Himalayan Art Resources

Teacher: Sonam Lhundrub, Lowo Khenchen

Sonam Lhundrub | Sakya Tradition Main Page

Database Search: All Images

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Sonam Lhundrub Biography (below)
- Life Story Painting
- Minor Figure: HAR #96 and #89148
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

Jeff Watt [updated 2-2019]

Lowo Khenchen Sonam Lhundrub:

Lowo Khenchen Sonam Lhundrub (glo bo mkhan chen bsod nams lhun grub. b.1456/1441 - d.1532/1525) was born into the ruling house of Lo Montang (glo mon thang), also known as Mustang, the third son of ruler Amgon Zangpo (a mgon bzang po, b. 1420), of the Sanam (sa gnam) branch of the Kyungpo (khyung po) clan. His mother was named Palkyong (dpal skyong), a member of the Tagra Lugong (stag ra klu gong) clan. His birth name was Drub Tashi (grub bkra shis).

He was dedicated to the religious life at birth, his two elder and one younger brother all destined to become rulers of Lo. At age one, in the arms of his mother, he took refuge with man who later became third abbot of Ngor Ewam Choden (ngor e wam chos ldan), Jamyang Sherab Gyatso (ngor mkhan chen 03 'jam dbyangs shes rab rgya mtsho, 1396-1474), and received transmission and empowerment. He continued to received transmission in his infancy; at the age of two from Sonam Gyaltsen Palzangpo (bsod nams rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po, d.u.) of Kachar (khwa char) monastery in Purang (pu hrang)

At the age of five or six he received a long-life empowerment from a Nyingma Lama Geleg Gyaltsen Palzangpo (dge legs rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po, d.u.) who also gave additional empowerments related to Padmasambhava.

When he was eight Drub Tashi received the lay vows of upasaka from Yonten Chogyal (yon tan chos rgyal, d.u.), abbot of the royal monastery, Tubten Dargyeling (thub bstan dar rgyal gling). Three years later, in 1466, at the age of eleven, he was granted the shrama?era vows of the novice monk by Kunga Wangchug (ngor mkhan chen 04 kun dga' dbang phyug 1424-1478) who later became the fourth abbot of Ngor. His ordination name was Sonam Lhundrub Legpai Jungne Gyaltsen Palzangpo (bsod nams lhun grub legs pa'i 'byung gnas rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po). Yonten Chogyal participated in the ordination.

Sonam Lhundrub then studied Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, and Prama?a for six years with Choje Rachenpa (chos rje ra chen pa, d.u.), Raton Yonten Palzangpo (rwa ston yan tan dpal bzang po. At the age of seventeen he returned to Tubten Dargyeling to study with Yonten Chogyal to study Madhyamaka and Palden Tsultrim Gyaltsen (dpal ldan tshul khrims rgyal mtshan (tshul khrims rgyal mtshan, d.u.) who also taught him Vinaya and many subjects from Tantra including Guhyasamaja Tantra.

To clarify his understanding Yonten Chogyal tasked Sonam Lhundrub with giving a three-day exposition of Abhisamayala?kara and Prama?avartika before nine hundred monks at the monastery, an event that did much to increase his reputation.

In 1472 the famous Sakya master Serdog Panchen Shakya Chogden (gser mdog pan chen shakya mchog ldan, 1428-1507) arrived in Lo and stayed two years. He taught Sonam Lhundrub Vinaya and Prajnaparamita, and for some time Sonam Lhundrub considered him one of his main teachers. Relations between the two men later declined, after Shakya Chogden's teaching became controversial among the Ngor tradition. He declined a request of Sonam Lhundrub to compose a biography of Kunga Wangchug, the fourth abbot of Ngor, who died in Lowo in 1478. Shakya Chogden declined, and included in his response a disparaging verse about Kunga Wangchug. Sonam Lhundrub publicly criticized Shakya Chogden, despite his eldest brother, Tsangpa Tashi Gon (tshang pa bkra shis mgon), then the ruler of Lo, who continued to support of Shakya Chogden. He later composed a biography of Kunga Wangchug himself.

Among his other teachers were Konchog Gyaltsen (ngor mkhan chen 02 dkon mchog rgyal mtshan, 1388-1469), the founder of Yama Gon Monastery (ya ma dgon in 1459), and the second abbot of Ngor, and Tsang Nyon Heruka (gtsang smyon he ru ka, 1452-1507), who visited Lo three times.

