If you are looking for biographical information, the first and easiest place to start is by conducting a "Person Search" in the BDRC website. Another useful source is an unpublished list of biographical references, compiled by Dan Martin (see under General Biographical Resources: Online Resources below). This includes personal names from several of the texts below. Other online resources include "Who Was Who in Tibet?" compiled by the Pitt Rivers Museum.
TREASURY OF LIVES
An illustrated website of biographies of religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism. Each biography is linked with the Buddhist Buddhist Resource Center (BDRC) and Himalayan Art Resources (HAR). Independent scholars, professors, and graduate students contributed te the biographies and essays now on the site. Contributions to this collaborative effort are welcome.
The Treasury website is designed to associate each biography with five categories: tradition, community, historical period, geography, and natural landmark. Traditions are broadly conceived as having either institutional or doctrinal independence. Community includes both monastic institutions and clan structures. Geography includes both “traditional” and contemporary organizations of Tibetan space: one can browse via the Tibetan categories of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo, within which are further divisions, or by contemporary provinces, prefectures, and counties. The category of "Natural Landmarks" includes mountains, lakes, and caves with which religious figures are associated. All of these categories – known as “facets” in the terminology of the web – can be combined with each others to optimize browsing, so that user might, for example, browse for 13th century Kagyu lamas who were associated with Kailash, expand it to include Sakya, or narrow it to exclude all but Drigung Kagyu.
The Treasury uses both Extended Wylie and the phonetic system created for the Rubin Museum of Art: no diacritics, no umlauts, no acute accents. The site anticipates multiple phonetic rendering of names, acknowledging the lack of a single authoritative system, particularly useful for those times when the proper Wylie spelling is not known. Searches for Phagmodrupa or Phakmodrupa will both be directed to Pagmodrupa. The Treasury database is borrowed from the Person records of BDRC, and the goal is to provide a biography of every known Tibetan religious figure, excluding those still living.
MODERN TIBETAN AUTOBIOGRAPHIES (Columbia University)
A list of nearly one hundred English-language autobiographical writings on life in Tibet, compiled by Professor Gray Tuttle for his "20th Century Tibetan History" course. Many entries include summaries, abstracts, reviews, or other notes, contributed by students over the years.
See also Tibetan Biographies in Translation
General Biographical Resources
Dan Martin, comp. Tibetological: Biographical Resources
The following key works are searchable at Dan Martin’s Tibetological Google site: https://sites.google.com/site/tibetological/50-tibetan-geo-texts/Home/bio-refs
PART ONE: Ko-zhul Grags-pa-'byung-gnas & Rgyal-ba-blo-bzang-mkhas-grub, Gangs-can Mkhas-grub Rim-byon Ming-mdzod (A Dictionary of Historical Masters of Learning and Accomplishment in the Snow Land), Kan-su'u Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lanzhou 1992).
PART TWO: Don-rdor & Bstan-’dzin-chos-grags, Gangs-ljongs Lo-rgyus Thog-gi Grags-can Mi-sna (Select Famous Persons in Tibetan History), Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lhasa 1993).
PART THREE: Personal Name Index to George Roerich, Blue Annals. This was done by Asia Classics Input Project (with some very slight modifications done by myself).
PART FOUR: Dbang-'dus-tshe-ring & 'Phrin-las-rgya-mtsho, Bod-kyi Sgra-sgyur Lo-rgyus dang Lo-tsâ-ba Rim-byon-gyi Mdzad-rnam Gsal-ba'i Me-long (A Clarifying Mirror of the Biographies of Historical Translators and the History of Translations in Tibet), Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 2001), pp. 182-329.
PART FIVE: Bla-ma-skyabs, Bod-kyi Mkhas-pa Rim-byon-gyi Gso-rig Gsung-'bum Dkar-chag [a bio-bibliography of Tibetan physicians], Kan-su'u Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lanzhou 1997).
Note: One biographical dictionary that has not been included here, as yet, is Mi-nyag Mgon-po, Gangs-can Mkhas-dbang Rim-byon-gyi Rnam-thar Mdor-bsdus, Krung-go'i Bod-kyi Shes-rig Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 1996).
Print editions of the above dictionaries are available in the C.V. Starr East Asian Library.
Dictionary of Learned and or Accomplished People Who Appeared in Tibet
Tibetan-Tibetan dictionary with an informative introduction in English by Lotsawa Tony Duff and entries for over 2,250 people who appeared in Tibet over the last 1,400 years, including kings, their ministers, a large number of spiritual practitioners, etc. Available for free download on the the Padma Karpo Translation Committee website.
