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Teacher: Panchen Lama 2 (5), Lobzang Yeshe

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To learn about the two systems of enumerating the line and numbering of the Panchen Lamas see the Panchen Lama Main Page.

Jeff Watt 7-2015

The Fifth Panchen Lama, Lobzang Yeshe (paN chen 02 blo bzang ye shes) was born in 1663, on the fifteenth day of seventh month of the water-rabbit year of the eleventh sexagenary cycle in Tobgyel (thob rgyal) in Tsang. His father was Sonam Wangdrag (bsod nams dbang grags, d.u.) and his mother was named Tsetan Butri (tshe brtan bu khrid, d.u.); the family belonged to the Dru ('bru) family, one of the five main lineages of the Bon tradition.

In 1668, at the age of four, he was recognized by the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682) as the reincarnation of his teacher, the Fourth Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyeltsen (paN chen 04 blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1570-1662). He was enthroned at Tashilhunpo (bkra shis lhun po) monastery in Zhigatse.

Lobzang Yeshe is enumerated as either the Fifth or the Second Panchen Lama due there being two systems in Tibet, one held by the Ganden Podrang (which held Lobzang Chokyi Gyeltsen to be the First Panchen, and that of Tashilhunpo, which counted three lamas -- Khedrubje Gelek Pelzang (mkhas grub rje dge legs dpal bzang, 1385-1438), Sonam Chokyi Langpo (bsod nams phyogs kyi glang po, 1439-1505), and Wensapa Lobzang Dondrub (dben sa pa blo bzang don grub, 1505-1566) -- to be the First, Second, and Third Panchen, respectively. The custom of the Treasury of Lives (website) is to count Chokyi Gyeltsen as the Fourth, and Lobzang Yeshe as the Fifth Panchen Lama, following popular convention.

Soon after the enthronement, the prominent teacher Lobzang Tendzin (blo bzang bstan 'dzin, d.u.), was invited to tutor Lobzang Yeshe in basic writing and reading. In 1669, the general manager of Tashilhunpo, Gendun Tsultrim (dge 'dun tshul khrims, d.u.) reported to the Fifth Dalai Lama on the considerable offerings given to the Fifth Panchen, which included many tons of grain, ninety-two horses, and forty dzo, by the monastic communities of Sera, Drepung, Ganden, and other monasteries across Tibet.

In 1670, at the age of eight, Lobzang Yeshe visited the Fifth Dalai Lama at the Potala Palace in Lhasa. The Dalai Lama gave him lay vows and the name by which he is known, Lobzang Yeshe Pelzangpo (blo bzang ye shes dpal bzang po), and he offered him gifts of thirty five fine horses, golden and silver saddles and genuine pearls. During the boy's two months in Lhasa the Fifth Dalai Lama gave him transmission in the Mañjusrinamasamgiti and a Sitatapatra long-life empowerment. Around July 1670 both received gifts from the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty via the Tibetan envoy Sanggye Gyeltsen (sangs rgyas rgyal mtshan, d.u.). With the advice to study the writings of Tsongkhapa, the Fifth Dalai Lama sent Lobzang Yeshe back to Tsang.

In 1684, at the age of twenty-one, having trained in Buddhist doctrine and practice for over a decade, the time had come for the Fifth Panchen Lama to received full ordination. The steward of Tashilhunpo was sent to Lhasa to make arrangements. However, the Dalai Lama's Regent, Desi Sanggye Gyatso (sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, 1653-1705), who was then concealing the Fifth Dalai Lama's death, sent him away with the suggestion that Lobzang Yeshe be ordained by other lamas. Thus, at the age of twenty-two, Panchen Lobzang Yeshe took monastic vows from the abbot of Tashilhunpo's Tantric College, Konchok Gyeltsen (dkon mchog rgyal mtshan, d.u.).

Over a decade later, in 1697, Panchen Lobzang Yeshe received a letter from Desi Sanggye Gyatso acknowledging his deception around the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Claiming that he had acted under orders from the Fifth, he informed Lobzang Yeshe that he had sent an embassy to inform the Kangxi Emperor and was preparing to invite the Fifth Dalai Lama's reincarnation to Lhasa. Soon afterwards the Fifth Panchen received a second message stating that the reincarnation of the Fifth had already arrived in Tsosankha (mtsho san kha); he requested that the Panchen Lama invite the boy to Tashilhunpo and give him lay vows.

Thus in August of 1697 Panchen Lobzang Yeshe met the reincarnation of the Fifth Dalai Lama at Tendzin Palace in Santse (san rtse) county and made a number of offerings. Cutting his crown hair, and giving him lay vows, the Panchen Lama gave him the name Lobzang Rinchen Tsangyang Gyatso (blo bzang rin chen tshang dbyangs rgyal mtsho, 1683-1706/46). The Fifth Panchen traveled with the young Sixth Dalai Lama, who had been born in 1683, to oversee the enthronement. At the time Lobzang Yeshe also consecrated the reliquary for the Fifth Dalai Lama.

At the age thirty five he was invited by Tsultrim Dargye (tshul khrims dar rgyas, 1632-1701), the Forty-fifth Ganden Tripa, to give teachings at the monastery, during which he gave lay vows to dozens of monks.

