Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, also known as ‘Little Potala Palace’ or Guihua Monastery, is located 5 km away from the city of Zhongdian in Yunnan province, China, on top of Fopinshan Mountain.
It is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the province and is one of the most famous and important monasteries in southwest China. This monastery is also known for being apolitical, as observed in the 1930s when the monastery allowed to the communist general He Long to pass through the area during his campaign.
Sumtseling Monastery is a Gelugpa monastery that still upholds the tradition of the Yellow Hat lineage purely including the propitiation of the Dharma protector Dorje Shugden, a practice that has been undisturbed for the last 300 years.
The Little Potala Palace is also widely known as Shangri-La in the western world, a name given by the Chinese authorities to encourage tourism. The county’s capital town near the monastery remains distinctly Tibetan, with prayer flags fluttering freely, lamaseries, and rocks inscribed with Buddhist sutras in Tibetan.
The monastery holds an amazing 325 years worth of history, though the physical monastery itself was rebuilt in 1983 after it was extensively damaged during the Cultural Revolution in 1959. After the refurbishment of the monastery, there are currently 200 houses that accommodate some 700 monks in Little Potala.
Throughout the years, the monastery has been through ups and downs but the devotion and strong faith of the people of Shangri-La have served to allow the monastery to prevail until today.
History and Architecture
Ganden Sumtseling Monastery was built by the Great 5th Dalai Lama in the year 1679, during the reign of the famous Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi, who would frequently visit to oversee the construction of the monastery. It is said that the Great 5th Dalai Lama decided upon the location of the monastery through divination and gave it the name Ganden Sumtseling. “Ganden” to indicate that this monastery would inherit the same pure doctrine of Ganden Monastery which was founded by Lama Tsongkhapa (1357 – 1419), the founder of our lineage, the Gelug tradition. The monastery quickly became one of the most important Gelugpa monasteries and as such, it was also a monastery that practices Dorje Shugden, which all Gelugpas acknowledged as the supreme protector of the Yellow Hat teachings. This remains until today at Sumtseling Monastery.
The monastery was designed to look similar to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, however, due to the absence of certain parts of the Potala Palace’s blue prints, Sumtseling does not exactly resemble the actual Potala Palace, as it should.
There are six main structures, which include eight monastic colleges. The main gompa (prayer hall) is a five storey Tibetan-style building with the capacity to house more than 1500 monks. It is accessed through a 146-step staircase that connects to the entrance gate. Within the gompa stands a golden eight-meter tall Shakyamuni Buddha statue. On the main altar, butterlamp offerings are lit all year round. Sumtseling Monastery has two main lamaseries, Jikang and Zhacang, both appear as Tibetan-style watch towers and are surrounded by eight sub-lamaseries and dormitories for resident lamas and monks.
The rich history of Sumtseling Monastery is depicted in the many Buddhist treasures that are stored in this monastery. Many rare Buddhist scriptures written on palm leaves and also scriptures that were used by the great Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas of the past are still preserved in this monastery. One of the most famous Buddhist treasures at Sumtseling is the eight gold covered sculptures of Shakyamuni, which were made during the time of the 5th and 7th Dalai Lamas.
The study and practice of Dharma is strong in Ganden Sumtseling – pilgrims will see many study rooms which are designed for young monks from the age of five years old. It is from places such as here that the future of Buddhism lies, with young monks learning the principal texts, Buddhist canons and philosophy. And it is also from here that the important Protector practice of Dorje Shugden will spread, together with the pure lineage of Je Tsongkhapa.
Ganden Sumtseling and Dorje Shugden
As it is on Chinese territory, Sumtseling Monastery, does not come under the CTA’s jurisdiction and being one of the most famous monasteries of the Yellow Hat Sect in Tibetan Buddhism, it is not surprising to see that the practice of Dorje Shugden, the protector of the Yellow Hat Teachings, is still strong in the various khamtsens within Ganden Sumtseling Monastery.
The protector Dorje Shugden’s practice has remained vibrant in Sumtseling since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama when Za Lu Ju protector chapel was built along with the other structures of the monastery. Until today, Dorje Shugden is still propitiated in this monastery and visited by many great lamas such as H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche and Geshe Wangchuk Rinpoche. When the oracle of Dorje Shugden takes trance in the monastery those present including those on pilgrimage receive the personal blessings of the Protector.
Za Lu Ju Protector Chapel
Several grand Dorje Shugden Chapels surround the monastery complex. The main protector chapel in Sumtseling monastery is known as Za Lu Ju Protector Chapel. The chapel is one of the first buildings to be built in Sumtseling Monastery and dates back to the 17th Century, during the time of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty. Built with the 5th Dalai Lama’s blessings just a few years after Trode Kangsar was completed, Sumtseling Monastery is one of the earliest monasteries where Dorje Shugden practice began.
It is also in this chapel that the famous sword bent by a visiting oracle of Dorje Shugden is kept. The sword bent by Dorje Shugden in trance is a very significant and powerful blessing, and is one of the treasured items in Za Lu Ju protector chapel.
During the 14th Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet, the previous Panglung Oracle took trance and bent a sword just like the one here in Za Lu Ju chapel. That bent sword was carried by the head of the Chushi Gangdruk group and it was reported that when there was danger of enemy planes, he would hold it up to the sky and clouds would gather to hide the escape party. Such is the power of Dorje Shugden’s blessings. And here in Sumtseling Monastery, thousands of pilgrims visit this protector chapel every year to supplicate Dorje Shugden’s blessings.
Other Protector Chapels within Sumtseling Monastery
Besides their main protector chapel, many lamaseries and khamtsens around Sumtseling Monastery have their own protector chapels for their resident lamas and monks to worship Dorje Shugden. This is how pervasive the Protector practice is in Gelugpa monasteries that follow the old tradition.
Yang Tang Khamtsen is renowned for having two of the most beautiful protector chapels in Sumtseling Monastery. The first protector chapel was built with hundreds of Dorje Shugden statues surrounding the chapel, while the second protector chapel was built with beautiful Ganze murals surrounding the walls of the Chapel.
The Ganze murals are painted as offerings of weapons and implements to the Protector, which is symbolic of fighting our negative karma and clearing our obstacles for our spiritual growth. Such symbolic offerings are very rare, and the existence of these murals speak volumes about the level of faith and reverence the monks of Sumtseling Monastery have for Dorje Shugden.
Ganden Sumtseling Monastery plays an important role today, not only in the preservation of the pure Gelugpa lineage but also in the important practice of Dorje Shugden as well as the rich tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Although the environment of the monastery appears to have become very commercial to attract tourists, many people who have visited the monastery have experienced and vouched for its effectiveness, especially in terms of their prayers being fulfilled in this monastery.
It is in monasteries such as Ganden Sumtseling Monastery that the pure lineage of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings will be safe guarded in the minds of the young monks and lamas that this monastery is nurturing. We at Dorjeshugden.com rejoice at the devotion and strength of the people in Shangri-La for continuing in the propitiation our great Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden.
General Information for Pilgrims
Ganden Sumtseling Monastery,
Shangri-La County, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture,
674400, Yunnan Province, China
Location: 5 km north of Shangri-La
Entrance donation: RMB 125
Visiting hours: 8.30 – 17.30
Transportation from Shangri-La:
- By foot: 1 hour walk. However, it is not advisable to walk on the road as it is narrow, winding and without sidewalks.
- By bus: Take Bus No. 3, it will bring you to the entrance of Sumtseling Monastery. Fee is RMB 1.
- By taxi: A taxi ride from Shangri-La to Sumtseling Monastery typically costs around RMB 20.
Best time to visit: Spring and Summer