The First Dalai Lama, Gedun Drupa
The First Dalai Lama, Gedun Drupa, was born in 1391 in Gyurmey Rupa, near Sakya in the Tsang region of central Tibet to Gonpo Dorjee and Jomo Namkha Kyi, a nomadic family. His given name was Pema Dorjee.
He did his primary studies of reading and writing Tibetan script with Gya-Ton Tsenda Pa-La, and then at the age of fourteen, he took his novice vows from Khenchen Drupa Sherab, abbot of Narthang monastery, who gave him the religious name of Gedun Drupa. Latter, in the year 1411, he took the Gelong vows (full ordination) from the abbot.
The young Gedun Drupa was aware of the fame of the Great Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa School and he became his disciple in 1416. His loyalty and devotion to Tsongkhapa persuaded the great master to make Gedun Drupa his principal disciple. Tsongkhapa handed Gedun Drupa a brand new set of robes as a sign that he would spread the Buddhist teachings all over Tibet. In 1447, Gedun Drupa founded the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Shigatse, one of the biggest monastic Universities of the Gelugpa School.
The First Dalai Lama, Gedun Drupa was a great person of immense scholarship, famous for combining study and practice, and wrote more than eight voluminous books on his insight into the Buddha’s teachings and philosophy. In 1474, at the age of eighty-four, he died while in meditation at Tashi Lhunpo monastery.
The Second Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso
The Second Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso was born in 1475 in Tanag Sekme, near Shigatse in the Tsang region of central Tibet to Kunga Gyaltso and Machik Kunga Pemo, a farming family.
His father was a well-known tantric practitioner belonging to the Nyingmapa sect. When Gedun Gyatso was able to speak, he was reported to have told his parents that his name was Pema Dorjee, the birth name of the First Dalai Lama and that he would like to live in Tashi Lhunpo monastery. When he was conceived, his father had a dream in which someone dressed in white appeared and told him to name his son Gendun Drupa and also said that his son would be a person with the ability to recollect his past lives. However, his father named him Sangye Phel.
He received his primary education from his father and at the age of eleven he was recognized as the reincarnation of Gendun Drupa, the First Dalai Lama and was enthroned at Tashi Lhunpo monastery. In 1486, he took his novice vows from Panchen Lungrig Gyatso and his vows of Gelong (full ordination) from Choje Choekyi Gyaltsen, who gave him the ordained name of Gedun Gyatso. He studied at Tashi Lhunpo and Drepung monasteries.
In 1517, Gedun Gyatso became the abbot of Drepung monastery and in the following year, he revived the Monlam Chenmo, the Great Prayer Festival and presided over the events with monks from Sera, Drepung and Gaden, the three great monastic Universities of the Gelugpa Sect. In 1525, he became the abbot of Sera monastery. He died at the age of sixty-seven in 1542.
The Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso
The Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso was born in 1543 at Tolung, near Lhasa, to Namgyal Drakpa and Pelzom Bhuti, a rich family. His parents had already had many children, but they had all died and to ward off any misfortune that might take away this newborn child from them, they fed him on the milk of a white goat and named him Ranu Sicho Pelzang – The prosperous one saved by goat’s milk.
In 1546, at the age of three, Sonam Dakpa Gyaltsen, the ruler of Tibet, and Panchen Sonam Dakpa recognized him as the reincarnation of Gedun Gyatso. He was escorted to Drepung monastery in a great procession and was enthroned and his hair was cut, symbolizing his renunciation of the world. He took novice vows from Sonam Dakpa at the age of seven and assumed the name of Sonam Gyatso. At the age of twenty-two, he took the Gelong vows (full ordination) of Bhiksu from Gelek Palsang.
In 1552, Sonam Gyatso became the abbot of Drepung monastery and in 1558, the abbot of Sera monastery. In 1574, he established the Phende Lekshe Ling in order to assist him in carrying out his religious activities, which is now known as Namgyal monastery and still serves as the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery. It was during his time, the Mongolian King Altan Khan offered him the title of Dalai Lama which literally means Ocean of Wisdom and in return, the Dalai Lama conferred on Altan Khan the title of Brahma, the king of religion. The Third Dalai Lama also founded Kumbum monastery in Tsongkhapa’s birthplace and Lithang monastery in Kham. In 1588, he died while teaching in Mongolia.
