Biography of Master Je Tsongkhapa

A short introduction

There are many versions of Je Tsongkhapa's biography but the best and the most complete is the so-called Great Life of Je Tsongkhapa. There are over one hundred different biographies of Je Tsongkhapa written by many great masters of various traditions, his direct disciples and later masters; however, this is one of the later ones and is also the most complete.

This biography is particularly good because it includes quotations from many other biographies written by great masters whose texts are very, very rare, some of which have even been lost. So here there are many quotations from other biographies of Je Tsongkhapa which makes it something most complete.

Also I think that it is quite auspicious that we are starting this biography of Je Tsongkhapa on a new seat! It actually seems to have happened like that!

What we have here is a precious book of our Geshe Rabten Rinpoche. In Tibet this text was very rare but in India our Venerable Guru Deva Rinpoche from Mongolia has printed it. This was one of the first copies at that time which he has offered to his Holiness, to his tutors and to some outstanding masters. So this is one of those special copies that he has brought to Geshe Rabten Rinpoche.

This particular biography of Je Tsongkhapa was composed by one late master Gyalwang Chöje, a famous master from Sera Me who lived around the time of the eleventh and twelfth Dalai Lamas; he was a very great scholar and a kind of philosophical assistant to them both. He was at the same time both a contemporary and a disciple of the first Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, Jangchub Chöphel, whose biography was also written by this same master Gyalwang Chöje.

Master Gyalwang Chöje was a great scholar. He has written many other works, the most important of which is this biography of Je Tsongkhapa. Another text that he has composed is a commentary on Abhidharma, what we call Gyalwang Dsö, which is written in a way like Parchin or like Uma containing numerous debates. Some scholars think Abhidharma cannot be studied in such a way, other praise it and find it wonderful. Anyway, it is a large Abhidharma text.

So Gyalwang Chöje was one of the famous later masters who lived around the beginning of the nineteenth century. He has written this great biography of Je Tsongkhapa which is called the Jewel Garland. The title is:

This wonderful Jewel Garland is the single ornament to beautify the teaching of the Buddha and a biography of the great Manjushri Dharma King Tsongkhapa

Here at the beginning of this edition there is a preface written by Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang, like a summary which would also be very good to read, where it says:

The one who is the master of the three worlds, the great leader, the lion of the Sakya, who has opened completely a wonderful collection of the hundreds of treasures of Dharma, where the whole land of the Arya [India], and Tibet, China etc., every part of the earth has thus become wholesome (or has benefited).

The 'lion of the Sakya' refers to Buddha Shakyamuni, the great leader who came into the world and who is truly the very master of the three worlds; the world of desire and the form and formless realms, the humans and gods. He who has opened completely the treasure house of the Dharma, in which there is a collection of the most wonderful treasure of Dharma that can be taken according to the needs of each disciple; such as those of the small vehicle, the great vehicle and the Vajra vehicle.

In that way, on the whole surface of the earth, especially in the land of India and then later on in Tibet, China and Mongolia and so forth, in many parts of the world his teaching is completely flourishing and thus he has benefited everybody on the surface of the earth.

In our time it has even come to the West, where it is continuously flourishing, so it is very true what it is saying here that - the whole surface of the earth has benefited from his teaching.

At one time, in the land of the kingdom of Pur, in the valley of the Sala trees, the vehicle of cause and effect, the hearing and meditation, and so forth, were regarded as contradicting each other. They were seen as opposites, as darkness or light, either to be abandoned or to be relied upon.

The secret Tantra was falsely practised and with regards to the view it was completely stained by the wrong conception of clinging to just stopping the mental activity. Thus the teachings of the Victorious One became a name only.

The kingdom of Pur (Pur-gyal) is another name for Tibet, which is linked with some of the earlier pre-Buddhist kings. There was a great king called Purte-khung-gyal, similar to a god who is called Wati-khung-gyal. So coming from there Tibet is also called the kingdom of Pur which is sometimes used as an alternative poetical name for Tibet.

