Drepung Gomang’s
Fifth 'On Gyalse Rinpoche (1743-1811)

“Praise to the Lord of the Dharma King, protecting Lobsang’s doctrine throughout space.”

Of the earlier established reincarnation lineages of Drepung, one of the most important was the 'On Gyalse lineage. This incarnation lineage was of the three principal incarnation lineages ('bras spung sprul sku rnam gsum) of Drepung monastery: “the 'on rgyal sras line of incarnations are reckoned as one of the three paramount incarnation lineages of 'bras spungs (bod kyi sprul sku rnam gsum gras).”1 Contemporary studies have overlooked this important incarnation lineage probably due to a lack of information after the sixth reincarnation (ngag dbang thogs med bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho). The fourth incarnation served as regent of Tibet when the Seventh Dalai Lama was exiled in Garthar, Kham.2 The fifth reincarnation of 'On Gyalse Rinpoche, Kelsang Thubten Jigme Gyatso,3 was one of the most important lamas at the turn of the 19th century.

He was born in 1743 in upper Central Tibet (dbus stod la mo). In many ways, the key events in his life accord with high-ranking reincarnate lamas. When he was four, he was enthroned at 'on nge gsang dar rgyas gling.4 When he was five, he was given the name Thubten Jigme Gyatso by the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso, who also performed the first ceremonial cutting of his hair. At the age of ten, he took his novice ordination (rab tu byung) from this same Dalai Lama. He studied the introductory topics of logic, relying on his teacher Dragpa Yarphel. When he was twenty, he received full ordination (bsnyen rdzogs bsgrubs) from the famed Gelug master Phurchog Ngawang Jampa. He received his Geshe Lharampa degree in 1766 and went to meet the Panchen Rinpoche, Palden Yeshe, at Tashi Lhunpo a year later.5

Relying on Phurchog Ngawang Jampa, Panchen Rinpoche Palden Yeshe, and Changkya Rolpa'i Dorje, he listened to many teachings on sutra and tantra. Starting at the age of 26, he lived in a cave in 'on for three years, practicing meditation single-pointedly. In 1781, he met the Sakya Throne Holder Kunga Lodro at 'on chos sdings and requested the Vajrayogini initiation and the uncommon Kurukulle initiation in the Ngor tradition.6

At the end of his life, he became a yongs 'dzin to the Ninth Dalai Lama and received the title no min han. The word yongs 'dzin has been translated commonly as tutor, but the choice of this word for translation is reductionist. The word yongs 'dzin literally means bliss-void and entails something far beyond an educational teacher. The yongs 'dzin are the most esteemed lamas, holding important lineages that are passed on to the Dalai Lama incarnations.

Some of his many disciples included the famed Longdol Lama Ngawang Lobsang, the third Tagphu Lobsang Chokyi Wangchug, and the first Dragri reincarnation, Dragri Dorje Chang. His collected works are in three volumes. Some of his works include:

  1. Visualizing the Mandala of Mitra Gyatsa, an Ornament for a Clear Mind7
  2. Five various works on Chakrasamvara in the Krishnacharya tradition
  3. A book on poetry, including figures of speech and metrics (snyan ngag dper brjod sdeb sbyor sogs).

'On Gyalse Rinpoche wrote a torma offering ritual for Dorje Shugden that is performed through Yamantaka. Yamantaka is held as one of the three most important yidams in the Gelug tradition and, like Dorje Shugden, is a wrathful emanation of Manjushri. 'On Gyalse’s collected works are not currently widely available and are difficult to find. However, existence and integrity can be verified in Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang’s work rdo rje shugs ldan la mchod gtor 'bul tshul8 which contains this ritual nearly verbatim with some additions; Gyalse Dorje Chang is acknowledged by the author in the colophon. This unmodified version is taken from 'Jam mgon rgyal ba'i bstan srung rdo rje shugs ldan gyi 'phrin bcol phyogs bsdus bzhugs so, pages 33-37.

