A Tibetan monk in the Tibetan language is called a Trapa, and very often the terms Bhikkhu or Lama are also used synonymously. Bhikkhu, literally meaning a beggar, stands for a fully ordained monk, and Lama stands for an incarnation of a previous Lama. All the Lamas are monks but not all the monks are Lamas. The Buddhist missionaries founded the first Samye monastery in Tibet in the eighth century. Large numbers of Tibetans become monks. Almost one son from each family becomes a monk and by 1959 almost 25% of the Tibetans were monks. The number of monks in 1994 was about 467,000. In Tibet three ordinations are taken at the age of six, fourteen and twenty one. Prior to becoming a monk, an individual has to take vows of liberation in four steps. The new entrant takes an oath called Upasaka or approaching virtue. The next step is pabbajja or monastic way of life and this stage involves wearing the robe. Next to it is Tib or novice monk and it is followed by the final step when an individual takes all the vows of a bhikkhu and becomes a fully ordained monk or nun.
1. Marpa Lotsawa
Marpa Lotsawa was born to Wangchuk Oser and his wife Gyamo Sa Dode in 1012 and died in 1097. He was very powerful since his early childhood and was not easily controllable. Instead of attaining his rank as Tibetan monks traditionally do, through formal education at monasteries, he received his early education from a teacher called Lugyepa. On account of his aggressive nature his father then sent him to a distant place to learn from another teacher, named Drokmi Lotsawa. He learnt from this great translator for fifteen years and mastered the Tibetan as well as the Sanskirit languages. After that he left for Nepal and learnt from Naropa, the most accomplished master of meditation. Marpa Lotsawa, commonly known as Marpa the Translator, emerged as a great Tibetan Buddhist teacher and founded the Kagyu lineage.
2. Palden Gyatso
Palden Gyatso was born in 1933, in the Tibetan village of Panam, located near Gyantse and Shigatse. He entered the Gadong monastery in 1943 as a novice monk. He was later nominated as a fully ordained monk of the Gelug School. He continued his higher studies at Drepung monastry near Lahasa. The Chinese officials arrested him in 1959, during the Tibetan uprising. He spent 33 years in prison, but continued practicing his faith. After his release in 1992, he escaped to Dharamsala in India. He spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in 1995 and was awarded the John Humphrey Freedom Award in 1998.
3. Ngawang Sangdrol
Ngawang Sangdrol was born in 1977 in Lhasa, Tibet. She was the youngest nun arrested by the Government of the People’s Republic of China for peacefully protesting against the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1992. She was kept in prison for eight months without trial and her imprisonment was later on extended for three years. She continued protesting in prison and succeeded in smuggling out of prison a recorded tape of freedom songs by thirteen nuns in addition to herself. Her imprisonment was extended thrice in 1993, 1996 and 1998 totaling 23 years of imprisonment.
4. Gendun Drup
Gendun Drup was born to the nomads Gonpo Dorjee and Jomo Namkha Kyi in Gyurmey Rupa, Sakya in the Tsang region of central Tibet. His birth name was Pema Dorje and for seven years he was raised as a shepherd. He took the first vows as new entrant in 1405. He was ordained as a full monk in 1411 and changed his name to Gendun Drup. He was a disciple of the great religious reformer and founder of the Gelugpa sect. Following his teacher’s ways, Gendun Drup founded Tashi Lhunpo, which later on emerged as the biggest monastery in the world. It was a great place for spiritual training and accommodated more than 8,000 resident monks. By dint of his extraordinary achievements, Gendun Drup became the first Dalai Lama.
5. Mindrolling JetsÃ¼n Khandro Rinpoche
Mindrolling JetsÃ¼n Khandro Rinpoche was born to His Holiness, the eleventh Mindrolling Trichen, in Kalimpong, India on August 19, 1967. Her father is considered one of the greatest Tibetan masters. She was recognized as a re-incarnation of the great Daikni of Tsurphu when she was only two years old. She received her early education at St. Joseph’s Convent and St. Mary’s Convent in India. She is fluent in Tibetan, English and Hindi. She is a teacher of two prominent schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Kagyu and Nyingma. She has been teaching North America, Europe and India since 1987.
