Khardo Zopa Gyatso

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Khardo Zopa Gyatso b.1672 - d.1749

Name Variants: Khardo Khenpo Zopa Gyatso; Lobzang Gomchung; Zopa Gyatso

Khardo Zopa Gyatso (mkhar rdo bzod pa rgya mtsho) was born near Lhasa in 1672. His father was a tantrika named Ngawang Tsultrim (ngag dbang tshul khrims) and his mother was Ache Kyikyi (a lce skyid skyid). His parents gave him the name Sherab Gyatso (shes rab rgya mtsho). After learning to read and write and getting basic ethical instructions from his parent, at the age of thirteen he joined Sera Je College (se ra byes grwa tshang) and studied under Je Khenpo Gyeltsen Dondrub (byes mkhan po rgyal mtshan don grub, d.u.). This teacher gave him full ordination at the age of twenty and the name Zopa Gyatso.

Beginning around the age of twenty-four Zopa Gyatso spent several years on pilgrimage and in retreat in various locations, during which he is said to have mastered the alchemical techniques of extracting nutriative power from water, stones, and flowers, a topic on which he late composed a text. He also is said to have mastered Prajñāpāramitā using Sera Jetsun Chokyi Gyeltsen's (se ra rje btsun chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1466-1544/46) Prajñāpāramitā manual, as well as other topics he had studied at Sera.

In 1699, at the age of twenty-seven, Zopa Gyatso met Drubkhangpa Gelek Gyatso (sgrub khang pa dge legs rgya mtsho, 1641-1713) at Drubkhangpa's hermitage of Sera Utse (se ra dbu rtse). Drubkhangpa taught him Lamrim and Lojong, the Avalokiteśvara tradition of Mitrayogin (grub chen mi tra dzo gi), and other Geluk traditions.

Zopa Gyatso then set out to practice in a nearby cave. The cave, now known as Ozer Pungpoche ('od zer phung po che) was said to have been shown to Zopa Gyatso by the local protector deity, Khardo Songtsen (mkhar rdo srong btsan). It seems that one day Zopa Gyatso had nothing to offer save for a single butter lamp, which illuminated the entire mountain when he lit it. He also resided in another cave, known as Milai Drak (mi la'i brag) because of its association with Milarepa.

Zopa Gyatso continued to wander U and Tsang, practicing at Tsari (rtswa ri) in the south and Yerpa Lhari (yer pa lha ri) near Lhasa, and visiting the Kadampa monasteries of Penyul ('phan yul). He also went to Tsang, to the important Geluk monastery of Wensa (dben sa) where he received teachings in the Wensa Nyengyu (dban sa snyan rgyud); to Tashilhunpo, where he met the Fifth Paṇchen Lama, Lobzang Yeshe (paN chen bla ma 05 blo bzang ye shes, 1663-1737), and to Tanak (rta nag), where he practiced in some of the sacred sites and wrote a short biography of Tapukpa Lobzang Damcho Gyeltsen (rta phug pa blo bzang dam chos rgyal mtshan, d. 1695/1607).

In 1706 (a date given only in some sources) Zopa Gyatso began construction of a hermitage around the Ozer Pungpoche cave, giving teachings to the handful of disciples who had gathered around him during his travels. Some years later he came to the attention of the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso (tA la'i bla ma 07 skal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757), who asked him to become his assistant tutor (mtshan zhabs). With the Dalai Lama's patronage the first temple at Khardo was constructed, the Temple of the Sixteen Arhats (gnas bcu lha khang), as well as the lama residences and other buildings. The Dalai Lama also gave permission for Zopa Gyatso to ordain the first eight monks in residence there.

Among Khardo Zopa Gyatso many disciples are counted his fellow student of Drubkhangpa, the First Purchok Lama, Ngawang Jampa (phur bu lcog 01 ngag dbang byams pa, 1682-1762), and Lobzang Tashi Pelzangpo (blo bzang bkra shis dpal bzang po, b. 1696).

Following Khardo Zopa Gyatso's death, the Seventh Dalai Lama sponsored the funeral services and the construction of a large silver reliquary, inside of which was placed his mumified corpse. The Dalai Lama also undertook the search for Zopa Gyatso's reincarnation, Choden Wangpo (chos ldan dbang po, d.u.), who was born in Penpo.




Cabezón, José Ignacio. 2006. The Hermitages of Sera. Charlottesville: The Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library, pp. 15-16; 56-66.

Dung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las. 2002. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, pp. 431-432.

Khetsun Sangpo. 1973. Biographical Dictionary of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Dharamsala: LTWA, vol. 5, p. 361 ff.

Ye shes rgyal mtshan. 1990. Bzod pa rgya mtsho'i rnam thar. In Lam rim bla ma brgyud pa'i rnam thar, pp. 671-674. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang.


Alexander Gardner
October 2010