keeping the sacred sacred


  Biography of Jentsa Ngawang Chokden from the Dictionary of Learned And/Or Accomplished Beings Who Appeared In The Snowy Land  

Jentsa Ngakwang Chogden (kcan-tsha ngag-dbang mchog-ldan)

He was born in the Fire-Snake year of the 11th cycle, which is the Western year 1677, in Jentsa Karmo Puk (kcan-thsa dkar-mo phuk), as son of the father Pashi Chakdor Tashi (pha-bzhis phyak-rdor dkra-shis) and the mother Bo Chokyi (sbo mtchog-skyid). He passed away in the Iron-Goat year of the 13th cycle, which is the Western year 1751, in Reting (rwa-skreng).

At the age of 11, he went to Chakyung (bya-khyung) monastery to take ordination from his paternal uncle Ngawang Tsultrim (ngag-dbang tshul-khrims); he became a novice monk (dge-thsul) and trained in recitation and liturgies (chos-spyod).

At the age of 15, he went to Central Tibet (dbus) to enter Sera Samlo (se-ra bsam-blo), where he brought his studies of the five textual groupings of the word of the Buddha [i.e. Valid Cognition, Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma, Vinaya] to full completion.

At the age of 20, he participated in debates at Sangpu (ksang-phu) and was given the title of Parchin (phar-phyin) [i.e. one whose view is complete and transcendent].

At the age of 25, he participated in the debates at the great prayer festival at Lhaden (lha-ldan [temple in Lhasa]). He took full ordination from Panchen Losang Yeshe (phan-chen blo-bzang ye-shes) and immediately entered the Tantric section at Me (smad).

At the age of 29 he became the Tantric discipline master (dge-bskod). Then he went to his home country Do Me (mdo-smad) to visit the monasteries of Chakyung (bya-khyung), Kumbum (sku-‘bum), Konlung (dkon-lung) and Tsenpo (btsen-po), pledging his [continued] commitment [to the path]. For his father and mother he erected Stupas of the Eight Sugatas.

Statue of the first Reting Rinpoche Ngawang Chokden

He went back to Central Tibet (dbus), and at the age of 34 he went to the abbot of Ngari Toling (mnga-ris mtho-lding), where he stayed for seven years to renovate many thousands of stupas erected during the time of Lochen Rinchen Sangpo (lo-chen rin-chen bzang-po).

At the age of 43, he came to the throne of Gyume (rgyud-smad), where he was in charge of teaching and learning for ten years, sustaining the life channel of the Mother-Tantra teachings.

At the age of 52, he was revered as tutor to Gyalwa Kalsang Gyatso (rgyal-ba bskal-bzang rgya-mthso) [i.e. the 7th Dalai Lama]. He went to Karthar (mkar-thar) in Kham (khams) to give many profound dharma teachings of the Sutras and Tantras to the Supreme Conqueror [the Dalai Lama] and was invested as his foremost teacher. He gave Changkya Rolbai Dorje (lcang-skya rol-bai rdo-rje) all the profound Dharmas like pouring from a full vase. The Great Emperor [of China] bestowed upon him the title of Achitu Nominhan (a-chi-thu no-min-han).

At the age of 63, in the Earth-Goat year of the 12th cycle, which is the Western year 1739, holding the Golden Throne of Ganden (dka-ldan) [supreme head of the Gelugpa lineage], he reigned as throneholder for seven years and brought about a particular flourishing of teaching and learning.

At the age of 72, he also made a gift of the jewel ornament, the throne of gold and silver as well as the cloth covering for the speaking statue of Jowo Lokeshwara (jo-bo lo-ke-shwa-ra), which the 7th Supreme Conqueror [i.e. the Dalai Lama] had made, to Chakyung monastery (bya-khyung), where they are today in the Serdung (kser-kdung) house.

When he had brought all these deeds to completion, at the age of 75, he passed into the mind expanse of Dharma. His precious corpse rests to the left of Jowo Jampel Dorje (jo-bo ‘jam-dpal rdo-rje). He was the 54th in the line of those who held the Golden Throne of Ganden (dka-ldan).

