Tuesday, December 22, 2015



Founding of Lawa Khangtsen

Sera Je Lawa Khangtsen (Lawa House; Lawa Residential Section) is one of the thirteen Khangtsens (‘Houses;’ Residential Sections) of Sera Je Monastic University. It was founded by Keu-tsang Jampa Monlam, the then presiding Abbot of Sera Je, circa 1775. From the time of its inception, the Khangtsen has become greatly renowned for its resident scholar-practitioners’ diligence at the studies of the major texts, and adherence to rules, and delightful conduct.

The time since arriving in exile in 1959

In 1959, most of the monks of the Khangtsen followed His Holiness the Dalai Lama, into exile in India, arriving at Buxor, in north-east India, where a monastic seat comprising of all ordained scholars who made it into exile was set up. The hot climate of the plains in that area did not suit the Tibetans; this, coupled with difficulties with means of sustenance, resulted in experiences of immense hardship. Nevertheless, in 1969 there came the opportunity to move to southern India. Allocated a monastic setting within the Tibetan settlement at Bylakuppe, close to the city of Mysore, the Khangtsen—as part of Sera Je—had a gradual increase in the number of monks, engaged at the studies of the major texts and other fields of knowledge.

Revival of the teachings since the move from Buxor

There were only 13 monks of Serje Lawa Khangtsen who arrived from Buxor. Notwithstanding the hardship of sustenance at Bylakuppe during those early days, those venerable monks decided to re-establish Serje Lawa Khangtsen. It was a time of Tibet’s spirituality and temporal situation at its most vulnerable state, akin to a little lamp amidst a hurricane, yet the venerable monks kept a spirit of determination ablaze in their heart, and cherished the cause of Tibet’s spirituality and temporal welfare more than their life. They did farming to support themselves, while at the same time, whenever they found opportunity, continued their studies into the major texts and implemented into practice the teachings. In particular, by seeing the need for a stably established monastic seat and of the Khangtsen, for the continued prevalence of the Teachings of the Buddha, they initiated the works of re-establishing in exile the monastic university (Sera Je) and the Khangtsen.

The 13 venerable monks of Lawa Khangtsen who had arrived from Buxor first built, in 1972, a small Congregation Hall, with a capacity to seat some 20 monks. That was the first Congregation Hall of Lawa Khangtsen since arriving in exile. Thereafter, around 1980’s as there arrived a stream of new recruits from Tibet, all could not fit into the Congregation Hall, there was also the problem of inadequate residential quarters. As such, the foundation stone was laid for the present Congregation Hall, where subsequently the downstairs was used as the residential rooms, and the upper storey as the Congregation Hall.

It appears that the present Congregation Hall was built at the time when the total number of monks at the Khangsten was little less than a hundred, and the hall appeared at that time too big to conceive; it was said that the venerable monks, in jest, would remark that when a time comes the hall is filled with new recruits, it would be at an aeon’s end.

Such an outlook is understandable because with their life at stake they had to escape into exile in India, where upon arrival, they had to restart from scratch their “road to walk on and a place to sit,” and had to “borrow” from others the use of even a tiny piece of land. The Congregation Hall which they built under those trying times, with untainted pure altruistic motive, would have to be an auspicious unarranged yet perfectly set outcome, for, since that time, with gradual increase in monks at the Khangtsen, the strength of the monks at the Khangtsen has now reached three hundred.

Crossing mountain passes and countries, in hardship, to reach exile

Of the 300 monks that are now at the Khangtsen, about eighty per cent of them had started by carrying, from their home, food supply for the road on their shoulders, travelling on their feet, crossing numerous snowy mountain-passes and countries, spanning over forty to fifty days on the road, often travelling by night and hiding by day, to escape detection by the Chinese and the border patrols. Some twenty per cent had arrived in exile by obtaining a travel document, yet the aim was the same with all.

Those who escaped into exile by walking did so via routes which are the highest snowy mountain regions of the world, with narrow trails. Not to mention that there were on the way no houses to sleep, no dry place to sit, even the shoes became frozen in ice day and night; through desolate mountains and regions, where blizzards and windstorms blew, there was not a moment to sit relaxed, everyone shivered from inside their body of the biting chill. Some who suffered frostbite on their legs had to have their leg/s amputated in Nepalese hospitals upon arrival in the transit country Nepal. Some starved to death on the road, after their food supplies ran out. Some suffered snow blindness from the intense sunrays upon the snows, and were not able to see their way.

