Hemis Monastery in Ladakh - Seat of the Drukpa Kagyupa
A 13th century shrine predates Hemis Gompa and was erected in the mountains behind the monastery where Gyalwa Gotsangpa meditated in a cave.
Main courtyard and Dukhang of the large monastery founded by Tagtsang Repa
under the patronage of the king of Ladakh, Senge Namgyal and built approx. 1630.
Panel with murals of Mahasiddhas under the arcades in the courtyard.
Dagpo Lha-je Gampopa had four main disciples: Dusum Khyenpa, Zhang Yudrakpa, Barom Wangchuck, and Phagmo Drupa, who, in turn, had eight main disciples. They were:
Ling Repa Pema Dorje (1128-1189) founded the Drukpa Kagyu;
Thanga Tashi Pal (1142-1210) founded the Taklung Kagyu;
Jigten Sumgon (1143-1217) founded the Drikung Kagyu;
the brothers Gyaltsa (1118-1195) and Kunden (1148-1217) founded the Trophu Kagyu;
Choje Mar founded the Martsang Kagyu;
Yelphugpa founded the Yerpa Kagyu;
Yamzang Choje (1168-1233) founded the Yamzang Kagyu; and
Gyergom (b. 1144) founded the Shugseb Kagyu.
The site of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa wrote, “All the chief disciples of Je Gampopa and the students of Phagmo Drupa developed monastic centres throughout Tibet.  One of the principle seats is Tsurphu Monastery in the Tolung Valley of Central Tibet. Tsurphu Monastery was founded by the First Gyalwa Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193), one of the closest disciples that Je Gampopa had.  Tsurphu became the most important seat of the entire Kagyu Lineage and upheld the sacred mandala for centuries.
            “Some of the other most important monasteries of the Kagyu Lineage are:
Drikung Thil in the Drikung region of Central Tibet (in exile: Dehradun, India),
Namdruk in Central Tibet, founded by Drupchen Lingrepa, Tsangpa Gyare, and
Druk Sang-ngak Choling in southern Tibet (in exile: Darjeeling),
Palpung Monastery in the Derge region of East Tibet, founded by the Eighth Tai Situpa, one of the most important Karma Kagyu seats in Kham (in exile: Bir in Himachal Pradesh), Tsadra Rinchen Drak in the Derge region, founded by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye the Great (in exile: Pullahari Monastery, Kathmandu),
Chogar Gong in Tsurphu, founded by the lines of Goshir Gyaltsabpa incarnations (in exile: Palchen Chokhor Ling in Ralang, Sikkim).
“The masters from these monasteries have established their exile seats in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, from where they preserve the lineage and train younger generations of Lamas and reincarnate masters.”1
Image of Buddha Shakyamuni in front of a large stupa in Hemis, which is “said to have been founded
by Lama Shambhunath, probably third in the series from the founder sTag-tshang Ras-pa.”2
The site of the Drukpa Kagyu School described Ling Repa Pema Dorje, one of the eight disciples mentioned above and wrote: “Through his extraordinary openness to devotion, Lingchen Repa achieved realization naturally and effortlessly. For this quality he was known as the Saraha of Tibet.”3  In the historical account of Ralung Gompa in Tibet it is recorded that a “shepherd of a village in Nyangtöd of Tsang in Tibet observed that a white she-goat always left the flock everyday when he went to graze his flock of sheep and goats. One day out of curiosity he followed the she-goat and saw it sprinkling milk on a rock. He went to the rock to take a closer look and saw the syllables AH HUNG naturally formed on the rock. At that time, Lingchen Repa visited the village and the rock was offered to him.  He built a cave at the site and meditated there. Since then the place came to be called Ralung or ‘the place prophesied (lung in Tibetan) by the goat (ra in Tibetan).’ The holy rock was kept at Napchu Choling, the main seat of Lingchen Repa.”4
Lingchen Repa’s main disciple was Tsangpa Gya Repa, Yeshe Dorje. He was the first Drukchen Rinpoche, whose “Dharma activities and achievements were so great that during his lifetime it was said: ‘Half of Tibet’s population is Drukpa Kagyu, half of those are mendicants, half the mendicants are realized masters.’  His lineage pervaded Ladakh, Kashmir, the Swat Valley of today’s Pakistan, as well as West Tibet and China.”5
Dorje Tsangpa Gyare was born in Nyangto Shulay in the province of Tsang in the year 1189, “wrapped in a membrane amidst miraculous signs at his birth. His parents were so frightened at the sight of their baby that they abandoned him. An eagle spread its protective wings over the baby until it was able to kick away the membrane, leaving a footprint in the rock.  Siddhas nearby cared for the infant and soon news of his miraculous abilities spread. The child often presented teachings to villagers who requested blessings from him.
