Short Biography of Je Tsongkhapa, Losang Drakpa (1357 - 1419)  


Tsong Khapa, popularly known as Je Rinpoche, was born in 1357, in the Tsong Kha region of Amdo, in eastern Tibet. During the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, Tsong Khapa, 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 Ananda to him and prophesied that the boy would be born in Tibet, would found a great monastery between the areas of Dri and Den, present a crown to the statue of the Buddha in Lhasa, and be instrumental in the flourishing of the Doctrine in Tibet. The Buddha gave the young boy the future name of Sumati Kirti, 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 and, in 1959, could still be seen in Drepung, the largest monastery in Tibet. The crown still rests on the head of the Buddha in Lhasa. 

Over a thousand years after the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha, further prophesies relating to Je Rinpoche, were given by the Lotus-born Guru, Padma Sambhava. 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. 

Early years 

At three years old, Tsong Khapa took the layman's vows from the fourth Karmapa, Rolpay Dorje, and received the name Kunga Nyingpo. When the Choje Dondrub Rinchen visited the parents' home and 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, Tsong Khapa, received many tantric initiations and teachings, including the Heruka empowerment, and was given the secret name of Donyo Dorje. 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. Tsong Khapa attached greater importance to guarding his vows than his eyes or his own life. He had entered the mandalas of Heruka, Hevajra, Yamantaka an other deities before receiving ordination and was even performing self-initiation meditations upon Heruka when he was only seven. 

His eminent teacher took care of him until he went to central Tibet at the age of sixteen. Traveling with Denma Rinchen Pel, Tsong Khapa arrived at Drikung where he met the head Lama of the Drikung Karguy monastery, Chennga Chokyi Gyalpo. This great lama was his first teacher after leaving his original Master, and tutored him on various topics such as the Altruistic Mind (bodhichitta), and five sections of the Great seal (Mahamudra) during his stay at the monastery. He also met the great doctor Konchog Kyab 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. 

Studies at Young Age for Scholarship 
From Drikung, Tsong Khapa went to the Chodra Chenpo Dewachen monastery in Nyetang where he studied with Tashi Sengi and Densapa Gekong. Furthermore Yonten Gyatso taught him how to read the great treatises and continually helped him with the Ornament for the Realizations. Within eighteen days he had memorized and assimilated both the root text and all its commentaries and soon mastered all the works of Maitreya Buddha. He then gained a complete understanding of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita) 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, he was recognized at the age of nineteen, as a great scholar. 

That year Je Rinpoche debated at the two biggest monasteries of the day in Tibet: Chodra Chenpo Dewachen and Samye. He now became very famous in U-Tsang, the central providence of Tibet. He visited many other monasteries engaging in debate. 

Meeting Rendawa 

Tsong Khapa then went to visit Nyapon Kunga Pel at Tzechen requesting instructions on the Perfection of Wisdom. However, this master was unwell and referred him to his disciple, Venerable Rendawa. Je Rinpoche developed tremendous respect for Rendawa's method of teaching the Treasury of Knowledge and its auto-commentary. This master had innumerable spiritual qualities and Tsong Khapa 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 (Madhyamika) philosophy from Rendawa. 

Tsong Khapa composed a verse in honor of Rendawa and would often recite it. However, Rendawa replied that this was more applicable to Tsong Khapa than to himself and so adapted the verse as follows. This is now regarded as Tsong Khapa's Mantra (mig me tse) 

Avalokiteshvara, mighty treasure of immaculate love, 
Manjushri, Lord of stainless knowledge, 
Vajrapani, destroyer of all demonic forces, 
O Je Tsong Khapa, Losang Drakpa, 
Crown jewel of the sages of the Land of Snow, 
Humbly I request your blessing! 