The Fourth Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso
The Fourth Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso, was born in 1589 in Mongolia to the Chokar tribal chieftain Tsultrim Choeje, who was the grandson of Altan Khan, and his second wife PhaKhen Nula.
With predictions from the state oracles and auspicious signs at his birth, the abbot of Gaden monastery recognized him as the true reincarnation of the Third Dalai Lama and he was given the name of Yonten Gyatso. His parents, however, refused to part with their son until he was older, so he received his primary religious education in Mongolia from Tibetan Lamas.
In 1601, at the age of twelve, Yonten Gyatso was escorted to Tibet accompanied by his father and the former Gaden throne holder, Sangya Rinchen, who bestowed the vows of novice monk on him. In 1614, at the age of twenty-six, he took the Gelong vows (full ordination) from the Fourth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Choegyal. He later became the abbot of Drepung monastery and then Sera monastery. In 1617, at the age of twenty-seven he died at Drepung monastery.
The Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso
The Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, was born in 1617 in Lhoka Chingwar Taktse, south of Lhasa to Dudul Rabten and Kunga Lhanzi.
When Sonam Choephel, the chief attendant of the Fourth Dalai Lama heard of the exceptional abilities of the Chong-Gya boy, he paid a visit to the child and showed him articles belonging to the previous Dalai Lama. The boy at once said those belonged to him. Sonam Choephel kept the discovery of the Fifth Dalai Lama a secret because of the turbulent political situation. When things settled down, the Fifth Dalai Lama was taken to Drepung monastery where he was ordained into monkhood by the Third Panchen Lama, Lobsang Chogyal, and was given the name Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso.
The Fifth Dalai Lama was recognized at a time when Tibet was in political turmoil. However, all this uncertainty was laid to rest by Gushir Khan, the chief of the Qoshot Mongols and in 1642, the Dalai Lama was enthroned in the main hall of Shigatse as both the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. In 1645, the Dalai Lama held a meeting with high officials of Gaden Phodrang on the construction of the Potala Palace on the Red Hill, where the 33rd King of Tibet Songtsen Gampo had built a red fort. In the same year, the construction started and it took almost forty-three years to complete.
In 1649, Sunzhi, the Manchu emperor, invited the Dalai Lama to Peking. When he reached the Chinese province of Ningxia, he was greeted by the emperor’s minister and military commander who came with three thousand cavalry to escort the Tibetan leader. The emperor himself traveled from Peking and greeted him at a place called Kothor. In the Chinese capital, the Dalai Lama stayed at the Yellow Palace, built for him by the emperor. When the emperor officially met the Dalai Lama, the two of then exchanged titles. In 1653, the Dalai Lama returned to Tibet.
Gushir Khan died in 1655, as did Sonam Choephel, the Desi. The Dalai Lama appointed Gushir Khan’s son Tenzin Dorjee as the new Mongol king, and Drong Mey-Pa Thinley Gyatso succeeded the latter to the post of Desi. When the Manchu Emperor died in 1662, his son, K’ang-si, ascended the Manchu throne. In the same year the Panchen Lama died at the age of ninety-one. In 1665, after a petition from Tashilhunpo monastery, the Dalai Lama recognized a boy from Tsang region as the reincarnation of the late Panchen Lama and gave the boy the name of Lobsang Yeshi.
The Fifth Dalai Lama was a great scholar, well versed in Sanskrit. He wrote many books, including one on poetry. He also established two educational institutions, one for lay officials and another for monk officials, where they were taught Mongolian, Sanskrit, astrology, poetry, and administration. He was a man of few words, but what he said carried conviction and influenced rulers beyond the borders of Tibet. In 1682, at the age of sixty-five he died before completing the construction of the Potala Palace, however, not before entrusting the responsibility of the construction to Sangya Gyatso, the new Desi with the advice to keep his death secret for the time being.
The Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso
The Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in 1682 in the region of Mon Tawang in present-day Arunachal Pradesh, India to Tashi Tenzin and Tsewang Lhamo.
In order to complete the Potala Palace, Desi Sangye Gyatso carried out the wishes of the Fifth Dalai Lama and kept his death a secret for fifteen years. People were told that the Great Fifth was continuing his long retreat. On important occasions the Dalai Lama’s ceremonial gown was placed on the throne. However, when Mongol princes insisted on having an audience, an old monk called Depa Deyrab of Namgyal Monastery, who resembled the Dalai Lama, was hired to pose in his place. He wore a hat and eyeshadow to conceal the fact that he lacked the Dalai Lama’s piercing eyes. The Desi managed to maintain this charade till he heard that a boy in Mon exhibited remarkable abilities. He sent his trusted attendants to the area and in 1688, the boy was brought to Nankartse, a place near Lhasa. There he was educated by teachers appointed by the Desi until 1697, when the Desi sent his trusted minister, Shabdrung Ngawang Shonu to the Manchu court to inform Emperor K’ang-si of the death of the Fifth and discovery of the Sixth Dalai Lama. He announced the fact to the people of Tibet, who greeted the news with gratitude and joy and thanked the Desi for saving them from lamenting the setting of the sun and, instead, making them rejoice in its rising.
The Desi invited the Fifth Pachen Lama, Lobsang Yeshi, to Nankartse, where Tibet[s second highest religious leader administered the vows of a novice monk to the youth and named him Tsangyang Gyatso. In 1697, the fourteen-year old was enthroned as the Sixth Dalai Lama in a ceremony attended by Tibetan government officials representing the three major monasteries – Sera, Gaden, and Drepung – Mongol princes, representatives of Emperor K’ang-si and the Lhasa populace.
In 1701 there was a conflict between the Desi and Lhasang Khan, the descendant of Gushir Khan, and the latter killed the Desi Sangya Gyatso, which disturbed the young Dalai Lama. He left his monastic study and chose the outdoor life, he had no plans to take the fully ordained vows. In fact, he visited the Panchen Lama in Shigatse and requested his forgiveness, and renounced even the vows of a novice monk. Though he continued to live in the Potala Palace, he roamed around Lhasa and other outlying villages, spending his days with his friends in the park behind the Potala Palace and nights in taverns in Lhasa and Shol (an area below the Potala) drinking chang and singing songs. He was known to be a great poet and writer and he wrote several poems. In 1706, he was invited to China and died on the way.
The Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso
In retrospect, the Tibetan believed that Tsangyang Gyatso predicted his own rebirth at Lithang in Kham when he wrote this song:
White crane, lend me your wings,
I go no farther than Lithang,
And thence, return again.
Sure enough, the Seventh Dalai Lama was born in 1708 to Sonam Dargya and Lobsang Chotso in Lithang, two years after the disappearance of the Sixth.
Thupten Jampaling Monastery, which was founded in Lithang by the Third Dalai Lama, was astonished by the wonders of the child and also the state oracles of Lithang had predicted that the newborn child would be the reincarnation of the late Dalai Lama. However due to the turbulent political situation, they could not escort the new Dalai Lama to Lhasa, and he was taken to Kumbum monastery, where he was ordained by Ngawang Lobsang Tenpai Gyaltsen.
In 1720, he was enthroned in the Potala Palace and he took the novice vows of monkhood from Panchen Lobsang Yeshi, who gave him the name Kelsang Gyatso. In 1726, during the auspicious month of Saka Dawa, he took the Gelong vows (full ordination) from Panchen Rinpoche. He sought the tutor of Panchen Lobsang Yeshi, the Abbot of Gyumey monastery and the Abbot of Shalu monastery, Ngawang Yonten, from whom he studied the entire major Buddhist philosophical treatises and became a master in both the sutra and tantra.