            “When Tsangpa Gyare grew up, he became a disciple of Lingchen Repa and mastered Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. Through refining prana in the nadis and through the practice of tummo he became immune to heat and cold. Even in the snowy mountains, he only wore a white cotton robe and was called Repa,  the ‘Cotton-clad yogi,’ just like Milarepa.
            “After attaining complete spiritual realization, Tsangpa Gyare went to Lodrak in Central Tibet. There he revealed a treasure of esoteric meditative instructions, called ‘The Six Equal Tastes,’ which Rechungpa, the moon-like disciple of Milarepa, had brought back from India and hidden, to be rediscovered at the right time by the appropriate person for the benefit of future generations. After having meditated under a tree without changing his posture for three months, seven Buddhas appeared before Tsangpa Gyare and revealed the most esoteric pith-instructions to him. He called them ‘The Seven Auspicious Teachings.’”6
The first Gyalwa Drukpa, Tsangpo Gyare Yeshe Dorje, “built the Shedrup Chokhor Ling Monastery at Ralung, the main seat of the Drukpa Lineage (in Tibet). The landscape had unique features; the land appeared like an eight-petalled lotus in bloom, with the surrounding snow peaks, rocky mountains, hills and meadows bowing in respect and diverting the inflow of hundreds of streams, and the sky above appeared like an eight-spoked wheel. The eight auspicious symbols adorned the surrounding: the mountain in front of the monastery appeared in the form of a white conch turning clockwise; the peak of Rala Pass appeared like a precious open parasol; the peak behind Pokya appeared like a brimming vase; the Tsenchu Peak like a victory banner hoisted high; the Yangdon Hill appeared like a pair of golden fish; the ground of Gorko like a golden wheel; the hill in the direction of Pentang like an open lotus stem with the twin streams appearing like two birds facing each other; and Gyamo Meadow like an auspicious knot.
            “Since the monastery of Ralung was visited and blessed by a number of realised masters, it is known to be just as holy as Bodhgaya. So popular and well-known was the monastery that it came to be called simply Ralung.”7
His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwa Drukchen wrote: “Namdruk Monastery, also known as Druk Gompa, was the Dragon Lineage’s second monastic seminary, founded by the First Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare in 1206. The lineage’s first established monastery was Ralung (Shedrub Chokhor Ling), following the inspiration he received from his yidam, Chakrasamvara and his Guru, Lingchen Repa. Tsangpa Gyare later established Namdruk as the main seat of the lineage.
            “The reason why the lineage is known as Druk, which means ‘dragon,’ can be traced back to the establishment of Namdruk Monastery. When the First Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare arrived at the holy place where his Root Guru, Lingchen Repa, had instructed him to build a monastery, nine dragons roared up in the sky with a loud clap of thunder and white flowers rained down. To signify this auspicious occurrence, Tsangpa Gyare decided to name his lineage Drukpa, which literally means ‘Lineage of the Dragon.’ The spot where the monastery was built also took its name after this event and was called Nam-Druk, which means ‘Sky Dragon.’ Prior to this, the location was not known by any particular designation.”
It is reported that Tsangpa Gyare, the First Gyalwang Drukpa, had 88,000 eminent disciples and that 28,000 became enlightened yogis.8 The site of Rangjung Yeshe Publications wrote, “Every generation of lineage holders have made their personal contribution, further embellishing this unique tradition of yogic practices and teachings. (…) The First Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje was revered as the authentic reincarnation of the great Indian saint Naropa.” Furthermore, “The First Chögon Rinpoche was one of the teachers of the famed omniscient Pema Karpo, the Fourth Gyalwang Drukpa, and he was well-known for his accomplishments in the practice of Vajrapani and Mahakala.” 9
Meditation quarters & caves.
A 13th century shrine was erected in the mountains behind the Monastery of Hemis in Ladakh where Gyalwa Gotsangpa meditated in a cave. His footprint and handprint can still be seen on a rock there.  Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche presented teachings on the The Eight Cases of Basic Goodness not to be Shunned by Gyalwa Gotsangpa and tells us that he was an emanation of Jetsun Milarepa. A verse in the song reads:
“The illness and its painfulness have neither base nor root. Relax into it, fresh and uncontrived. Revealing dharmakaya, way beyond all speech and thought, don’t shun them. Pain and illness are basically good.”
