keeping the sacred sacred


  Biography of Reting Thubden Jampal Yeshe Tempai Gyaltsen from the Dictionary of Learned And/Or Accomplished Beings Who Appeared In The Snowy Land  

Reting Thubden Jampal Yeshe Tenpai Gyaltsen (rwa-skreng thub-bstan ‘jam-dpal ye-shes bstan-pa’i rgyal-mtshan)

He was born in the Water-Mouse Year of the 15th cycle, which is the Western year 1919, in Dagpo Gyatso Dzong (dwaks-po rgya-tsho rdzong). In the Fire-Pig year of the 15th cycle, which is the Western year 1947, he was killed by the Tibetan government.

Already when he was at a very young age, Gyalwa Thudben Gyatso (rgyal-ba thub-bstan rgya-mtsho) [i.e. the 13th Dalai Lama] had ascertained and resolved that he was the Tulku of the previous incarnation Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenpai Gyaltsen (ngak-dbang blo-bzang ye-shes bstan-pa’i rgyal-mtshan) and installed him on the throne of his seat.

Then he entered the Serje (ser-byes) Monastic College, where he brought his studies and contemplation of the textual tradition of the five groupings of the word of the Buddha [i.e. Valid Cognition, Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma, Vinaya] to full completion and was awarded the title of Lharampa Geshe.

Portrait of the 5th Reting Rinpoche in his reception room

At the age of 23, in the Wood-Dog year of the 16th cycle, which is the Western year 1934, he became the acting regent of the Kashag (bka-shak) government and was in charge of the administration of Tibet for seven years. During that time he constructed both the base and the main structure of the wish-granting auspicious golden memorial stupa (kser-sdong dke-leks ‘dod-‘jo) of the 13th Dalai Lama Thubden Gyatso (thub-stan rgya-mtsho).

He also installed the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso (bstan-‘dzin rgya-tsho) on the throne of Mijik Donga (mi-‘jiks kdong-lnga), offered him the ordination vows and wrote the long-life and supplication prayers of ‘[arousing the mind that is like] a king with wish-fulfilling powers’. He assumed the responsibility as his tutor and made extensive Dharma offerings. He established the office of an Kuomintang (ko-min-tang) representative in Lhasa.

At the age of 30, in the Iron-Snake year of the 16th cycle, which is the Western year 1941, on the first day of the first Tibetan lunar month he took leave as acting regent and stayed in retreat at Reting Monastery. Later, the Tibetan government wrongly accused Reting. Wilfully stirring up what was called the ‘Reting incident’, they arrested and imprisoned Reting Rinpoche. When finally they gave him poisonous drugs, he died at the age of 36. He was the fifth in the line of the Retings.

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 13th Dalai Lama's instructions for finding the 5th Reting Rinpoche

The Tibetan biography mentions how, during 1915, the Dalai Lama gave indications for the discovery of the new Incarnation of the Abbot of the Reting Monastery, a very high incarnate lama. The monastery asked the Inmost One to guide them, and the latter’s reply was as follows:

“About the incarnation of him, you had better search in a country situated in the southern direction from Reting monstery, and in the exact southern direction from the Lhasa Temple, a prosperous country which has been blessed by many scholars and sages. There are three forests and a green meadow surrounded by a river which flows slowly. In the vicinity you may ask for a boy who was born in the year of the Water Mouse (1912) to a father born in Hare year, and the boy may be a very wonderful one. If you examine carefully according to this instruction, you will find the real lama, and he will do much beneficial work for Buddhism and for the people.”

As a matter of fact, this young lama became the Regent of Tibet after the Dalai Lama’s death.

Bell, Sir Charles (1987). Portrait of a Dalai Lama. The Life and Times of the Great Thirteenth. First published in 1946. London: Wisdom Publications, pp. 221-2


Stories from the childhood of the 5th Reting Rinpoche

When the 5th Reting Rinpoche was a child, one day his mother asked him to watch a pot of Thukpa soup on the fire so that it would not boil over as she had to leave the kitchen. When the fire was getting high and the soup threatened to boil over, the child tied the snout of the stone pot together with his mother's shoe laces.

Later he announced well in advance the arrival of the search party who were coming to look for him. He started making preparations for their arrival, driving wooden Phurbas into a stone face for many horses and mules to be tethered to.

Stories circulating amoung the Tibetan communities in Nepal and India


The role of the 5th Reting Rinpoche in the discovery and enthronement of the 14th Dalai Lama (1935)

From an account by a member of the search party:

HH the 14th Dalai Lama as a young boy

Among his many responsibilities, Regent Reting treated the search for the next incarnation as the most urgent. He went to Lake Lhamo Latso in Chokhor-gyal in 1935 (the Wood Pig Year) to perform an intensive sadhana with his party for several days. […] At the conclusion of his sadhana, the regent saw in the lake three groups of dbu can letters, “A”, “KA” and “MA”. He also saw a three-storied monastery, with its second floor in a turquoise colour and the rooftop adorned with rgya phib in golden colour; and a threadlike path leading towards the east from the monastery reaching up to the foot of a hill where there was a one-storied house with a blue roof. The regent noted all these visions in writing, keeping the information confidential. […]

Also included [among the objects given to the search party that would ultimately find the 14th Dalai Lama] was a copy of the confidential account of the Regent’s lake vision and his introductory letters to the them Panchen Lama, Governor Ma, the head lama of Kumbum, and monastery administrators and civil officials in those regions. (pp. 9-10)

The design of the house [in which the author would find the 14th Dalai Lama] reminded me of the regent’s lake vision, described in the one-page lake vision account. ‘This is it’, I said to myself. (p. 17)

The next reception camp awaiting us was at Dam Uma-thang, where Regent Reting Rinpoche accompanied by his subordinates, Chief Personal Attendant Venerable Ngawang Tenzin and various other officials, had come to receive us. We spent the night there, during which the Regeint, while officiating at the ceremony to mark his meeting with the young Dalai Lama, offered him the mandala symbolising the Buddha’s body, mind and speech, followed bu the welcome offerings including ‘white delicacies’. The next morning we continued our journey further to Reting Gephelling monastery – the foremost seat of the Kadampa school, whose location, according to Kadam Legbam, was known to have been one of the power places mentioned in the vajra songs of Oddiyana Dakini which she sang to Dharma King Khonchogbang. On our arrival there we were received by a grand procession […].

The next day, a grand welcoming ceremony took place in the monastery’s main assembly hall. The regent, followed by a procession of monks and officials, led the young Dalai Lama into the hall and sat him on His Holiness the late Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s throne. There followed offerings of the ‘white delicacies’ arranged by Reting estate and the offering of mandala by Regent Reting Rinpoche himself. […] As soon as the ceremony came to a close, the regent led the young Dalai Lama around the monastery complex and showed him its most sacred possessions, including Atisa’s silver memorial statue of Manjushri and Dromtonpa’s Prajnaparamita of 8000 Verses. […] Then, one day, the regent invited the young Dalai Lama, along with a small group from his entourage, to a picnic on the river-bank below the monastery where a picnic spot with beautiful pavilions was located. He also allowed us members of the search team a private audience with him at his residence. In all we spent three days at Reting monastery during which the Reting estate offered us splendid service and hospitality. (pp. 41-43)

Khemey Sonam Wangdu. ‘Discovery of the Dalai Lama’. In: Khemey Sonam Wangdu, Sir Basil J. Gould and Hugh E. Richardson. Discovery, Recognition and Enthronement of the 14th Dalai Lama. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. Dharamsala, 2000. pp. 1-52


The Dalai Lama's mother describes her first encounter with Reting Rinpoche

When we arrived at Reting monastery, we were welcomed by Reting Rinpoche, the regent, a young man in his thirties who was overseeing the government in the interim between Dalai Lamas. […] He asked what I thought of the patu [i.e. the Lhasa women’s headdress]. When I told him I was going to keep on wearing my hari [a vase-shaped headdress studded with jewels, reaching to the waist], he said it was very beautiful. He said that wearing one’s traditional clothes was an excellent idea and that His Holiness’s mother should be different. He was greatly taken with my hari. When I told him that I had created the elaborate designs, he said that he would call on me in Lhasa and request me to embroider the Gelugpa monks’ headgear.

