Sampheling Monastery is located in the far eastern region of Tibet known as Kham, and is widely considered to be the personal monastery of His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. It is also well known for being a stronghold of Dorje Shugden practitioners.
Sampheling Monastery was built in 1669 at the advice and support of His Holiness the Great 5th Dalai Lama. However, it was not until the late 19th Century that the monastery grew in fame when its Abbot, H.H. the 2nd Trijang Dorje Chang was enthroned as the 85th Gaden Tripa.
Gaden Tripa means “Holder of the Gaden Throne” and is the title bestowed on the spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. As the Gaden Tripa, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche became the head of the Gelugpa lineage. Sampheling Monastery therefore became known as the monastery which had produced a master so erudite that he was considered Lama Tsongkhapa’s representative on earth.
Originally located in the town area, Sampheling Monastery was moved to the hills of Chatreng in 1995. As of 2011, this renowned monastery has over 700 registered monks. Thus, with the exception of a brief period during the 1950s, Sampheling Monastery has been an active monastery for over 350 years, keeping Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition alive in a remote region of Tibet.
The rich history of Chatreng is unquestionably intertwined with the incarnation lineage of the great Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, whom Chatrengpas venerate as “their” Lama. One of the greatest masters of recent times, H.H. the 3rd Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang is the teacher, whether directly or indirectly, of practically all Gelugpa lamas turning the Wheel of Dharma today, including H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama.
In fact, most of the teachings, commentaries and practices that the Dalai Lama transmits today originate from teachings given to him by Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang. Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang was also the holder of the Gaden Oral tradition, passed to him in its entirety by his root guru, H.H. Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, and was a staunch proponent of Dorje Shugden’s practice.
As the home and educational institution of over 700 monks, Sampheling Monastery’s main buildings comprise of:
- Main gompa
- Three large halls, including the Tsongkhapa and Amitabha Halls
- Old Protector chapel
- High Lamas private rooms
- H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s stupa containing his holy relics
An ornate gate leads to the courtyard and main prayer hall of Sampheling Monastery. Extremely elaborate, the gate was handcrafted by the local people of Sampheling as an offering to the monastery.
All Gelugpa monasteries will have a statue of Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the lineage, on the altar of their main prayer hall.
As with all statues in Sampheling Monastery, Lama Tsongkhapa’s statue is covered in rich silk brocades and surrounded by richly-carved ornate pillars and beams befitting of an offering to the Buddhas.
The altar also features statues of the current and future Buddhas, Shakyamuni and Maitreya, and the Tantric deities Yamantaka and Heruka Chakrasamvara, amongst others.
In the centre of the main prayer hall is a throne for H.H. Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche, ready for his current incarnation to return to give teachings. People come from all over the Kham region to make khata offerings to this throne and to receive his blessing.
As a monastery practising the authentic Buddhadharma, Sampheling Monastery also pays the highest respects to their teachers and lineage lamas. Thus, on the altar of their main gompa is a 5ft statue of their former abbot, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.
The interior of the prayer hall is covered with extensive paintings and murals covering every inch of the monastic walls. Sampheling Monastery pays homage to the lineage lamas who have an important link to the monastery, thus there are wall paintings of the lineage masters H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and H.E. Lakar Rinpoche, who are traditionally associated with the Kham region of Tibet.
The previous incarnation of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche spent many years in Sampheling Monastery, tirelessly spreading the Dharma. The reason for his stay at Sampheling Monastery is one of great interest.
Prior to his arrival, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was the abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery, that was in possession of some items that needed the permission of the Tibetan government to be used. As the Abbot, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche objected to this, believing that since the items were to be used by the Sangha, the head of the Sangha should decide when the items could be used. The head of the Sangha in any monastery would be the abbot.
Unhappy with what Kyabje Zong Rinpoche said, the Tibetan government moved to dethrone him from his position as abbot. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the Guru of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, performed a divination and advised him to travel to Sampheling Monastery to teach. If he were to do so, he would benefit countless sentient beings and his fame would grow far and wide.
Thus, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche travelled to the remote area of Chatreng and remained in Sampheling Monastery for 12 years. As predicted by his Guru, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche became renowned for his ability to teach and touch all levels of minds. He was also well known for his healing abilities and for the many miraculous signs he showed whilst he was there.
Another wall features a painting of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and his previous lives. Tibetan Buddhists believe that images of the Guru and his previous incarnations will create the causes for the current incarnation to continue the activities and accomplishments of his previous life. Thus, such a painting is considered to be extremely auspicious.
There is a story behind this particular painting which the Sampheling monks like to tell. One of the artists commissioned to paint the walls in Sampheling Monastery refused to paint anything other than a mural of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and his previous lives. On the day he finished the painting, the artist met with a car accident on his way home and passed away.
The monks and laypeople of Chatreng believe that this was incredibly auspicious for the artist, because the last thing he ever did was to paint images of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. That is to say, the artist died engaged in virtuous work. Thus it is no surprise that the monks of Sampheling Monastery speak of this incident in a manner that indicates that they too wish to pass away in the same manner as the artist, engaged in virtuous work.
Off to one side of the main prayer hall is the Old Protector Chapel of Sampheling Monastery. The monastery has propitiated Dorje Shugden as their main Protector for over 300 years and likewise so do the lay populace of the Chatreng region.
The Old Protector Chapel houses images of Dorje Shugden’s Five Families – Duldzin Dorje Shugden, Vairocana Shugden (Shize), Ratna Shugden (Gyenze), Pema Shugden (Wangze) and Karma Shugden (Trakze).
A ganze wall painting, a traditional wrathful offering of implements to the Protector, can also be seen in the Old Protector Chapel. Such offerings are made to generate the causes for the Protector to do his work smoothly and swiftly and, being a rare type of offering, is usually only seen in places where people have great faith in Dorje Shugden.
