SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.17 (2021)

Transformation of Tibetan Buddhism Religious
Institutions in Qinghai Province, China:

Case Study of the Tshal Rnga Monastery, the Tho le Monastery,
and the Spyang Rtse Sgar Kha Temple in Guinan County


Department of Regional Studies, School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

Qinghai Province, Amdo Tibetan, religious institutions, supporting villages, regular ritual services, doctrinal philosophy

The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between Tibetan Buddhist temples (dgon pa) and their supporting villages (lha sde) in the Amdo Tibetan region and the changes in the relationship between the temples and villages after the relocation of the villages as a result of the construction of Longyangxia Dam. This paper takes the case of reconstruction of Buddhist institutions as an example using ethnographic descriptions.

Bon skor, an agro-pastoral village, is located on banks of the Yellow river in Bya mdo township, Guinan County. When the Longyangxia Dam was constructed in 1976, the villagers experienced relocations twice due to the submergence of the village. Along with their relocation, Buddhist monasteries/temples, mausoleums, and shrines of mountain gods, which were important places for the villagers, were also necessarily relocated. It is indispensable to elucidate the biographies of the high monks, who guide villagers in their religious activities, the histories of the temples and the relationships between temples and villages in order to discuss the relocation and transformation of religious institutions caused by the construction of the dam, and its impact on the villagers’ Buddhist beliefs.

In this paper, three Tibetan Buddhist temples that have been deeply involved in the religious activities of the villagers are discussed as case studies: (1) Tshal rnga monastery, which was rebuilt and continued regular ritual services (grong chog), (2) Tho le monastery, the most developed training center, which adopted the latest educational system and doctrinal philosophy (mtshan nyid), and (3) Spyang rtse sgar kha temple, which was not rebuilt.

The following two points are clarified from comparative studies of the respective temples, including the backgrounds and reasons for reconstruction or non-reconstruction, the current function of the temples, the relationship between the temples and the villages, and the rise and decline of the temple. First, in order to rebuild a temple, the involvement of former monks and reincarnation lamas in initiating and implementation of the reconstruction is essential, and psychological and material support from villagers are necessary. Second, it is revealed that the rise and decline of a temple after reconstruction depends on whether the temple can respond flexibly to the villagers wish to maintain regular ritual services in the context of the larger social changes.