To my surprise the regent Reting then began to describe the details of our house in Taktser, which he had seen in a vision. He knew that there was a tree in the backyard and a stupa (a reliquary mound) at the doorway and that we had a small black-and-white dog and a large mastiff on the terrace. He noted that there were many nationalities in our house and asked who they were. I said they were Muslims and Chinese, whom we had hired to work in the fields.

He remarked that the Amdo people were very straightforward and honest, with clear hearts, and although they were hot-tempered, their anger went away as quickly as it arose. He warned me that the people in Lhasa, on the other hand, had less transparent hearts. He said we would meet many different types of people in Lhasa, and some would be genuinely warm and sincere, but others would try to harm us. He warned me about the government officials, saying they were experienced flatterers. Superficially they would be gentle, but you might never know what they were feeling inside. He warned me to be careful of what I ate and never to accept food that had not been cooked in my personal kitchen, for it might be poisoned.

We stayed three days at Reting monastery, where the monks held a big reception to welcome their new Dalai Lama. We were lavishly entertained, and were even shown lhamo, Tibetan opera. From Reting it was three days to Lhasa. […] Reting Rinpoche accompanied us, as well as the Kashag (the Dalai Lama’s Council of Ministers), high ranking monks, khempos (scholar monks), in procession.
(pp. 104-106)

Tsering, Diki (2000). Dalai Lama, My Son. A Mother’s Story. Edited and introduced by Khedroob Thondup. Harmondsworth: Viking Arkana.


The Dalai Lama remembers Reting Rinpoche as his tutor

During the winter of 1940, I was taken to the Potala, where I was officially installed as spiritual leader of Tibet. […] Soon after, I was taken to the Jokhang temple, in the middle of the city, where I was inducted as a novice monk. This involved a ceremony known as taphue, meaning ‘cutting of the hair’. […] My locks were symbolically shorn by Reting Rinpoche, the Regent, who, in addition to his position as head of state until I reached my majority, was also appointed as my Senior Tutor. At first I was cautious in my attitude to him, but I came to like him very much. His most striking feature, I remember, was a continually blocked nose. As a person, he was quite imaginative, with a very relaxed mental disposition, a man who took things easily. He loved picnics and horses, as a result of which he became good friends with my father. Sadly though, during his years as Regent, he had become something of a controversial figure and the Government itself was by now quite corrupt. For example, the practice of buying and selling high positions was commonplace.

The 5th Reting Rinpoche in his reception room.

At the time of my induction, there were rumours that Reting Rinpoche was not fit to perform the hair-cutting ceremony. It was suggested that he had broken his vows of celibacy and was therefore no longer a monk. There was also open criticism of the way he had punished an official who had spoken against him in the National Assembly. Nevertheless, in accordance with ancient custom, I forfeited my name Lhamo Thondup and assumed his, Jamphel Yeshe, along with several others, so that my full name now became Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso.

In addition to Reting Rinpoche as Senior Tutor, I was appointed a Junior Tutor, Tathag Rinpoche, was an especially spiritual man and very warm and kind. […] These arrangements did not last long, however, for soon after I began my novitiate, Reting Rinpoche gave up the Regency, mainly on account of his unpopularity. Despite my being only six years old, I was asked who I thought should replace him. I nominated Tathag Rinpoche. He then became my Senior Tutor and was replaced as Junior Tutor by Ling Rinpoche.
(pp. 18f)

Dalai Lama (1990, 1998). Freedom in Exile. The autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. London: Abacus


The 5th Reting Hutuktu and the Buddhist masters of his time

The teacher-student relationship between the 5th Reting Hutuktu and HH Kyabje Chatrul Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

His Holiness Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

A Regent in Tibet named Redring Jampal Yeshe Tenpe Gyaltsen, also known as “Hutukatu Nolmenhan” (an official title in Mongolian), had requested the great Khenpo Ngagi Wangpo, who was then the abbot of Kathok Monastery, for teachings. The great Khenpo then said to him: “I am too old now for transmitting the teachings to you. I have a disciple whose mind and realization is the same as mine, and he is called Chadral Sangye Dorje. You can go and ask him for the teachings.”
When the regent was finally able to find Kyabje Chadral Rinpoche in the mountain caves, he got the reply of: “I am sorry, there is nothing special about me, and I have nothing to teach you. Please go somewhere else for teachings!” Then, the Regent had to show Rinpoche the letter that was written, signed and stamped by the great Khenpo himself. With this, Rinpoche was finally invited to Lhasa and became his principal master. […[ So, at one time, after the transmission of teachings, Rinpoche told the Regent that he would want to go to some remote areas for pilgrimage. In accompanying Rinpoche, the Regent had sent a troop of servants and soldiers for protection. After arriving at the destination, Kyabje Chadral Rinpoche asked the troop to go back, saying that he would stay there for his quiet practice. After the Regent knew of this, he immediately sent more troops to go and search for Rinpoche, but nowhere did they find him. Finally, they found a beggar who had exchanged his beggar’s clothes for the clothes of the beautiful brocades that Rinpoche wore earlier.

Yeshe Thaye and Pema Lhadren (2000). ‘The Life Story of the Lord of Refuge, Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche’. In: Light of Lotus. Issue 3. June 2000, pp.7-43.


When the 5th Reting Hutuktu was regent of Tibet, he requested Kathog Khenpo Ngawang Palzang to come to Lhasa to give transmissions. The old lama answered: “I am too advanced in years to undertake the 6-month journey to Lhasa. But I have a disciple who is like me; he will give you what you request. However, he does what he wants and travels aimlessly. I will give you a letter for him, because otherwise he may not come."

Then Reting Rinpoche sent messengers throughout Tibet to find Chatrul Rinpoche. Finally they found him meditating in the midst of a dense forest of thornbushes in Southern Tibet. When they arrived in front of Rinpoche, their precious brocades all ripped, and showed him Reting Rinpoche’s letter requesting him to come to Lhasa and teach, he replied: “I have nothing to do with high people and politics.” Then they showed him his root guru’s letter, and he agreed to come.

The messengers asked him where he kept his belongings. Rinpoche pointed to the things on the ground between them – his woollen blanket, a fur pad, a bag with some tsampa and fat, saying: “What more do I need?”

Chatrul Rinpoche stayed with Reting Rinpoche for two years, giving him many transmissions and instructions - the ear-whispered and profound heart essence of the Dzogpa Chenpo teachings. Reting Rinpoche would not let him leave. But Chatrul Rinpoche knew that trouble would come to Reting Rinpoche. He asked to go on a pilgrimage. Reting Rinpoche agreed and sent a servant to accompany him. But one morning early on in the pilgrimage the servant awoke to find Rinpoche gone.

Chatrul Rinpoche went into solitary retreat to hold a special meditation puja in order to save Reting Rinpoche’s life. After 18 days, when his Tsampa was finished, he wanted at least to make some hot water to sustain him. But just as he was about to build a fire, an eagle came and dropped food for him. Days later, Rinpoche again built a fire to make some hot water. Some villagers saw the smoke and came to find out who was there. Rinpoche’s practice, which required strict solitude, was thus interrupted. At that moment, he knew that the life of the Reting Rinpoche could not be saved and that he would be assassinated.

