Sustaining Tradition: Pema Ewan Chokgyur Gyurme Ling Monastery

Pema Ewan Chokgyur Gyurme Ling, also known as Chokling Monastery, offers us an intimate glimpse into Tibetan monastic life as it exists today in India. To visit Chokling Gompa is at once to peer into a distant past and to witness an ancient contemplative tradition surviving with undiminished power in the modern age.

Located in Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s hometown of Bir, India, Chokling Monastery was established in the 1960’s, following the mass exodus of refugees from Tibet, by Rinpoche’s father, the Third Neten Chokling Rinpoche, an emanation of the great tertön Chokgyur Lingpa. Kongtrul Rinpoche and MSB thus maintain a close connection to the welfare of the monastery, now under the care of the Fourth Neten Chokling Rinpoche.

Over time and through many phases of construction, the Chokling Monastery has become a fully established complex of temples and stupas, monks’ quarters, and a three-year retreat center, all painstakingly furnished with statues, thangkas, and wall paintings. This construction has taken place alongside the development of the Bir Colony itself.  The monastery continues to preserve its ancient practice lineage, including the numerous annual drupchens for which it has become well known. Read a history of Chokling Monastery and Bir.

prayer flags Bir India Monastic communities were once the focal point of much of Buddhism in Tibet, enjoying a relationship of mutual dependence with surrounding villages, in a culture that revered the choice to take monastic vows and devote one’s life to the dharma. That reverence continues today, even amidst Bir’s many modern and worldly distractions, as evidenced by the daily practice and rituals inside the monastery, and the ceaseless stream of villagers circumambulating the gompa from morning till night.

Watch wonderful archive footage of Bir and Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s family, or read more about the Neten Chokling line as recounted by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, Rinpoche’s older brother.

Tsokar Monastery

Far from Bir, in the Riwoche province of eastern Tibet, sits Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s own gompa, Tsokar Monastery. As were so many others, Tsokar Monastery was all but destroyed in the 1950’s and 60’s. The strength and determination of the monks who have continued to uphold the lineage reveal another side of this tragic story: the indomitable spirit that comes from a mind steeped in practice and the Buddhist outlook.

Tsokar monastery is situated just within the Tibetan Autonomous Region, making access extremely difficult to those who live outside this region. After many years of slow progress, the monastery has finally been rebuilt, and it was consecrated in the fall of 2010. This monumental accomplishment was made possible by Tsokar Khyentse Sogyal Rinpoche (pictured below in the yellow robes with other senior monks from Tsokar Monastery). Kongtrul Rinpoche found Tsokar Khyentse in the 1990’s and installed him as the Head Lama of Tsokar. He is from a noble family into which many lamas have been born who offered great service to beings in the region. Tsokar Khyentse’s commitment to the monastery and to the monks has been a great source of joy for Kongtrul Rinpoche, as their partnership now ensures the continuation of the legacy of the monastery and the surrounding community.

Tsokar Khyentse Rinpoche Tsokar has returned to its full functionality, with traditional daily and monthly rituals and offerings, and the ongoing operation of the three-year retreat center, for which the monastery is well known. The main temple facilities, including the monks’ quarters and kitchen, have all been rebuilt, together with a nearby school for the local children.

The rebuilding of Tsokar Monastery has also rejuvenated, and provided a measure of security for, the traditional mutual support between lay and monastic communities which has been the backbone of Tibetan Buddhist culture for centuries.