103rd Ganden Tripa Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche. Photo Courtesy of Tibet.net.

We are saddened to share the news of the passing of the 103rd Ganden Tripa Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche, who died on April 21, 2017, at 11:45 p.m. in Delhi, India, after an illness. According to the Central Tibetan Administration, the Ganden Tripa’s death was announced by Gelugpa members of the Tibetan Parliament in exile, who urged devotees to do special prayers for the Ganden Tripa. 

Sikyong (Prime Minister) Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the head of the Tibetan government in exile, said, “With profound sadness, I on behalf of all Tibetans pray that Kyabje Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche will be reborn and carry forward his mission to spread the teachings of Lord Buddha and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. … May he be reborn in Tibet, the land of snow.”

The 103rd Ganden Tripa Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche, who served as the head of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, was appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in October 2016. He was enthroned on November 5, 2016, at Ganden Trithok Khang in Mundgod, India, succeeding Rizong Sey Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu in the position. 

According to the Central Tibetan Administration, the 103rd Ganden Tripa was born in 1937 in Eastern Tibet. He joined Tsem monastery at age nine and later received his higher education at Drepung Loseling Monastic University. In 1959, he followed His Holiness into exile and continued his geshe studies in Buxa Duar, a former prison where refugee monks were housed for several years. When the major monasteries were reestablished in South India, he served Drepung Loseling monastery in various capacities. He was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree in 1982 and attended Gyuto Tantric College the following year. In 2003, he was enthroned as Shartse Chöje at the Ganden Monastery.

Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) is the founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Becoming the Ganden Tripa 

from Mandala January-June 2016

Ganden Tripa, which can be translated as “holder of the Ganden throne,” is the title given to the head of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike reincarnation lineages, the Ganden Tripa is an appointed position based on knowledge and merit, and held for seven years. There is a saying in the monasteries that “If a mother’s child has the knowledge and wisdom, then there is no ownership of the Ganden throne,” meaning that any monk who has the intelligence and makes the effort could eventually become the Ganden Tripa.

In order to progress into the position of Ganden Tripa, a monk must first achieve the Lharampa Geshe degree, the highest degree awarded by the Gelug monasteries, and then study for at least one year and take exams at one of the tantric colleges—Gyuto or Gyume. After that, the geshe would have to be appointed to serve as the tantric college disciplinarian and then be chosen as the head lama of ritual ceremonies, an appointment currently made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. From that position, he would become the abbot of the tantric college for three years. The former abbots of the tantric colleges are in line to be appointed as the Jangtse or Shartse Chöje, coming from Gyume and Gyuto Tantric Colleges respectively. The Jangtse and Shartse Chöjes alternate in eventually becoming the Ganden Tripa.

The first Ganden Tripa was Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), who founded the Gelug lineage. His disciples Gyaltsab Je and Khedrup Je were the second and third Ganden Tripas respectively. 

For more on the life and death of the 103rd Ganden Tripa, you can read the Central Tibetan Administration’s Tibet.net article in its entirety. You can also visit the Ganden Tripa’s Facebook page.