He also knew, according to Guru Rinpoche’s prophecy, that this would mean the end of Tibet’s independence. For in his prophecy, the Great Lotus-Born had stated that the Reting Rinpoche had a special and close connection to him, that he was a direct counterforce to Mao and Tibet's last hope.

Account of the relationship between the 5th Reting Rinpoche and Chatrul Sangye Dorje Rinpoche as related by one of Chatrul Rinpoche’s students


Dudjom Rinpoche states that the 5th Reting Hutuktu is Buddha Vajradhara

Tendzin Jungne - the attendant of Dorje Radreng, who is Buddha Vajradhara - who has a clear virtuous mind, requested a supplication. To make his request meaningful, I [Jigdral Yeshe Dorje] wrote and offered this. Virtue!

Colophon to the supplication prayer to Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, written by himself


Advice from the 5th Reting Rinpoche as remembered by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Reting Rinpoche in a tent
The 5th Reting Rinpoche in his tent

'Do not rely on other human beings; just pray to the yidam.' Such was the advice of Radreng. Therefore, do not count on others to help with food, clothing, etc. Rather have a confident faith in the Three Jewels. As it is said, 'Trusting in the Teacher is the ultimate refuge, working for the benefit of others is the ultimate Bodhicitta, therefore do not brag about your accomplishments.' We should always have this attitude, because if we depend on others, the results may not be as we wish.

Excerpt from: Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1993). Enlightened Courage. Editions Padmakara (Padmakara Translation Group). Snow Lion Publications.


The 5th Reting Hutuktu predicts Yangthang Rinpoche's place of birth

It is said that at the time of the rebirth of Tertön Dorje Dechen Lingpa, from all directions the sky in Sikkim resounded in thunder, "I am here!" Sogtrul Rinpoche, his principal student and lineage holder, was already awaiting him, as the place of his rebirth had been predicted both by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and by His Holiness Reting Rinpoche, the Senior Tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. By the time Sogtrul Rinpoche reached him he had already declared himself to be the rebirth of the tertön from Dhomang. He had become known as Yangthang Tulku, as he is from the Yangthang clan in Sikkim., accessed 10th November 2006, accessed 10th November 2006



The appointment of the 5th Reting Hutuktu as Regent of Tibet in 1934

Signs of support from the 13th Dalai Lama for Reting as regent

The young and inexperienced Reting […] was also seriously considered [as a candidate for the regency] because of the unusual interest the Dalai Lama had taken in him when he visited Reting monastery in 1933. At that time he gave the young Reting his own divination manuscript and dice, supposedly telling him, ‘I have been using these and they have proved good and if you use them it will prove useful for you, too’. Reting’s supporters argued that this was a sign that the late Dalai Lama wanted him to become regent. (p. 188)

Melvyn Goldstein. A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951. The demise of the Lamaist state. Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1989


Reting Hutuktu's initial refusal and subsequent election as regent by drawing lots

When the Thirteenth Dalai died, the Kashag got into a heated argument on the appointment of a regent. Sonam Gyalpo in particular, hinted that Thubtan Kunphel might continue to exercise administrative power and it was not necessary to choose a regent. Others proposed that Silon Yashi Langdun hold the power. But the majority maintained that a regent should be chosen and the position of the regent should the filled by a Living Buddha with the title of Hutuku according to the traditional institution. The dispute lasted for two months, and the problem still could not be settled.

The summer palace of the 5th Reting Rinpoche in Lhasa, built in the mid-1930s

At the instigation of Lungshar, the kashag accused Thubtan Kunphel of not having arranged prompt and effective medical treatment for the Thirteenth Dalai and of not having reported promptly about the health situation of the Dalai to the kashag. Thubtan Kunphel was put into jail at once and all of his property was confiscated. He was condemned finally to be exiled, though at first he was sentenced to death. Thus, the suggestion of the majority was endorsed. Of the eight Hutuktus Radreng had enjoyed the highest respect of the late Dalai. So he was chosen as the most suitable candidate for the official post of the regent. But Radreng refused.

His refusal was due to some reasons. The suggestion that he be the regent was not approved by the high monks of the Radreng Monastery. One of them, Changzod Dzasa Jamyang Geleg, wrote a letter to Radreng and said: "We were much shocked to learn that you had been chosen as a candidate for the position of the regent, because the Living Buddhas of our monastery had never taken the position. We pray that you might not take the position."

As a high monk, honest and of great learning, Jamyang Geleg had attained good reputation in both secular and religious circles. His advice, of course, was something the Living Buddha Radreng had to take into account. Another Living Buddha, Jampal Chodrag, an ex-abbot of the Ganden Monastery, even refused to be the candidate for the post of the regent. The reason what they, people of far-sight and great learning, refused to be in the high official post, was that the Tibetan political situation was full of danger.

So the kaloons had to resort to the use of the traditional way of drawing lots before the image of Buddha to decide the appointment of the regent from three candidates: Minyang Yeshe Wangdu, Living Buddha of the Ganden Monastery; Radreng, living Buddha of the Radreng Monastery; and Living Buddha Phurchog, the reincarnation of the scripture tutor of the Thirteenth Dalai. The lot fell upon Radreng, and he was appointed the regent as a result. On the tenth day of the first month of the Wood-Dog year of the Tibetan calendar (1934), Radreng came to the throne of the regent at the age of twenty-three. At the same time, Yashi Langdun Kunga Wangchu was appointed as the deputy regent.

Xiong Ji. 'Radreng the regent'. In: Tibet Studies 199001. Posted 2005-07-04. Published by China Tibet Information Centre. Accessed 31st October 2006



Reting Hutuktu's regency

During his seven-year reign as the regent, Radreng was so kind and generous to his colleagues that he was able to collaborate with public figures of various political groups. For example, the pro-British elements Cheru Zurkhang and his son, and Lhalu Tsewang Dorje who had much to complain were not excluded from the kashag. Tanpa Jamyang, who had been relieved from the post of khangchung by Thubtan Kunphel for his arrogance and became badly off because his property had been confiscated, was promoted to be a kaloon and concurrently the commander of Tibetan troops. In addition to that, Radreng reduced or remitted taxes and took measures to meet some economic needs of the Tibetan nobles. With his correct policy and good weather, the agricultural and pastoral production enjoyed great prosperity, commodity prices were low and stable, and the Tibetan society and frontiers enjoyed peace to the satisfaction of all concerned, clerical or lay, in Tibet. Accordingly, Radreng enjoyed high reputation. [...]


The 5th Reting Rinpoche with Tolstoy

Radreng Rinpoche enjoyed immense popular support, even his opponents could not launch an attack publicly. Some people said Radreng Rinpoche was "naive" and "immature". This, of course, was referred to his ignorance of political trickery. As an honest high monk, it was a matter of course that he did not know how to play politics. He was no match for those who acted one way in public and another in private. The honest people of the later generations all felt sorry for Radreng Rinpoche's resignation. The process of history is always tortuous and complicated and has reverses, which was caused by many factors. Superficially, Radreng offered his resignation of his own accord, and Tadrag was willing to take over the regent's post. But in fact Radreng's resignation was determined by the objective situation and subjective factors. Owing to it a turn in the course of events emerged, and a historical tragedy was bound to appear.

Xiong Ji. 'Radreng the regent'. In: Tibet Studies 199001. Posted 2005-07-04. Published by China Tibet Information Centre. Accessed 31st October 2006


The 5th Reting Hutuktu and the West

The 5th Reting Rinpoche provides Theos Bernard with the Tibetan Buddhist canon

The 5th Reting Rinpoche with Theos Bernard

Tibet in the late 1930s was a country struggling to maintain its independence in the face of increasing pressure from the surrounding empires of Great Britain, Russia, and China. The object of much political intrigue, the Tibetan government attempted to maintain a strict policy of border control. Few Westerners, and fewer still Americans, were able to breach the borders of Tibet. Theos Bernard, with his knowledge of literary and spoken Tibetan, coupled with papers of introduction from his Tibetan teachers—and the friendship of the Tibetan cabinet minister, Tsarong Shapé—was one of the few ever to reach Lhasa. [...]

