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Teacher: Go Lotsawa Khugpa Lhatse

Panchen Lama Previous Incarnations

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- Go Lotsawa Khugpa Lhatse Biography (below)
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Khugpa Lhatse, born in Tanag, Tsang Province. He traveled to India and studied with numerous teachers and was an exponent of the Guhyasamaja system of Tantra. He is counted as the first Tibetan pre-incarnation of the Panchen Lama incarnation lineage. He should not be confused with Khampa Ga Lotsawa Shonnu Pal, a teacher of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo and Pagmodrubpa, or Go Lotsawa Shonnu Pal the author of the Blue Annals.

Jeff Watt [updated 8-2017]

Go Khukpa Lhetse

Go Khukpa Lhetse (mgos khug pa lhas btsas) was born some time in the tenth or early eleventh century. His personal name was Wangchuk Gyatso (dbang phyug rgya mtsho). There are two traditions concerning the strange name by which he is known, Go Khukpa Lhetse. Buton Rinchen Drub (bu ston rin chen grub, 1290 - d.1364) states that "because both his parents belonged to the Go clan (mgos) -- and rumored to possibly be brother and sister -- he was called "attracted to their own kind" (khug pa), and because he was born at Lhepuk (lhas phug), he was called "product of Lhe" (lhas btsas)." However, Amnye Zhab ('jam mgon a myes zhabs ngag dbang kun dga' bsod nams, 1597 - d.1659 ) is suspicious of this etymology. Lechen Kunga Gyaltsen's (las chen kun dga' rgyal mtshan, 1432-1506) History of the Kadam suggests an alternative etymology, claiming that he was born in a place called Khukpa (khug pa) in the region of Tanak (rta nag) and that his given name was "Protected by the Deity" (lhas skyabs), perhaps because his mother was reputed to be an emanation of the goddess Tara.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that he was born in Tsang, western Tibet. We do not know his exact dates, but he was a late contemporary of Atisa (b. 972/982), Marpa (mar pa, 1012-1097), and Ra Lotsawa (rwa lo tsa ba, 1016?-1128?). Khukpa Lhetse's father's name was, apparently, Go Tsun Chung ('gos btsun chung), "Little Monk Go." The Go clan traces itself back to imperial times, to the reign of the emperor Dusong Mangpoje ('dus srong mang po rje) in the seventh century.

Khukpa Lhetse first attempted to study the Nyingma Tradition under members of the Zur clan (zur), one of the most important proponents of the Nyingma tantras. But the Zurpas simply tormented him with various chores and he was never able to receive instruction. Disheartened, he announced angrily one day, "What would you say if I just took off to India?" And he did just that. According to another tradition, however, after his stint at the Zurpas', Khukpa Lhetse tried to take teachings from Drokmi Lotsawa (brog mi lo tsA ba, 992?-1043/1072), an early Tibetan translator and one of the founding figures of what later came to be known as the Sakya tradition. Drokmi, however, demanded a large amount of gold for the teachings, and Khukpa Lhetse could not afford to pay.

Discouraged by his inability to receive teachings in Tibet, Khukpa Lhetse then decided to try his luck in India. He left for the subcontinent with Gyijo Dawey Ozer (gyi jo zla ba'i 'od zer, 11th century). When they arrived in India, Gyijo went his own way and studied under Sri Vajrabodhi and Visvasri. Khukpa Lhetse originally thought to request teachings from the Indian masters Santipa and Srigupta, but both had already passed away. So he decided to approach the pa??it Nyampo (mnyam po), who was considered the dean of Guhyasamaja studies in India. Unfortunately, Nyampo was "tight lipped" and not very forthcoming. Making further inquiries about other scholars of the Guhyasamaja, Khukpa Lhetse learned that two students of the great Gomisra -- the teacher of the recently deceased Srigupta -- were still alive. These were the great Dorje Denpa (rdo rje gdan pa), also known as "The Clairvoyant One" (mngon shes can), and the Bengali pa??it Devakaracandra, also known as "The One With a Consort" (btsun mo can). So he sought out these masters and studied the Guhyasamaja under them.

Khukpa Lhetse then returned to Tibet. His return coincided with the trip of Marton Senggyel (dmar ston seng rgyal) from Kham to central Tibet. Marton was in search of tantric teachings, and Khukpa Lhetse agreed to teach him. In return, Marton gave him extensive offerings, which he used to fund his next trip to India. During this second trip he studied the entire Guhyasamaja cycle, including its most advanced practices, under his previous two teachers as well as a new master, K?s?a Samayavajra (nag po dam tshig rdo rje). The Blue Annals claims that Khukpa Lhetse actually invited this master to Tibet at some point.

