The Life and Teachings of Tsongkhapa

1 A Short Biography

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1A Short Biography


The great Nyingma teacher Lhodrak Khenchen Namkha Gyaltsen once asked the Bodhisattva Vajrapāṇī to describe the qualities of Lama Jé Tsongkhapa; but since these were innumerable, Vajrapāṇī was unable to do so. To hear the complete biography of the Lord Tsongkhapa would take at least a year. This brief exposition has been compiled merely as an introduction for English-speaking readers.

Tsongkhapa, popularly known as Jé Rinpoche, was born in 1357, the year of the bird, in the Tsong Kha region of Amdo Province, in eastern Tibet. His father, who was bold but unassuming, energetic yet taciturn and reserved, was constantly engaged in thoughts of the Teaching and recited the Expression of the Names of Mañjuśhrī each day. His mother, a guileless and very kind woman, was always chanting the six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteśhvara — oṃ mani padme hūṃ. They had six sons, Tsongkhapa being the fourth.

During the time of Buddha Śhākyamuni, Tsongkhapa, in a previous incarnation, was a young boy who offered the Buddha a clear, crystal rosary and received a conch shell in return. The Buddha then called his disciple Ānanda to him and prophesied that the boy would be born in Tibet, would found a great monastery between the areas of Dri and Den, and would present a crown to the statue of the Buddha in Lhasa and be instrumental in the flourishing of the Dharma in Tibet. The Buddha gave the young boy the future name of Sumati Kīrti, or, in Tibetan, Losang Drakpa.

All this occurred exactly as the Buddha had prophesied. The conch shell that the Buddha had given the boy was unearthed during the building of Ganden monastery and, until 1959, could still be seen in Drepung, the largest monastery in Tibet. The crown still rests on the head of the Buddha statue in Lhasa.


Over a thousand years after the passing of Śhākyamuni Buddha, further prophesies relating to Jé Rinpoche were given by the lotus-born guru Padmasambhava. He predicted that a fully ordained Buddhist monk named Losang Drakpa would appear in the east near the land of China. He said that this monk would be regarded as being an emanation of a bodhisattva of the greatest renown and would attain the complete enjoyment body of a buddha.

During the year of the monkey, which preceded his birth, his parents had unusual dreams. His father dreamed of a monk who came to him from the Five-Peaked Mountain (Wu-tai-shan) in China, a place particularly associated with Mañjuśhrī. This monk required shelter for nine months, which, in the dream, his father gave by accommodating him in their shrine room for that length of time.

His mother dreamed that she and one thousand other women were in a flower garden, to which a boy dressed in white and carrying a vessel came from the east while a girl dressed in red and holding peacock feathers in her right hand and a large mirror in her left came from the west. The boy went to each of the women in turn and asked the girl if the woman would be suitable. The girl repeatedly rejected them until the boy pointed to Tsongkhapa’s mother, whom she indicated as the perfect choice. The boy and girl then purified Tsongkhapa’s mother by bathing her, and when she awoke the next day she felt very light.

In the first month of the year of the bird, Jé Rinpoche’s parents again had striking dreams. His mother saw monks coming with many different ritual objects, saying that they were going to invoke the statue of Avalokiteśhvara. When the statue appeared, it was as big as a mountain, yet as it approached her it diminished in size, finally entering her body through her crown aperture.

Tsongkhapa’s father dreamed of Vajrapāṇī, who, from his own pure realm, threw down a vajra, which landed on his wife.

Just before giving birth, his mother dreamed of many monks arriving with offerings. When she inquired about their purpose they replied that they had come to pay their respects and gain an audience. Simultaneously, the boy in white from her previous dream appeared and pointed to her womb. With key in hand he entered it and opened a box, from which came the golden statue of Avalokiteśhvara. This statue was stained, and a girl in red appeared and cleaned it with a peacock feather. This dream symbolized that Tsongkhapa would be an emanation of Avalokiteśhvara as well as of Mañjuśhrī. The same morning, Tsongkhapa was born without causing any suffering to his mother. At the time of his birth an auspicious star appeared in the sky. These portents were ample evidence of the birth of someone remarkable. In this respect Jé Rinpoche’s birth resembled that of the Buddha.


