Fifth Dalai Lama: Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682)

5th Dalai Lama

In 1617, a promising boy amidst auspicious signs was born in Taktse in Southern Tibet to a family of Nyingmapa practitioners who were the descendants of the imperial line of the Yarlung Dynasty of kings. His father’s name was Miwang Dundul Rapten and his mother Kunga Lhadze.

In 1622, the First Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyeltsen recognized the boy to be the incarnation of Yonten Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama, along with further confirmations from Protectors. The Panchen Lama gave him the name Lobsang Gyatso but the recognition was plagued with controversy. Even before the recognition, the boy had also been unsuccessfully recognized to be the reincarnation of a Kagyu Lama, the Fourth Tsurpu Gyaltsap Dragpa Dondrup.

Due to pressures by the Tsang Empire, Panchen Lama had to make great efforts to please the Tsangpa governor so arrangements could be made to bring the Fifth Dalai Lama to Drepung Monastery. At Drepung, the young boy was in competition for the position of Dalai Lama with another candidate, who was later identified as the incarnation of Panchen Sonam Dragpa, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen. In the end, the young Lobsang Gyatso was finally enthroned at Ganden Phodrang in Drepung Monastery at the age of six.

Lobsang Gyatso received his full monastic ordination in 1638. Lingme Shapdrung and the First Panchen Lama were the monastic preceptors and bestowed upon him the name Ngagi Wangchuk. The Fifth Dalai Lama studied at the feet of many leading Lamas of his day. He also began his monastic studies with his tutors, Lingme Shapdrung Konchok Chopel and the First Panchen Lama, in Prajnaparamita, Madhyamaka, Vinaya and Abhidharma.

He also trained in grammar and poetics, astrology and divination, and related topics, with Mondro Pandita. His accomplishments are legendary as he continues to be considered a significant lineage holder by the Nyingmapas. He trained with the lineage holders of the Changter and Zur tradition of the Kama. His own family also maintained good relations with the Drukpa Kagyu via his cousin Pagsam Wangpo, who was recognized as the Fifth Gyalwang Drukpa.

In 1637, Gushri Khan marched into Tibet with a contingent of 800 soldiers, purportedly on a pilgrimage but most likely to assert political control over Tibet. This was not unusual as the Mongols tribes were fragmented and various tribal leaders sought to reestablish the ideal patron-priest model created by Kubilai Khan and Chogyal Pagpa in the 13th century. It seems that Gushri’s incursion into Tibet was at the invitation of Sonam Chopel, the Fourth Dalai Lama’s treasurer and was part of his covert mission to find a Mongol ally in the Gelug struggle against the Tsang forces who were Kagyupas.

5th Dalai Lama

In the Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography, not long after Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen’s death Nechung possessed an oracle and told the Fifth Dalai Lama that there were disturbances in the teahouse. True enough, the Fifth Dalai Lama had visions of a monkey about eight years old appearing. Then, the Great Protector told him to go far away from where Tulku’s body was being cremated, and so he went to the Potala Palace where he engaged in purification practices. While he had hoped for signs that the trouble was over, he continued to receive disturbing dreams of a monk who became an animal and other inauspicious signs. This may indicate that he was already aware at this point of foul play associated with the regent and that he was feeling guilty by his association with the regent.

Actually, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s apology and recognition of Dorje Shugden as the reincarnation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, is not clearly mentioned in his autobiography. This is only more clearly elucidated in later years by other highly attained lamas. However, accounts of the Fifth Dalai Lama attempting to subdue or destroy Dorje Shugden through various rituals and the building of shrines are found in writings of both Dorje Shugden detractors and proponents, as well as in the Great Fifth’s own autobiography. Other events associated to Tulku Dragpa Gyeltsen remain obscure or even completely omitted from his biography.

According to the White Conch Dictionary, the Fifth Dalai Lama later founded Trode Khangsar, which was on the south side of old Lhasa as a Dorje Shugden shrine. Trode Khangsar was taken care of by monks of Riwo Choling Monastery of Lhoka in Southern Tibet. There was a caretaker from Riwo Choling that performed regular propitiation service and a Dorje Shugden oracle was even established there. Morchen Kunga Lhundrup, who contributed to the first major Dorje Shugden rituals, mentions Trode Khangsar in his autobiography so it was clear that Trode Khangsar existed and was founded since the time of the Great Fifth. On the east side near the outer gate of Trode Khangsar was a smaller shrine, Monkyi Khangsar where Kache Marpo was invoked. It is interesting to note that among the Great Fifth’s prolific works, is also a propitiation to Kache Marpo, the principal attendant to Dorje Shugden.

The Dalai Lama spent the next several decades consolidating power, a process that involved the construction of the Potala Palace, a declaration of himself as the emanation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (the patron protector of Tibet), a state visit to Beijing, and the invocation of the Golden Age of the Tibetan Empire by tracing his previous incarnations to King Songtsen Gampo. The Dalai Lama continued to consolidate his power through the removal of all remaining rivals by suppressing the Jonang tradition and by forcing the Karma Kagyu to return Gelug Monasteries that were converted into Karma Kagyu during the reign of the Tsangpa Kings. It was known that many Kagyu institutions converted to the Gelugpa lineage during that time.

Under the Fifth Dalai Lama, the city of Lhasa flourished. Foreign traders and intellectuals came in droves to the city that acted as a confluence of the arts, medicine, and architecture. He established a wide infrastructure of taxation and administration for both secular governance and religious governance of the monasteries. He was also a prolific writer, with his written works spanning histories and religious commentaries, which are all collected into a collection of more than thirty large volumes.

The Fifth Dalai Lama’s death was famously hidden under a shroud of mystery. In 1682, Desi Sangye Gyatso concealed the knowledge of the Dalai Lama’s passing for 15 years. In the meantime, he himself continued to consolidate Gelug power of Tibet, and had the Dalai Lama’s remains mummified and entombed. He also searched and found the incarnation so that within the same year that the death was announced, the 15-year-old Sixth Dalai Lama could be immediately enthroned.


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One Response to “Fifth Dalai Lama: Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682)”
  1. Sarah says:

    There is an interesting account of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s life in Michael Aris’ book “Hidden Treasures and Secret Lives” (1989, p. 122-6). He was described as a “powerful scholar-statesman” and the “first ruler to have united the whole of Tibet under a single government since the collapse of the early Tibetan empire in the ninth century”. He also won “the support and veneration of practically all the Mongol tribes… during a period which saw their wholesale reconversion to Buddhism brought to conclusion”. The Dalai Lama owed his political success to Guushi Khan, leader of the Khoshuud tribe, who, in 1642, defeated the Dalai Lama’s enemies in Tsang. The Great Fifth died in the Potala Palace in 1682, at the age of 68. But his regent, Sangye Gyamtso concealed his death for 15 years (1682-1697). The regent claimed that the Dalai Lama himself had expressed the need for it and the period stipulated was 12 years. The construction of the Potala Palace was on-going and it was supposed to be the model of the divine abode of Avalokiteshvara, of whom the Dalai Lama was the emanation. It might never be completed if it was known that its chief occupant had died. It was also suggested that there was a need to do this because “the strength of the new Tibetan state depended on the figure of its founder. Without the personal bonds of devotion which linked the subjects to their ruler, the entire fabric of the state might collapse”. Besides, they also needed to maintain the support of the Mongols who were helping them to reclaim Tibetan land lost to the Manchus. What a story! According to some scholars, the troubles encountered by the Sixth Dalai Lama was due to the fact that the extension of the secret from 12 to 15 years had “caused the auspices to be broken”.

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