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Tsurphu Monastery: A Spiritual Haven in the Heart of Tibet

An Enchanting Location

Tsurphu Monastery, a cornerstone of Tibetan Buddhism, is majestically situated in the canyon between Nari Mountain and Gyari Tukche Qiongbo Mountain in Doilungdeqing District’s Naga Township. Perched at an impressive altitude of 4400 meters, this sacred site is a beacon of spiritual and cultural significance in the Tibetan landscape.

A Blend of Myth and History

Mythical Origins: The monastery’s name, ‘Chubu’ (mtshur-phur), མཚུར་ཕུ་དགོན་ (楚布寺) is wrapped in intriguing local legends. One popular belief is that the monastery magically appeared from India, emphasizing its mystical aura.

Historical Resilience: Established before the 15th century, Tsurphu Monastery has withstood the test of time. Despite being devastated by an earthquake in 1401 and suffering extensive damage during the Cultural Revolution, the monastery has been meticulously rebuilt, preserving its ancient architectural magnificence and spiritual essence.

tsurphu tourist route
Tsurphu tourist route

Cultural and Religious Significance

Recognizing Tsurphu Monastery as a Cultural Relic

In 1962, authorities declared Tsurphu Monastery a Tibetan cultural relics protection unit, underscoring its significant role in Tibetan history and culture.

A Thriving Monastic Community

More than 400 monks call Tsurphu Monastery home, making it a vibrant center of Tibetan monastic life. Nestled among mountains on three sides, the monastery provides a peaceful setting for spiritual practices.

Architectural Splendor

The Dukang Hall: A Hub of Monastic Activities

At the heart of Tsurphu Monastery, Dukang Hall, surrounded by four Dratsang (monastic colleges), sutra halls, and temples, forms an impressive ancient Buddhist temple complex.

Merging Tradition with Aesthetics

Tsurphu Monastery stands out for its intricate designs, including carved beams and painted pillars. Its halls, adorned with murals of the Sixteen Arhats, exemplify a fusion of artistic beauty and spiritual depth.

Tsurphu Monastery: A Must-Visit Destination

Tsurphu Monastery stands as a testament to Tibetan Buddhism’s rich heritage. Its blend of myth, history, and spiritual significance makes it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the depths of Tibetan culture and spirituality. The monastery’s serene location, combined with its architectural beauty and the peaceful solitude it offers, attracts pilgrims and tourists alike, seeking a glimpse into the heart of Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

Explore the Majestic Tsurphu Monastery: A Journey Through Tibetan Spirituality


The Grand Entrance Square of Tsurphu Monastery

A Spacious Welcome: Upon arrival, visitors are greeted by Tsurphu Monastery’s expansive entrance square, covering an impressive area of 1520 square meters. This large, open space sets the stage for the spiritual journey that lies ahead.

The Path to Enlightenment: Stone Steps and Corridor

Ascending to Spiritual Heights: A series of 24 meticulously crafted stone steps lead up to a beautifully columned corridor. This pathway not only connects the physical space but also symbolizes the ascent to higher spiritual understanding, guiding visitors towards the heart of the monastery.

Dukang Hall: A Blend of Art and Devotion

Architectural Marvel: Known as the “Jampel Yang Hall,” the Dukang Hall is a remarkable structure with a square layout, stretching over three floors and encompassing an area of 614 square meters.

Skylight Illumination: Central to the hall’s design is a vast 40-square-meter skylight, which floods the space with natural light, creating an ambience of serenity and contemplation.

Aesthetic Splendor: Decorated with intricate carvings, vibrant murals of the Sixteen Arhats, and elegant pillars, the Dukang Hall is where monks congregate for sutra chanting, embodying the monastery’s rich cultural and spiritual tapestry.

Sangye Tongku Buddha Hall: Housing the Sacred

Statue of Sakyamuni: The Sangye Tongku Buddha Hall, reaching a height of 9 meters, is home to the monastery’s most renowned statue – the 30-meter-tall Sakyamuni, crafted exquisitely from red and brass.

Treasures Within: This statue is not just a symbol of reverence but also a vault of religious treasures, including Tathagata’s relics, artefacts associated with great Buddhist figures, and 150 Kangyur scriptures written in precious metals.

