History of the monastery

The Phajoding monastery site was founded in the 13 th  Century by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1184-1251), the Tibetan lama who spread the Drukpa Kagyu teachings of Buddhism in Bhutan and known as the ‘current of compassion’. It is one of the most sacred meditational sites in Bhutan.

Pha-jo and the Phajoding site are steeped in profound religious significance that resonates strongly with the Bhutanese people in their popular folklore culture and memories. The significance of the preservation of this site and its Buddhist traditions is inestimable.

Pha-jo was born in Eastern Tibet in the province of Kham. His birth was surrounded by the characteristic signs following the birth of a highly advanced being. At the age of seven he commenced his monastic studies and at age twelve he was sent to the renowned Nyingmapa master Thar-pa-ling-pa where he received the full set of Nying-ma teachings. Soon afterwards he heard of the teachings of the Druk-pa founder Tsang-pa-gary whom he felt drawn to meet. On his journey to meet him, Tsang-pa-gary passed away however prior to his passing he had a vision that a man from Kham would arrive and spread the teachings of the Druk-pas (which was based on the Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa) in the “Southern Lands” which is present day Bhutan.

At age forty, Pha-jo arrived in Bhutan where he stayed for twenty-eight years until his death at Tango hermitage, which is now an imposing Dzong near the capital city of Thimphu. His arrival was seen as a threat to the hegemony of the ruling party and conflict ensued with Pha-jo employing magical devices and techniques to settle the dispute in his favour to become the ruler of the Western part of Bhutan.

Pha-jo, during a meditation at Taksang (Tigers Nest Monastery in Paro) had a vision where he was told by Guru Rinpoche that he should establish four fortresses (dzongs), four hermitages (phug) and four cliff top meditation sites (drag), which he achieved during his lifetime. Along side Tango Monastery near Thimphu, the meditation site known as Thugs-je-drag (Thuji Lhakhang) above the present day Phajoding Monastery is considered to bare the most spiritual significance for Buddhists out of the twelve sacred sites that he established.

Thuji Lhakang near the cliff where Phajo meditated and where the drub chu still flows

It was at this site where Phajo underwent a one month meditation and at the end of this meditation he had a vision of Chenrezig; the Buddha of compassion. In order to ascertain whether his teachings would spread across the whole of Bhutan it is said that he placed his walking stick into the cliff face where he meditated and if his teachings were to spread, water would emerge from the rock face, which it subsequently did. This sacred water known as ‘drub chu’ is still flowing from the cliff face and is famous throughout the whole of Bhutan for curing people with speech impediments.

Most of the buildings at Phajoding however were constructed in 1748 by Gyelwa Shakya Rinchen (1710-1759), the 9 th Je Khenpo (rje mkhan po) who is considered to be the reincarnation of Rechungpa, the heart disciple of Milarepa. His reincarnation is currently studying at the Nalanda Buddhist Institute in Punakha in central Bhutan.