Kathok Monastery is situated at 4800 meters above sea level in the middle of Mount Do-Nian at Bai Long Gou (White Dragon Channel) in Ho Po region of Bai Yu (White Jade) County, at the west of Sze Chuan Province in China. A huge white stone with a naturally formed Tibetan letter ‘Ga’ is found at the site of the monastery and this is how the monastery got its name. Tibetan Buddhism spread into Kathok region in Bai Yu County during the time of King Trisong Detsen.
According to historical records, Guru Padmasambhava and his entourage of king and officials had stayed there to practise for 25 days. Guru Padmasambhava even consecrated the place 13 times. Their holy hand-and-foot prints and magical transformations made Kathok holy site as unique and supreme as Guru Padmasambhava’s pureland, Oddiyana. In 755 AD, when Great Translator, Vairochana came to Gyalrong, he practised at Kathok for one month and gave teachings to his fated disciples. The remains of the stupa he built to pin down the demon limbs are still there. In the historical records, during the time of Chinese Emperor, Tang Xuanzong, Kathok already has the Longevity and Cleansing ritual and practice method.
In 1159 AD (Tibetan Calendar, Third Cycle, Year of Earth Rabbit), manifestation of Manjushri – Tampa Deshe, the heart disciple of Great Accomplished Root Lineage Master of the old translations of Nyingma Sutra, Illusion and Mind, Zang Zhuo Wei Gonpo, came to the holy site where Great Translator Vairochana once practised and built the first Kham monastery there; Kathok Monastery is the base for the teaching and practising of sutra and tantra. Possessing six supreme and unique Nyingma features, Kathok Dorje Den, the source for the old translations of great Nyingma esoteric teachings is also known as The Supreme Holy Place of the Snowy Lands – The Second Immovable Vajra Seat (The top Vajra Seat is in Bodhgaya, India where Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment, the bottom Vajra Seat is in Mount Wu Tai, China – Manjushri Bodhisattva’s place of practice, the middle Vajra Seat is at Kathok – Guru Padmasambhava’s place of practice).
According to historical records, Yuan Dynasty Master Yi Xi Beng Pa was an unsurpassed talent with unobstructed attainments; Sakya’s 5th throne holder – Drogon Chogyal Phagpa (Ba Si Ba) became his disciple when he passed by Kathok Monastery on his way to Beijing. He wrote with awe, “Collection of Nyingma’s unsurpassed essence of esoteric teachings, Kathok Monastery’s Abbot in the east – Master Yi Xi Beng Pa, is like the rays of billion suns shinning on the great land.” Based on Nyingma Kathok’s Dharma tradition, a grand puja will be held on the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava on the 10th of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar every year. During the time of Master Yi Xi Beng Pa, 180 000 monks donned in crimson robes would gather in Kathok and its surrounding hill slopes, like a sea of red shinning through the sky, they would recite the sutra in one voice. This grand scene of majestic moments became a much-told tale on the two lands of India and Tibet.
When Kathok Monastery was occupied by evil demons, Ning Gong Lama Sang Jie Zha Xi stayed behind alone to practice and eventually dispelled the demons. After that, he received Kathok’s doctrines and ear-whispered teachings from terton Longsar Nyingpo and the other masters. Then, he continued to spread the teachings and accumulated incomparable meritorious virtues.
Famous terton, Longsar Nyingpo was born in 1625 AD in Gang Bo holy land near Zha Wa region. He met Kathok’s great accomplished master Drubwang Tenpa Gyatso when he was a child and received the ripening transmission of Kathok’s teachings from him. He was also given the Dharma name Wang Zha Jia Cuo. In the trunk of Ke Mi Jiu Dorje (meaning Unchanged Vajra Mountain) were treasures that belong to him; 17 esoteric Tibetan Dharma texts with Longsar Dorje Nyingpo (Bright Clear Scene Vajra Treasure) as the beginning text, Buddha statues, stupa and all sorts of holy items were all uncovered gradually. Throughout his whole life, Longsar Nyingpo played an active role in bringing prosperity to Kathok Monastery; his great feat is worthy of our remembrance, respect and honour.
