The Third Tukwan, Lobzang Chokyi Nyima

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The Third Tukwan, Lobzang Chokyi Nyima b.1737 - d.1802

Name Variants: Chokyi Nyima; Jakhyung Khyenrab Lobzang Chokyi Nyima; Kumbum Tri 35 Lobzang Chokyi Nyima; Lobzang Chokyi Nyima

The Third Tukwan Lobzang Chokyi Nyima (thu'u bkwan 03 blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma), was born in the Tati (pra sti) clan in a place called Puntsok in Poro Langdru, Amdo, (mdo smad pho rod lang gru'i phun tshogs lung pa), in 1737, on the seventh day of the eleventh month of the fire-snake year of the twelfth sexagenary cycle. His father was called Wangkyab Gyal (dbang skyabs rgyal) and his mother was named Bari Zang Chotso Kyi (ba ri bzang chos mtsho skyid).

At the age of six the boy was identified as the reincarnation of the Second Tukwan Ngawang Chokyi Gyatso (thu'u bkwan 02 ngag dbang chos kyi rgya mtsho, 1680-1736) by the Second Jamyang Zhepa, Konchok Jigme Wangpo ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 02 dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po, 1728-1791) with help of divination by Changkya Rolpai Dorje (lcang skya 03 rol pa'i rdo rje, 1717-1786) and Ganden Tritul (dga' ldan khri sprul, d.u.) in Beijing with confirmation by the Seventh Dalai Lama Kelzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 07, bskal bzang rgya mtsho 1708-1757) in Lhasa. Thus with the backing of many highly placed lamas, the young boy was brought to Gonlung Jampa Ling (dgon lung byams pa gling) in northwestern Amdo and enthroned on the lineal seat. Lobzang Chokyi Nyima started his basic education and training, learning to read and write and the memorization of prayers and important texts, under Martsang Ponchung Lobzang Chozin (dmar tshang dpon chung blo bzang chos 'dzin, d.u.). They resided most of the time alternately at the Chozang Hermitage (chos bzang ri khrod) and the residence behind Gonlung Monastery.

The Thirtieth abbot of Gonlong, Degu Ngawang Gelek Gyatso (dgon lung khri 30 bde rgu ngag dbang dge legs rgya mtsho, d.u.) granted him the vows of upasaka. At the age of eleven Lobzang Chokyi Nyima received the vows of primary monk (rab byung) from Sumpa Khenpo Yeshe Peljor (sum pa mkhan po ye shes dpal 'byor, 1704-1788) and thereafter was formally enrolled in Gonlung Jampa Ling. He commenced his studies with primary logic followed by texts in Pramana. While Changkya Rolpai Dorje was on his way back to Amdo from Beijing he visited Gonlung, and the young Tukwan invited him to his residence where he received from him the vows of novice monk (dge tsul), at the age of thirteen. The following year he started attending the prayer assemblies and giving teachings. He also started his intensive studies in Prajñāpāramitā and also learned poetry, astrology and astronomy, and many other common subjects. In the meantime he continued to receive teachings from Sumpa Khenpo.

When Lobzang Chokyi Nyima was sixteen his father died, at the age of seventy-four, and the following year his mother also died. He did an extensive prayer for his parents and went to the Zhamar Monastery (zhwa dmar dgon pa) in his hometown, where he gave many transmissions and initiations. He also made financial and feast offerings to the monks and a bronze statue of Amitāyus for the monastery, and received substantial offerings in return.

At the age of eighteen in 1754, Lobzang Chokyi Nyima received the vows of full ordination (dge slong) from Sumpa Khenpo in some haste, after receiving permission to travel to Lhasa from the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796) in Beijing. Soon thereafter he started the journey to Lhasa with turning his horse three times to the monastery to establish the conditions for his quick return from U-Tsang. He was given a warm welcome on his arrival in Lhasa by representatives of ministers and monks from Drepung Monastery. Subsequently he had audience of the Seventh Dalai Lama and then matriculated in Drepung Gomang College. He commenced his advanced studies under the tutorship of Jamyang Zhepa. In the meantime he went to Purchok, above Sera Monastery, where he met the First Purchok, Ngawang Jampa (phur lcog 01 ngag dbang byams pa 1682-1762) who presented him gifts and advised him to complete his study.

At the age of twenty-one, in 1657, he received the vows of full ordination a second time, from Purchok Ngawang Jampa, on the full-moon day of the fourth Tibetan month. He met Changkya Rolpai Dorje in Lhasa and received many teachings from him. Together with Changkya he received the Kālacakra empowerment from the Sixth Paṇchen Lama, Lobzang Pelden Yeshe (paN chen bla ma 06 blo bzang dpal ldan ye shes, 1738-1780) in Lhasa. At the order of the Lhasa government, as recommending by Changkya, he accepted the abbatial throne of Zhalu Serkang (zhwa lu gser khang gi gdan sa).

