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Exploring the Six Major Monasteries of the Nyingma School

The Nyingma school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, is distinguished by its red hats worn by monks, earning it the nickname “The Red Sect.” Established in the 11th century, Nyingma is the oldest of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. The term “Nyingma” means “ancient” or “old” in Tibetan, referring to its ancient Tantric practices and teachings that date back to the 8th century.

The Six Major Nyingma Monasteries


In modern times, the Nyingma school is known for its “Six Major Monasteries and Two Major Lineages.” The six monasteries are Kathok, Zogchen, Palyul, Shechen, Mindroling, and Dorje Drak (listed without specific ranking). The two major lineages refer to the “New Treasures of Dudjom” and “The Heart Essence of Longchen” revealed by the famous Tertöns Dudjom Lingpa and Jigme Lingpa.

Kathok Monastery

  • Location: Situated in Baiyu County, Sichuan Province, along the Jinsha River Valley. The monastery is located at an altitude of 4800 meters, just one mountain range away from Tibet.
  • Significance: Kathok Monastery, or Kathok Dorje Den, is the most renowned among the three streams and six major Vajrayana sites of the Nyingma tradition.
  • Naming and Features: The name “Kathok” translates to “on top of the Ka,” named after a huge, smooth white rock with a naturally formed Tibetan letter “Ka” on it. “Dorje Den” means “The Seat of Vajra.”

These monasteries represent the rich spiritual heritage and deep-rooted history of the Nyingma school. They are not only significant for their religious importance but also for their unique contributions to Tibetan culture, art, and architecture. Each monastery has its own unique history and spiritual significance, making them vital to understanding the breadth and depth of Tibetan Buddhism.

Exploring the Sacred Monasteries of the Nyingma School


The Nyingma School, known for its ancient and venerable traditions in Tibetan Buddhism, is home to some of the most spiritually significant monasteries. Each of these monasteries has a rich history and plays a vital role in the preservation and dissemination of the Nyingma teachings.

Kathok Monastery: The Mother Monastery of the Nyingma School

  • Historical Significance: Over the past 800 years, Kathok Monastery has been the site of rainbow body achievements for over one hundred thousand practitioners.
  • Global Influence: Today, teachers from the Kathok lineage are spread across Asia, Europe, and North America.
  • Annual Celebrations: Each year, on the tenth day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar, Kathok Monastery holds grand ceremonies to celebrate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava. Monks and devotees from various regions gather to chant and pray together. The largest of these gatherings reportedly saw the participation of 180,000 monks, creating a sea of red robes that is celebrated in both India and Tibet.

Dzogchen Monastery: The Second Buddha’s Blessed Land

  • Location: Situated in Dege County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.
  • Historical Background: The monastery is blessed by Padmasambhava and is considered one of the twenty-five major sacred places of his teachings.
  • Founding: Founded around 1230 by a disciple of Mani Rinchen, during the period when Tibet was aligning with the Mongol Empire. The original name of the monastery was “Sengdak Zogchen Dzogchen Chenpo,” which flourished for nearly 470 years.
  • Spiritual Significance: Zogchen Monastery is known for its strict adherence to monastic discipline and profound teaching and practice of the Dzogchen (Great Perfection) tradition.

Palyul Monastery: A Jewel of Tibetan Buddhism

  • Location: Nestled in Baiyu County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, on Baiyu Mountain.
  • Notable Features: The monastery’s golden top, built in the style of a mandala, has three layers representing Padmasambhava, Avalokiteshvara, and Shakyamuni Buddha.
  • Founding and Legacy: Founded in 1675 during the Qing dynasty, Palyul Monastery has been led by 12 generations of reincarnated lamas. The land around the monastery is believed to possess auspicious qualities, hence its name “Palyul,” meaning “auspicious land.”

Shechen Monastery: A Center of Nyingma Teachings

  • Location: Situated at an altitude of over 4000 meters in Dege County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.
  • Foundation: Established around 1731, Shechen Monastery, known as “Shechen Danil Thupten Ling,” is one of the six major Nyingma monasteries.
  • Spiritual Legacy: Known for its comprehensive study of both Sutra and Tantra, Shechen focuses on the practical application of the Dzogchen teachings. It has produced many accomplished Dzogchen masters and continues to be a vital centre for spiritual practice and study.

These monasteries not only serve as spiritual havens for practitioners but also stand as a testament to the rich heritage of the Nyingma school, fostering a deep understanding of Tibetan Buddhism’s ancient wisdom.

Exploring the Sacred Sites of Shechen and Dorje Drak Monasteries in the Nyingma Tradition


Shechen Monastery: Surrounded by Sacred Mountains

  • Unique Location: Shechen Monastery is encircled by four sacred mountains, each representing a significant deity: the Great Garuda Mountain to the east, Green Tara Mountain to the west, 21 Taras Mountain to the south, and Vajra Kilaya Mountain to the north.
  • Historical Retreats: Many accomplished practitioners from the past meditated in caves within these mountains. For instance, the cave in Green Tara Mountain, known as Songdu Barwa, was the retreat of the revered practitioner Sherab Ozer. His smaller physical remains are still preserved in a stupa within this cave, and it is said that visiting this cave is particularly effective in overcoming the eight great difficulties of the human world.
  • Pilgrimage Significance: Many Tibetans make long journeys to visit this cave, and it is believed that one pilgrimage to this mountain equals the merit of reciting one hundred million Guru Rinpoche mantras.

Mindroling Monastery: A Center of Learning and Art

  • Historical Background: Located in Zhanang County, Shannan Prefecture, Tibet, Mindroling Monastery was initially established in the late 10th century by the Nyingma master Lume Tsultrim Zerang. It was extensively renovated and expanded in 1676 by Terdak Lingpa, the teacher of the 5th Dalai Lama.
  • Academic Excellence: Mindroling is renowned for its study of Buddhist scriptures, astronomy, calligraphy, Tibetan medicine, and pharmacology. The Tibetan lunar calendar was traditionally compiled here.
  • Architectural Significance: The monastery’s stone walls are famous in Tibet and hold great value for studying Tibetan architectural styles. In 2006, it was declared a national key cultural relic by the Chinese government.

Dorje Drak Monastery: A Nyingma Jewel

  • Equal Status: Alongside Mindroling, Dorje Drak is one of the six major monasteries of the Nyingma tradition.
  • Location: Situated on the northern bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Gonggar County, Tibet.
  • Naming and Foundation: Dorje Drak, meaning “Indestructible Rock,” is named after a naturally occurring Vajra symbol on the mountain behind the monastery. Founded in the late 16th century by Trashi Tobgyel, it is also known as Tödeng Dorje Drak.
  • Teachings and Treasures: The monastery focuses on both exoteric and esoteric Buddhist teachings, holding a unique place within the Nyingma tradition. It specializes in Northern Treasure teachings and also preserves treasures unearthed by Tertöns like Pema Lingpa and Jatson Nyingpo.

These monasteries are not only places of worship but also centres of cultural and spiritual learning, preserving the ancient traditions and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Their significance extends beyond the religious realm, encompassing historical, cultural, and architectural dimensions.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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