The Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, was born in 1543 at Tolung, near Lhasa, to Namgyal Drakpa and Pelzom Bhuti, a rich family. His parents had already had many children, but they had all died. To ward off any misfortune that might take away this newborn child from them, they fed him on the milk of a white goat and named him Ranu Sicho Pelzang: “The prosperous one saved by goat’s milk”.
In 1546, at the age of three, Sonam Dakpa Gyaltsen, the ruler of Tibet, and Panchen Sonam Dakpa recognized Sonam Gyatso as the reincarnation of Gedun Gyatso. He was escorted to Drepung monastery in a great procession and was enthroned. His hair was cut, symbolizing his renunciation of the world.
He took novice vows from Sonam Dakpa at the age of seven and assumed the name of Sonam Gyatso. At the age of twenty-two, he took the Gelong vows (full ordination) of “Bhiksu” from Gelek Palsang.
In 1552, Sonam Gyatso became the abbot of Drepung monastery and in 1558, the abbot of Sera monastery.
In 1574, he established the Phende Lekshe Ling in order to assist him in carrying out his religious activities, which is now known as Namgyal Monastery and still serves as the Dalai Lama’s private monastery.
It was during his time that the Mongolian King Altan Khan offered him the title of “Dalai Lama”, which literally means “Ocean of Wisdom”. In return, the Dalai Lama conferred on Altan Khan the title of “Brahma”: The King of Religion.
The Third Dalai Lama also founded the Kumbum monastery in Tsongkapa’s birthplace, and Lithang monastery in Kham.
In 1588, he died while teaching in Mongolia.