Lobzang Chokyi Nyima also travelled in the Tsang region. He visited Tashilhunpo where he met again with the Sixth Paṇchen Lama. He also received teachings from the Thirty-second Sakya Trichen, Ngawang Kunga Lodro (sa skya khri chen 32 kun dga' blo gros, 1729-1783) at Sakya Monastery. Following further pilgrimage visits in Tsang he returned to the Paṇchen Lama to report his departure and returned to Lhasa via Zhalu Monastery.

In 1761, at the age of twenty-five, when Lobzang Chokyi Nyima decided to return in Amdo, he received khenpo-robes and two seals, the title of "Monhan," and many other items from the Lhasa government. After reporting personally to the Seventh Dalai Lama and Purchok Ngawang Jampa he departed for Amdo. Upon his arrival at Gonlung Monastery he was welcomed by over a thousand devotees led by Sumpa Khenpo, and later enthroned to the seat of abbot. Lobzang Chokyi Nyima then appointed new staff members for proper management of the monastery and he began teaching and performing various dharma activities.

At the age of twenty-seven, in 1763, the year of water-sheep Lobzang Chokyi Nyima received an invitation from the Qianlong Emperor to visit Beijing. He departed for Beijing by caravan escorted by twelve armed guards, reaching Beijing after fifty days. He was accommodated in the Podrang Serpo (pho brang ser po; the Yellow Palace) and met Changkya Rolpai Dorje on the same day. Not long after the Emperor met Lobzang Chokyi Nyima and gave him some of his used robes and awarded with the title of khutuktu. Then at the invitation of Wang Ratna Sidhi he visited Mongolia and gave many teachings and then returned to Beijing with heavy offerings. Thereafter, he visited Mongolia every year in the summer to give teachings and empowerments and perform important religious activities and returned to Beijing. The Emperor again offered him the title "Jingseu Chenzhi Hutotu" (rnam dag bslab ldan bsam gtan gyi slob dpon 'phags pa chen po), roughly "Great Religious Master with Perfect Moral Character," and a silver seal, and so forth. The Emperor also ordered the elevation of his rank to Guoshi (國師, T: kau shri), the middle among three ranks enjoyed by Tibetans clerics – Dishi (帝師, T: ti shri), Guoshi, and Chanshi (禪師, T: chen shri).

At the age of thirty-two, February/March of 1768, Chokyi Nyima returned to his homeland. He was warmly seen off by high lamas of the monasteries in Beijing. At the request of the Imperial Court he visited a number of places in Mongolia while en route and gave teachings and empowerments, and also different levels of vows as per their requirement, and arrived at his monastery Gonlung Jampa Ling in August 1768, bearing abundant gifts from the Emperor. He presented gifts from China and Mongolia to his lamas, including Sumpa Khenpo and Chubzang Tulku (chu bzang sprul sku d.u.) and gave money and feast-offering to monks of his monastery. He invited Jamyang Zhepa to the consecration of newly installed objects in the monastery, making plentiful offerings to him. He then built a new assembly hall and a temple of Mahākāla, and commissioned a large number of religious items for the monastery. He also set about composing a number of texts, working on them over the next three years.

In 1771, when Tukwan was thirty-five, the Qianlong Emperor summoned him to Beijing. En route he joined with Changkya Rolpai Dorje and the Third Khalka Jetsun Dampa, Yeshe Tenpai Nyima, (khal kha rje btsun dam pa 03 ye shes bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1758-1773). The three lamas together met the Qing Emperor and consecrated the Putuo Zongcheng Temple at his newly built monastery at Chengde, in Zhihor (zhi hor), which was modeled after the Potala Palace in Lhasa and which became the site where the Emperor would received envoys from non-Han regions of the empire. The lamas, together with the Emperor, attended a prayer assembly of the new monastery and the Emperor made copious offerings to lamas of money, and tea to over thousand monks.

Thereafter, Tukwan visited most of the monasteries in Mongolia while on his way back to Gonlung. In 1773, he visited Labrang Tashikhyil at the invitation of Jamyang Zhepa. In 1777 he organized an extensive prayer for the late mother of the Emperor as per his wish. He sent a team of monks led by Dondup Wanggyal (don grub dbang rgyal, d.u.), his personal manager, to Lhasa to arrange an extensive prayer and make plentiful offerings there. He also sent abundant presents to offer to the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 08 'jam dpal rgya tsho, 1758-1804) and to the Sixth Paṇchen Lama.

Lobzang Chokyi Nyima invited the Paṇchen Lama to Gonlung while the later was on his way to China, and took the opportunity to discuss some critical points of dharma. Subsequently he had more time for discussion at Kumbum Jampa Ling (sku 'bum byams pa gling) where the Paṇchen Lama stayed for an extend time. The Paṇchen Lama then proceeded to Beijing, where he passed away in 1780.