Person des Tibetischen Buddhismus
This resource on the German Wikipedia page lists some 200 lamas, based in significant part on the work, Danzhu’angben (ed.). Zang zu da ci dian (Bod rigs tshig mdzod chen mo). Lanzhou Shi: Gan su ren min chu ban she, 2003
"Who Was Who in Tibet?": Biographical Handbook of Tibet in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
Compiled by the Pitt Rivers Museum, this searchable database is based on Hugh Richardson's work regarding mid-20th century with a focus on Tibetan officials and aristocrats; includes many photographic images.
Tibetan Who's Who
This blog offers substantial biographies of leading contemporary (or late-twentieth century) Tibetan government leaders, religious teachers, intellectuals, educators, etc. Most entries in English, but also a few in Tibetan.
COMPILATIONS IN PRINT FORMAT
- Dpal brtsegs Bod yig dpe rnying zhib 'jug khang, ed. Bod kyi lo rgyus rnam thar phyogs bsgrigs bzhugs so. Xining: Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2010- Collection of Tibetan religious and political histories
- Wilkinson, Endymion. Chinese History: A Manual, Revised and Enlarged. Cambridge: Harvard-Yenching Institute, 2000, pp. 94-130 (Han people); 707-720 (Non-Han Peoples). CLIO link.
- Wang Gui. Bod rigs kyi rus ming dpyad pa = Zangzu renming yanjiu. [Beijing]: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang. 1991.
Bilingual concordance of Tibetan personal and family names and Chinese character equivalents organized thus:
1. personal names listed according to Tibetan alphabet, pp. 81-140; this is indexed by a) Chinese character stroke number, pp. 141-154; b) by Pinyin pronunciation, organized according to English alphabet, pp. 155-160; c) by English phonetic transcription, pp. 161-163;
2. historical Central Tibetan nobility's family names, pp. 167-190;
3. Local rulers (tusi), myriarchs, chiliarchs, tribal/clan leaders, family names, pp. 191-214 (listing area that each family ruled);
4. important incarnation lamas' names, pp. 215-219 (listing area associated with each incarnation);
Sections 1-4 are also indexed by a) Chinese character stroke number, pp. 221-227; b) by Pinyin pronunciation, organized according to English alphabet, pp. 228-235;
5. final section lists titles of government and monastic officials as well as academic degrees, pp. 239-254; also indexed by a) Chinese character stroke number, pp. 265-266; b) by Pinyin pronunciation, organized according to English alphabet, pp. 257-259.
- Guansheng Chen; Caidan An. Chang jian Zang yu ren ming di ming ci dian = Dictionary of common Tibetan personal and place names. Beijing: Wai wen chu ban she, 2004. CLIO link
- Bod skad kyi mi'i ming Bod rgya shan sbyar=Zangyu renming yin yi (Zang Han duizhao). Xining: 2006. CLIO link
Tibetan and Chinese index for family and personal names.
- For titles, often included as part of names, see: Tarab Tulku, "A Brief History of Tibetan Academic Degrees in Buddhist Philosophy," NIAS Reports, No. 43 (2000).
Largely focused on Bka' gdams/Dge lugs degrees.
- Dbang 'dus tshe ring & 'Phrin las rgya mtsho. Bod kyi sgra sgyur lo rgyus dang lo tsA ba rim byon gyi mdzad rnam gsal ba'i me long = Zang zu fan yi shi ji li dai yi shi zhuan lue ming jian. Pe cin: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2001.
Translators, who probably all predate the modern period.
- Mkhas dbang Tshe tan zhabs drung gi dpyad rtsom mkha bsdus; 'Jigs med chos 'phags kyis bsgrigs. Bod kyi lo tsA ba rim byon gyi bsgyur tshul skor. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun Khang, 1994.
First published in Mtsho sngon slob gso, 1985-1.
- Bod dang/ Bar khams/ Rgya sog bcas kyi bla sprul rnams kyi skye phreng deb gzhung. In Bod kyi gal che'i lo rgyus yig cha bdams bsgrigs [Xizang zhong yao li shi zi liao xuan bian]. Ed. by Tshe brtan phun tshogs, Chab spel & Mi 'gyur rdo rje. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1991 [1814/1820].