Even those who did not suffer from sickness and other problems, faced shortage of food when their supplies ran out on the long way to exile; after crossing high mountain passes, sometimes when they came across isolated and scattered homes of people, all the money they had were exchanged for a few potatoes from those locals; when the money ran out the escapees took off their wrist-watch and clothes and exchanged them with the locals for food, and through that way they tried to overcame starvation. The locals would charge ten times more than the market price for the potatoes and tsampa.

Yet, when all loads of supplies and clothes ran out and they—almost becoming naked, bereft of anything left to wear—just made it to the transit country Nepal, where when they arrived at the exile Tibetan administration’s Reception Centre, their physical exhaustion and mental burden of stress would disappear, like rainbow disappearing suddenly; there spontaneously arose an inexpressible feeling of as if the mundane world had arrived at a paradise. At that time, in their thoughts they would anticipate being able to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, since they were now close to reaching India, and there was a great joyfulness, and at the same time, realising that it would be now difficult to be able to meet again their kind parents and relatives back in Tibet, there was the angst of sorrow—this blend of joy and sorrow would make them shed tears.

All who escaped into exile, thus, with immeasurable hardships, had these same principal goals: to be able see the delightful face of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, at the least once in a lifetime; and to be able to do studies and practice on the major texts, through which, under the guidance of His Holiness, to be able to accomplish peace and happiness in the world in general, and more specifically to be able to serve for the spiritual and temporal needs of Tibet, the Land of Snows.

Regular studies

Of the nearly 300 monks at Lawa Khangtsen, apart from the elders and those who have completed their studies, over 260 monks are all scholars. Of these, 250 are at the studies of the major texts: the Geshe Lharampa Class at the top and the initial Small Collected Topics Class. There are some 10 juniors who attend the monastery’s general Secondary School. In general, in the past in Tibet, the Khangtsen’s Rules required all to focus only on the studies of the major texts, it was not allowed to engage in Mantra rites, and learning of the common fields of knowledge. Due to the changes in time and circumstances, these days the monks at the Khangtsen focus on the studies of the major texts, while studying other—grammar, poetry, etc.—as branch fields of knowledge.

The schedules for prayer congregations, tutorials, and daily debates are as follows: The monks rise prior to 06: 00am and do memorisation of the core texts and commentarial texts. Then, after taking breakfast they attend daily tutorials on the major texts. If it is during semester, there is the daily dialectic debate from 09: 00am up till 11:00am; during semester-breaks there is no morning debate, the time subsequent to breakfast till midday is for attending tutorials, and memorising of the texts.

The lunch is at 11:00am. From 11:30am till 12:30pm is the time for Collected Topics three classes to practise handwriting, and receive tutorials on the initial stage of grammar; those of Freshers at Major Texts class up to the Middle View advanced class, receive tutorials on the general fields of knowledge and do self-studies. Sometimes there are English and Chinese language tutorials as well after lunch. After about 12: 30pm there is siesta for a short while. After 01:00pm some engage at reading of the texts, some attend tutorials, depending on the class allocations. The supper is at 05:00pm, followed by dialectic debates which start from 06: 00pm and continue till 09: 00pm/10: 00pm. At the finish of the dialectic debates, upon arriving at the residential quarters, straight away those of below Middle View advanced class below have to do revision-reading and memorisation-revision of the texts; those above Vinaya class stay in their room, engaged at reading of the texts, until sleep time. This then is the daily schedule.


In a week, Tuesday is the day off. During the eighth month of the Tibetan calendar when the monastic Summer Retreat concludes there is a holiday for 8 days. From 25th day of the 12th till the 8th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan calendar is the Losar New-Year holiday.

The simple monks who have nothing certain about their stability of stay and of means of sustenance remain absorbed at their studies, not feeling the difference between day and night, rather studying at all times. To be able to do so is entirely due to the compassionate care of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the kindness of the past elders of Buxor, and of the support from the faithful benefactors.