In 1477, at the age of twenty-two, Sonam Lhundrub received full ordination at Jampaling from Kunga Wangchug, Yonten Chogyal, Raton Yonten Palzangpo, and Kachupa Sanggye Gyaltsen (bka bcu pa sangs rgyas rgyal mtshan). Soon after he was appointed abbot of Tubten Dargyeling, a position he served for twelve years.

During his tenure as abbot he composed, in 1482, his first works: two commentaries on Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen's (sa skya paN+Di ta kun dga' rgyal mtshan, 1182-1251) Tsema Rigter (tshad ma rigs gter). These were the first of several commentaries of Sakya Pandita's works, which were so highly regarded that Sonam Lhundrub later became considered an incarnation of Sakya Pandita.

Several years into his tenure at Tubten Dargyeling he moved to Riwoche Korlo Dompai Podrang (ri bo che 'khor lo sdom pa'i pho brang), which had been founded by Ngorchen in 1436. The move was partly due to a visit of Guge Panchen Dragpa Gyaltsen (gu ge paN chen grags pa rgyal mtshan, d. 1486), and partly because his eldest brother was taking strict measures against critics of Shakya Chogden. He considered a trip to Tibet but his teachers, including Dragpa Gyaltsen, and students convinced him to stay.

In 1489 he completed a work that reflects the doctrinal dispute: a commentary on Sakya Pandita's Domsum Rabje (sdom gsum rab dbye), much of it a refutation of Shakya Chogden. The work furthered the conflict between him and his brother, and finally, in 1493, Sonam Lhundrub left for Tibet.

He first stayed at Se Rinchentse (srad rin chen rtse) monastery near Sakya, and then moved on to Ngor Monastery by way of Tanag Tubten Namgyal (rta nag thub bstan rnam rgyal) monastery. [See Ngor Tradition Main Page]. At Ngor he taught the seventh abbot, Konchog Pelwa (ngor mkhan chen 07 dkon mchog 'phel ba, 1445-1514) and stayed in his residence. He returned to Se Rinchentse for the winter, and then to Tsedong (rtse gdong), having been invited by Namkha Tashi Gyaltsen Palzangpo (nam mkha' bkra shis rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po, b. 1458), the father of his disciple Jamyang Kunga Sonam Dragpa Gyaltsen ('jam dbyangs kun dga' bsod nams grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1485-1533), to whom he gave lay vows in 1495 there at Tsedong. Later, back at Ngor, he gave the same boy novice ordination.

In the meantime his eldest brother died, and the second brother of the four, Aseng Dorje Tenpa (a seng rdo rje brtan pa), and he returned to Lo. On June 6 or 7, 1505 the central Himalaya region suffered a massive earthquake, recently estimated to have had a seismic movement (Mw) of 8.2. It destroyed buildings along a 500 kilometer swath of territory in southern Tibet, Lo, Dolpo and other kingdoms, as well as parts of northern India.

In the wake of the destruction, Sonam Lhundrub was invited to return to Tsedong. He left in 1506 and stayed in Tsang until 1509. He worked on additional compositions, including his biography, done at Ngor, of Gowo Rabjampa Sonam Sengge (go bo rab 'byams pa bsod nams seng ge), the sixth abbot of Ngor.

During the last decades of his life he continued to propagate the Ngor tradition of the Sakya teachings in Lo, teaching and writing there and in neighboring kingdoms. Among his patrons were the king of Gungtang (gung thang). He taught the men who would become the ninth and tenth abbots of Ngor: Lhachog Sengge (ngor mkhan chen 09 lha mchog seng+ge, 1468-1535) and Konchog Lhundrub (ngor mkhan chen 10 dkon mchog lhun grub, 1497-1557), who he also ordained; the "Lhundrub" aspect of their names come from him. In 1511 Sonam Lhundrub presided over the ordination of Ngari Panchen (mnga' ris paN chen pad+ma dbang rgyal, 1487-1542). In 1527 he composed a long commentary of Sakya Pandita's Entrance Gate for the Wise (mkhas pa rnams 'jug pa'i sgo) at Samdrubling (bsam grub gling), requested by his patron, Namgyal Pelzangpo (rnam rgyal dpal bzang po), the religious preceptor to the Guge King.

Among other disciples were the Twenty-third Sakya Trichen, Jampa'i Dorje (sa skya khri chen 23 'jam pa'i rdo rje, 1485-1533) and Kunga Drolchog (kun dga' grol mchog 1507-1565/66).