Khenpo taught, “When Gyalwa Gotsangpa was meditating in the mountains, he got sick a lot. There were no doctors up there and certainly no hospitals. He didn’t leave his cave to find help but stayed where he was and meditated upon the essential nature of his sickness. By doing so, he had wonderful support for his meditation - he attained realization, and when he attained realization, he got well. He sang many songs about taking sickness on the path.”
Khenpo continued teaching: “And when you are dying, it is especially good to sing, because then you will recognize the deathless expanse of reality. This is what Gyalwa Gotsangpa did right before he passed into nirvana. He was surrounded by students who were crying while he was lying on his deathbed. He opened his eyes, sang a song, laughed, and then passed away into nirvana. So, if we can go like that, it would be great.”10  He passed away in 1258. 
Since the sacred relics of Tsangpa Gyare manifested different forms of Chenrezig, “his devotees believed that he was indeed the emanation of the Bodhisattva.  This explains why he returned again and again, life after life, to watch over the welfare of the beings and especially of those who followed the footsteps of the Dragon Lineage.  Tsangpa Gyare prophesied that he would be succeeded by nine lineage holders with the title Senge, which means ‘lion.’ Afterwards, three emanations of Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani would appear as lineage holders. Then he would return again to guide people personally.”  From among his students, “Gyalwa Gotsangpa spread the Drukpa tradition in West Tibet and his followers came to be known as disciples of the Upper Drukpa School.  Followers of Tsangpa Gyare’s disciple, Choje Lorepa branched out to form the Lower Drukpa School.  Tsangpa Gyare’s disciple, Onray Dharma Senge founded the Central Drukpa School, and the disciple, Phajo Drugom Zigpo founded the Southern Drukpa School in Bhutan, at Phachok Deng and Tago.”11
The throne in the main assembly hall.
The Fourth Drukchen Rinpoche, Kunkhyen Pema Karpo (1527-1592) established Druk Sang-ngak Choling at Jar in southern Tibet as the main seat of this lineage. One of his main disciples, Yongzin Ngawang Zangpo, a lineage holder of meditation and realization, “had numerous disciples, among whom 45 principal ones reached the level of realization, a level at which there is no distinction between meditation and no meditation – a skilful integration  of meditation into mundane life.
“The three supreme disciples among the 45 realized masters were Taktsang Repa, Khampa Karma Tenphel (1548-1627, the First Khamtrul Rinpoche) and Konchok Gyalpo (the First Dorzong Rinpoche). Prophecies were given to each by their teacher: Taktsang Repa went on to establish Hemis Monastery in Ladakh and from there the Drukpa Kagyud teachings spread throughout the western region of Tibet. Karma Penphel established retreat centres in Kham and had many great disciples. From there he founded Khampagar Monastery and institutes, retreat centres, branch monasteries, and nunneries that were finally, through his later incarnations, to number almost 200. And Konchok Gyalpo was sent to spread the teachings in China, but on the way he was attacked by very aggressive robbers from Rongmi in Kham and, due to his apparent invincibility, the robbers developed spontaneous and devoted faith in him and asked him to stay in Rongmi. The First Dorzong Rinpoche established his first retreat place, Dorje Dzong, there.
“According to records of the Drukpa Kagyu monasteries in Kham, written by the Eighth Khamtrul Rinpoche in 1961, Taktsang Repa, Khampa Karma Tenphel, and Konchok Gyalpo were the most important at that time.
“Khamtrul Rinpoche had three main disciples: Zigar Sonam Gyamtso, the First Zigar Rinpoche; Trulshig Trinley Gyamtso, the first in the line of Adeu Rinpoche, and Drukpa Choegyal Gyamtso (b. 1578), the First Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche. These three Dharma brothers were known as the three oceans and are now in their eighth reincarnations.”12
The Tribune of India commemorated the famous Hemis Festival in 2004 and wrote: “Centuries ago, Jamyang Namgyal, King of Ladakh, wanted to introduce Buddhism to his country. He approached the First Tagtsang Repa Rinpoche who was meditating in Orgyen Drak near Saspol (in Ladakh) and asked him to teach, but his Lama, the Fifth Drukchen Rinpoche had not authorized him, so Tagtsang Repa did not accept and returned to Tibet. The king’s son and successor, Senge Namgyal appealed to the Fifth Gyalwa Drukchen to have Tagtsang Repa return to Ladakh to teach Buddhism. When he returned, both master and disciple had a similar dream concerning the future of Buddhism in Tibet. They dreamed that a time would come when foreigners would invade Tibet and destroy Buddhism there; it would be necessary to have a safe haven for the Buddhadharma; both dreamed that it would be in Ladakh. As a result, the First Tagtsang Repa founded Hemis Gompa in 1630, under the patronage of King Senge Namgyal. By the time the prophecy came true in 1951, Hemis Gompa was perfectly established as a major centre of meditation and learning.