The third reincarnation of Zhi Mei Xin Xiong Khenpo was invited into the royal palace around the period 1686-1746 AD by Emperor Kangxi and was conferred the title of Royal Advisor. The Emperor personally presented him a royal crown, a carriage with four windows, a full set of palace guards of honour, musical instruments and gifts – a total of 19 items, an expression of his high respect for him. Zhi Mei Xin Xiong Khenpo organised the printing of sutra – using pure gold to write the “Great Treasury of Sutra” or “Tripitaka”. This is the first sutra printing temple that appeared in Bai Yu region.
In 1760 AD, during the time of Kathok’s first incarnation Ge Ze great pandita Gong Qin Ji Mei Cai Wang Que Zhu, his disciple Zhang Jia Living Buddha was invited into the royal palace by Emperor Yongzheng to be his royal advisor. The first incarnation, Ge Ze Rinpoche made detailed notes on the existing old sutra, vinaya, abhidharma and Nyingma’s books of the continuation section; he engraved them for preservation and wrote commentaries to prove that they are real. The pagoda he was in-charged of constructing for Zhi Mei Xin Xiong was renowned as “An Ornament in the Snow Mountain”. His third reincarnation Ge Ban Wu Jin Qie Ji Jian Can practised and attained the state of no-obstacle. The sutra printing temple he was in-charged of building has a collection of more than 7000 titles and over 60 000 books; it was the sutra printing temple with the largest collection of books and the greatest scale in the region of Kham then.
During the 10 years of upheaval in China, Kathok’s original Sutra Hall, Esoteric Deities Hall, Practise and Learning Hall, Sutra Printing Temple, Meditation Retreat Centre and monk’s living quarters were so badly damaged that they were almost in ruins. After the unrest, all the Living Buddhas and Sangha members of the monastery came and worked hard together, and after 10 years, they have basically completed rebuilding the monastery. Tibetan-style wood carvings were used as the building material and the life of Buddha Shakyamuni and Jataka stories were painted on the four walls. Different stately Root Deities, Buddha images and stupas were placed in the halls for offering. The current Kathok Monastery’s Practise and Learning Hall has over 400 learning monks and there are five Meditation Retreat Centres that nurture batches and batches of highly talented monks. Today’s Kathok Monastery is already a Buddhist holy site of considerable scale.
Guru Padmasambhava had personally blessed Kathok thirteen times, thus enabling the holy site to have the five types of perfection: shelter, time, master, disciple and Dharma. With this beginning fate, Kathok’s Dharma began to be passed down for many generations, the Esoteric Trinity (Avalokitesvara, Manjusri and Vajrapani) were manifested as many deities coming back to fulfil their vows: “Kathok’s Thirteen Supreme Masters Genealogy”, “Kathok’s Thirteen Zhong Ba Genealogy”, “Kathok’s Thirteen Mocha Genealogy”, “Kathok’s Generations of Khenpo Genealogy”, “Kathok’s Terton Masters and Disciples”, “Kathok’s Generations of Reincarnated Rinpoches” and Kathok’s thirteen volumes of sutra containing tips for The Great Perfection were completely passed down till now. Today, Kathok’s Dharma propagation is widespread; it has 108 branches of big monasteries and 1002 branches of small monasteries worldwide; masters of its lineage are widely distributed over Asia, Europe, North America and other parts of the world.
From the time of Tampa Deshek, more than 800 years ago to the present time of Ya La Bai Ma Deng Du, those who relied upon the unique Kathok’s esoteric practices of the Dzogchen Zuktor Sangwai Mengag, Dzogchen Semde Deun Poa and 13 other great volumes of precious teachings, and attained the highest enlightened stage of Rainbow-body at the Vajra Seat of Kathok, numbered 100 000. No other monastery in the world can beat this, thus it truly deserves to be called the number one monastery in Tibet region which has the perfect teachings and attainments. Kathok Monastery is one of the three largest sects (Kathok, Dzogchen and Palyul) of Nyingmapa Lineage; it has the longest history, deepest and widest spread of Dharma as well as the greatest and furthest influence, thus it is called the Nyingmapa Mother Monastery.