So in the kingdom of Pur, Tibet, in the valley of the Sala tree, (a pine or juniper tree), the teaching of Buddha first flourished, as already mentioned earlier. But then, later, it has reached to such a state in which such kind of misunderstandings flourished where the people regarded the vehicle of cause and the vehicle of result, the paramita way and the tantric way, as being contradictory to each other. They also held learning and meditation as something contrary or different.

The thinking at that time was that somebody who practises Tantra does not need to worry about the paramita way or vice versa. Somebody who wants to meditate does not need to worry about learning and somebody who learns does not need to meditate, seeing all such things as being contradictory or as opposites, kind of eliminating each other. As it says here - just like darkness and light, something to be abandoned or something to be relied upon. Such wrong views flourished.

There was also a great deal of false practice of the Tantra. Some people were saying that we are great tantrikas, but who were actually indulging in all kinds of degenerative activities. Such kinds of things were taking place.

For example, meditators who especially thought that they were meditating on the ultimate view but actually what they were doing is that their view was stained by the misconception of very strongly clinging to a type of view where one stops all of one's mental activity; where one stays kind of mindless, thinking that this has become almost like an essential meditation, an essential view.

So at one time although the teaching of the Victorious One, the Buddha, has flourished very well it has become something very nominal. As it says here - holding them as one to be abandoned and one as an antidote.

At that time, for the sake of the teaching, he has generated his very intensive mind, in front of the Sugata Wangpö Tok. Just as if he has put on armour - the 'armour' of this generation of the mind, the great king of the Dharma of the three realms, has come in the world. The great Tsongkhapa of the East, whose name is uttered here only for the sake of a great purpose, the venerable, the omniscient, the glorious Lobsang Drakpa, whose name, even upon hearing, rescues one from the dangers of samsara and nirvana.

When the Dharma has reached to such a difficult state then what has happened is that someone has actually put on himself a kind of armour. And what is that armour? That is the armour of the intensive generation of his mind - as it says here in front of the Sugata that means Buddha Wang-pö-tog.

In early times, many kalpas ago, in front of Buddha Wang-pö-tog Je Tsongkhapa has generated his first mind. This explanation will come later in the text itself, where he has generated a very special mind of Bodhicitta. In front of Sugata Wang-pö-tog he has generated this very intensive mind for fulfiling the activity of the teacher for the teaching - that means the activity of the Buddha for the sake of the teaching of the Buddha. He has generated his mind to really fulfil the activity of the Buddha through giving teachings.

Just like Buddha's activity, Je Tsongkhapa's main activity was teaching Dharma, and that has so much contributed for the teaching of the Buddha. That is why it says here – 'fulfilling the deeds of the teacher for the benefit of the teaching'.

That is Je Tsongkhapa who is referred to here as the 'king of the Dharma of the three realms'. Generally people call Je Tsongkhapa the Great Tsongkhapa of the East because he came from the east of Tibet.

As it also says here: 'whose name is uttered only for the sake of a great purpose' – this is a way of saying that actually whenever one utters the name of one's spiritual guide, one's Guru, one's master, one should not utter the name just like that, but one should add some kind of phrases before such as 'whose name is uttered here for a purpose'. Not just purposelessly uttering the name of such master, but purposefully uttered.

So who is that? That is the Venerable Omniscient Glorious Lobsang Drakpa, that is his personal name, which is not only the name of a great scholar but whose name is something so beneficial to utter because hearing such a name alone has the power or the blessing to protect the beings from the dangers of samsara and nirvana. Such a great personality has come into this world.

With a pacified, tamed, pure behaviour of the Pratimoksha, with such a character, he is diligently taking the pure lifestyle of the brother Kadampa.

Je Tsongkhapa has come into the world and has led a lifestyle with a completely pure behaviour, pacified and fully tamed, with pure ethics as it is taught in the Pratimoksha. In other words, he has diligently and very happily taken upon himself or followed the pure life (Namtar) of the early brother Kadampas. All the great Kadampa masters like Master Atisha had a perfect pure lifestyle and Je Tsongkhapa has also taken upon himself that kind of lifestyle.

