The following descriptions have been adapted from Quintman and Schaeffer, “The Life of the Buddha at Rtag brtan Phun tshogs gling Monastery in Text, Image, and Institution: A Preliminary Overview.” Journal of Tibetology 13 (2016): 32-73.

Jonang Phuntsokling Monastery

Project on the narratives of Śākyamuni Buddha’s life based on materials produced by the sixteenth/seventeenth-century polymath Kunga Nyingpo (Kun dga’ snying po), better known as Tāranātha (1575-1634), at Takten Phuntsokling Monastery in the Tsang region of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Tāranātha’s construction of Phuntsokling began in the wood-rabbit year of 1615.

Phuntsokling Monastery, 2011.

Phuntsokling Monastery Complex, DigitalGlobe, 2008.

The site would grow to become an extensive complex. It eventually included a central building with a 36-pillared assembly hall that served as the monastery’s primary ritual space, surrounded by numerous smaller temples and monastic residences, as well as a walled fortress atop the nearby ridge.

1. The Great Central Assembly Hall. After Zongtse 1977.

Tāranātha was renowned for his polymathic literary output, which covered philosophical exegeses, commentary on tantric theory and practice, Buddhist history, as well as the narrative literature addressed below. His seat at Phuntsokling, which became an epicenter of the Jonang tradition in Tibet, remains a veritable treasure house of Buddhist material culture, perhaps most clearly witnessed in its expansive religious murals.

We suggest that Tāranātha championed Śākyamuni Buddha as a major motif at Phuntsokling in order to form a powerful organizing principle that would bind distinct spaces, practices, imagery, and intellectual traditions within a relatively unified whole. We refer to this work as a “Buddha Program:” The Buddha serves as the focus for a wide range of narrative, poetic, and ritual texts within his collected works, including The Sun of Faith and the Painting Manual. He is found on all three floors of the Central Building: the assembly hall, the Boundless Array circuit, and the Akaniṣṭha chapel. We likewise find repeated convergences between texts and images: The Boundless Array murals illustrate story of The Sun of Faith in vivid detail, while the Painting Manual serves to help translate the literary into a visual field. The sādhana of the Seven Hero Buddhas brings into a ritual sphere the monastery’s primary religious iconography of the Seven Tathāgatas. The massive Buddha images of the central assembly hall evokes the canonical scriptures that serve as a foundation for Phuntsokling’s religious transmissions. The Buddha’s life becomes a repeated theme in which the Buddha is represented in multiple ways: teaching the fundamental texts of the monastery’s religious tradition; travelling in India within an extended narrative replete with hundreds of characters; existing as but one of many buddhas of past and present cosmic eons; anchoring the institution as a powerful and miraculous statue connected to the formation of the Tibetan empire; and living his life once again near (in visual terms, at least) the realm that forms the summit of material existence in Buddhist cosmology.

5. Boundless Array Circuit (bkod pa mtha’ yas khor yug). After Zongtse 1977.