Further Studies and His First Teachings 

During the autumn and winter he received many teachings on the Entrance to the Middle Way by Chandrakirti. He then returned to Nyetang to become the student of the great scholar of Monastic Discipline (Vinaya), abbot Kazhiwa Losal, at whose feet he studied the root texts of Discipline and of the Treasury of Knowledge. 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 Discipline 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 teachings and teachers. During that winter a troublesome back pain developed and he thought of returning to Rendawa but the bitterly cold weather forced him to stay at Nanying where he gave his first teachings. Scholars had asked for teachings on Knowledge (Abhidharma), and in particular Asanga's Compendium of Knowledge which composes the Mahayana Abhidharma. Tsong Khapa studied the higher tenets and even if 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 Sakya, and for eleven months taught the Compendium of Knowledge. At this time he himself received teachings on Dharmakirti's Commentary on the Compendium of Valid Cognition, as well as various texts such as the Entrance to the Middle Way and the transmission of the Sutra on Discipline. While at Sakya he also received an explanation on the Root Tantra of Hevajra from Dorje Rinchen. This lama also taught him a method by which to cure his painful back. In the company of master Rendawa, he left for northern Tibet and spent the spring and summer at the monastery of Ngamring Choday. 

Source: Life and Teachings of Tsong Khapa, Edited by Professor R. Thurman. 


Tsong Khapa's Reform 

One of the main goals of Tsong Khapa's teaching, writing and practice was the reform of Tibetan Buddhism. He was greatly concerned with what he perceived to be major lapses in monastic discipline, unclear thinking on exoteric and esoteric topics, and a decline in tantric practice. Part of his reform program was the creation of a new order which, likes its founder, has traditionally stressed the importance of strict adherence to the rules of Vinaya, the importance of comprehensive study of Buddhist thought, an reformed tantric practice that accords with the vows of monks. 

The Formation of a New Order, Two Main Disciples 

In the late thirties he had a vision of Manjushri, who confirmed that Tsong Khapa had directly perceived emptiness and there was no longer any need for him to ask for advice on this topic. Manjushri then counseled Tsong Khapa to continue to teach in accordance with the systems of Nagarjuna and Atisha. Shortly after this, Tsong Khapa traveled in areas south of Lhasa, and at this time he met his future disciple Gyeltsap Darma Rinchen (1364-1432), who at the time belonged to the Sakya order and was already regarded as a great scholar and debater of that tradition. 

The first meeting occurred when Tsong Khapa was preparing to give teachings. Gyeltsap openly challenged Tsong Khapa's authority by sitting on the throne that had been prepared for the lectures, but as Tsong Khapa begun to speak, Gyeltsap realized that the master's understanding far surpassed his own. He found that Tsong Khapa answered questions that had long troubled him, and as the lecture progressed he began to realize that he had been presumptuous in taking Tsong Khapa's seat. Humbly offering three prostrations to the maser, he took his place among the assembly. He later became one of Tsong Khapa's two greatest disciples. The other was Kedrup Gelek Belsangpo (1385-1438), who had become his follower several years earlier. After Tsong Khapa's death, these two carried on Tsong Khapa's system and institutionalized it, assuring that it would continue and flourish. 

Founding of the Ganden Monastery, Drepung and Sera Tsong Khapa conceived the idea of inaugurating a yearly religious festival that would begin at the Tibetan Year (Lo Sar). The Great Prayer Festival, or Mon Lam Chen Mo, is still celebrated today in Tibetan communities and is one of the major religious events of the year. 

After the first Mon Lam was celebrated, several of Tsong Khapa's disciples requested that he curtail his travels. At this time he was fifty-two. They proposed to build a monastery for him, and he agreed. Tsong Khapa prayed before an image of Shakyamuni for advice concerning the site of the monastery and was told to build it near Lhasa, in the area of Drokri. When it was built, he named it Ganden (the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit Tushita), which is the legendary abode of Maitreya, the next buddha. 

Tsong Khapa traveled to the site of the future monastery with one of his disciples, Gendun Druba (1391-1474), who was posthumously recognized as the first Dalai Lama. Gendun Druba appointed two other disciples to oversee the construction, and the main buildings were completed within a year. The monastery was officially opened in 1409. 

