The First Jamyang Zhepa, Jamyang Zhepai Dorje

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The First Jamyang Zhepa, Jamyang Zhepai Dorje b.1648 - d.1721/1722

Name Variants: Jamyang Zhepa 01 Ngawang Tsondru; Labrang Tri 01 Ngawang Tsondru ; Lobzang Gyeltsen ; Ngawang Tsondru ; Pelshul Ngawang Tsondru

The First Jamyang Zhepa, Jamyang Zhepai Dorje ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 01 'jam dbyangs bzhad pa'i rdo rje) was born in a small town in Amdo called Lhatrading (lha khra ding) located in the area of Lower Gengya (rgan gya smad) in Sang-zhung (bsang gzhung) in 1648, the earth-mouse year of the eleventh sexagenary cycle. His father was called Pelshul Bumgyal (dpal shul 'bum rgyal) and his mother was named Tarmejam (thar me byams). The names of his parents also appear as Pel Bumgyal and Tarmojam (dpal 'bum rgyal and thar mo byams). At the age of five, the child had audience of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso(ta la'i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682) presumably when the Dalai Lama stopped in Tsokar (mtsho khar) on his way to or from Beijing. In his autobiography, Jamyang Zhepa reports that the Dalai Lama gave him a blessing by putting his hand on his head, and implies that this cured him of ill health.

At the age of seven the child started learning reading and writing under his paternal uncle, Gelong Sonam Lhundrub (dge slong bsod nams lhun grub, d.u.). At the age of thirteen Duldzin Kyuchok Yeshe Gyatso ('dul 'dzin khyu mchog ye shes rgya mtsho, d.u.) granted him the vows of primary and novice monks (rab byung and dge tshul), giving him the ordination name Lobzang Gyeltsen (blo bzang rgyal mtshan). Lobzang Gyeltsen also received initiation on Yamāntaka from Yeshe Gyatso, as well as teachings on that and other topics. It was said that he slept "without losing his belt" (that is, without taking off his robes) for about four years in order to give more time for study. Until the age of twenty, in addition to religious subjects, he also studied common subjects such as Sanskrit phonetics, astrology, and astronomy.

In 1668, at the age of twenty-one, Lobzang Gyeltsen travelled to U and matriculated in Drepung Gomang Monastery ('bras spungs sgo mang grwa tshang). Upon his arrival in Lhasa he went to the Jokhang Temple and offered a kata, or silk scarf, to the statue of Mañjūśrī. According to oral tradition, the statue smiled at him, and thus he earned the name by which he is most commonly known, Jamyang Zhepa, or "one upon whom Mañjūśrī has smiled."

He began his education by memorizing lengthy root-verses of traditional texts, and studied various texts of logic and epistemology, and then gradually Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Madhyamaka, Abhidharmakośa, Pramāṇavārttika and Vinaya, the five major subjects of the Geluk monastic curriculum, under Lodro Gyatso, then the abbot of Gomang who later became the Forty-fourth Ganden Tripa in 1682 (dga' ldan khri pa 44 blo gros rgya mtsho, 1635-1688). Lobzang Gyeltsen is said to have given special attention to the texts by Tsongkhapa and his main disciples such as the Mirror Reflecting Clearly the Views of Madhyamaka (dbu ma dgongs pa rab gsal) and Essence of Elegant Sayings (legs bshad snying po). Later he also received from the same tutor teachings on many other topics covering most of the sutra. During that first year he received his novice vows (dge tshul) from the Fifth Dalai Lama. He received initiations into the Vajrabhairava, Guhyasamāja, and Vairocana from Pabongkha Jamyang Drakpa (pha bong kha 'jam dbyangs grags pa, d.u.), whom he considered his root teacher, and also from Tsultrim Tsenchen (tshul khrims mtshan can, d.u.), the abbot of Drepung Tantric College. The list of masters from whom he received teachings, and the texts he studied, is extensive; in his autobiography Jamyang Zhepa claims to have memorized hundreds of pages of texts in just his first year at Gomang.

