Dungkar Gonpa (གྲོ་མོ་དུང་དཀར་དགོན།) in Tibetan, meaning “Conch Shell,” is located on Dungkar Mountain in Rupeng Village, Upper Yadong Township, Yadong County in Shigatse City. Named after the mountain it stands on, this monastery has a history of over 500 years and is fully titled “Dungkar Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.” It was initially built in the early 17th century by Chieftain Nepa Chin, and later expanded by Gelong DiShiba and Ngawang Kalsang, covering an area of 3000 square meters. Dungkar Monastery is not only the largest and most influential Geluk monastery in Yadong, but also holds significant importance in the modern history of Tibet.
The monastery is structured as a quadrangle, facing east and west. It comprises two large scripture halls, a meditation hall, three Lama rooms, and several hundred monk cells. The entrance features a four-step staircase leading to a gateway that opens into the courtyard. The main building of the monastery, the Tsokchen Hall, is located at the rear of the courtyard.
Tsokchen Hall is a two-story structure: the upper level is a Buddha hall, and the lower level is a scripture hall. The hall spans 400 square meters, measuring 20 meters in both length and width. In front of the hall, there are three stone steps leading to a tall gatehouse, which is supported by two large pillars. The gatehouse and the side rooms of the courtyard are three stories high. The first floor of the side rooms houses, from south to north, the Dharmapala (protector deity) hall, the kitchen, and a storage room; the second and third floors are used for scripture reading and religious dance respectively.
Cultural and Spiritual Treasures of Dungkar Monastery: A 300-Year Legacy
A Center of Buddhist Learning
For over 300 years, Dungkar Monastery has been a pivotal center for Buddhist teachings, particularly the Five Great Treatises and both the Sutra and Tantra teachings. The monastery has nurtured numerous accomplished Khenpos (scholars) and practitioners who have attained the highest levels of realization in Dzogchen (Great Perfection). The monastery hosts various religious ceremonies annually, with the highlight being the Guru Rinpoche Prayer Festival in the first ten days of March. During this time, monks recite prayers for world peace and happiness of all beings, perform traditional Tibetan operas, and engage in the Cham (sacred dance). Thousands of pilgrims and tourists flock to the monastery, drawn by its spiritual significance and vibrant cultural displays.
From its early days, Dungkar Monastery gained a reputation for its expertise in traditional Tibetan medicine, a discipline for which the region is renowned. Additionally, the monastery is closely associated with the legendary Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche, a highly revered figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Domo Geshe Rinpoche, known for his profound spirituality and wisdom, established his monastic seat at Dungkar. He gained fame partly through the accounts in “Way of the White Clouds” by Lama Anagarika Govinda.
The story of Domo Geshe Rinpoche is particularly notable. He is said to have meditated in the area for an extended period until a wandering nomad discovered him. The nomad offered milk and yoghurt to the meditating lama, after which Domo Geshe Rinpoche ended his solitary retreat. Following this, he performed many great deeds, contributing significantly to the spiritual heritage of the region and becoming a revered figure in Tibetan Buddhism.
Highlights of Dungkar Monastery
- Stone Carved Buddhas: At the entrance, a large rock bears carvings of Tsongkhapa and his two disciples, seated in a lotus position. Below them is a fearsome depiction of the protector deity “Tagin Jukje,” with a bull’s head and a blue body, brandishing ritual weapons and trampling demons.
- Shakyamuni Buddha Statue: This exquisite bronze statue, 60 centimeters in total height (47 cm statue and 13 cm lotus base), portrays Buddha Shakyamuni with a serene expression, long earlobes, a ushnisha (topknot), and draped in the robes typical of Indian Buddhist sculptures. He is seated in a lotus position with his left hand resting on his lap and the right hand touching the earth.
- Thangka of Buddha: A Qing Dynasty masterpiece, this 10-meter-long and 8-meter-wide thangka depicts Shakyamuni Buddha with long earlobes, seated on a lotus throne, clad in monastic robes, and holding a bowl.
- Ritual Instruments: The collection includes a golden butter lamp, dozens of silver water bowls, several large silver rhododendrons, gilded copper treasure vases, and jade banners.
- Bronze Bell: Standing 15 centimeters tall with an 8-centimeter diameter, this bell features four silver dragon heads on the handle, each extending a tongue that forms a petal. The bell’s body is adorned with three layers of patterns including lotus petals, lion heads, and vajras (diamond scepters).
- Ming Dynasty Cymbals: These cymbals, resembling a traditional Chinese hat, are 50 centimeters in diameter with a small hole at the top for suspension. One side is engraved with the phrase “Made in the Xuande Era of the Great Ming,” accompanied by a double dragon motif.
- Sacred Texts: The monastery houses three parts of the “Kangyur,” two parts of the “Tengyur,” and one part of the “One Hundred Thousand Songs.” Additionally, it preserves complete works of masters like Atisha, Tsongkhapa, and texts from various Buddhist schools including Sakya, Gelug, Kagyu, and Nyingma.
- Natural and Spiritual Beauty: The area around Dungkar Monastery is akin to a celestial realm in Buddhist mythology. The surrounding stones are adorned with cliff carvings, natural auspicious patterns, stupas, and prayer flags, all contributing to the sacred and serene atmosphere of the place.