Tsurphu Monastery – A Testament to Tibetan Buddhism

Tsurphu Monastery, with its grand entrance, stone pathways, and spiritually significant halls, stands as a beacon of Tibetan Buddhism. It invites visitors to explore its sacred spaces, delve into its rich history, and experience the profound tranquillity that has drawn spiritual seekers for centuries. Whether you are a pilgrim, a student of Buddhism, or simply a lover of cultural exploration, Tsurphu Monastery offers a journey through the essence of Tibetan spirituality and art.

The Cultural Richness of Tsurphu Monastery: Pagodas, Relics, and Rituals

The Chubbu White Pagodas: A Symbol of Historical Exchange

Adjacent to the Chubu Temple within the Tsurphu Monastery complex stand two distinctive white pagodas, known collectively as the “Chubbu White Pagoda”. Each pagoda’s unique architectural style symbolizes the historical and cultural exchanges between Tibet and other regions. The front tower boasts a square base with a vase-shaped body, while the back tower features a more simplistic design with a similar square base.

These pagodas are significant reminders of the interaction between Tibet and the Western Xia Dynasty. Renzong, the fifth emperor of Western Xia, a devout Buddhist, sent envoys to Tibet to invite Dusong Qinba, a revered master of Tsurphu Monastery, to visit Xixia and spread Buddhist teachings. In honor of Dusong Qinba’s contributions, Renzong gifted the monastery with various ornamental objects, further cementing the bonds between the two regions.

huokang: The Monastic Retreat

Zhuokang’s Secluded Monastic Retreat

Behind Chubu Temple, on the slopes of Jiari Tuqe Qiongbo Mountain, Zhuokang offers a secluded retreat for Tsurphu Monastery’s monks. These monks engage in rigorous spiritual training, typically spanning three years, three months, and three days. This period of intense cultivation involves isolation, with monks receiving provisions through a small window, enhancing the site’s mystique.

Tsurphu Monastery’s Treasured Relics

Housing Rare and Sacred Relics

Tsurphu Monastery proudly preserves a collection of rare and sacred cultural relics, each with its unique story. Notably, it houses the silver statue of the “Empty Living Buddha,” which legend says hovered in the air for seven days upon completion. The monastery also safeguards the 6-meter-tall Tsurphu Buddha, representing the second living Buddha of Karmapa, along with other significant artefacts like the relics of the 16th Karmapa Living Buddha, Mahakala’s stone carving, and personal items of historical Buddhist figures such as Milarepa and Dusum Kyenpa.

The Unique Ritual of Erecting Pagodas

Celebrating the “Erecting Pagodas” Ritual

Tsurphu Monastery is distinguished for its unique “Erecting Pagodas” or “Li Taqin” ritual, deeply embedded in Tibetan tradition. Annually, on April 8th of the Tibetan calendar, this ritual attracts tens of thousands of devotees. The ceremony, involving the erection of prayer flags and pillars, is a major religious event and a vibrant cultural festival, celebrated with great reverence and joy by the Tibetan community.

A Spiritual and Cultural Beacon

Tsurphu Monastery, with its rich history, architectural wonders, and spiritual practices, stands as a beacon of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery’s white pagodas, monastic retreat, and revered relics, combined with its unique religious rituals, make it a pivotal site for understanding Tibetan culture and spirituality. For visitors and pilgrims alike, Tsurphu Monastery offers a profound journey into the heart of Tibetan religious heritage.

Tsurphu Monastery: A Fusion of Ancient History and Cultural Festivities

The Jiangpu Temple Founding Monument: A Portal to the Past

Historical Significance: Nestled within the Tsurphu Monastery is the Jiangpu Temple Founding Monument, a testament to Tibetan Buddhism’s rich history. Erected during the era of Tride Tsukden in the ninth century, this monument stands tall at 2.56 meters, with a width of 48 cm and a thickness of 18 cm.

Ancient Inscriptions: Carved with ancient Tibetan characters, the monument features 46 columns on the front and 21 rows on the sides. The clarity and strength of the script provide a window into the historical and religious significance of the period.

Preserving History: Originally commemorating the Jiangpu Temple, established by Shang Caibangda Sangniedo, this monument has survived tumultuous times, including the anti-Buddhist purges led by Langdama. Its preservation and eventual relocation to Chubu Temple make it an invaluable artefact for understanding the Tubo era’s politics, economy, and religious culture.