Although there are macabre and powerful motifs and elements present here, conjured in a wrathful ritual much like early the Sakya rituals described above, this is balanced out with some extraordinary devout and surreal poetry. This work uses many uncommon Tibetan words, originally used in Sanskrit poetry, that were apparently incorporated as special translations. For example, the word elephant is normally glang chen, but in poetry it is gnyis 'thungs. The latter word is interesting because it literally translates as “two drink.” This is descriptive of an elephant because it intakes water first through its trunk, then moves the water to its mouth. 'On Gyalse Rinpoche was undoubtedly well versed in Tibetan poetry (snyan ngag) as he wrote a text on this, mentioned above.

In particular, the ritual starts off with “Namo Vajrabhairavaya, here is a concise method of offering a torma to the Great Protector of the Jina’s Dharma, Dorje Shugden Tsel, called A Cloud of Offerings to Please the Oath Bound Ones.” Protecting the pure tradition of Manjushrigarbha9 ('jam dpal snying po'i dri med ring lugs) from roots and branches of harm10 is one of the primary motives, as noted in the introductory verses. The work is comprised of four main sections and first starts off with an invocation and request to remain:

In the midst of a blazing fire and wind dome,
In a beautiful rainbow-like, immeasurable mansion,
On an immutable throne-supported water-born [lotus] sun and moon,
For the sake of granting yogis activities, stay here.

Next, the ritual goes on to make offerings to the invited Dorje Shugden. The third section of the ritual is the most outstanding and consists of poetic praises to the five lineages of Dorje Shugden. Again, as in other early Gelug ritual to Dorje Shugden, the initial figure is described in similar terms as Vajrapani, Holder of the Vajra possessing strength (mthu stobs).

Manifestation with the potent hundred-spoked vajra,
Having the strength to crush the trichiliocosm instantly,
Praise to the Dharma King protecting,
Lobsang’s essential doctrine throughout space.

With a body mandala shining like a pure white full moon,
Protector on a beautiful elephant,
Praise to the performer of peaceful activities,
Respectfully clearing obstacles for pious yogis.

Mountain of pure gold, shining like a hundred rising suns,
On a jewel-bedecked stallion,
Praise to the performer of Jina’s activities,
Treasury of life, merit and wish-granting siddhis.

With coral complexion out of compassion for beings,
On a blue dragon of a thousand awesome lightning bolts,
Praise to the performer of powerful activities,
Guiding beings of the three worlds into liberation.

With a dark red-colored dreadful form,
On a wrathful, gliding garuda,
Praise to the performer of intense activities,
Collecting the life breath of obstructers.

Another work by 'On Gyalse Rinpoche is a short bsangs (fragrant scent) offering called bsangs mchod 'dod dgur 'khyil ba'i dga' ston zhes bya ba bzhugs so.11 This enumerates offering fragrance to the Lama Dorje Chang (Vajradhara), Buddha Shakyamuni, the Seven Patriarchs, the Six Ornaments, the 84 Mahasiddhas, Heruka, Hevajra, Yamantaka, Guyhasamaja, etc. When the protectors are reached, he writes “especially my protector (mgon), refuge (skyabs) and assistant (grogs mdzad pa'i), Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and retinue are purified (bsangs).”

1 'on rgyal sras sprul sku skye brgyud, TBRC Person RID: P10143.

2 TBRC Person RID: P178.

3 TBRC Person RID: P178.

4 dge lugs pa monastery located in the Tibetan autonomous region; this was the seat of the important rgyal sras sprul sku lineage. TBRC Place RID: G75.

5 Don rdor and bsTan 'dzin chos grags (1993), pp. 816-817.

6 Sa-skya Bdag-chen Gong-ma Kung-dga'-blo-gros (1983), p. 669.

7 TBRC Work RID: W2534, visualization for the deities of the mitra rgyatsa collection. For more about Mitra brgya rtsa, see Willis (1995), pp. 211-212.

8 TBRC Work RID: W5326.

9 The name of Je Tsongkhapa’s rebirth in Tushita.

10 log par 'khu ba'i nag po'i rtsa lag rnams.

11 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), pp. 253-258.