The Fourth Zhiwa Lha, Pakpa Gelek Gyeltsen

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The Fourth Zhiwa Lha, Pakpa Gelek Gyeltsen b.1720 - d.1799

Name Variants: Chamdo Trirab 22 Pakpa Gelek Gyeltsen; Fourth Zhiwa Lha Pakpa Gelek Gyeltsen; Pakpa Gelek Gyeltsen

The Fourth Zhiwa Lha, Pakpa Gelek Gyeltsen (zhi ba lha 04 'phags pa dge legs rgyal mtshan), was born in 1720, the iron-mouse year of the twelfth sexagenary cycle, in Drayab Gau Shodo (brag gyab ga'u shod mdo), in Kham. His father was Orgyen Tashi (O rgyan bkra shis) and his mother was Shuktang Wenmo (shug thang dbon mo). After being informed of the auspicious circumstances surrounding the boy, the Sixth Pakpa Lha Jigme Tenpai Gyatso ('phags pa lha 06 'jigs med bstan pa'i rgya mtsho, 1714-1754), in Lhasa on pilgrimage, asked the Fifth Paṇchen Lama, Lobzang Yeshe (paN chen bla ma 05 blo bzang ye shes, 1663-1737) to confirm the boy's identity as the Fourth Zhiwa Lha.

After the Sixth Pakpa Lha returned to Kham in 1724, he invited the five-year old tulku to Chamdo Jampa Ling. There the Pakpa Lha arranged a celebrative welcome and formal enthronement for the boy, and cut his "crown hair" (gtsug phud) as token of renunciation, giving him the name Pakpa Gelek Gyeltsen.

Gelek Gyeltsen commenced his primary education under the tutor Kachupa Lobzang Tsering (bka' bcu pa blo bzang tshe ring, d.u.) who taught him reading and writing, and memorization of daily prayers and rituals. At the age of ten, while Ngawang Chogdan (ngag dbang mchog ldan, d.u.), the abbot of Gyume Tantric College (rgyud smad mkhan po) was on a visit in Chamdo, he gave the tulku novice vows, and later teachings, commentaries, and empowerments on Yamāntaka and Cakrasaṃvara. When The First Purchok, Ngawang Jampa (phur mchogs ngag dbang byams pa, 1682-1762) was in Chamdo at the request of the Sixth Pakpa Lha, he gave Gelek Gyeltsen teachings on a number of topics including Lamrim Chenmo, the Guhyasamāja tantra, treatises on Mañjuśrī, and the Twenty One Taras.

Gelek Gyeltsen spent most of his time with the Sixth Pakpa Lha, from whom he received extensive teachings on both sutra and tantra, and also moral and general advices. He also sat a retreat under the Pakpa Lha's guidance. Lama Kondor (bla ma dkon rdor), a highly accomplished scholar and practitioner of the era, also gave him teachings and transmissions on certain important topics. Subsequently, he also studied astrology, Tibetan medicine, poetry, Sanskrit phonetics, and other related topics.

According to biographies, while the Sixth Pakpa Lha travelled to U Tsang in 1733, Gelek Gyeltsen acted on his behalf and supervised all programs and activities of the monastery. He also supervised the visit to Chamdo of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kelzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 07 ryal ba bskal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708–1757), when the later was travelling to Lhasa from Gartar, near Dartsendo (Kangding, then known as Tachenlu) in 1735. Given the accompanying entourage of five hundred religious and civil representatives, this was no small responsibility for a fifteen year old boy to undertake.

At the age of twenty-two Gelek Gyeltsen travelled to U-Tsang and enrolled in Sera Je Monastery (sera byes grwa tshang) where he studied for some ten years. He received his vows of full ordination, at the age of twenty-five, from the First Purchok Ngawang Jampa (phur bu lcog 01 ngag dbang byams pa, 1682-1762), a famous meditator who was a student of Drubkhangpa Gelek Gyatso (sgrub khang pa dge legs rgya mtsho, 1641- 1713). Gelek Gyeltsen spent some time in Purchog hermitage above Sera and received teachings on Jangchup Lamrim (byang chub lam rim) several times, and also empowerment on the Mahakarunika, commentary and empowerment on Chod, and also many initiations on various deities. He also received commentary on the generation and completion stage practice of Yamāntaka, Cakrasaṃvara and Guhyasamāja. He also received vows on fasting and transmission and esoteric instructions on practice of tantra.

The Fifth Paṇchen Lama gave Gelek Gyeltsen empowerment on Yamāntaka, initiation to the Twenty-One Taras according to the tradition of Atisha, generation and completion stages of Cakrasaṃvara, commentary on Madhyamaka, and so forth. He also received teachings and empowerments from other many outstanding prominent scholars including the Seventh Dalai Lama; Ngawang Chokden, the Fifty-fourth Ganden Tripa (dga' ldan khri pa 54 ngag dbang mchog ldan 1677-1751), and the Sakya lama Jamyang Kunga Tenzin (sa skya pa 'jam dbyangs kun dga' bstan 'dzin, d.u.).

In 1754, at the age of thirty-four, the Sixth Pakpa Lha passed away, and Gelek Gyeltsen supervised the funeral ceremonies, including the cremation and mass nirvana-prayers. He was offered the title of "hutuktu," an honorific of Mongolian origin with several ranks, most probably by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty in China. Subsequently, in 1756, in the fire-mouse year of the thirteenth sexagenary cycle, he received a formal written order from the Qianlong Emperor to succeed the Sixth Pakpa Lha and take over the abbacy of Chamdo Jampa Ling. At the same time, he also received a seal and other religious objects from the Seventh Dalai Lama. Thus, while informally he may have performed the duties of the abbot soon after the death of his predecessor, officially he was abbot only from 1756.

Gelek Gyeltsen organized the search and identification for the Seventh Pakpa Lha,  Jigme Tenpai Gonpo ('pakpa lha 07,  'jigs med bstan pa'i mgon po, 1755-1794), and supervised his education. He enthroned the Seventh Pakpa Lha as his successor in 1776. He also took active part in identification and enthronement of the Eighth Pakpa Lha Lobzang Jigme Pelden Tenpai Nyima ('phag pa lha 08 blo bzang 'jigs med dpal ldan bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1795-1847) during the last years of his life.

Unfortunately no further information is available for the second part of Gelek Gyeltsen's life. He passed away in 1799, in the earth sheep year of the thirteenth sexaganary cycle, at the age of eighty.



Anonymous. 1986. Bod kyi lo rgyus rig gnas dpyad gzhi'i rgyu cha gdams bsgrigs. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang. Vol. 9, pp 197-198.

Byams pa chos grags. N.d. Chab mdo byams pa gling gi gdan rabs. Chamdo: Chab mdo par 'debs bzo grwa par btab, pp. 349-353, 520.


Samten Chhosphel
July 2010