Celebrating Spirituality: The Tsurphu Yasi Festival

Centuries-Old Tradition of Tsurphu Yasi

Tsurphu Monastery is celebrated for Tsurphu Yasi, a summer sacrificial festival with a rich history spanning over 700 years. Held annually from June 10th to 12th, this vibrant event commemorates Guru Padmasambhava’s birthday.

Initiating the Festivities with Sacred Rituals

The festival kicks off with the “Exhibiting the Buddha” ceremony, showcasing a beautifully woven Thangka of Sakyamuni Buddha for devotees. It continues with a “gathering offering” ceremony, where monks chant sutras and make offerings in honor of Guru Padmasambhava.

A Cultural Spectacle

Tsurphu Yasi festival becomes a melting pot of traditional dramas, songs, dances, and various cultural activities, showcasing the rich diversity of Tibetan traditions and practices.

Engaging in Local Sports and Competitions

The festival’s second and third days are marked by local sports competitions such as bullfighting, horse racing, and bouldering, attracting enthusiastic participants from numerous communities.

Tsurphu Monastery – A Cultural and Historical Hub

The Jiangpu Temple Founding Monument and the Chubu Yasi festival at Tsurphu Monastery not only highlight the spiritual depth of Tibetan Buddhism but also underscore the monastery’s role as a custodian of Tibet’s historical and cultural heritage. These attractions offer visitors a profound insight into the longstanding traditions and the vibrant spiritual life that has flourished in this sacred space for centuries.

Tsurphu Monastery’s Cham Dance: A Spectacle of Tibetan Tradition and Spirituality

The Qiang Mu Dance: A Rich Cultural Legacy

Historical Origins: The Cham Dance of Tsurphu Monastery (mtshur-phur-vchams) is a renowned cultural gem, established by the 14th Karmapa in the 18th century. This dance is a vital component of the monastery’s spiritual and cultural expression.

Summer Dance: An Offering to Padmasambhava

Celebration Date: Marking a significant event in the Tibetan calendar, the Summer Dance, also known as “Yachang,” is held on April 10th. The primary aim is to offer sacrifices to Guru Padmasambhava.

Performance Highlights:

  • Black Hat Magician: A performer holding a vajra prong and a skull implement embodies the mystical aspects of the dance.
  • King Kongxing of the Silent Phase: Adorned with a five-Buddha crown, dharma robes, and bone necklaces, this figure, along with Vajra Lamas, performs a welcoming dance for Padmasambhava.
  • Lord Gongpo’s Portrayal: A depiction involving a skull crown and halberd, accompanied by Vajra Lamas, adds to the dance’s intense and spiritual atmosphere.

Winter Divine Dance: Exorcising Demons and Evoking Protection

Annual Occurrence: The Winter Divine Dance, known as the “Gongqiang” or “Guduo” Dharma Assembly, takes place on December 29th of the Tibetan calendar. It merges with local ghost exorcism rituals to create a unique spiritual experience.

Ritualistic Elements:

  • Creation of Torma: Using tsampa, wheat straw, and wooden sticks, the Torma (gtor-ma) are crafted for the ritual.
  • Chanting and Mantras: Monks chant sutras and mantras, focusing on driving away evil spirits and invoking protection.
  • Dramatic Performance: Nearly a hundred monks, adorned in various ominous masks and holding symbolic weapons, dance to the rhythm of cymbals and drums, creating a solemn and majestic atmosphere.

Conclusion: A Window to Tibetan Spiritual Practices

The Qiang Mu Dance at Tsurphu Monastery is more than just a cultural performance; it profoundly expresses Tibetan spirituality and traditions. Through its vivid and symbolic portrayal of religious figures and narratives, the dance offers a captivating insight into the deep-rooted spiritual practices and beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism. Visitors and devotees are mesmerized by this unique blend of ritual, art, and spirituality that defines the Qiang Mu Dance.

Understanding the Karma Kagyu Sect and Kagyu Inheritance in Tibetan Buddhism

Insights into the Karma Kagyu Sect

Foundational History: The Karma Kagyu Sect (karma-bkav-brgyud-pa) traces its origins back to the 12th century AD, founded by Karmapa Dusongchenpa (Dusum Khyenpa). This sect is notable for being the first in Tibetan Buddhism to adopt the reincarnation system of living Buddhas.

Black Hat and Red Hat Lineages:

  • Black Hat Lineage: This lineage began when the Yuan Dynasty recognized Karma Paxi as a guru and awarded him a black monk’s hat.
  • Red Hat Lineage: Drakpa Sengge, the ancestor of the red hat lineage, established the Karma Dansa Monastery in 1147.

