Lade Inhalt...

The Dualism of the Fifth Dalai Lama. A Religious Leader and Political Activist

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2016 18 Seiten

Orientalistik / Sinologie - Chinesisch / China


Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Lhasa in the seventeenth century
2. 1. The Fifth Dalai Lama and his Reunification of Tibet
2.1.1 The Reorganisation of the Tibetan Government
2.1.2 Tibet as "Land of Religion"

3. The "Great Fifth" Dalai Lama - the supreme ruler of all Tibet
3.1 A Trulku as the head of society
3. 2. The Fifth Dalai Lama as the surrogate of Avalokiteshvara

4. The Fifth Dalai Lama's journey to Beijing in 1652-1653 - in the context of Tibetan Buddhist missionary impulses

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

Regarding the Transcription of Tibetan Words

For the convenience of the reader I use the same system of transcription as F. Pommaret did in his book "Lhasa in the Seventeenth Century", by spelling the terms as they are pronounced. Citations will be displayed as in the original.

1. Introduction

"Culture is an integral component of a nation's life and existence. What political system would be there if it is not founded on a culture, ethos and values? Culture shapes a nation, and Tibet is no exception. "1

As the notion of "Buddhist Government" originated in Tibetan Buddhist culture,2 it is worth examining the development of Tibetan and Buddhist culture within the framework of the the political, social and religious circumstances in the seventeenth century, in order to work out the role of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (1618-1682): "a man who is in all likelihood the single most important figure in the shaping of the modern image of Tibet as a place under the protection of the Dalai Lamas"3.

The Fifth Dalai Lama was not only an influential spiritual figure in Buddhist history, but also an important political leader. For the purpose of this research, I want to show the link between the political activism and the religious leadership in form of the Fifth Dalai Lama and how he managed to legitimate his social position placed at the top of Tibetan society, by working out the most significant and relevant historical facts in that period, that had a strong impact on the beliefs of the Tibetans - politically and religiously.

The second chapter depicts the situation of Lhasa in the seventeenth century and the role the fifth Dalai Lama played in the unification of Tibet, in the rise of the Gelukpa order and consequently in the establishment of the Ganden Podrang government in the 1640s. The focus of the third chapter will lie on Lobzang Gyatso's social position as the supreme ruler of all Tibet, especially in form of the 'Great Fifth' as a reincarnation of a bodhisattva.

In this context, the question relies on how did the Fifth Dalai Lama achieved to enhance his political project and what was he capable of achieving by doing so? The fourth chapter describes one of his guiding goals: the propagation of Tibetan Buddhism in the non-Tibetan sphere, namely in the north-east of Tibet by enhancing relations with the Manchu emperor of China.

2. Lhasa in the seventeenth century

The seventeenth century was a crucial century in the history of Tibet and of Lhasa. It is in this period that after the splitting up of the empire and some two centuries of intermittent civil war, Tibet was reunified under a single regime.4 With the Fifth Dalai Lama, who before 1642 was "merely the abbot of a monastery and leader of one religious school among several others"5, as political and religious head. So in 1642, with the advent of the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso, a new era began with the announcement of Lhasa as the centre of the Tibetan world and introducing the Dalai Lama's instrumental role in securing harmony between the celestial and terrestrial realms.

The main concern in this chapter will be the mechanisms and the structures involved in this process of creating the newly formed long-term government, from this time on known as the Ganden Podrang government. He installed his seat in the Potala palace and thus of the religious power of the Gelukpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. A key feature will be the Great Fifth's explicit role within this project of the political unification of an important part of the Tibetan cultural territory.

