The Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso, was born in 1758 at Lhari Gang in the Tsang region of southwestern Tibet. His father, Sonam Dhargye, and mother, Phuntsok Wangmo, were originally from Kham and traced their ancestry to Dhrala Tsegyal, one of the legendary heroes of the Gesar epic.
As soon as Jamphel Gyatso was conceived, Lhari Gang was blessed with a bumper harvest, with each stalk of barley bearing three, four and five ears — something unprecedented. When the mother and a relative were having their supper in the garden, a huge rainbow appeared, one end of which touched the mother’s shoulder. (This is regarded to be a very auspicious portent, associated with the birth of a holy being.)
Not long after his birth, Jamphel Gyatso was frequently observed to be looking heavenward with a smile on his face. He was also seen to be attempting to sit in a meditative, lotus posture. When Palden Yeshi, the Sixth Panchen Lama, heard about this boy, he pronounced: “This is the authentic reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.”
As the child began to speak, he said: “I will go to Lhasa at the age of three.” Now the whole of Tibet was convinced that this child was the Eighth Dalai Lama.
Darkpa Thaye, the chief attendant of the Seventh Dalai Lama, came to Lhasa with a large contingent of lamas and Tibetan government officials. They took the boy, then two and a half years old, to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, performed the recognition ceremony, and the Panchen Lama gave the boy the name Jamphel Gyatso.
In 1762, the boy was escorted to Lhasa and enthroned in the Potala Palace. The enthronement ceremony was presided over by Demo Tulku Jamphel Yeshi, who was the first Regent to represent the Dalai Lamas when they were minors.
At the age of seven, Jamphel Gyatso took the novice vows of monkhood from the Panchen Lama. He was fully ordained in 1777.
In addition to his remarkable spiritual legacy, it was the Eighth Dalai Lama who built the faded Norbu Lingka Park and Summer Palace on the outskirts of Lhasa.
In 1804, he died at the age of forty-seven.