Muge Samten Gyatso

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Muge Samten Gyatso b.1914 - d.1993

Name Variants: Mijik Yangchen Gawai Lodro ; Muge Samten ; Samten Gyatso

Muge Samten Gyatso (dmu dge bsam gtan rgya mtsho) was born in 1914, the wood-tiger year of the fifteenth sexagenary cycle, to a farming family named Gyongme Khorlotsang (gyong smad 'khor lo tshang) in a place called either Muge (dmu dge) or Moge (dmod dge), which consisted of eighteen small of villages in what is now Zungchu county, Ngawa prefecture, Sichuan Province. He was the first son of his father, Gendun Kyab (dge 'dun skyabs) and mother, Atse (a tshe). From the name of his home village he is best known as Muge Samtem Gyatso. He had at least one sister, Demochok Tso (bde mchog 'tsho).

He learned to read and write from his father and from his uncle, Je Lobzang Choden Pel Zangpo (rje blo bzang chos ldan dpal bzang bo, d.u.), who previously served as abbot at Ngayul Gomang Mawai Sengge Ling, and was later abbot at Muge Tashi Khorlo (dmu dge'i bkra shis 'khor lo), which had been founded by Tsakho Ngawang Drakpa (tsha kho ngags dbang drags pa, d.u.)

When he turned eleven, with the encouragement of his grandfather, Sotar (bsod tar, d.u.) and uncle, Kongchok Dechen (dkon mchog bde chen, d.u.), he took novice ordination at Muge Tashi Khorlo from the Third Ponla, Lobzang Tenpai Nyima (dpon bla 03 blo bzang bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1895-1941), who gave him the name Lobzang Samten (blo bzang bsam gtan).

At Muge Tashi Khorlo Monastery, under the instruction of Geshe Konchok Gendun (dge bshes dkon mchog dge 'dun, d.u.) and his uncle Lobzang Choden Pel, until the age of nineteen he studied various of Buddhist texts such as the Collected Topics (bsdus grwa) literature, the Root Text on Tenets (grub mtha rtsa ba) and the Treatment on the Stages and Paths (sa lam rnam bzhag), of the Second Jamyang Zhepa, and the Prajñāpāramitā.

At the age of twenty he enrolled in Geluk monastic university of Labrang Tashikhyil (bla brang bkra shis 'khyil), studying sutra and tantra under Gyamkho Tulku (rgyam kho sprul sku, d.u.), Konchok Samdrub (dkon mchog bsam grub, d.u.), Jamyang Lekshe ('jam dbyangs legs bshad, d.u.), Jigme Damcho Gyatso ('jigs med dam chos rgya mtsho, 1849-1946), and Ngo Lama Lago (dngos bla ma bla go, 1866-1894) for nine years, ultimately earning a Geshe Dorampa (dge bshes rdo ram ba) degree.

When the Fifth Jamyang Zhepa, Lobzang Jamyang Yeshe (blo bzang 'jam dbyangs ye shes, 1882-1954) returned from Lhasa and established a monastic school at Labrang he assigned Samten Gyatso as the schoolmaster, charged with teaching poetry and grammar. Later this school was governed by the educational department of Nationalist government, with salaries paid by the government and Chinese language instruction added to the curriculum.

In 1950, when Samten Gyatso was thirty seven, the Sixth Gungtang Jigme Tenpai Wangchuk (gung thang 06 'jigs med bstan pa'i dbang phyug, 1926-2000), appointed him to secretary (drung chen mkhan po) of Labrang. In this capacity he accompanied Jetsun Sherab Gyatso (rje btsun shes rab rgya mtsho, 1884-1968) to Beijing to work for people’s committee (mi dmangs don byed au yin han khang). After two years he was requested by his parents to return home, which he did in 1952.

