Biography of Master Je Tsongkhapa

The subject matter of the composition

Out of the biography of master Je Tsongkhapa so far the homage, the vow of composition and the calling for the attention of the listener have been explained. What follows now is an introductory explanation to this text starting with a quotation from a praise to Je Tsongkhapa by Master Khedrup Rinpoche.

So as we have seen that it says here in the beginning part how Je Tsongkhapa is a sublime object of praise, great friend and supporter of all sentient beings, someone who has taken upon himself the responsibility of all the Buddhas and who is completely matchless in his motivation and in his courage.

And then it says further:

In all the great reign of the Sugatas Dharma of teaching and realisation of both Sutra and Tantra without exception he is freely reigning like a great universal emperor.

So that means Je Tsongkhapa is somebody like a great universal emperor who freely rules over all the continents, the whole universe. In the same way Je Tsongkhapa is also like such a great king of Dharma who reigns over all the teaching of Sutra and Tantra as well as the realisations. That means he has fully mastered them and rules freely, that means he has attained full independence and full mastership on all those aspects of the teaching and realisations. There is nothing that Je Tsongkhapa's mind has not conquered or that he has not mastered. So he has attained complete independence on all the aspects of the Dharma. Then it says:

In all the ultimate and conventional phenomena the exact mode of existence as well as the amount of all existence without exception, in all these ways then the light of wisdom is fully extended.

That means Je Tsongkhapa has also such an omniscient wisdom which completely extends to the extent of the phenomena, not only in one aspect of the phenomena, not only in the amount of the phenomena or what exists (in the conventional phenomena) but also how exactly that exists (in the ultimate reality). So Je Tsongkhapa's omniscient mind completely extends to all the phenomena without exception, their entire amount as well as their exact mode of existence - that means with regards to both truths.

Then also not only his wisdom is so extensive:

With the great compassion which is non-apprehending, which is like a mother's compassion towards one single child, looking always and completely at all sentient beings in the six times, so thus he is an embodiment of compassion.

So his compassion is also an extraordinary compassion; he is an embodiment of compassion which looks all the time and completely without any obstacles, without any hindrances, without any defilements at all sentient beings in the six times (day and night). That means looking actually all the time towards all sentient beings, just as a mother who loves her single child, that much love and compassion Je Tsongkhapa has towards all sentient beings. And this kind of compassion is also a very great compassion, an impartial universal one and at the same time also a non-apprehending one. That means a compassion without any apprehension of true existence or false identity or inherent existence.

And in particular it says:

In this age of degeneration such teaching and practice is for the Buddha's teaching similar in every aspect to the Mighty One himself returning; through such activity which is independent he has completely illuminated this precious teaching like the peak of the daylight. So therefore he is known in all the worlds, including that of the Devas as the Second Victorious One. So such sound of his reputation is completely clear.

So that means in particular his activities are most outstanding. What kind of activities? - Activity of teaching and practice in which he is completely similar in every respect as if the Buddha himself has returned for the sake of his own teachings in this age of degeneration. So through such activity of teaching and practice, which is also completely independent, or without dependence on any other conditions, he has made this precious teaching of the Buddha completely illuminating all over, just as the peak of the day, just like midday when the sun shines all over the lands.

In the same way also Je Tsongkhapa's activities have illuminated the teaching of the Buddha to the maximum. So because of that he is known in all the worlds, including the Devas, as the Second Buddha. Such a sound of reputation is very obviously clear.

So that shows his quality of the wisdom, compassion and activity.

Then it says further:

Although it is difficult to express his actual name, however for a purpose and for a reason if one utters it: he is the venerable, glorious, sublime Guru Munendra, the Mighty, great Vajradhara, inseparable in essence, the Manjunatha, the Lord Manjushri, King of the Dharma, the Tsongkhapa from the East, the so-called glorious Lobsang Dragpa, whose pleasant names, the White Umbrella completely pervades in all the entire realms of Samsara and Nirvana. And so the liberating story of the three secrets of that great being, which are wonderful and splendid, is the principle subject matter here at this moment.

So the subject matter of this text which is being composed is the wonderful, most extraordinary liberating life story of the three secrets of the body, speech and mind of that great personality, that great being, whose pleasant name completely stands over, pervading all the realms of Samsara and Nirvana and whose name in general, the name of one's master, the Guru is not something suitable to utter at any time without a meaning. So therefore it says it is difficult to express his actual name.

