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Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery
Tibetan name
Tibetan: འབྲས་སྤུངས་
Wylie transliteration: ’bras spungs
pronunciation in IPA: [[tʂɛpuŋ]]
official transcription (PRC): Zhaibung
THDL: Drepung
other transcriptions: Dräpung, Drebung
Chinese name
traditional: 哲蚌寺
simplified: 哲蚌寺
Pinyin: Zhébàng Sì
Drepung Monastery is located in Tibet
Drepung Monastery
Location within Tibet
Coordinates: 29°40′35″N 91°2′51″E / 29.67639°N 91.0475°E / 29.67639; 91.0475
Monastery information
Location: Mount Gephel, Lhasa Prefecture, Tibet, China
Founded by: Jamyang Chojey
Founded: 1416
Type: Tibetan Buddhist
Sect: Gelug
Dedicated to: Je Tsongkhapa
Colleges: 7 - Gomang, Loseling, Deyang, Shagkor, Gyelwa or Tosamling, Dulwa and Ngagpa

Drepung Monastery (wylie: 'bras spungs dgon [1]),(literally “Rice Heap” monastery[2][3]), located at the foot of Mount Gephel, is one of the "great three" Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet. The other two are Ganden and Sera.

Drepung is the largest of all Tibetan monasteries and is located on the Gambo Utse mountain, 5 kilometers from the western suburb of Lhasa.

Freddie Spencer Chapman reported, after his 1936-37 trip to Tibet, that Drepung was at that time the largest monastery in the world, and housed 7,700 monks, "but sometimes as many as 10,000 monks."[4]



It was founded in 1416 by Jamyang Choge Tashi Palden (1397-1449), one of Tsongkhapa's main disciples, and it was named after the sacred abode in South India of Shridhanyakataka.[5] Drepung was the principal seat of the Gelugpa school and it retained the premier place amongst the four great Gelugpa monasteries.[6]. The Ganden Podang (dga´ ldan pho brang) in Drepung was the residence of the Dalai Lamas until the Great Fifth Dalai Lama constructed the Potala.Drepung was known for the high standards of its academic study, and was called the Nalanda of Tibet, a reference to the great Buddhist monastic university of India.

Old records show that there were two centres of power in Drepung: the so-called lower chamber (Zimkhang 'og ma) [7] associated with the Dalai Lamas-to-be, and the upper chamber (Zimkhang gong ma) associated with the descendants of Sonam Drakpa, an illustrious teacher who died in 1554. [8]. The estate of the Dalai Lamas at Drepung monastery, called Ganden Phodrang, had been constructed in 1518 by Gendun Gyatso Palzangpo (1476–1541), retrospectively named and counted as 2nd Dalai Lama.

Penchen Sönam Drakpa (1478-1554 CE) in 1535 succeeded Gendün Gyatso (1476–1541) on the Throne of Drepung, both of them being major figures in the history of the Geluk tradition. By the time Sönam Drakpa was appointed to the Throne of Drepung (Drepung Tri), he was already a famous Geluk master. He had already occupied the Throne of Ganden (Ganden Tri) and was considered the most prolific and important Geluk thinker of his time. His successor was none other than Sönam Gyatso (1543-1588 CE), the lama who would receive the official title of the Third Dalai Lama (Talé Lama Kutreng Sumpa).

Before his death in 1554, Sönam Drakpa established his own estate, the Upper Chamber (Zimkhang Gongma), which was named because of its location at the top of Drepung, just below the Ngakpa debating courtyard "Ngagpa Dratshang".

Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center attributes the following Name variants to Penchen Sönam Drakpa: "bsod nams grags pa [ primaryName ], paN chen bsod nams grags pa [ title ], khri 15 bsod nams grags pa [ primaryTitle ], rtses thang paN chen bsod nams grags pa [ title ], gzims khang gong ma 01 bsod nams grags pa [ title ], this last one referring to the Seat of the Upper Chamber established in 1554[9]. According to tbrc his successors referring to the estate of the Zimkhang Gongma were Sonam Yeshe Wangpo (1556-92)[10], Sonam Gelek Palzang (1594-1615)[11] and Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen (1619-1656)[12] - closely connected to the famous story of Dorje Shugden. (Some say that Drakpa Gyeltsen was Sönam Drakpa’s second reincarnation [13], but usually he is considered to be the 4th incarnation of Panchen Sonam Dragpa [14]). It seems to be commonly accepted that Dragpa Gyaltsen was the fourth holder of the gzims khang gong ma incarnation line. According to Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center gzims khang gong ma 04 grags pa rgyal mtshan has been his "primaryTitle".[15]. Since the search for his reincarnation has been banned, he has been the last one.

