The Treasury of Lives

The Tongkhor line of incarnations began in the sixteenth century when, following the death of Dawa Gyeltsen in 1556, Yonten Gyatso was recognized as his reincarnation, named the Second Tongkhor, and installed at Tongkhor Tashilhunpo. After the death of the Third Tongkhor, Gyelwa Gyatso, the line established two seats. According to tradition, a recently deceased seventeen-year old boy of mixed Tibetan and Chinese heritage, while being carried to his funeral, suddenly sat up and declared that he was the Tongkhor lama. Thought to be a zombie, the Chinese army was called in to destroy him. The boy emerged from the assault unharmed, convincing everyone that he was indeed the reincarnation of Gyelwa Gyatso. The identity of the young man, who was given the name Dogyu Gyatso by local lamas, was later affirmed and taught by the Fourth Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyeltsen, and the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso. After returning east, he created a new Geluk monastery called Tongkhor Ganden Chokhor Ling in the Tongkhor region of Amdo. It would seem that this institution developed quite quickly, and in competition with Tashilhunpo in Kham, for following the death of the Fifth Tongkhor, Ngawang Sonam Gyatso, both communities put forward their own reincarnations. There were thus two Sixth Tongkhor lamas: Ngawang Jamyang Tendzin Gyatso and Jampel Gendun Gyatso. The two separate lines have continued to this day.

Timeline

Biographies

Dawa Gyeltsen, posthumously known as the First Tongkhor, was a prominent Geluk lama based in Kham and Amdo. He was active in the spread of the Geluk tradition in eastern Amdo and northern Kham and in the suppression of Bon in the region. He established the first Tongkhor Monastery on the site of a Bon institution to the northeast of Kandze in Kham.

Yonten Gyatso was the Second Tongkhor, the reincarnation of Dawa Gyeltsen, a prominent Geluk lama in Amdo. He received ordination from the Third Dalai Lama while the latter was on route to Mongolia.  Yonten Gyatso studied in Lhasa, and briefly served as the abbot of Sera.

Gyelwa Gyatso was the Third Tongkhor, a line of Geluk incarnations based in Kham and later in Amdo. He had patronage from Mongolian chieftains, and received teachings from the Fourth Dalai Lama and the Fourth Paṇchen Lama. He is said to have transferred his consciousness, upon his death, into the corpse of a recently-deceased half-Chinese boy, who revived and went on to become the Fourth Tongkhor.

Dogyu Gyatso was the Fourth Tongkhor. According to tradition the Third Tongkhor, at the moment of his death, engaged a practice known as powa drongjuk by which he transferred his consciousness in corpse of a recently deceased seventeen-year old Chinese boy. This young man was ultimately accepted by the community. He went on to have a successful career, supported by both the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Fourth Paṇchen Lama. With patronage from Lhasa he established Tongkhor Ganden Chokhor Ling near Kumbum in Amdo, and Chorten Tang Monastery. He went to Beijing where he received the rank of Chanshi from the Kangxi Emperor.

The Fifth Tongkhor, Ngawang Sonam Gyatso, a Geluk lama based in Amdo, was renowned as an ecumenical leader. He rebuilt Tongkhor Monastery in Amdo following the 1723 revolt in the region. Following his death the Tongkhor line split into two, one based at Tongkhor Ganden Chokhor Ling Monastery in Amdo, the other based at Tongkhor Tashilhunpo Monastery in Kham.

The Sixth Tongkhor, Ngawang Jamyang Tendzin Gyatso, was one of two recognized incarnations of the Fifth Tongkhor, Ngawang Sonam Gyatso. He was based at Amdo Tongkhor Monastery, and was credited with founding Chunak Monastery in 1766. He served as abbot of Sera Me. The other Sixth Tongkhor was Jampel Gendun Gyatso, based in Kham.

Jampel Gendun Gyatso, the Sixth Tongkhor, was one of two recognized incarnations of the Fifth Tongkhor, Ngawang Sonam Gyatso. He was based at Tongkhor Tashilhunpo Monastery in Kham. He was supported by the Sixth Paṇchen Lama, Lobzang Pelden Yeshe and the Second Purchok, Ngawang Jampa. The other Sixth Tongkhor was Ngawang Jamyang Tendzin Gyatso, based in Amdo.

The Seventh Tongkhor, Kelzang Jamyang Gyatso, was the recognized reincarnation of the Sixth Tongkhor, Ngawang Jamyang Tendzin Gyatso, based at Amdo Tongkhor Monastery after the Tongkhor incarnation line split following the death of the Fifth Tongkhor, Ngawang Sonam Gyatso. He went to Lhasa at the age of thirteen to study but died soon after arriving. The other Seventh Tongkhor was Lobzang Dogyu Yeshe Tenpai Gyeltsen, based in Kham.

Lobzang Dogyu Yeshe, one of two men holding the Seventh Tongkhor title, was based at Tongkhor Monastery in Kham. The other Seventh Tongkhor was Kelzang Jamyang Gyatso, based in Amdo. Lobzang Dogyu Yeshe was recognized as the reincarnation of Jampel Gendun Gyatso. He studied in Lhasa and Zhigatse, and taught widely in Kham.

Tubten Jigme Kelzang was one of two individuals to hold the title of Eighth Tongkhor. Recognized as the reincarnation of Kelzang Jamyang Gyatso, and based at Amdo Tongkhor Monastery, he died at the age of eight. The other Eighth Tongkhor was Ngawang Dogyu Yonten Rabgye, based in Kham.

Ngawang Dogyu Yonten Rabgye, one of two men who held the title of Eighth Tongkhor, was based at Tongkhor Tashilhunpo Monastery in Kham. He was the recognized reincarnation of Lobzang Dogyu Yeshe Gyeltsen. The other Eighth Tongkhor was Tubten Jigme Kelzang, based in Amdo.

Tubten Jigme Gyatso was one of two men to hold the title of Ninth Tongkhor. Identified as the reincarnation of Tubten Jigme Kelzang, he was based at Amdo Tongkhor Monastery. He spent decades in Beijing in the court of four Qing emperors, and also served as tutor to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. The other Ninth Tongkhor was Lobzang Tubten Jikme Tsultrim Gyatso, based at Kham Tongkhor Tashilhunpo.

Lobzang Tubten Jigme Tsultrim Gyatso was one of two men to hold the title of Ninth Tongkhor. He was the recognized reincarnation of Ngawang Dogyu Yonten Rabgye, and based at Kham Tongkhor Tashilhunpo Monastery. Dates of his life and activity are not firm, as our sole source is confused on the correct combination of element and animal.

Lobzang Tenpai Nyima was the Tenth Tongkhor of the line based at Tongkhor Ganden Chokhor Ling in Amdo. He passed away at the age of eight.

Lobzang Jigme Tsultrim Gyatso was the Eleventh Tongkhor of the line based at Tongkhor Ganden Chokhor Ling in Amdo. He was the reincarnation of the Tenth Tongkhor Lobzang Tenpai Nyima. He went to Beijing with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.

Lobzang Tubten Lungtok Shedrub Gyatso was the Twelfth Tongkhor of the line based at Tongkhor Ganden Chokhor Ling in Amdo. He was the reincarnation of the Eleventh Tongkhor, Lobzang Jigme Tsultrim Gyatso.

Lobzang Jangchub Tendzin Gyatso was the Thirteenth Tongkhor of the line based at Tongkhor Ganden Chokhor Ling in Amdo. He fled the Communist take over of Tibet and settled in Kalimpong.