6. Jetsun Milarepa
Jetsun Milarepa was born in a small village, Kya Ngatsa, in the Gungthang province in western Tibet. He belonged to a prosperous family, but after the death of his father his uncle grabbed all the wealth of Milarepa’s father. As desired by his mother, Milarepa learnt black magic to avenge the excesses of his uncle. While his uncle and aunt were celebrating their son’s marriage, Milararepa is stated to have sent a big scorpion, which killed thirty five people at his uncle’s place. When the hurt party wanted to chase Milarepa, he sent a hail storm, which destroyed their crops. He is said to have attained an extraordinary speed in running. A historian, David Neel, commented, ‘at the house of the lama who taught him black magic there lived a Trapa, monk who was fleeter than a horse’.
7. Jigme Gyatso
Jigme Gyatso was a Tibetan monk who was imprisoned for protesting peacefully against the oppression of the Chinese Government. Along with four other monks, he was arrested in March 1996 for hoisting the Tibetan National Flag at Ganden Monastry. His imprisonment was extended after he shouted, ‘Long live Dalai Lama!’ The President of the International Campaign for Tibet, Mary Beth Markey, said, ‘Jigme Gyatso is widely admired for his determination to endure a 17-year incarceration. In the current political climate, where former political prisoners are still restricted and under intense surveillance in Tibet, it is our hope that Jigme Gyatso will be accorded the space to live peacefully and with dignity after his long ordeal.’
8. Nyage Sonamdrugyu
Nyage Sonamdrugyu was a Tibetan monk who committed suicide by setting himself on fire after soaking himself in petrol. He committed the suicide in the Golog Tibetan Autonomous prefecture. The Chinese Government named the person as Nyage Sonamdrugyu, while the Tibetan Government in exile identified him as Sonam Wangyal. It was the third self-immolation in two days. According to the monks and nuns living in Daofu in Sichuan Province, where Nyage Sonamdrugyu lived, the police were increasingly aggressive and callous towards the Tibetan monk’s religious activities.
9. Palden Choetso
Palden Choetso, a Tibetan nun in her thirties, set herself on fire on October 21, 2011. She was the second nun and the twelfth Tibetan to commit suicide by self immolation. She belonged to Daofu County in Kardze. Kardze monastery was founded in 1641, and hosts 500 monks, though it used to host more than 1,500 monks in the past. While on fire and at the end of her life, she shouted ‘Long live Dalai Lama’ and she requested him to come home. Nuns carried her into the monastery where she died. The police immediately cordoned off the area.
10. Mahapajapati Gotami
Mahapajapati Gotami was born at Devadaha as the younger sister of Mahamaya, who died seven days after giving birth to Buddha. Pajapati then looked after and raised Buddha. She was the first woman who requested Buddha to ordain her. Being denied, she cut her hair, dressed in a robe, and reached Vesali, where Buddha had gone after denying her. Ananda, the main disciple of Buddha, politely sought permission. Buddha granted the permission provided that Pajapati accepted eight conditions, which she did, and was finally ordained as nun.
Head of all the lamas is the Dalai Lama who is currently the fourteenth of his name, His Highness Tenzin Gyatso. He was recognized as a reincarnation of the thirteenth Dalai Lama at the age of 15 years on November 17, 1950. Currently in exile, he has established a Tibetan government outside of Tibet. He has traveled far and wide in the world, and has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, His Highness the fourteenth Dalai Lama said, ‘Your Majesty, Members of the Nobel Committee, Brothers and Sisters. I am very happy to be here with you today to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. I feel honored, humbled and deeply moved that you should give this important prize to a simple monk from Tibet. I am no one special. But I believe the prize is recognition of the true value of altruism, love, compassion and non-violence’¦’