Tana Monastery, Kollegal, India
The spectacular Tana Monastery lies within a compound of Tibetan refugee camps in Kollegal, South India, and is home to 70 monks. After the passing of his father in 2000, Tana Dungsey Rinpoche inherited the Tana Monastery and it is now his heart project to complete its refurbishing and reconstruction so that the traditions of the Yelpa Kagyu tradition may flourish. These plans include completing the construction of a modern kitchen and dining room, as well as living quarters for the monks (all of this is about 80% complete as of 2017). There is a small shrine room that seats 50, and plans are underway to create a large shrine room (capacity 110 seats).
Tana Monastery, Nanchen, Tibet
Yeshe Yelpa (also known as Sangye Yelpa) established four major monasteries in the Kham region: one in the east (named Yelphuk Monastery), one in the north (Tana Monastery), one in the south (Dozong Monastery) and one in the west (Gonmang Monastery). His profound realization attracted many important students, and he became the founder of the Yelpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Click here to learn more about Sangye Yelpa. The only surviving monastery, founded in 1189, and the one that became most influential, is the Tana monastery in Nangchen. (The famous 18th Century Terton Chokgyur Lingpa’s fascinating description of this monastery can be found below.)
Yeshe Yelpa was the primary teacher in the kingdom of Ling in the Kham region of Tibet, the home of the family of King Gesar of Ling. So, it was not surprising that shortly after Gesar’s death many of Gesar’s most valuable possessions, including his armor, sword and bow were offered to Yelpa Yeshe Tsekpa to be housed in the Tana Monastery. This monastery soon became the center of many Gesar-related activities. A number of precious antiquities that were part of the Gesar legacy were lost during the Cultural Revolution but many still remain at the refurbished Tana Monastery in Tibet, where they continue to be among the most revered treasures of Tibet today.
In the 19th century the famous terton Chokgyur Lingpa visited the Tana monastery in Tibet. Describing the monastery and its surroundings he wrote this:
Guidebook to a Sacred Place
by the Great Tertön Chokgyur Lingpa (1829-1870)
As prophesized in the Yönten mahayoga tantra, the actual Buddha appearing in the manner of a pandita, reveling in the dance of illusion like a water-moon, Pema Tötreng Tsal, abide as the ornament on my crown!
From the great ocean of qualities of this sacred place, which is like the supreme steed [the mythic horse of Indra], I will express but a drop.
Generally, although all that appears and exists is the limitless display of pure realms, according to individual wishes, they appear as various realms and sacred places.
By the dynamic play of the herukas [wrathful deities], rudras and other haughty demons were tamed.
An imprint of the liberation of Matram rudra by Heruka with consort, naturally appeared here as a lingam of Wangchuk (Ishvara) and the space of the mother. It appears just as described in the tantric texts.
The light of the wisdom mind of Buddha Shakyamuni shone on Tibet.
It struck the mountains and crags, and the three-fold supports of the dharma appeared. It is said that beings will be benefitted through material supports, and so here as well there are images of the Buddha, forms of consonants and vowels, and forms of stupas [which are naturally present in the mountains, cliffs and forests of Tana].
In accordance with sutra and vinaya texts, the noble Avalokiteshvara blessed Tibet and tamed it through emanations. In this place there are many naturally occurring six-syllable mantras [OM MA NI PE ME HUNG].
Guru Pema Jungnè [Padmasabhava] visited here, which is clearly described in various treasure texts. In his meditation cave there are signs of terma [concealed treasures].
This place is definitely the bindu of the land of Do-Kham. In the sky is an eight-spoked dharma wheel. The ground is pervaded by eight-petaled lotuses. The mountains are covered with the seven royal possessions and the springs/streams are adorned with the eight auspicious symbols. The forests are filled with images of consonants and vowels adorn the rocks.
In the waters are various symbols such as hooked knives and so forth.
In this extremely virtuous and exalted place, the upper, lower and middle sections are the three sacred places [ground, mountains and sky].
The horse-faced dakini with a hook is the guardian of the eastern door of the palace of herukas. This is certainly the place she resides.
Krakucchanda [the first Buddha of our eon], appearing in human form as the sugata Pagmodrupa, prophesized that the heart-disciple of Guru Padma would be a great Lopön possessing the four streams of transmission, Nyakchen Jnana. His emanation would be given the name Drogön Phurba Samdrup or Yeshe Tsek.
He would become famous as the learned and accomplished master, Khedrup Je, of the Yelpa lineage. He would establish a seat of the Kagyu.
The prophesy of Hungkara instructed Brahmin To-na-ga [to come from India to Tibet to benefit beings]. His family lineage of Tana, Yang-gonpa, Tsèmowa, Tapupa and so forth, are among the many siddhas to appear in this place.
