Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Seventh Dalai Lama, Kalzang Gyatso
(1708–1757)
Tibet; 18th century
Pigments on cloth
F1997.30.1 (HAR 380)

In this thangka the Seventh Dalai Lama is shown surrounded by some of his previous incarnations. According to the expanded list partially represented by this painting, there are more than fifty previous incarnations of the Dalai Lama, including early emanations of Avalokiteshvara, as the Dalai Lamas are considered to also be emanations of this bodhisattva.

This painting was most likely part of a set of three thangkas. Along with another painting, it would have flanked a central work that featured Avalokiteshvara and the Dalai Lama’s earliest incarnations.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Groups of Previous Incarnations

Seventh Dalai Lama, Kalzang Gyatso
(1708–1757)
Tibet; 18th century
Pigments on cloth
F1997.30.1 (HAR 380)

The expanded list of the previous incarnations of the Dalai Lamas can be divided as follows. In the upper area are nine of the thirty-six Indian emanations of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, among them a hare. In the middle area are five of the ten incarnations among the legendary and historical kings of Tibet. In the lower area are three of the seven Tibetan scholars who preceded the Dalai Lamas and three previous Dalai Lamas.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Main Figures

Thangka compositions almost always have two
main figures: a figure at the top center
representing a superior entity—the focus of the
thangka itself—and the large figure at the center
of the canvas. In this case these main figures are
a teaching buddha and the Seventh Dalai Lama.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

The Seventh Dalai Lama

The Seventh Dalai Lama, Kalzang Gyatso, was born in Litang, Kham, Tibet, in 1708. As Dalai Lama he restrained himself from participating in the political affairs of Tibet and instead chose to focuson religious matters. Key events that took place during his tenure include the passing of Tibetan governmental authority from that of a Desi, or “Throne Holder,” to the Kashag, a council of ministers, and the building of the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, the Norbulinka.

This painting indicates the Dalai Lama’s relationship to Avalokiteshvara not only by the presence of a small image of this bodhisattva above the Dalai Lama but also by the Dalai Lama’s white skin color and the lotus attribute he holds in his right hand. In his left
hand he holds a vase with a moon disk on top. He is flanked by two monks holding books.

 

Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Teaching Buddha

The yellow teaching buddha at the top of the painting either represents Buddha Shakyamuni or one of the two buddhas included in the expanded version of the previous incarnations of the Dalai Lama. If the latter is true, this teaching buddha is Prabhankara Jnyanaketu.

Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Incarnations

The upper area of the painting features a central teaching Buddha flanked by nine of the thirty-six Indian emanations of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Among those depicted in this thangka are several kings, a god, a monk, and a hare.

These figures are identified by captions written in Tibetan script. Their organization here is based upon their succession, indicated by the numbers, and follows a common Tibetan convention.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

King Simhanada, who could reverse the bad deeds of the evil king, wears a blue robe and holds a branch with a blossom.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

Devaraja, or “King of Gods,” who transformed Mara’s hostility, is depicted as a female with her hands raised in veneration.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

Phoring Raja, who tamed hostile forces through skilled methods, is shown as a white-clad, bearded ascetic with his hair tied in a knot.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

Drulpa Ribong, the hare with magical skills, sits on a cushion and is surrounded by a halo.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

Dzibo Nampar Tenpa, who freed from the prison of karma, is shown as a layman and wears a white coat and hat and holds a bag.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

The monk Samten Zangpo, who established the harmful in virtue, performs the earth-touching gesture and holds a begging bowl.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

King Lingdren, who made the destitute happy, holds a garland.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

King Kyabchin, who took the throne of the twice-born (brahmins), also holds a garland.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Nine Indian Emanations

The dharma king Gewapel, who freed the
virtueless, performs the hand gesture of teaching.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Five Early Kings of Tibet

In the middle area of the painting the Seventh Dalai Lama is flanked by five of his ten previous incarnations that were legendary and historical kings of Tibet. Included in this group of ten are all three religious kings of Tibet: Srongtsen Gampo (r. ca. 617–649/650), Thrisrong Detsen (r. 755/756–797), and Relpachen (r. 815–838).

Repalchen is featured in this painting while the other two religious kings would have been included in another painting in the set. These figures are identified by captions written in Tibetan script. Their organization here is based upon their succession, indicated by the numbers, and follows a common Tibetan convention.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Five Early Tibetan Kings

King Isholeg performs the hand gesture of argumentation at his knee.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Five Early Tibetan Kings

King Degyel raises his hands in veneration.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Five Early Tibetan Kings

King Thori Nyentsen engages in contemplative conversation.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Five Early Tibetan Kings

King Dusrong Mangtse converses and touches the earth.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Five Early Tibetan Kings

King Relpachen (r. 815–838) is shown as a layman with a white outer robe and a vase in his hand.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Six Tibetan Incarnations

In the lower area of the painting are six of the more recent Tibetan incarnations of the Dalai Lama. These figures can be divided into two groups. The first three are from the group of seven Tibetan scholars that preceded the Dalai Lamas as religious leaders. The remaining three are previous Dalai Lamas. As the other paintings of this set cannot be examined, it is unclear whether the set included images of five or six of the previous Dalai Lamas. These figures are identified by captions written in Tibetan script. Their organization here is based upon their succession, indicated by the numbers, and follows a common Tibetan convention.

Click an incarnation to learn more

Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Six Scholar Incarnations

The great treasure revealer Nyangrel Nyima Ozer (1136–1207) is shown as an ascetic with his right hand in the gesture of fearlessness and a scholar’s basket behind him.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Six Scholar Incarnations

The great treasure revealer Pema Wang is shown as an ascetic with his right hand raised toward himself and a scholar’s basket sitting behind him.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Six Scholar Incarnations

The Sakya scholar Chogyel Phakpa Lodro Gyeltsen (1235–1280) wears a yellow hat, engages in argument, and performs the earth-touching gesture.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Six Scholar Incarnations

The First Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup (1391–1474), performs the hand gestures of giving and argumentation.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Six Scholar Incarnations

The Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso (1543–1588), touches the earth.

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Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas
Explore the Previous Incarnations of the Dalai Lamas

Six Scholar Incarnations

The Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (1617–1682) holds a lotus in his right hand and a lotus blossom in his left.

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