Gtsug Lag Khang

Tibetan Dictionaries > Blue Annals Terminology > Terms tsa-tsha-dza-wa > gtsug lag khang

Tsuklakhang (gtsug lag khang) གཙུག་ལག་ཁང་

by Christopher Bell


Type 1

  • Skt. vihāra
  • monastic complex
  • main temple
  • monastery

Type 2

  • wisdom tradition


  • gtsug - crest, crown, peak
  • lag - arm, limb, branch
  • khang - house
  • "House of the Superior Branch [of Knowledge]"

Tsuklakhang (Skt. vihāra) refers to a particular monastic complex, usually one of the more historically significant complexes, like the Jokhang in Lhasa. Etymologically, Tsuklakhang consists of three distinct words: gtsug, meaning "crown" or "crest," lag, meaning "arm" or "hand," and khang, "meaning house." Thus, the Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo defines the Tsuklakhang as "the residence of the three sublime jewels; the 'head' is the Dharma and the 'arms' are the Buddha and the Sangha" (ཡང་ན་གཙུག་ནི་ཆོས་དང་། ལག་ཅེས་པ་སངས་རྒྱས་དང་དགེ་འདུན་ཏེ་དཀོན་མཆོག་གསུམ་བཞུགས་ས་དེ་ལ་གཙུག་ལག་ཁང་ཞེས་ཟེར་རོ། Dung dkar 2002, p.1665). However, Tsuklak (gtsug lag) has had a turbulent scholastic history. Ariane Macdonald (1971) suggested that the term referred to the pre-Buddhist imperial religion of Tibet, a theory since disputed by Rolf Stein (1985) and later scholarship. Matthew Kapstein (2000, p. 229n.27) briefly notes this controversy and settles on the interpretation of the word as referring to "wisdom," a connotation echoed in the definition offered by the Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo wherein it is associated with calculation and knowledge (རྩིས་དང་རིག་གནས་ཆུང་བའི་དཔེ་ཆ་ལ་གཙུག་ལག་ཟེར་བ་དང་། Dung dkar 2002, p.1665).

Analysis of Pattern of Usage in The Blue Annals

Tsuklakhang is incredibly common in The Blue Annals, which is understandable as it signifies important monastic centers. The word in abundance refers to temples, so I have only chosen key usages to cite below. Overall, whenever a temple is established, this word is utilized.

Citations in The Blue Annals

Roerich 1996, pp.30, 60, 74, 84, 88, 625.

Type 1

  • "The founding of temples by Lumé and his disciples (klu mes dpon slob kyis gtsug lag khang btab pa’i skabs." (C: 102; R: 74)
  • "lha rgyal bla ma ye shes 'od, known as a manifestation of Mañjuśrī, as prophesied in the Great Mūla Tantra (i.e. the Mañjuśrī-mūla-tantra), built the incomparable and miraculous vihāra (dpe med lhun grub gtsug lag khang) of tho ling." (R: 84)
  • After that, he first erected the vihāra of chag (chag gi gtsug lag khang)." (R: 88)
  • In the Mouse year (byi ba lo, 1228 A.D.) they completed the upper and lower galleries (this is the large stag lung gtsug lag khang, a famous monument of Tibetan architecture near phyag la)." (R: 625).

Type 2

  • "Langdarma's Devestation of the Teachings and the Subsequent Persistence of the Lay Traditions (glang dar mas bstan pa bsnubs rjes bod mi khyim pa chos gtsug lag khang dang bka' bstan srung skyobs byas pa'i skor." (C: 84; R: 60)

There is also an interesting reference to a group of Sthaviras associated, presumably, with great temples: "The Jetavanīyas (rgyal byed tshal gnas), the Abhayagirivāsins (‘jigs med gnas), the Mahāvihāravāsins (gtsug lag khang chen) were Sthaviras." (R: 30)


Dung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las. 2002. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo. Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang.
'Gos lo Gzhon nu dpal. 1984. deb ther sngon po. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang.
Kapstein, Matthew. 2000. The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory. New York: Oxford University Press.
Macdonald, Ariane. 1971. "Une lecture des Pelliot tibétain 1286, 1287, 1038, 1047, et 1290: Essai sur la formation et l'emploi des mythes politiques dans la religion royale de Sroṅ-bcan sgam-po," in Études tibétaines dédiées à la mémoire de Marcelle Lalou, pp. 190-391.
Roerich, George N., trans. [1949] 1996. The Blue Annals. Parts I and II. Reprint, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Stein, Rolf. 1985. "Tibetica Antiqua III: A propos du mot gcug-lag et de la religion indigéne," Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient 74: pp. 83-133.