Part V, p. 281-369. Genealogies of incarnations of [Central] Tibet, Khams, & Sinified Mongols [rgya sog seems to means Amdo] lamas (pp. 368-369); See Martin #588, p. 215: "compiled for the official use of the Manchu Amban in 1814, with additions made in 1820. See Dan Martin's searchable list of this material.
- ‘Bro sbyin pa (ed.). Yul mdo khams stod kyi mkhas grub brgya rtsa'i gsung 'bum dkar chag phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa dwangs gsal shel gyi me long [Clear Crystal Mirror: Collection of Catalogues of Hundreds of Scholars from Upper Kham]. Xining: Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2008. CLIO link
- Dge shis chos grags, Ldong ka tshang; Skal bzang sgrol ma, Ldong ka tshang; Bsod nams lha mo, Ldong ka tshang. Bod kyi gdung rus zhib 'jug. Pe cin: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2001.
Fascinating treatment of Tibetan history by attending to clan names throughout history. Most of the book is introductions to and lists of the key players (not just prominent laymen but also religious figures, a virtual who's who) in Tibetan history by period (from pre-history, to Tibetan imperial period, and so on up to the Ganden Podrang period and the present: this last section is a rare resource for information on contemporary Tibetan intellectuals). Finally, there is an alphabetical list of clan names.
- Khetsun Sangpo, ed. Biographical dictionary of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Bod du sgrub brgyad shing rta mched brgyad las. 12 Vols. Dharamsala, H. P., Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1973.
Organized by sectarian divisions (Indian teachers, Rnying ma, etc.)
- ’Ba’ ra bka’ brgyud gser ’phreng chen mo. Dehradun: Ngawang Gyaltsen and Ngawang Lungtok, 1970. 4 vols. CLIO link (Also available in TBRC: W19231, Vol.1-4; Retrieved from http://tbrc.org/#!rid=W19231 )
This is a collection of life-writings on 32 great masters of Drukpa Bara Kagyud tradition set in four volumes. Vol. 1: Buddha Vajradhara to Yang dgon pa rgyal mtshan dpal; Vol.2: Spyan mnga’ rin chen ldan to Nam mkha’ rdo rje; Vol.3: Nam mkha’ dpal ’byor to Ngag dbang ye shes; Vol. 4. Ngag dbang chos grags rgya mtsho to Rig ’dzin chos dbyings rdo rje (1772-1838) (Entry added by Sonam Tsering.)
- Rnam thar gser phreng. Dharamsala: ’Phags yul kirti byes pa grwa tshang, 2002-2007. 15 Vols. TBRC W2CZ7862, Vols. 1-15. CLIO LINK Also available in TBRC: W2CZ7862
Biographies of incarnated Geluk masters from Kirti Monastery in Ngawa, Amdo. (Entry added by Sonam Tsering.)
- Grags pa 'byung gnas, Ko zhul; Blo bzang mkhas grub, Rgyal ba, eds. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u Mi rigs Dpe skrun khang, 1992.
Dictionary of biographical sketches of prominent Tibetan scholars, philosophers, saints, etc. up to the 1950's. Sorted alphabetically, no index, short entries.
- Don rdor, and Bstan 'dzin chos grags. Gangs ljongs lo rgyus thog gi grags can mi sna. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1993.
Biographical reference work up to the time of the 13th Dalai Lama (d.1933) arranged chronologically according to periods in Tibetan history. Includes about 700 biographies, although the Table of contents only lists the most prominent in each of the historic periods.
- Mgon po, Mi nyag. Gangs can mkhas dbang rim byon gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus bdud rtsi'i thigs phreng. Vol. 1. Pe cin: Krung go'i Bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang: Mtsho sngon Zhing chen Zhin-hwa dpe tshon khang gis bkram. 1996. CLIO link
Biographies of Tibetan Buddhist lamas, sorted chronologically by individuals.
- Ye shes rdo rje, et al. Gangs can mkhas dbang rim byon gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus bdud rtsi'i thigs phreng. Vol. 2. Pe cin: Krung go'i Bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 2000.
- Lake Yixiduojie (Ra kho? Ye shes rdo rje). Zang chuan fo jiao gao seng zhuan lue . 2nd edition. Xining: Qinghai renmin chubanshe, 2007. In Chinese and Tibetan. CLIO link
- Mi rigs dpe mdzod khang, ed. Bod gangs chen gyi grub mtha' ris med kyi mkhas dbang brgya dang brgyad cu lhag gi gsung 'bum so so'i dkar chag phyogs gcig du bsgrigs pa shes bya'i gter mdzod. Zangwen dianji mulu. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 3 vols. 1984-1997. CLIO link
Each listing of collected works is followed by a brief biography of the author in Tibetan and Chinese.
