The Fifty-Seventh Ganden Tripa, Samten Puntsok

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The Fifty-Seventh Ganden Tripa, Samten Puntsok b.1703 - d.1770

Name Variants: Ganden Trichen 57 Samten Puntsok; Ganden Tripa 57 Samten Puntsok; Shartse Samten Puntsok ; Uto Samten Puntsok

The Fifty-seventh Ganden Tripa, Samten Puntsok (dga' ldan khri pa 57 bsam gtan phun tshogs) was born in the family of Khangsar Zhontsangpa (khang gsar gzhon tshang pa) at Lodar (lo mdar) in 1703, the water-sheep year of the twelfth sexagenary cycle. Lodar is a sacred place to the Kadam tradition, located near Pakmo Chode ('phags mo chos sde), not far from Ganden Monastery. The name of his father was Tapak Lhamo Dargye (rta phag lha mo dar rgyas) and his mother was called Ama Chokyak (a ma phyogs yags). In his youth he was a yak herder, and it is said that he would frequently sit in the position of a preaching lama and pretend to give blessings and teachings to his fellow herders.

While still young Samten Puntsok matriculated in Uto Chikhang of Loseling College of Drepung Monastic University ('bras blo gling dbus stod spyi khang) and began his education in reading and memorization of prayer texts and root-verses of various lengthy philosophical texts. Dakpo Lobzang Jinpa (dwags po blo bzang sbyin pa, d.u.) granted him his initial monastic vows. At Loseling he studied the Collected Topics (bsdus grwa) followed by then Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Madhyamaka, Abhidharmakośa, Pramāṇavārttika, and Vinaya, the five major subjects of the Geluk monastic curriculum under a number of tutors.

In 1733, at the age of thirty-one, Samten Puntsok stood for the traditional examination during a special session of the Great Prayer Festival dedicated to the late mother of Polhane Sonam Tobgye (pho lha nas bsod nams stobs rgyas, 1689-1747). Subsequently, at the age of thirty-four, he received the vows of full ordination (dge slong) from the Seventh Dalai Lama Kelzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 07 skal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757) who also later gave him many teachings.

Apart from the Seventh Dalai Lama and Dakpo Lobzang Jinpa, Samten Puntsok also received various empowerments and esoteric instructions, transmissions, and teachings, such as brief and comprehensive Lamrim and Lojong, and the generation and completion stage practice (bskyed rdzogs) of Yamāntaka, Cakrasaṃvara, Guhyasamāja, and other tantric deities from a number of prominent scholar lamas that included the First Purchok, Ngawang Jampa (phur lcogs 01 ngag dbang byams pa, 1682-1762), the Third Changkya, Rolpai Dorje (lcang skya 03 rol pa'i rdo rje, 1717-1786), Kangyurwa Tabkhe Gyatso (bka' 'gyur ba thabs mkhas rgya mtsho, d.u.), the Fifty-third Ganden Tripa, Trichen Gyeltsen Sengge (dga' ldan khri pa 53 khri chen rgyal mtshan seng+ge, 1678-1756), the Fifty-fifth Ganden Tripa, Trichen Ngawang Namkha Zangpo (dga' ldan khri pa 55 khri chen ngag dbang nam mkha' bzang po, 1690-1750), and Sharchen Ngawang Lhundrub (shar chen ngag dbang lhun grub, d.u.).

Samten Puntsok then matriculated at Gyuto Tantric College where he studied Tantra, both scripture and, rites and rituals, including the drawing of maṇḍalas. After completing his studies, he served as chant leader and then as abbot of Gyuto during which he gave comprehensive teachings on tantra according to their tradition. Thereafter he served as abbot of Ganden Shartse College (dga' ldan shar rtse grwa tshang) where he taught mainly on sutra, and then ascended to the Golden Throne of Ganden as the Fifty-seventh Ganden Tripa, in 1757, the fire-ox year of the thirteenth sexagenary cycle, at the age of fifty-five. He held the position the customary seven years, until 1764.

Following his retirement from the Golden Throne, Trichen Samten Puntsok settled at Pakmo Chode (phag mo chos sde) and sat on an intensive meditation for several years. There he sponsored a magnificent stupa of enlightenment (byang chub mchod rten) approximately nine feet high, in silver mixed with gold and ornamented with precious stones and gems, which was later installed in the Sarma Lhakhang at Ganden. He also commissioned a statue of the Seventh Dalai Lama in silver for Pakmo Chode.

Among Trichen Samten Puntsok's disciples were the Fifty-ninth Ganden Tripa, Trichen Ngawang Chodrak (dga' ldan khri pa 59 khri chen ngag dbang chos grags, 1710-1772); and the sixty-second Ganden Tripa, Trichen Lobzang Monlam (dga' ldan khri pa 62 khri chen blo bzang smon lam, 1729-1798).

In the later years of his life, Trichen Samten Puntsok endeavored to give teachings and empowerments and monastic vows at Pakmo Chode as much as he could. In 1770, in the morning of the full-moon day of the ninth month of the iron-tiger year in the thirteenth sexagenary cycle, at the age of sixty-eight, he passed into nirvana at Pakmo Chode. His disciples and devotees built a silver reliquary where they interred his heart, tongue and other relics found in the ashes of his cremation. An extensive nirvana-prayer was done there and at other places by his devotees.




Bstan pa bstan 'dzin. 1992. 'Jam mgon rgyal wa'i rgyal tshab gser khri rim byon rnams kyi khri rabs yongs 'du'i ljon bzang. Mundgod: Drepung Gomang Library, p. 98.

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. 1704-1706.

Grags pa mkhas grub.1810?. Khri thog lnga bcu nga bdun pa khri chen bsam gtan phun tshogs kyi rnam thar in Dga' ldan khri rabs rnam thar, pp.185-198 (TBRC digital page number); pp. da 1-7b (original text page number).

Grong khyer lha sa srid gros lo rgyus rig gnas dpyad yig rgyu cha rtsom 'bri au yon lhan khang. 1994. Dga' ldan dgon pa dang brag yer pa'i lo rgyus, grong khyer lha sa'i lo rgyus rig gnas deb 02. Lhasa: Bod ljongs shin hwa par 'debs bzo grwa khang, p. 72.


Samten Chhosphel
January 2011