It is an impressive and one of the biggest monasteries in Bhutan. The moment I enter the monastery, I felt such sacredness and holy atmosphere that I am already in Zangtopelri. No doubt after visiting I came in close contact with all the holy objects and Nagtens. I received bountiful of blessing that I came to seek for. I gave myself a thumps up for having visited the sacred monastery.
After the eye banquet of all the beautiful landscapes of the mountains from Wangdue to Pelila and the great Phojikha village after that, I embarked at Gangteng Sangngak Choling Monastery. The Giant Lhakhang is located on a spur at the highest point surrounded by many houses and beautiful valley.
Wasting no time I rushed to the monastery with lots of excitement and happiness. Getting in from the extreme right side door and climbing a floor up, the exploration and receiving of blessing from Nagtens begun:
1. Lhachen Wangchu and Chiwu Marpo Maza Dam Sum holy room.
Here it houses many sacred relics (Jowa Gangrim Buddha statue that came flying from Tibet, Guru Rinpoche’s statue and many ters) that are under seal and opens only once in every three years. Beside in a safe box are the Crown of Zahor Gyalp and Khandro that were offered to Guru Rinpoche. This crown is worn by His Holiness Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche during special occasions.
2. Phama Busum and Chungdu holy room
This room is the main Gongkhang of the monastery where it houses Genpo Maninampa and Goen Mani Chamdro sum. In the inner sanctorum there are many sacred relics like Dragon (face to face) Cymbals that came flying from Tibet. There is also Kikhor of Terton Pema Lingpa. I received blessing from Ter phub of Terton Pema Lingpa. On the wall lots of armor weaponry like arrows, knives and guns are kept. Near the entrance one can see many dreadful wild animal’s heads (wild Pig, leopard, bear and other animals that have once haunted in this locality and was eliminated by first Gangteng Tulku. Some animals’ heads are very difficult to identify. One full body of Michung (small wild human) is also seen hung here. In the context of the 1864–65 battles fought between the British Army and the Bhutanese Army at Deothang in Bhutan, the hands of the British military officer that was severed in the battle is also kept inside the Goenkha. In the ceiling two leather bags are hung. It is said that it contains 404 types of sickness that were arrested and kept inside. Incase if this bag is opened than the country will be infected with many diseases. Further, It is said that if this bags falls down than the world will end.
3. Tsapami Lhakhang
The shrine room houses the statue of Buddha Amitayus with his companions. There is also Lama Norbu Jamtsho’s Kikhor (Mandala) made by second Gangteng Tulku Tenzin Lekpai Dhendup who had seen the Kikhor in his dream. There are also other sacred Namsel Tsheringma Nagtens housed in the shrine that is under lock and key.
4. Machen Lhakhang
The reliquary stupa with embalmed body of the 6th Gangteng Tulku Tenpai Nyima is located here. Besides it houses statues of the 16 Arhats. There is also around 16” Terton Pema Lingpa’s statue whereby the Namza (cloth) appeared by itself on the body after the completion of the statue. One can check this by touching it.
5. Lamai Lhakhang
Here you will witness the statue of Vajrasattava , which is surrounded by the Peling lineage holders and other dharmapalas, Choeku Kuentu Zangpo, Rinzin Pema Lingpa, Kuenzang Jurmi Dorji, Tenzin Shiji Namgay, Kuenzang Thinlay Namgyel, Kuenzang Rinzin Dorji, Khechey Kuenga Drakpa, Guru Nangsi Zilon, Ugyen Geley Namgyel, Thusey Dawa Gyeltshen, Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal, Peling Kuenzang Dorji, Jigme Jurmi Chodrup Pelwang, Tenzin Jurmi Dorji, Terda Lingpa, Rinzin Shacha Singlha and etc (I forgot some names). 108 Vajrakiliya Phurba made by second Gangteng Tulku are also seen.
|(Ugyen Tenpai Nyencha)|
6. Tshengye Lhakhang
Here it houses Guru Rinpoche and his eight manifestations. The Guru Rinpoche statue was made by 2nd Heypi Trulku and is destined to speak in future. This statue can fulfill any wishes that one desire. Here Terton Pema Lingpa’s Footprint is also seen.
7. Zimchung Shar
This shrine room is located on east side and was used by 2nd Gangteng Tulku to communicate with Guru Rinpoche every morning. Here you will find many canonical texts and eight red-sandalwood Desheg Chortens. The hand written Cho bum of Jetun Milarapa is kept in the house.
|(Jetun Milarapa handwritten Choe Bum)|
8. Zimchung Nub
It is located on the west side. The room was used by 2nd Gangteng Tulku to communicate directly with Guru Rinpoche in the evening.