A priority for Bernard in his journey to Tibet was the acquisition of a complete set of the Tibetan Buddhist canon in 338 volumes. This he managed to acquire along with many more volumes of the collected works of numerous Tibetan authors provided him by the Regent, Reting Rinpoche. These books were to serve as the focus of Bernard’s efforts over the subsequent ten years as he attempted to establish a research center for their translation into the English language. [...]

Of the many volumes of books brought back from Tibet by Theos Bernard, Yale University acquired more than two hundred volumes of his Tibetan texts including his copy of the 63-volume Treasury of Revealed Teachings for its library in 1963. The remainder of materials brought back from Tibet serves as the core of the Theos Bernard Tibetan Collection at the University of California, Berkeley. Acccessed 9th July 2006


The Reting Hutuktu desribed as a "keen photographer"

Of all the technological innovations of the West, photography seems to
have come to Tibet the earliest and was tremendously popular from the
start. [...] The Reting regent was also reputed to be a keen photographer.

Jamyang Norbu. Newspeak & New Tibet: The Myth of China’s Modernization of Tibet and the Tibetan Language. Accessed 10th November 2006


The Gould mission in 1936/37

The 5th Reting Rinpoche receives the members of the Gould mission

On 27th August [1936], two days after our arrival at Lhasa, we rode in solemn procession to pay a ceremonial call on the Regent and Prime Minister at the Potala. […] The ceremonial is strict and carefully laid down. First we met the Prime Minister in an outer room, later we were received in the Regent’s Throne Room. It was a small room with frescoes on the walls and a row of religious banners (thankas) hanging above the throne, which was a gaudily cushioned seat about two feet from the ground. The Prime Minister, who came in with us, took his place on a lower seat. We presented scarves and then sat on low cushions, while tea, biscuits, and dried fruits were handed round by two colossal monks, who are the Regent’s personal attendants. The larger was more than 6 feet 8 inches in height and had his shoulders padded to make him appear even bigger.

Meanwhile Norbhu and the Sikkimese clerks were presented. Each in turn kow-towed three times in Chinese fashion, touching the floor with his forehead, then advanced, bowing low, to present scarves, which were taken by an attendant. The Regent blessed each of them with both hands or only one, according to rank, and put over their necks a fillet of scarlet silk. Gould and the Regent had a formal conversation in which the former delivered a message of greeting from the Viceroy of India, and the usual compliments were exchanged. When we went the Regent got up and shook hands in the most cordial way with each of us in turn. The interview was impressive, although the Regent himself has little presence. He is a frail, undersized, almost emaciated-looking monk of about twenty-three years of age, with very prominent ears. He has a receding chin and peculiar creases above the bridge of his nose which when he frowns assume the shape of rudimentary horns. He wore ordinary monk’s clothes, with a braided undercoat, stiff pinkish turned-up boots, and red habit, leaving his thin arms bare. No hat was worn over his closely-cropped hair.

The summer palace of the 5th Reting Rinpoche in Lhasa

On the following day we called privately on the Regent at his newly built summer palace, which lies about three-quarters of a mile east-north-east from the Potala, on the outskirts of the city, It is situated behind the Shiday monastery, which is affiliated to his own monastery of Reting. To reach this palace we had to ride through flooded streets and narrow muddy alleys smelling strongly of sewage. The windows meanwhile were crowded with inquisitive but friendly faces.

The palace is very small, containing only storerooms on the ground floor and a single sitting-room above; but it is an attractive building and beautifully decorated. There are golden turrets on the roof, and along the top of the wall the usual golden emblems on a matt background of willow-twig walling. The woodwork round the windows is cleverly carved and painted in bright colours. Boxes of gay flowers stand on every window-sill protected from the sun by awnings of white cloth. Moreover, the palace lies in a walled garden with well-kept lawns, and beds full of English flowers in luxuriant bloom. The Regent is extremely fond of pets. He has several cages full of birds, including a talking “mina” and a laughing-thrush that makes the most fantastic noises in the middle of the most serious conversations. He has a monkey, a fox cub, a leopard cub, a cage of ornamental pheasants, and several different kinds of dogs.

We reached the upper story by a flight of stone steps outside the palace and found a most attractive room full of light and gay colours. The walls were covered with frescoes o lay and religious subjects, and there were glass cases crammed with pieces of porcelain and cloisonné. The only unbeautiful things were the European table and chairs put ready for us. The young Regent was much more natural and talkative than on the day before, and only the friendly Reting Dzasa, a monk-secretary, and one or two other monks were in attendance. His favourite was also present: a very good-looking monk of about sixteen who is one of the Duke’s sons.

5th Reting Rinpoche with cockerspaniels
The 5th Reting Rinpoche in his garden with the cocker spaniels given to him by the Gould mission in 1936

As soon as we had presented scarves and drunk tea – both the Tibetan and European drink was served – our presents were brought in and given to the Regent. These consisted of a fine silver tea-service and tray, and such things as rifles, revolvers, a gramophone, and a thermos flask. They also included the “Kharita” (a letter of salutation) and a signed photograph from the Viceroy of India, and three young spaniels that we had brought up to Lhasa as a personal gift from His Excellency to the Regent. It is not the custom to show any pleasure at the receipt of presents, but the young Regent could hardly conceal his delight with the dogs, which, I regret to say, did not behave very well in this their first experience of the inside of a house. The visit did not last long. Just before we left the Regent asked Gould to talk freely to all officials because the Tibetans particularly wanted our help in a time of unusual perplexity. They were accustomed to leading a peaceful religious life, he said, and were unused to facing problems such as now confronted them.

When we all went into the garden the Regent had no objection to being photographed, and it was all I could do to persuade his huge orderly (whom we nicknamed Simple Simon) to move about when I wanted to take some cinema films; he struck what he thought was an imposing attitude and resolutely refused to move. Before we went the Regent obligingly blessed each of our servants in turn, placing with his own hands a small white scarf around their necks. It is moving to see with what deep reverence all Buddhists regard their spiritual ruler.
(pp. 98-101)

Lunch with the members of the Gould mission at Reting's summer palace

The embodiment of God Incarnate (the Regent) gave us a very good lunch at his summer palace. As his greatness did not permit him to eat at the same table as ourselves, he sat on his throne and had each course brought to him in very beautiful silver bowls embossed with designs in gold. […] We found the Regent most unaffected and simple, and rather wearied by the greatness that is thrust upon him. He complains that he can get no exercise, as on the rare occasions that he leaves his palace he must be carried in his palanquin.

