THE MONASTERY AND MONASTIC COMMUNITY IN NEPAL: CONNECTING WITH THE ORIGINS OF TANTRA AND GURU RINPOCHE

According to the Buddhist way of thinking, all the happiness and peace of sentient beings depends upon the teachings of the Buddha, which in turn depends principally upon the spiritual community, which is the Sangha, or practitioners, (including both ordained and laity), who are correctly abiding in the teachings. Whether or not the Sangha or practitioners remain long to uphold the Buddha Dharma depends in large part on the Monasteries, Temples, and Retreat Centers. Therefore, many great holy masters built and established many great and small monasteries because they knew the benefits of building monasteries, temples, stupas and so on. In the Sutras, Lord Buddha said, “construction of monastic centers, preserving Buddha’s teachings, providing food, shelter and clothing to the Sangha are the greatest way to accumulate merit.” There are inconceivable benefits, as testified by the Buddha, so it is extremely worthwhile to build monasteries and other centers. Particularly, if the sites or places of the monastery are considered to be extraordinary and sacred, these sites then bring more happiness and peace to the community and a greater accumulation of merit.

Nepal Monastery Courtyard

In this way, the great masters of the Ripa Lineage began to establish monasteries and retreat centers in the sacred places of Odisha (Orissa), India and Yang-Le-Shod, Pharping, Nepal.

The Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery was built in 2005 at the sacred place of Pharping in Nepal. This was another vision of H.E. Terton Namkha Drimed Rabjam Rinpoche. In 1976, he stayed in retreat at the Asura Cave in Pharping, Nepal – one of the most ‘sacred power places’ in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The visions that he experienced at this pilgrimage site on the edges of the Kathmandu Valley led to the founding of the ‘New Treasures’ Project and Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery which is situated amidst Pharping’s lush, forested hills. Generally speaking, the country of Nepal is the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, and it is a well known fact that the form of Buddhism that has flourished in Nepal since the ancient times has been Vajrayana. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Vajrayana Buddhism has had a strong effect in the culture of Nepal. Specifically, Vajrayana is maintained as a living practice, through the ‘Ripa Lineage’ of the Nyingma tradition, with the ongoing main practices of the Ripa Lineage, which are the Tagsham Treasure-teachings (Terma), which trace their origins back to Guru Rinpoche, Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal, Arya Sahle and Tagsham Nuden Dorje. For example, the great Nepali Master Basudhara (who was a disciple of Guru Padmasambhava), met with Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal and Arya Sahle and they requested various teachings and Dharma instructions from him.

Arya Sahle was recognized as the incarnation of Pawo-Tadrin Hayagriva, who was originally from India (Indian Sahle), but spent his childhood in Nepal, and later became the spiritual companion of the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyalwho took him to Tibet. Arya Sahle travelled several times back to Nepal along with much gold from Tibet, and built seven major temples or Vihar, amongst them the most well known is E-Vihar (Bal-Yul-Ae-Tsug-Lag-Khang) at Pattan, Nepal). According to Padmasambhava’s prophesy, Arya Sahle’s reincarnation, Tagsham Nuden Dorje (also known as Ogyen Samten Lingpa), was born in Tibet, Kham, and became the holder and revealer of Padmasambhava’s Secret Treasure-teachings and spread the teachings that lead to enlightenment in a single lifespan. Most of the sacred Treasure-teachings (Ter-Choe) of Tagsham Nuden Dorje – Ju-Trul-Narak-Dhong-Truk, and Wang-Chen-Jud-Tawu-Nga-Pa etc., were composed by Guru Padmasambhava at E-Vihar (Bal-Yul-Ae-Tsug-Lag-Khang) at Pattan, Nepal). For instance, Guru Padmasambhava opened the Mandala of the ‘Narak-Dhong-Truk’ teaching and practiced the ‘Hundred Sublime Deities of the Great Secret Mantra (Sang-Chen-Dam-Pa-Rig-Ja), in order to lead Konpa-Kye (Nepal’s King Manju’s daughter), and many other sentient beings, to the state of enlightenment from the realm of the Narak hell.

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The area of Pharping where Rigon Tashi Choeling is located, is as sacred to practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism as Bodhgaya is to Buddhism as a whole, for it was here that Guru Padmasambhava, the 8th century Tantric sage, achieved enlightenment. For centuries Pharping has been a center for spiritual practice and, besides the two caves where Padmasambhava and his consort Shakyadevi meditated, the area boasts many monasteries, temples, and the residences of revered Tibetan masters. The rocks surrounding the caves continue to manifest an extraordinary phenomenon called Rang-Jung ‘Self-arisen,’ in which sacred forms arises spontaneously from the living rock due to the intensity of spiritual energy that pervades this area. The site for the monastery is situated below high-forested hills, which are held to be mystically formed in the shape of the Eight Auspicious Emblems highly regarded among Tibetan Buddhists. Guru Padmasambhava meditated at the Upper Cave called Asura, and the Lower Yangleshod Cave, Pharping. It was the holy site where the great master, Guru Padmasambhava attained the Mahamudra level of enlightenment through the practice of Vishudha Heruka, combined with the Sadhana of Vajrakilaya. The Asura Cave became the center of meditation for great practitioners such as Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal, Arya Sahle (a principal disciple of Padmasambhava and spiritual companion of Yeshe Tsogyal), and Shakyadevi (one of Guru Padmasambhava’s other consorts).

One of the principal disciples of Terton Tagsham Nuden Dorje was Choje-Lingpa, also known as ‘Dharma-Swami,’ who travelled to the land of Sherpas, Nepal, in the 17th century and spread the teachings there. He taught profound teachings and made aspirational prayers for the flourishing of the Dharma throughout the country of Nepal. Nepal has been visited by many great beings, such as the long term resident, the great master Marpa Lotsawa Choekyi Lodoe (1012-1097), who made offerings, Ganacakra feasts, aspiration prayers and so on.