The Fifth Tongkhor, Ngawang Sonam Gyatso b.1684 - d.1752
Name Variants: Sonam Gyatso
Ngawang Sonam Gyatso (ngag dbang bsod nams rgya mtsho) was born to the chieftain family of Nangra (snang ra) area of Chentsa (gcan tsha), Amdo, in 1684, the wood-mouse year of the eleventh sexagenary cycle. His father was Bumyak Kyab ('bum yag skyabs) and mother was named Bummo Kyi ('bum mo skyid, d.u). He was the oldest of eight brothers.
He was recognized as a youth as the reincarnation of the Fourth Tongkhor, Dogyu Gyatso (stong 'khor 03 mdo rgyud rgya mtsho, d. 1683). He received novice, renunciation, and, at the age of twenty, full ordination vows from the Third Zhabdrung Karpo, Ngawang Lobzang Tenpai Gyeltsen (la mo zhabs drung blo bzang bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, 1660-1728), who gave him the name Ngawang Sonam Gyatso.
He trained with many teachers from multiple traditions. These included the Dalai Hutukhtu Tubten Shedrub Gyatso (tA la'i ho thog thu thub bstan bshad sgrub rgya mtsho, d.u); the Tsedung Zhabdrung, Ngawang Kunga Yongdu (rtse gdung zhabs drung ngag dbang kun dga' yongs 'dus, d.u); Līgya Donyo Nyima (lI gya don yod nyi ma, d.u); Lobzang Nyima (blo bzang nyi ma, d.u); Namkha Gyeltsen (nam mkha rgyal mtshan, d.u) and others.
He studied tantra at Tongkhor Tashilhunpo in Kham, which he renamed Sangchen Dorje Ling (gsang chen rdo rje gling), with a Geluk teacher named Jamyang Lodro ('jam dbyangs blo gros, 1651-1733), who held certain Nyingma traditions.
Some time between 1716 and 1720 he met with the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso (tA la'i bla ma 07 skal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757), while the latter was dwelling at Kumbum (sku 'bum) monastery.
In the 1723 a revolt broke out in Amdo against Manchu rule led by Mongol tribesmen claiming to be the inheritors of Gushri Khan's authority. They had considerable support among Tibetans and some factions within monasteries. The military forces under the Yongzheng Emperor (雍正 r. 1722-1735) inflicted considerable damage during their reprisals by burning villages, razing monasteries—including Gonlung and Tongkhor, and murdering many religious leaders. After the Seventh Dalai Lama pleaded for clemency, the Qing strategically used imperial funds to rebuild the monasteries, ensuring future loyalty. During the disaster Sonam Gyatso fled to Yeshong Monastery, where he studied the Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā and other subjects with Jamyang Lodro.
In 1736 he rebuilt Tongkhor Ganden Chokhor Ling (stong 'khor dgon dga' ldan chos 'khor gling), which had been established by the Fourth Tongkhor, relocating it close by and giving it the new name of Tubten Shedrub Ling (thub bstan bshad sgrub gling). He established a Buddhist philosophy college at the monastery based on the teaching tradition of Serame Tosam Ling (se ra smad thos bsam nor bu gling), and also initiated a ninth-day religious dance in the tradition of Gyume (rgyud smad). He built a temple to the Buddhas of the Three Times at Chorten Tang Tashi Dargye Ling (mchod rten thang bkra shis dar rgyas gling), a monastery that had been established by the Fourth Tongkhor, Dogyu Gyatso (stong 'khor 04 mdo rgyud rgya mtsho, d. 1683), in 1647.
When he turned sixty, the Second Jamyang Zhepa ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 02 dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po, 1728-1791) invited him to Nangra (snang ra) monastery. There he gave Jamyang Zhepa the Vajramāla and x empowerments.
At the age of sixty-nine Ngawang Sonam Gyatso, made a pilgrimage to Wutaishan, the mountain in China sacred to Mañjuśrī. He intended to remain there for some time in retreat, but was convinced to return to Amdo by his disciples. It is said that one morning while at the mountain, a bowl accidently broken into two pieces. This was taken as an omen that his incarnation line would split into two following his death.
He passed away on the way back to Amdo, and his corpse was taken to Tongkhor Monastery for funeral services. All his funeral rituals were done under the instructions of the Third Chubzang, Ngawang Tubten Wangchuk (chu bzang 03 ngag dbang thub bstan dbang phyug, 1725-1796). The Second Jamyang Zhepa constructed a silver stupa in Tongkhor Monastery to house his relics. In addition to the Second Jamyang Zhepa, Yershong Gendun Zadrak (g.yer gshong dge 'dun zla grags, d.u.) was a prominent disciple.
Two reincarnations of the Fifth Tongkhor were identified by opposing factions of the Geluk community in Amdo: Jampel Gendun Gyatso ('jam dpal dge 'dun rgya mtsho, 1754-1803) based at Tashilhunpo in Kham and Ngawang Jamyang Tendzin Gyatso (ngag dbang 'jam dbyangs bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho, 1753-1798) based at Amdo Tongkhor Monastery.
Anon. 2005 (1930). Stong 'khor zhabs drung lnga pa ngag dbang bsod nams rgya mtshor skyes pa'i rabs kyi le'u. In Stong 'khor zla ba rgyal mtshan sku phreng rim byon gyi rnam thar, pp. 221-248. Beijing: krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang. TBRC W2CZ7868.
Bsod nams rgya mtsho. 2000. Bstan rtsis ka phreng lag deb. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 235-236. TBRC W20115.
Grags pa 'byung gnas and Rgyal ba blo bzang mkhas grub. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 772-773. TBRC W19801.
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- Historical Period