The 5th Reting Rinpoche with public address system set up by members of the Gould mission

Having heard reports of various forms of entertainment that Nepean and Dagg had ingeniously fitted up at the Norbhu Lingka, and being unable, owing to his high position, to come and see them for himself, we were requested to bring a selection with us. Accordingly the wireless officers rigged up a public-address amplifier. The microphone was set up in one corner of the garden and the amplifiers near the house. Norbhu and Tsarong then carried on a mock quarrel in front of the microphone, and the Regent, sitting in his room, could hear every word. This simply delighted him and he was as excited as a schoolboy. Then some gramophone records were played. Nothing but the loudest possible noise would satisfy the Regent, who made us play record after record at full blast. After this he want over and spoke into the microphone himself, at first rather self-consciously, but gradually finding great amusement at the sound of his own words and laughter booming back at him.
(p. 113)

5th Reting Rinpoche visits Samye Monastery in 1936

Although there were rumours that the Tashi lama, together with his controversial Chinese escort, had reached Jyekundo on his way to Tibet, the Regent set off on 6th October [1936] to visit Samye Monastery, to the south-east of Lhasa, on the Tsang-po river. This incident is only too typical of the happy-go-lucky Tibetan outlook. The political situation was as bad as it could be, yet he took two of the four Shap-pes with him and – to take photographs – the only depön who had any knowledge of machine-gunnery. So that during his absence – and he was away for six weeks – no important decision could be made; the army was even weaker than usual, and, for all the Tibetans knew, the British Mission might have had to return at short notice to India. But this religious pilgrimage had been planned for some time and could not be delayed any longer. Possibly the Regent, who was at this time in a state of great uncertainty and vacillation, hoped that events would tend to settle themselves in his absence and thus save him the trouble and responsibility of making difficult decisions.
(p. 121)

Chapman desribes Reting Rinpoche as a great traveller

The regent's sedan chair

Although Tibetans in general, being nomadic people, are great travellers, the Lhasa officials are a strangely sedentary class: the Prime Minister had never ventured farther from Lhasa than Trisum Bridge, about eight miles to the south-west. Many of the officials, unless they had held office away from Lhasa, had never been more than a day’s journey from the city. This was partly a matter of custom, and partly due to the difficulty of getting leave from an official job. But the Regent, by these standards, was a great traveller, and this saved him from the narrow-mindedness which must inevitably limit the outlook of one whose whole life has been spent in a single city. The Regent originally came from Reting monastery, sixty miles to the north of Lhasa, and now he was about to visit Samye, fifty miles to the south-east, on the Tsang-po river.
(p. 216)

Chapman explains photographic technology to the Reting Rinpoche

One morning towards the end of our visit I had to go round to see the Regent and explain to him the workings of a Zeiss camera we were going to present to him as a New Year’s gift. Unfortunately, Jigme, who was supposed to be coming as interpreter, mistook the time, and I was left alone to explain the intricacies of range-finders and exposures in the highest honorific terms! The Regent was extraordinarily kind and helpful, and what might have been a most embarrassing interview turned out quite successfully.
(p. 240)

Private film viewing for the Regent

The Regent was very anxious to see our films, but as his sanctity precluded his visiting the Dekyi Lingka he asked us to arrange a private view in the throne-room of the monastery in front of his palace. This meant much carrying round of accumulators and other gear, Nepean and Dagg managed the electrical part with their usual skill; though there was a slight hitch when it was discovered that four of the coolies had stopped at a chang-shop on the way and had got too drunk to complete the journey – luckily this was before the dress rehearsal.

After a Tibetan luncheon with the Regent we went across to the monastery roof, where the public-address outfit was blaring forth Scottish military music to an astonished collection of people on the surrounding roof-tops. The Regent was delighted and insisted on a three-hours’ programme, only letting us go then on condition that we promised to arrange another show later on, which we were able to do in January.
(p. 252)

The Regent's political acumen

The 5th Reting Rinpoche with his body guard, nicknamed 'Simple Simon' by members of the Gould mission

After his return from his visit to Samye in November the Regent became a different man. Whereas before he had been nervous and irresolute and had looked emaciated and ill, now he seemed very much stronger both in mind and body. When he was away from Lhasa he could ride and take a certain amount of exercise, whereas in his Palace this was impossible – though we discovered that he had started playing football with “Simple Simon” and had sent round to Norbhu to ask if we had a spare ball. This alone seemed to justify the Mission! We could never quite fathom the extent of the Regent’s influence, or in what direction it was exerted. He always seemed very friendly to us, and declared his intention to visit India some day, and yet there were rumours that he was in communication with China and had even accepted presents and decorations.

The story is told that when he was younger he was due to appear before the Dalai Lama to be examined for a degree corresponding to a Doctorship of Divinity. The Dalai, who knew that the Regent had done no work at all, wrote to him advising him not to sit. But the Regent insisted on coming up, so the Dalai conferred the degree without examination. He became Regent much against his will and continually wanted to be allowed to resign. As some stable figurehead was essential in the critical times which succeeded the death of the Dalai Lama, the Shap-pes persuaded him to stay on, which he would only do on condition that they guaranteed to obey all his orders. Surely this argues a more than ordinary political discernment.
(p. 253)

The regent attends the Devil Dance on New Year 1937

[Tibetan New Year – Devil Dance on 11th February 1937]
At last there was a great stir down below and we knew that the Regent was coming. For once he was on horseback, and not carried in his palanquin. In front of him rode his usual monk officials, including Simple Simon grinning from ear to ear and looking colossal on a minute and unfortunate mule. The Regent was dressed in yellow and vermilion silk, and his pony was hung with gay trappings. He wore a large yellow hood, exposing only his face, and dark glasses. I was photographing furiously with one camera after another, but he did not seem to mind. In fact he smiled to us as he passed, as did all the officials except old Lungchungna, who doesn’t approve of such new-fangled thins as cameras.
(p. 300)

Chapman, Spencer F. (1940). Lhasa the Holy City. With and Introduction by Sir Charles Bell. London: Chatto & Windus.


The 5th Reting Hutuktu and China

The Chinese claim the 5th Reting Hutuktu as a "safeguard of the unification of the motherland"

After the demise of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, the Tibetan local government jointly chose Rating (Rwa-sgreng) Hutuktu as the regent in 1934. The decision was approved and Rating was conferred upon by the Nationalist Government. After taking charge of the Tibetan political and religious affairs, he did a lot of work for safeguarding the unification of the motherland and opposing the imperialist aggression. After the outbreak of the anti-Japanese War, Rating personally led scripture-chanting ceremonies by the three great Tibetan monasteries praying for Chinese victory. In 1943 the Kuomintang held its Sixth Plenary Session. He was elected as an alternate member of the executive committee of the central committee of that party. The British imperialists were dissatisfied with Rating's activities for actively safeguarding the unification of the motherland. Then they stirred up the pro-British splitting forces to create 'the Rating Incident" which once again overshadowed the Tibetan situation. [...]

After the discovery of the thirteenth Dalai Lama's reincarnate soul boy, the Tibetan regent Rating Hutuktu sent a telegram to the Central Government on December 12, 1938, saying that "on the occasion of lot-drawing from the gold urn ceremony when the three soul boys arrive at Lhasa, the Central Government should send representatives to participate in the ceremony so as to make it more dependable and pleased by the people far and wide." The Central Government attached great importance to this request. The Nationalist Government issued an order on December 28, 1938, saying that "The Chairman of the Commission for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Wu Zhongxin would be sent to preside over the fourteenth Dalai Lama's reincarnation togather with Rating Hutuktu." Wu Zhongxin and his party arrived at Lhasa on January 15, 1940 and were accorded a warm reception.

On January 26, 1940, Rating applied for approval about the exemption of lot-drawing from the gold urn to the Dalai Lama's reincarnate soul boy Lhamo Dondup. Wu Zhongxin transmitted the application to the Central Government for approval. In the meantime, he went to the Norbu Lingkha Park to examine the soul boy. On January 31, Chiang Kaishek, Chairman of the Executive Yuan, applied the Nationalist Government for issuing an order to the effect that Lhamo Dondup was approved to succeed the thirteenth Dalai as the fourteenth Dalai Lama. On February 5, the Nationalist Government of China issued an order, saying that "Lhamo Dondup, the soul boy from Qinghai, is very intelligent and exceptional extraordinary. It is proved through investigation that he is the reincarnate of the thirteenth Dalai Lama and should promptly be exempted from lot-drawing, thereby ratified to succeed as the fourteenth Dalai Lama." And the Central Government appropriated 400,000 yuan as the expenses for the enthronement ceremony. [...]

