The Great Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682)

In 1617, a promising boy amidst auspicious signs was born in Taktse in Southern Tibet to a family of Nyingmapa practitioners who were the descendants of the imperial line of the Yarlung Dynasty of kings. His father’s name was Miwang Dundul Rapten and his mother Kunga Lhadze.

In 1622, the First Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyeltsen recognized the boy to be the incarnation of Yonten Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama, along with further confirmations from Protectors. The Panchen Lama gave him the name Lobsang Gyatso but the recognition was plagued with controversy. Even before the recognition, the boy had also been unsuccessfully recognized to be the reincarnation of a Kagyu Lama, the Fourth Tsurpu Gyaltsap Dragpa Dondrup.

Due to pressures by the Tsang Empire, Panchen Lama had to make great efforts to please the Tsangpa governor so arrangements could be made to bring the Fifth Dalai Lama to Drepung Monastery. At Drepung, the young boy was in competition for the position of Dalai Lama with another candidate, who was later identified as the incarnation of Panchen Sonam Dragpa, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen. In the end, the young Lobsang Gyatso was finally enthroned at Ganden Phodrang in Drepung Monastery at the age of six.

Lobsang Gyatso received his full monastic ordination in 1638. Lingme Shapdrung and the First Panchen Lama were the monastic preceptors and bestowed upon him the name Ngagi Wangchuk. The Fifth Dalai Lama studied at the feet of many leading Lamas of his day. He also began his monastic studies with his tutors, Lingme Shapdrung Konchok Chopel and the First Panchen Lama, in Prajnaparamita, Madhyamaka, Vinaya and Abhidharma.

He also trained in grammar and poetics, astrology and divination, and related topics, with Mondro Pandita. His accomplishments are legendary as he continues to be considered a significant lineage holder by the Nyingmapas. He trained with the lineage holders of the Changter and Zur tradition of the Kama. His own family also maintained good relations with the Drukpa Kagyu via his cousin Pagsam Wangpo, who was recognized as the Fifth Gyalwang Drukpa.

In 1637, Gushri Khan marched into Tibet with a contingent of 800 soldiers, purportedly on a pilgrimage but most likely to assert political control over Tibet. This was not unusual as the Mongols tribes were fragmented and various tribal leaders sought to reestablish the ideal patron-priest model created by Kubilai Khan and Chogyal Pagpa in the 13th century. It seems that Gushri’s incursion into Tibet was at the invitation of Sonam Chopel, the Fourth Dalai Lama’s treasurer and was part of his covert mission to find a Mongol ally in the Gelug struggle against the Tsang forces who were Kagyupas.

The Dalai Lama had an audience with Gushri at this time and bestowed upon him the title of Tenzin Chogyal –‘Holder of the teachings, King of Dharma’. It was a title that was designed to cement relations and it was highly effective as both the Dalai Lama and Gushri Khan reported receiving visions in which they played a key role in vanquishing the enemies of the Gelug tradition and spreading it far and wide.

During this visit, Gushri, the Panchen Lama, Sonam Chopel, and the Dalai Lama discussed plans for Gushri to invade Kham and vanquish the Bonpo stronghold at the Beri kingdom. The reason for this was a forged letter in which the Beri King declared his intention to invade Lhasa. In his autobiography, the Dalai Lama wrote that Sonam Chopel secretly followed Gushri on his warpath to Kham and attacked Tsang and wiped out all rivals to Gelug dominance of Tibet.

In 1969, Gushri Khan invaded Kham and completely destroyed Beri. Instead of returning to Mongolia, Gushri then marched further into Tibet. The Dalai Lama was horrified and demanded Sonam Chopel to undo his work and tried to convince Gushri to turn back. Naturally, he refused to do so and laid siege to Shigatse, the capital of the Tsang Empire for roughly a year before crushing the enemies and taking control.

However, Gushri did not hand over control of Tibet over to the Dalai Lama. Rather, Gushri declared himself King of Tibet and was enthroned by the Tibetans. He appointed Sonam Chopel as his regent, in charge of political matters, and he gave the Dalai Lama control of religious affairs. This fact became glossed over due to the Dalai Lama’s own account of the events. After Gushri Khan overthrew the Tsang Empire, the regent began a systematic effort to reduce the eminence of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen.

