Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Teacher (Lama)

བླ་མ། 喇嘛
(item no. 80462)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1900 - 1959
Lineages Gelug and Buddhist
Material Ground: Paper
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Interpretation / Description

Ngagwang Chopel (1760-1839 [TBRC P301) was the 70th Ganden Throne Holder (Tripa). The Ganden Throne Holder, an elected position, is the head of the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

(See Nagawang Chopel as a secondary figure in a painting of the 8th Tatsag).

Jeff Watt 1-2017


The Seventieth Ganden Tripa, Ngawang Chopel (dga' lhan kri pa 70 ngag dbang chos 'phel) was born in a poor family in a place called Pabong Karri (pha bong dkar ri) in Gyarpa (gyar pa) or Markyang (mar kyang) in Damzhung ('dam gzhung), U, in 1760, the year of iron-dragon of the thirteenth sexagenary cycle. His father was called Ara Ugyen Sintar (a ra dbu rgyan srin thar) and his mother was Tangzang Tsering Lhamo (thang bzang tshe ring lha mo). At the age of five he was trained in caring for lambs and kids and employed by a rich family as a shepherd for a large herd of sheep and goats for about two years, until the age of ten.

At the age of about twelve Ngawang Chopel travelled to Lhasa and enrolled in the Hardong House of Drepung Gomang College (sgo mang har gdong khang tshan) where he was ordained with the vows of primary monk (rab byung) and commenced his basic training and primary education under the guidance of Zhalu Khenpo Kachu Lobzang Peljor (zhwa lu mkhan po dka' bcu blo bzang dpal 'byor, d.u.). He learned reading and memorized prayer texts and root-verses of major philosophical texts. At the age of fifteen Ngawang Chopel received the vows of novice monk (dge tshul; śrāmaṇera) from Tsangpa Khenchen Yeshe Peljor (gtsang pa mkhan chen ye shes dpal 'byor, 1714-1783).

He then studied the major subjects of the Geluk monastic curriculum especially Pramāṇavārttika and stood for a traditional examination on Pramāṇa, the Buddhist system of epistemology, at the age of nineteen, and then gradually stood for the examinations on Prajñāpāramitā, Subsequently, he was granted the monastic vows of full ordination (dge slong; bhikṣu) by the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 08 'jam dpal rgya mtsho, 1758-1804) at the age of twenty-five. He then served as monitor for the Abhidharmakośa class.

Ngawang Chopel then received teachings on various topics of important subjects drawn from both the sutra and tantra from a number of scholars including Yongdzin Yeshe Gyeltsen of Tsechokling (tshe mchog gling yongs 'dzin ye shes rgyal mtshan, 1713-1793) and Longdol Lama Ngawang Lobzang (klong rdol bla ma ngag dbang blo bzang, 1719-1794). At the age of thirty-seven he stood for the examination for the Geshe Lharampa degree. (According to some sources he took the grand examination at the age of thirty-three.) He then matriculated in Gyume College for advanced courses in tantra.

After the completion of preliminary courses he took the test on chanting at Sera Choding (se ra chos sdings) and Chumik Lung (chu mig lung), and then stood for the traditional debating examination on Tantra. Following his success in these examinations, he was appointed as disciplinarian (dge bskos) and other posts, followed by chant leader (bla ma u mdzad), the educational head, and then khenpo (mkhan po), or abbot, of Gyume College, at the age of forty-eight. Several decades later he also served as the personal tutor to Kundeling Gyelpo Ngawang Pelden Chokyi Gyeltsen (kun bde gling rgyal po 02 ngag dbang dpal ldan chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1850-1886).

In 1822, in the year of water-horse of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle, at the age of about sixty-three, Ngawang Chopel was enthroned as the Seventieth Ganden Tripa, the post that he served for seven years until 1728. Some sources have his year of enthronement as 1819, the earth-hare year, with a tenure of six years. In addition to teaching and leading religious activities, Trichen Ngawang Chopel served as the personal tutor to the Tenth Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 10 tshul khrims rgya mtsho, 1816-1837). He also built a new assembly hall and installed necessary items as object of faith at the Taklung Drak Hermitage (stag lung brag ri khrod), and also gave many teachings on various topics including the sādhana of Guhyasamāja, outlines of the philosophical systems of the Buddhist schools, and also commentaries on the practices of the three basic-practices of monasteries (the fortnightly confession ceremony, the summer/rainy season retreat, and the closing ceremony of summer retreat).

Trichen Ngawang Chopel is known to have composed many ritual texts, which are collected in a single volume. After his retirement he spent most of his time in teaching and giving empowerments at number of monasteries – primarily Tashilhunpo, Sera, Drepung, and Ganden.

Trichen Ngawang Chopel had a large number of disciples among which prominent names included Oro Zhabdrung Lobzang Tenpai Gyeltsen (o rod zhabs drung blo bzang bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, b.1819); Konchok Gyatso, who became the forty-first throne holder of Labrang (bla brang khri 41 dkon mchog rgya mtsho, 1790-1858); the Eighth Tatsak, Tenpai Gonpo (rta tshag 08 bstan pa'i mgon po 1760-1810); and the Third Rongtsa Chetsang Lobzang Tenpai Gyeltsen (rong tha che tshang 03 blo bzang bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan, 1782-1857).

Ngawang Chopel passed into nirvana at the age of eighty in 1839, the earth-pig year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle. Rites and rituals for the cremation and extensive nirvana-prayer were done according to the tradition. He was succeeded on the Golden Throne by Yeshe Tardo (ye shes thar 'dod, 1756-1830).

Samten Chhosphel is an independent scholar with a PhD from the Central Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies in Sarnath, India. Published January 2011.


Bstan pa bstan 'dzin. 1992. 'Jam mgon rgyal wa'i rgyal tshab gser khri rim byon rnams kyi khri rabs yongs 'du'i ljon bzang. Mundgod: Drepung Gomang Library, pp. 105.

Bstan pa bstan 'dzin. 2003. Chos sde chen pod pel ldan ‘bras spungs bkra shis sgo mang grwa tshang gi chos ‘byung chos dung g.yas su ‘khyil ba'i sgra dbyangs, Mundgod: Drepung Gomang Library, p. 346-348.

Don rdor and bstan 'dzin chos grags. 1993. Gangs ljongs lo rgyus thog gig rags can mi sna. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1993. pp. 836-838.

Grags pa 'byungs gnas and Blo bzang mkhas grub. 1992. Gangs can mkhas sgrub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 436-437.

Grong khyer lha sa srid gros lo rgyus rig gnas dpyad yig rgyu cha rtsom 'bri au yon lhan khang. 1994. Dga' ldan dgon pa dang brag yer pa'i lo rgyus, grong khyer lha sa'i lo rgyus rig gnas deb 02. Lhasa: Bod ljongs shin hwa par 'debs bzo grwa khang, pp. 75.

Mi nyag mgon po. 1996-200. Dga' ldan khri pa ngag dbang chos 'phel gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus. In Gangs can mkhas dbang rim byon gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus, pp. 591-592. Beijing: Krung go'i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang.

Ngag dbang nyi ma. 2003. Dga' ldan khri thog bdun bcu pa stag lung brag pa ngag dbang chos 'phel. In The Collected Works of Ngag dbang nyi ma, vol. 3, pp. 689-693. Mongod: Drepung Gomang Library.

Samten Chhosphel, January 2011

View other items in the Thematic Set: Prajnaparamita: Ganden Throne Holder Lineage