The Tibetan regent Rating Hutuktu also sent a telegram to Chiang Kai-shek on July 1 , 1939, expressing his support to the anti-Japanese war, saying that "we would hold sutra-chanting service to the victory of our army and curse to the prompt defeat of the Japanese robbers, continuing to the final triumph of our country."

Anonymous. 'Did Tibet Become an Independent Country after the Revolution of 1911?' Accessed 10th November 2006.


Reting Hutuktu's vision of the Chinese invasion

One day, [Bhari Rinpochey] told me that in the year of the Earth Tiger, he had received a visit from Reting Rinpochey. Reting Rinpochey had recently returned from Lhamo Lhatso where he had sought visions in the sacred lake to help him find Gyalwa Rinpochey's incarnation. He told Bhari Rinpochey that in the lake, he had a vision of a tall man dressed like a high ranking official standing by a very large door. The man opened the door revealing masses of advancing Chinese soldiers. Reting Rinpochey wondered who this man was. He was unsure whether it was Lhalu or Ngabo, but was sure it was one of the two. He told Bhari Rinpochey that whoever was the man who opened the door, he would have something to do with the Chinese coming to Tibet.

When I recalled this, I realized that both Ngabo and Lhalu had been recently in Chamdo. Ngabo had just arrived to take Lhalu's place as governor, and Lhalu had been back in Lhasa only a few weeks.

Gyeten Namgyal. A Tailor's Tale. As recounted by Gyeten Namgyal to Kim Yeshi. Accessed 10th November 2006.


Reting Hutuktu's resignation as regent and the subsequent struggle with Taktra

The 5th Reting Rinpoche

In 1938 and 1939 Radreng twice submitted his resignation from the regentship. The kashag made repeated endeavor to keep him on the post. The regent was young and in good health and no reason was seen for him to resign. When pressed for the reason of his dissatisfaction, the regent replied that the assistant regent Yashi Langdun had different opinions from his, which prevented him from making any decision of his own and consequently delayed matters of installing the Fourteenth Dalai. The kashag, after careful consideration of the regent's problem, decided in would be best for the assistant regent to resign in order to facilitate the functions and decision-making power of the regent. Accordingly, the assistant regent was asked to withdraw from political activities; but he would retain a nominal deputy regentship. This should be regarded as a great mishap by the young Radreng Rinpoche. At the time of Langdun's leaving his office, other officials suspected that the regent would begin to dismiss his opponents and an atmosphere of fear and tension enveloped Lhasa. Langdun was a patriotic official. His dismissal was in fact a great loss to Radreng and made him isolated and cut off from help in difficulties. This was his very unwise move and gave the pro-British elements an opportunity to attack him.

In early 1940 (the Iron-Dragon year of the Tibetan calendrical cycle) the pro-British elements in Lhasa spread a flood of vile slanders against the regent Radreng, accusing him that he had an affair with his sister-in-law, in an effort to force him to resign. That was a fatal attack to Radreng. Owing to the slanders he might not be qualified to reside over the ceremony for the Fourteenth Dalai to take vows of bhiksu.

As to Radreng Rinpoche's sister-in-law, I often met with her during 1952-1959 when I was working at Shigatse. Her name was Tseyang Drolma. She was quite ordinary in her appearance, but she was flashily and colorfully dressed. After being expelled from Lhasa in the Radreng Incident, she returned with her property to her mother's house in Shigatse. At the time she had a little son. Later, Tseyang Drolma remarried a Xikang merchant. Her brother Loling Sonam Wangjug several times made fun of her son before me, calling the child "Junior Rinpoche." Only this, nothing more. I have no other evidence to testify to the scandal. However, with such a pretext in their hands, the pro-British elements might easily drive away Radreng Rinpoche. The essence of the case was not simply to put Radreng's private affairs in the open air. This was an act with a hidden motive: struggle for power between the pro-British and pro-Chinese forces.

The attack was so vehement that the regent, having been plunged into deep depression, had to appeal to the oracles for aid. He asked Zimgag Lama to make an oracle for him. The oracle pointed out; If he stayed on his post it would be good for the political and religious cause, but bad for the health of the Dalai and Radreng himself; on the other hand, if he resigned and returned to practice Buddhism in his monastery, all troubles would be got rid of. Zimgag Lama, obviously, had known very well the state of affairs and the pretext the opponents made, that is, "for the health of the Dalai."

Being devoted to oracles and loyal to the Dalai, Radreng immediately called in the Radreng Dzasa Jampal Gyeltsen, the Radreng ex-Dzasa Jampal Geleg, Zimpon Khenpo Ngawang Loten, Khado Rinpoche, and Yonne Lama Losang Yeshe Namgyel to have a discussion about the situation. Yonne Lama proposed that Radreng should take a two or three year's leave and Radreng's sutra instructor, Tadrag Rinpoche, be appointed acting regent. The two Dzasas agreed with him, but Zimpon Ngawang Loten did not agree. Instead, he proposed that Radreng stay on the post, pointing out Tadrag was wicked and unreliable. Nevertheless, Radreng blamed him for his impolite words to his sutra instructor Tadrag.

Tadrag, whose full name was Tadrag Ngawang Sungrab Thubtan Tanpa Gyeltsen, was originally the abbot of a small monastery, the Radrbu Monastery in Doilungdechen. He was an unknown junior Rinpoche at the time. Late Yonne Lama recommended him to Radreng to be an assistant sutra instructor for the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and still treated him as his own tutor. At that time Tadrag was already sixty-seven years old. Yonne lama and Tadrag were good friends.

The 5th Reting Rinpoche being portrayed

Radreng asked his close friends Kaloon Lama Tanpa Jamyang, Kaloon Phunsho Tsetan Dorje, Kaloon Phunkhang Drashi Dorje, Tripon Kasho Chokyi Nyima for advice. Radreng told them the result of the oracle and that he intended to leave the post of regent for two or three years and let Tadrag take over the office for the time being, and then he would resume his office in two or three years. Kaloon Phunkhang suggested that he not resign; Tripon Kasho suggested that Tadrag could only be an acting regent. The others all agreed that he should resign. Then he had a talk with Tadrag about his intention of leaving office temporarily. Tadrag promised that he would return the power to Radreng in two or three years and said that he was very grateful for Radeng's kindness.

In the autumn of 1940 (the Iron-Dragon year of Tibetan calendar), Radreng the regent officially handed in his resignation to the Dalai Lama, saying that in his tenure of office he had accomplished the search and installation of the Fourteenth Dalai and made the Tibetan society and frontiers in peace, but according to the oracles, to stay on the position of regent would bring harm to his health, so he decided to resign his position as the regent.

A National Assembly was called to have a discussion about Radreng's resignation. All those who attended the meeting decided to urge Radreng to stay. They went to the Radreng Monastery and kneeling down befor him, earnestly appealed to Radreng for his staying on the position, but Radreng refused. Another meeting was held, the deputies were sent again to meet Radreng who happened to be in the Potala Palace. They knelt down before Radreng and asked him to stay, but Radreng refused again. Radreng again asked the kashag to grant him a three-years' leave and to turn his duties over to Tadrag Rinpoche. Finally, his resignation was accepted.

On a meeting held afterwards, some people proposed that the new regent be chosen by way of drawing lots between Phurchog Rinpoche and Tadrag Rinpoche, but Khanchung Chophil Thubtan immediately voiced his opposition, saying that they should observe the decision of Radreng. At last a decision was made to appoint Tadrag the regent and the chief sutra instructor for the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. When the chief deputies went to have an interview with Tadrag and ask him to take over the post of regent, he expressed that he was so old that he would be in the position as the regent only for two or three years and then return the power to Radreng. This decision of the National Assembly was written down on an official document, which firstly praised Radreng's merits achieved during his tenure of the regent, and then says clearly that "Radreng Rinpoche, in order to counter-act bad omens, would temporarily return to his monastery for meditation, and Tadrag Rinpoche would take over the regentship for two or three years. By the end of this period Radreng Rinpoche would continue to be the regent until the Dalai Lama comes to power." This decision was made into four copies, Radreng, Tadrag, the Kashag and the Tibetan Assembly each having a copy, and each copy being sealed officially.

