One of the foremost disciples of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön was the siddha Gar Chödingpa, considered an emanation of Aryadeva. He was the reincarnation of Gar Dongdzen, a minister of King Songsten Gampo, from whom the name Gar derived. When Gar Dongdzen returned from a visit to China, in order to bring back the Chinese king’s daughter as a wife for Songsten Gampo, he carried with him a precious Buddha statue and a Dharma wheel, both made during the lifetime of Buddha Shakyamuni. He hid the Dharma wheel in the ground as a terma (gter ma), later to be revealed by his incarnation Gar Chödingpa.
It was at a place called Lungzhu Chöding that Gar Chödingpa founded a monastery. This is why he was called Chödingpa. During the later years of his life, Gar Chödingpa erected another monastery at Pumi Phulung where he eventually passed away. Consequently many of his incarnations took charge of Pumi Phulung monastery.
The reincarnation of Gar Chödingpa in the 16th century, Tenzin Phuntsog, was born as the son of the Nangchen king. At Pumi Phulung monastery, Tenzin Phuntsog received a prophecy from Achi Chökyi Dolma instructing him to proceed together with the precious dharma wheel to a rocky mountain in the shape of an arching snow lion, where he should establish a new monastery. He found the place foretold when a rainbow appeared over the rocky mountain. There he built the monastery where today Upper-Gar monastery (Yargön) is situated, called “Lion Fortress of the Sky.”
In a terma of Guru Rinpoche, revealed by Ratna Lingpa (ratna gling pa, 1403-1478), a prophecy foretells the coming of an emanation of Chenrezig with the name Tenzin Phuntsog. This terma also contained samaya substances (dam rdzas) such as mani-pills, which ought to be presented to the emanation of Chenrezig, so that in the future the Dharma would spread from him around the world. Gar Tenzin Phuntsog was recognized to be the one mentioned in the terma and was handed the samaya substances. Since that time the tradition of a continuous day and night Chenrezig practice was initiated and continued uninterruptedly until the Chinese invaded Tibet and demolished the monastery in 1958. Until this time the Dharma wheel was turning ceaselessly. With Tenzin Phuntsog the line of the Gar Tulkus (sprul sku) initiated.
The second Gar Tulku was Tenzin Drakpa. As too many monks were joining the upper monastery there was a need for another monastery. He thus built the lower monastery (Margön) Gar Gön Jangchub Chöling (mgar dgon byang chub chos gling). The present Garchen Triptrul Konchok Ngedön is the 8th Gar Tulku. He was recognized by the 34th Drikung throne holder Shiwe Lodrö.
Gar Monastery underwent times of flourishing and also times of weakening throughout generations, yet the worst decline was experienced during the Cultural Revolution, when the monastery was completely destroyed by the Chinese. In 1979 the political situation loosened somewhat and the reconstruction of the monastery could begin. The upper and lower monasteries were rebuilt and monks again began to assemble. Presently the upper monastery is like it was in the old days. In 1982 the continuous retreat was reestablished and the Dharma wheel again turns ceaselessly. There are about 70 to 80 monks who engage in the continuous Chenrezig practice at the upper monastery.
At the lower monastery a few monks are practicing the Dharma protectors and Achi Chökyi Dolma at all times. There are also about 20 to 30 Ngakpa (sngag pa, lay practitioners) staying at the lower monastery. Many different retreats are held around the year at Gar Monastery.
There are two new retreat places where retreats on the Five-fold Path of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa are held according to the Drikung tradition. Three three-year retreats also have been held at the old retreat center. Currently 22 practitioners are engaged in the fourth three-year retreat at the new retreat center. In addition there also exists a retreat place especially for the Yamantaka retreat. The traditional summer retreat is held annually at upper Gar Monastery. A college educating approximately 80 monks also has been started.