Nezang Monastery was perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the village of Thokar, in Kham, Eastern Tibet. At its centre stood a temple large enough to hold some two hundred people. On the walls hung many thankas, intricate religious paintings mounted on silk. A shrine stood at one end illuminated by butter lamps, which threw their light onto a row of silver offering bowls and onto the faces of the Buddhas, Past Present and Future. The monastery consisted of two main temple-halls, living quarters for the two Tulkus, (reincarnated Lamas, custodians and teachers of a specific lineage of practice and heads of the monastery), 50 monks, kitchens, a dining hall and two small retreat houses. As with many Tibetan monasteries the written histories have been destroyed or lost during the difficult times but, based on circumstantial evidence, it is estimated to have been founded around the 16th century.
Tibetan monasteries played, and still do play, an important role within the community. Until 1959 monastic life was the only access to education and, in a country in which there were neither hospitals,
undertakers nor a public health care service, these responsibilities fell to the monasteries. The relationship between monastery and laity was by no means restricted to times of stress and sorrow; the Tibetan calendar is filled with religious festivals and happy celebrations.
Nezang is the monastery to which the lama Ato Rinpoche belongs, where he lived and trained from the age of eight. In 1959 Ato Rinpoche left for India. Shortly after, the monastery was completely destroyed. In 1985, when at last it become possible to enter Tibet, Ato Rinpoche found that Ge-ge Chösar, the only monk remaining from the old days was living alone in the ruins of the Monastery. For this devotion to his calling he was widely respected by the local villagers. Having obtained permission from the central government, Rinpoche set about the restoration of Nezang. This has involved not only rebuilding the fabric but also giving teachings and initiations to the next generation of monks at Nezang and other monasteries in the area.
All Images © Rinchen Lucy 2016