Panchen Lama Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570 – 1662)

Name Variants: Lobzang Chokyi Drakpa; Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen; Nangwa Taye Panchen Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen

Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen (blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan) was born in a village called Drukgya (drug brgya) in the Lhan valley, in Tsang, in either 1567 or 1570. His father, Kunga Ozer (kun dga’ ’od zer), was a nephew of Wensa Sanggye Yeshe (dben sa sangs rgyas ye shes, 1525-1590/1591), and a member of the illustrious Ba (sba) clan. His mother’s name was Tsogyal (mtsho rgyal). They gave him the name Chogyal Pelden Sangpo (chos rgyal dpal ldan bzang po). The boy was recognised by Langmika Chokyi Gyaltsen (glang mig pa chos kyi rgyal mtshan) as the reincarnation of Wensapa Lobzang Dondrub (dben sa pa blo bzang don sgrub, 1505-1566) and given the name Chokyi Gyaltsen.

As a youth, Chokyi Gyaltsen studied with Sanggye Yeshe (sangs rgyas ye shes, 1525-1591), the abbot of Tashilhunpo (bkra shis lhun po) and Wensapa monasteries (dben sa pa). For the first years of his life he was tutored in the autumn by Sanggye Yeshe in Drukgya, receiving from him many blessings and empowerments. There he also received teachings and initiations from his brother and grandfather. At the age of thirteen, Chokyi Gyaltsen left Drukgya for Wensa monastery, to further his instruction with Sanggye Yeshe. He took novice vows with his master, and received the name Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen, and began instruction in Lamrim (lam rim). Chokyi Gyaltsen remained at Wensa for the next five years.

In his eighteenth year Chokyi Gyaltsen went to Tashilhunpo where he entered the Tosam Ling college (thos bsam gling grwa tshang), studying with Paljor Gyatso (dpal ’byor rgya mtsho). He spent the next three summers at Wensa however, receiving further teachings and transmissions from Sanggye Yeshe, including the Ganden Mahamudra of Tsongkhapa. In 1591 he received the news that Sanggye Yeshe was ill with smallpox, and he quickly returned to visit with him one last time, shortly before Sanggye Yeshe passed away. Following a successful examination in Pramanavarttika at Tashilhunpo, Chokyi Gyaltsen returned to Wensa to oversee the funeral.

Chokyi Gyaltsen ordained that same year, 1591, with Panchen Damcho Yarwel (paN chen dam chos yar ’phel), Paljor Gyatso, and Panchen Lhawang Lodro (paN chen lha dbang blo gros) officiating. He then traveled to Lhasa, making offerings at the Jokang and proceeded to Ganden, where he continued his education with Namkai Tsenchen (nam mkha’i mtshan can), with whom he studied Kalachakra, and Gendun Gyaltsen (dge’ ’dun rgyal mtshan, 1532-1605/1607), the 28th throne holder of Ganden, who taught him the collected works of the 2nd Dalai Lama. Chokyi Gyaltsen in turn taught Gendun Gyaltsen the Ganden Mahamudra, making him his successor in the oral lineage of that tradition. Damcho Pelbar (dam chos dpal ’bar, 1523/1546-1599), the 26th throne holder of Ganden, also taught him Cho.

Having returned to Wensa, which he enlarged with new temples and statues, Chokyi Gyaltsen gave public teachings on Lamrim and other topics, but soon felt the urge to enter retreat. He closed himself off from the public for six or seven months, reading scriptures between sessions of meditation. It was during this short retreat that he had a vision of Tsongkhapa, and in his sleep received a number of important transmissions from him. He shifted his retreat to his home village, living for a time like a “cotton-clad one” (ras pa) in the tradition of the Kagyu ascetics, before returning to Wensa.

In 1601, his fame now widespread, Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen was asked to assume the abbacy of Tashilhunpo. The thirty-one year old was already abbot of Wensa and, beginning in 1598, abbot of Gangchen Chopel (gangs can chos ’phel), having been requested to assume that post by Lhuntse Depa (lhun rtse sde pa). That same year he initiated a Great Prayer Festival, or Monlam Chenmo (smon lam chen mo) at Tashilhunpo, installing a number of new statues in the temples. Eight years later, in 1609, he established a tantric college at the monastery, the Tashilhunpo Gyupa Dratsang (bkra shis lhun po rgyud pa grwa tshang).

