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Yeshe Gyeltsen

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 The fifteenth abbot of Katok Monastery, Yeshe Gyeltsen (ye shes rgyal mtshan) was born in a place called Tanggang in Litang (li thang thang sgang) in 1395, the wood-pig year of the seventh sexagenary cycle. Details of his parents and childhood are not available. He was later said to have been the incarnation of the founder of Katok, Dampa Deshek (dam pa bde gshegs, 1122-1192).

Yeshe Gyeltsen studied under the fourteenth abbot of Katok, Choje Jangchub Gyeltsen (chos rje byang chub rgyal mtshan, d.u.) who tutored him in the traditional texts of the Katok curriculum. He also received from Khedrub Chenpo Chokyi Bumpa (mkhas grub chen po chos kyi 'bum pa, d.u.) comprehensive teachings and esoteric instructions on conferring empowerment of Guhyagarbha-tantra, the main tantra of Mahāyoga according to the Nyingma tantric doxography, and Dzogchen (rdzogs chen).

He also received many teachings and instructions on the Nyingma Kama (bka' ma), or Oral Tradition from Chokyi Bumpa, and became a highly regarded scholar and teacher. It was said that he had vision of buddhas, tantric deities, bodhisattvas, Padmasambhava, ḍākinīs, and so forth, and that he had received a prophecy telling of his future enlightenment; he would be a buddha named "Deshin-shekpa Dewai Nyinpo" (de bzhin gshegs pa bde ba'i snying po) and his pure land would be called “Kelpa Yonten Kopa” (bskal pa yon tan bkod pa).

Yeshe Gyeltsen was enthroned as the fifteenth abbot of Katok, succeeding his teacher Jangchub Gyeltsen who passed away at a young age. The date of his ascent is not known. He served the abbacy of Katok Monastery for many years, during which he reformed the educational system – while maintaining intact, according to official history, the monastery's unique tradition. He introduced the study of classical Indian texts on Madhyamaka, Pramāṇavārttika, Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Abhidharmakośa, as well as Tibetan treatises on Lamrim and other Kadampa teachings. He taught the Kālacakra, Yamāntaka, Cakrasaṃvara, and Guhyasamāja tantras in addition to the traditional focus on the Guhyagarbha. He further emphasized the study of medicine, astrology and astronomy, poetry, drama, Sanskrit phonology and so forth, reflecting awareness of the educational systems of monasteries of other tradition.

Yeshe Gyeltsen gave teachings at many places that included Bubor (bu 'bor), Khawa Karpo (kha ba dkar po), and Jang ('jang). A large number of scholars of various subjects, and renowned practitioner emerged from among his disciples. It was said that over one hundred disciples attained the rainbow body ('ja lus), transforming their body into rainbow-light at death. Among his disciples were Namkha Sengge (nam mkha' seng+ge, d.u.), Khawa Karpo Namkha Chokyi Gyatso (kha ba dkar po nam mkha' chos kyi rgya mtsho, d.u.), Pelbar Ban Namkha Gyeltsen (dpal 'bar ban nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan, d.u.), Labton Namkha Rinchen (lab ston nam mkha' rin chen, d.u.), Chokme Jangsem Choje (phyogs med byang sems chos rje, d.u.), Khawa Karpo Kunga Dawa (kha ba dkar po kun dga' zla ba, d.u.), and Dege Drubtob Ngupa Chokyi Dorje (sde dge grub thob rngu pa chos kyi rdo rje, d.u.).

Among Yeshe Gyeltsen's compositions are: The Pearl Garland: The Commentary on the Graduated Path of the Guhyagarbha-tantra (sgyu 'phrul lam gyi rim pa'i 'grel pa mu tig phreng ba); The Ocean of Instructions: A Guide on Mahāmudrā (phyag chen smar tshang lugs kyi khrid yig man ngag rgya mtsho), A General Commentary on the Kadam Vehicles (kaH dam pa'i theg spyi 'grel), A Commentary on Peaceful, Wrathful, and Kīla Deities (zhi khro phur gsum gyi 'grel bshad skor), and The Sunlight: A General Commentary on the Nine Vehicles (theg dgu spyi chings gi 'grel bshad nyi ma'i 'od zer).

The date of Khedrub Yeshe Gyeltsen's retirement from the Katok abbacy is not known; following his retirement he settled at Bubor Paktso Hermitage (bu 'bor phag mtsho ri khrod).

Nor is the year of his nirvana available, but it can be presumed that he died at Bubor. Relics from his cremation include images of a vajra on the skull; Amitābha, Acala, and Avalokiteśvara on the joints; the Tibetan letter “A” on his tongue; cone-shell images in five different colors on the heart.




'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan. 1996. Rgyal ba kaH thog pa’i lo rgyus mdor bsdus. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 51-53.


Samten Chhosphel
April 2011