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date: 07 October 2022

Nechung: A Tibetan Buddhist Oraclelocked

Nechung: A Tibetan Buddhist Oraclelocked

  • Christopher BellChristopher BellReligious Studies, Stetson University


The Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Nechung (Gnas chung) is home to a powerful protector deity and historically housed the human oracle he would possess to give prophetic advice. Located on the outskirts of the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and downhill from the famous Geluk (Dge lugs) monastery of Drepung (’Bras spungs), Nechung has existed since at least the 16th century and had close ties to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas since the second incarnation. It is the Nechung Oracle, possessed by the deity Pehar (Pe har) or his ministerial emanation Dorjé Drakden (Rdo rje grags ldan), that the Dalai Lama has consulted on matters of state for centuries and continues to do so as part of his government-in-exile. This deity is likewise important for having once been the guardian of Tibet’s first Buddhist monastery, Samyé (Bsam yas). However, it was under the auspices of the Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century that Nechung Monastery was renovated and greatly expanded, and the Nechung Oracle took on the mantle of Tibet’s head state oracle. Nechung’s narrative and liturgical pedigree nonetheless extends back even to the 12th century and includes Nyingma (Rnying ma) and Sakya (Sa skya) influences that have allowed it to maintain an especially ecumenical character. As the institutional setting for rich mythic and ritual activity for nearly 500 years, Nechung is an important site for understanding Tibetan oracular practices, the Dalai Lama’s administration, and Tibet’s vibrant religious heritage.


  • Buddhism

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