While at Drepung Lobzang Gyeltsen was so poor that he lived for an extended period on only dried peas and water. Nevertheless, he excelled in his studies and, at the age of twenty-five, he went on a traditional "debating tour" of other monasteries to test his knowledge. Having earned the degree of Kachupa (dka' bcu pa), he arrived at the Sakya monastery of Sangpu (gsang phu), originally a Kadam institution, with a composition on Dharmakīrti's epistemology. His activities there earned him the title of Rabjampa (rab 'byams pa), a Sakya title for a master of philosophy. According to other sources he stood for another examination at Chotri Serpo (chos khro gser po).

At the age of twenty-seven, in 1674, he was granted the vows of full ordination (dge slong sdom pa) by the Fifth Dalai Lama, who game him the name Ngawang Tsondru (ngag dbang brtson grus).

In 1676, at the age of twenty-nine, Ngawang Tsondru enrolled in Gyume College in Lhasa. There he studied the four sections of Tantra (rgyud sde bzhi) as understood by the Geluk tradition, training in rites and rituals of the Gyume tradition, including building the maṇḍalas of each section of Tantra, the eight stupas, and tantric dance, chanting, and the line-drawings of the homa rite of the four actions (las bzhi'i sbyin sreg gi gar theg dbyangs) under Gyuchen Lodro Gyatso (rgyud chen blo gros rgya mtsho, d.u.). It was at Gomang that Jamyang Zhepa first met the Second Changkya, Lobzang Choden (lcang skya 02 blo bzang chos ldan, 1642-1714), who would remain a close collaborator.

In 1680 Segyud Dorjechang Konchok Yarpel (srad rgyud rdo rje 'chang dkon mchog yar 'phel, b.1602), a master in the Segyud tradition (srad rgyud), who was residing in Riwo Gepel (rib o dge 'phel) above Drepung, was old and searching for an heir. According to Jamyang Zhepa's hagiographies, the darmapāla Damchen Chogyel (dam chen chos rgyal), a form of Yama connected to Tashilhunpo, brought Ngawang Tsondru to the lama, who then gave him the complete transmission in the Ganden Nyengyu (dga' ldan snyan rgyud).

His education largely complete, he retreated to Riwo Gepel to practice, arriving there at the age of thirty-three, occasionally leaving to take addition teachings or to instruct others. During this period he composed most of the texts for which he is known, including those that later became the standard text books at Drepung and Labrang, including the root text for his Great Exposition of Tenets (grub mtha' chen mo) that he composed a decade later.

While still in retreat, in 1697 he was invited by the young Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 06 tshe dbyangs rgya mtsho, 1683-1706) to meet, becoming one of the young lama's tutors and advisors. In 1700, at the age of fifty-three, he was enthroned to the seat of abbot of Drepung Gomang Monastery by the Sixth Dalai Lama. He spent much of his highly productive tenure teaching the five main subjects of the Geluk curriculum, and composing texts. In addition, he restored the statue of Yamāntaka in the Tantra Temple and also renovated the monastery's labrang and reintroduced some degenerated traditions such as Zhalse Gyatsoma (zhal sras rgya mtsho ma). During his tenure he also added for several new estates to Gomang's wealth, bringing in new sources of income.

During his tenure at Gomang, he fell afoul of Desi Sanggye Gyatso (sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho 1653-1705), the Regent of the Fifth Dalai Lama, over the Dalai Lama's attempt to exert greater control of Drepung. Jamyang Zhepa refused the Desi's order to replace the textbooks of Paṇchen Sonam Drakpa (paN chen bsod nams grags pa, 1478-1554) with those of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and to refute his teachings. The order was part of a systemic repression of the influence of Drepung's founder Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen ('dul 'dzin grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1374-1434), whose supporters were on the opposite side of a growing schism in the Geluk tradition.