The most complete edition of the works of Khenchen Sonam Lhundrub contains two hundred fifty eight small texts collected into seven volumes, of which the first five are manuscript and the last two are of Derge block-prints. In addition to his commentaries on the works of Sakya Pandita and other diverse topics are a history of the Sharpa lineage of Sakya, and a study of tathagatagarbha theory.

Lowo Khenchen Sonam Lhundrub passed away at Samdrubling in 1532.

Name Variants: Gyaltsen Palzangpo; Legpa'i Jungne; Sonam Lhundrub


Blo gros dpal mgon. 1534. 'Jam dbyangs bsod names lhun grub kyi rnam par thar pa.

Glo bo khen chen. 1514. Rje btsun bsod nams lhun grub legs pa'i 'byung gnas rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po'i rnam par thar pa zhus lan.

Grags pa 'byung gnas and Rgyal ba blo bzang mkhas grub. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 74-75.

Jackson, David. 1984. The Mollas of Mustang: Historical, Religious, and Oratorical Traditions of the Nepalese-Tibetan Borderland. Dharamsala: Library and Tibetan Works and Archives.

Jackson, David. 1989. "Sources on the chronology and Succession of the Abbots of Ngor e wam chos ldan." Berliner Indoligische Studien, vol 4/5, pp. 49-94.

Jackson, David. 1990. "The Identification of Individual Teachers in Paintings of Sa-skya-pa Lineages." In: Tadeusz Skorupski, ed. Indo-Tibetan Studies Papers in Honour and Appreciation of Prof. David Snellgrove's Contribution to Indi-Tibetan Studies. Tring: The Institute of Buddhist Studies, pp. 129-146.

Jackson, David. 1991. "Fragments of a 'Golden' Manuscript of Sa kya Pa??ita's works." Tibet Journal, vol. 16 no. 3-33.

Jackson David. 2002. The great western-Himalayan earthquake of 1505: A rupture of the central Himalayan gap? In Tibet, Past and Present. Henk Blezer, ed, pp.147-159. Leiden: Brill.

'Jam dbyangs kun dga' bsod nams. N.d. (16th c.) Bsod nams lhun grub kyi rnam thar. In Gsung thor bu, pp. 265-302.

'Jam mgon a myes zhabs ngag dbang kun dga' bsod nams. Lam 'bras gdams ngag zab mo byung tshul gyi yi ge don gnyer dga' ba bskyed byed, pp. 547-553.

Khu Byug. 2004. Glo bo mkhan chen gyis ngor e waM chos ldan dang sa skya sogs su dbu ma'i 'chad nyan mdzad pa. In Bod kyi dbu ma'i lta ba'i 'chad nyan dar tshul blo gsal mig 'byed, pp. 277-278. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang.

Kramer, Jowita. 2008. A Noble Abbot from Mustang. Life and Works of Glo-bo mKhan-chen (1456-1532). Vienna: Arbeitskreis f?r Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien.

Kun dga' grol mchog. 1535. Dpal ldan bla ma 'jam pa'i dbyangs kyi rnam par thar pa legs bshad khyad par gsum ldan.

Mi nyag mgon po. 1996. Gangs can mkhas dbang rim byon gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus bdud rtsi'i thigs phreng. Beijing: Krung go'i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, vol. 1, pp. 201-205.

Mu po. 2002. Mkhan chen bsod nams lhun grub. In Gsung ngag rin po che lam 'bras bla ma brgyud pa'i rnam thar kun 'dus me long, pp. 173-176. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

Ngag dbang kun dga' bsod nams. 2000. Kun mkhyen bsod nams seng+ge'i rnam par thar pa dad pa rgya mtsho'i rlabs phreng rnam par g.yo ba las/ glo bo mkhan chen gyis mdzad pa'i rnam thar. In Dpal sa ska pa chen po sngags 'chang thams cad mkhyen pa ngag dbang kun dga' bsod nams kyi gsung 'bum, vol 29, pp. 16r-30v. Kathmandu: Sa skya rgyal yongs gsung rab slob gnyer khang.

Smith, Gene. 2001. "'Glo bo Mkhan chen and Buddhist Logic in Tibet." In Among Tibetan Texts. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pp. 111-116.

Samten Chhosphel, February 2011

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. February 2011].

Read more at TBRC