Note: Gendun Chopel was variously nicknamed as Alak Riklo, Alak Ditsa, and Dodrak Trülku. Alak is a term of address used in Amdo dialect for reincarnate lamas.
Gendun Chopel was first recognized as an alak when the Second Zhabkar Rinpoché [of Rebgong] Ügyen Jikmé Tekchok Tenpé Gyeltsen (O rgyan ‘jigs med theg mchog bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan) invited the abbot of Dodrak Monastery in Lhasa to Yama Trashikhyil (G.ya ma Bkra shis ‘khyil) Monastery. The Dodrak Khenpo gave empowerments, teachings, and oral transmissions. Moreover, cham or monastic dances were held in that area. Thus, the area became famous as a place on which the sun of the Buddha’s teachings shone.
When it was time for Dodrak Khenpo to return to his monastery in Lhasa, he said to two of his main students in Lhasa—Alak Gyelwo (Rgyal bo) and Ané Wardo (A ne ba rdo): “Today I am giving you a hat as a memento. It would be auspicious if the two of you could commission a thangka of Yama (Gshin rje tshe bdag) and bring it to my monastery [in Lhasa], and I pray that in the future the one who wears this hat will be related to your family.” Per this [prophecy] and divinations performed by the second Zhabkar, Gendun Chopel was enthroned. Also, after Gendun Chopel was released from prison, he studied a terma text with Dodrak Khenpo Kelzang Namgyel and said, “My former self was also a reincarnation of Dodrak.” From these accounts, it is clear that Gendun Chopel was a reincarnation.
Rikdzin Namgyel was Gendun Chopel’s given name at birth. This name was chosen by his father Alak Gyelwo. In our area of Zho’ong [aka Zhopong], we have long had two customs for giving names. The first is to grant names on the basis of the astrological indicators (lha dpal tshe). The second is to grant a name on the basis of astrological signs (sbar kha’i gser thig). A few elders in our area told me that Gendun Chopel’s name Rikdzin Namgyel was arrived at through the second method. I think that it was either drawn from his father’s name Rikdzin Dorjé Namgyel or from Dodrak Khenpo’s name. In any case, it was chosen for a special reason.
As for Gendun Chopel’s third nickname Alak Riklo (Rig lo), this came about when Gendun Chopel was seven years old and he left Yama Trashikhyil Monastery and began studying rituals. Even at that time, his intellect (rig) was keen. Secondly, he was enthroned per Dodrak Khenpo’s prophecy. Third, when Gendun Chopel was seven years old, his father became sick (mgo nad) and died. When it was time to chant the prayers for the dead, no one else needed to do it. Gendun Chopel said that it was his responsibility to chant the prayers. The people of the village were astounded by his actions, behavior and interests, as well as the clarity with which he recited prayers. From that time on, in addition to his given name Rikdzin Namgyel, he was also called Alak Riklo.
As for Gendun Chopel’s name Alak Dhitsa: Dhitsa Monastery is famous in Amdo for its instruction in religion and the other traditional Tibetan sciences. It is also the seat of the reincarnation line of Shamar Pandita (Zhwa dmar) Gendun Tendzin Gyamtso (Dge ‘dun bstan ‘dzin rgya mtsho). For this reason, Gendun Chopel, too, went to this monastery and studied there. He soon shined in his class, and even students in the upper classes admired his intellect and competed with him. Though Gendun Chopel was still young, he was recognized as a scholar in light of his age and he became known as Dhitsa Alak and Alak Dhitsa.
While Gendun Chopel was in Lhasa he was often called “Skinny Dhitsa” (Dhi tsha skam po) or “Skinny Dodrak” (Rdo brag skam po). These names may have come about when Dowi (Rdo sbis) Geshé Sherab and Geuteng (Sge’u steng) Rinpoché were arguing or debating about whether a vase was samsara or not. In the accompanying note to a retort entitled “Conflagration of Fire” (Skal pa’i me dpung) by Geshé Sherab and in a letter sent by Giteng Rinpoché to Ngulra Shrewo [a lama at Labrang monastery], the authors use the names “Skinny Dhitsa” and “Skinny Dodrak.” The names reflect the fact that Gendun Chopel was very lean at the time.
I have already discussed Gendun Chopel’s name “Dodrak Tulku.” 1) He took the throne per the prophecy of Dodrak Khenpo. 2) In accord with Zhabkar’s recognition, the intellect and actions of Gendun Chopel as a child were extraordinary. 3) Gendun Chopel himself said: “In my former life, I was a trülku of Dodrak. On the basis of these three pieces of evidence, he is called Dodrak Trülku. Horkang Sönam Penjor (Hor khang Bsod nams dpal ‘byor) wrote a book entitled A Brief History of Gendun Chopel. In this, he states that the Dodrak gyelsé Khenpo Jikmé Sönam Namgyel (‘Jigs med bsod nams rnam rgyal) was the eighth Dodrak reincarnation. Thus, Gendun Chopel must be the ninth reincarnation of Dodrak Khenpo. I am finished speaking.
Translated by Lauran Hartley.