In 1783 the construction work of Tarpeling Monastery (thar pa gling dgon pa), a new monastery that Tukwan established, was completed with its various shrines and other necessary installments for which Lobzang Chokyi Nyima spent a large amount of money. He invited Jamyang Zhepa for an extensive consecration. In the meantime he again received yet another summons from the Emperor Qianlong to visit Beijing, initiating a third trip to the Chinese capital. After completing the religious performances requested by the Emperor he proceeded to Mongolia and stayed for about two years in giving teachings, empowerments and performing important religious activities before then returning to Gonlung Jampa Ling.

Tukwan spent much of his fifth decade away from Gonlung. When of his main Mongolian sponsors, Wang Ratna Siddhi, died in China while on a pilgrimage he made an extensive prayer for the late sponsor. Subsequently he travelled in the Tso-ngon region and made detail pilgrimage to the holy places including Kumbum Monastery, and then visited Labrang Monastery where he had discussions on dharma with Jamyang Zhepa. Lobzang Chokyi Nyima was enthroned as the Thirty-fifth abbot of Kumbum Monastery in 1789-1790, on the fourth day of the fifth month of the bird year, when he was fifty-three. He then visited Kado (ka mdo) immediately following the death of Jamyang Zhepa there and composed a prayer for his swift and clear reincarnation. In the meantime again he was called by the Emperor to Beijing but this time he declined the visit, and instead gave comprehensive teachings and empowerments and so forth at Kumbum. He retired from the Kumbum abbacy after three years, in the eleventh month of the iron-pig year, and enthroned Drotsang Khenpo (gro tshang mkhan po, d.u.) as his successor. He returned to Gonlung Monastery and settled in private in the Chozang Hermitage at the age of fifty-eight.

Tukwan went back to Labrang to identify the reincarnation of Jamyang Zhepa, and proceeded to Mongolia to give teachings and empowerments for about a year, returning to Gonlung in 1797. Two years later he went to see the Third Jamyang Zhepa, Lobzang Tubten Jigme Gyatso ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa 03 blo bzang thub bstan 'jigs med rgya mtsho, 1792-1855) in Labrang and granted him the primary vows of monk (rab byung) and also composed a prayer for the tulku; and then returned to Gonlung.

Tukwan Lobzang Chokyi Nyima was a prolific author, composing works in subject as diverse as biographies, dramas, astrology, doxography, tantras, poetic works, correspondences and official documents, and so forth. Originally there were about five hundred titles collected into fifteen volumes that were preserved in traditional wooden blocks in Gonlung Jampa Ling out of which ten volumes are currently preserved in the Nationalities Publishing House (mi rigs dpe bskrun khang) in Beijing.

One of the best known of his compositions is his religious history, The Crystal Mirror: An Excellent Exposition That Shows the Sources and Assertions of All Tenet Systems (grub mtha' thams cad kyi khung dang 'dod tshul ston pa legs bshad shel gyi me long). This important work was completed in 1802, shortly before Tukwan passed away. In it he surveys the Buddhist traditions of India, Tibet, Mongolia, and China, including Bon, which he compares to Chinese Chan. The work is well-regarded for the relative impartiality of its presentation, combining the insults to Bon, Jonang and Nyingma one would expected in a work of its time with sympathetic descriptions of what the author found admirable in the non-Geluk traditions. In contrast to one of his famous teachers, Sumpa Khenpo, the Third Tukwan, looking more towards Beijing than to Lhasa as a base of support, was known for his ecumenical outlook. All three Tukwan incarnations, as well as the first two Changkya incarnations, were known as protectors of the Nyingma in Amdo.

In addition to the Third Jamyang Zhepa, Tukwan's students included many future abbots and prominent lamas of Amdo such as Yangchen Gawai Lodro (dbyangs can dga' ba'i blo gros, 1740-1827), Ngawang Shedrub Tenpai Nyima (ngag dbang bshad sgrub bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1787-1859/60), Ngawang Mipam Dawa (ngag dbang mi pham zla ba, 1767-1807), Jamyang Tubten Nyima ('jam dbyangs thub bstan nyi ma, 1779-1862), Lobzang Tsepel (blo bzang tshe 'phel, b. 1760), Ngawang Nyendrak (ngag dbang snyan grags, 1766-1841), Kelzang Tashi Gyatso (skal bzang bkra shis rgya mtsho, b. 1779), and Lobzang Tenpai Nyima (blo bzang bstan pa'i nyi ma b. 1744).

In 1799 he received the news of the death of Emperor Qianlong in Beijing. He organized a nirvana-prayer for the late Emperor for twenty one days at his monastery. The following year he again visited Mongolia and spent about two years in doing a variety of dharma activities and returned to Gonlung in June/July in 1802. By this time he had been ill for some time, and, despite of treatments and many rituals for his recovery, Lobzang Chokyi Nyima passed into nirvana at the age of sixty-six in the year of water-dog in the thirteenth sexagenary cycle, in 1802 in Gonlung Jampa Ling.




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Nor brang o rgyan. 2006. Thu'u bkwan blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma. In Nor brang o rgyan gyi gsung rtsom phyogs bsdus, pp. 673-676. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang.

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Samten Chhosphel
October 2010