In 1751, at the age of forty-three, he constituted the ‘Kashag’ or council of ministers to administer the Tibetan government and then abolished the post of Desi, as it placed too much power in one man’s hand. The Dalai Lama became the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. At the age of forty-five, he founded the Tse-School in the Potala Palace and built the new palace of Norling Kalsang Phodrang. The Seventh Dalai Lama was a great scholar and wrote many books, especially on the tantra. He was also a great poet who, unlike Tsangyang Gyatso, dwelt on spiritual themes. His simple and unblemished life won him the hearts of all Tibetans. He died in 1757.
The Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso
The Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso, was born in 1758 at Thobgyal, Lhari Gang in the Tsang region of southwestern Tibet. His father, Sonam Dhargye, and mother, Phuntsok Wangmo, were originally from Kham and traced their ancestry to Dhrala Tsegyal, one of the legendary heroes of the Gesar epic.
As soon as Jamphel Gyatso was conceived, Lhari Gang was blessed with a bumper harvest with each stalk of barley bearing three, four and five ears – something unprecedented. When the mother and a relative were having their supper in the garden, a huge rainbow appeared, one end of which touched the mother’s shoulder. (This is regarded to be a very auspicious omen, associated with the birth of a holy being.) Not long after his birth, Jamphel Gyatso was frequently observed to be looking heavenward with a smile on his face. He was also seen to be attempting to sit in a meditative, lotus posture. When Palden Yeshi, the Sixth Panchen Lama, heard about this boy, he pronounced: This is the authentic reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
As the child began to speak, he said: “I will go to Lhasa at the age of three”. Now the whole of Tibet was convinced that this child was the Eighth Dalai Lama. Darkpa Thaye, the chief attendent of the Seventh Dalai Lama, came to Lhasa with a large contingent of lamas and Tibetan government officials. They took the boy, then two and a half years old, to Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Shigatse, performed the recognition ceremony and the Panchen Lama gave the boy the name Jamphel Gyatso.
In 1762, the boy was escorted to Lhasa and enthroned in the Potala Palace. The enthronement ceremony was presided over by Demo Tulku Jamphel Yeshi, who was the first Regent to represent the Dalai Lamas when they were minors. At the age of seven, he took the novice vows of monkhood from the Panchen Lama and then he was fully ordained in 1777. In addition to his remarkable spiritual legacy, it was the Eighth Dalai Lama who built the famous Norbulingka Park and Summer Palace on the outskirts of Lhasa. In 1804, he died at the age of forty-seven.
The Ninth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso
The Ninth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso was born in 1805 in Dan Chokhor, a small village in Kham to Tenzin Choekyong and Dhondup Dolma.
In 1807, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Eighth Dalai Lama and was escorted to Lhasa with great ceremony. In 1810, he was enthroned at the Potala Palace. He took his novice vows from the Pachen Lama, who gave him the name Lungtok Gyatso. Unfortunately, he died in 1815 at the very young age of nine.
The Tenth Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso
The Tenth Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso The Tenth Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso, was born in 1816 in Lithang in Kham to Lobsang Dakpa and Namgyal Bhuti.
In 1822, he was recognized and enthroned in the Potala Palace and in the same year, he took his novice vows of monkhood from the Panchen Lama, Tenpai Nyima who gave him the name Tsultrim Gyatso. In 1826, at the age of ten, he was enrolled in Drepung monastery where he studied various Buddhist philosophical texts and mastered both the sutra and tantra. In 1831, he reconstructed the Potala Palace and at the age of nineteen, he took the Gelong vows (full ordination) from the Panchen Lama. However, he was constantly in poor health and died in 1837.
The Eleventh Dalai Lama, Khedrup Gyatso
The Eleventh Dalai Lama, Khedrup Gyatso, was born in 1838 at Gathar in Kham Minyak to Tsetan Dhondup and Yungdrung Bhuti.
In 1841 he was recognized as the new Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, Tenpai Nyipa, cut his hair and gave him the name Khedrup Gyatso. In 1842, he was enthroned in the Potala Palace and at the age of eleven, he took the novice vows of monkhood from the Panchen Lama. Despite his young age, he assumed the responsibility of Tibetan spiritual and political leader at the request of the Tibetan people. However, he suddenly died in 1856 in the Potala Palace.
