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Top: The planned Surmang shedra. Sketch by Stanley Doctor, preliminary architectural plans by Steve Vosper.

Left: Chakrasamvara (wheel of supreme bliss) lama dancer at Surmang.

The Surmang Project

See the latest project updates here: NEWS

"I, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, spiritual and temporal head of the Shambhala Mandala, am completely committed to the development of Surmang..."
–Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

"I hold fewer aspirations dearer in my heart than the rebuilding of Surmang, the spiritual home of the Shambhala mandala." –Lady Diana Mukpo

"My first endeavor on my return to Surmang was to carry out the last wish of the tenth Trungpa Tulku and to enlarge the seminary [shedra]..."
–Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Surmang is one of the poorest regions in the world.  People here have an average annual income of $50. Mothers die in childbirth at one hundred times the rate of women elsewhere in China, on average. Fewer than two out of every three babies born survive infancy.

Despite the extraordinary hardship they face, the remarkable earthiness, kindness and cheerfulness of the people of eastern Tibet astonishes even the most callous among us, particularly considering the suffering they have endured over the last four decades. These people are as hardy and forgiving as humanly possible.

  The Konchok Foundation is endeavoring to meet the spiritual and cultural needs of the people, which are central to their traditional way of life.

The Konchok Foundation is directing all its initial efforts to support the education of the Twelfth Trungpa Tulku (the successor to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Surmang) and to build a Shedra, a monastic college for the community.

The Surmang shedra is known as Surmang Düdtsi-til. It was part of the complex of monasteries of Surmang until the destruction of much of the site in the 1950s. Today, Surmang Düdtsi-til remains one of the poorest monasteries in Tibet. Most of the other monasteries have teachers either in the West or in Asia who raise funds for the ongoing construction and upkeep of their respective monasteries in Tibet. Surmang Düdtsi-til has no such benefactors.

In addition to the pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Surmang, the preservation of their spiritual tradition is extraordinarily important to them. The project to rebuild the Surmang Düdtsi-til shedra goes to the very heart of their aspirations.

History of the project

  • In 2001, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche visited Surmang to meet the Twelfth Trungpa Tulku and pledge his support for Surmang. In a special ceremony, he was formally entrusted with responsibility for the monasteries and their people. Following this visit, together with Lady Diana Mukpo, the widow of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, he established the Konchok Foundation – named in honor of his mother, Lady Konchok Palden.
  • In 2002, Lady Diana Mukpo, who holds the title Sakyong Wangmo, visited Surmang. She was accorded rare honors by the religious leaders of Surmang, becoming the first woman to be seated on a traditional teaching throne. Her visit enabled her to hold on-site talks with the Surmang leaders and discuss detailed plans for the future work that will be needed. She was accompanied by her husband, Dr. Mitchell Levy, one of the Acharyas of the Shambhala Mandala.
  • In 2003, the Konchok Foundation sent a technical team to Surmang in 2003, headed by Bob King, the project manager for The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, to explore the construction requirements. The team included John Neiwhorner, a water engineer, to evaluate needs for a water system.
  • In 2004, architect’s plans were commissioned and the artist’s rendering of the new shedra seen here.

Click image to enlarge

Sketch by Stanley Doctor.
Preliminary rchitectural plans by Steve Vosper.


In 2004, The Konchok Foundation raised the first $75,000 required to begin the construction of the Shedra.

The funds that we raised were sent to The Surmang Khenpo in Tibet.  Khenpo is our on-site project manager, providing overview and coordination for the project, including procurement of materials, allocation of funds, record keeping and managing relations with local officialdom.

At the request of the President of Shambhala, Marvin Ross was at Surmang for the summer. Marv, a long-time member of the Shambhala community, was the English speaking link to Khenpo and the construction process there. One of his jobs was to provide us with documentation, and since he is a terrific photographer, we can enjoy his work on this website.

See the latest project updates here  (NEWS)

The master plan for building the Shedra and school at Surmang includes three phases:

Phase One: Planning and Fund Raising

The initial planning phase was completed in May 2004, and construction began at Surmang in early June 2004. Crews began excavation for the foundation of the Shedra. This spring's fundraising campaign was very successful, and fund raising will continue until the Shedra is complete.

Some aspects of the planning will be continuous. For example, at this time there is a team working on heat and moisture issues concerning the chosen materials of construction (concrete blocks made on site.) They are researching the availability of insulation for the roof, walls, and foundation, and other alternative and feasible construction methods.

This team includes:

  • Steve Vosper, the architect who worked with Khenpo and Bob and Lindy King in developing the Shedra plans.
  • Paul Shippee, an engineer who worked with the concrete company in Colorado in developing the concrete formula for The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya and who has been in contact with this company's branch in China, concerning the shedra.
  • David Garrett, an architect in Halifax who is very dedicated to Surmang, and who is also helping with fund raising.
  • Bill Semple, an architect and builder with considerable expertise and experience working in Tibet on various projects.