Ganden later became a huge monastic complex, housing as many as 4,000 monks. The founding of this monastery was followed by the founding of Drepung in 1415 and Sera in 1419, both also near Lhasa. Ganden, Drepung, and Sera became the three principal monasteries of the Gelukpa school and were the lineage's primary seats of power. They were ransacked by the Chinese army in 1959, and Ganden was bombed into rubble. All three monasteries have been rebuilt in India, where they continue the scholastic and meditative traditions established by Tsong Khapa. 

The Continuation of Je Tsong Khapa's Tradition, Kedrup and Gyeltsap 
Tsong Khapa's work was continued by his two greatest disciples, Kedrup and Gyeltsap. At the request of the other disciples, Gyeltsap ascended the throne of Ganden, indicating that he was recognized as the primary successor to Tsong Khapa's lineage. He held this position for twelve years until his death. During the course of his life, he wrote a number of important treatises, and his collected works are contained in eight volumes. Gyeltsap was succeeded as "throne holder of Ganden" by Kedrup, who retained the position for seven years until his death at the age of fifty-four. These two lamas came to be regarded as the "spiritual sons" of Tsong Khapa and are commonly depicted sitting on either side of their master in thankas and other religious paintings. 

Growth of the Tradition 

During the following centuries, the fortunes of the Gelukpa school rose quickly, mainly because it continued to produce an impressive number of eminent scholars and tantric adepts. The school attracted growing numbers of novice monks and built new monasteries, such as Tashi Hlunpo, which was founded in 1445 by Gendun Druba. This later became the seat of the Panchen Lamas, who are second only to the Dalai Lamas in prestige in the Gelukpa school. Gelukpa monastic institutions grew and flourished, and these began to attract students from all over the Tibetan cultural area. 

The Age of Dalai Lamas 

The third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) was discovered amongst the Mongols. He was the grand son of Altan Khan, one of the most powerful Mongol chieftains. This powerful connection between the Mongol khans and the Gelukpa school initiated a long-standing bond between the two groups. 

After the defeat of the last ruler of Tsang providence by Gushri khan in 1642, the victorious khan appointed Ngawang Losang Gyatso (1617-1582), the fifth Dalai Lama, as temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet. The fifth Dalai Lama (the Great Fifth as he is usually called) proved to be an able statesman as well as an important religious figure, and he consolidated the rule of the Dalai Lamas, who continued to be recognized as the rulers of Tibet until the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1959. 


The Gelukpa school has been able to produce a succession of eminent religious leaders, people who embody the ideals of scholarship and meditative practice initiated by Je Tsong Khapa. Among these are the great scholar Jamyang Shayba (1648-1721), who wrote some of the most influential Gelukpa scholastic literature, and his reincarnation Gonchok Jikme Wangpo (1728-1791) , who is best known for his Precious Garland of Tenets and his seminal work on the bodhisattva levels and the five Buddhist paths, entitled Presentation of the Levels and Paths, Beautiful Ornament of the Three Vehicles. 

Other important figures include Jang Gya (1717-1786), who also wrote an influential "Presentation of Tenets", Ngawang Belden (b.1797), who wrote an important commentary on Jamyang Shayba's Great Exposition of Tenets, and Pabongka Rinpoche(1878-1941), a renowned scholar and debater. 


Tsong Khapa's tradition of scholarship and meditative training continues today in the Gelukpa monasteries that have been rebuilt in India, as well as in centers in Europe and North America. The present Dalai Lama is perhaps the greatest living embodiment of the tradition's intersecting ideals of intellectual achievement and tantric training. HH Dalai Lama is viewed by the overwhelming majority of Tibetans as the greatest symbol of all that is best and most worth preserving in their culture, and he impresses people who meet him with his unusual blend of genuine saintliness and humility, profound understanding of Buddhist thought, and meditative realization. 

Source: John Powers: Tibetan Buddhism  



I bow to the high and holy lamas.  

1. As far as I am able I shall explain the essence of all high teachings of the Victors, the path that their holy sons commend, the entry point for the fortunate seeking freedom. 

2. Listen with a pure mind, fortunate ones who have no craving for the pleasures of life, and who to make leisure and fortune meaningful strive to their minds to the path which pleases the Victors. 

