The Eighty-Eighth Ganden Tripa, Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso

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The Eighty-Eighth Ganden Tripa, Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso b.1837?

Name Variants: Chang-gyabpa Trichen Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso ; Drigungpa Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso ; Ganden Trichen 88 Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso; Ganden Tripa 88 Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso; Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso

The Eighty-eighth Ganden Tripa, Khyenrab Yonten Gyatso (dga' ldan khri pa 88 mkhyen rab yon tan rgya mtsho) was born in Drigung ('bri gung) assumingly in the second quarter of the nineteen century, possibly in 1837. No information is available on his parents nor his early life and ordination.

At a young age he travelled to Lhasa and matriculated in the Gungru House of Gomang College of Drepung Monastic University ('bras spungs sgo mang gung ru khang tshan), but later due to some disputes he transferred to the Trehor House of Loseling College of the same monastery ('bras spungs blo gsal gling gi tre hor khang tshan).

After receiving his basic monastic training Yonten Gyatso commenced his studies in logic and then the great texts of Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Madhyamaka, Abhidharmakośa, Pramāṇavārttika, and Vinaya, the five major subjects of the Geluk monastic curriculum. In addition to philosophical and related subjects he also learned astrology and astronomy, and formulas for making pills (lo gyon ril bu’i sbyar thabs dang las tshogs ril sgrub) for use in tantric rituals such as long-life empowerments. Upon completion of his studies he stood for the traditional examination of Geshe Lharampa (dge bshes lha ram pa) during the Lhasa Monlam Chenmo, earning the title in the first ranking.

Yonten Gyatso then enrolled in Gyume College where he studied tantra, training in related rites and rituals according to Gyume tradition and earning the title of Ngakrampa (sngags rams pa), Master in Tantra. He served, in sequence, the posts of disciplinarian (dge bskos), chant-leader (bla ma dbu mdzad), the educational head of the monastery, and finally abbot of Gyume College. After completing his tenure at Gyume he went to Ganden Jangtse College (dga' ldan byang rtse grwa tshang) and took the post of Jangtse Choje (byang rtse chos rje), one of two positions from which monks would ascend to the Golden Throne. During his tenure at Jangtse, in 1909, he did the proofreading of the wooden-blocks for a new edition of the Baidurya Karpo (bai DA+urya dkar po), Desi Sanggye Gyatso's (sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, 1653-1709) famous astrological text.

In 1913, the water-ox year of the fifteenth sexagenary cycle, Yonten Gyatso ascended from Ganden Jangtse to the Golden Throne of Ganden as the Eighty-eighth Ganden Tripa, the post that he served for the customary seven years, until 1919. During his tenure he performed usual duties that included giving teachings and leading all important dharma activities and festivals such as the Monlam Chenmo of Lhasa held in the first month of every Tibetan year to mark the Buddha's subjugation of Māra.

Yonten Gyatso granted empowerments for the forty-six maṇḍalas of tantric deities, including the Vajramāla, to a gathering of over six hundred devotees among whom were the Third Trijang Tulku, Lobzang Yeshe Tendzin Gyatso (khri byang 03 blo bzang ye shes bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho, 1901-1981), the junior tutor of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama; Buldu Tulku Lobzang Yeshe Tenpai Gyeltsen ('bul sdud sprul sku blo bzang ye shes bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, d.u.); and Lubum Geshe Sherab Gyatso (klu 'bum dge bshes shes rab rgya mtsho, 1884-1968).

Yonten Gyatso composed commentaries and esoteric instructions, and wrote on astrology, the making of ritual pills, and Tibetan grammar. These were collected into a single volume of collected works.

The details including year of his nirvana are not known; some sources have it that he lived for several years following his retirement.

Lobzang Nyendrak Gyatso (blo bzang snyan grags rgya mtsho, 1850-c.1920) was his successor on the Golden Throne.


Don rdor and Bstan 'dzin chos grags. 1993. Gangs ljongs lo rgyus thog gi grags can mi sna. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, pp. 974-976.

Grags pa 'byung gnas and Rgyal ba blo bzang mkhas grub. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 115-116.

Grong khyer lha sa srid gros lo rgyus rig gnas dpyad yig rgyu cha rtsom 'bri au yon lhan khang. 1994. Dga' ldan dgon pa dang brag yer pa'i lo rgyus, grong khyer lha sa'i lo rgyus rig gnas deb 02. Lhasa: Bod ljongs shin hwa par 'debs bzo grwa khang, pp. 79.

Khetsun Sangpo. 1973. Biographical Dictionary of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Dharamsala: LTWA, Vol. 6, p. 216.

Samten Chhosphel
March  2011