The Sixty-First Ganden Tripa, Ngawang Tsultrim

ISSN 2332-077X

Print this Biography
Cite this biography

The Sixty-First Ganden Tripa, Ngawang Tsultrim b.1721 - d.1791

Name Variants: Chone Ngawang Tsultrim ; Ganden Trichen 61 Ngawang Tsultrim; Ganden Tripa 61 Ngawang Tsultrim; Pelden Nominhan Ngawang Tsultrim ; Tsador Ngawang Tsultrim ; Tsemonling Ngawang Tsultrim

The Sixty-first Ganden Tripa, Ngawang Tsultrim (dga' ldan khri pa 61 ngag dbang tshul khrims) was born at Darwo (dar 'o) near Chone Monastery (co ne dgon pa) in Amdo in 1721, the iron-ox year of the twelfth sexagenary cycle. His father was called Chokyab (chos skyabs) and his mother was named Tsulchen (tshul chen).

He received the vows of primary ordination (rab byung) at the age of seven at Tsador Monastery (tsha rdor dgon) and was given the name Ngawang Tsultrim. There at the monastery he learned reading, writing, and memorization of prayer texts. Subsequently he was enrolled in Chone Monastery and studied logic and Prajñāpāramitā.

At the age of twenty, Ngawang Tsultrim received the vows of novice monk (dge tshul) followed by the full ordination (dge slong) from Chone Khenchen Drakpa Shedrup (co ne mkhan chen grags pa shes sgrub, d.u.) who also gave him teachings on many topics of sutra and tantra.

At the age of twenty-three he travelled to Lhasa and matriculated in the Sera Me College of Sera Monastic University (se ra smad gwa tshang) where he studied Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Madhyamaka, Abhidharmakośa, Pramāṇavārttika and Vinaya, the five major subjects of the Geshe curriculum under the guidance of a number of eminent masters including Geshe Drakpa Khedrub (grags pa mkhas grub). He also received teachings, empowerments and initiations from the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 07 bskal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757) and the First Purchok Ngawang Jampa (phur lcog 01 ngag dbang byams pa, 1682-1762). At the age of twenty-eight Ngawang Tsultrim took examinations and received the titles of Lingse Kachu (gling bsre'i dka' bcu) and Geshe Lharampa (dge bshes lha ram pa), the later being the highest degree awarded by the Geluk tradition.

Ngawang Tsultrim then enrolled in Gyuto College (rgyud stod grwa tshang) and studied tantra, both scripture and rituals, under the tutorship of Sharchen Ngawang Chodrak (shar chen nga dbang chos grags, 1710-1772), the Fifty-ninth Ganden Tripa. He tested his knowledge of Tantra at a number of monasteries such as Ganden, Drepung, and Yerpa (yer pa), and was appointed disciplinarian (dge bskos) and chant-leader (bla ma u mdzad) of Gyuto.

At the age of forty-one Ngawang Tsultrim was enthroned to the seat of abbot of the Gyume, and soon after to the office of the Sharpa Choje (shar pa chos rje) in Ganden Shartse. The occupants of the Sharpa /Shartse Choje post at Ganden Shartse and of the Jangpa/Jangtse Choje (byang pa / byang rtse chos rje) post at Ganden Jangtse are the next-in-line for elevation to the Golden Throne of Ganden, alternating between the two. In 1762 while serving as Sharpa Choje, Ngawang Tsultrim visited Beijing at the instruction of the Dalai Lama. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796) was impressed by his scholarship and Ngawang Tsultrim became a trusted advisor and confidant. The emperor appointed him the abbot of Yonghegong Monastery in the capital, effectively making him the official representative of Tibet in China. He also awarded him the title Nominhan, the Manchu equivalent of the Tibetan title chogyel (chos rgyal), or Dharma King.