- Byams pa phrin las. Gangs ljongs gso rig bstan pa'i nyin byed rim byon gyi rnam thar phyogs bsgrigs (Biographical dictionary of Tibetan medical teachers).Pe cin: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2000.
- Lhag pa tshe ring, and Ngag dbang chos grags, eds. Gsung 'bum dkar chag; full title: Zhwa ser bstan pa'i sgron me Rje Tsong kha pa chen pos gtsos skyes chen dam pa rim byung gi gsung 'bum dkar chag phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa'i dri med zla shel gtsang ma'i me long. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1990.
List of collected works of famous Gelukpa figures (Tibetan & Mongol) up to the modern era, followed by a brief biography of the author in Tibetan and Chinese.
- Blo bzang 'phrin las, Dung dkar. Mkhas dbang Dung dkar Blo bzang 'phrin las mchog gis mdzad pa'i Bod rig pa'i tshig mdzod chen mo shes bya rab gsal = Dung dkar tshig mdzod. Pe cin: Krung go'i Bod rig pa'i dpe skrun khang, 2002. This dictionary is particularly strong for its many and extensive biographical entries. CLIO link.
- Lokesh Chandra. Materials for a history of Tibetan literature. Sata-pitaka series. Indo-Asian literatures, v. 28-30. New Delhi, [International Academy of Indian Culture] 1963.
Contains biographical information on authors covered. (MHTL in TBRC)
- Zeng Guojing and Guo Weibing. Lidai Zangzu mingren zhuan [Biographies of Famous Tibetans in Successive Dynasties]. Lhasa: Xizang renmin chubanshe, 1996.
- Yu Lingbo. Zhongguo jinxiandai Fojiao renwu zhi [Records of Chinese Contemporary Buddhist Figures]. Beijing: Zongjiao wenhua chubanshe, 1995.
Mostly Chinese figures, including some who studied Tibetan Buddhism, and a few lamas.
- Dudjom Rinpoche, Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje ; translated and edited by Gyurme Dorje in colaboration with Matthew Kapstein. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism : its fundamentals and history. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991.
- Eva M. [i.e. K.] Dargyay. The rise of esoteric Buddhism in Tibet . Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, 1977.
Includes hagiographies of twenty-three important masters of the Nyingma traditions (including Gelukpa students of the tradition, such as the fifth Dalai Lama) 85-197, as well as useful lists and chronologies in the back matter.
- Jam dbyangs rdo rje, Smyo shul Mkhan po; Richard Barron. A marvelous garland of rare gems:biographies of masters of awareness in the Dzogchen lineage: a spiritual history of the teachings on Natural Great Perfection. Junction City, CA : Padma Pub, 2005.
- Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles: the Longchen Nyingthig lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 1996.
Lists many teachers from E. Tibet.
- Biographical Materials about Bonpo Masters: A collection of rare Bonpo biographical sketches calligraphed from manuscripts from Nepal and Tibet at the Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Centre, Dolanji. Dolanji, India: Lopon Tenzin Namdak, Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Centre, 1981.
- Tsering, Tashi, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Tibetan Women. 10 vols. Dharamsala: Amnye Machen Institute, forthcoming (?).
- Ya, Hanzhang. The Biographies of the Dalai Lamas. Translated by Wang Wenjiong. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991.
- ———. Biographies of the Tibetan Spiritual Leaders: Panchen Erdenis. Translated by Chen Guansheng and Li Peizhu. Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1994.
- Series: Rgyal dbang sku phreng rim byon gyi rnam mdzad. Beijing: Krung-goi' Bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2010-2013. Titles in CLIO
v. 1: Dalai Lamas 1-4; v. 2-7: Dalai Lama 5; v. 8: Dalai Lama 6; v. 9-10: Dalai Lama 7; v. 11: Dalai Lama 8; v. 14-15: Dalai Lama 13.
- Also on the Dalai and Panchen Lamas: Lungta has two issues, on the biographies of the Panchen (no. 10) and Dalai Lamas (no. 7); see also: Martin Brauen's edited volume on the Dalai Lamas.
- Petech, Luciano. Aristocracy and Government in Tibet, 1728-1959. 1973. CLIO link
His work on the Lhasa nobility is exceptional in paying attention to non-religious figures.
