Desi Sangye Gyatso was born in 1652 to a wealthy family in NyangDran village north-west of Lhasa, and was named as Sangye Gyatso by his father Asup. He was born with extraordinary mental and physical abilities especially when studying fields such as medicine, astrology, and mathematics. He often went to the wetlands alone to pick green grasses and weeds, and say to his father and other friends, “What disease are you suffering from? I will make medicine for you with the grass I picked.” In a sense, he was pretending to be a doctor even though he was so young. Moreover, he excelled in Tibetan literacy and language after studying at home for a very short period of time. Thus, his parents decided to offer him to the Great Fifth Dalai Lama when he was at the tender age of eight years old. Upon accepting this child prodigy, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama channeled Buddhist gods for support, and concluded that Sangye Gyatso is the emanation of Tibet’s second king -- Mutri Tsenpo. Following this proclamation, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama took much concern to let Sangye Gyatso study Tibetan astrology, Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, and poetry along with various other subjects. Sangye Gyatso felt immeasurable joy and excitement studying directly under the fifth Dalai Lama, considering and respecting his teacher as the real Buddha (enlightened one), and thus became the Great Fifth Dalai Lama’s auorasa (the most prominent disciple of a master). After just a short period of time, his scholarly reputation spread all throughout the country. In 1679, when he turned 28, Sangye Gyatso officially took on the title of Desi Rinpoche, as that was when he completed his studies and was appointed as the prime minister of the Tibetan government by Great Fifth Dalai Lama. Besides busying in government affairs, Desi Rinpoche also took time out to author 13 well-known books and commentaries on Buddhist philosophy, history, astrology, and the laws of the Tibetan government as well as a compiled record of the punishments for those law-breakers.
Unfortunately, in 1682, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama passed away, but due to circumstances of that time, the death was concealed by Desi Rinpoche for 13 years by finding a look-alike puppet fifth Dalai Lama. His decision was mainly based on the fact that if the nation was told of the devastating news, the construction of the Potala Palace may come to a halt, as there would be no definite leader. Another reason for this concealment was because Rinchen TsangYang Gyatso, the secretly appointed new sixth Dalai Lama shamefully rebelled against all the requirements of how a Dalai Lama should conduct himself. Therefore, he prayed to the fifth Dalai Lama for blessings in the successful completion of his strenuous projects. Amazingly, during some prayers, maybe as a result of some mysterious power or simply the deep faith of Desi Rinpoche, the fifth Dalai Lama would appear to him in human form to offer some advice. He told Desi Rinpoche to deal with simple matters himself, but to call upon Lhamo’s thangka for aid when grave issues are concerned. Some time around this divine occurrence, Desi Rinpoche, in begger’s clothes, wandered throughout the country checking the governmental affairs and to see whether Tibetans had any idea about the tragic death. On one occasion, he went to Lhoka Sungrabling Monastery, which was constructed under the guidance of the fifth Dalai Lama, who had instructed him to preserve that monastery. When he was arrived, it was time for tea offering to the monks in the main prayer hall. So he sat outside the door with a big bowl in his hand and like a beggar, loudly asked for a cup of tea. One of monks said, “It is improper to serve you tea before serving the monks, but nonetheless, I will do so since your head is similar to the round-headed Desi,” as he glanced at Desi Rinpoche’s head. Desi Rinpoche thought that was a lucky sign and skillfully stole the key to the prayer hall. Later, when some of the staff members from Sungrabling went to visit the replacement fifth Dalai Lama, Desi Rinpoche took out the key that he stole, asking them, “What is this?” and told them all about his visit as a beggar to the monastery. Thus, with the guidance of the fifth Dalai Lama’s spirit and Desi Rinpoche’s own canniness, Desi Rinpoche successfully completed the unfinished projects of the fifth Dalai Lama, upon which he announced to Tibetans the truth of the past 13 years.
In 1690, Desi Rinpoche started his grand task to build the Potala Palace, but then in 1702, he had to face great difficulties in resisting the Mongolian army’s intrusion into Tibet. Prince LhasangKhan of Mongolia, unlike his grandfather King Gushrikhan, who was on good terms with Tibet, wanted Desi Rinpoche captured. There was a request made to Desi Rinpoche to persuade the Fifth Panchen Lama to teach in Mongolia, however, due to his old age, the first Panchen Lama had to decline the invitation. Prince LhasangKhan, who was also the head of the Mongolian army, thought this was the evil scheming of Desi Rinpoche. What further angered Prince LhasangKhan was the fact that Desi Rinpoche demanded that the Mongolian army leave Lhasa. In 1705, after these events, along with the conflict-driven relationship between Desi Rinpoche and the sixth Dalai Lama, Desi Rinpoche was forced to resign, and was sent to Lhoka Gongkar district, the entire district given to him by the sixth Dalai Lama so as to hush any possible rumors. When news reached LhasangKhan, he immediately sent Mongolian troops to Lhasa to bring Desi Rinpoche to their cantonment in Lhasa. To their favor, Desi Rinpoche was captured while he was on the road to Lhoka Gongkar district. Not long after, the monks of Drepung Monastery, including Kunkhyen Lama, the Buddhist teacher of the Mongolians, were told of the kidnapping and were all ready to go plea for the release of Desi Rinpoche. Unfortunately, they were late; Desi Rinpoche was beheaded.
There are two stories: some say that Desi Rinpoche was beheaded on a bridge and his head was thrown into the river, and others say that he was beheaded after he was brought to the cantonment. Either way, the helpless monks of Sungrabling Monastery felt immense sorrow. In that same year, to express gratitude and commemorate his great deeds, the monks constructed two large statues of the fifth Dalai Lama and the first Desi Rinpoche in their prayer hall, conducted numerous prayers, and observed one hour of silence in tribute to the memories of Desi Rinpoche with utter respect and solidarity.