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Teacher: Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pal

Go Lotsawa Shonnu Pal | Blue Annals Contents Page | The Blue Annals Outline

Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pal 1392-1481 [TBRC P318], the famous author of the Blue Annals.

Biographical Information at TBRC

The Blue Annals is an eclectic history of Tibetan Buddhism up to the late 15th century. It was translated into English and published by George Roerich in 1949. It has recently been digitized by THDL at the University of Virginia and can be found on the THDL website.

On the Composition and Printings of the Deb gter sngon po by 'Gos lo tsa ba gzhon nu dpal (1392-1481). Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp, Harvard University.

Shonnu Pal should not be confused with Khampa Ga Lotsawa Shonnu Pal (12th century [P3674]), a teacher of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo and Pagmodrubpa Dorje Gyalpo, or Go Lotsawa Khugpa Lhatse (11th century [P3458]), a student of Atisha, a teacher of Khon Konchog Gyalpo, and the first Tibetan teacher counted as a pre-incarnation of the Panchen Lama lineage of incarnate teachers.

There are two more teachers known as Ga and Go Lotsawa although some what less famous. Palchen Ga Lotsawa Namgyal Dorje (1203-1282 [P1244]) is so named because he was the incarnation of an earlier Ga Lotsawa. At Shalu Monastery there was also another Go Lotsawa named Chokyong Zangpo (1441-1527/1538 [P856]).

Jeff Watt 1-2012 [updated 8-2017]

Biography: Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pal

Zhonnu Pal, 1392-1481, ('gos lo tsA ba gzhon nu dpal) was born in a small town called Drongnag Megu (grong nag me dgu) in Chonggye region ('phyongs rgyas) of Southern Tibet in 1392, the water-monkey year in the seventh sexagenary cycle. His father was called Goton Jungne Dorje ('gos ston 'byung gnas rdo rje) and his mother was named Sitar Kyi (srid thar skyid). Go ('gos) was the name of their family; Zhonnu Pal was the third child among their eight children.

Zhonnu Pal was an intelligent child and he easily learned reading and memorized some lengthy texts by the age of nine. Beginning his education at Changye Lhakhang (spyan g.yas lha khang), he received the initial monastic vows (rab byung) from Chanye Khenpo Sanggye Palwa (spyan g.yas mkhan po sangs rgyas dpal ba, d.u.) and received teachings on texts such as the Bodhisattvacharyavatara from Lobpon Sherab Dargye (slob dpon shes rab dar rgyas, d.u.).

Beginning in 1403, at the age of twelve, Zhonnu Pal studied traditional Buddhist subjects such as the Pramanavartika under the tutorship of Tsetang Samten Zangpo (rtse thang mkhan po bsam gtan bzang po, d.u.); Prajnaparamita under Lachen Shakya Gyalpo (bla chen shAkya rgyal po, 1384-1474); Madhyamaka under Yeshe Gyaltsen ('phan po thang sag mkhas pa ye shes rgyal mtshan d.u.); and Vinaya and Abhidharma under Kyomorlung Geshe Tendzin Dondrub (skyor mo lung dge bshes bstan 'dzin don grub, d.u.).

He then studied under the Fifth Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa (karma pa 05 de bzhin gshegs pa, 1384-1415) from whom he initially received the bodhichitta vows. Later the Karmapa gave him teachings on the Six Yogas of Naropa and other teachings.

Zhonnu Pal received teachings from some sixty lamas from multiple traditions. He received teachings on Lamrim, the Six Yogas of Naropa, and other topics from Tsongkhapa Lobzang Dragpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419). He received Nyingma teachings from Tanag Choje Dolmawa (rta nag chos rje sgol ma ba, d.u.) and Gotruk Repa (rgod phrug ras pa, d.u.). His Sakya teachers included Sheja Kunrig Shakya Gyaltsen (shes bya kun rig shAkya rgyal mtshan 1367-1449) and Nartang Lotsawa Sangha Shri (snar thang lo tsA ba sang+g+ha shrI, d.u.), with whom he studied Sanskrit. Other prominent teachers included Marton Gyaltsen Wozer (dmar ston rgyal mtshan 'od zer, d.u.), the fourteenth Nartang Khenchen Drubpa Sherab (snar thang mkhan chen 14 grub pa shes rab, 1357-1423), the Second Zhamar, Khachod Wangpo (zhwa dmar 02 mkha' spyod dbang po, 1350-1405), Dzepa Pelden Zangpo (mdzes pa dpal ldan bzang po, d.u), Sanggye Rinchen (sangs rgyas rin chen, 1339-1424), and Ngog Jangchub Pal (rngog byang chub dpal d.u.).

Zhonnu Pal served as a translator for the Indian Pandit Vanaratna, known in Tibetan as Panchen Nagyi Rinchen (ba na rat+na; pan chen nags kyi rin chen, 1384-1468), when he visited and toured Tibet, thus earning the title Lotsawa, or translator.

