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The Fourth Panchen Lama

The Fourth Panchen Lama, Lozang Chokyi Gyaltsen (Blo-bzang chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan) was born as Chogyal Palden Zangpo (Chos-rgyal dpal-ldan bzang-po) in 1570, in Druggya (Brug-rgya) in the central Tsang (gTsang) region of Tibet, to an illustrious family of religious practitioners.

As a young boy, he was recognized as the reincarnation of Ensapa Lozang Dondrub (dBen-sa-pa Blo-bzang don-grub) and went on to study with Sanggye Yeshe (Sangs-rgyas ye-shes), who was his uncle and the abbot of both Tashilhunpo (bKra-shis lhun-po) and Ensa (dBen-sa) monasteries. During these early years, Chokyi Gyaltsen received numerous teachings and initiations from Sanggye Yeshe, as well as from his own brother and grandfather. At the age of thirteen, he moved to Ensa to further his studies, and at eighteen he left for Tashilhunpo, becoming fully ordained once he had turned 21.

After a pilgrimage to Lhasa, Chokyi Gyaltsen returned to Ensa Monastery and entered into a retreat, during which he had a vision of Je Tsongkhapa (rJe Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa) and received important transmissions from him. By 1601, at the age of only 31, he had become a well-known and highly respected teacher, and was asked to take the position of the abbot of Tashilhunpo. At Tashilhunpo, Chokyi Gyaltsen met the Fourth Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso (Yon-tan rgya-mtsho) (1589–1617), who invited him to return with him to Drepung Monastery (’Bras-spungs) to be his tutor and, in 1614, to confer on him the full monk ordination vows. He also requested Chokyi Gyaltsen to accompany him to visit and teach at other Gelug monasteries. After the Fourth Dalai Lama passed away, Chokyi Gyaltsen became the abbot of Drepung (’Bras-spungs), Sera (Se-ra), Zhalu (Zhwa-lu), and Ganden Monastery’s Jangtse College (dGa’-ldan Byang-rtse) and taught at all of them.

Chokyi Gyaltsen was not only a great spiritual teacher, but a gifted political mediator. He was particularly skilled at solving conflicts, and his work was crucial in negotiating peace treaties between Bhutan and Tibet, as well as bringing order when Mongol troops invaded Lhasa. Through his perseverance and skills, he was able to ensure that the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lozang Gyatso (rGyal-dbang lnga-pa chen-po Ngag-dbang blo-bzang rgya-mtsho) was enthroned at Drepung in 1622. Subsequently, Chokyi Gyaltsen served as his tutor.

Much later on, sometime after 1640, the Fifth Dalai Lama bestowed upon Chokyi Gyaltsen the title of Panchen Lama, meaning “Great Pandita Teacher,” with the identification of three previous teachers as the first three in the lineage – the first being Tsongkhapa’s disciple Kedrub Je (mKhas-grub dGe-legs dpal-bzang). For the later part of his life until he passed away in 1662 at the age of 92, he continued teaching across the various Gelug monasteries of the region, becoming known as one of the most eminent Buddhist teachers in Tibetan history. He was the author of numerous texts, including The Guru Puja (Bla-ma mchod-pa), The Extensive Six-Session Yoga (Thun-drug-gi rnal-’byor rgyas-pa), The Graded Stages of the Path: A Blissful Path (Lam-rim bde-lam), and A Root Text for the Precious Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra: The Main Path of the Triumphant Ones (dGe-ldan bka’-brgyud rin-po-che’i phyag-chen rtsa-ba rgyal-ba’i gzhung-lam; Root Text for Mahamudra).