Within the monastery complex are three other large halls, including the Amitabha and Tsongkhapa Hall which seat over 2000 people each. The Tsongkhapa Hall is situated beside the main prayer hall and the main image within is a 33-metre statue of Je Tse Zin Ma (Lama Tsongkhapa in long life form). Hand-built by the people of Chatreng and filled with their jewellery and other precious items, it will be the tallest Tsongkhapa statue in the world upon its completion.
All Buddhist traditions have a custom of building statues as large as possible. They do this so that beings from many miles away can see the images and have the seeds of Enlightenment planted in their minds. At 33 metres and located in the hills of Chatreng, Lama Tsongkhapa’s serene gaze looks out over the region to bless the populace.
Incredibly, this statue of Lama Tsongkhapa (and Sampheling Monastery by extension) has been built on little more than the people’s devotion. Chatreng is one of Tibet’s poorer towns and the majority of the population earns a living harvesting truffles and wheatgrass for three months out of the year.
Chatreng is also not popular with visitors due to its remote location, and therefore Sampheling Monastery does not benefit from tourist-generated income. Understanding this makes the restoration and continued operations of the monastery so much more impressive, given their lack of regular funding and government support.
Within the Tsongkhapa Hall is another chapel to the Protector Dorje Shugden. This chapel features a 15ft tall statue of Dorje Shugden and, like the Old Protector Chapel, is surrounded by images of his other emanations.
People from all over Chatreng and the neighbouring towns regularly visit to seek the blessings of Dorje Shugden, just as they have done for hundreds of years. Their faith in Dorje Shugden and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche is such that they continue to build and make images of him.
One of the incredible sights at Sampheling Monastery is the private chambers of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s bedchamber is painted in pure gold as an offering to their Lama. The chambers are incredibly ornate and continue to be filled with khata offerings long after his previous incarnation passed into clear light.
Sampheling Monastery keeps Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s private chambers ready for when his current incarnation is able to return. Unfortunately, this has not yet come to pass as the current incarnation, H.H. Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche cannot visit Tibet due to his previous life’s status as the Dalai Lama’s tutor.
Nevertheless, aware of how highly attained he is and grateful for the benefits he has brought to this remote region of Tibet, the people of Chatreng continue to have strong faith in and devotion to the line of Trijang Rinpoches and his personal Protector Dorje Shugden.
Sampheling Monastery also keeps special, private rooms for H.H. Zong Rinpoche, H.E. Lakar Rinpoche and H.E. Denma Gonsa Rinpoche. Under the leadership of Sampheling Monastery’s previous abbot, Kensur Jampa Tharlam, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche visited many times to give extensive teachings.
Another must-see at Sampheling Monastery is the holy stupa of H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche which contains the relics of his previous incarnation. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s image spontaneously began to form on one of the precious stones on the stupa. Such miraculous signs indicate the presence of a great being who practised compassion.
On a regular basis, Sampheling Monastery hold grand pujas propitiating Dorje Shugden’s blessings. As was done for hundreds of years, the monks recite the praises and prayers according to texts written by great masters. Pujas like these are a regular part of the monastic schedule alongside the study of texts composed by erudite masters such as Panchen Sonam Drakpa, whose works still form the core curriculum of monastic institutions like Gaden Monastery even to this day.
The Vajra Dance is another highlight of Sampheling Monastery’s annual activities. It is performed every year during Losar (Tibetan New Year) and takes place over a period of three days. The dance was taught by the previous Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and before he entered clear light, he instructed his students to continue to perform the dance well every single year, because it will clear obstacles for the monastery. Since obstacles can be cleared by the recitation of mantras (verbal), doing virtuous work (physical) and mental transformation, it is definitely possible that they can be cleared through cosmic dance.
Every year during the annual Vajra Dance, an eagle will be seen circling the courtyard three times. It is said that the eagle is an emanation of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche himself, observing the dance from above. After the eagle has circled the monastery thrice, it will fly away. The eagle only appears once a year, during the dance.
The current Abbot of Sampheling Monastery is the 75-year-old Geshe Tenpa from Varanasi, India. He has been the Abbot for the last six years (two consecutive terms). The monastery doesn’t have any sponsors and all monks are supported by their families.
Kensur Lobsang Chojin Rinpoche
Kensur Lobsang Chojin Rinpoche is the ex-Abbot of Sampheling Monastery (before Kensur Jampa Tharlam Rinpoche) and a student of the previous Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. It was during his tenure that Sampheling Monastery was relocated to the hills just outside the town. He was in charge of planning and ensuring the completion of the new monastery.
Kensur Lobsang Chojin Rinpoche also organised the escort party that would guide and guard H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama on his escape out of Tibet. Just 20 years old at the time, Kensur Rinpoche received instructions from Dorje Shugden to see the Dalai Lama safely to exile. With full faith and trust in his Dharma Protector, he organised the Chushi Gangdruk warriors and together, they risked their lives to be the front-liners paving the way for the entourage to escape.
In an interview, Kensur Lobsang Chojin Rinpoche related how the Dalai Lama carried a Dorje Shugden thangka with him out of Tibet into India and revealed that Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche had given many Dorje Shugden items to the Dalai Lama.
Kensur Jampa Tharlam Rinpoche
In 2002, Kensur Jampa Tharlam Rinpoche was chosen by Dorje Shugden to become the abbot of Sampheling Monastery.
During his term, Kensur Rinpoche invited many highly attained lamas to the monastery to give extensive teachings, including H.E. Denma Gonsa Rinpoche, H.E. Gonsar Rinpoche and H.H. Pabongka Rinpoche. Amongst many others, they gave Dorje Shugden teachings and empowerments to the monks and people of Chatreng.
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