Sanggye Yeshe

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Sanggye Yeshe b.1525 - d.1591

Name Variants: Chokyab Dorje; Kedrub Sanggye Yeshe; Wensapa Sanggye Yeshe

Sanggye Yeshe (sangs rgyas ye shes) was born in the Tsang Valley (gtsang rong) in Tibet in 1525, in a town called Drukgya (drug brgya), the youngest of four sons. His father's name was Lama Rinchen (bla ma rin chen) and his mother was called Choten (chos bstan).

Sanggye Yeshe encountered his future master, Wensapa Lobzang Dondrub (dben sa pa blo bzang don grub), soon after birth, and the latter encouraged his parents to care for him well. But it was with Lama Yonten Zangpo (bla ma yon tan bzang po), of Baso Lhundrub Dechen Monastery (bas so lhun grub bde chen) that he took refuge at the age of ten, receiving the name Chokyab Dorje (chos skyabs rdo rje). Soon after he took novice vows with Yonten Sangpo, receiving the name Sanggye Yeshe, and receiving instruction in Guhyasamāja, Akṣobhya, Vajrabhairava, and other teachings of the Geluk tradition.

At the age of fifteen Sanggye Yeshe entered Tashilhunpo Monastery (bkra shis lhun po), studying with Tsondru Gyeltsen (brtson 'grus rgyal mtshan), the abbot of Tosom Ling college (thos bsam gling). The following year he went with companions to Lekdrub Dratsang (legs grub grwa tshang) in Nyangto (myang stod) to study under Jamyang Gendun Lobzang (jam dbyang dge 'dun blo bzang) a master teacher of Dharmakirti's Pramanavarttika. After studying Madhyamaka for the next several years Sanggye Yeshe became a formidable debater at Tashilhunpo. Finally, at the age of twenty-five, he earned his Geshe (dge bshes) degree at Pelkhor Chode (dpal 'khor chos sde) in Gyantse (rgyal rtse). The following year he served as the chief disciplinarian at Tashilhunpo.

Sanggye Yeshe later traveled to Gangchen Chopel (gangs can chos 'phel) Monastery to study with Paṇchen Donyo Gyeltsen (paN chen don yod rgyal mtshan) and then finally entered Gyume Tantric College (rgyud smad) in Lhasa to deepen his knowledge and understanding of the tantras. There he studied Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, and Vajrabhairava.

On his way to Lhasa Sanggye Yeshe had stopped at Wensa (dben sa) Monastery and took refuge in Gyelwa Wensapa himself. Completing extensive study and practice at Gyume, Sanggye Yeshe returned to the home of Wensapa. At this point in his life he received instructions, oral transmissions, initiations, and practices of the lineage. During this time Sanggye Yeshe developed true renunciation, and took the vows of a fully ordained monk at Riwo Gepel (ri bo dge 'phel), with Chokle Nampar Gyelwa (phyogs las rnam par rgyal ba) serving as abbot. When Wensapa passed away, Sanggye Yeshe took responsibility for his relics and commissioned the creation of a great many holy objects at Wensa.

At Wensa Monastery Sanggye Yeshe encountered Sonam Gyatso (bsod nam rgya mtsho), who was soon to depart for Mongolia where he would be given the title of Dalai Lama. Sanggye Yeshe accompanied him to Tashilhunpo, acting as his servant, and received numerous teachings from the lamas in Sonam Gyatso's entourage prior to their leaving for Mongolia, including Langmika (glang mig pa) and Rikpai Sengge (rig pa'i seng ge).

Sanggye Yeshe served as abbot of Riwo Gempel Monastery twice in his life, and eventually became the teacher of the reincarnation of his own great master Wensapa, Lobzang Chokyi Gyeltsen (blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan), the first Wensa tulku.

Sanggye Yeshe passed away in 1591 at the age of sixty-seven, at Rong Jamchen (rong byams chen) amidst many miraculous signs. For seven days following his passing, these signs continued in earnest. The numerous relics that remained from the cremation of his body were returned to Wensa Monastery.




Willis, Janice D. 1995. Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pp. 73-82.

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. 226-228.

Willis, Janice D. 1985. “Preliminary Remarks on the Nature of rNam-thar: Early dGe-lugs-pa Siddha Biographies.” In Soundings in Tibetan Civilizations. Barbara Aziz and Matthew Kapstein, eds. Delhi: Manohar.

Tshe mchog gling Yongs 'dzin Ye shes rgyal mtshan. 1970. Biographies of Eminent Gurus in the Transmission Lineages of the teachings of the Graduated Path, being the text of: Byang chub Lam gyi Rim pa'i Bla ma Brgyud pa'i Rnam par Thar pa Rgyal mtshan Mdzes pa'i Rgyan Mchog Phul byung Nor bu'i Phreng ba (1787). New Delhi: Ngawang Gelek Demo, vol 2, pp. 57-88.


Miranda Adams
September 2008