On the ground floor, images of the Buddhas of the 3 times similar to the ones in Magadha, Vajrasana and Yangpachen are idolized. Next to these are the images of 4 other Buddhas, the 8 Noble Sons, the Great Teacher; wrathful form of Hayagriva, and Vajrapani flank them.
|(His Holiness the 9th Ganteng Tulku Rigdzin Kunzang Pema Namgya Rinpoche)|
The Assembly Hall has Jangchub Tungsha and offering goddesses. While at the sides of the entrance are the Kings of the 4 directions namely, “the Mandala of Cyclic Existence, layout of Mt. Meru according to the sutras and tantras, Zangdog Pelri and the pure land of Shambala.”
One must visit this sacred monastery to experience intense holy feeling. Kindly note that some shrine rooms are restricted to tourists.
About Gangteng Monastery
The Gangteng Monastery is known by many names as Gangtey Gonpa or Gangtey Monastery. It is an important monastery of Nyingmapa school of Buddhism, the main seat of the Pema Lingpa tradition. The Monastery's history traces to the early 17th century and back to the prophecies made by the well-known Terton (treasure finder) Pema Lingpa in the late 15th century.
The Monastery is one of the main seats of the religious tradition based on Pema Lingpa's revelations and one of the two main centers of the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism in the country.
The descent of the First King of Bhutan, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck of the Wangchuck Dynasty of Bhutan, which continues to rule Bhutan is traced to the clan of the Dungkhar Choje, a subsidiary of the clan of Khouchung Choje whose founder was Kunga Wangpo, the fourth son of Pema Lingpa.
The Gangteng Monastery, also called the Gangteng Sangngak Chöling་, was established in 1613 by the first Peling Gyalsé Rinpoche or Gangteng Tulku, Rigdzin Pema Tinley (1564–1642), who was the grandson of the great Bhutanese "treasure revealer" Terchen Pema Lingpa (1450–1521).
The earliest historical background relevant to this monastery is traced to establishment of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, by Guru Rinpoche. The Terton, came on a visit to the Phobjikha Valley as a saint to teach Buddhist precepts to the people and also to bless them. During this visit, after looking at the impressive mountains that surrounded the valley he had foretold that one of his descendants would build a monastery or Gonpa on the Gangten (meaning top of the mountain) and make it famous as the seat of the Peling tradition.
This prediction fructified when his grand son Gyalse Pema Thinley built a monastery in 1613, and the spur of the mountain was given the name, the Gangteng Sang Nga Choling (meaning: “summit for the teaching of the dharma”). He became the first Trulku (spiritual head of the monastery or gonpa) of the monastery. It was initially built as a Lhakhang, a small village monastery, which was later expanded by his son Tenzing Legpai Dhendup (1645–1726), who succeeded him as the second Trulku. It was built like a Dzong (fortress). The present Wangchuck Dynasty, which rules Bhutan, is a descendant of Pema Lingpa.
|(Second Gangteng Tulku Tenzing Lehpai Dhendup)|
From 2002–2008, the Monastery has been completely restored under the present Gangteng Tulku, His Holiness Rigdzin Kunzang Pema Namgyal.
|(His Holiness the 9th Ganteng Tulku Rigdzin Kunzang Pema Namgya Rinpoche)|
The rebuilt monastery was consecrated by the present incarnation of Pema Lingpa on the October 10, 2008, graced by the fourth King of Bhutan. Gangteng Sang-ngak Chöling, as now restored, retains its original glory and is stated to be the resurgence of the Peling Tradition. Hence, the restoration of the Lhakhang and the resurgence of the Peling Tradition also symbolizes the aura of Bhutan’s Monarchy.”
The construction of the original Lhakhang was done with full community effort. The local materials such as timber came from the nearby forest trees that were cut, shaped and used for construction of the pillars, beams and windows. Building stones were extracted from the local hills; in this context a legend is also stated that the local guardian deity, called the Delep, facilitated availability of stones by creating a landslide in the opposite hill. A renowned artisan of the Umze of Lhalung Monastery in Tibet was specially brought from Tibet to head as the zowpon to guide the team of local craftsmen. Voluntary labour force was organized from among the devotees of the local village of Gangten.
|(His Holiness the 9th Gangteng Tulku with His Holiness Kabjie Je Thizur)|
The monastery underwent a major refurbishing from 2000, which lasted for eight years. It was a massive restoration work, which was organized by the ninth Gangteng Trulku, Kunzang Rigzin Pema Namgyal (stated to be the reincarnation of the body of Pema Lingpa) at a project cost of Nu. 700 million “to preserve this remarkable legacy for the future.” He engaged 'Landmarks Foundation' to mobilize the restoration and preservation of the Gonpa.