Until the age of fifty Zhonnu Pal spent most of his time studying, and only then began teaching and composing works. Among his important disciples were the Seventh Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso (karma pa 07 chos grags rgya mtsho, 1454-1506); the Fourth Zhamar, Chodrag Yeshe (zhwa dmar 04 chos grags ye shes, 1453-1524); Trimkhang Lotsawa Sonam Gyatso (khrims khang lo tsA ba bsod nams rgya mtsho, 1424-1482); Minyagpa Dorje Sengge (mi nyag pa rdo rje seng+ge, b.1462); the Second Drugchen, Kunga Paljor ('brug chen 02 kun dga' dpal 'byor, 1428-1476); and Dzong Chungpa Jampa Dorje Gyaltsen (rdzong chung pa byams pa rdo rje rgyal mtshan, 1424-1498).

He was an important master in the transmission of several teachings including the Nyingma Dorje Zampa (rnying ma rdo rje zam pa).

He composed a large number of treatises that he began only after the age of seventy. Some of the titles include The Extremely Clear Gem; a Commentary of the Essential Meaning of the Kalachakra Tantra (dpal dus kyi 'khor lo'i rgyud kyi dka' 'grel snying po'i don rab tu gsal ba'i rgyan), written in 1467; Commentary on Mahayanottaratantra Shastra (theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos), Commentary on Abhisamayalankara; and a large commentary on the Ratnagotravibhaga that was completed in 1473 and printed in 1479. Ten volumes of works were said to have been completed, but few are extant.

Go Lotsawa is perhaps best known for this massive history of Buddhism in Tibet, The Blue Annals (deb ther sngon po) that he started in 1476 at the age of eighty-four, dictating to attendants, and completed in 1478. It includes vital information about early Tibetan history and religious lineages. Go Lotsawa drew from earlier works such as The Red Annals, written in 1346 by Tsalpa Situ Kunga Dorje (tshal pa si tu kun dga' rdo rje, 1309-1364), and Buton Rinchen Drub's (bu ston rin chen grub, 1290-1364) History of Buddhism, and also many other earlier historical records. The work was originally preserved and curved into wooden-blocks in Yangpachen (yangs pa chen) near Lhasa but later transferred to Kundeling (kun bde glin) in Lhasa. A wooden-block was also curved in Ganden Chokhorling in Amdo (a mdo dga' ldan chos 'khor gling).

Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pal passed into nirvana at the age of ninety in 1481, the
iron-ox year of the eighth sexagenary cycle.


Bsod nams grags pa . 2007. Yid bzang rtse ba. In Bka' gdams gsar rnying gi chos 'byung yid kyi mdzes rgyan, pp. 212-213. Rnga yul kirti dgon dge ldan legs bshad gling. TBRC W1KG4257.

Bstan 'dzin lung rtogs nyi ma. 2004. 'Gos lo gzhon nu dpal. In Snga 'gyur rdzogs chen chos 'byung chen mo, pp. 194-195. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang. TBRC W27401.

Don rdor and Bstan 'dzin chos grags. 1993. Gangs ljongs lo rgyus thog gi grags can mi sna. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, pp. 492-494.

Khetsun Sangpo. 1973. Biographical Dictionary of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Dharamsala: LTWA, vol. 3, p. 568.

Mi nyag mgon po et. al. 1996. 'Gos lo gzhon nu dpal gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus. In Gangs can mkhas dbang rim byon gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus, vol. 1, pp. 174-179. Beijing: Krung go'i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang. TBRC W25268.

Si tu pan chen 08 chos kyi 'byung gnas. 1990. 'Gos lo tsA ba gzhon nu dpal. In The Collected works of the great ta'i si-tu-pa kun-mkhyen chos-kyi-'byun-gnas-bstan-pa'i-nin-byed, pp. 731-732. Sansal: Palpung sungrab nyamso khang.

Si tu pan chen 08 chos kyi 'byung gnas and Be lo Tshe dbang kun khyab. 1972. 'Gos lo tsA ba gzhon nu dpal. In Sgrub brgyud karma kaM tshang brgyud pa rin po che'i rnam par thar pa rab byams nor bu zla ba chu shel gyi phreng ba, vol. 1, pp. 644-645. New Delhi: D. Gyaltshan & Kesang Legshay. TBRC W23435.

Skyes mchog pa smon lam dpal. Mkhan po rin po che thams cad mkhyen pa gzhon nu'i zhal snga nas kyi rnam par thar pa. TBRC W26618

Zhwa dmar IV Chos grags ye shes. 2004 (1517). Dpal ldan bla ma dam pa mkhan chen thams cad mkhyen pa don gyi slad du mtshan nas smos te gzhon nu dpal gyi rnam par thar pa yon tan rin po che mchog tu rgyas pa'i ljon pa. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

Zhwa dmar IV Chos grags ye shes. 2009. Dpal ldan bla ma dam pa mkhan chen thams cad mkhyen pa don gyi slad du mtshan nas smos te gzhon nu dpal gyi rnam par thar pa yon tan rin po che mchog tu dgyes pa'i ljon pa. In Gsung 'bum chos grags ye shes, vol. 1, pp. 483-588. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang. TBRC W1KG4876.

Samten Chhosphel

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. January 2012].
July 2011

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