A Brief History of Drepung Loseling Monastery - Before and After the Chinese Invasion of Tibet


Drepung Loseling Monastery is a major leading monastery of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Loseling Monastery is the most important part of Drepung Monastic University founded in 1416AD.

The powerful Naga king Anavatapta offered a white conch to Shakyamuni Buddha as a token of his faith, devotion, and respect. Buddha then gave it to Maugalayana, one of the Buddha’s inner circle of disciples saying :

Conceal this as a treasure in Gogpari Hill ( in Tibet near Lhasa ). In the future, this bhikshu, Lotus Scented, will discover this conch and it will become the conch for assembling monks from all directions. The guardian of this conch shall assume the physical appearance of a monkey.

As prophesied, Jamyang Choeje Tashi Palden ( 1379-1449 ), who was born near Samye Monastery as the son of a scribe of the chieftain Dakpa Gyaltsen, became one of the four principle disciples of Jey Tsongkhapa ( 1357-1419 ). His enlightened activities spread far and wide and he went to see Jey Tsongkhapa at Gaden Monastery to relate his dream indicating the auspiciousness of building a monastery around Denbak, and Jey Tsongkhapa said to him, "if you built a monastery it would be grander than this mother monastery ( of mine )". Saying this, Tsongkhapa gave him the white conch he had discovered at Gokpari Hill and personally gave him instructions for laying the foundation and the blueprint of the monastery.

Accordingly, Jamyang Choeje founded DREPUNG MONASTIC UNIVERSITY in 1416 AD under the patronage of the ruler Namkha Pel.  Drepung Loseling Monastery was located near Lhasa, the Capital city of Tibet, the land of snow mountain fence. As the number of monks studying at his monastery grew rapidly huge, he appointed seven of his principal disciples, such as the abbot Palden Sengey to teaching jobs.

This resulted in the birth of seven different colleges within the Drepung University. They were:

  1. Drepung Loseling College founded by Lekdenpa.

  2. Drepung Gomang college founded by Drung Dakpa Rinchen.

  3. Drepung Deyang college founded by Chokchen Janchub.

  4. Drepung Shagkor college founded by Lopon Rabchok.

  5. Drepung Gyalpa College founded by Lopon Kunga Rinchen.

  6. Drepung Dulwa college founded by Drung Tsondu Dakpa, and

  7. Drepung Ngagpa College founded by Lopon Gyaltsen Tsultrim.

Among the seven teachers and founders of the seven colleges within the Drepung University, Venerable Lekdenpa, the founder of Drepung Loseling college attracted the most number of students and under the patronage of Neudzongpa he established his monastic college separately. Since the college produced a vast number of incomparable scholars of literatures, it became rightly renowned as the Khemang Losel Jewai Ling Dratsang, the Monastic college of a million brilliant scholars.

Until today there have been 79 successive abbots of the Loseling Monastery. They have contributed immensely to the preservation and promotion of Buddhism in general and particularly for the progress of the monastic scholarship and the growth of Loseling monastery.  Among the 79 abbots, the 7th abbot named Jamyang Gawae Lodoe, was known all over for his scholarship, and he wrote commentaries on the middle Way Philosophy and the perfection of wisdom texts which were used as textbooks of the college until they were replaced by new textbooks written by Maha Panchen Sonam Dakpa. There are written records stating that during that time Drepung Monastic University in general received support from the Neuzongpa, and particularly , the Loseling college received funds for the enlargement of its prayer hall and other academic facilities. So it clearly shows that the Loseling College already had a prayer hall before the 7th abbot.

Maha Panchen Sonam Dakpa ( 1478-1554 ) became one of the main disciples of the 2nd Damai lama Gendun Gyatso ( 1476-1542 ). As directed by the 2nd Dalai lama, Panchen Sonam Dakpa became the Loseling abbot and taught there for about six years. He took a great responsibility for its academic activities and administrations. For the benefit of all beings, he bestowed Upasaka vows to the 3rd Dalai Lama and named him Sonam Gyatso Pel Sangpo.

Maha Panchen Sonam Dakpa wrote 14 volumes of treatises on the five major Buddhist philosophies for the best benefit and promotion of the Lord Buddha’s teachings and particularly for the best promotion of Lama TsongKhapa’s teachings by making it like a stainless and refined gold.  Even today Panchen Sonam Dakpa’s literatures are being used as the main academic study texts in the Loseling college, Gaden Shartse college, in many monasteries of Kham and Amdo provinces of Tibet as well as in some monasteries in Mongolia.


Loseling Monastery: After 1959

On March 10th 1959 , Tibet was invaded by the Red Communist army of China. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, fled into India for the best interest of Tibet and its culture. Approximately 100,000 Tibetans went into exile in India, Nepal, and Bhutan.Among those who followed His Holiness the Dalai Lama into exile, 1,500 monks were selected from the three Monastic Universities of the Gelug tradition, the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya traditon as seeds of Monasticism in exile. They were kept at a temporary study center established at Buxa Duar in the Indian state of West Bengal for the preservation and promotion of the great Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

There were 217 monks from the Loseling Monastery at the Center. Under the guidance and tutorship of Abbot Phara Pema Gyaltsen, they lived there for more than a decade with sincere effort for the preservation and promotion of the teachings, which were on the brink of extinction. Abbot Pema Gyaltsen not only taught the students but also encouraged others to do so. Apart from all the teaching and administrative responsibilities, he started a printing project to make the important texts available to the monks. His efforts and vision for the preservation and promotion of the tradition of the Loseling Monastery were incomparable and praiseworthy. 

Buxa was not a conducive place for many reasons, mainly extreme hot weather and poor living conditions. In 1969, the monks were moved to Mundgod in the state of Karnataka, in South India. There were 300 monks in the Loseling Monastery.

In the1970’s Abbot Yeshi Thupten established many new initiatives for the progress of education and living conditions. He appointed board members for the administrative work and chose separate supervisors for farming and raising dairy cattle. He also constructed a prayer hall which was also used for other religious ceremonies and as a debate courtyard. Moreover, the prayer hall was used for receiving important teachings from many great teachers such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his Holiness’ two tutors - Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, Shakor Khen Rinpoche Nyima Gyaltsen, Dema Lochoe Rinpoche, Pang-Nang Rinpoche,  Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, and many others. His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave teachings on the 8,000 verses of prajnaparamita sutra and Arya Nagarjuna’s six treatises on Middle Way philosophy. 

As the number of monks rapidly grew, there was dire need of a bigger prayer hall. An abbot named Yeshi Thupten took the main initiative to construct a larger prayer hall with a chamber for His Holiness the Dalai Lama on top. 

Subsequent abbots of Loseling Monastery have contributed greatly to preserving monastic discipline, promoting monastic studies and raising the living standards of the monks.

During the abbotship of Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, there was a need of a bigger prayer hall to meet with great numbers of monks. The construction work of the new prayer hall began in 2005 and was completed in December 2007. The brand new Loseling prayer hall has capacity to hold more than 5,000 monks. The present Loseling prayer hall is stunning and magnificent with a traditional Tibetan Buddhist architectural design. It is a Taj Mahal like Tibetan temple standing in a remote part of Southern India.

The new prayer hall was inaugurated, consecrated and blessed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on January 7th, 2008.

For more information, visit the official website of the Drepung Loseling Monastery at www.drepung.org