Located on a ridge top above Pelling at a space of seven kilometers from Pemayangtse Monastery, Sang Ngag Choeling Monastery is a serene home to Vajrayana Buddhism in West Sikkim.
Its existence close to Sky Walk, one of the tourist attractions, has added a bonus to the historical significance of this ancient monastery.
In the sightseeing of West Sikkim, Sang Ngag Choeling Monastery comes next to Sky Walk.
Though the visitors would pass by the monastery on route Sky Walk, the travel guide or driver would hold it for the next destination.
The apparent reason may be to avoid hiking a steep hilly track that often leaves the visitors, particularly those from the plain areas, in a big doubt if they would ever reach the spot.
Thus a rather gentle passage, though kaccha, from the Sky Walk that directly leads to the monastery, is an easy path for the visitors who come from different geographical backgrounds.
Then, there may be another reason which seems more convincing here.
Visiting a serene place like Sang Ngag Monastery right after the awful skywalk seems a right choice for a calming sojourn of the frightened hearts.
Though this monastery lacks an opulent look in its outward display, it is rich in its tradition.
The silence prevailed in the monastery tells what we have to acquire first before we go for practicing dhamma.
And the prevalence of this essence of primordial dhamma teaching perhaps helped it retain the glory of being the oldest monastery in the state, Sikkim.
Probably it is the reason why Sang Ngag Choeling Monastery, the land of divine teaching as its name implies, is attracting both tourists and dhamma aspirants from across the world.
The monastery dates back to the 17th century.
Regarding the exact date of its occurrence, there is a difference of opinions.
According to the monastery records, it was built by Lama Lhatsun Chnepo Namkha Jigmee, one of the three pioneer Lamas of Sikkim, in 1642 which goes against the records of Gazetteer of Sikkim that says it was built in sometime between 1649 and 1651.
Then it was rebuilt in 1714 by 3rd Lhatsun Jigmee Pawo before it was finally renovated in 1966.
According to some sources, the monastery built by Lhatsun Chnepo Namkha Jigmee was set in fire.
Thus it can be speculated that the present monastery, which humbly showcases the material culture of Vajrayana Buddhism, has passed through quite a lot of ups and downs and, built and rebuilt.
That it has a glorious past can be inferred from the ruins of pagodas in the monastery premises.
The monastery is run by one abbot and his three assistants.
The present abbot is Nim Tshering Lama who has been living in the monastery since 1991.
A very soft-spoken humble person Tshering Lama showed a gesture of Namaste when the author introduced herself as an Assistant Professor.
For him, being spiritual does not imply superiority.
This he said when the author asked him why he should pay Namaste to a lay person like her.
His traits of humility, simplicity, and friendliness would move any person who visits the place.
When he was requested for a snapshot, he carefully kept the pieces of stuff he was carrying on a bench and just stood by the author.
He did not pay a second thought if the person is male or female. Indeed, he was beyond any sort who makes judgement or draws difference.
Perhaps maitri would be the best word to describe the whole ambiance of the monastery that seems to have permeated all its inmates. The inmates are very amiable which is often been concealed by their inability to communicate with the guests in other languages than Nepali.
The monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa order of Vajrayana Buddhism.
To keep alive the good tradition of this order, the abbot runs a school of Tibetan Buddhism in which around 20 novice monks are enrolled.
There are two teachers including the abbot. The school has been a means to serve a double purpose— to spread dhamma and to earn a livelihood.
Yes, the abbot said the salary they get from school is their permanent source of income, though at times, they receive fund or donation from Government and devotees.
Dhamma practices have ceremonial manifestations.
Like other monasteries in the world, this monastery also observes several religious ceremonies of which the most important one is Saka Dawa.
This festival is celebrated by the Buddhists across the world under different names, viz, Buddha Purnima, Buddha Jayanti, Vesak and so on.
Apart from it, they observe some religious rituals like Panglasol (in August) and Chhepachonga (in July), which the Theravada Buddhists observe as Ashari Purnima on the first day of Vassavasa or three months rainy retreats.
Again, they perform Guru Padmasambhava puja once in a month.
Visiting Sang Ngag Choeling Monastery would leave one with a deep understanding.
That the essence of dhamma can best be realized in silence is illustrated by it.
Again, real beauty and grandeur are not always manifest in exquisiteness. This unappealing oldest monastery of Sikkim reveals these truths.