However, if one utters it here, because of a very special purpose then his name is the glorious Lobsang Dragpa, the Tsongkhapa from the East who is a great king of Dharma and who is Lord Manjushri and who is of inseparable nature with Vajradhara and Buddha Shakyamuni and also one's own venerable glorious Guru. So Je Tsongkhapa should be seen and recognised as of one nature with one's own root Guru and Buddha Vajradhara and also with this particular aspect of being Lord Manjushri, and he is a great king of Dharma with these specific names, which are uttered here for a very special purpose. So his biography, the events of his life is what is to be accounted here as the main subject.

As it says here: 'Though it is difficult to utter the name but for a special purpose if one utters'. This is also a very important thing and is also a sign of deep respect and deep devotion towards the Guru. So in general the names of one's Guru or great masters is wrong to utter just like that with the bare name. If one purposefully utters then one should add such phrases like 'if I utter it is on purpose' and on top of that if somebody has passed away as it is the case with Je Tsongkhapa then one should add 'it is difficult to utter the name'. That means purposefully uttering the name but also difficult to utter, because it is deeply moving, so in a way one's mind makes it difficult to utter.

So anyway these are the phrases which are to be added with the names of one's master, and this is also an important practice. It is not only to the great masters or one's Guru. Buddha, before he passed away, has given some last advice to the monks and one of these last advice is that a junior monk should never call a senior monk by his name. Instead one should use such words like Näten, or as in Tibetan we generally say Genla or something like this and not just call the persons directly by their bare name. So if even for a senior monk one should pay such respects then of course it is needless to say that towards such great beings like Je Tsongkhapa this is necessary. That is why here it is explained in this way.

So then comes the outline:

So first preceded by the introduction, then the explanation of the reason for writing this liberating biography; then the explanation of the actual liberating biography; and then at the end the conclusion with the pure dedication and prayers. That way there are three outlines.

Now the first outline, which is the explanation of why such a biography is being made or has to be made is the following:

In general the liberating biography of a holy being is either in a previous garland of lives (or chain of births), or it can be also in this very life all the general wonderful qualities of body, speech and mind, which are superior to other ordinary beings. And in particular to the teaching of the Victorious One, the Buddha, how the hearing, contemplation and perfect meditations are done; and in dependence upon them then such qualities of the scholars such as teaching, debating, composing, and qualities of austerity (venerable qualities) such as not transgressing from the boundary of the rules of the three vows, and the qualities of the Siddhas, how the extraordinary realisations of the path and the stages have generated in the mind; and also the quality of being a wholesome being, what kind of handprint or impact of scholar and Siddha, which is the great wave of activities which benefits both the teachings and the sentient beings, how these are done - all this is narrated in the garland of words.

So that means: in general, what is this Namthar, what is this so-called liberating story or liberating aspect of a holy being? In general it should be a narration of an account about not just anything, but about how such a master in his previous life or in this very life possesses special qualities which are superior to ordinary beings, such as the general qualities of body, speech and mind of a holy being.

In particular the most important task and purpose for a great master to appear in the world is for the sake of Dharma and the sentient beings, so therefore its biography should actually fulfil this kind of aspect showing how such a master has learned and put into practice the teaching of the Buddha especially first through learning (hearing), then applying in contemplation and meditation. This is one important thing that must be accounted. And then depending on these three processes the qualities of the master with regards to his scholarly qualities such as teaching, debating and composing Dharma, and the effect of these scholarly qualities for the sake of others

Further his quality of being a very austere and very diligent practitioner. Most important qualities with regards to this which must be fulfilled is, how such a master actually keeps and maintains all his vows and Samayas intact without transgressing them. That is also a worthy quality to be accounted.

And then the quality of a great Siddha, or a great meditator or realiser, which does not simply mean that one can do some unusual things, but such qualities of true realisations of the path and stages and having actually generated in one's mind. These are the real qualities of a Siddha.

And then especially the quality of being a very benevolent and wholesome master. The most important quality is how through his great waves of activities he actually contributes or offers a great service to the teaching of the Buddha and to the sentient beings which is like the handprint, which is like the impact of his scholarly knowledge and his realisations as Siddha. Finally these should contribute for the sake of the teaching and the sentient beings. Those are the real worthy qualities of a holy being, which are worthy to be accounted in words, in garlands of words, and to be repeated.