This was the first occasion for the Landmarks Foundation to engage in a project in which the sacred site was fully functional. The structural problems were first identified, particularly as the wooden parts, which deteriorated and affected the structure. The refurbishing was planned in such a way as not to disturb “the original aura and grandeur of the monastery”. The Royal Government of Bhutan supervised the work and provided the necessary technical and architectural support, including raw materials. This building construction lasted for eight years and all efforts were made to preserve the old structures, carvings, and paintings to the extent possible, while the local artisans intricately crafted 104 new pillars. This task was also supported by the fourth King of Bhutan with technical support and guidance. The monastery was painted with durable special mineral paints, locally called the dotshoen. The monastery occupies a prime space in the Phobjika valley, and as built now it is a large complex consisting of the central Gonpa, surrounded by monks' living quarters, meditation halls and a guesthouse. It also houses a school.
The monastery complex has five temples that surround the main central tower. The main hall in the monastery called the tshokhang has been built in Tibetan architectural style. The hall is built with eight very large wooden pillars, which are stated to be the largest in Bhutan. Wood work, both inside and outside of the old structure, which had deteriorated have been replaced. Similarly, some of the paintings and frescoes inside the monastery have also been redone. The monastery is now maintained by 100 odd lay monks (locally known as the gomchen). The monks are also assisted by Buddhist devotees whose families reside in the village near the Gonpa.
The restoration work has been done by craftsmen supported by gomchens, who are lay monks (not necessarily celibate). These monks supported themselves and offered their services free. The carpenters carved 50 feet (15 m) long wooden beams with lovely motifs out of blue-pine, by hand with set of wood-handled tools. Some used daggers to carve dorje (a diamond thunderbolt motif) which is a recurring theme in the exteriors of the monastery. The ancient gateway leading to the monastery was redone.
Elaboration of the layout
The detailed layout and the holy images and frescos contained in the various buildings of the Gangten Gonpa complex are elaborated, starting with the four directions of the Gönpa and the sacred and symbolic significance of the areas that surround the Gonpa.
|(His Holiness the 9th Ganteng Tulku Rigdzin Kunzang Pema Namgya Rinpoche)|
Located in the central region of Bhutan, the precincts are forested with medicinal plants and trees. The sacred places that are in the region, in the four directions are: On the east – the Gayney Lhakhang in Bumthang; in the south – the Moenyul Namkha Dzong; in the west – the Paro Taktsang; and in the north – Namthang Lu Gi Phu, the meditation cave of Guru Rinpoche.
The Gonpa is located on a spur at the highest point, symbolic of the Vajrayana teachings and its practice. Its location at the base is intertwined with nine large mountain peaks, symbolising the ninth “yana.” It has no problem of wild animals, which is indicative of lack of sufferings. The sky above appears in the form of the eight-spiked wheel, which is symbolic of the yogic practitioners of Dzogchen. The land where the Gonpa is located is an “equanimity and altruistic intention of Bodhicitta.” It has eight auspicious signs indicative of an assembly of the noble sons and daughters from all directions. The precincts depict “a victory banner in the east, long horns in the south, six-syllable mantra in the west and stupa in the north,” symbolising natural realization; further, the sun and moon rise early and set late, the three perennial rivers flow nearby and the spur where the Gonpa is located appears like an elephant – an auspicious sign.
|(His Holiness the 9th Ganteng Tulku Rigdzin Kunzang Pema Namgya Rinpoche with His Majesty the King)|
The ten qualities of the precincts of the Gonpa are elaborated:
1. The surrounding mountains and forests that enclose the Gonpa are like the 16 great Arhats with their entourage of close followers;
2. The white road of Langleygang represents the eastern grey Tiger,
3. The blue Zhungchu Ngoenmo, which symbolises the southern blue Dragon;
4. Red rock in Trawanang represents the western red Bird;
5. The pastoral meadow of Tsi Tsi La symbolises the northern black Turtle;
6. The four local protectors known as Sadags represent non-destruction by the four elements;
7. There is the evergreen 'Wish-fulfilling Tree' (Paksam Joenshing) that symbolises spiritual and temporal prosperity;
8. Upper, middle and the lower sub-regions of the area represent the particular teachings of the 'Three Baskets'; and
9. The retreat centers have dedicated male and female practitioners of Buddhism.
Given this auspicious environment, Gangtey Gönpa has:
· A square plan that denotes perfection in teachings and practice;
· It has large fencing around it that protects it from evil influences;
· The monastery has three entrances representing “the doors of the three Yogas”;
· 108 doors and windows are provided to denote cleansing of the darkness of sentient;
· The images are painted and embossed, as protective compassion; Mandalas are depicted – the outer level Mandala is of the Mahayoga, the inner level Mandala denotes the Anuyoga and the secret level Mandala is of Atiyoga.
Please visit Gangtey Monastery to feel the great holy atmosphere and receive blessing from old sacred Nagtens.
Gangteng Lhakhang, Dzongkhang Administration Wangduephordang