May 9, 2013
On May 7, 2013, Kathok monastery in Derge (Kham) caught on fire. Contrary to earlier reports, it was not burned down to the ground: According to Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), which has been in contact with the monastery, the extent of the fire was exaggerated. TBRC reports that a fire did break out in the apartment of one of the Lamas. Apparently, the Kathok edition of the Nyingma Kama is safe. It has not been determined whom or what started the fire. As of yet, there is no information on injuries or fatalities.
Having said that, the photos that were forward to me, would seem to indicate that there was considerable damage to the building -- certainly more than one apartment is seen in flames. This needs to be further clarified.I will add details about injuries and damage, as it becomes available.
Kathok Monastery is listed in various enumerations as one of the six principal Nyingma monasteries, one of the main lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also where, historically, one of the most important printing presses in Tibet operated, printing sacred texts and thangka line-drawings from huge woodblocks.
The Kathok Gonpa main monastery, (Kathok Dorje Den), is over 840 years old. It was established sometime around 1159-1162 c.e.. The monastery’s founder was Kathok Kadampa Deshek, (1112-1192 c.e.) Among his immediate successors were Tsangtun Dorje and Jampabum.
After centuries of carrying on the lineage, in the seventeenth century, the great treasure revealer, Ringdzin Duddul Dorje and his disciple, Vajradara Longsal Ningpo renewed the energies of the great lineage. Of the many great disciples of Duddul Dorje, Kunsang Sherab began Payul Monastery, which later on became a very important lineage in Nyingma tradition. Another follower, Pema Ringzen, created the Dzogchen monastery.
Perhaps Kathok’s greatest master, however, was the treasure revealer, Longsal Nyingpo. According to tradition, through his past life connections with Guru Rinpoche, (and as Guru Rinpoche prophesized), Longsal Nyinpo revealed many sacred texts and substances and carried on the lineage accordingly. It is widely believed that on the original spot where Kathok Gonpa is located, Guru Rinpoche and his 25 disciples practiced for 25 days and consecrated the ground 13 times. There are many miraculous signs there such as the handprints and footprints of Guru Rinpoche in solid rock. Also, the great translator, Vairotsana, when he was exiled to Gyarong, practiced at the future site of Kathok Gonpa for one month.
According to The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre, disciples of Kenpo Munsel and Kenpo Jamyang at Katok Monastery in 1999 compiled a Katok edition of the 'Kama' (Wylie: bka' ma shin tu rgyas pa (kaH thog)) in 120 volumes: "...twice the size of the Dudjom edition, it contains many rare Nyingma treatises on Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga that heretofore had never been seen outside of Tibet."
I had the privilege of visiting Kathok monastery in 2001, just as its famous woodblock printing operation was getting back into full swing -- after the horrendous destruction and vandalism of Mao’s 1960s “Cultural Revolution”. The burning of the building would be a great loss to Tibetan Buddhist practitioners worldwide.