38th descendant of Sonam Puntsok lineage

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Sonam Puntsok (bsod nams phun tshogs) was born in mid seventeenth century in Dege (sde dge). His father was Orgyen Tashi (o rgyan bkra shis), the nominal head of the royal family in the thirty-eighth generation. His uncle, Sanggye Tenpa (sangs rgyas bstan pa, 1675-1710), was the third abbot of the royal monastery, Lhundrubteng (lhun grub steng). He had three younger brothers, Wangchen Gonpo(dbang chen mgon po), Sanggye Pelzang (sangs rgyas dpal bzang), and Kunga Rabten (kun dga’ rab brtan).

His teachers included Zangpo Gyeltsen (bzang po rgyal mtshan), Kunga Chopel (kun dga’ chos ‘phel), and Dondrub Gyeltsen (don grub rgyal mtshan). He was particularly skilled in medicine, which he practiced in Dege. He was part of a delegation that welcomed Sanggye Puntsok (sangs rgyas phun tshogs, 1649-1705) to Dege. Sanggye Puntsok had served as the twenty-fifth abbot of Ngor Ewaṃ Choden Monastery (ngor e waM chos ldan) and had been invited to Dege by Sonam Puntsok’s brother, Sanggye Pelzang.

After his uncle, Sanggye Tenpa, passed away in 1710, Sonam Puntsok was enthroned to the abbacy of Lhundrubteng (lhun grub steng). This placed him in a position of political power in the kingdom; while laymen nominally ruled the kingdom as heads of the family in their particular generation, real power rested in the abbacy of Lhundrubteng. Sonam Puntsok’s younger brother, Wangchen Gonpo was the nominal head of the family during their generation.

One of his first acts as king was to receive the young Eighth Tai Situ, Chokyi Gyeltsen (ta’i si tu chos kyi ‘byung gnas, 1699/1700-1774) near Peljor Gang (dpal ‘byor sgang), where the two exchanged offerings. The following year, at Chakra (lcags ra) he met the Twelfth Karmapa, Jangchub Dorje (karma pa 12 byang chub rdo rje, 1703-1732). Both children had been born in Dege, and were in the process of receiving permission to leave to be trained at their respective seats. In 1712, Sonam Puntsok invited the Twelfth Karmapa to his summer camp at Lhalungkhuk (lha lung khug) to formalize a relationship between the house of Dege and the head of the Karma Kagyu. Tenpa Tsering (bstan pa tshe ring, 1678-1738), Sonam Puntsok’s nephew, was at the ceremony was and would go on to enlist the Eighth Situ in his publishing ventures when he subsequently took control of the kingdom.

In 1705, Lhazang Khan (1697-1717), the last Khoshut Mongol ruler in Lhasa, had deposed the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (tA la’i boa ma 06 tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho, 1683-1706/1746) and had the regent, Desi Sanggye Gyatso(sangs ryas rgya mtsho, 1653-1705) murdered. The Sixth Dalai Lama was sent into exile, ostensibly invited to the court of the Qing Kangxi Emperor (康熙 r. 1661-1722) in Beijing. It is generally accepted that he died en route, although alternate histories suggest he survived and lived the rest of his days in the area around modern-day Qinghai province.

Prior to banishing the Sixth Dalai Lama, Lhazang Khan had installed an alternative Dalai Lama, Ngawang Yeshe Gyatso (ngag dbang ye shes rgya mtsho) – possibly his own son – who was not accepted by the Tibetans.The Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso (skal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757), who was born in Litang (li thang), Kham, spent his yearly years in exile, avoiding assassination attempts by Lhazang Khan.

In 1714, the Seventh Dalai Lama’s father, Sonam Dargye (bsod nams dar rgyas, d.1744) sought to escape yet another pending assassination attempt and found protection in Dege. Sonam Puntsok is credited with having offered asylum to the Seventh Dalai Lama, an act that earned Dege the goodwill of the Ganden Podrang in Lhasa, but he was likely dead by the time the young Dalai Lama passed through the kingdom, some time in 1714, before moving on to safety in Amdo.

Sonam Puntsok was succeeded by his nephew, Tenpa Tsering, who officially held both secular and religious power in the kingdom as the tenth king and fifth abbot.
Source: The Treasury of lives

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