- Bärlocher, Daniel. Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus: a research among reincarnate Buddhist masters in exile . Rikon/Zürich, Switzerland : Tibet-Institute, 1982. CLIO Link
Vol 2 contains listing (in his own phonetic of many of the most prominent lamas/monks and their families) based on exiled Tibetan interviews.
- Association for Asian Studies, L.C. Goodrich, Zhaoying Fang. Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644. New York : Columbia University Press, 1976. Includes Karmapa V (see: Helima). CLIO Link.
- Hummel, Arthur William. Eminent Chinese of the Ch`ing period (1644-1912). 2 vols. Washington : U.S. G.P.O. 1943-1944, or Taipei, Cheng Wen Pub. House, 1972, 2 vols. in 1.
Includes biographies of Dalai & Panchen Lamas, as well as many dynastic officials and family members who dealt with Tibet and Tibetans.
- Cheng, Joseph K. H., Richard C. Howard, ed. and Howard L. Boorman, ed. 1967-1971, 1979. Biographical dictionary of Republican China. 5 vols.
Over 600 biographies. Includes biographies of Dalai, Panchen and Nor lha Lamas, as well as many militarists who patronized Tibetan Buddhists.
- Charles O Hucker. A dictionary of official titles in Imperial China. Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1985.
REGIONALLY FOCUSED BIOGRAPHY COMPILATIONS
- Sichuan sheng difang zhi bianji weiyuanhui, Sheng zhi renwu zhi bianji and Ren Yimin, eds. Sichuan jin xian dai ren wu zhuan (Biographies of Sichuan’s Contemporary Figures). Ed. by Sichuan sheng difang zhi ziliao congshu. 6 volumes. Chengdu: Sichuan sheng shehui kexue yuan chubanshe, 1985-
Includes entries for some Tibetans.
- Rgyal mo rong gi mkhas chen ʼgaʼi rnam thar phyogs sgrigs / Btsan-lha Ngag-dbang-tshul-khrims dang Sgrol-dkar-skyid kyis bsgrigs. Pe-cin : Krung goʼi Bod-rig-pa dpe-skrun-khang, 2017.
Biographical accounts of Tibetan Buddhist scholars from Gyelrong.
- Shar Rgyal-mo-tsha-ba-rong gi lo rgyus dang rig gnas dpe tshogs. Chengdu: Si-khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2017. *See vols. 5-7. Rgyal-rong lo rgyus mi sna grags can skor = 嘉绒地区名人
Biographies of Mongolian Buddhist and Other Figures
Bibliographical guide of the Mongolian writers in the Tibetan language and the Mongolian translators = Mongolchuudyn Tȯvd khėlėėr tuurvisan Mongol khėlėnd orchuulsan nom zu̇ĭn bu̇rtgėl, compiled by Ragchaagiĭn Bi͡ambaa. Ulaanbaatar : [publisher not identified], 2004- 8 volumes (Columbia lacks v.4 and v.7)
Includes biographical summaries.
Publications of Mongolian learned lamas published in Tibetan language / edited by Sh. Choimaa = Mongolyn ėrdėmt lam naryn Tȯvd khėlėėr tuurvisan khoziol bu̇tėėliĭn nom zu̇ĭ / khi︠a︡nan tokhiolduulsan: Sh. Choĭmaa = Sog po mkhas pa rnams kyi Bod skad du brtsams paʼi gsung ʼbum dkar chag. Ulaanbaatar khot : "Soëmbo printing" KhKhK, 2013-
Includes biographical summaries.
Biographies by Subject
In addition to the more general biographies listed above, one can also find biographies of Tibetans who specialized in certain fields. A preliminary list of these resources is presented here.
- MUSIC. Biographies of famous Tibetan singers and composers can be found in the Oxford Music Online database.
- MODERN TIBETAN LITERATURE. Biographies of nearly 300 modern Tibetan writers are provided in this book: Deṅ rabs Bod kyi rtsom pa poʼi lo rgyus daṅ brtsams chos dkar chag (2012).
- RINPOCHES. "A List of Recognized Incarnations or Tulkus." This list, input by Dan Martin, Jerusalem, is based on a text in Bod kyi gal che'i lo rgyus yig cha bdams bsgrigs (Lhasa 1991), pp. 281-369. It is helpful for searching references to the names of particular Tibetan reincarnate lamas or tulkus.