After Khukpa Lhetse had finished his studies under these three masters, he compiled their instructions into notes, and these became known as "Go's Three Scrolls" ('gos kyi shog ril gsum). After completing his studies in north India, Khukpa Lhetse then traveled south, where he again studied the whole of the Guhyasamaja under the pa??it Balahaka (sprin gyi shugs can). Amnye Zhab believes that this latter figure may be none other than Gayadhara (994-1043), the teacher of Drokmi. After this, he once again returned to Tibet.

Khukpa Lhetse made a third and final sojourn to India. During this trip, in addition to studying under his four former Indian masters, he also studied in Nepal under various teachers, including Sarapa (sa ra ba), and Nagako?i, a student of Devakaracandra and one of the teachers of Atisa. This is just a small sample of Khukpa Lhetse's masters. In all, he is said to have studied the entire dharma -- both sutra and tantra -- under seventy male teachers and two female ?aki?is.

Khukpa Lhetse translated dozens of important texts that are today preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The colophons to these works give us an idea of the other Indian pa??its with whom he worked. They include Gayadhara, Krikara, Dewai Myugu (bde ba'i myu gu), and Santabhadra, a student of Samayavajra, and of course many others. Although principally known for his work on the Guhyasamaja, he also translated works related to other deities -- Cakrasa?vara, Hevajra, Catu?pi?ha, Mahamaya, Vajra?aka, and so on -- and many tantric rituals. In addition to these tantric works, he also translated a few exoteric doctrinal works, chiefly on Madhyamaka and the Perfection of Wisdom.

Khukpa Lhetse was not only a translator, he also composed several important treatises himself, including a word commentary and a synthetic "meaning commentary" on the Guhyasamaja tantra, but he is perhaps best known for his polemical work entitled Distinguishing Between True and False Dharma, which challenges the authenticity of Nyingma tantras. There is a tradition that when Khukpa Lhetse read the writings of the Nyingma scholar Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo (rong zom chos kyi bzang po 11th century), he thought they were rubbish and went to challenge him in debate. However, when he met Rongzom in person, he was so impressed that he became his disciple -- or so the Rongzom's biographers claim.

Go Khukpa Lhetse had many students, including Marton, Nakpo Sherde (nag po sher dad), Jang Draktakpa ('jang brag stag pa), and others. But his most famous student was Khon Konchok Gyelpo (khon dkon mchog rgyal po, 1034-1102), the founder of Sakya Monastery (sa skya dgon). According to Katok Situ's (kaH thog si tu, 1880-1923) Gazetteer of Central Tibet, Go Khukpa Lhetse established a monastic seat in Tanak called Tanak Pu Gon (rta nag phu dgon). The Geluk scholar Tukwan Lobzang Chokyi Nyima's Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems identifies Khukpa Lhetse as a pre-incarnation of the Panchen Lama.

There are no details about Khukpa Lhetse's death. The biography of Ra Lotsawa, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat, preserves a legend that Khukpa Lhetse was one of a dozen or more Tibetan lamas that Ralo killed using the tantric ritual magic of Vajrabhairava.

Jose Cabezon is the XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Chair in Tibetan Buddhism and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Published July 2017


A myes zhabs ngag dbang kun dga' bsod nams, Dpal gsang ba 'dus pa'i dam pa'i chos byung ba'i tshul legs par bshad pa ngo mtshar rin po che'i bang mdzod, in A mes zhabs kyi gsung 'bum (Kathmandu: Sa skya rgyal yongs rab slob gnyer khang, 2000), vol.11: 475-791. TBRC W29307

Blo-bzan?-chos-kyi-n~i-ma, Thu'u-bkwan, and Lhundup Sopa. 2009.The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems: A Tibetan Study of Asian Religious Thought. Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications. P. 293.

Davidson, Ronald M. 2012.Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture.New York: Columbia University Press.

'Gos lo gzhon nu dpal, Deb ther sngon po (Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1984). TBRC W1KG5726

KaH thog si tu. 2001. Dbus gtsang gnas yig. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang. TBRC W27524

Ko zhung grags pa 'byung gnas and Rgyal ba blo bzang mkhas grub, Gangs can mkhas grub rim byin ming mdzod (Xining: Gan su'u mi rigs dpe skrung khang, 1992), 346-7. TBRC W19801

Las chen kun dga' rgyal mtshan, Bka' gdams kyi rnam par thar pa bka' gdams chos 'byung gsal ba'i sgron me (TBRC W23748).

Ra Yeshé Sengé, The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat: The Life of Ra Lotsawa (New York: Penguin Books, 2015).

Ye shes seng ge. Rwa lo tsa ba’i rnam thar kun khyab snyan pa’i rnga sgra. (Lhasa, 1905). TBRC W2CZ6606

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. August 2017].

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