Prior to these events, Tsongkhapa’s future great teacher, Chöjé Döndrup Rinchen, had been in Lhasa and had learned that upon his return to Amdo, he would find a disciple who was an emanation of Mañjuśhrī. After Tsongkhapa’s birth, he sent his chief disciple to the parents with a protection knot, some relic pills, and a letter of greeting.

At the age of three, Tsongkhapa took layman’s vows from the Fourth Karmapa Lama Rölpai Dorjé and received the name Kunga Nyingpo.

When Tsongkhapa’s parents invited Chöjé Döndrup Rinchen to their home, the lama brought horses, sheep, and a huge number of gifts, which he gave to Tsongkhapa’s father. When the lama requested the father to part with his son, the father was delighted at the prospect of his child being with such a great teacher and allowed him to leave with the lama.

Before taking the novice vows, Tsongkhapa received many tantric initiations and teachings, including the Heruka empowerment, and was given the secret name of Dönyo Dorjé. When he was seven, he fulfilled his yearning to take the novice vows, receiving them from his teacher. It is here that he was given the name of Losang Drakpa, which, forty years later, was to become the most talked about and controversial nom de plume in central Tibet.

Tsongkhapa attached greater importance to guarding his vows than he did his eyes or his own life. He had entered the mandalas of Heruka, Hevajra, Yamāntaka, and other deities before receiving ordination, and was even performing self-initiation meditations on Heruka when he was only seven. Before self-initiation is allowed, a major retreat of the specific deity must be completed.

His eminent teacher took care of him until he went to central Tibet at the age of sixteen. Before the statue of Śhākyamuni Buddha in the Lhasa Cathedral, he offered prayers to enable his completion of all the stages of sutra and tantra in order to mature and lead other trainees to enlightenment.

Chöjé Döndrup Rinchen proffered advice in poetical form to the effect that Tsongkhapa should first study and master the Ornament of Realizations (Abhisamayālaṃkāra) and then approach the other four great treatises. The lama further suggested Tsongkhapa’s lifelong choice of meditational deities to whom he should make offerings and with whom he should feel perpetually inseparable. The following deities were to be cultivated accordingly: Yamāntaka for the continuation of his practice, Vajrapāṇī for freedom from interruptions, Mañjuśhrī for increase in wisdom and discriminating awareness, Amitāyus for long life, and the three Dharma protectors — Vaiśhravaṇa, the six-armed Mahākāla, and Dharmarāja — for protection and for the availability of prerequisites while practicing.

On his departure, his master came with him as far as Tsongkha Kang, from where Tsongkhapa went on alone, walking backward with his hands folded at 12his heart and reciting the Hymn of the Names of Mañjuśhrī. When he reached the line “Those who do not return to cyclic existence never come back,” he had tears in his eyes, for he realized that he would never return to Amdo.

Traveling with Denma Rinchen Pal, in autumn of the year of the bull (1373), Tsongkhapa arrived at Drikung, a five-day journey from Lhasa, where he met the head lama of the Drikung Kagyü monastery, Chennga Chökyi Gyalpo by name. This great lama was his first teacher after leaving his original master and tutored him during his stay at the monastery on various topics such as the altruistic mind (bodhicitta) and the five sections of the Great Seal (Mahāmudrā). He also met the great doctor Könchok Kyap, who taught him the major medical treatises, and by the time he was seventeen he had become an excellent doctor. Thus his fame was already spreading even in the early years of his study.