On January 16, 1941 (the eleventh monthe of the Iron-Dragon year) Radreng Rinpoche sent his resignation by wire to the Kuomintang central government and took his leave from the regentship officially in the twelfth month of the Iron-Dragon year. Tadrag's appointment was reported to the central government on February 18, 1941 (the twenty-third day of the twelfth month of the Iron-Dragon year). Tadrag officially took over the post as the regent and the chief sutra-instructor for the Fourteenth Dalai Lama on the first day of the first month of the Iron-Serpent year.

Xiong Ji. 'Radreng the regent'. In: Tibet Studies 199001. Posted 2005-07-04. Published by China Tibet Information Centre. Accessed 31st October 2006


The Dalai Lama's mother describes Taktra's power play to eliminate Reting Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama

In early 1941 the regent Reting Rinpoche had taken a leave of absence from his regency, because it was his ka, his astrologically evil or unlucky year. He handed the reins of government to Taktra Rinpoche and planned to go on a pilgrimage to India. […]

Taktra imposed new regulations on my visits to His Holiness at the Potala. Previously I could go to visit my son whenever I liked, but now Taktra informed us that my daughter and I could not go to see His Holiness so often and that if we did, one of his men had to accompany us during our visit because he didn’t like our private meetings. A meeting was held among the Kashag, the cabinet officials, on this matter. Kashu Kungo (Kashupa) rejected the proposal, saying it was irrational for His Holiness’s mother and sister to have someone accompany them during visits. Taktra was so furious that he immediately imprisoned Kashu Kungo.
Mrs. Kashu came to me, imploring me to do something for her husband. I therefore wrote to the prison and told them that Kashu Kungo was being held as the result of political intrigue, not because of any wrongdoing. I also appealed for lenient treatment for him. I later heard that my letter had some effect. After His Holiness came of age to rule, and thus the role of Taktra ended, all political prisoners incarcerated during Taktra’s rule were released. But during the interregnum His Holiness had no powers, and Taktra, as regent, was the most powerful man in the land.

Reting had asked Taktra to remain regent for three years. It had been agreed between Reting and Taktra that the reins of government would then be handed back to Reting. But at the end of the three years, when Reting tried to take back the regency, Taktra refused to hand back the power, despite the fact that Reting went to see him three times. Reting was so upset that he said he was leaving for Tsongkha, India, and China on a pilgrimage. He told us he could not remain in Lhasa, for the times were very bad. His people and servants pleaded with him to remain. My husband and I also asked him not to leave, and he at last consented.

Generally during you ka you break a leg of have some other accident, but Reting’s unlucky year began a chain of events that finally proved fatal. A year after he tried to regain power he was imprisoned, and two months after that news arrived that he had dies in prison. This was shortly after my husband’s death, in 1947. Many believe he was assassinated. While Reting was regent, he had had Lungshar’s eyes gouged out, and Lungshar’s son was rumored to have been behind the death of Reting. […]

The 5th Reting Rinpoche in 1947

On the night of Reting’s death, at about one in the morning, palace guards heard loud cries for help from the direction of the prison. The exact details of his death were never brought to light, but many people were certain he was murdered. Government posters were placed all over Lhasa saying that if anyone speculated that Reting’s death had been anything but natural, that person would be severely punished.

Our family was close to Reting. Before his arrest the Kashag tried to recall my son and son-in-law from China. They told me that I should send someone to fetch them back to Lhasa. The Kashag wanted to place all my male children and my son-in-law in prison, but they could not do anything because none of them was in Lhasa. I had also heard that the Kashag wanted to send my daughter and me back to Tsongkha. Thus, they would have been able to disperse the family and eliminate all opposition to their power. What may have forestalled Taktra and his Kashag in their plans was that Ma Pu-fang, the Chinese governor of Amdo, was our friend, and he would have used his power to assist us. Thus they had to think twice about their actions.

Reting Rinpoche and my husband had been very close friends. They had shared a love for horses. The arrest and assassination of Reting would not have been so simple if my husband had been alive, since he had more resources at his disposal than I had and would at least have prevented the arrest and imprisonment from occurring so smoothly. This is why people are convinced that my husband was poisoned.

At about this time word started to spread that His Holiness was not the real Dalai Lama, that a mistake had been made. It was said that my son was Ditru Rinpoche, while the Ditru Rinpoche was the real Dalai Lama. Ditru Rinpoche was the child of a relative of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Finally it was decided to place both names in a vessel and, before the image of Je Rinpoche, to shake it and see which name fell out. This was done three times. My son’s name leaped out three times, and the regent Taktra and the Kashag had nothing more to say for themselves. His Holiness was fourteen at the time.
(pp. 132-136)

Tsering, Diki (2000). Dalai Lama, My Son. A Mother’s Story. Edited and introduced by Khedroob Thondup. Harmondsworth: Viking Arkana.


The imprisonment and death of the 5th Reting Rinpoche in 1947

The tailor of the 13th Dalai Lama relates the arrest of Reting Hutuktu

All these years, I had been so completely absorbed in my work that I had given little attention to the rumours and gossip which abounded in the circles where I worked. Reting Rinpochey had resigned some years earlier to make way for Taktra Rinpochey who was now the Regent. I worked for both of them and, though I found Reting Rinpochey more accessible, I remained impartial. I was aware of some conflict between the two regents, but I could never have guessed at the events to come. It was only later that I thought back on these unfortunate moments and pieced together the events which preceded the worst calamity in our history.

The events at Sera occurred just at the time I was working on the preparations there. The Tsongcho Sebang festival was going on in Lhasa. I usually rode to the monastery in the morning and returned at night, but on the 25th of the month, I was detained in Lhasa and decided to leave for work in the evening. When I reached Ramoche, I met the Sera abbots who were returning to the monastery.

I knew one of the monks, Sey Toto (gSer rdog rdog), who was soon to become abbot of Sera Che, and I joined their party. I asked Sey Toto why the abbots were returning to Sera with the Tshongco Sebang still in progress. He answered that they had been summoned by the Kashag and ordered to seal Reting Rinpochey's residence in Lhasa, and that they were now on their way to seal the Labrang at Sera. I was dumbfounded (Reting Rinpochey belonged to Sera, therefore the sealing of his house had to be done by Sera officials. He was just about to be arrested for his alleged attempt on Taktra Rinpochey's life and other matters). Sey Toto told me to come to his room that night to hear the whole story, but I declined. I went straight to the workrooms and met the ku-ngos in charge of the work, who remained at the monastery throughout, looking after the materials and supplies. We decided to take it easy that evening, and with the ku-ngos and six tailors, we went for a stroll on the lingkhor (gling skor), the road circumambulating Sera.

When we reached the eastern end of the lingkhor, we suddenly caught sight of a mass of red coming from Lhasa. We realized it was crowds of monks. They moved fast and we noticed some were carrying sticks. We walked on, wondering what was going on, and when we reached the western end, we heard shots coming from the monastery. As we reached the back, we heard warnings not to come near as there was shooting going on. It was nearing sunset and we ran for our lives. We didn't dare go towards Lhasa as we heard that it was very agitated there, so we decided to go to Bhari labrang, where we spent the night.
Early the next morning, we heard that the Sera Abbot had been killed. Apparently, the monks, who already disliked him, were very upset by his sealing of Reting Rinpochey's residence. Crowds of them came screaming up to his rooms and instead of facing them or trying to appease them, the Abbot's administrator shot at them while the abbot ran away up to the roof of the monastery. The monks caught up with him under the gilded pagoda and killed him. We also heard that soldiers had been placed everywhere in Lhasa. We had to temporarily abandon the work at Sera.

