The Treasury of Lives

The Paṇchen Lama incarnation line began in the seventeenth century when Chokyi Gyeltsen, the sixteenth abbot of Tashilhunpo Monastery, was given the title by the Fifth Dalai Lama, who declared him an emanation of Amitābha. The Geluk scholar Tukwan Lobzang Chokyi Nyima's Crystal Mirror identifies numerous pre-incarnations including Padmasambhava, Atiśa, Gampopa, Go Khukpa Lhetse, Sakya Paṇḍita, and Yungton Dorje Pel. Two separate systems of enumeration exist for this lineage. According to the system of Tashilhunpo Monastery, the seat of the line, three previous lamas, identified as Chokyi Gyeltsen's previous incarnations, are identified as the First through Third Paṇchen Lamas: Khedrubje Gelek Pelzang, one of Tsongkhapa's primary disciples, Sonam Chokyi Langpo, and Wensapa Lobzang Dondrub. According to the system of Ganden Podrang, Chokyi Gyeltsen is considered the First Paṇchen and the line starts with him. For this reason Chokyi Gyeltsen is either listed as the First or the Fourth Paṇchen Lama. The Eleventh Paṇchen Lama, Gendun Chokyi Nyima, recognized by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in 1995, has not been seen in public since then, while another child, Gyeltsen Norbu was soon after installed as Eleventh Paṇchen Lama by the Chinese government.



The Ninth Paṇchen Lama, Tubten Chokyi Nyima, played a significant role in the tumultuous relationship between Tibet and China in the early twentieth-century, at a time when both Britain and Russia were increasingly influencing Tibetan policy. Unwilling to submit to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's demands that his seat monastery of Tashilhunpo pay a substantial cost of Tibet's military modernization, the Paṇchen Lama fled to China and never returned. For the last fifteen years of his life, he served as religious teacher to Mongols and Han Chinese alike, and he performed multiple Kālacakra initiations to audiences of tens of thousands, including initiations in Beijing and Hangzhou. Much of his time was spent in Inner Mongolia ministering to the leadership and populace there, and advocating on their behalf to the Chinese Republican government, first for real autonomy within the Chinese state, and then for defense against the invading Japanese. In the mid-1930s he was employed by the Chinese government to spread Nationalist ideology to the Tibetan people, and opened offices in many borderland cities such as Xining and Dartsedo. Despite accepting this formal role, he never abandoned his conviction that Tibet deserved to be ruled by its lamas, and not from Nanjing. Negotiations for his return to Tibet were unsuccessful, as the Tibetan government was wary of his Chinese mission. The Paṇchen Lama passed away in Jyekundo, still hoping to return to Tashilhunpo.

Khedrubje Gelek Pelzang

b.1385 - d.1438

Khedrubje Gelek Pelzang was one of the primary disciples of Tsongkhapa. A native of Tsang, he was involved in the establishment of the great monastery in Gyantse, Pelkhor Chode, before assuming the throne of Ganden in 1431. He was posthumously given the title of First Paṇchen Lama by virtue of being considered a pre-incarnation of the Fourth Paṇchen, Lobzang Chokyi Gyeltsen.

Wensapa Lobzang Dondrub was an early lineage holder of the Genden Nyengu. After training with prominent lamas of his day, he spent an extended period of time in isolated retreat, living in the manner of an Indian siddha. He was a disciple of Gendun Gyatso, posthumously known as the Second Dalai Lama.