Soon after taking the abbacy of Tashilhunpo, Yontan Gyatso (yon tan rgya mtsho, 1589-1616), the 4th Dalai Lama, visited there, arriving in Tibet from Mongolia for the first time. It would seem that Chokyi Gyaltsen played a role in the Tibetan acceptance of the Mongolian boy as the legitimate incarnation of Sonan Gyatsho (bsod nams rgya mtsho, 1543-1588). The 4th Dalai Lama requested Chokyi Gyaltsen accompany him to Drepung, where he taught for some time, and then as he traveled to various Kadampa and Gelugpa monasteries in the region, including Reting (rwa sgreng) and various sites connected to Tsongkhapa’s activities in Lhoka.

In 1612, Chokyi Gyaltsen visited Bhutan on invitation from the Lhapa hierarchs of Nyo (gnyos). This clan, Drukpa Kagyu followers who were strong in both Tsang and Bhutan, were rivals to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (zhabs drung ngag dbang rnam rgyal, 1594-1651). Their loss of influence in Bhutan, and the close relations with Chokyi Gyaltsen, led to the Lhapa conversion to the Gelug tradition late in the century. They were but one clan-based religious tradition that Chokyi Gyaltsen brought under the Gelugpa tradition. Chokyi Gyaltso was again involved in Bhutanese-Tibetan affairs, negotiating a truce to conflicts between the two in the mid-1650s. Among hostages freed by Bhutan was a son of the house of Nenying (gnas rnying), another clan-based religious tradition whose merger with the Gelug was accomplished by Chokyi Gyaltsen.

Chokyi Gyaltsen continued to go back and forth between Shigatse and Lhasa, teaching at Tashilhunpo, Drepung, Sera, Ganden, and other Gelug monasteries. In 1617, the 4th Dalai Lama passed away and Chokyi Gyaltsen assumed the abbacy of both Drepung and Sera. These were not the last monasteries where he served as abbot; in 1626, he was made abbot of Ganden’s Jangtse college, and in 1642 of Shalu (zha lu).

In 1618, the ruling family of most of Tibet, the Pakmodrupa (phag mo dru pa), was overthrown by the ruling family of Tsang, based in Shigatse. Supporters of the Kagyu tradition, the new rulers repressed Gelugpa institutions and religious practice, including the large Gelug monasteries of the Lhasa region, although he tolerated the presence of Tashilhunpo and Chokyi Gyaltsen. Curing him of a disease the King believed to have been inflicted by the 4th Dalai Lama, Chokyi Gyaltsen was able to secure permission from the King of Tsang to confirm the reincarnation of the 4th Dalai Lama in the person of a boy he named Lobzang Gyatso (blo bzang rgya mtsho), although he was forbidden to install him in Lhasa.

Over the next decade, relations between Lhasa and Shigatse continued to deteriorate, and Chokyi Gyaltsen was forced to mediate time and again. He was also forced to confront Mongol invasions, first in 1621 when Mongolian troops, brought in after secret negotiations with Gelugpa hierarchs, laid siege to Tsang authority in Lhasa and drove Tsang forces to Chakpori (lcags po ri), a small rocky hill in Lhasa. Only after Chokyi Gyaltsen’s intervention were the forces allowed to retreat to Shigatse. With Tsang forces out of Lhasa, in 1622 Chokyi Gyaltsen was able to enthrone the 5th Dalai Lama at Drepung.

Following the defeat of the Tsang King and the ascent of the 5th Dalai Lama as King of Tibet in 1641, the fortunes of Chokyi Gyaltsen grew greater still. Chokyi Gyaltsen was declared the 4th Panchen Lama and three previous lamas were posthumously identified as the first through third: Kedrubje (mkhas grub rje, 1385-1438), Sonam Chokyi Langpo (bsod nams phyogs kyi glang po, 1439-1505), and Wensapa Lobzang Dondrub (dben sa pa blo bzang don grub, 1505-1566). For this reason Chokyi Gyaltsen is either listed as the first or the fourth Panchen Lama.

Chokyi Gyaltsen continued to teach for the next two decades, passing away in 1662.

panchen lama

panchen lama


Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan. 1973 (1720). Chos smra ba’i dge slong blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan spyod tshul gsal bar ston pa nor bu’i phreng ba. In Collected Works (Gsung ’bum) of Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, the 1st Panchen Lama, reproduced from tracings from prints of the Bkra shis lhun po blocks, pp. 5-454. New Delhi: Mongolian Lama Gurudeva. Also published as The Autobiography of the First Panchen Lama Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1969, Delhi: Ngawang Gelek Demo.

