The Third Pakpa Lha, Tongwa Donden

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The Third Pakpa Lha, Tongwa Donden b.1567 - d.1604

Name Variants: Chamdo Trirab 14 Tongwa Dongden; Tongwa Donden

The Third Pakpa Lha, Tongwa Donden ('phags pa mthong ba don ldan) was born in 1567, the fire-hare year of the tenth sexagenary cycle, in Longpo Topa (long po stod pa). His father was named Orgyen (o rgyan) and mother was Tashi Lhamo (bkra shis lha mo). He was identified as reincarnation of the Second Pakpa Lha, Sanggye Pel ('phags pa lha 02 sangs rgyas dpal), at the age of five and invited to Tashi Cholung monastery (bkra shis chos lung), in Nyangpo, by a team of monks headed by Lobpon Konchok Drakpa (slob dpon dkon mchog grags pa).

Thereafter he was invited to Tashi Pende (bkra shis phan bde) and then to Demola (bde mo la), all monasteries founded by his previous incarnations, where he consecrated the reliquary of his predecessor. Besides visiting different monasteries he spent most of his time in Tashi Pende Demo Lhakang (bkra shis phan bde de mo lha khang) in Nyangpo and Podrang Changlochen (pho brang lcang lo chen) in Kongpo until eight years of age, learning reading and writing, and receiving teachings, transmissions, empowerments on Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, and Yamāntaka from Ngawang Shakya Gyeltsen (ngag dbang shA kya rgyal mtshan). In the meantime, the Second Chakra, Choje Ngawang (lcags rwa 02 chos rje ngag dbang, 1525-1591) came to invite him in Kham, which he agreed to visit in the near future.

In 1574, Tongwa Donden appointed Namkha Gyatso (nam mkha' rgya mtsho) as the abbot, Gelek Gyatso (dge legs rgya mtsho) as the master, and Sonam Drakpa (bsod nams grags pa) as the manager of Tashi Pende. The following year he returned to Tashi Cholung. He took vows of novice monk in Dagyatsel (mda' rgya tsal) under  Ngawang Shakya Gyeltsen who gave him the name Pakpa Sonam Nampar Gyelwai Wangpoi De ('phags pa bsod nams rnam par rgyal ba'i dbang po'i sde).

He established Kushag Monastery (sku gzhag grwa tshang) in Ngo Arig Tang (rngod a rigs thang) and thereafter travelled to Chotri Tang (chos khri thang) where he met with the disciples of his predecessor including Choje Ngawang and Jedrung Lhawang Chokyi Gyeltsen, (lha dbang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1537-1603), who later served as the twelfth abbot of Chamdo Jampa Ling.

Invited to Chamdo Jampa Ling by his previous incarnation's disciples, Tongwa Donden arrived at Chamdo, where the tenth abbot, Jedrung Sherap Wangpo (rje drung shes rab dbang po, 1500-1586), joined by other lamas at the monastery welcomed him with copious offerings.

At Chamdo, Tongwa Donden gave daily teachings and also composed a few some poetic works. He did his summer retreat at Chotri Tang (chos khri thang), continuing to give daily teachings. After completion of the summer retreat, he visited a number of places in the region and gave audience and teachings to public. The king of Jang Satam ('jang sa tham), a patron of his previous incarnation, invited Tongwa Donden to Jang, but while he accepted, he put off the visit for a short time, and he declined to stay there long.

While travelling in the southeast, Tongwa Donden mediated several disputes between local rulers, including a dispute between Powo Chudopa (spo 'o chu mdo pa) and Kanampa (kA nam pa). Arriving at Paratang (pa ra thang), south of Chamdo, he participated in a large ecumenical gathering of religious leaders, offering the other participants teachings and empowerments. In response to a request by Gonpo Sonam (mgon po bsod nams), the leader of Pomda (spo mda'), he agreed to establish a monastery in collaboration with the Bonpo community of the region. The project was to build a common monastery with a central hall for common use, while the Buddhist and the Bon rituals would be performed separately. Unfortunately the project came to naught once the different communities fell into misunderstanding and disagreement.

Thereafter Tongwa Donden travelled to Batang ('ba' thang) and then to Markham (smar khams) in Kham where he composed a few works at the request of his followers there. The king of Jang Satam went to see him there and thereafter and Tongwa Donden stayed many years in Jang.

While in Jang Tongwa Donden received repeated invitations to take up the abbacy at Chamdo Jampa Ling, and, obtaining permission from the king, he arranged for his journey. Passing through Pomda, he arrived at Chamdo Jampa Ling to a warm welcome.  Jedrung Lhawang Chokyi Gyeltsen, was then residing away from the monastery due to disputes between two monastic houses, Chamdo Lingtod (gling stod) and Lingmed (gling med). He returned soon after Tongwa Donden arrived and arranged for his final ordination. He also gave him empowerments and extensive teachings.

At the age of twenty-seven, in 1594, Tongwa Donden was enthroned as the thirteenth abbot of Chamdo Jampa Ling, with the agreement that the twelfth abbot would remain to assist him, as recommended by the leaders of the monastery. He served for ten years. Among his accomplishments were the construction and consecration of a reliquary for the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyaltso (ta la'i bla ma 03 bsod nams rgya mtsho, 1543-1588). He gave transmissions and empowerments at various monasteries, and mediated disputes among the small Geluk monasteries that were under his supervision.

Tongwa Donden oversaw the renovation of about fifteen monasteries in the region, including Gulog Gomgang Gon ('gu log 'gom sgang dgon), Drakteng Gon (brag steng dgon), Namgyel Pelber (rnam rgyal dpal 'bar), Shugdong (shugs gdong), and Chakda (lcags mda'). He established the new monastery of Pomda Gangkar Dechen (spom mda' gangs dkar bde chen dgon).

Among Tongwa Donden's compositions are works in praise of protector deities, smoke purification rites, and treatise on ethics.

In the second week of the first month of the wood-dragon year, 1604, Tongwa Donden gave several suggestions that he would soon pass into nirvana. He refused prayers for extension of his life and also medical treatments. He indicated that he had finished the works for the time being and it was time to leave soon. He appointed Sanggye Jungne, the second Zhiwa Lha (zhi ba lha 02 sangs rgyas 'byung gnas, 1543-1620), his successor as abbot of the monastery, and gave him written instructions regarding the administration and other.

At the age of thirty-eight, after serving as abbot for about ten years, on the twelfth day of the first month of the wood-dragon year of the tenth sexagenary cycle, he passed away while in Kongpo. He is said to have sat in Tukdam (thugs dam) for two weeks. The funeral was held at Chotri Tang, and the relics found in his cremation ashes, including a white cone-shell, were taken to Chamdo and placed in a statue of him that was placed in the rear of the main temple.




Anonymous. 1986. Bod kyi lo rgyus rig gnas dpyad gzhi'i rgyu cha gdams bsgrigs. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang. Vol. 9, pp. 22-36.

Byams pa chos grags. N.d. Chab mdo byams pa gling gi gdan rabs. Chamdo: Chab mdo par 'debs bzo grwa par btab, pp. 241-263, 517

Mkhas grub shAkya lha dbang. 2001 (1640). Zhal snga bka' brgyud kyi thun mong ma yin pa'i chos 'byung. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, p. 178-205.

Samten Chhosphel
June 2010