He has established through hearing and contemplation this mode of existence of the phenomena.

Through his learning and contemplation, through these efforts and processes, he has established in his mind that ultimate mode of existence, the very nature of the phenomena exactly as it is.

The meaning of that he has applied in the reflection, arisen from meditation such as the three trainings, which he has then applied in a gradual process in an unmistaken order.

First he is abiding in this perfect behaviour and secondly he has established in himself this reality of the phenomena, the meaning of which he has applied in the reflection, the meditation, with the wisdom arisen from the meditation; that means through concentration, Samatha, Vipassana. Thus these three trainings - ethics, concentration and wisdom - have all been applied into practice completely in the right order without any mistake.

At the beginning, the teaching of Buddha, and all the valid commentaries, in all of them he made an extensive hearing (study) which is certain to cut all the fabrications.

So first of all he has engaged himself in an extensive study of Buddha's words as well as their valid commentaries. Such extensive studies have enabled him to gain certitude about their meaning, thus cutting all kinds of doubts and all kinds of fabrications about them.

In the middle, all those aspects on both the Sutra and the Tantra, seeing them with a valid perception as a support (or basis), as a means to attain enlightenment for one individual. Through understanding with his valid perception then all the teachings, the treatises without exception have arisen as a personal instruction.

In the middle, through a direct valid perception, Je Tsongkhapa has understood that all these teachings of various aspects of Sutra and Tantra are all actually nothing else than a support (or basis) for somebody, for one individual, to attain the state of enlightenment. Through seeing in that way, all those teachings have arisen for him as a personal instruction.

At the end, he very diligently practised the complete body of the path, which has arisen in that way and thus he has attained certitude through a faultless and direct reasoning on all the points of the base, path and result.

So first of all the teachings have arisen to him as a personal instruction. In the middle they have not just arisen like that but he has applied a very thorough practice to the complete body of the path of the Sutra and Tantra. At the end, he has attained a complete certitude based on a faultless and direct reasoning. Not just believing that he has attained something or has understood something, but with a direct reasoning he has attained certitude in all those points of the Sutra and Tantra. With regards to the base, the path and the goal he has attained complete certitude.

All these teachings and the subject of the teachings, starting from the Wheel of the Dharma of the Four Noble Truths, up to the king of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, from the just prescribed subtle rules of the Vinaya, up to the great union of the inseparable two truths, knowing how to take them as a square part, he has attained that kind of certitude in all the points of the practices.

With regards to the teaching of the Buddha, starting from the very basic teaching of the Four Noble Truths up to the highest Tantra of the Guhyasamaja and also with regards to the contents of these teaching, starting with the minor prescribed rules of the Vinaya up to the highest subject of the Tantra, Yugananda, the ultimate union in which the two truths are completely united, he has attained that certitude and is knowing how to take them as all one compact square part.

In that way he has learnt how to take all these teachings and their contents as one square part, to restore all the Dharma, the entire teaching, both scriptural and realisation, right from the very foundation and how to clarify them all.

If even Vajrapani, who holds the secret treasure of all the Victorious Ones or Manjuvajra, who holds the treasure of the knowledge of all Buddhas, have said
that it is difficult for them to fathom (or to understand) such a life in its entirety, then it is impossible to put them in symbolic writings - this is completely insufficient.

Through attaining such kind of realisations and certitude, what he did was to engage himself in completely restoring, right from the very foundation of the entire Dharma of scriptures and realisation, to clarify it and to illuminate it completely.

This activity of Je Tsongkhapa in all its entirety is completely beyond the capacity even of the great Buddhas like Vajrapani or Manjuvajra, (Manjushri), who are actually the holders of all the secrets of the Buddha, the knowledge holder and so forth. Even they said that it is beyond their capacity to know the depth of all of it or to narrate it. And then it is completely out of question for somebody to put it sufficiently in symbolic writing.