The present factual situation and an appeal
which we cannot avoid putting forth

The regular expenses, for sustenance, of the monks amount to about US$15 a month, which covers the monthly needs of factors for study, and for robes, and the miscellaneous. In emergencies—such as, becoming ill—when slightly more expenses are incurred, and thus if funds are needed the monks seek help from the Khangtsen’s General Welfare Office, and if the office is unable to provide the funds, the monks have to try other means of help according to individual circumstances.

As such, we at the General Welfare Office of Serje Lawa Khangtsen bring our hands folded in gesture of appeal, and make this appeal to you all: If it is not going to adversely affect your livelihood, please consider being a benefactor for the expenses of a monk, or kindly make a general donation—in essence, please help us at Lawa Khangtsen by your great loving-kindness and compassion.

Also, a specific problem we at Lawa Khangtsen are facing is the state of the present Congregation Hall. This hall, built some 30 years ago, is the only hall we have for our prayer-gatherings and other congregational needs. Even when all space between the seating rows are used to accommodate extra seating, some 70-80 monks still need to sit outside of the hall, for lack of space. Due to inadequate funds when the hall was first built, only cement was used without inner iron reinforcement. If renovations were done, by brick extension, on this old hall, with unstable pillars and beams, it would simply become too heavy for the old structure to hold; if new storey is added, there would be the danger of the structure below collapsing. As such, it would not be possible to renovate this present old hall.

On the other hand, there is a fair distance between the Congregation Hall and the residential quarters of the monks, resulting in much time it takes for the monks to walk to the hall and the inconveniences arising from that.

As such, we, the officials of Lawa Khangtsen’s General Welfare Office, have been thinking of a plan and hope of being able to build as soon as possible a new Congregation Hall, in order to: (a) mainly solve the problem of inadequate seating space when our monks congregate for prayers and tsogs (tsog; multitude meritorious rites); (b) to save travel time and thus to increase the time for studies, especially when there is a great determination to do studies from the part of the monks; and (c) to prevent the danger of possible fatalities from the structure collapsing from overweight if prayers and tsog gatherings were to continue in the present old hall.

To all our dear friends and supporters in all parts of the globe, we request you that with your long sight of loving-kindness and compassion towards us, please help us with this project of the General Welfare Office.

Concluding Thanks and dedication wishes

Here at the end we extend our gratitude to you for going through this Introduction to Lawa Khangtsen. We at Lawa Khangtsen’s General Welfare Office pray for you all to have always a good health, and that your present and ultimate goals become free of obstacles and that they are achieved successfully.

Introduction to our local area, in the southern region
of India, the Land of Superiors

Sera Monastic University was re-established in exile here in the southern India as a part of the first major Tibetan settlements with lands for farming and monasteries made available from clearing of dense forest. The area is formed in the plains, vast and mostly flat lands, with good growth of crops and of timely rainfalls. The surrounding hills, rivers and creeks, and dense forests with a variety of fauna make up a very beautiful natural setting. Compared to other parts of India, the area’s climate is pleasantly moderate, and the surroundings remain green throughout the four seasons.

In a year, after February the weather gets warmer, the temperature reaching over 30 ºC in May. From May rainfall begins, and by July the temperature drops to around 20 ºC. During the months of monsoon rain—which is from June till August—the constant rain makes the weather occasionally cold and occasionally hot; the area would be moist. The monks would prepare in advance for adequate warm robes and an umbrella. When they attend their daily dialectic debates, they would carry an umbrella in one hand and a cushion under armpit of the other. In the big forest behind Sera, at that time the plants and flowers blossom; sometimes on Tuesdays—the weekly day-off—when the young monks go to the forest for a day out, elephants, tigers, leopards, deer, and so on, would be seen in the forest. By mid-August the monsoon finishes, and then onwards the sky would be clear, without clouds obscuring it, and the soothing breeze from the ocean would make the elements in the body set balanced. Then the temperature would gradually drop, that by December and January, it would be around 20 ºC. In these southern parts of India these months are considered as times of cold weather. The local farmers grow maize, rice, potatoes, and other crops all year around, by using irrigated water, making as well the area look green in all seasons. These parts of southern India are considered environmentally beautiful and many visitors flock to the area. For you all as well, if you have the time, we welcome you to visit the area for your relaxation.