Before Marv Ross left for Surmang, Paul Shippee gave him a "Concrete 101" crash course, so that Marv could supervise concrete quality control. This is a key issue in the construction process anywhere, and especially in Tibet, where the building sites are generally remote and techniques are different.

Phase Two: Construction

With Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche's blessings, Khenpo went to Tibet in early January 2004 to retain a contractor. The contractor, Mr. Wong, is married to a Tibetan woman who is a distant relative of Khenpo. (It seems most Tibetans in that part of the world are somehow related to Khenpo!) The contractor's wife is also a student of one of Khenpo's teachers in Jyekundo. The Wongs live in Jyekundo, the closest city and a ten hour jeep ride from Surmang.

Construction of the Shedra as of October 2004.

Marv Ross worked with Khenpo and the contractor this summer to refine the plans for future construction, and to help determine the upcoming construction costs. Khenpo collaborated with the contractor to establish a building plan, including the purchase and transport of all the materials needed for construction.

The costs for the Shedra are assessed on a per square meter fee, which includes the equipment and workers, but does not include supplies. We are responsible for purchasing materials and supplies. Khenpo has purchased truckloads of concrete and rebar for the foundation, and arranged for their transport from Xining to Surmang. This is a long and difficult trip that can take two or three days. This process will have to be repeated many, many times, and Khenpo has been working hard to get as much material transported at one time as possible, since this is a very costly aspect of the project.

Members of the work crew making the concrete blocks used for building the shedra's outer walls. Photo by Marv Ross.

Each building season the contractor will accomplish whatever he can, given the difficult local conditions, and the relatively short building season. Much of this will be determined by the funds available from here, and, of course, conditions on the ground there. This is much the same as the construction for the Great Stupa at Shambhala Mountain Center.

On June 4, 2004 there was a big opening lhasang (purification ceremony). The contractor and crew then broke ground on the Shedra. A few days later, Marv reported light snow, with a white dusting on the hills. At that time, 25 Chinese workers were digging the foundation by hand. Marv calls them "human back hoes." They have been digging a foundation trench around the whole compound perimeter that will house the monks‚ quarters. Also, under the lhakang, or the main shrine hall, they have been digging 8' x 8' by 4' deep foundation pylons. At that time Marv reported there were about nine foundation pylons across the back side of the lhakang. More will be added according to the load requirements. The contractor now has a concrete mixing apparatus on site. As there is no electricity at Surmang, the cement mixer is operated by an electric generator.

The Chinese workers are staying in a house that has been rented for them and they eat outside. There is an outdoor stove they have made of mud and cement. There are many local Tibetans also employed at the site. They drive up the valley in trucks, and bring back great loads of rocks. These rocks will be broken into different sizes for foundation holes and the concrete mix. Khenpo has spread the word throughout the area about the need for labor, so some of the Tibetans are local, and some are coming from nearby areas. There is a growing sense of local pride in the project. Khenpo is quite happy with our progress so far, and he keeps up good relations with all!

Phase Three: Completion

Bob King's original cost projection for this entire project was $750,000 total, which included furnishings and art work. This estimate was based on Bob and Lindy's data gathered from their research about other monastery construction projects they visited in Tibet last summer.   (Due to increased prices of labor and materials in China, the current estimate is $1,000,000 total.)  Bob and Lindy went to Benchen Monastery, recently built by Tenga Rinpoche, and Dzogchen Monastery, which was in its completion stage last summer. The monastic complex at Dzogchen is very beautiful, and was used as the model for the Surmang Shedra. Both projects used similar materials, including the concrete block made on site.

There are about 31 double rooms planned for the Shedra, and a few larger ones. There will also be rooms for assistant khenpos, and of course, suites for Trungpa Rinpoche and for the head Khenpo and their attendants. All of the living quarters will all have little yak dung fueled stoves. There will be about 70 monks housed in the Shedra compound initially.

At present, there are about 120 monks at Surmang at this time, and around 60 of these will attend the Shedra. There will also be monks coming from the surrounding region. There is existing housing at Surmang, so more can be accommodated if necessary.

The proposed site of the new shedra building is located near the center of this photograph, close to the blue trucks.

Our aim is also to help support the operation of the shedra by providing scholarships for the tulkus, monks and other participants.

This huge project will take approximately five to seven years to complete fully. This time-frame is based on the technical study carried out by Bob King on behalf of the Konchok Foundation, and the recent obstacles caused by the harsh Tibetan winters,  price increases and the turbulence in China surrounding the 2008 Olympics.

See the latest project updates here(NEWS)

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