Historical Influence:

  • The Karma Kagyu Sect wielded significant political and religious influence in Tibet, particularly during the rule of Chobesangbo in the early 15th century.
  • The sect had a substantial presence in regions like Xikang and Yunnan during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

The Kagyu Inheritance System: A Tradition of Oral Transmission

Emphasizing Oral Transmission in the Kagyu Sect

In the Kagyu Sect, oral transmission plays a crucial role, with ‘Karma’ referring to a teacher and ‘ju’ to inheritance in Buddhist terminology. This approach ensures that masters directly impart teachings to their disciples, maintaining a lineage of knowledge.

Practicing Tantric Dharma

The sect prioritizes the practice of Tantric Dharma, traditionally passed down orally to preserve the essence and authenticity of its teachings.

The Origin of the ‘White Sect’ Name

Founders such as Marpa and Milarepa were known for their practice in white monk robes, giving the Kagyu Sect its alternate name, the “White Sect.”

The Complexity of the Kagyu System

Major and Minor Systems:

  • The Kagyu system initially split into two major branches: the Shangpa Kagyu and the Tabu Kagyu.
    • Shangpa Kagyu: Founded by Qiongpo Nanjioba, this lineage has declined.
    • Tabu Kagyu: Founded by Tabraj, this lineage includes the Karma Kagyu as one of its four major sects.

The Four Major and Eight Minor Sects:

  • The Tabu Kagyu is further divided into four major (including Karma Kagyu) and eight minor sects, reflecting the diverse and complex nature of the Kagyu tradition in Tibetan Buddhism.

Conclusion: The Rich Tapestry of Kagyu Sects

The Karma Kagyu Sect and the broader Kagyu inheritance system represent a rich tapestry of spiritual practices and teachings in Tibetan Buddhism. With a history steeped in oral tradition, unique practices, and significant historical influence, the Kagyu Sects offer a deep insight into Tibet’s spiritual and cultural fabric.

Exploring the Rich Traditions of the Karma Kagyu Sect and Tips for Visiting Tsurphu Monastery

The Black Hat Inheritance System in Tibetan Buddhism, Founding and Evolution of the Karmapa Lineage

Karma Pakshi’s Legacy and Recognition in 1256

Emperor Xianzong of the Yuan Dynasty acknowledged Karma Pakshi, the second Karmapa. He awarded Karma Pakshi a gold-rimmed black monk’s hat, symbolizing the start of the “black hat system.”

Pioneering the Reincarnation System

This tradition marked the start of the reincarnation system in Tibetan Buddhism, recognizing Karma Pakshi as the first reincarnated living Buddha.

The Succession of Notable Karmapas

The lineage has seen illustrious figures like Rangjung Dorje, the third Karmapa, and Rolpe Dorje, the fourth Karmapa.

Deyin Shekpa’s Recognition in 1406

The Ming Dynasty’s Chengzu Emperor honoured Deyin Shekpa, the fifth Karmapa, further strengthening the sect’s influence and prestige.

Visiting Tsurphu Monastery: Essential Tips

Planning Your Visit:

  1. Tickets: Visitors need to purchase tickets to enter the monastery.
  2. Best Time for Sightseeing: The recommended visiting hours are from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
  3. Transportation: Located approximately 70 km from Lhasa, minibuses are available next to Jokhang Temple Square, departing at 7:00 AM and returning at 3:00 PM.

Discovering Local Mystical Springs

The Springs of Tsurphu:

  • Zere Chumi – The Acne Removal Spring: Renowned among locals for its believed magical properties, particularly in acne treatment. Visitors are advised not to drink this water.
  • Jiaga Chumi – The Drinkable Spring: Allegedly originating from India, this spring water is potable and known to help visitors acclimatize and prevent abdominal discomfort. It’s a recommended stop for those journeying to Tsurphu Monastery.

Conclusion: A Journey into Tibetan Spiritual Heritage

Visiting Tsurphu Monastery offers more than just a glimpse into the Karma Kagyu sect’s fascinating history and traditions; it’s an immersive experience into the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. With its storied past, vibrant cultural practices, and enchanting natural surroundings, Tsurphu Monastery stands as a testament to Tibet’s rich spiritual and cultural tapestry.

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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