The glorious Karmapas visited by turns, and many great Kagyu masters blessed this place.
This phurba, which was gifted by Guru Rinpoche to Langchen Palgyi Senge [one of Guru Rinpoche’s 25 disciples], and the Guru’s hand implements, which were given to Yang-gonpa by the Lord Nyang (Ral Nyima Özer), were transmitted through the generations of the line of Langchen. They were offered by Langi Özer [a Lama in the line of Langchen].
Among all the many special statues [bum ku] of the tantra class, this support of the yidam [meditation deity] of the mahasiddha Kukuriwa, is considered the most extraordinary. It was bestowed to Marpa Lhodrak Lotsa Chenpo, and passed down through the hands of the Yelpa [Kagyu]. It resides as the inner support.
The remains of Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (the Vajra King), according to the oral instructions, were given to Sangye Yelpa by the protector Jigten Sumgön. They built this great stupa with many images [to house these remains, and it still stands today].
The inner supports, which were given to the Yelpa by Ngokton Shedang Dorje [descendant of a disciple of Marpa] are: body ornaments of the Mahapandita Naropa, Marpa’s ganachakra mat, and the skin of a Brahmin [special skin of someone who was born seven times in a row as a Brahmin]. These reside inside [the great stupa].
At the time when Yutok Yonten Gonpo [father of the medical tantras] was composing the Damchö Nyingtik, Arura juice [myrobalan] rained down. Some of that is also inside the stupa.
It is also said a stupa was constructed based on the sacred support of one of a pair of bags of medicine of Gampopa. The history of these is not so clear. I wonder if the supreme medicine is in the stupa on the right.
I [Chogyur LIngpa] remember from a [pure] vision of Yutokpa that he said, “Son, receive blessings [from the stupa.]
Also, there are all the magical weapons of Gyatsa and the other heroes, and the nine weapons, etc., which accomplished the wishes of the great being of Gesar, the enlightened activity of Tötreng Tsal [Guru Rinpoche], as well as thirty sets of texts [owned by ministers of Ling]. One of the descendants of Barling Gyatsa, Due Sangye Gyaltsen, collected all the sacred objects in the land of Ling, and when Sangyè Yelpa was invited to Ling, they offered the objects. Sangyè Yelpa accepted the offerings (and took them back to Tana) with magical power. They reside here, which is an amazing thing!
The Lord Nyang’s skullcup and many other great and blessed supports are present here.
Therefore, if one practices dharma in this sacred place, it is superior to practicing in other places. If one is to offer 100,000 offerings, a great accumulation of merit will be perfected. To practice circumambulating, prostrating and confessing will completely purify obscurations. All connections will be meaningful. This place is definitely the main [spiritual] support of DoKham.
The protectors Yeshe Gonpo and especially (Palden) Lhamo actually reside here. The protector of this place is the spirit called Drak Tsal Che. Therefore, in this sacred place, to fight, utter curses, swear, to hunt and set traps, to break the rules of these mountains, brings about various misfortune in this life and in the next life will result in going to the lower realms.
For that reason, give up all negative conduct, and remain in the continuity of virtue. In accordance with Dharma activity, practice circumambulations.
In general, compared to generosity and other virtuous karma, circumambulating stupas is a hundred times more virtuous, as is described in the Sutra requested by Shariputra.
As long as this sacred place remains, the Tana lineage will likewise remain. As long as the Tana lineage remains, this monastic seat will also remain. The spread and decline (of the place and the lineage) will be similar.
If there are mainly monastics with learning and contemplation, who keep their rules, without breaking samaya and vows, and mantra-holders with samaya who achieve accomplishment, the teachings will spread.
If these [Yelpa Kagyu] teachings are respected, praised and honored, this land will flourish. If they are criticized and disrespected, the whole area and its surroundings will turn to non-virtue. So, all outsiders and insiders, from highest to low, should bring this to mind!
There is merit in keeping this sacred place and its holy objects, which are like precious jewels, clean and tidy. There is merit in clear elucidation (of the teachings), and in planting hundreds of victory banners high above our heads. May the merit of all of this appear and nourish all (like a refreshing rain), and may all the destructive forces that degenerate the teachings and beings be quickly cleared away!
To fulfill the wishes of the monks and lay people of the Tana lineage, Chokyur Lingpa wrote this at Guru Peme Ewam monastery, next to this sacred place.
May virtue and goodness increase!
Translated by Adam Kane, in consultation with Dungsey Tana Rinpoche, in Broomfield, CO, 2021
Comments by Tana Dunsey Rinpoche are in brackets.