            “In the ancient scripture, Padma Kathang, it is prophesied that on the 10th and 11th days of the 5th Tibetan month faithful devotees of Guru Padmasambhava would be blessed by a live vision of Guru Rinpoche if they remembered him. Lamas from Hemis perform monastic dances annually, starting early in the morning and lasting until late at night for two whole days, showing how Guru Rinpoche triumphed over evil through love or, when necessary, through force. Everyone dresses up and comes from near and far to celebrate Guru Rinpoche’s birthday in the magnificent courtyard of Hemis Gompa together. It is the most splendorous festival in Ladakh.
            “The monastery flourished under the Second Tagtsang Repa, who was the grandson of King Senge Namgyal and therefore a prince. After returning from studies in Tibet, he introduced the ritual of displaying, only once every 12 years, the largest and most beautiful thangka in existence on the 2nd day of the dances, as a sign of gratitude for Guru Rinpoche’s immense contributions for the spread of Buddhism in Ladakh and as a source of inspiration for his disciples.
            His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwa Drukchen Rinpoche, head of the northern Drukpa Kagyu School, is also head of Hemis Gompa. Tagtsang Repa, the actual Head of the Order, is being held in Tibet and stopped from returning to Ladakh; he only wanted to visit and study there for a short while. He is being forced to earn his frugal living as a truck driver instead.”13
Wooden blocks skilfully carved to print pecha-texts at the printing press of the monastery.
Kyapgon Drukchen Rinpoche, who lives in Darjeeling, is the head of the southern branch of the lineage. “This lineage, adopted as the state religion of the Kingdom of Bhutan, originally was brought there by the great Drukpa Kagyu master Shaptrung Ngakwang Namgyal and flourished in Bhutan throughout the centuries. His Holiness Je Khenpo of Bhutan and the present King of Bhutan, Jigme Senge Wangchuk are the head of the Drukpa Kagyu in Bhutan.”14
The Great Mani Wall that lines the way past the stupas and homes of Ladakhis and leads to the Great Gompa, the hermitages, and the monks’ quarters in the mountains.
May virtue increase!
All photos taken by Gaby Hollmann in 1984, compiled in 2007.

1  H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa’s website, The Kagyu School of Buddhism, page 5.
2  David L. Snellgrove & Tadeusz Skorupski, The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh,  Prajna Press, Boulder, 1977, page 127.
3  Drukpa Kagyud Lineage, in the site: Drukpa.org, March 2006. 
4  Ralung Gompa, in the site: Drukpa.org, March 2006.
5  Drukpa Kagyud Lineage, ibid.
6  Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje, in the site: Drukpa.org, March 2006.
7  Ralung Gompa, ibid.
8  His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwa Drukchen, Namdruk Sewa Jangchub Ling, in the site: Drukpa.org, March 2006. In this presentation, His Holiness tells us, “The prominence of Namdruk was greatly reduced despite its original significance. Nevertheless, to this day, Namdruk has continued to be an extremely important heritage site to all the lineage masters and followers of the Drukpa Lineage. We have built some small buildings to let some of my monks stay and practice. It is very sad for me to know that many practitioners are having a lot of difficulties even trying to stay in the limited compound of Namdruk (that was destroyed during the Revolution). Therefore, I have promised myself that within this life, I will do my best to restore Namdruk so that we all can enjoy the great blessing left behind by our forefathers and to remind ourselves of our connection with the lineage and the profound teachings that have been transmitted from Tsangpa Gyare to the Drukpa heroes of current times.”
9  Choegon Rinpoche. A Brief  Biography, in the site: Rangjung.com, March 2006.
10  Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Instructions on “The Ocean of Definitive Meaning of Mountain Dharma” by Dolpo Sangye & on Singing, presented at Vajra Vidya Thrangu House in Oxford, 2000 and translated by Ari Goldfield (available on this website).  See also Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche’s instructions on the songs of Je Gotsangpa, in: Shenpen Osel, issue 4, 1998, & issue 13, 2001.
11  Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje, ibid.  -  Rangjung Yeshe Publications wrote in their website, “His Eminence the Ninth Choegon Rinpoche, Chokyi Senge is considered to be one of the most important spiritual masters of the Drukpa Lineage.”
12  Drukpa Kagyud Lineage, ibid.
13  Excerpt from Kishie Singh, Hemis Festival: Legacy of Ladakh’s Past, in: The Tribune, June 27, 2004; quoted from the site: Tribuneindia.com/2004, March 2006.
14  The Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism, ibid.