Founding Of Nenang Monastery

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The Founding of Nenang monastery

by Ben Deitle

The First Zhamarpa, Drakpa Senggé (1283-1349) founded Nenang (gnas nang) monastery at around the age of fifty in 1333. Immediately before that time he had spent five years at Pukmo Ché (phug mo che). He then traveled to a place called Tsurchara ('tshur ca ra), known to be the hermitage of a figure named Gomma Samten Gyen (sgom ma bsam gtan rgyan) who I have not been able to identitfy. She seems to have been an adept of tantric practice, but she is mentioned nowhere else in the Blue Annals. In any case, Drakpa Senggé finds the location to be auspicious. He must have been familiar with the area, as he often spent time at nearby locations, such as the monastery of Dechen. He subsequently had a dream of the previously mentioned Gomma. In this dream she directs him to build a monastery, lamenting that she cannot do it herself because she is a woman. This is a very interesting episode, highlighting the tension between the theoretical reverence of the female within tantric communities, and even at times acceptance of them as practictioners (which the Gomma seems to have achieved) and yet a limit to the extent of their activity and influence. One wonders if the Gomma actually did start some time of monastic of yogi community in the vicinity of Nenang, but as a woman she could not be recognized as the founder. Such had to wait until a male arrived to provide a proper foundation while still acknowledging the role of the Gomma by placing her as the instigator within a dream. This is merely speculation. Discovering more about the life and activities of Gomma Samten Gyen would be very useful in uncovering more of her involvement with this place.

The Blue Annals tells us that it was still a full year after his dream of Gomma that Drakpa Senggé began construction of the monastery itself. This was precipitated by a vision of the deity Ber Nakchen (ber nag can) which indicated the exact spot on which to build. Ber Nakchen is a form of Mahakala and a protector deity of the Kamtsang Kagyu school. Thus guided by dreams and visions, Drakpa Senggé established the monastic center of Nenang. It would be interesting to look into whether these types of auspicious portents are common precursors to the construction of monasteries, and in my initial survey of this type of activity in the Blue Annals it seems to be a common narrative element. It is probable that the vision of the deity is necessary to establish the monastery as the center of a tantric mandala, thereby consecrating and sanctifying the space.

According to the Blue Annals Drakpa Senggé finished his work in only one and a half months, and that it immediately attracted one hundred monks.