According to the Fifth Dalai Lama, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was demoted in rank, due to the manipulation of the Regent Sonam Rabten. However, personal relations between Tulku Dragpa Gyeltsen and the Fifth Dalai Lama never seemed to sour.

Tulku Dragpa Gyeltsen is also known to have attended teachings and transmissions by the Fifth Dalai Lama and for even enjoying social gatherings to drink tea together. However, when Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen became ill shortly afterwards, the Regent Sonam Rabten kept the Fifth Dalai Lama from visiting him.

There are variations of how Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen passed away but the Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography is one of the authoritative sources that document the affairs of this time. Although it does not shed light on the full situation it does provide many crucial details that more or less concurs with what had been written by Dorje Shugden proponents like Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors.

In the Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography, not long after Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen’s death Nechung possessed an oracle and told the Fifth Dalai Lama that there were disturbances in the teahouse. True enough, the Fifth Dalai Lama had visions of a monkey about eight years old appearing.

Then, the Great Protector told him to go far away from where Tulku’s body was being cremated, and so he went to the Potala Palace where he engaged in purification practices. While he had hoped for signs that the trouble was over, he continued to receive disturbing dreams of a monk who became an animal and other inauspicious signs. This may indicate that he was already aware at this point of foul play associated with the regent and that he was feeling guilty by his association with the regent.

Actually, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s apology and recognition of Dorje Shugden as the reincarnation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, is not clearly mentioned in his autobiography. This is only more clearly elucidated in later years by other highly attained lamas. However, accounts of the Fifth Dalai Lama attempting to subdue or destroy Dorje Shugden through various rituals and the building of shrines are found in writings of both Dorje Shugden detractors and proponents, as well as in the Great Fifth’s own autobiography. Other events associated to Tulku Dragpa Gyeltsen remain obscure or even completely omitted from his biography.

According to the White Conch Dictionary, the Fifth Dalai Lama later founded Trode Khangsar, which was on the south side of old Lhasa as a Dorje Shugden shrine. Trode Khangsar was taken care of by monks of Riwo Choling Monastery of Lhoka in Southern Tibet. There was a caretaker from Riwo Choling that performed regular propitiation service and a Dorje Shugden oracle was even established there.

Morchen Kunga Lhundrup, who contributed to the first major Dorje Shugden rituals, mentions Trode Khangsar in his autobiography so it was clear that Trode Khangsar existed and was founded since the time of the Great Fifth. On the east side near the outer gate of Trode Khangsar was a smaller shrine, Monkyi Khangsar where Kache Marpo was invoked. It is interesting to note that among the Great Fifth’s prolific works, is also a propitiation to Kache Marpo, the principal attendant to Dorje Shugden.

The Dalai Lama spent the next several decades consolidating power, a process that involved the construction of the Potala Palace, a declaration of himself as the emanation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (the patron protector of Tibet), a state visit to Beijing, and the invocation of the Golden Age of the Tibetan Empire by tracing his previous incarnations to King Songtsen Gampo.

The Dalai Lama continued to consolidate his power through the removal of all remaining rivals by suppressing the Jonang tradition and by forcing the Karma Kagyu to return Gelug Monasteries that were converted into Karma Kagyu during the reign of the Tsangpa Kings. It was known that many Kagyu institutions converted to the Gelugpa lineage during that time.

Under the Fifth Dalai Lama, the city of Lhasa flourished. Foreign traders and intellectuals came in droves to the city that acted as a confluence of the arts, medicine, and architecture. He established a wide infrastructure of taxation and administration for both secular governance and religious governance of the monasteries. He was also a prolific writer, with his written works spanning histories and religious commentaries, which are all collected into a collection of more than thirty large volumes.

The Fifth Dalai Lama’s death was famously hidden under a shroud of mystery. In 1682, Desi Sangye Gyatso concealed the knowledge of the Dalai Lama’s passing for 15 years. In the meantime, he himself continued to consolidate Gelug power of Tibet, and had the Dalai Lama’s remains mummified and entombed. He also searched and found the incarnation so that within the same year that the death was announced, the 15-year-old Sixth Dalai Lama could be immediately enthroned.

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  1. I think the date of 1969 for the invasion of Kham may be incorrect?

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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