8th Dalai Lama
Born in 1758 at Lhari Gang (Tob-rgyal Lha-ri Gang) in the Upper Ü-Tsang region of southwestern Tibet his father, Sonam Dhargye, and mother, Phuntsok Wangmo, were originally from Kham. They were distant descendants of Dhrala Tsegyal, who was one of the major heroes of the Gesar epic.
When Jamphel Gyatso was conceived, the village was given a major harvest with each stalk of barley bearing three, four and five ears, which has never been seen before throughout Tibet. When Jamphel's mother, Phuntosk Wangmo and a relative were having their supper in the garden, a giant rainbow appeared, one end of which touched the mother's shoulder. This is a key sign associated with the birth of a holy being.
Soon after birth, in the 6th month of the Fire Bull Year (1758), the holy baby often attempted to sit in a meditative posture looking up to the heavens. When Lobsang Palden Yeshi, the Sixth Panchen Lama, heard about this boy, he pronounced that he was indeed the authentic reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
He was escorted to Lhasa and enthroned as the leader of the Tibetan people in the Potala Palace in 7th month of the Water Horse Year (1762) when he was five years old (four by Western reckoning). The enthronement ceremony was presided over by Demo Tulku Jamphel Yeshi, the first of a series of Regents to represent the Dalai Lamas when they were minors. The ceremony was held in the 'Beyond Mind Temple of the Second Potala'.
The country continued to be ruled by regents until the Wood Dragon Year (1784) when the Regent was sent as an ambassador to China and the Dalai Lama ruled alone until 1790, when the Regent returned to help Jamphel Gyatso.
In 1788 there was a conflict with Nepali wool traders leading to a skirmish with the Gurkhas. In 1790 the Gurkhas invaded southern Tibet and conquered several provinces including Nya-nang and Kyi-drong. The city of Shigatse and the Tashilhunpo Monastery were captured and looted but the Gurkhas were driven back to Nepal in 1791 after the Qing Dynasty sent troops to Tibet. A peace treaty between the Qing dynasty and Gurkhas was agreed on in 1796.
Norbulingka Park and Summer Palace and other activities
It was the Eighth Dalai Lama who built the Norbulingka Park and Summer Palace in 1783 on the outskirts of Lhasa. He also commissioned an exquisite copper statue of the Buddha for the people of Southern Tibet which was brought into India in the 1960s and is now housed at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, Dharamsala, India.
- "He was a mild and contemplative person with no great interest in temporal affairs and although he lived to be 45 [44 by Western reckoning], for most of his life he was content to let a Regent conduct the administration."