Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen | 4th Panchen Lama


Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen was born in a village called Drukgya in the Lhang valley, in Tsang, in either 1567 or 1570.

His father, Kunga Ozer, was a nephew of Ensa Sanggye Yeshe (1525-1590/1591), and a member of the illustrious Ba clan.

His mother's name was Tsogyel.

They gave him the name Chogyel Palden Zangpo.

The boy was recognized by Langmika Chokyi Gyaltsen as the reincarnation of Ensapa Lobsang Döndrup (1505-1566) and given the name Chokyi Gyaltsen.

As a youth Chokyi Gyaltsen studied with Sanggye Yeshe, then the abbot of Tashi Lhunpo and Ensapa monasteries.

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 13 Chokyi Gyaltsen left Drukgya for Ensa monastery, to further his instruction with Sanggye Yeshe:

He took novice vows with his master, and received the name Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen, and began instruction in Lam rim. Chokyi Gyaltsen remained at Ensa for the next 5 years.

In his 18th year Chokyi Gyaltsen went to Tashi Lhunpo where he entered the Tosam Ling college, studying with Peljor Gyatso.

He spent the next 3 summers at Ensa, however, receiving further teachings and transmissions from Sanggye Yeshe, including the Ganden Mahāmudrā 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 Pramāṇavārttika (Commentary on Valid Cognition by Dharmakīrti) at Tashi Lhunpo, Chokyi Gyaltsen returned to Ensa to oversee the funeral.

Chokyi Gyaltsen ordained that same year, 1591, with Panchen Damcho Yarwel, Peljor Gyatso, and Panchen Lhawang Lodro officiating.

He then traveled to Lhasa, making offerings at the Jokhang and proceeded to Ganden, where he continued his education with Namkhai Tsenchen, with whom he studied Kalachakra,

and Gendun Gyaltsen (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 Mahāmudrā, making him his successor in the oral lineage of that tradition.

Damcho Pelbar (1523/1546-1599), the 26th throne holder of Ganden, also taught him Chöd.

Having returned to Ensa, which he enlarged with new temples and statues, Chokyi Gyaltsen gave public teachings on Lam rim and other topics, but soon felt the urge to enter retreat:

He closed himself off from the public for 6-7 months, reading scripture 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” (repa) in the tradition of the Kagyu ascetics, before returning to Ensa.

In 1601, his fame now widespread, Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen was asked to assume the abbacy of Tashi Lhunpo.

The 31 year old was already abbot of Ensa and, beginning in 1598, abbot of Gangchen Chopel, having been requested to assume that post by Lhuntse Depa.

That same year he initiated a Great Prayer Festival, or Monlam Chenmo at Tashi Lhunpo, installing a number of new statues in the temples. 8 years later, in 1609, he established a tantric college at the monastery, the Tashi Lhunpo Gyupa Dratsang.

Soon after taking the abbacy of Tashi Lhunpo, Yonten Gyatso (1589-1616), the Fourth 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 Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588).

The Fourth 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 and various sites connected to Tsongkhapa's activities in Lhoka.

In 1612 Chokyi Gyaltsen visited Bhutan on invitation from the Lhapa hierarchs of Lhanangpa Kagyu, founded by Nö Lhanangpa (1164–1224):

This clan, a sub-school of Drigung Kagyu, who were strong in both Tsang and Bhutan, were rivals to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651) of the Drukpa Kagyu.

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 Gelug tradition.

Chokyi Gyaltsen 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, 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 Tashi Lhunpo, Drepung, Sera, Ganden, and other Gelug monasteries.

In 1617 the Fourth 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 Zhalu.

In 1618 the ruling family of most of Tibet, the Phagmodrupa, 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 Tashi Lhunpo and Chokyi Gyaltsen.

Curing him of a disease the King believed to have been inflicted by the Fourth Dalai Lama,

Chokyi Gyaltsen was able to secure permission from the King of Tsang to confirm the reincarnation of the Fourth Dalai Lama in the person of a boy he named Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682)) and who later became the Fifth Dalai Lama, 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 Gelug hierarchs, laid siege to Tsang authority in Lhasa and drove Tsang forces to Chagpori, 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 Fifth Dalai Lama at Drepung.

Following the defeat of the Tsang King and the ascent of the Fifth Dalai Lama as King of Tibet in 1641, the fortunes of Chokyi Gyaltsen grew greater still:

Chokyi Gyaltsen was given the title of Panchen Lama:

Two separate systems of enumeration exist:

according to the system of Tashi Lhunpo, 3 previous lamas, identified as Chokyi Gyaltsen's previous incarnations, are identified as the 1-3 Panchen Lamas:

1. Khedrup Gelek Pelzang (1385-1438),
2. Sonam Chokyi Langpo (1439-1505), and
3. Ensapa Lobsang Döndrup (1505–1568).

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.