From Drikung, Tsongkhapa went to the Chödra Chenpo Dewachen monastery in Nyetang, where he studied with Tashi Sengé and Densapa Gekong. Furthermore, Yönten Gyatso taught him how to read the great treatises and continually helped him with the Ornament of Realizations. Within eighteen days he had memorized and assimilated both the root text and all its commentaries, and he soon mastered all the works of Maitreya Buddha. He then gained a complete understanding of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā) Sūtras at great speed and with little effort. His teachers and fellow students with whom he debated were astonished at his knowledge and, after two years of studying the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras, he was recognized, at the age of nineteen, as a great scholar.

That year Jé Rinpoche debated at the two biggest monasteries of the day in Tibet: Chödra Chenpo Dewachen and Samye. He now became very famous in U-tsang, the central province of Tibet, and undertook an extensive tour of it. First he visited the great monastery of Zhalu, where the renowned translator Khenchen Rinchen Namgyal, a direct disciple of the founder of the monastery, gave him the Heruka initiation. He went on to Sākya, the center of the Sākya tradition, in order to debate further on the major treatises and thereby increase his understanding of them. But upon arrival, he learned that most of the monks had gone to debate at the distant Karpu pass so instead he went to Zhalu and met the great lama Demchok Maitri, who initiated him into the Thirteen Deity Yamāntaka practice. Later he returned to Sākya, but the debaters had still not returned, so this time he went to Sazang and met the great Sazang paṇḍit Mati, who gave him extensive teachings. Returning a third time to Sākya, he was able to take the required examinations on the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras.

He then continued on his travel around the other monasteries of U-tsang, engaging in more and more debates. There are many stories concerning the 13miraculous visions of those present at these places as well as Tsongkhapa’s ever-developing great realizations and insights. Jé Tsongkhapa continued with many other required debates at various monasteries on the systems of philosophical theories and the five major treatises. As he had a great admiration for Nyapön Kunga Pal, whom he met at Tsechen in U-tsang and from whom he received many discourses, he went to him and requested instructions on the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras, but this master was unwell and referred him to his disciple, the Venerable Rendawa (1349–1412). Jé Rinpoche developed tremendous respect for Rendawa’s method of teaching the Treasury of Scientific Knowledge (Abhidharmakośha) and its autocommentary. Tsongkhapa asked many searching questions on certain points to the amazement of his teacher, who was sometimes unable to answer immediately. This master had innumerable spiritual qualities and Tsongkhapa later came to regard him as his principal teacher. Their relationship became such that simultaneously they were each other’s master and disciple. He also received teachings on the Middle Way (Mādhyamaka) philosophy from Rendawa.

Tsongkhapa composed a verse in honor of Rendawa and would often recite it:

Mañjuśhrī, lord of stainless omniscience,

Avalokiteśhvara, mighty treasure of unconditional love,

O Rendawa Shönu Lodrö, crown jewel of Tibetan sages,

at your feet I make this request,

grant protection to me, a fly seeking liberation.

Rendawa replied that this was more applicable to Tsongkhapa than to himself, and so adapted the verse as follows. This is now regarded as Tsongkhapa’s mantra:

Avalokiteśhvara, mighty treasure of unconditional love,

Mañjuśhrī, lord of stainless knowledge,

Vajrapāṇī, destroyer of all demonic forces,

O Jé Tsongkhapa, Losang Drakpa,

crown jewel of the sages of the Land of Snows,

humbly I request your blessing.

During the autumn and winter, he received many teachings on the Entrance to the Middle Way by Chandrakīrti, who also wrote an autocommentary to it. He then returned to U-tsang, where the great translator and metaphysician Jangchup Tsemo was to give teachings in Lhasa on the five major treatises.


Upon arrival in Lhasa, Tsongkhapa went straight to him and requested teachings. However, this old lama was in delicate health and intended to leave soon for an area south of Lhasa. Tsongkhapa was not satisfied with the short discourses he received, so he returned to Nyetang to become the student of the great scholar of monastic discipline (Vinaya), the Abbot Kashiwa Losal, at whose feet he studied the root texts of Guṇaprabha’s Monastic Discipline Sūtra and Vasubhandu’s Treasury of Scientific Knowledge, as well as many related commentaries. By the time he left, his depth of understanding surpassed that of his teacher. He memorized a commentary on the extensive root text of the Monastic Discipline Sūtra at the daily rate of seventeen Tibetan folios, which is thirty-four pages.

