Minyak Khangtsen

The Institute provides financial and other assistance the Minkyak Khangtsen house of Drepung Loseling Monastery.

A Brief History of Minyak Khangtsen and its Reconstruction Plan

Minyak Khangtsen is a “house” of Loseling College of the Drepung Monastic Institution, one of the three great monasteries of the Gelugpa branch of Tibetan universities that were situated close to Lhasa, the spiritual and cultural capital of Tibet. Most of the monks of Minyak Khangtsen come from the Minyak region of Kham, a province ßn the far east of Tibet, bordering Amdo Province of Tibet to the north and China itself to the east. Until 1959, all of Kham Province was considered to be part of Tibet. Minyak Khangtsen takes monks from other regions, such as central Tibet and Bhutan, as well, and its residents include students from each of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Minyak region is famed for its natural beauty, with vast grasslands and forests, snow-clad mountains, and pure snowmelt rivers. The region is very rural and the majority of the population earns their living as farmers or nomadic herdsmen. Despite decades under Chinese rule, the people’s faith in the Dalai Lama is as strong as ever.

There were about 70 monasteries representing all four schools of Tibetan Buddhist thought in Minyak region itself. From there, monks were sent off to the great seats of learning near Lhasa—Drepung, Ganden, and Sera monasteries—for more intensive studies. Minyak Khangtsen was one of the largest in Drepung Loseling, housing around 300-400 monks, and it had been famous for centuries for the quality and number of practitioners and scholars that it produced. Numerous abbots of Drepung and the Tantric college of Gyuto have come from Minyak Khangtsen, as have no fewer than four Ganden Tripas, the throne holders of the founder of the Gelugpa school, Lama Tsong Kha Pa.

Minyak region was greatly affected by China’s invasion of Tibet in 1959 because of its proximity to the Chinese border. Thousands were killed in the fighting or were thrown into prisons and labor camps. The monasteries in particular, as seats of learning, were singled out for destruction and many ordinary monks, lay people, and Minyak scholars ended up in camps such as the infamous Dartsedo. Hard labor and minimal food caused many of the incarcerated to die of starvation. The Chinese government also began to exploit the natural resources of the region, cutting down great tracts of forest for timber, mining, and killing large numbers of wild animals. The freedoms of speech and religion were taken away and listening to foreign radio or talking about the Dalai Lama meant immediate imprisonment. Among those who fled these conditions in Minyak region were the family of three-year-old Sonar Palden, who later took the ordination name of Thupten Dorjee. Like numerous others, they originally sought a new life in Bhutan but later left there for South India.

The great Drepung monastery, which was established in 1416 and at its height in 1959 housed more than 10,000 monks, was forced to closed and its buildings, which constituted a small city in themselves, were almost completely destroyed. Of the 400 monks of Minyak Khangtsen in Drepung monastery, only Lharampa Geshe Lhundrub Sangpo escaped into exile in India. Many of the monks who stayed to resist the Chinese and were probably killed, sent east to the camps, or put to work on the building of a railway from Golmud to Lhasa, a project that claimed many lives.

Geshe Lhundrub lived in horrifying conditions in Buxar refugee camp in India until the Indian government allocated to the Tibetan exiles a stretch of forest in the southern state of Karnataka for conversion into a settlement, farmland, and the reconstruction of Ganden and Drepung monasteries. About 1970, Geshe Lhundrub moved to the new Tibetan settlement and in 1972, at the age of 13 years, the young monk Thupten Dorjee joined him. The forest was cleared and Geshe Lhundup took an additional five disciples from North India and the local Mundgod settlement. Together they built the first house of the new Minyak Khangtsen, where they all lived. Thupten Dorjee began 25 years of study of the major Buddhist philosophical texts, Tibetan culture, and the history of Drepung Loseling monastery. He was ordained as a full Buddhist monk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1986 and in 1991 was awarded the Karampa degree ( equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree) by Drepung monastery. These studies were followed by further work leading to award by Drepung monastery of the Lhopan degree (equivalent to a Master’s degree) in 1993 and Geshe Lharampa degree ( equivalent to a Ph.D.) in 1994, the latter presented by the Dalai Lama. Geshe Dorjee later completed the “post-doctoral” program of Tantric studies at Gyuto Tantra University in 2002.

Until the end of the 1970s, few monks successfully reached exile from Minyak or Lhasa because of the distance and the danger, although many risked their lives to try. Gradually the border restrictions were loosened and a fresh wave of arrivals began to cross into India. Word got back to Tibet of the more open conditions for study and education available in exile and over the next 20 years about 70 Minyak monks made their way to Drepung and Sera monasteries in Karnataka and to Gyuto Tantric College in Arunchal Pradesh. They arrived to find facilities that were still very basic and conditions so different from those in Tibet that many were unable to stay long-term, and in 1995-2003, only 13 monks were living in Drepung Minyak Khangtsen.

When Geshe Lhondup died a few years ago, leadership of Minyak Khangtsen passed to Geshe Thupten Dorjee. Soon afterward, 13 new arrivals to Minyak house came all the way across Tibet and into exile, all between the ages of 18 rain and high humidity instead of the dry air of the high desert, of sea-level altitude instead of that of the highest mountains in the world. The new Tibetan arrivals had no immunity to the diseases of India and no defenses against these changes physical conditions . Weak from their escape, they faced poor nutrition and a lack of medicine and familiar food. Nonetheless, they now had the freedom to pursue their interest in Buddhist studies.

The new influx of monks almost doubled the population of the Khangtsen and placed even greater burden on the house’s meager resources. Currently, up to 4 monks must share a small room and sleep on the floor, and more monks are expected in the future. It is the moral responsibility of Minyak Khangtsen to take in the new arrivals from their native Minyak region and to provide them housing, food, and teaching. So, there is no option but to construct new accommodations, with washing facilities and a small kitchen. To this end, we request donations from interested parties.

A full plan and financial plan of the project is attached. Initially we need to build a two-story accommodation block. Each floor will have 11 rooms, each housing 2 monks, and additional washing and toilet facilities. The total cost of this building is 1,850,000 Indian rupees ( app. $US 41,000). There is also a plan to build a new temple on the land the Khangtsen has acquired and to eventually move all the monks to that site. The cost of the temple is estimated at 1,550,000 rupees ($US 34,000). Furnishings, an electrical system, and a waterwheel and well are estimated to cost an additional 1,125,000 Indian rupees ($US 25,000). The grand total is estimated to be 4,500,000 Indian rupees ($US 100,000). As you can see, money goes much further in India, and every dollar buys a lot more there!

Minyak Khangtsen does not expect to raise all the funds from one source and is grateful for any contribution, however large or small. Each monks’ room is expected to cost $US 2000. For each contribution of that amount, we will show our appreciation by engraving the sponsor’s name in stone beside the door.