The 14th Dalai Lama praying in the pavilion, closing the Kālacakra mandala and offering flowers

Tibetan Buddhist monks – Leaders of the Tibetan tradition

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Buddhist monasticism is an important part of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, all the major and minor schools maintain large monastic institutions based on the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya (monastic rule) and many religious leaders come from the monastic community.

Tibetan Buddhist Monastic communities

Monasteries generally adhere to one particular school, Kagyu, Sakya, Gelug or Jonang.

Medium to large communities of celibate monastics maintains several hundred and might have extensive land holdings, be financially independent, and sometimes also act as trading centers.

Large teaching monasteries maintains thousands of monks, such as the big Gelug establishments of Sera (with over 6000 monks in the first half of the 20th century) and Drepung (over 7000).

Prominent Tibetan Buddhist monks

This is a list of some influential Tibetan Buddhist monks past and present.

Jamgon Kongtrul

‘Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé, also known as Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, was a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, poet, artist, physician, tertön and polymath. He was one of the most prominent Tibetan Buddhists of the 19th century and he is credited as one of the founders of the Rimé movement (non-sectarian), compiling what is known as the “Five Great Treasuries”. He achieved great renown as a scholar and writer, especially among the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages and composed over 90 volumes of Buddhist writing, including his magnum opus, The Treasury of Knowledge.

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

, also known by his tertön title, Pema Ösel Dongak Lingpa, was a renowned teacher, scholar and tertön of 19th-century Tibet. He was a leading figure in the Rimé movement.


Öndör Gegeen , born Eshidorji, was the sixteenth Jebtsundamba Khutuktu and the first Bogd Gegeen, or supreme spiritual authority, of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in Outer Mongolia.

Patrul Rinpoche

(1808–1887) was a prominent teacher and author of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.

His disciples included masters of the Nyingma school such as Kathok Situ Choktrul Chökyi Lodrö, the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche Thubten Chökyi Dorje, Gyarong Namtrul Kunzang Thekchok Dorje, the second and third Dodrupchens, Jikme Phuntsok Jungne and Jikmé Tenpe Nyima, Dechen Rigpé Raldri, who was the son of Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, Khenpo Shenga, Adzom Druktrul Droddul Dorje, Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa, Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso, Khenpo Pema Vajra, Nyoshul Lungtok, Alak Dongak Gyatso and others.

In addition, his disciples included many masters of the Sakya, Gelugpa and Kagyü schools, such as Sershul Lharampa Thubten, Palpung Lama Tashi Özer and Ju Lama Drakpa Gyaltsen.

Jamgön Ju Mipham, or Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyamtso (1846–1912) was a very influential philosopher and polymath of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. He wrote over 32 volumes on topics such as painting, poetics, sculpture, alchemy, medicine, logic, philosophy and tantra. Mipham’s works are still central to the scholastic curriculum in Nyingma monasteries today. Mipham is also considered one of the leading figures in the Ri-me (non-sectarian) movement in Tibet.

Lobsang Tenzin

, better known by the titles Professor Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche and to Tibetans as the 5th Samdhong Rinpoche, was the previous prime minister, of the Central Tibetan Administration, or Tibetan government-in-exile, which is based in Dharamshala, India; Lobsang Sangay was elected to this position in April 2011.

Jinpa Sonam

Geshe Lharampa is a Tibetan Buddhist philosopher and Spiritual Director for the Indiana Buddhist Center. Sonam was born on May 25, 1955, in Zanskar valley, Ladakh, in the Republic of India. In 1967, he became a monk at the Stagrimo Gompa, a Drukpa Kagyu monastery in Ladakh near Padum. He studied at this monastery for six years before joining the Drepung Gomang Monastery, a Gelugpa monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka India as a novice monk.

Kawa Paltsek

Kawa Paltseg was one of the twenty-five disciples of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) during the Tibetan Empire period. He was born in Kawa in Phenpo Valley. He was one of the seven monks ordained by the great abbot Śāntarakṣita (Shantarakshita) and became one of the greatest Tibetan translators in accordance with a prophecy by Guru Rinpoche. He was one of the most important contributors to the translation of the Tibetan Tripitaka and the Nyingma Gyübum. “Kawa” is a place name and “Paltseg” means “Mountain of resplendence.”

Sonam Lhundrup

(1456–1531) was a great abbot of Mustang and the son of the second Mustang Dharma King, Agon Sangpo.

Tenzin Bagdro

is a Tibetan Buddhist monk and former political prisoner who currently resides at Tashi Choeling Monastery in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Tashi Tsering (Jamyang Buddhist Centre)

Tashi Tsering was the resident Tibetan Buddhist teacher at Jamyang Buddhist Centre, London, from 1994 to 2018. Since June 2018 he has been abbot of Sera Mey Monastic University in India.


is a young Tibetan monk from Kirti Monastery whose attempted self-immolation February 27, 2009 in the marketplace in Ngawa Town, Ngawa County, Sichuan marked the beginning of the wave of Tibetan self-immolations.

3rd Taktra Rinpoche

Ngawang Sungrab Thutob (1874–1952) was the third Taktra Rinpoche, and regent of Tibet. As regent, he was responsible for raising and educating the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. In 1941, he succeeded the fifth Reting Rinpoche, Jamphel Yeshe Gyaltsen. The Reting Rinpoche later rebelled, was captured, and died imprisoned in the Potala Palace under mysterious circumstances.

Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche

is a Tibetan abbot. Arrested by Chinese authority, he is the first senior Buddhist leader to face serious charges linked to the demonstrations in 2008.


was a Vajrayana Buddhist monk of the Gelug school and religious leader in modern China. He is considered one of the key figures of the “Movement of Tantric Rebirth” (密教復興運動) which sought to revitalize Chinese Esoteric Buddhism.

Buton Rinchen Drub

Butön Rinchen Drup, (1290–1364), 11th Abbot of Shalu Monastery, was a 14th-century Sakya master and Tibetan Buddhist leader. Shalu was the first of the major monasteries to be built by noble families of the Tsang dynasty during Tibet’s great revival of Buddhism, and was an important center of the Sakya tradition. Butön was not merely a capable administrator but he is remembered to this very day as a prodigious scholar and writer and is Tibet’s most celebrated historian.

Lama Dorji

, or Lama Darja was a mid-eighteenth century khan or ruler of the Dzungar Khanate, a confederation of Mongol tribes that ruled over most of present-day Xinjiang and part of eastern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and southern Siberia. He was the eldest son of Galdan Tseren, Khong Tayiji of the Dzungar Khanate from 1727 until his death in 1745. Before his death, Galdan Tseren had designated his second son Tsewang Dorji Namjal to succeed him. However, a succession dispute soon erupted among Galdan Tseren’s three sons.

Khenpo Sodargye

is one of the most eminent contemporary Buddhist masters, and was born in the eastern region of Tibet known as Kham in 1962. Khenpo is a Tibetan lama, a Buddhist scholar and teacher, a prolific translator into Chinese, and a modern Buddhist thinker renowned across Asia and the west for his interest in the integration of traditional Buddhist teachings with worldwide issues and modern life.

Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje

Lhalung Palgyi Dorje was the Tibetan Buddhist monk who assassinated the Tibetan king Langdarma in 842 CE.

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