From: ko-zhul grags-pa 'byung-gnas dang. rgyal-ba blo-bzang mkhas-grub (2006). gangs-can mkhas-grub rim-byon ming-mdzod. [Jungnay, Kozhul Dragpa, and Gyalwa Lozang Khaydrub (2006). A Dictionary Of Learned And / Or Accomplished Beings Who Appeared In The Snowy Land]. Swayambunath, Nepal: Padma Karpo Translation Committee


The teacher-student relationship between the 1st Reting Rinpoche and the 7th Dalai Lama

Ngawang Chokden Rinpoche was the consulting ordination master when Kalsang Gyatso, the 7th Dalai Lama took full ordination on the full moon of the fourth month of the Fire Horse Year before the sacred image of Buddha Shakyamuni in the Great Temple of Lhasa.

After his previous tutor, the Throne Holder Palden Drakpa, died after their arrival in Do-kham, the 7th Dalai Lama requested Ngawang Chokden to be his tutor. He studied and meditated on the 5th Dalai Lama’s Sacred Word of Manjushri (‘jam-dbyangs-zhal-lung) directly in accordance with Ngawang Chokden’s personal experience, and repeatedly questioning his teacher on all points of doubt he quickly gained certainty of insight.

Ngawang Chokden Rinpoche continued to be the 7th Dalai Lama's tantric teacher throughout his stay at Tashi Lunpo, giving him

  • a complete transmission of all doctrines of the ancient Kadampa tradition, such as Geshe Potawa’s Cloud of Precious Similes on Dharma (dPe-chos-rinchen-spung-pa)
  • the Thirteen Golden Dharmas of the Sakyapa Sect
  • initiations into the mandala of the Four Great Meditation Deities of the Kadampa sect o empowerments into the practices of various Dharma protectors such as Six-armed Mahakala
  • teachings on the tantric technique known as “the mother and son sunlight accomplishing magical activity”, which is found in the cycle of Vajrahbairava activities providing emanation power over the three worlds
  • the lineage of the Six Yogas of Naropa, which had come to him in an unbroken line from Milarepa
  • the profound doctrine of Ganden Mahamudra of the six-branched yoga of the Kalachakra completion stage
  • a transmission of all the works written by Gyaltsep Dharma Rinchen, Tsongkhapa’s main successor

Ngawang Chokden was the Gyumed tantric abbot, renowned as highly learned and realized. He became Ganden Throne Holder while the 7th Dalai Lama was at Tashi Lunpo. “At this time His Holiness strongly requested his tutor Ngawang Chokden to collect together and master all the lineages of the Kalachakra Tantra that had been gathered and propagated by Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples, as these had become in danger of extinction. Although very old, out of respect for His Holiness and in order to preserve the full doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa, the aged Throne Holder collected the various fragmented traditions with great difficulty to himself, accomplished the practice through intensive retreat, and then passed the endangered lineages on to His Holiness Kalzang Gyatso.” Two future Reting Rinpoches were to serve as regents during the minority of future Dalai Lamas.

Statue of the first Reting Rinpoche Ngawang Chokden

"When Ngawang Chokden […] reached his seventy-fifth year, his body became very heavy and he even had difficulty in rising from his seat unassisted. His Holiness [the Fifth Dalai Lama Kalzang Gyatso] went to the lama’s residence, offered him the symbolic mandala of the universe as well as symbols of the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha, and many wondrous material gifts, and requested him to use his powers to extend his life span. The elderly guru replied: 'From childhood I have lived as a Buddhist monk and have had the fortune to meet with the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa. Moreover, I have had the excellent fortune to study, contemplate, and meditate upon the Dharma to my utter satisfaction, and to have served as tutor to Your Holiness, the protector of the Tibetan people. It has been a great joy to me to have been able to transmit to you many lineages of the sutra and tantra branches of the Buddhist path, as well as the exclusive oral transmission teachings from the meditative experience of Lama Tsongkhapa. Now my mind is ready to meet death. This body of mine is worn out. All this old man wants now is to be in solitude at Radeng Monastery when the time of his death falls.'

His Holiness visited his guru’s room again and again, and engaged in many profound conversations with him. He repeatedly requested his teacher to remain with him in the Potala and not to leave for Radeng, but the old lama politely declined. On the morning of the departure His Holiness went to the great guru and spoke at length to him of spiritual matters. As his teacher was about to leave, His Holiness placed the crown of his head against the old guru’s chest for several moments and, shedding tears, sent forth many prayers and auspicious thoughts. The lama himself asked His Holiness for his blessings and made prayers to meet with and be cared for by His Holiness in all his future incarnations.

