Ganden Sumtseling Monastery

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.

Sumtseling from a distance

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.

A tourist spot – as well as being a principal monastery that has sent hundreds of Dharma teachers into the world, Sumtseling has also drawn scores of Buddhist devotees in pilgrimage. Pilgrims visiting the monastery do not require a Tibet travel permit, as the monastery is located on Chinese land


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 main entrance into Ganden Sumtseling Monastery. Behind this gate is the 146-step staircase leading to the main prayer hall

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.

An antique drawing of the 5th Dalai Lama and Emperor Shunxi. The good relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Qing Emperors continued on to Emperor Kangxi


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.

An image of an oracle of Dorje Shugden in trance at an altar in the 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

Dorje Shugden thangka in Ganden Sumtseling’s main 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.

The sword that was bent by the oracle of Dorje Shugden in trance is kept in Za Lu Ja protector chapel

The oracular costumes of Namkar Barzin and Kache Marpo in Za Lu Ju chapel


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.

Yang Tang khamtsen’s first Protector chapel, famous for its hundreds of Dorje Shugden statues

The hundreds of Dorje Shugden statues in Yang Tang khamtsen’s first Protector chapel

A closer look at Yang Tang khamtsen’s first Protector chapel, famous for its hundreds of Dorje Shugden statues

Entrance to Yang Tang khamtsen’s second Protector chapel

Yang Tang khamtsen’s second chapel with a Dorje Shugden statue and beautiful Ganze mural around it

Ganze murals painted all around the second 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.

Chatreng khamtsen’s Protector chapel

A closer look at main image in Chagtreng khamtsen’s Protector chapel

Dorje Shugden statues wrapped in a golden khata inside Chatreng khamtsen’s Protector chapel

Dong Wang khamtsen’s Protector chapel. A traditional chapel such as this would cover Dorje Shugden’s face with seven-coloured brocade

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 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:

  1. By foot: 1 hour walk. However, it is not advisable to walk on the road as it is narrow, winding and without sidewalks.
  2. By bus: Take Bus No. 3, it will bring you to the entrance of Sumtseling Monastery. Fee is RMB 1.
  3. By taxi: A taxi ride from Shangri-La to Sumtseling Monastery typically costs around RMB 20.

Best time to visit: Spring and Summer


Additional images:

The path that leads to the main hall and other chapels, as seen from the main entrance

The main hall (gompa) of Gaden Sumtseling Monastery

A statue of Lama Tsongkhapa in long life form (Je Tse Zin Ma) is the main image in Gaden Sumtseling’s main hall

Left: Gaden Sumtseling’s Manjushri chapel. Right: Dorje Shugden chapel of Chatreng khamtsen

The beautiful central image in Gaden Sumtseling’s Manjushri chapel

His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s throne in one of the khamtsens of Gaden Sumtseling Monastery

A statue of the great Fifth Dalai Lama who composed prayers to Dorje Shugden, and even made a statue of Shugden with his own hands

Emperor Kangxi, said to be an emanation of Red Manjushri, who financed and personally oversaw the construction of Gaden Sumtseling Monastery. According to the prophecy of Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen, and the writings of Sumpa Khenpo, Emperor Kangxi was the reincarnation of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen

According to the famous Mongolian scholar Lobsang Tamdin (1867-1937), the Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570–1662) made a prediction of the future incarnation of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen with the following verse,

After this in the future in the Eastern City,
Disciples of Manjushri’s pureland will increase,
Then in the tribal regions the Dark Land,
Completely light the lamp of dharma,
In short with thoughts of love and compassion,
Perfectly accomplish others’ purpose to greatly benefit beings.

The scholar Lobsang Tamdin explained the meaning of this prophecy is that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen took rebirth as the Qing Emperor of China, Kangxi. In addition to that, an entry in Sumpa Khenpo’s Chronology of Tibet for the Wood Sheep year (1655-1656) states, “The Kangxi Emperor is born and becomes famous as the reincarnation of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen.”

According to historical records, the Emperor Kangxi was the longest ruling emperor in Chinese history. He was also considered one of China’s greatest and most benevolent emperors. Kangxi’s reign brought about long-term stability and relative wealth after years of war and chaos of the earlier Qing dynasty. His reign was also known as the “Prosperous Era of Kangxi and Qianlong”, which lasted for generations after his own lifetime. He also initiated the construction of many temples and monasteries throughout China and was known to have been a disciple and patron of Hutukhtu Jetsun Damba, who is also known as Zanabazar.

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7 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Dear Admin, DS Practitioners and Pro HHDL Supporters…

    What an inspiration to see that with so many obstacles DS practice when pure from the practitioners side Dharma continues to Benefit…in any place it seems that students have affinity to DS to receive blessings in this case a commercial place still benefits.

    DS practice inside Tibet…China and Around the World…Thank you Admin for keeping our DS practitioners informed from every corner of the World.

    This website grows from strength to strength…and more so in this past year!

    Congratulations DS.COM you are truly the web that binds us all from many backgrounds, cultures and countries…without which we would be in darkness..sidelined it seems but now we are individual parts in an Ocean of Dharma, that is DS practice.

    Lin Cassidy

  2. This s an awesome article without which I would be ignorant of such a grand and beneficial monastery where the practices of Lama Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden are very much alive and flourishing. Thank you, admin.

  3. Does anyone know who the Tulkus are for this monastery.

    I think one is Panglung Rinpoche who lives in Germany.

  4. I am awed by how well preserved the practice of Dorje Shugden is in Sumtseling Monastery. I rejoice to see the many Buddha images of Dorje Shugden in various chapels in the monastery.

    I pray that more monasteries that uphold the pure lineage will arise and be preserved and respected so that gems like this will continue to exist in our world and provide a sanctuary of peace for all sentient beings.

  5. This is one fantastic website. So much work, research and expenses invested so thousands of us can get information and knowledge daily. Thank you all for your work.

  6. It is awesome to see such a beautiful Monastery. It is also heart warming to know that CTA will never be able to touch nor have influence on this monastery as it is not in Tibet.

    May such beautiful Monasteries attract millions of people who on going for the interest of tourism still be blessed by Dorje Shugden and leave imprints for their practice and be benefitted.

    Thank you for such an interesting write up on the history of Ganden Sumtseling Monastery and Emperor Kangxi, an incarnate of Tulku Drakpa Gyalsten. Amazing knowledge to acquire.

  7. Thank you for the post as the monastery looks so nice. And also glad to know the lineage is carry on purely at this monastery. I wish one day may travel to this holy place to pay a visit.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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