphu Monastery and Tsuphu Kora
Story of Tsurphu Monastery
Lying to the northwest of Lhasa at Tolung, Tsurphu Monastery was founded by the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa in 1189. In 1263, it was rebuilt by the Karmapa II, Karma Pakshi. It is the main monastery of the Kamtsang Kagyu Tradition. This tradition is among the four major Dagpo Kagyu lineages directly deriving from disciples of Gampopa. Tsurphu has been the traditional seat of the Activity of the Karmapas.
From the II up to the IV, all the Karmapas had visited China and Mongolia. They also taught the Mongol Emperors of China. In North China there are numerous monasteries found by them. They also found the place what the Manchus many centuries later called "Inner Mongolia." Khochiti Khambo is the main Kagyu Lineage monastery of Mongolia. It is located in the Shilinggol District of Inner Mongolia. It was also a branch of Tsurphu.
The Karmapas kings also established many monasteries in Minyag, the once great Buddhist Tangut kingdom known as Hsi-hsia in Chinese. It spanned the region between the northeastern quarters of the Tibetan northeastern province of Amdo to Inner Mongolia. In 1227, Chingis Khan, the Mongol ruler, conquered it, which lead to people's migration to the southeastern Tibetan province of Kham, where they named their area also as Minyag. However, many details of the migration remain unknown. For example, the date of this migration, and the fact whether the monasteries founded by the Karmapas were in the original Minyag homeland, in the Minyag area of Kham, or in both.
Rangjung Dorje, the Karmapa III, wrote an extensive commentary to the Kalachakra Tantra. It developed the Tsurphu lineage of astronomy and astrology. The monastery prepared and published the Tsurphu calendar and almanac each year. All other days are calculated according to this tradition.
Dezhin Shegpa, the Karmapa V was invited to China. He taught the Chinese Ming Emperor, Yunglo. In 1407, the Emperor presented him with a Black Hat, inspiring by an auspicious dream. Then the Karmapas revised the Black Hat Ceremony, presenting this black hat to the Karmapa V. From then on, the ceremony was performed regularly at Tsurphu.
Tsurphu has supported the tradition of Gampopa. It is a tradition combining the two streams of the Mahamudra teachings with the Kadam teachings of the Lam Rim, which makes the traditional course of study and practice at Tsurphu include both Sutra and Tantra. But the special part is the emphasis on tantric ritual, art, music, and meditation. Altogether there are five levels of degrees to be awarded. The highest level Dorje Lobpon.
Many of the Minyag people who came to Kham later moved further south and finally settled in Sikkim. Nowadays, the Sikkimese is descendents of the Minyag people who have intermarried with the local Lepcha population. Due to this Minyag influence, Sikkim became mostly of the Kagyu Lineage, with the association of Tsurphu.
Phuntsok Namgyel, the first Chogyel, also the Dharma King of Sikkim, was chosen by the settlers from Tibet as both the temporal and spiritual leader of Sikkim. He is of Minyag ancestry. In 1730, the fourth Chogyel built Ralang Monastery, the first Kamtsang Kagyu monastery in Sikkim. In 1740, the second Kagyu monastery was built.
In the middle 20th century, an institute for Buddhist textual study at Palpung Monastery in Dergey, Kham was established by the Xi Tai Situpa Rinpoche, Pema Wangchug Gyelpo. Chokyi Gyeltsen, the first Tai Situpa Rinpoche, had been a disciple of the V Karmapa. Later, Chokyi Jungney, the VIII Tai Situpa Rinpoche had founded Palpung in 1727. Rangjung Rigpay Dorje, the XVI Karmapa and the XI Tai Situpa Rinpoche was then requested to establish a similar institute of study at Tsurphu.
Wandering the request, the Karmapa received a vision of the great Nyingma translator Vimalamitra, who had introduced the Dzogchen Lineage from India to Tibet. In the vision, Vimalamitra re-advised the Karmapa to establish a center so that the teachings could be properly transmitted and studied. He also made a promise that he would emanate among its teachers and students for 13 lifetimes.
When the Karmapa XVI was preparing to found such an institute at Tsurphu, the war broke out. In 1959, he escaped to Sikkim, choosing Rumtek Monastery to be his seat. At the beginning, the tantric rituals of Tsurphu were reestablished. In 1969, the monastery was rebuilt. From then on, Karma Manjushri House was founded for the young monks’ study. In 1980, serving as a branch of Rumtek to fulfill the requests of the previous Tai Situpa and Vimalamitrathe, Karma Sri Nalanda Institute for Buddhist Studies was constructed. Today, the Kagyu monasteries in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim will each send two monks for the training there. They will learn the Sutra teachings by debating.
It takes two hours to walk the Tsurphu kora. But it could be hard if you have not got used to the altitude yet. If you have, then it will provide you with a beautiful view of past springs, shrines and meditation retreats, as well as the view of Tsurphu below.
If you want to see more, you can follow the kora, take the track from the west of Tsurphu. The track leads up to a walled garden. On the way, it also foes past walls of many stones. There is a sky burial site. And you can also follow the cains that goes up the hill to a small pass marked by prayer flags. Here you can sew all the the colorful kora dancing with the winds in all directions, just on the ridges above the monastery. And finally, you can go up to the Samtenling retreat. It is recommended that you pay a visit there before descending eastward. Because after the descending, you will go into a gully locating to the chorten at the northeastern corner of the monastery.
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