Young monks at Drepung debating

Chapman reported that in the late 1930s Drepung was divided into four colleges, each housing monks from a different locality: "one being favoured by Khampas, another by Mongolians, and so on." Each college was presided over by an abbot who had been appointed by the late 13th Dalai Lama.[16]

Damage at Drepung. 1993.
The repaired entrance to Drepung

Drepung is now divided into what are known as the seven great colleges: Gomang (sGo-mang), Loseling (Blo-gsal gling), Deyang (bDe-dbyangs), Shagkor (Shag-skor), Gyelwa (rGyal-ba) or Tosamling (Thos-bsam gling), Dulwa (‘Dul-ba), and Ngagpa (sNgags-pa). It can be a somewhat useful analogy to think of Drepung as a university along the lines of Oxford or the Sorbonne in the Middle Ages, the various colleges having different emphases, teaching lineages, or traditional geographical affiliations.

Today the population at the monastery located in Tibet is much smaller with merely a few hundred monks, due to population capping enforced by the Chinese government. However, the institution has continued its tradition in exile with campuses in South India on land in Karnataka given to the Tibetan community in exile by Prime Minister Nehru. The monastery in India today houses over 5,000 celibate monks, with around 3,000 at Drepung Loseling and some 2,000 at Drepung Gomang. Hundreds of new monks are admitted each year, many of them refugees from Tibet.

Monks at the entrance to the Prayer Hall.

The Ganden-Phodrang-Palace situated at Drepung Monastery was constructed by the 2nd Dalai Lama in 1518 [17] and declared his chief residence/governmental palace until the inauguration of Potala Palace by the 5th Dalai Lama.

Recent events

About 40% of the old monastic town was destroyed after the Chinese arrived in Lhasa in 1951, though luckily the chief buildings including the four colleges, the Tsokchen and the the Dalai Lamas' residence were preserved.[18]

Drepung monastery was shut by Chinese authorities on 14 March 2008, after monk-led protests against Chinese rule turned violent and businesses, shops and vehicles were looted and torched. The PRC claims that 22 people were killed in the riots but Tibetan sources put the figure much higher. It was reopened in the last week of August after being shut for five months.[19]


  1. ^ TBRC
  2. ^ Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land. Patrick French. (2003) Alfred A. Knopf. New York City, p.240 (in quote from 13th Dalai Lama).
  3. ^ Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han. Hannue. Quoting a monk at Drepung.
  4. ^ Chapman F. Spencer. Lhasa the Holy City, p. 195. Readers Union Ltd., London.
  5. ^ Dorje (1999), p. 113.
  6. ^ Dowman (1988), p. 67.
  7. ^ gong ma 'og ma - the higher and the lower, the one above and the one under
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ TBRC
  10. ^ , TBRC bsod nams ye shes dbang po (gzims khang gong ma 02)
  11. ^ TBRC bsod nams dge legs dpal bzang (gzims khang gong ma 03)
  12. ^ TBRC grags pa rgyal mtshan (gzims khang gong ma 04)
  13. ^ Drepung: An Introduction by Georges Dreyfus (April 10, 2006)
  14. ^ Brief History of Ganden
  15. ^ TBRC
  16. ^ Chapman F. Spencer. Lhasa the Holy City, p. 198. Readers Union Ltd., London.
  17. ^ [2] (german)
  18. ^ Dowman (1988), p. 67.
  19. ^ Major Buddhist monastery reopens in Tibet. The Associated Press


  • Dorje, Gyurme. (1999). Footprint Tibet Handbook with Bhutan. 2nd Edition. Footprint Handbooks. Bath, England. ISBN 0-8442-2190-2.
  • Dowman, Keith. (1988). The Power-places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim's Guide. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London and New York. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0

See also



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