2.1. The Fifth Dalai Lama and his Reunification of Tibet

With the Fifth Dalai Lama coming to power in 1642, the political and religious supremacy of the most recent of the religious schools, the Gelukpa, was introduced of which the Dalai Lama was a hierarch.6 The hegemony of the Gelukpa school was made possible by the intervention of the Mongol leader Gushri Khan, the head of the Khoshot tribe of Oirat. His intervention on the Tibetan political scene was due to one of the Dalai Lama's retainers, Sonam Chompel, who traveled to Kokonor in 1619 to seek the support of Gushri Khan and his army.7 In 1636 the Mongols chose to support the Dalai Lama against his Tsangpa opponents - in the Kokonor region, in north-eastern Tibet. In 1637, the Great Fifth showed his gratitude towards the victorious Mongol support, which defended Gelukpa interests in the Kokonor region and granted to Gushri Khan the imperial sobriquet he sought, conferring upon him the title 'Upholder of Doctrine, King of the Dharma'8 in the Jokhang temple in Lhasa.9

In this context, a parallel can be drawn: in 1578, due to the intervention of the Mongol ruler Altan Khan, there was a similar change of the power dynamics in Tibet to the advantage of the Dalai Lama. Altan Khan, who also submitted himself to the Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism, was therefore bestowed the title 'King of the Dharma, Brahma among the Gods' by the Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, binding on him to the position of 'patron'. Noteworthy here is also the fact, that it was Altan Khan who gave Sonam Gyatso the title of 'Dalai', which means 'ocean', being a translation of the Lama's name, gyatso."Dalai Lama is a honorary title denoting the respected 'priest' in the choyon relationship."10 Since then, the Tibetan Lama and his successors would be known as Dalai Lamas.11

The relationship between the Great Fifth and Gushri Khan - and that between Sonam Gyatso and Altan Khan - in Tibetan political theory is designated as "the coalition of politics and religion in form of Lamaism, finding its expression in choyon, a 'preceptor-patron' relationship in which both parties are considered equal - the preceptor giving the patron religious teachings and spiritual guidance in return for material and political protection"12.

From 1639 to 1642, Gushri Khan and his men continued faithfully to fight against the enemies of the Gelukpa School and thereby in favor of the Fifth Dalai Lama. This victory in 1642 finally brought many years of civil war to an end and the Dalai Lama was consequently solemnly endowed with the authority as the ruler of the reunified realm. This realm extended across the "thirteen myriarchies that were the basic administrative units of Tibet"13. From that moment, the newly formed government was under the control - at least theoretically - of the Dalai Lama, "which combined religious authority and political authority"14. Hence, given the role of the Mongols in consolidating the Dalai Lama's authority, it was because of the 'choyon relation', that the Dalai Lama and the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism played a decisive role in the reunification of Tibet.

2.1.1 The Reorganisation of the Tibetan Government

After the triumph of Gushri Khan, leader of the Khoshot Mongols, the rule of the Ganden Palace as the government of Tibet began in the year 1642, with Gushri Khan himself as the defender of the new government.15 From that time onward to the time of Sangye Gyatso's regency, even if a certain dependence on the Mongol leader still persisted, the Great Fifth - as the head of state - was nevertheless, placed above the choyon structure.16

The true bearers of political power ought to have been Gusri Khan and his successors. But they were handicapped by the fact that they did not usually reside in Lhasa; they ... came only in winter, though not always, to the capital, where they resided in the dGa'-ldan K'an-gsar palace. These chiefs were in absolute control of the armed forces and everything connected with them; they were also the nominal heads of the civil government. But executive powers were delegated by them to a regent, or sde-srid ... .At first he was a nominee of the Khan. But with the decay of Qosot power under the weak successors of Gusri Khan, the Dalai Lama succeeded in gaining influence upon the government. The regent appointed in 1679, A-bar Sans-rgyas rgya-mts'o, ... ruled Tibet with an strong hand.17

This sequence gives explicit proof to the fact that from the Gelukpa takeover in 1642 there was a change of the balance of power in the rule over Tibet: "the position of the Dalai Lama was strengthened and the position of the qan weakened".18 Thus the term 'priest' in the expression 'priest and patron' obviously referres to the Dalai Lama's first regent Sonam Chompel and not to the Fifth Dalai Lama.19