While reciting prayers with the other monks, he had complete and effortless single-pointed concentration on insight meditation.

However, he remained dissatisfied and continued to search for further teachers and teachings. Surely we can derive inspiration from such rectitude, considering that he had memorized, for example, over twenty thousand verses of the extensive Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras.

During that winter, a troublesome back pain developed and he thought of returning to Rendawa in U-tsang, but the bitterly cold weather forced him to stay at Nenying, where he gave his first teachings. Scholars had asked for teachings on Scientific Knowledge (Abhidharma), or metaphysics, and in particular on Asaṅga’s Compendium of Scientific Knowledge, which develops the Mahāyāna Scientific Knowledge. He also wished to study again the Treasury of Scientific Knowledge written by Vasubhandu, which is a compilation of the Hīnayāna Scientific Knowledge. Tsongkhapa studied the higher tenets, and although it was his initial encounter with this text, he mastered it on first reading and gave perfect teachings.

From there he went to Rendawa, who was at Sākya, and for eleven months taught the Compendium of Scientific Knowledge.

At this time, he himself received teachings on Dharmakīrti’s Commentary on Valid Cognition as well as various texts such as Chandrakīrti’s Entrance to the Middle Way and the transmission of Guṇaprabha’s Monastic Discipline Sūtra.

While at Sākya he also received an explanation on the Hevajra Tantra from Dorjé Rinchen. This lama also taught him a method by which to cure his painful back.

In the company of the master Rendawa, he left for northern Tibet and spent the spring and summer at the monastery of Chödey. Here Rendawa wrote his commentary to the Compendium of Scientific Knowledge, which he later taught to Tsongkhapa upon the disciple’s request.


At this time, many people from Tsong Kha were coming to Lhasa with gifts from Tsongkhapa’s now-wealthy family and brought with them numerous letters from family and friends imploring him to come back. Reading these upon his return to Lhasa, Jé Tsongkhapa considered going back but realized that return would necessitate a break in his studies with the consequence of failure in his drive to help sentient beings. Thus he stayed back and wrote to his mother instead, enclosing a self-portrait that spoke to her when she opened it. From childhood, he had always possessed a strong sense of renunciation and, later on, even refused an invitation from the emperor of China, who had requested his services as imperial tutor.

Tsongkhapa went into retreat for a few months and in between sessions studied the Commentary on Valid Cognition. This text contains four chapters, and when he reached the second, he realized the profundity of the work and developed the greatest respect and admiration for Dharmakīrti while deepening his conviction in the Buddha and his teachings.

He then returned to Tsang to debate, traveling to Narthang where the Tibetan woodblocks of the Tibetan translations of the Buddha’s actual teachings (the Kangyur) and of the scientific treatises (the Tengyur) were kept. Here he met the great translator Donzang, author of a critique to the Commentary on Valid Cognition, which he taught to Tsongkhapa. They also debated on the two sets of Scientific Knowledge and on the Monastic Discipline Sūtra. He received teachings on the technical aspects of poetry from the translator Namkha Sangpo and then returned to Rendawa for further elucidation on the five major treatises: the Middle Way philosophy, Logic, Scientific Knowledge, Perfection of Wisdom, and Discipline. He especially concentrated on the Entrance to the Middle Way, and from the Abbot of Narthang received instruction on the Six Works on Reason by Nāgārjuna.

Having further refined his dialectical skills, he returned, with Rendawa, to Sākya, where he took examinations on four of the five treatises, omitting the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras, which he had previously covered. Tempers are sometimes short during a debate, but he always remained calm and spoke with amazing mastery.