In 1702 the Sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso visited Panchen Lobzang Yeshe at Tashilhunpo, where he had been summoned to explain his errant behavior (the young boy spent considerably time in public parks playing at archery and other sports, and was said to frequent the brothels of Lhasa) and partly to take final ordination. Tsangyang Gyatso was asked to give teaching in the assembly hall of the monastery but he did not accept; he also refused to take monastic vows. After two months he returned to Lhasa, not wavering from his refusal to take ordination. The two never saw each other again; the Sixth Dalai Lama died in Amdo in 1706.

When conflict erupted in 1705 between Desi Sanggye Gyatso and Lhazang Khan, the chief of the Qoshot Mongolians who controlled Tibet, the Fifth Pa?chen Lama pleaded with the Mongolian to spare the lives of living beings. Hearing that fighting had broken out, he headed towards the battles, north of Lhasa, but was only outside of Zhigatse when he received word that the battle was over, and the Regent defeated. As part of Lhazang's efforts to pacify the clergy, which he had treated with considerable cruelty during the conflict, he sent his wife, Jerinrasi, who had arranged for the murder of the defeated Regent, to meet with the Panchen Lama and bring him gifts.

Proof of the Fifth Panchen Lama's support of Lhazang was his involvement in the Mongolian's effort to install his own son as the replacement Sixth Dalai Lama, who he had deposed from office after declaring him illegitimate. The boy, a monk at Chakpori Medical College (lcags po ri), named Monpa Pekar Dzinpa (mon pa pad dkar 'dzin pa, b. 1686), had been born in 1686 in Tsarong, Kham, and had been ordained as a novice at Drepung in 1699. In 1707 the Fifth Panchen Lama gave him the name Ngawang Yeshe Gyatso (ngag dbang ye shes rgya mtsho) and installed him in the Potala as the Sixth Dalai Lama. It was a short-lived tenure, rejected by most Geluk hierarchs. Word came soon from Kham that the rebirth of Tsangyang Gyatso had been found in Litang.

In 1712 the Kangxi Emperor, having heard about the Litang boy, sent the Jasak Lama Gelek Chopel (dge legs chos 'phel, d.u.) to Tashilhunpo to learn the Pa?chen Lama's position in the matter. They returned with the message that the Panchen rejected the boy's case, resulting in several years of delay before the Seventh Dalai Lama was brought to Lhasa to be officially enthroned.

In 1713, Lobzang Yeshe received from the Kangxi Emperor a golden seal carved with the title Erdini, Mongolian for chogyel (chos rgyal), or dharmaraja. All Pa?chen Lamas have since assumed this title.

When the Dzungars invaded Tibet in 1717, the Fifth Pa?chen Lama and other Geluk lamas unsuccessfully attempted to convince the two Mongolian armies to avoid full battle. The Panchen, continuing his allegiance to Lhazang, retreated with him to Lhasa and, when the Dzungars took Lhasa, he interceded, again unsuccessfully, on behalf of the khan, who had taken refuge in the Potala. Lhazang later died fighting. His son, the replacement Sixth Dalai Lama, was allowed, due to the Panchen's intervention, to return to Chakpori to live as an ordinary monk, until he was sent to Beijing by the Chinese in 1720, where he passed away a few years later.

During the chaos that followed the Dzungar invasion, with their sacking of monasteries and murder of lamas, the Fifth Panchen resided in Tashilhunpo, visited by the factions who sought to manage events, including Polhane Sonam Tobgye (pho lha nas bsod nams stobs rgyas, 1689-1747) and Dzungar generals.

When the Qing invaded Tibet in 1720 and drove out the Dzungars, they brought the Seventh Dalai Lama with them. Knowing that the recognition by the Panchen Lama was necessary for his enthronement, Lobzang Yeshe was requested to go to Lhasa to affirm the young man's identity as the legitimate Dalai Lama. He did so, bestowing novice vows and giving the name Lobzang Kelzang Gyatso (blo bzang skal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757). He subsequently tutored him, and, in 1727, gave him full ordination.

In the late 1720s the Fifth Panchen Lama again found himself in the midst of civil war, as Polhane mounted his victorious campaign to take control of Tibet. His pleas to Lhasa to avoid battle were rebuffed, and Zhigatse briefly suffered the presence of the Lhasa army while Polhane temporarily retreated. Because of threats of smallpox, the Panchen Lama refused all personal meetings, but continued to send and received messengers.

Upon Polhane's victory the Seventh Dalai Lama was exiled, leaving Lhasa at the end of 1728. The Manchu ambans in Lhasa, representatives of the Qing, arranged for an invitation to the Panchen Lama to travel to Lhasa, which he did, without enthusiasm, in October 1728. Polhane granted him dominion over most of Tsang and Ngari, forcing him to cede the eastern part of the region to Lhasa. As part of the affirmation of the new arrangements, he sent an envoy to Beijing, one of several that went back and forth between Zhigatse and Beijing over the next few years. One of these was a petition, in 1732, for the return of the Seventh Dalai Lama. When this finally occurred, in 1735, the Dalai Lama went to Zhigatse to pay his respect to the Fifth Panchen Lama, who was by then quite old and unwell.

Lobzang Yeshe passed way in July 31, 1737, the fire-snake year of the twelfth sexagenary cycle.

Tsering Namgyal, Published October 2011

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Tsering Namgyal, April 2011

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. July 2015].

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