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Kelzang Gyatso
7th Dalai Lama
Reign 1720–1757
Predecessor Tsangyang Gyatso
Successor Jamphel Gyatso
Tibetan བསྐལ་བཟང་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
Wylie bskal bzang rgya mtsho
Gaisang Gyaco
Chinese 格桑嘉措
Born 1708
Lithang, Kham, Tibet
Died 1757

Kelzang Gyatso (Wylie: bskal bzang rgya mtsho) (1708–1757), also spelled Kelsang Gyatso and Kezang Gyatso, was the 7th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Early life

Kelzang Gyatso was born in Lithang of Eastern Tibet, in the present-day Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of present-day Sichuan province, and recognized as the new reincarnation thanks to a poem of the 6th Dalai Lama in which he said, "After going to Litang I would not be late in returning."

Due to the turbulent political situation, the new Dalai Lama could not be taken to Lhasa immediately, and he was taken instead to Kumbum Monastery, where he was ordained by Ngawang Lobsang Tenpai Gyaltsen.[1]

While still a boy, Kelzang Gyatso demonstrated himself a prodigy of profound wisdom. Kelzang Gyatso became famous for his ability to spontaneously compose verse. Inspired by a sambhogakaya vision of the poet-monk Tsongkhapa, Kelzang Gyatso (whilst a youth), travelled to central Tibet where he gave a sermon before thousands of people.

"Of all the Gyalwa Rinpoche [Dalai Lamas], we Tibetans probably respect the seventh, Kalzang Gyatso, most of all because of his saintliness, because he devoted his whole life to the Three Precious Ones, seeking refuge not for himself but for all his people."[2]

The Dzungars invaded Tibet in 1717, deposed and killed a pretender to the position of Dalai Lama (who had been promoted by Lhabzang, the titular King of Tibet), which met with widespread approval. However, they soon began to loot the holy places of Lhasa which brought a swift response from Emperor Kangxi in 1718, but his military expedition was annihilated by the Dzungars not far from Lhasa.[3][4] Many Nyingmapa and Bonpos were executed and Tibetans visiting Dzungar officials were forced to stick their tongues out so the Dzungars could tell if the person recited constant mantras (which was said to make the tongue black or brown). This allowed them to pick the Nyingmapa and Bonpos, who recited many magic-mantras.[5] This habit of sticking one's tongue out as a mark of respect on greeting someone has remained a Tibetan custom until recent times.


A second, larger, expedition sent by Emperor Kangxi expelled the Dzungars from Tibet in 1720 and the troops were hailed as liberators. They brought Kelzang Gyatso with them from Kumbum to Lhasa and he was installed as the seventh Dalai Lama in 1721.[3] The 7th Dalai Lama was enthroned in the Potala Palace in 1720 or 1721. He took the novice vows of monk-hood from the 5th Panchen Lama Lobsang Yeshi, who gave him the name Kelsang Gyatso. He took the Gelong vows (full ordination) from Lobsang Yeshi in 1726. He received teachings from the tutor of Lobsang Yeshi, the Abbot of Gyumey Monastery and also from the Abbot of Shalu Monastery, Ngawang Yonten on all the major Buddhist philosophical treatises and became a master in both sutra and tantra. He was a great scholar and wrote many books, especially on the tantra. He was also a noted poet who, unlike the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, dwelt mainly on spiritual themes.[1][6]

Emperor Kangxi (1622–1723) declared Tibet a protectorate and in 1727 installed two high commissioners, or ambans, and a garrison of Chinese troops in Lhasa.[7] The walls of Lhasa were torn down and "Kham (with Batang, Litang, Tatsienlu, etc.) annexed to the Chinese province of Szechwan. The Chinese protectorate, which was to last till the end of the Qing Dynasty (1912), was established."[4]

Pho-lha-nas, an important Tibetan aristocrat, ruled Tibet with Chinese support in 1728–1747. In 1728 Kelzang Gyatso was invited to visit Beijing,[8] but Pho-lha-nas only had him moved from Lhasa to Litang to make it more difficult for him to influence the government. After Pho-lha-nas died, his son ruled until he was killed by the ambans in 1750. This provoked riots during which the ambans were killed. A Chinese army entered the country and restored order.

Removal of the Regents and establishment of the Kashag

There are two main versions of how this occurred. The Chinese version is that:

In 1751, the Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799; ruled 1737–1796) issued a 13-point decree which abolished the position of Regent (Desi), put the Tibetan government in the hands of a four-man Kashag, or Council of Ministers, and gave the ambans formal powers. The Dalai Lama moved back to Lhasa to preside (in name) over the new government.

The Tibetan version has it that:

In 1751, at the age of forty-three, Kelzang Gyatso constituted the "Kashag" or council of ministers to administer the Tibetan government and the abolished the post of Regent or Desi, as it placed too much power in one man's hand and the Dalai Lama became the spiritual and political leader of Tibet.[1][6]

"The 'king' or governor of Tibet was no longer appointed by the Chinese after 1750, and the Dalai Lama was tacitly recognized as sovereign of Tibet, with the exception of Kham and Amdo on the one hand and, on the other, Ladakh — which was at first under Moghul suzerainty before being annexed by Kashmir after the Dogra war (1834–1842)."[4]

In 1753, Kelzang Gyatso founded the Tse-School in the Potala Palace and built the new palace of Norling Kalsang Phodrang at the Norbulingka.[1] "At the request of the Shabdung Rinpoche Jigmi Dagpa (Jigs med grabs pa, 1724–1761), spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, Dalai Lama VII helped in the creation of a gold-and-copper monastery roof in Bhutan."[9]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Seventh Dalai Lama Kelsang Gyatso
  2. Norbu & Turnbull, Tibet: An account of the history, the religion and the people of Tibet, p. 311.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Richardson, Tibet and its History, p. 48f.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Stein, Tibetan Civilization, p. 85-88.
  5. Norbu, "Bon and Bonpos", p. 8.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Dalai Lamas of Tibet, p. 101. Thubten Samphel and Tendar. Roli & Janssen, New Delhi. (2004). ISBN 81-7436-085-9.
  7. Mayhew & Kohn, Tibet, p. 31.
  8. Richardson, Tibet and its History, p. 52.
  9. Sheel, "The Institution of the Dalai Lama", p. 30.

Further reading

  • Mullin, Glenn H. (2001). The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation, pp. 270-321. Clear Light Publishers. Santa Fe, New Mexico. ISBN 1-57416-092-3.
Buddhist titles
Preceded by
Tsangyang Gyatso
Dalai Lama
Succeeded by
Jamphel Gyatso