Tsongkhapa practiced simplicity and lived without affluence or great comfort. People felt overawed before meeting him, but once in his presence were happy and relaxed. He would treat all questions with equal respect. Many of his disciples attained enlightenment in one lifetime.

By this time, people realized that Tsongkhapa was an exceptional person who had taken birth by choice in order to help all sentient beings. His pure morality gained him the greatest respect from all sides and his devotees in U-tsang were now legion. It is uncertain when he took the vows of a fully 16ordained mendicant monk, or bhikṣhu, for there is nothing to substantiate the commonly accepted thesis that he was twenty-one. However, at a monastery just south of Lhasa, the Abbot Tsultrim Rinchen and a group of bhikṣhus were present at the ordination ceremony. This was conducted in accordance with the tradition of the Hīnayāna, which requires the presence of ten bhikṣhus and an abbot when ordination is given in a place where the teachings are flourishing, technically called a central land. If the ordination is not held in such a place, then at least five bhikṣhus and an abbot should attend. In either case, the presence of two elders is essential. One reads from the Monastic Discipline Sūtra and the other questions the candidate concerning his suitability for the monastic way of life.

After ordination, he returned to the great lama at the Drikung Kagyü center, and while the two were engaged in lengthy conversation the elderly lama was overcome by tears, wishing that he too could have practiced so intensively in his youth. He later told his disciples that both he and they had merely received higher rebirths, whereas Jé Tsongkhapa received a stream of realizations even in his youth. He received many teachings from the lama on such topics as tantra, the six yogas of Naropā, the works of Jé Phakmo Drupa (who was one of the foremost disciples of Gampopa), and the teachings of the founder of the monastery.

By this time, Tsongkhapa had received from this Drikung Kagyü master all the teachings that Marpa had given to two of his four sons: Milarepa and Ngokchu Dorjé, the other two “sons” being Metön Chenpo and Tsultrim Dorjé Wang. In addition, Tsongkhapa was constantly developing spiritual qualities and reading all the texts and commentaries available.

At the age of thirty-two he traveled to Tsal Gungthang, where he commenced writing a commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras. He synthesized all twenty-one Indian commentaries on the Ornament of Realizations, for Maitreya’s text is itself a commentary to the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras. He called this work The Golden Rosary of Eloquent Teaching (Legshay serteng). The translator Tagtsang, who had previously disputed many of Tsongkhapa’s viewpoints, was amazed by this commentary and showered praise on the text and its author. He wrote, “As your sun of wisdom rises, my flower of arrogance disappears.”

Tsongkhapa and his chief disciples traveled to Lhasa and started a fasting retreat near the statue of Avalokiteśhvara. One evening he told the disciple who was his scribe to observe his dreams that night. The acolyte did so, and dreamed that two conch shells appeared in the sky and then descended into his lap, where they merged. He blew this conch, which gave forth a deep resonance. The dream symbolized that Tsongkhapa’s teaching would flourish.


After this retreat, he visited Nyethang once more and gave many discourses on the Middle Way and the other major treatises. He decided to study the Kālachakra literature and received the relevant teachings from Thupten Yeshé Gyaltsen, who lived near Lhasa. This teacher also imparted the relevant instructions on astrology and mandala construction.

He now started giving tantric initiations and the teachings related to its practices, especially the permission of Sarasvatī, a female deity of wisdom, whom some took to be his particular protectress. The instructions that he conferred ripened and liberated many disciples. While staying at Moenkar Tashi Dzong, just south of Lhasa, he taught the biographies of the great accomplished beings of the past. Jé Tsongkhapa was requested to teach in the tradition of Geshé Shatönpa and others who had dealt with as many as eleven volumes during the period of teaching. He promised to do so and went into retreat for twenty days to prepare. His idea was to commence the discourses on the first day of the Tibetan month, but as so many people wished to attend, he deferred until the fourth to give them time to arrive. In the interim he gave some teachings from the lineage of Marpa and Milarepa, and thereafter proceeded to teach not just eleven but seventeen texts in three months. Each day was divided into fifteen sessions between dawn and dusk and the texts covered were as follows: Dharmakīrti’s Commentary on Valid Cognition, Ornament of Realizations and the other four works of Maitreya, Vasubhandu’s Treasury of Scientific Knowledge, Asaṅga’s Compendium of Scientific Knowledge, Guṇaprabha’s Monastic Discipline Sūtra, the five key texts by Nāgārjuna, Chandrakīrti’s Entrance to the Middle Way, Āryadeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas, and Śāntideva’s Entrance to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