In 1707 Jamyang Zhepa stepped down from the abbacy of Gomang Monastery, his opposition to the Desi finally becoming too controversial, and Lhazang Khan (lha bzang khan), the Quoshot Mongolian ruler who then controlled Tibet with the backing of the Manchu Dynasty in China, who had supported him in his abbacy, offered him the seat of Pabongkha (pha bong kha), a famous hermitage above Sera Monastery. Jamyang Zhepa was a strong ally of Lhazang Khan, supposedly saving his life following an attempted poisoning by Desi Sanggye Gyatso. After the Fourth Paṇchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyeltsen (paN chen bla ma 04 blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1570-1662) was unsuccessful in reconciling the Khan and the Desi, Jamyang Zhepa is said to have attempted, but also failed, to pacify the conflict, in which the Desi ultimately lost his life. As well detailed by Derek Maher, Jamyang Zhepa's relationship with Lhazang was complex, along that of the patron-priest model; Jamyang Zhepa is credited with restraining Lhazang from destroying the Geluk institutions that had allied with the Desi against him. The relationship appears to have later cooled, as Jamyang Zhepa transferred support to another branch of the Quoshots in Amdo, themselves allied with the Dzungars who ultimately ousted Lhazang and instituted a reign of terror in Lhasa and the surrounding areas.

In the 1709 Jamyang Zhepa returned to Amdo and the following year laid the foundation of Labrang Tashikhyil Monastery, on the full-moon day of the third month of the iron-tiger year, at the request and with the patronage of, among other Tibetan and Mongolians, the local Quoshot chieftain, Erdeni Jinong, who was later involved in the protection of the young Seventh Dalai Lama. Some Chinese sources have it that the Kangxi Emperor also sponsored the establishment of the monastery. (Various sources have the founding of the monastery in 1708 and 1709.) He brought with him some two hundred followers from Gomang, first teaching in an encampment of tents. He appointed Ngawang Tashi (ngag dbang bkra shis, 1678-1738) the first disciplinarian to oversee the creation of the monastic regulations. Ngawang Tashi later succeeded Jamyang Zhepa as the monastery's second throne holder, overseeing the construction of most of the monastery's initial buildings.

Jamyang Zhepa established a Tantric school (rgyud grwa) at Gonlung Jampa Ling (dgon lung byams pa gling) in the same year as he founded Labrang. Gonlung was then the most powerful Geluk monastery in Amdo, the seat of the Tukwan (thu'u bkwan) incarnation and the Changkya (lcang skya), and Sumpa (sum pa) incarnations. In Amdo he continued to compose and revise works, gradually removing himself from the administration of the monastery.

According to an historian of Labrang, Belmang (dbal mang, 1764-1853), Jamyang Zhepa is said to have discovered a Chod treasure concealed by Machik Labdron (ma gcig lab sgron, 1055-1149) herself, on the grounds of Labrang. The discovery is said to have occurred in 1718, soon after the establishment of the monastery, and naturally would have contributed to the sanctification of the space. Following the unearthing of the treasury, Jamyang Zhepa is said to have publicly displayed a statue of Amitāyus and a treasure vase, and decoded the treasury texts with the assistance of Nominhan Lobzang Dondrub (no mon han blo bzang don grub, d.u.), probably the twentieth abbot of Kumbum (sku 'bum), from 1718 to 1724, and Jamyang Pelden, the seventh throne holder of Labrang Gyutsang (bla brang rgyud pa khri 07 'jam dbyangs dpal ldan, 1682-1754).

It is worth noting that treasury discovery, generally limited to the Nyingma and Bon traditions, is frequently disparaged by Geluk authors. Chod practice, however, has a long history of practice in the Geluk tradition, and the relatively ecumenical Geluk patriarch Tukwan Chokyi Nyima (thu'u bkwan 03 blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma, 1737-1802) wrote of it favorably. Indeed, Belmang credited the Third Tukwan with the information about Jamyang Zhepa's Chod treasure discovery. Perhaps based around this episode, the First Jamyang Zhepa was considered by later disciples as an incarnation of Machik Labdron.