After Ngawang Chokden had left, His Holiness offered tea ceremonies at the three great monasteries of the Lhasa area – Sera, Drepung, and Ganden – with prayers that the old lama would live sufficiently long to complete his journey to Radeng without any obstacles. His Holiness himself performed many rituals for this purpose. Ngawang Chokden eventually reached Radeng Monastery and passed away peacefully not long thereafter. His attendants sent His Holiness many offerings, together with the lama’s relics. His Holiness retreated into an upper chamber of the Potala to offer prayers and to meditate. He also offered extensive rites before the sacred Buddha image in the Central Temple of Lhasa and commissioned smaller prayer ceremonies at all the major monasteries in Tibet, including Ganden, Sera, and Drepung. He sent offerings to all the great incarnate lamas of the land, requesting them to make prayers. He then took his teacher’s relics and retreated into his private chamber, where he entered into prayer and meditation. He continued his retreat throughout the period in which the silver urn in which the remains of the cremation would be placed was being made. Later, His Holiness placed his teacher’s relics in the urn and performed all the appropriate rites himself. (pp. 59f)

Summary with excerpts from: Glenn H. Mullin. ‘A Biography of the Seventh Dalai Lama’. In: The Seventh Dalai Lama. Meditations to transform the mind. Translated, edited and introduced by Glenn H. Mullin. New York, 1999, pp. 47-64


The 1st Reting Rinpoche and the battle against Dorje Shugden

Statue of the first Reting Rinpoche Ngawang Chokden

For example, in the biography of Trichen Ngawang Chokden composed by Changkya Rolpai Dorje entitled The Melodious Speech of Realised Sky Farers called The Great Drum of the Celestial Beings he states:

"Earlier, a very vicious and evil spirit [here it doesn't mention that this spirit is Dolgyal, but that it is Dolgyal who is referred to is clear from the biography of Changkya. Also, the time refers to the period when Trichen Ngawang Chokden was the Ganden throne-holder] possessed a man from Draksep [a place very near to Ganden] and some unstable former-abbots, and monastic hostels also worshipped it by simply invoking and propitiating it.

On the top of the Jangtse mountain a cairn for invoking spirits was also built. Seeing these as extremely inappropriate he issued an edict to the assembly of monks that from the time of Je Tsongkhapa there had been no tradition of propitiating worldly spirits and protectors within the premises of this seat of learning and so, henceforth, nobody would be allowed to engage in such deeds. The cairn was also destroyed [this is very clearly mentioned in the biography of Changkya] and the stones and earth of which it was made were taken back to the places from where they had been taken. The medium was invoked to come into trance and was then ordered not to come into trance henceforth. Dolgyal too said, 'If this is Tri Rinpoche's order, I have no choice but to accept."

This evil spirit then fled to sTag-rTse-Zhol. [Tri Rinpoche] himself then went into retreat for some time and subsequently established the practice of Dharma Raja's ritual cake offering composed by the Omniscient Gendun Gyatso [the second Dalai Lama] as a regular religious practice of monastic assembly. As a result of having transgressed Dharma Raja's words, a former-abbot who had propitiated this evil spirit immediately expired. The monastic hostels also experienced many misfortunes and this led to the end of such practice and became a contributory factor in the purification of the monastery and the place."

As is evident in the above statements Trichen Ngawang Chogden placed restrictions [on the practice of Dolgyal] and asked monks not to practice or propitiate such evil spirits within the Ganden complex. It was in 1740, the iron-monkey year and the second year of his incumbency as the Ganden Throne Holder that he dismantled the cairn of the spirit situated on the peak of the Jangtse mountain.

The Dolgyal Research Committee (1999). A Brief History Of Opposition To Shugden. Measures Taken by Various Learned Non-sectarian Scholars and Great Practitioners Against the Practice and Propitiation of Dolgyal or Shugden. Edited and Compiled by The Dolgyal Research Committee. Tibetan Government in Exile. Published on (accessed 31st October 2006)




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Last updated October 2006