General Welfare Office
Serje Lawa Khangtsen            




Forming of Lawa Khangtsen
According to historical records and oral narration of the past teachers, Lawa Khangtsen—which is a department/College within the Sera Je Monastic University, of Adepts and Renown,—was first formed during the time of the Sera Je Abbotship of Keutsang Jampa Monlam, in the Earth-Sheep Year, of the thirteenth Tibetan Rabjung Calendar Cycle, circa 1775.

The Founder of Lawa Khangtsen
Keutsang Re-emanate Jampa Monlam was the founder of this Khangtsen (College). The events leading to his establishing of this Khangtsen started with difficulties concerning some dhob-dhobs (rdob-rdob; the monks of fierce character) at Sera Mey, who disregarded the rules and to whom the monastic officials could not dare reprimand. Drakpa Khedrub, the Abbot of Sera Mey, had a great difficulty with the dhob-dhobs that he told Sera Je Abbot Keutsang Rinpoche Jampa Monlam, of the former’s inability to look after those dhob-dhobs. The Reverend Keutsang Rinpoche responded, “If there is no way you can look after them, I will look them.” Accordingly, The Honourable Abbot of Sera Mey agreed fully to hand over the dhob-dhobs to Keutsang Rinpoche.
   Thereafter Keutsang Rinpoche took eight dhob-dhobs, skillfully looked after them, placed the dhob-dhobs together, within the residential quarters with that of the monks who had earlier joined the College from the affiliated monasteries of Lowé-Teng Monastery and hBom-Teng Monastery, and he thus established the Lawa Khangtsen.
   Since then the two monasteries—Lowé-Teng and hBom-Teng—became uniquely affiliated with Lawa Khangtsen, entailing a continuity of future recruits to the Khangtsen from the two monasteries. That already prior to 1698 C.E. generations of monks had come from these two provincial monasteries to join Sera Je was mentioned in the Regent Desi Sangyae Gyatso’s historical writing, The Yellow Sapphire; in latter times, since establishing anew of Lawa Khangtsen these two monasteries had become as the seed-source for new recruits of monks at the Lawa Khangtsen.

The manner how the name “Lawa Khangtsen” was labelled
Names in general can be imputed in all kinds of manners, but as regards the name “Lawa Khangtsen” there are two variant explanations in the tradition of the past sublime teachers. The first version says when this Khangtsen was first formed there arrived at the Khangtsen over a thirty lay persons, from Dhokham Yara region, wearing chupa (Tibetan native dress) of white fabric, who all joined the Khangsten as new monks. When the Khangtsen was established anew the name given was thus based on the costume of the first batch of the new monks. The significance of this is explained that there would be no pollution with the motive of new monks joining the Khangtsen, just as a cloth of white lawa-fabric is not defiled by other colours; there is such a tradition of explaining the name.
   The other version says, while this Khangtsen was being built when all the monks of the Khangtsen were thinking of a noble name to give to it, there appeared from underground where the main Shrine Hall was being newly built a white slab with the letters “Lawa” (ལྭ་བ་) naturally inscribed on it. The appearance of this item of wonder was considered by all as spontaneously-manifest dependent-link auspiciousness and thus the self-manifest letters “Lawa” were the name adopted as the Khangtsen’s name.

The author of Lawa Khangtsen’s Great Constitution
The Second Keutsang, Jamyang Monlam, was the author of the Constitution. Established by the First Keutsang, Jampa Monlam, this Khangtsang came to be fostered by the Second Keutsang, Jamyang Monlam, who bestowed upon the Khangtsen the uniquely great Constitution. Since the First Keutsang the successive Keutsang Re-emanated Ones have taken a special care of the Khangtsen.