He taught all these texts and their commentaries from memory, explaining their use of profound logical analysis and expounding on them in great depth, yet he continued concurrently with his own daily practices. For example, he carried out many self-initiations daily into the mandalas of various deities such as Yamāntaka.

From here he went to the south for a very intensive retreat in the practice of Heruka, in which he did the self-initiation each night. In the Kagyü tradition great emphasis is placed on the six yogas of Naropā and the six teachings of Nigu, both of which deal with breathing and mystic heat meditation. After tremendous practice, in which he engaged in eight hundred rounds of heat meditation daily, he developed both powers.

The summer was spent with his Sākyapa teacher Rendawa. They resided together and mutually gave many initiations on the hill where the famous Potala palace was later to be built. Rendawa then returned to Tsang and Tsongkhapa 18returned to Kyomo Lung, where he gave discourses on the Kālachakra Tantra, the Ornament of Realizations, and Entrance to the Middle Way.

He decided to concentrate on the four classes of tantra and searched once more for a teacher, even though he had been giving initiations to himself since the age of seven. He left for Tsang to discuss his plans with Rendawa, and on the way, at Rongrub Chölung, Abbot Drakpa Shenyen Rinpoche gave him many initiations. Each of the four Tibetan sects has a standard set of initiations and permissions with respect to the practice of the lower divisions of tantra, and the Rinpoche conferred part of such a set. Two of Tsongkhapa’s disciples had received many discourses from Lama Umapa Pawo Dorjé, who now requested Tsongkhapa, via the disciples, to give the initiation of Sarasvatī. This lama as a young shepherd in eastern Tibet had received visions of Black Mañjuśhrī. Tsongkhapa asked him for the teaching of Mañjuśhrī Dharmachakra, but was unable to receive it at the time, since he was determined to see Rendawa.

One night Tsongkhapa dreamed of Chökyi Pal. In his dream, he asked the lama how many times he had received Kālachakra teachings from Butön Rinpoche. The reply was seventeen, which he subsequently substantiated on meeting Chökyi Pal in person. At that time, the living tradition of Kālachakra was in danger of extinction.

He arrived in Tagten, meeting Rendawa and two other teachers, Drakpa Gyaltsen and Chöjé Abacha, and together the four gave many discourses. He received teachings from Rendawa on the Guhyasamāja Tantra, called “the king of tantras,” and Rendawa advised him to concentrate on the teachings of the three baskets (Tripiṭaka) — the Discourses, Scientific Knowledge, and the Discipline.

He returned to Lama Umapa Pawo Dorjé to receive the Mañjuśhrī Dharmachakra teaching and a commentary on Entrance to the Middle Way. Thereafter, due to military activity in the area, he practiced intensive meditation in a cave. Afterward he set off to meet Nyento, a learned scholar and practitioner of Kālachakra, who was also a disciple of Butön Rinpoche. Upon arrival, he found that this great master had already finished teaching the first chapter of the Kālachakra Tantra. Tsongkhapa first presented him with a yellow scarf, the color symbolizing accomplishment of the completion-stage yogas, and the next day offered blue and green brocade, the colors being auspicious regarding the development-stage yogas. In their ensuing conversations, the master told Tsongkhapa that his predispositions would enable him to reach the pinnacle of the completion stage of that practice, and proceeded to give him the external, internal, and secret Kālachakra teachings.


