The Second Tongkhor, Yonten Gyatso

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The Second Tongkhor, Yonten Gyatso b.1557 - d.1587

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Yonten Gyatso (yon tan rgya mtsho) was born in 1556 in Watobho (wa to bho) in Barkham (bar khams), in Gyelrong (rgyal rong), Amdo. As a young child he learned reading, writing and recitation of Guhyasamāja Prajñāpāramitā. He was identified as the reincarnation of the First Tongkhor, Dawa Gyeltsen (stong 'khor 01 zla ba rgyal mtshan, 1476-1556).

At the age of eight he received lay vows from Konchok Gyeltsen (dkon mchog rgyal mtshan, d.u) at Samdrubtse (bsam grub rtse), and was named Yonten Gyatso. Konchok Gyeltsen, Kachu Sonam Dondrub (bka' bcu bsod nams don grub, d.u.), and others gave him teachings and empowerments.

He was brought to the major Geluk monasteries in Amdo including: Dza Tashi Samling (rdza bkra shis bsam gling), Tesho (rte shod), Poda (spo mda'), Bumling ('bum gling), Rongwo Kirti (rong bo kirti), Datsang (dwa tshang), Muge (dmu dge), Zungchu (zung chu), and others. He was formally educated in Dzoge (mdzo dge) under Rarong Chodrak Gyatso (ra rong chos grags rgya mtsho, d.u.), and then went to Chone to give teachings. He also traveled to Jampa Bum Ling (byams pa 'bum gling), Hentak Lung (han stag lung), Khagya (kha gya), Gengya (rgan rgya), Touju (tho'u ju), Tsado (tsa rdo), Khusha Khrawo (khu sha khra bo) and other places, and he opened the pilgrimage destination of Taktsang Lhamo, near Kirti.  

In 1578 Sonam Gyatso, who would soon be given the title of Dalai Lama (ta la'i bla ma 03 bsod nams rgya mtsho, 1543-1588), passed through Amdo on his way to meet with Altan Khan, the leader of the Tumed Mongols. Yonten Gyatso met Sonam Gyatso at Chabcha (chab cha) and received full ordination from him.

The Third Dalai Lama also commanded him to go to Mongolia. Yonten Gyatso spent five years there converting people to Buddhism.

In 1582 Yonten Gyatso went to U-Tsang and visited the major Geluk monasteries. At Ganden he received teachings and empowerments from the Twenty-seventh Ganden Tripa, Sanggye Rinchen (dga' ldan khri pa 27 sangs rgyas rin chen, 1540-1612); and the Twenty-fourth Ganden Tripa, Jampa Gyatso (dga' ldan khri pa 24 byams pa rgya mtsho, 1516-1590).

He served as the abbot of Sera for several years, but the dates for his service are not given in the sources.

In 1586 he left Lhasa stopping at Drigung ('bri gung) on his way to  Chamdo (chab mdo), where he received teachings from Jedrung Sherab Wangpo (rje drung shes rab dbang po, d.1586/1587), the tenth abbot of Chamdo Jampa Ling (chab mdo byams pa gling) Monastery. He also taught Lamrim at Chamdo and other places along his route.

Yonten Gyatso passed away the following year, in 1587, at the age of thirty-two. His relics were placed in a golden stupa in Tongkhor Tashilhunpo (stong 'khor bkra shis lhun po) Monastery that the First Tongkhor had established on the site of a Bon institution in Kham.




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Sonam Dorje
September 2012