The Fifth Dalai Lama, now the effective sovereign of all Tibet, consequently reorganised the Government of Tibet as 'B'6 zhung ga-dan p'o-dr'ang ch'og-la nam-gyaT, the 'Ever Victorious Tibetan Government of Ganden Podrang.'20 In the year 1649, the Great Fifth, his regent Sonam Chompel - the experienced manager of the Dalai Lama - and the Ganden Podrang administration moved from the former residence at Drepung monastery - since Drepung no longer befitted the purposes of being the most important politico-religious centre of Tibet21 - into the Potala Palace in Lhasa, a great complex of shrines and residences, which was build in the second half of the 17th century.22 This construction in form of the Potala Palace by him and his regent is a clear evidence of the Fifth Dalai Lama's perception of himself as the spiritual and secular ruler of Tibet.23 Representing the seat of the government and administration that was going to last for three centuries,24 "the Potala was obviously considered the symbol of power, since it had become the place where power resided."25

The legitimacy that derives from the architecture, in form of the Potala Palace, should be understood within the framework of the project of power of the Dalai Lama. Denominating the seat of the new Tibetan government as 'Potala', the Great Fifth referred to the name of the mythical mountain, which was known as the paradise of the deity of compassion. This deity is known as Avalokiteshvara, patron of Tibet, from whom the Dalai Lama was the earthly manifestation. The erection of the Potala Palace on the ruins of a palace built by the imperial period king Songtsen Gampo on Marpori hill (the 'Red Mountain' above Lhasa) furthermore served to demonstrate "the Dalai Lama's intention to act as the sacred ruler of Tibet"26.


1 Roy, Pabitrakumar, Hrsg. 2011. Exploring Tibet's history and culture : Proceedings of the International Conference held in New Delhi, 2009. Varanasi: Central Univ. of Tibetan Studies, p. 7

2 Cuppers, Christoph. 2004. „The Relationship between religion and state (chos srid zung 'brel) in traditional Tibet: proceedings of a seminar held in Lumbini, Nepal, March 2000". In Lumbini, Nepal: Lumbini International Research Institute, p.16

3 Tuttle, Gray, Hrsg. 2013. The Tibetan history reader. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 348

4 Cf. Kapstein, Matthew. 2006. The Tibetans. Oxford [u.a.]: Blackwell, p. 137

5 Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise, Hrsg. 2003. Lhasa in the seventeenth century : the capital of the Dalai Lamas. Leiden ; Boston ; Koln: Brill, p. 72/73

6 Cf. Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise (2003), Introduction xiii

7 Cf. Kapstein, Matthew (2006), p. 135

8 Kapstein, Matthew (2006), p. 137

9 Cf. Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise, Hrsg. 2003. Lhasa in the seventeenth century : the capital of the Dalai Lamas. Leiden ; Boston ; Koln: Brill.p. 70/71

10 Schwieger, Peter, o. J. The Dalai Lama and the Emperor of China : a political history of the Tibetan institution of reincarnation. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 33

11 Cf. Lopes, Ana O. Cristina. 2015. Tibetan Buddhism in diaspora: cultural re-signification in practice and institutions. London: Routledge, p. 52

12 Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise (2003), p. 65

13 Kapstein, Matthew (2006), p. 137

14 Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise (2003), p. 38

15 Cf. Van Schaik, Sam. 2011. Tibet: a history. New Haven, Conn, [u.a.]: Yale Univ. Press, p. 122/123

16 Cf. Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise (2003), p. 73

17 Petech, Luciano. 1972. China and Tibet in the early XVIIIth century : history of the establishment of Chinese protectorate in Tibet. Leiden: Brill, p. 8f

18 Schwieger, Peter, o. J. -The- Dalai Lama and the Emperor of China : a political history of the Tibetan institution of reincarnation. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 53

19 Cf. Schwieger, Peter (2015), p. 57

20 Cf. Lopes, Ana O. Cristina. 2015. Tibetan Buddhism in diaspora: cultural re-signification in practice and institutions. London: Routledge, p. 79

21 Cf. Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise (2003), p. 72/73

22 Cf. Kapstein, Matthew (2006), p. 139

23 Cf. Schwieger, Peter (2015), p. 52

24 Cf. Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise (2003), Introduction xiv

25 Pommaret-lmaeda, Francoise (2003), p. 41

26 Cf. Schwieger, Peter (2015), p. 52


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
Institution / Hochschule
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg – Sinologie
macht power Herrscher ostasien tibet china dalai lama dualism ancient tibet ancient china ruler religion and politics religion politics



Titel: The Dualism of the Fifth Dalai Lama. A Religious Leader and Political Activist