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The Third Changkya, Rolpai Dorje

ISSN 2332-077X

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The Third Changkya, Rolpai Dorje b.1717 - d.1786

Name Variants: Changkya 03 Rolpai Dorje; Changkya Yeshe Tenpai Dronme; Rolpai Dorje



The Third Chankya, Rolpai Dorje (lcang skya 03 rol pa'i rdo rje) was born in 1717 at Langdru Deshi Nup Padmo Depa Drogne Drakkar (lang gru'i sde bzhi'i nub padmo'i sde pa 'brog gnas brag dkar). His father was Tsangpa Guru Tenzin (tshangs pa gu ru bstan 'dzin, d.u.) and his mother was called Bukyi (bu skyid). His family was of Mongour descent.

Rolpai Dorje was recognized as a reincarnation of the Second Chankya, Ngawang Lobzang Choden (lcang skya 02 ngag dbang blo bzang chos ldan, 1642-1714) in 1720 and brought to his monastic seat, Gonlung Jampa Ling (dgon lung byams pa gling), one of the four most important Geluk monasteries in Amdo. He was taken to the Qing imperial court in 1724, after his home monastery was destroyed by Qing troops in response to the rebellion led by Lobzang Danjin (blo bzang dan jin, d.u.). Rolpai Dorje was later identified as an incarnation of the great Sakya scholar and statesman, Pakpa Lodro Gyeltsen ('phags pa blo gros rgyal mtshan, 1235-1280) as well.

At the Yongzheng Emperor's court, Rolpai Dorje was educated in close proximity to the prince who eventually became the Qianlong Emperor (乾隆, r. 1735-1796). This relationship proved extremely significant; Chankya served as Qianlong's main Buddhist teacher and advisor in matters related to Buddhism, including art, literature, religious initiations and practices, and diplomacy. His education included training in most of the languages in use under the Qing, including Manchu, Chinese, Mongolian, and Tibetan as well as the various Buddhist topics suited to his role as a lama.

In 1734 Chankya made his first trip to Lhasa when Yongzheng permitted him to accompany the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso (tA la'i bla ma bskal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757) to the Tibetan capital. This trip gave Chankya the opportunity to study with the Dalai Lama as well as to make offerings to Lhasa's major monasteries and present gifts from the Qing emperor. In 1735 Chankya traveled to Zhigatse, where he met the Fifth Paṇchen Lama Lobzang Yeshe (paN chen bla ma 05 blo bzang ye shes, 1663-1737) at Tashilhunpo monastery. Chankya took the vows of a novice with the Paṇchen Lama, who named him Yeshe Tenpai Dronme (ye shes bstan pa'i sgron me). A few days later, he took the vows of a fully ordained monk, under the supervision of the Paṇchen Lama and other high lamas. When Yongzheng died in 1736, Chankya had to give up his plans to study under the Paṇchen Lama and returned to Beijing. The Dalai Lama and Paṇchen Lama offered religious statues and other significant gifts as parting presents.

Courtesy of private. Used by permission. When Chankya Rolpai Dorje arrived in Beijing, his childhood peer, the Qianlong Emperor, newly installed on the throne, named him chief administrative lama in the capital. Early in his career as administrator, Chankya urged the Qianlong to grant disputed border areas to the Dalai Lama. Although the emperor refused to grant the land, he did follow Rolpai Dorje's advice in part, by granting the Dalai Lama a sizable yearly allowance. After internal political tensions in Lhasa came to a climax in 1751 with the execution of the secular leader Gyurme Namgyel ('gyur med rnam rgyal), Qianlong officially named the Dalai Lama the political and religious leader of Tibet. Rolpai Dorje's disciple and biographer, the Third Tukwan Lobzang Chokyi Nyima (thu'u bkwan 03 blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma, 1737-1802) asserts that this significant decision was largely due to Rolpai Dorje's advice. Apparently the Qianlong Emperor, enraged by the assasination of his representatives in Lhasa, the ambans, was preparing to give full administrative power in Tibet to Manchu representatives. Changkya knelt before the Emperor and pleaded that he not do so, but instead invest the Dalai Lama with political power.

After the death of the Seventh Dalai Lama, Qianlong sent Chankya on a second mission to Lhasa. There was debate among Tibetan officials over whether the new Dalai Lama's regent would have both religious and secular power. The Kalon (bka' blon) or cabinet members aimed to take over secular control and let the Dalai Lama manage religious matters only. Changkya advised the emperor to entrust the regent with full religious and secular authority in order to avoid conflict among the cabinet members. The emperor granted the regent religious authority and relied on the ambans (ambassadors from the Qing court in Lhasa) to limit the power of the lay elite cabinet members.

In 1757, Chankya departed for Lhasa again, this time with a large entourage including a minister, several officials, and two Imperial physicians. During this stay, Chankya performed various religious and political tasks for the emperor, keeping Qianlong apprised of the situation in various Inner Asian locales, as far west as Ladakh. He was closely involved with identifying the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso (ta lai bla ma 08 'jam dpal rgya mtsh0, 1758-1604) and wrote the Seventh Dalai lama's biography. At the same time, Chankya studied under major lamas, most significantly the Sixth Paṇchen Lama, Lobzang Pelden Yeshe (paN chen bla ma 06 blo bzang dpal ldan ye shes, 1738-1780). In 1779, Chankya arranged for the Paṇchen Lama to undertake a trip to Beijing to celebrate Qianlong's birthday. A monastery modeled after Tashilhunpo was built in Jehol in honor of the visit. During the Paṇchen Lama's visit Chankya Rolpai Dorje performed religious and diplomatic functions such as instructing the lama on how to approach the emperor and translating Dharma teachings between the two. The Paṇchen Lama contracted smallpox and passed away during this visit.

Some of Rolpai Dorje's main teachers were Lobzang Yeshe (blo bzang ye shes, 1663-1737), Ngawang Jampa (ngag dbang byams pa, 1682-1762), Lobzang Chodzin (blo bzang chos 'dzin, 1717-1786). In addition to Qianlong and the Third Tukwan, Rolpai Dorje's students included Konchok Jigme Wangpo (dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po, 1728-1791), and Kelsang Tubten Jigme Gyatso (skal bzang thub bstan 'jigs med rgya mtsho, 1743-1811). His collected works contain more than two hundred titles.

Chankya's work as a translator was by no means limited to oral translations although that was one of his primary duties at court. He also oversaw the creation of (Mongolian, Tibetan, Manchu, Chinese, and Chagatay language) dictionaries and translations of Buddhist teachings in textual form. As a Buddhist administrator in Beijing, he played an important role in founding Yonghegong, a monastic college for Mongol, Manchu, and Chinese monks. Like Wutaishan, this college combined an Imperial palace and a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. He was also instrumental in developing the systems of iconography, cataloguing, and inscribing that would prove so important to the Qianlong emperor's projects in Buddhist art.

 

Sources:

 

Berger, Patricia. 2003. Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Dung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las. 2002. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo. Beijing: China Tibetology Publishing House.

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

Illich, Marina. 2006. “Selections from the life of a Tibetan Buddhist polymath: Chankya Rolpai Dorje (lcang skya rol pa'i rdo rje), 1717-1786.” Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University.

Tuttle, Gray. 2005. Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China. New York: Columbia University Press.

van Schaik, Sam. 2011. Tibet; A History. New Haven: Yale, p. 152.

Wang Xiangyun. “The Qing Court's Tibet Connection: Lcang skya Rolpa'i rdo rje and the Qianlong Emperor.” In HJAS vol. 60 no. 1. June, 2000.

 

Dominique Townsend
March 2010

 

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