This is also very true, as you can see in the biography, where Vajrapani told the great master Lä-gi-Dorje and Manjushri told Umapa that all the activities of Je Tsongkhapa are beyond the capacity of narration, it has been said like this already - that is what is meant here. So if even the Buddhas have difficulty to narrate it in all its entirety then no one can put it in writing sufficiently enough to explain all that.

However, this narration of the realisation is related to the three secrets of the great king of the Dharma, his direct disciples and their disciples and a multitude of scholar Siddhas, produced equal to the number of the stars. Out of them all a great scholar of a later time, Gyalwang Chöje, has composed this great life story.

That means that it is very difficult to put it all in writing. Tok-chö means actual biography, just like the name Namthar, so Tok-chö means a narration of the realisations which are related to the three secrets; that means of the body, speech and mind of this great king of Dharma Je Tsongkhapa.

As it says 'which has been produced equal to the number of the stars', so many biographies have been produced by many scholar Siddhas, who were either his direct disciples or disciples of disciples, or holders of the lineage - all have produced a great number of biographies, out of which came this particular great biography composed at a later period by the Lord of scholars Gyalwang Chöje.

This great biography collects the essence of all the previous treatises, it is something which is great and extensive and the subject matter is very well-gathered. The expressing words are very eloquent and pleasant, led through the speech of Dandi, [a great poet, one of the earlier masters of poetry].

Its subject matter, its content collects the essence of all the earlier treatises and therefore the subject matter is very well-gathered. The actual wording, how it is composed is also very pleasant, very eloquent, led through the speech of Dandi, which means it is written in a poetic form in the speech of the great poet master Dandi.

It exists as the most extensive for dispelling all kinds of mistakes and as an analysis of the doubts and so forth. It also includes the dispelling of some misconceptions or misunderstandings and serves as an analysis of some doubtful points. All these things are included, so therefore it is a most extensive one.

Those whose eyes of intelligence are not harmed by defilements and who is endowed with that analytical mind of distinguishing right and wrong, if you look in this then the faith which is following the Dharma towards the splendid quality of the three secrets of the Manjushri, the great king of Dharma will supremely increase.

Anybody whose eyes of intelligence are not blinded or not harmed, that means who is intelligent, unbiased and who is endowed with some capacity of distinguishing between what is right and what is wrong, if one looks at this biography with that kind of analytical mind then it will help to generate faith in oneself. Not a faith of a person with inferior intelligence but a faith of a person with a higher intelligence whose faith is called a faith which follows the Dharma.

Such kind of very realistic and rational faith will generate towards the splendid special qualities of the three secrets of body, speech and mind of Je Tsongkhapa. Through seeing this biography this faith will increase in oneself. If such a faith does not yet exist it will newly generate and if it already does exist it will cause it to increase, that is the purpose. And the extra purpose is so that one will also train oneself in that good lifestyle.

Even if one generates in oneself just one time the faith of a pure mind, then in one's continuum it leaves a very special imprint of liberation and omniscience.

Even if somebody cannot completely follow the same lifestyle, at least it will cause them to generate such a faith for a short time, once or twice such devotion towards such a lifestyle and towards such a great master. Thus, if that happens it leaves in one's own continuum a very special positive imprint which will produce liberation and omniscience for oneself. So therefore there are many such kinds of good purposes.

For that purpose in the year of 1967 in the great holy place of Sarnath, the great land of the Arya, in the 'Treasure House of the Good Teaching' it has been printed one thousand times and at that time Yongdzin, His Holiness' tutor, with the name of Trijang Tulku has particularly commented on this.

At that time in 1967 in Sarnath there used to be a little printing press which was called the Treasure House of the Good Teachings, where Guru Rinpoche has printed one thousand copies for which Kyabje Rinpoche has composed this preface.

So this has been a good short introduction to this biography.