Kapstein, Matthew. 2006. The Tibetans. Boston: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 134-139.

Smith, Gene. 2001. “The Autobiography of the First Panchen Lama.” In Among Tibetan Texts, pp. 119-131. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Tshe mchog gling yongs ’dzin ye shes rgyal mtshan. 1970 (1787). Biographies of Eminent Gurus in the Transmission Lineages of the teachings of the Graduated Path, being the text of: Byang chub Lam gyi Rim pa’i Bla ma Brgyud pa’i Rnam par Thar pa Rgyal mtshan Mdzes pa’i Rgyan Mchog Phul byung Nor bu’i Phreng ba. New Delhi: Ngawang Gelek Demo, vol 1, pp. 88-235.

Willis, Janice D. 1985. “Preliminary Remarks on the Nature of rNam-thar: Early dGe-lugs-pa Siddha Biographies.” In Soundings in Tibetan Civilizations. Barbara Aziz and Matthew Kapstein, eds. Delhi: Manohar, pp. 304-319.

Incarnation line of the Panchen Lamas of Tashilhunpo

(I) Kedrubje (mkhas grub rje, 1385-1438),

(II) Sonam Chokyi Langpo (bsod nams phyogs kyi glang po, 1439-1505)

(III) Wensapa Lobzang Dondrub (dben sa pa blo bzang don grub, 1505-1566)

1) Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen (blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan,1567-1662)

2) Lobzang Yeshe (blo bzang ye shes, 1663-1737)

3) Lobzang Palden Yeshe (blo bzang dpal ldan ye shes, 1738-1780)

4) Lobzang Tenpai Nyima Chole Namgyal (blo bzang bstan pa’i nyi ma phyogs las rnam rgyal, 1781-1854)

5) Lobzang Tenpai Wangchuk Palden Chokyi Drakpa(blo bzang bstan pa’i dbang phyug dpal ldan chos kyi grags pa, 1855-1882)

6) Lobzang Tubten Chokyi Nyima Gelek Namgyal (lo bzang thub bstan chos kyi nyi ma dge legs rnam rgyal, 1883-1937)

7) Chokyi Gyaltsen Trinle Lhudrub (chos kyi rgyal mtshan phrin las lhun grub, 1938-1989)

8) Gendun Chokyi Nyima (dge ’dun chos kyi nyi ma, b. 1989)

Alexander Gardner
October 2009


nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan
dam chos yar ‘phel
sangs rgyas rgya mtsho

Sanggye Yeshe b.1525 – d.1591 (Name Variants: Chokyab Dorje; Kedrub Sanggye Yeshe; Wensapa Sanggye Yeshe)


chos rgya mtsho
dkon mchog rgyal mtshan
ngag dbang chos kyi dbang phyug
blo bzang dam chos rgyal mtshan
blo bzang pad+ma
dge ‘dun don grub
sangs rgyas bkra shis
grags pa rgyal mtshan
ngag dbang dge legs rgyal mtshan
brtson ‘grus rgyal mtshan
nam mkha’ rdo rje
blo bzang bstan dar
ngag dbang rdo rje
blo bzang bstan pa rab rgyas
grags pa dpal ldan
blo bzang chos ‘phel
blo bzang rab brtan
rnam rgyal dpal ‘byor

Dalai Lama 05 Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso b.1617 – d.1682 (Name Variants: Dorje Togmetsal; Ganshar Rangdrol; Jangsem Nyugusel; Nagpo Silgnon Dragpotsal; Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso; Sahor Ngaknyon Silgnon Shepatsal; Silngon Dragtsal Dorje; Silngon Shepatsal)
blo gros rgya mtsho
blo bzang bstan pa dar rgyas
dge legs rgya mtsho
dkon mchog rgyal mtshan
blo bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan (Name Variants: jnanavajra)
blo bzang bstan ‘dzin rgyal mtshan
skal ldan rgya mtsho
bstan ‘dzin blo bzang rgya mtsho
mdo rgyud rgya mtsho
ngag dbang bstan ‘dzin ‘phrin las
don yod chos kyi rgya mtsho
snying stobs rgya mtsho



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