After its founding in 1685, Dzogchen grew from a small monastery into a major institution within the Nyingma tradition, one of the six major seats of the Nyingma lineage. Soon after its founding, Dzogchen became involved in continuing and preserving the Buddhist teachings in Tibet. For example, in the early eighteenth century, the monastery encouraged the King of Derge to establish a treasury and printing press for the preservation of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Many sadhana practices and instruction in rituals were established. A retreat center was established, providing numerous retreatants the opportunity to accomplish meditative and liturgical activities.
Dzogchen quickly became involved in the establishment of an educational and religious infrastructure in the region. Centers were established for the study of sutra and tantra and the Kama tradition. Many texts of the New and Old translation schools of tantras were printed, which were used both in Dzogchen and in other lineages of dharma. In the first part of the nineteenth century, the Shri Singha monastic college was founded, which was to become perhaps the most influential academy in the Nyingma lineage. The practice of Bumdrup Chenmo (widely known as the Konchok Chidu Practice of Peaceful and Wrathful Guru Rinpoche, including the Lion-Face Dakini) and the Tsechu tantric dances of Lama Sangwa Düpa were instituted as annual events.
View of Dzogchen Monastery from Shri Singha Monastic University (picture by Sangye Trinley)
Dzogchen Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887), was among the greatest Nyingma masters of the nineteenth century. While in residence in caves near Dzogchen Monastery, he composed The Words of My Perfect Teacher, perhaps the most famous of the "written instruc- tions" (Tib. khrid yig).
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Khenpo Shenga Rinpoche (1871-1927), the renowned scholar and adept, composed the word commentaries to the Thirteen Great Treatises. These essential texts, now used by virtually all Nyingma academic institutions as well as some Sakya and Kagyu shedras, were widely published using wood block printing technology. At Dzogchen Monastery and Shri Singha, tens of thousands of pages of wood-blocks of texts from both the Old and New Translation Schools were also published at the end of the century.
More than a single monastery, Dzogchen became a regional center for religious and philosophical education and instruction. By the beginning of the twentieth century, during its height the institution of Dzogchen Monastery encompassed over two hundred branch monasteries with thousands of monks under the auspices of Dzogchen Monastery.
In the first half of the century, construction was extensive, and included the building of many new shrines and temples, including a protectors' shrineroom named Gönkhang Wangdrak Rolpa, a great new five-storied temple commemorating Khenpo Shantirakshita, Lopon Padmakara, and Chögyal Trisong Deutsen, a three-storied Buddha statue (gold-plated on copper), statues of the Three Roots, a three dimensional mandala of the famous "copper-colored mountain," large stupas made of silver and gold, and new Shitro (100 Deities) and Gesar temples. In addition, the shedra and retreat facilities were continuously expanded to accept additional students and retreatants. The annual drupchen practices—seven days of uninterrupted sadhana practice—were initiated. The Monastery engaged in annual offerings of the ever-burning butter lamps and more than 100,000 butter lamp offerings, and other offerings.