Lawa Khangtsen Shrine Hall (within the Congregation Hall) in Tibet
Earlier in Tibet the Lawa Khangtsen’s Shrine Hall was located close to the Debate Courtyard of Sera Mey, at the front of Sermey Tsangpa Khangtsen, to the left of Gungru Khangtsen. The Main Congregation Hall had an upper storey; it had two tall pillars, and was surrounded by verandah on three storeys. Initially the Congregation Hall faced up towards Je Monastery; later a new hall was built, facing down towards Potala Palace. This new hall was built with the responsibility of its construction borne especially by the Khangtsen’s great Vinaya-Holder Teachers—led by the Vinaya Master Gaen Jatse—who had the threefold attributes of learnedness, practice and nobility (altruism). The plan-measurements of the residential quarters for the monks were done by Gaen Jatse, in accordance with Vinaya guidelines, and built as such. The monks’ residential quarters were named as “Tagmo Chikhang” (Takmo Collective Quarters); there was another Collective Quarters, a two-storeyed, at the rear of the Khangtsen’s Congregation Hall, and towards the Ngakpa Monastery.

The Represents (Holy Objects) inside the Congregation Hall
The main Represents (Represents of Enlightened Body, Speech and Mind) were a set of gold alloy statues of the threefold presence: Jey Tsongkhapa and the two principal disciples; a complete set of gold alloy statues of The Six Ornaments and the Two Supremes (the historical Buddhist adepts in India); a unique statue of Guru Rinpoche.
   There was a gold alloy statue of Āchārya Vasubhandu which was brought to the Khangtsen—by the realised dhob-dhobs, in lieu of cash-offering share at the Monlam Prayers—from the top level of Tsuklagkhang Temple in Lhasa. It is said that bringing forth of this statue to the Khangtsen auspiciously heralded, like a garland of golden beads, a continuity of learned and accomplished adepts resembling the masters styled, “The Six Ornaments and the Two Supremes” of the Land of the Exalted (India).
   When the Khangtsen was initially being built there appeared from underground a white-stone statue of the Six-Armed Mahākāla, a self-appeared statue; and also there was at the Khangtsen a statue of Chamsing, of medicinal clay, made by Kyabjey Drak-kar Rinpoche, of which the upper part formed naturally, and the statue spoke. Historical narration explains that when Drak-kar Rinpoche had completed sculpting the lower part of the statue he left the statue in the middle of the Debate Courtyard while he went for lunch in his room. During the meal it suddenly rained heavily; Rinpoche ran outside and wailed, “My Chamsing!” The statue of Chamsing spoke, “I am here!”—when Rinpoche took a closer look the upper part of the statue had already formed naturally.
   There was a thangka (scroll painting) of Paldhen Lhamo which was kept sealed-by-order, not allowed to be opened. The events leading to this was that once when the Khangtsen’s Disciplinarian was walking up from beyond the fence there was a glow of fire in the rubbish; upon going closer the Disciplinarian noticed the glow coming from a tattered old thangka of Paldhen Lhamo. He took up the thangka and placed it at the Khangtsen. Historical accounts speak of some unique dhob-dhobs of the Khangtsen absorbing into the thangka. It is said that Kyabjey Kuetsang Jamyang Monlam rolled up the thangka and decreed that from then onwards the thangka should not be opened.
   Gaen Yardong Rinpoche Gelek Gyatso had offered to the Khangtsen a butter-lamp, known as “The White-Brass Glittering Lamp” (rag-dkar-phra-koṅ-ma) which was of silver on the outside and brass inside. Earlier this lamp, lit and placed at the front, had been offered to Gaen Yardong Rinpoche by a ḍākiṇi when Rinpoche was in retreat; and it lit well, indicative of its blessing. Accounts are told of the difference in the length or the shortness of the lamp staying alight, and of it becoming alight well or otherwise, corresponding to the greatness or the smallness of merits of the benefactor, or whether or not the motive is tainted by miserliness. There is the tradition of certainly going to make light-offering with that lamp by the Khangtsen’s scholars who sit for their initial all-night debate during Fresher-at-the-Major-Texts Class and Fresher-at-Middle-View Class.

Studies at Lawa Khangtsen, when in Tibet, and its order of seniority,
In the past in Tibet there were over five hundred monks at Lawa Khangtsen, of which over four hundred resided at the Khangtsen. From the moment a monk fresher-at-studies starts joining the debates at the debate-courtyard the studies done were on the major texts, one was not allowed at all to study the common knowledge-fields (languages, arts, etc.).
   Akin to the difference in the order of the person leading a horse and the person following it, there is an order of seniority of the monks. This is determined on the basis of the time—earlier or later—in joining the Khangtsen. Those who had served the Khangtsen as the Discipline Teacher, or Store Manager (Senior and Junior Store Managers), are regarded as seniors and they can join the meetings. In general, those who have studied beyond Vinaya Class are regarded as seniors.

