History of the Monastery
Nestled in the rocks of Tingmosgang town, the second home to the kings of Ladakh, Tserkarmo is a hermitage of incredible beauty. Its vast orchard of apricot trees and the lush pasture spotted with crystal clear springs makes it one of the most favorite monasteries in Ladakh for intensive solitary meditation.
In the past Tserkarmo was home to many accomplished mystics. Many of them attained the supreme realization of mahamudra in one lifetime. Even today, one can feel a unique spiritual energy vibrating quietly in the silence and serenity that surrounds Tserkarmo. No wonder it is one of the 2.525 hermitages prophesied by Lord Jigten Sumgon, the second Nagarjuna. Later he traveled to central Tibet and became the foremost among the five hundred excellent disciples of Lord Phagmodrupa, the successor of the Dharma Lord Gampopa.
Lord Jigten Sumgon received the whole gamut of Kagyud teachings from Lord Phagmodrupa and practiced them diligently for many years. Finally he attained enlightenment in E-chung Cave, his main practice site after Phagmodupa’s parinirvana. Lord Jigten Sumgon established Drigung Jangchub Ling monastery in 1179 and turned the wheel of Dharma extensively for the rest of his life, until his parinirvana in 1217. He is, perhaps, the only master ever in the history of Tibetan Buddhism to assemble more than one million disciples in one teaching session.
The best of his disciples attained enlightenment in one lifetime; the mediocre ones reached the tenth Bodhisattva level, and the rest had absolute recognition of the innate nature of mind. It is said that even his cook was capable of performing miraculous deeds. One time Jigten Sumgon dispatched three contingents of 55.500 disciples each to the three abodes of Chakrasamvara, which are Tsari, Lachi and Mount Kailash. His disciples spread far and wide; to quote Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: “The mountains are filled with Drigung hermits; the plains are filled with Drigung patrons.” He thus became famed as the ‘Gyalwa Drigungpa, the Owner of the Three Abodes.’
Tserkarmo is one of the four major branch monasteries of Lamayuru or Yungdrung Tharpa Ling monastery, where the great Indian master Naropa spent some time in solitary retreat. The cave in which he did his retreat is still there, enshrined in the main temple. The present monastery at Tserkarmo was founded by Gelong Tsewang Tondup, a disciple of Konchog Thinlas Zangpo (1656-1718) who was the 24th successor to the throne of Lord Jigten Sumgön. For many decades after its inception the monastery served as an important center for intensive studies on the sutras and tantras. Many of the monastery’s accomplished practitioners attained the supreme realization of Mahamudra in a single lifetime.
Tserkarmo monastery was most dynamic during the reign of Chogyal Nyima Namgyal, the Dharma King who ruled in Ladakh from 1680 to 1720. He was so impressed by the serenity and holiness of Tserkarmo monastery that he chose it to host the annual Amitayus ritual for his longevity and good health. He thus became the principal benefactor of the monastery, with great donations of properties and other necessities. With the royal family as patrons, Tserkarmo flourished continuously for many decades but it could not defy, after all, the inevitable law of change.
The monastery faced a number of ups and downs in its fortune, and within the last century, the number of resident monks has dwindled and the monastery has suffered some structural deterioration. As the monastery ran out of resources, the deterioration could not be controlled, and the quarters for the monks were completely ruined by the nineties. As a result, the monks have had to find shelter in the town of Tingmosgang, which has only accelerated the deterioration of the monastery. The ancient monastery still stands, but it is in urgent need of restoration.
To ignore the monastery at this critical stage would mean to give up on it. At present there are around 30 monks belonging to Tsekarmo monastery. Half of them are senior monks who were well trained, before 1959, by the adepts of Drigung Thil and Yangrigar monasteries in Tibet. They are among the most learned monks of Yungdurng Tharpa Ling monastery. It is really unfortunate that they have no residence at the monastery and have no choice but to live in the nearby villages. This is too sad as the younger monks now have no possibility to learn from the senior monks. In order to overcome this tragic situation, the senior and young monks have decided unanimously to embark on a mission to bring the monastery back to its ancient glory.