These are the true qualities to be narrated in a biography or liberating story of a master's life. And that is what is to be narrated in series, and by narrating this, it says:

In the disciples who see (or hear) this, in their mind an in-artificial faith and respect will then increase more and more; and in dependence upon that those disciples will also enter into that kind of liberating biography (or lifestyle), at least through prayers. So therefore that kind of good narration is what is called a liberating biography.

So therefore what is this true meaning of a liberating biography? It is not just any biography, but something that narrates in series these special kinds of true qualities of the holy master. Because by narrating that it need to have a very special effect: whoever hears or sees these qualities, for example the disciples, then in their mind towards this master a very deep and in-artificial, unmade faith and respect will increase. And then such followers will not only admire these qualities of the master, but also try to enter or follow that kind of lifestyle. And even if they cannot follow it completely, at least it will be an object of their prayers. Such a good narration of a biography is then called a liberating biography, because it has a liberating effect for the sentient beings.

Such a biography therefore has to fulfil a particular subject matter, a particular purpose, and a particular extra purpose. The purpose is to generate faith in the disciple's mind; the extra purpose is that the disciples will also follow the same steps at least in their prayers and that way will attain liberation. That is the actually meaning of 'Nampar Tharpa' or liberating story is. And apart from that, so it says:

Apart from that, just for an ordinary being, how it defeats its enemies and protects its friends and how it actually accumulates wealth through business and profits etc., or just how it has done a few superficial wholesome actions etc., and then ornamenting it with many exaggerating words and trying to narrate that just as a method to generate some kind of wonder in the worldly beings can only be included as a story, but it can not be counted as a liberating biography.

So a true biography of a master should fulfil those purposes, those conditions. Apart from that somebody writing about somebody's activities of this life, of defeating enemies, protecting, loving and helping friends, achieving great profit in business or accumulating wealth and power, or engaging in some kind of superficial wholesome actions, and so taking all those things together and then ornamenting such stories with exaggerated poetic words etc. trying to astonish the ordinary worldly beings, such narrations cannot be called or regarded as a Namthar or liberating story. It just may be included among an ordinary life stories or ordinary stories and that is all.

And not only that, but also:

Although the subject of the biography happens to be a great personality, however as a result of the activity of a composer who does not possess the necessary intelligence to describe the three qualities of knowledge, austerity and kindness of the holy being, without composing much about these, but in relation to the disciples principally narrating that somebody went from here to there, stayed here and there, gave this and that audience, and has received this and that offering, is unable to generate in the continuum of the disciple a great faith and respect. Such maybe can be included just in the number of the liberating biographies, but does not fulfil exactly the actual purpose of a liberating biography.

So that means it can also happen that although a biography tells of a master, where the master itself is indeed a great being, is written by a biographer who is not possessing the necessary intelligence and not really knowing, not able to distinguish what are the real qualities of a holy being and what is important, not so important. As a result of such an activity of such a composer, then instead of writing about the real qualities of the great master such as the learning and the ethical qualities, its scholarly qualities, its qualities of compassion, etc. instead then one writes a lot in relation to the disciples that the master went from this place to this place or he stayed here and there and how many times he gave audiences what how many offerings he has received etc., principally only giving account of such things, cannot generate in the mind of a true disciple the real faith and respect and so forth. So therefore, because it is a biography of a great master maybe it can still be counted as a biography or Namthar of a great master, but it does not completely fulfil its real purpose.

Why does it not fulfil the actual meaning of liberating biography (Namthar)? The real meaning of Namthar is where in dependence upon the aspect of subject matter and expression for the disciples who see and hear it, it becomes a cause for the attainment of liberation and omniscience, it has to be like that (to be a Namthar).

Namthar (Sanskrit: Avadhana) means liberating aspect. So the real meaning of liberating biography (Namthar) is: the actual subject matter, that is the activity (the lives of the master), and that expression (the text, the biography, the life-story itself), become for the disciple through seeing, reading and knowing it a real cause (leaving in him an imprint or potentiality or seed) to attain liberation and omniscience: that is called Namthar. So to be a real Namthar it has to fulfil this purpose.

So that is all for today.