Khyungtrul Rinpoche and Gurgyam Monastery

Gurgyam Monastery

Although Khyungtrul was born in the Hor region of east Tibet, his main centre of medical and religious activity was in the Gurgyam valley, south of Kailash in the Ngari region of west Tibet. According to Bonpo historical accounts, this region was the centre of the ancient kingdom of Zhang Zhung from where the Bon religion originated. In an attempt to re-establish the Bon religion in the area, Khyungtrul founded the Bon monastery of Gurgyam, close to what he believed to be the location of Khyunglung ngulkhar ('the silver Garuda fortress') the capital of Zhang Zhung. The monastery is situated next to a cave associated with the eighth century Bon master Drenpa Namkha. Khyungtrul Rinpoche and his principal medical student Tenzin Wangdrag meditated and consulted with patients in this cave.

Khyungtrul was a contemporary of the famous Bon master from the Kham region of east Tibet, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen (1859-1935). In terms of the development and promotion of the Bon religion in the first half of the twentieth century, these were the two most prominent Bon lamas; the great legacy of their achievements is still strongly felt in the Bonpo community. Although Khyungtrul was not as prolific a writer as Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen, his literary output was still substantial. He wrote on astrology, Tibetan grammar, and Tibetan medicine. He was also a competent painter and poet, and wrote ten volumes of religious songs.

Throughout his life. Khyungtrul made a number of pilgrimages to India, Nepal and Bhutan. Like his famous contemporary Gedun Chopel, who stayed in India between 1935 and 1946, he wrote about his travel experiences. He travelled as a pilgrim to visit the famous Bon and Buddhist locations in the region. He meditated in caves and he carried out rituals for the local population. This was particularly the case in the Kinnaur region of north-west India were he gathered a large following. He was impressed by the new forms of printing technology that he encountered in Delhi, and consequently much of his time in Gurgyam was spent publishing important Bon and Buddhist texts. The originals would be made in Gurgyam and then taken to Delhi to be printed. This included the complete works (gsung 'bum) of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen, a copy of which can be still found in the monastery.

It seems that most of his time at Gurgyam was spent on construction work, and on preparing books for publication. The monastery took 13 years to build and was finally completed in 1948. However Khyungtrul did find time to write his own works, as well as to practice and teach medicine. From his writings, it appears that Khyungtrul learned medicine from many different Tibetan medical practitioners. He was famous for his knowledge of medicine, and many patients came to consult with him. He completed his large four-volume medical commentary, known as the Khyungtrul Menpe, in 1949.

Page created 17 October 2010
by Geoffrey Samuel.