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Lhachen Yeshe-Ö
Mural depicting Yeshe-Ö
King of Guge
Bornc. 959
Diedc. 1040

Yeshe-Ö (c. 959–1040) (spiritual names: Jangchub Yeshe-Ö, Byang Chub Ye shes' Od, Lha Bla Ma, Hla Lama Yeshe O, Lalama Yixiwo, also Dharmaraja ('Noble King')[1] was the first notable lama-king in Tibet. Born as Khor-re, he is better known as Lhachen Yeshe-Ö, his spiritual name.

Yeshe-Ö was the second king in the succession of the kingdom of Guge in the southwestern Tibetan Plateau. Yeshe-Ö abdicated the throne in c. 975 to become a lama. In classical Tibetan historiography, the restoration of an organized and monastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is attributed to him. He built Tholing Monastery in 997 when Tholing was the capital of Guge. Yeshe-Ö' sponsored novitiates, including the great translator Rinchen Zangpo.

Early life and rule[edit]

From a young age, Yeshe-Ö was interested in religious matters. He was the son of king Tashi-gon (bKra-shis-mgon),[2] and ruled the merged kingdoms of Tashigon and Detsugon, covering the regions of Purang and Guge and Zanskar, Spiti and Lahaul and Upper Kinnaur.[3] He ruled over the combined Purang-Guge Kingdom from 967.[4]

Yeshe-Ö', better known by his spiritual name, Lhachen Yeshe-Ö,[5] was the first notable lama-king in Tibet.[3][6] His first act as king was to issue commands decreed under the title bka’ shog chen mo ('Great Dictums'), which reflected his primary aim of ruling his kingdom theocratically: it was the reason that he came to be known as 'a king and monk'. This orientation was to ensure propagation of Buddhism throughout Tibet. He commanded farmers and nomads to pay an endowment fee towards the maintenance of the monastery.[1]

The 'second diffusion of Buddhism' in Tibet is solely attributed to Yeshe-Ö. He believed in reforming his kingdom under the ethos of three "R"s namely, religious education, religious architecture, and religious reform, during a time when the Indian Buddhist religious, artistic, architectural, scriptural and philosophical traditions permeated all the Tibetan world through Guge.[4] Based on the practices followed in India, Yeshe-Ö deputed twenty-one specially chosen young novitiates to be trained as monks in Kashmir and other parts of India. They were to study under Indian Buddhist Gurus in renowned institutions, and to translate Buddhist scriptures from the Sanskrit to Tibetan. Of the novitiates, only two survived, Rinchen Zangpo and Lekpai Sherap. The others succumbed to the extreme weather conditions of northern India.[4]

Rinchen Zangpo was such an impressive student that Yeshe-Ö made him responsible for the translation of other Sanskrit scriptures, as well as the building of monasteries in Tibet.[4] The first one in western Tibet, Tholing, was built in 997, after Yeshe-Ö had been king for thirty years. The other main monasteries built under the king's initiative were Tabo Monastery in Ladakh, and the Khochar monastery.[1]

He ruled, along with his brother, the entire Western Himalayan region. He founded temples and encouraged the nobility of Tibet. He opposed the esoteric forms of tantric practices (mostly by non-organised groups) which were prevalent in Tibet, and felt revulsion about the introduction of Tantrism into Tibet's new culture of Buddhism. His wish was to maintain a purer and more rationalistic form of religion in Tibet, and his views were quoted in the Blue Annals, written in the fifteenth century.[7]

The large number of bronze works of art made of[clarification needed] are credited to Nagaraja, one of his two sons.[1][4]


Avalokiteshvara painting of a fisherman in distress during a storm, in the northeast stupa of the Temple of Yeshe Ö, Tholing, (Kashmiri origin, c. 11th century)

The tenth century Yeshe-Ö temple is currently under reconstruction after the Red Guards damaged it during the Cultural Revolution in 1967.[8] In the Lotsava Lakhang in Riba, in Ngari Prefecture, field research revealed a painting of eight monks, including Rinchen Zangpo, sent to Kashmir by Yeshe-Ö to bring texts of scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism from there to western Tibet.[9]



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