One night during this discourse Tsongkhapa dreamed of the Nyingma Lama Kyungpo Lhepa, seated on a great throne, a crown on his head and bell and dorjé in hand, repeating the word karmavajra, the Sanskrit form of Tsongkhapa’s mystic name. Jé Rinpoche was overjoyed and determined to go to Zhalu, where this lama lived. Another night he dreamed of the same lama, who had at his heart many circles of mantras. The image was so vivid that Tsongkhapa could read them all individually. Consequently, he journeyed to Zhalu to meet this lama, who proved to be identical to the figure in his dreams.

From this master Jé Rinpoche received a complete set of standard initiations into the three lower classes of tantras. Later he embellished the walls of the temple where these initiations were conferred with gold leaf as an act of devotion to the master. He also received here the teachings that this lama held on the Heruka Tantra in accordance with the three traditions of the Mahāsiddhas — those of Luhipada, Ghaṇṭapada, and Kriśhṇapada.

Not only should the disciple have impeccable devotion for the master, as exemplified by Tsongkhapa’s actions, but the master in turn should be willing to fully teach such a receptive vessel. After every initiation, in order that psychic attainment be transmitted, this lama would always say that he had received the material from such and such a teacher, who had been completely willing to instruct him.

Tsongkhapa and Lama Umapa Pawo Dorjé left for Lhasa in the year of the monkey for Gawa Dong, the seat of the Second State Oracle, located about three miles from Lhasa. In Lhasa Cathedral, they paid their respects to the large statue of Śhākyamuni Buddha, which had been made during the Buddha’s lifetime and consecrated by him in person.

This sacred image had been brought to Tibet via China in the seventh century CE by the first queen of King Songtsen Gampo. They offered some prayers before the statue and then returned to Gawa Dong for intensive retreat.

During the retreat, Tsongkhapa received many tantric lineages, including the special teachings on Mañjuśhrī Dharmachakra. Although he experienced visions of Arapacana Mañjuśhrī, the most well-known of the five aspects of Mañjuśhrī, he spoke of these to no one but Khedrup Rinpoche, who was one of his chief disciples and, after Jé Rinpoche had passed away, was also his biographer. Henceforth, Mañjuśhrī and Tsongkhapa became teacher and disciple. From this time onward, Jé Rinpoche was able to question Bodhisattva Mañjuśhrī on any topic.

After this retreat, many thousands of people came for teachings. Mañjuśhrī advised him to enter another intensive retreat, but Lama Umapa felt that it 20would be of greater benefit for sentient beings if he gave discourses. Thus in spite of Mañjuśhrī’s exhortations, he carried on teaching for some time out of respect to his guru. However, secretly he felt that it was vital for him to master the import of Nāgārjuna’s profound view and that sutras and teachers were unable to provide him with these. What was required, he felt, was intensive meditation.

Therefore, after teaching for a short period, he announced that he would soon enter a retreat. Lama Umapa chose to go to eastern Tibet and Tsongkhapa escorted him to Lhasa, where they stayed in one of the small rooms on the upper floor of the Jokhang Cathedral and engaged in long discussions.

Tsongkhapa then returned to Kyomo Lung and taught until winter. He then left for Wolka Chölung, a few days’ journey south of Lhasa, in order to enter meditation. When in the Lhasa Cathedral he had asked Mañjuśhrī how many disciples to take with him into retreat. The reply was eight, and he chose four from central Tibet and four from the two eastern provinces.

The retreat was to last for four years. During the first phase, both master and disciples undertook intensive generation of spiritual energy and purification of the obscurations in order to demonstrate the indispensability of such practices from the outset. Jé Rinpoche personally performed 3.5 million full-length prostrations and 1,800,000 mandala offerings. Indeed, his prostrating form wore an impression in the floor of the temple, and at the conclusion of the mandala offerings his forearm was raw and bleeding.