In 1777, the fire-bird year of the thirteenth sexagenary cycle, the Seventh Demo Ngawang Jampel Delek Gyatso (de mo ngag dbang 'jam dpal bde legs rgya mtsho) passed away. The Eighth Dalai Lama declined to take control of the government, preferring to continue his religious studies, and as a result the Qianlong Emperor appointed Ngawang Tsultrim to the post of Regent of Tibet, or Sikyong (srid skyong). Since Ngawang Tsultrim did not have any permanent residence in Lhasa, he moved temporarily in Lhasa Ganden Khangsar (lha sa dga' ldan khang gsar) but later established the Tsemonling (tshe smon gling) Labrang, which was subsequently a seat of the Tibetan Regent. In 1783 he established the Shedrub Ling Labrang (bshad grub gling bla brang) at Sera.

The following year Ngawang Tsultrim was enthroned to the seat of the Sixty-first Ganden Tripa, a post he served for the customary seven years, until 1785. During his tenure he served as the tutor to the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 08 'jam dpal rgya mtsho, 1758-1804).

Ngawang Tsultrim installed the primary sacred objects in Sera Me Tosam Ling Monastery (ser smad mthos bsam gling), restored the Dalai Lama residence at the Potala Palace, and, in 1786, restored the murals at the Jokhang. He reviewed and reformed certain laws including trade-systems, rate of interest on loans, ministerial administration, food-stocks, and so forth during his term in the Sikyong’s office. He also proposed to mint new silver coins as there was confusion with the existing new and old coins in circulation, one of the economic causes of the hostilities with Nepal. He also commissioned new silver and copper large tea-pots for the annual Lhasa Monlam Chenmo.

Trichen Ngawang Tsultrim served as the Sikyong for about ten years, until 1786. In May of that year he returned to Beijing to head the "National Religious Institute" (rgya ngag chos slob yongs) and continued his close relationship with Qianlong, giving him teachings, empowerments and initiations. Qianlong gave him the additional titles of Samati Bakshi (T: bsam gtan mkhan po) and Chan shi (禪師) During this time he also traveled to Mongolia during the summers to give teachings, and he completed the translation works of Kangyur into Mongolian.

After the conclusion of the First Gurkha War, in 1790, in which Tibet was forced to settle at unfavorable terms, Ngawang Tsultrim was recalled from Beijing to help sort through the disagreements between the Qing official representatives, the amban, who had negotiated the terms, and the Tibetan administration. Unfortunately he passed away shortly after arriving in Lhasa, in 1791, the iron-pig year of the thirteenth sexagenary cycle. A silver reliquary was built in his memory and extensive nirvana-prayers were done.

His reincarnation, Ngawang Jampel Tsultrim Gyatso (tshe smon gling 02 ngag dbang 'jam dpal tshul khrims rgya mtsho) was born in 1792; he took the title of the Second Tsemonling, and later served as the Seventy-third Ganden Tripa. Ngawang Tsultrim was thereafter considered the First Tsemonling.




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. 490-492.

Don rdor and Bstan 'dzin chos grags. 1993. Gangs ljongs lo rgyus thog gi grags can mi sna. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi mangs dpe skrun khang, pp.789-792.

Bstan pa bstan 'dzin. 1992. 'Jam mgon rgyal wa'i rgyal tshab gser khri rim byon rnams kyi khri rabs yongs 'du'i ljon bzang. Mundgod: Drepung Gomang Library, p. 100.

Grags pa mkhas grub. 1810. Khri thog drug cu re gcig pa khri chen dpal ldan no min han chen po'i rnam thar in Dga' ldan khri rabs rnam thar, pp. 235-312 (TBRC digital page number); pp. ba 1-39b (original text page number).

Grong khyer lha sa srid gros lo rgyus rig gnas dpyad yig rgyu cha rtsom 'bri au yon lhan khang. 1994. Dga' ldan dgon pa dang brag yer pa'i lo rgyus, grong khyer lha sa'i lo rgyus rig gnas deb 02. Lhasa: Bod ljongs shin hwa par 'debs bzo grwa khang, p. 73.

Petech, Luciano. 1959. "The Dalai Lamas and Regents of Tibet: A Chronological Study." T'oung Pao 47, pp. 369-394.


Samten Chhosphel
January 2011