Drubdra (སྒྲུབ་གྲྭ་) is a religious centre dedicated to carrying out drubpa (སྒྲུབ་པ་) or meditation practice in the Himalayan Buddhist tradition. Located in solitude and normally protected from worldly distraction and intrusion, the drubdra retreat centres are places where people go into long-term religious retreat. These drubdra are also known as drubde or practice groups as the participants normally undertake group religious training under the guidance of a specific lama.

Drubpa or meditation practice forms one of the two main activities of religious persons in the Himalayan Buddhist world, the other being shepa (བཤད་པ་) or exposition. People who go through religious training in Bhutan often first undertake study through exposition and then engage in drubpa or meditation and practice at a drubdra centre. Drubpa practice in a drubdra in Bhutan normally include a long course of contemplation, visualisation, chanting and some yogic training which in many cases last for three years and three phases of moon known as losumchogsum (ལོ་གསུམ་ཕྱོགས་གསུམ་)

The losumchogsum programme in a Bhutanese drubdra often begins with the preliminary practices of ngondro followed by the recitation of the mantras of the three roots. The three roots are the lama or one’s personal guru, yidam or the tutelary divinity and khandro or the spiritual catalytic agent. The course may also include training in the Buddhist practice of yoga, vital air and energy controls. Although the exact curriculum and procedure may differ from Buddhist tradition to tradition, the training in the drubdra normally prepares the candidate to be a good practitioner and a qualified officiant for religious ceremonies in that tradition.

Drubdra centres in Bhutan are generally affiliated to monastic schools and traditions but located in the distant solitudes in the mountains. They are built in or around holy sites and hidden lands as the practice is said to become much more powerful. Monastic centres or private sponsors would provide the resources for the retreatants, some of whom may remain in the centres for their entire life practising meditation. In general, the centres are marked by a border which the retreatants or outsider are not allowed to cross. In most drubdra, a person is formally appointed to run errands for the retreatants, and thus, allowed to enter the centre. The people who are undergoing a retreat in such centres are guided by lamas. An important lama with spiritual authority would normally give the meditation instructions by either staying in the centre or visiting it when instructions need to be given.

Drubdra centres are seen as religious hubs for meditation and spiritual practice and therefore the main institutions which uphold the practice and experiential realization of the Buddhist teachings. Many people in Bhutan, in their old age, retire to drubdras to spend their life in prayers and meditation.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.


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