While the nine were engaged in prostrations, they recited the names of the thirty-five confessional buddhas, who are found in the Sūtra on the Three Heaps of the Doctrine — eventually they received a vision of a golden Maitreya. The next vision was that of the medicine buddha, Bhaiṣhajyaguru, and by this stage their insights and spiritual qualities had increased to an extraordinary degree. After they carried out many self-initiations into the thirteen-deity Yamāntaka mandala, they received a vision of Nāgeśhvararāja, the king of nāgas buddha, who is one of the thirty-five confessional buddhas. Tsongkhapa subsequently wrote a detailed commentary describing the visions.

The first Tibetan month is known as the month of miracles, for the Buddha competed with six non-Buddhist masters in a contest of miracles from the first to the fifteenth. On the new year’s day after the retreat, they went to the temple of Dzingji Ling, where there is a statue of Maitreya. They found this to be in very poor condition, and Tsongkhapa wept on seeing it thus cracked and covered with bird droppings. In order to repair it they all sold all their possessions, except their robes. However, as this was insufficient to make significant repairs, they made offerings to Vaiśhravaṇa, the wealth deity, and lit a lamp using butter that they had been given by a passing monk. Mañjuśhrī 21himself blessed the work, and as a result many people came and offered both financial and physical assistance. Everyone involved in the restoration took daily Mahāyāna precepts and they were all careful to ensure that their speech during the work was prayer rather than mundane chatter. This work on the Maitreya statue was the first of Tsongkhapa’s four major social deeds.

Soon thereafter Tsongkhapa wrote down two prayers composed and given to him by Mañjuśhrī: a praise of Maitreya and a prayer for rebirth in the pure realm of Sukhāvati.1

Tsongkhapa and the eight disciples then traveled south of Lhasa to Nyaello Ro, where they spent five months meditating in the mountains. Here they gained many insights and Tsongkhapa gave a large number of discourses on topics such as the Discipline. They had a vision of Mañjuśhrī surrounded by a concourse of not just bodhisattvas but also great adepts (mahāsiddha) like Naropā and Tilopā and great scholars like Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga. Tsongkhapa made little of such experiences and did not mention them. Mañjuśhrī predicted that by following the teachings of these Bodhisattvas, Tsongkhapa would be able to benefit living beings immeasurably. Mañjuśhrī also manifested to Tsongkhapa in the aspect of Yamāntaka, and after that reappeared as the youthful Mañjuśhrī, his sword handle at his heart and its tip at Tsongkhapa’s chest with a stream of nectar flowing down the blade. Thus Tsongkhapa experienced utter bliss.

The Nyingma Lama Lhodrak Khenchen Namkha Gyaltsen invited Tsongkhapa to his residence at the Lhodrak Drawo monastery to answer some questions for him. When they met, the lama saw Tsongkhapa as Mañjuśhrī and Tsongkhapa saw that lama as Vajrapāṇī. When he was seventy the Khenchen had a vision of a white goddess who had told him that he would meet a man indistinguishable from Mañjuśhrī and closely linked with Sarasvatī. The goddess had also noted that there was a karmic connection between Jé Tsongkhapa and the lama spanning their past fifteen lifetimes. That evening Tsongkhapa requested the Khenchen to give teachings on guru yoga, and during these he had a vision of Vajrapāṇī.2

The oral teachings of the Kadam tradition had been passed to Atīśha’s chief disciple, the layman Dromtönpa. He in turn passed on the lineage in three distinct lines. The textual Kadam lineage was given to Geshé Potowa3 and emphasized the need for a thorough comprehension of the Buddha’s actual words in their entirety, not omitting even a single word or syllable. The Kadam lamrim lineage was given to Gampopa and places reliance on Atīśha’s Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment. The guideline instruction lineage was given to Geshé Chen Ngawa, the disciple of Geshé Sharawa, and depends on the transmission of oral instructions, especially those Atīśha obtained from 22Guru Suvarṇadvīpa. This included the lineage of Śhāntideva’s Entrance to the Bodhisa

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