Unity and harmony among the Sangha, earlier in Tibet
Unless they were the students of the same Surety Teacher, it was not allowed for those of the same region and native monastery to gather in more than two persons, eating and staying together, in large numbers, in a residential room.
   It was not allowed in general conversations and speech to engage in “praise of one’s side, and defamation of others’ side”. All in the Khangtsen—the officials and the general congregation—were to forsake fully sectarian prejudice, bias of regional monasteries and so forth, rather they were required to always live with a mutual sound samaya-bondship, of faith, pure outlook, liking and reverence towards each other, although earlier coming from different regional monasteries. This has been also a principal practice of the past great beings of this Khangtsen; it is important that the followers maintain a samaya-bondship purity, as the proverbial blending into one of milk and water.

The situation after arriving at Buxor in India
At the time of the upheaval of 1959 there were some four hundred resident monks at Lawa Khangtsen. Escaping from the fears of that time, only some twenty monks were able to make it to India—following after His Holiness the Dalai Lama—and eventually arrive at Buxor Monastic Centre, a place of high humidity and very hot climate, which made many monks suffer from various illnesses. There the monks’ residential quarters were previously a huge prison during the British rule of India, a prison for Indian political prisoners who protested against the British. As for the Sangha’s living rooms, the Abbots and Re-emanated Lamas were allocated each a small room; the monks at various Khangtsens were housed ten, fifteen, twenty and thirty together in each room. All the beds, tables and shelves for the texts were made privately by the monks by cutting bamboos from the forest. Very few monks had the full set of robes on their body. The monks’ sustenance was provided by the Government of India in aids of rice, flour, ghee, milk and so on, but due to the bad works of the local officials the monks were given by the officials much stale and rotten foods, which caused a great damage to the monks’ health. Under such situation the number of the monks getting sick kept increasing, many suffered from tuberculosis; at that time except for one or two monks, the Khangsten’s monks caught tuberculosis. The central government of India set up at Buxor a new hospital for tuberculosis, provided doctors, nurses and medicines, which helped improve the situation and greatly benefitted the patients.
   Living under such an impoverished means of sustenance the monks of the Khangtsen, comprising of some twenty or so, united in thought, put together whatever money each had, appointed a Store Manager, and occasionally made tea-offering to the general congregation, performed monthly Revive Fulfil Rites of Chamsing, and kept up other spiritual programmes, thus gradually restoring to completeness the Dharma activities.
   Eventually it became difficult for the monks to remain at Buxor under innumerable hardships, and thus in December 1969 they had to move to southern India in a Tibetan settlement. When at Buxor there were at the Khangsten some twenty monks, but upon arrival at the southern settlement there were only thirteen monks left.
   There in the south the monks initially had to stay in tents, facing much hardship during the spring and summer downpours and gales. For the means of sustenance the monks had to prepare farming lands, by having to clear trees and remove weeds, and then having to work hard at farming. As there were few ploughing oxen, the monks also had to plough the land, pulling the ploughs themselves.
   Besides, the monks of our Khangtsen who had arrived south from Buxor did farming on the side to generate funds for the Khangtsen: they put together their money, bought on lease for two years farms from other people and when the common tasks of the monastery in general for the day were completed at six in the evening, they worked on the farms, spending half of their night’s sleep-time working. They thus endured hundreds of hardships. Of particular significance was that, for the purpose of preserving the Teachings of the Victorious One (Buddha), they focused on the care for their students, fostered as many students as they could, and guided the students in their studies of the major texts. Those pioneering monks of the Khangtsen have left behind sublime legacies of marvellous achievements. In brief, by the compassion of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and by the determination and altruistic dedication of those elders, we have at present at the Khangtsen the situation where we are able to do unwavering studies of the major texts, while being in harmony, unity, good order of reverence of seniority and in sound samaya-bondship; this is solely due to their kindness.