A Brief Life story of Lama Tsong Khapa
Lama Je Tsong Khapa (1357-1419) was born in Amdo, in northeast Tibet. Interested in the miraculous events that occurred at Tsong Khapa’s birth, the master Choje Dondrup Rinchen took charge of his education when he was seven, giving him many teachings and tantric empowerments.
Tsong Khapa left Amdo at sixteen to further his studies, studying under fifty teachers (some biographers say 100) and gaining a wide knowledge of both sutra and tantra, being especially impressed with Dignaga and Dharmakirti’s system of reasoning. There followed an intense period of study and meditation, during which he experienced visions of Manjushri.
It is traditionally said that he did four great deeds during his life: the renovation of the Maitreya statue at Dzingji monastery and the great prayer festival that accompanied its completion (1400); his extensive work on the vinaya (code of monastic discipline) which is said to have revitalized the tradition of monasticism in Tibet; the establishment of the annual Great Prayer Festival – Monlam Chenmo - (still going on today in Tibetan monasteries); and the founding of Ganden monastery.
Founder of the Gelug tradition
He is perhaps best known for another amazing deed, however. He founded the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, built on the Kadampa tradition, the legacy of Atisha. Based on Tsong Khapa’s teachings, the two distinguishing characteristics of the Gelug tradition are the union of sutra and tantra and the emphasis on vinaya. Having studied at Sakya, Kadam and Drikung Kargyu monasteries, he was one of the foremost authorities on Tibetan Buddhism.
Tsong Khapa was also a prolific writer, and left eighteen volumes of collected teachings containing hundreds of titles, among the most important texts in Tibetan Buddhism, including the seminal text on Guhyasamaja tantra.
Some of his most important works include:
- The Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path (Lam-rim Chenmo)
- The Great Exposition of Tantras (Ngag-rim Chenmo)
- The Essence of Eloquence on the Interpretive and Definitive Teachings (
- The Praise of Relativity
- The Clear Exposition of the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja
- The Golden Rosary
- These works are prime sources for the studies of the Gelug tradition.