At Labrang Jamyang Zhepa trained a large number of disciples, many of whom went on to have distinguished careers. His prominent disciples are enumerated as the four Trichens, ten great lamas, five great abbots, four yogis, four great teachers, and three paṇḍitas. Among them were: Gendun Puntsok, who became the Fiftieth Ganden Tripa (dga' ldan khri pa 50 khri chen Dge 'dun phun tshogs, 1648-1724); Gyeltsen Sengge, who became the Fifty-third Ganden Tripa (dga' ldan khri pa 53 khri chen rgyal mtshan seng+ge, 1678-1756); Ngawang Chokden, who became the Fifty-fourth Ganden Tripa (dga' ldan khri pa 54 khri chen ngag dbang mchog ldan, 1677-1751); Ngawang Namkha Zangpo, who became the Fifty-fifth Ganden Tripa (dga' ldan khri pa 55 khri chen Ngag dbang nam mkha' bzang po, 1690-1750); Ngawang Tashi, later the second throne holder of Labrang (ngag dbang bkra shis, 1678-1738); Lobzang Dondrub, later the third throne holder of Labrang (bla brang khri 03 blo bzang don grub, 1673-1746); Rongwo Gendun Gyatso, later the first abbot of Rongwo (dge 'dun rgya mtsho, 1679-1765); Jamyang Pelden, later the seventh throne holder of Labrang ('jam dbyangs dpal ldan, 1682-1754); the Second Tukwan, Ngawang Chokyi Gyatso (thu'u bkwan 02 ngag dbang chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1680-1736); and the Fifth Chakra Lama, Ngawang Tendzin Lhundrub (lcags ra bla ma 05 Ngag dbang bstan 'dzin lhun grub, 1671-1727).

Jamyang Zhepa also helped identify and train the reincarnation of the Third Changkya, Rolpai Dorje (lcang skya 03 rol pa'i rdo rje, 1717-1786).

The compositions of Jamyang Zhepai Dorje were collected into fifteen volumes that contain a great variety of topics, a total of one hundred forty-three separate works. Main subjects covered by his written works included Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Madhyamaka, Pramāṇa, doxography, monastic discipline, religious history, biography, debate manuals, and a chronological index in verse. Twenty-six texts are commentaries on Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, and Vajrabhairava. He composed most of the texts of the monastic curriculum of Drepung Gomang Dratsang.

At the age of seventy-three in the iron-mouse year in 1720, the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661-1722) awarded him the title of Paṇḍita Erdini Nominhan, the Manchu equivalent of the Tibetan title chogyel (chos rgyal), or Dharma King.

The year of his nirvana is alternately recorded as 1721, on the fifth of the second month of the iron-ox year in the twelfth sexagenary cycle, or 1722, the year of water-tiger, at the age of seventy-five.

Konchok Jigme Wangpo (kun mkhyen dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po, 1728-1791) born in Dechen Drampa Nang in Southern Amdo was identified as his reincarnation, the Second Jamyang Zhepa.


Incarnation line of the Jamyang Zhepa:

Jamyang Zhepa 01, Ngawang Tsondru ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 01 ngag dbang brtson 'grus, 1648‑1721/2).

Jamyang Zhepa 02 Konchok Jigme Wangpo Yeshe Tsondru Drakpai De (dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po 'jam dbyangs bzhad pa 02 ye shes brtson 'grus grags pa'i sde, 1728‑1791).

Jamyang Zhepa 03, Lobzang Tubten Jigme Gyatso ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 03 blo bzang thub bstan 'jigs med rgya mtsho, 1792‑1855),

Jamyang Zhepa 04, Kelzang Tubten Wangchuk ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 04 bskal bzang thub bstan dbang phyug, 1856‑1916).

Jamyang Zhepa 05, Lobzang Jamyang Yeshe Tenpai Gyeltsen ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 05 blo bzang 'jam dbyangs ye shes bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, 1916‑1947).

Jamyang Zhepa 06, Lobzang Jigme Tubten Chokyi Nyima ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 06 blo bzang 'jigs med thub bstan chos kyi nyi ma, b.1948)




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Samten Chhosphel
January 2011