When he turned forty, in 1953, he was given the responsibility of teaching Buddhist metaphysics at the monastic college of Muge Tashi Khorlo. In May of 1957, at the age of forty six, he was ordered back to Beijing to edit the Tibetan translation of Mao Zedong’s writing and of the Chinese-Tibetan Dictionary. There he met Tseten Zhabdrung (tshe btsan zhabs drung, 1910-1985) for the first time, sharing living quarters with him.

During the Cultural Revolution Samten Gyatso was labeled as a "shagochen" (zhwa  'go can), or counter-revolutionary, and, together with other authority figures suffered considerably. In 1967, at the age of forty-four, he was transferred to Barkham ('bar kham), the capital of Ngawa Prefecture, Sichuan, for reeducation.

Following his rehabilitation, in January, 1980, at the age of sixty, he went to Beijing for a meeting on "national minority" languages, at which it was proposed to alter languages' grammar to conform to Han Chinese. Muge Samten Gyatso and other Tibetan scholars debated for twelve days and were able to get the plan dropped. After the meeting he wrote a Tibetan grammar titled A Definitive Analysis of Orthography (dag yig mtha dpyod) which was highly praised by Dungkar Lobzang Trinle (dung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las, 1927-1997).

In June of 1982, at the age of sixty nine, he was invited to take part in a meeting of China astronomy in Lhasa and he was selected as the Vice-president of the Astronomy Association. During the four months in U and Tsang he visited Sera, Drepung, Tashilhunpo, and Sakya, as well as the Tibetan kings’ first residence Yumbu Lagang (yum bu bla sgang) and the graves of the early kings, the Chogyel Mewon Namsum (chos rgyal me dbon rnam gsum): Songtsen Gampo (srong btsan sgam bo, 617-651) Tri Songdetsen (khri srung lde btsan, 742-796), and Tri Relpachen (khri ral ba can, 815-842).

In addition to his teachings given at monasteries, Samten Gyatso also lectured in Tibetan at several major colleges or universities in western China including the Southwestern Minorities University (lho nub mi rigs slob grwa chen mo) in Chengdu, the Northwestern Minorities University (nub byang mi rigs slob grwa chen mo) in Lanzhou. He established many Tibetan language training programs in Amdo, specifically in Khyungchu (khyung chu), Dzoge (mdzod dge) and Ngawa (rnga ba) where he taught Tibetan grammar, poetry, literature and Buddhist philosophy.

At the age of eighty, in 1993, the water-bird year of the sixteenth sexagenary cycle, Jetsun Muge Samten Gyatso passed away at Muge Tashi Khorlo Monastery.

His works were collected and published in six volumes, in 1997 by the Qinghai Nationalities Publishing House, and again in 2009 by the Sichuan Nationalities Publishing House. The first volume contains biographies of two of his teachers, Alak Lakho Jigme Trinle Gyatso (a lags bla kho 'jigs med 'phrin las rgya mtsho, 1866-1948) and Yongdzin Tsang Kelzang Peljor Zangpo (yongs 'dzin tshang skal bzang dpal 'byor bzang po, d.u.); and two important figures in the Tibetan medical tradition, Tsoje Zhonnu Yeshe ('tsho byed gzhon nu ye shes, 12th c.) and Yutok Nyingma Yonten Gonpo (g.yu thog rnying ma yon tan mgon po, 790-833).




Dmu dge bsam gtan rgya mtsho. 2009. Dmu dge bsam gtan gyi rang rnam rang gsal A dar sha. In Rje btsun bsam gtan rgya mtsho dpal bzang bo'i gsung 'bum, vol.1, pp. 525 ff. Sichuan: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

Ldong yon tan rgya mtsho. 2008. Bod kyi yi ge'i spyi rnam blo gsal 'jug ngogs kyi zur 'debs stong thun ngag gi lde mig. Qinghai: Mdo lha'i lnga rig dpar skrun khang.

Mkhas dbang dung dkar blo bzang 'phin las. 2004. Bod kyi chos srid zung 'brel skor bshad ba. Beijing: Mi rigs dbe skrun khang. p.13; 38.

Tsering Namgyal
April 2011