Surkhang Shape, escorted by about thirty soldiers rode to Reting to arrest Reting Rinpochey. He was brought back to Lhasa in a roundabout way to avoid the Sera monks and was imprisoned in the Potala. The time for the ceremony was approaching, and the Sechar office was impatient that we finish the work at Sera. When things seemed to have quietened down a little, we returned to Sera and were in the monastery when it was shelled by government troops. There was little damage to the monastery and the monks finally surrendered.
In the meantime, the monks at Reting killed the sixteen or so soldiers who had sealed Reting Rinpochey's residence. The response from the government was fierce. Soldiers were sent in, Reting was looted and all the buildings destroyed, just the way Tengyeling had been thirty years before. I was appalled when I heard what had happened. Statues were smashed, thankas torn from their brocades and precious volumes pulled out of their cloth bindings and strewn everywhere.

Reting was built in the 11th century, by the bodhisattva Dromtonpa ('Brom ston pa), an emanation of Avalokiteshvara who had served Atisha during his stay in Tibet. Statues, thankas and brocades from this holy place as well as Reting Rinpochey's personal possessions were now being sold all over Lhasa at bargain prices, and this upset many people's feelings. Acquaintances brought me beautiful brocades, seeking my advice as to their quality. They said they had obtained them for derogatory sums and I felt a pinch in my heart, easily guessing where they came from.

Portrait of the 5th Reting Rinpoche in his reception room

A few days after his imprisonment, Reting Rinpochey was interrogated by the members of the assembly. He had to walk from his prison to the assembly room for these sessions and passed below the room where Gyalwa Rinpochey was studying his lessons, on the ninth floor of his palace. I was in a corner of the room, sewing. Suddenly someone came in and I heard them talking in low voices. Gyalwa Rinpochey was looking out of the window and I heard him say, 'Genla is coming'. Then he quickly went up the stairs. I realized that they were bringing in Reting Rinpochey. I swiftly ran down to an intersection in the stairs and hid behind a pillar. Reting Rinpochey appeared, escorted by armed soldiers and monk and lay officials. He wore his Regent's robes and his yellow rainbow boots, but his hair looked overgrown and in disarray. I couldn't help thinking, 'He was the most powerful man in Tibet and now he has been reduced to this.' I was almost sure that Gyalwa Rinpochey had run upstairs to get a better look at his former teacher and hoped that he wouldn't ask for too many explanations or that he be brought before him.

When the Chinese arrived in Chamdo a few years later, Gyatolog, Phabonka Rinpochey's secretary and compiler of his famous Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand and other collected works, told me, 'One of the main causes of the Chinese coming here was the destruction of Reting Monastery, the first seat of the Kadampa. This act of war against Avalokiteshvara's abode exhausted in a few moments as much common merit as accumulated by the Buddhist doctrine's shining in Tibet for a hundred years. Now, things will become very difficult for Avalokiteshvara.'

Gyeten Namgyal. A Tailor's Tale. As recounted by Gyeten Namgyal to Kim Yeshi. Accessed 10th November 2006.


Tsipon Shuguba recalls the violent arrest of the 5th Reting Rinpoche

In 1947, when fighting broke out between the forces of two powerful Tibetan leaders, Reting Rinpoche (the 13th Dalai Lama's regent) and the current Regent Taktra, Shuguba was in charge of a large force sent to bring Reting, by force if necessary, from his monastery to house arrest in Lhasa. Shuguba grimly chronicles being shot at by monks of Sera monastery, supporters of the Reting faction, and details the attack on Reting's monastery stronghold: "We killed 80 monks." In the end, after further bloodshed on both sides, Reting was captured. He died shortly thereafter in Lhasa - poisoned, many suspected.

Abstracted with an excerpt from: Tsipon Shuguba (1996). In the Presence of My Enemies. Memoirs of a Tibetan Nobleman. Edited by Sumner Carnahan with Lama Kunga Rinpoche Clear Light Publishers: Santa Fe

The Dalai Lama recalls the arrest of Reting Rinpoche

During the early spring of 1947, a very sad incident occurred which epitomises the way in which the selfish pursuit of personal interest among those in high office can have repercussions affecting the fate of a country.

One day, whilst I was watching a debate, I heard the sounds of shots being fired. The noise came from the north, in the direction of Sera monastery. I rushed outside, full of excitement at the prospect of doing some real work with my telescope. Yet, at the same time I was also very troubled as I realised that gunfire meant killing. It turned out that Reting Rinpoche, who had announced his political retirement six years previously, had decided to claim the Regency back. He was supported in this by certain monks and lay officials who organised a plot against Tathag Rinpoche. This resulted in Reting Rinpoche’s arrest and the death of a considerable number of his followers.

Reting Rinpoche was subsequently brought to the Potala, where he made a request that he be allowed to see me. Unfortunately, this was refused on my behalf, and he died in prison not long afterwards. Naturally, as a minor, I had very little opportunity to become involved in judicial matters, but looking back, I sometimes wonder whether in this case I might not have been able to do something. Had I intervened in some way, it is possible that the destruction of Reting monastery, one of the oldest and most beautiful in Tibet, might have been prevented. All in all the whole affair was very silly. Yet, despite his mistakes, I still retain a deep personal respect for Reting Rinpoche as my first tutor and guru. After his death, his names were dropped from mine – until I restored them many years later on the instructions of the oracle.
(pp. 32f)

Dalai Lama, The (1990, 1998). Freedom in Exile. The autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. London: Abacus

The role of Dorje Shugden in the death of the 5th Reting Rinpoche

In 1973 a senior Geluk lama called Zemey Rinpoche published an account of Dorje Shugden he had received orally from his teacher Trijang Rinpoche. This text recounts in detail the various calamities that have befallen monks and laypeople of the Geluk tradition who have practiced Nyingma teachings. Those mentioned include the last three Panchen Lamas, senior officials of the Thirteenth’s government, Reting Rinpoche and even Pabongka himself. In each case, the illness, torture or death incurred is claimed to be the result of having displeased Dorje Shugden.

Stephen Batchelor (1998). Letting Daylight into Magic. The Life and Times of Dorje Shugden. In: Tricycle. The Buddhist Review. Vol. 7, no. 3. New York: Spring 1998.


Chagdud Tulku on the disastrous consequences of the imprisonment and murder of the 5th Reting Hutuktu

Statue of the 5th Reting Rinpoche

During her stay in Lhasa, my mother established a connection with a very high lama of the Gelugpa tradition, Sera Kharto Tulku. He had been a terton in his previous life, and was now a very powerful meditator and the abbot of a monstery near Lhasa. There were many prophecies about him in the texts of Padmasambhava. One stated that when he and his closest friend encountered imprisonment or untimely death, Tibet would soon fall.

Many years later, unfortunately, this prophecy was fulfilled. Kharto Tulku’s closest friend, a lama known throughout Tibet [i.e. the 5th Reting Rinpoche], became inadvertently ensnared in a political intrigue and was assassinated. Kharto Tulku was imprisoned for two years because of his friendship with this lama, and died shortly after his release. At the moment of his death, he stood up, took the threatening posture of a wrathful deity and held that posture for two weeks. Exactly as the prophecy had foretold, the circumstances of Kharto Tulku’s imprisonment and his friend’s death signaled disintegration in Tibet, which would leave the country vulnerable to the Chinese takeover.

Chagdud Tulku (1991). Lord of the Dance. The autobiography of a Tibetan lama. Varanasi, Kathmandu: Pilgrims Publishing, pp.12f





© 2006
Last updated November 2006