The Twelfth Dalai Lama, Trinley Gyatso
The Twelfth Dalai Lama, Trinley Gyatso was born in 1856 in Lhoka, a place near Lhasa to Phuntsok Tsewang and Tsering Yudon.
In 1858, the young boy as Dalai Lama was escorted to Lhasa where Reting Ngawang Yeshi Tsultrim Gyaltsen, the regent gave him the name Thupten Gyatso. In 1860, at the age of five he took the novice vows of monkhood from the Gaden Throne Holder Lobsang Khenrab and he was enthroned in the Potala Palace. In 1873, at the age of eighteen, he took on full responsibility as both spiritual and political leader of Tibet. In 1875, he died at the age of twenty in the Potala Palace.
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso, was born in the Fire Mouse year of 1876 at Langdun in Dagpo, central Thakpo Tibet to Kunga Rinchen and Lobsang Dolma, a peasant couple.
In 1877, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 12th Dalai Lama following predictions from the State Oracle Nechung and other auspicious signs at his birthplace. He was then escorted to Lhasa. In 1878 the Eighth Panchen Lama, Tenpai Wangchuk, performed the hair-cutting ceremony and gave him the name Ngawang Lobsang Thupten Gyatso Jigdral Chokley Namgyal. In 1879, he was enthroned in the Grand Reception Hall at the Potala Palace. Later that year, he received the Upasaka (Tib.: ge-nyen) vows from the Regent Tatsak Rinpoche, Ngawang Palden Yeshi. In 1882, at age six, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was formally ordained as a novice monk (Tib.: ge-tsul) by the same Regent.
And in 1895 he took the full monk ordination (Tib.: ge-long) from his tutor, Phurchok Ngawang Jampa Rinpoche, in the Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, who served as both the Preceptor and Procedural Master of the ceremony. Phurbuchok was assisted by many eminent Buddhist masters of Tibet at that time, including Ling Rinpoche Lobsang Lungtok Tenzn Thinley and the Gaden Throne Holder, who served as the Secret Inquiry Master and so forth required by the ordination ceremony. On 27 September 1895 he finally assumed the political and spiritual authority of Tibet and was thrown into the thick of the Great Game played out by Czarist Russia and British India on the fringes of their sprawling empires. He went through the British invasion of Tibet in 1904 and the Chinese invasion of his country in 1909/10 but survived the ordeals of both experiences, with his authority enormously enhanced.
When the news spread in 1910 that Lu Chan, a Chinese General of the Manchu force, arrived in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama and some of the most important officials fled Lhasa and headed to India. The group crossed Dromo and held a negotiation with the Chinese invaders at the Jelep-la Pass, which separates Tibet and Sikkim.
In 1911, the Manchu Dynasty was overthrown and the Tibetans took this opportunity to expel the remnant Manchu forces from Tibet. The Dalai Lama returned to Tibet and went on to exercise an unprecedented political authority not seen since the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Besides attempting to modernize Tibet, the Dalai Lama also tried to eliminate some of the more oppressive features of the Tibetan monastic system. During his exile in India, the Dalai Lama was fascinated by the modern world and he introduced the first Tibetan currency notes and coins. On 13 February 1913, he made public the five-point statement reasserting Tibet’s Independence. Also, in 1913 he established the first post office in Tibet and sent four young Tibetans to study engineering in England.
In 1914, he strengthened Tibet’s military force by organizing special training for the Tibetan army. In 1917 he established the Men-Tsee-Khang (Tibetan Medical and Astrology Institute) in Lhasa to preserve the unique traditional Tibetan medical and astrological systems. For that reason, he selected about a hundred young and intelligent students to train in Men-Tse-Khang. In 1923, he established a Police Headquarter in Lhasa for the security and welfare of the Tibetan people. In the same year he established the first English school of Tibet in Gyaltse. Sadly, he died in 1933 at the age of fifty-eight before accomplishing his goal for Tibet’s modernization.