3. There is no way to end, without the pure reunciation, this striving for pleasent results in the ocean of life. It is because of their hankering life as well that beings are fettered, so seek reunciation first. 

4. Leisure and fortune are hard to find, life is not long; think it constantly, stop desire for this life. Think over and over how deeds and their fruits never fail, and the cycle's suffering: stop desire for the future. 

5. When you have meditated thus and fell not even a moment's wish for the good things of cyclic life, and when you begin to think both night and day of achieving freedom, you have found reunciation. 

6. Reunciation though can never bring the total bliss of matchless Buddhahood unless it is bound by the purest wish; and so, the wise seek the high wish for enlightenment. 

7. They are swept along the four fierce river currents, chained up tight in past deeds, hard to undo, stuffed in a steel cage of grasping "self," smothered in the pitch-black ignorance. 

8. In a limitless round they are born, and in their births are tortured by three sufferings without a break; think how your mothers feel, think of what is happening to them, try to develop this highest wish. 

9. You may master reunciation and the wish, but unless you have the wisdom perceiving reality you cannot cut the root of cyclic life. Make efforts in ways then to perceive interdependence. 

10. A person is entered the path that pleases the Buddhas when for all objects, in the cycle or beyond, he sees that cause and effect can never fail, and when for him they lose all solid appearance. 

11. You have yet to realize the thought of the Able as long as two ideas seem to you disparate: the appearance of things- infallible interdependence; and emptiness- beyond taking any position. 

12. At some point they have no longer alternate, come together; just seeing that interdependence never fails brings realization that destroys how you hold objects, and then your analysis with view complete. 

13. In addition, the appearance prevents the existence extreme; emptiness that of non-existence, and if you see how emptiness shows cause and effect. You will never be stolen off by extreme views. 

14. When you have grasped as well as essential points of each of the three principal paths explained, then go into isolation, my son, make efforts, and quickly win your ultimate wish. 


(1)  May the boundless prayers I have offered with a pure, extraordinary wish be able to free countless beings from cyclic existence be fulfilled as true words by the might of the non-deceptive Three Jewels of Refuge and the powerful sagely masters. 

(2)  In all my lives, one after the next, may I never be born in any rebirth state in which I have reverted to being a miserable creature in an unfortunate realm.  But rather, may I always attain a human body with complete liberty and endowments for Dharma study and practice. 

(3)  From the moment I am born, may I never be attached to worldly pleasures.  But rather, in order to attain Liberation, may I, by my thoughts of renunciation, involve myself with unrelenting joyous effort in seeking to live a pure moral life. 

(4)  In order that I might take robes, may none of my circle or possessions cause me any interference.  But rather, may all favourable conditions come about as I have wished. 

(5)  Once I am ordained, then as long as I live may I never be stained by the fault of committing any proscribed or naturally unspeakable negative actions just as I promised before the eyes of my Abbot and Spiritual Master. 

(6)  By relying on pure moral conduct, may I, for the sake of all my mothers, be able to actualize over countless eons, with the myriad difficulties involved, every profound and vast Mahayana Teaching that exists. 

(7)  May I be continually cared for by a holy Spiritual Master whose mind-stream abounds with good qualities of scriptural knowledge and insight, whose senses are calmed, who has self-control, a heart of loving-compassion and the courage of mind to accomplish undauntedly the purposes of others. 

(8)  Just as Sadaprarudita devoted himself to Dharmodgata, may I also totally please my holy Spiritual Master unpretentiously with my body, life and all my possessions, thereby never causing him displeasure for even a moment. 

(9)  May the meaning of Perfected Discriminating Awareness in all its profundity, stilled of extremes and devoid of mentally fabricated modes of existence, be shown to me always as it was taught to Dadaprarudita, unpolluted by the fouling waters of distorted conceptions. 

(10) May I never fall under the influence of misleading friends or wrong-minded Gurus who are teachers of either nihilist or eternalist views which transgress the meaning of what Sage Buddha intended. 

(11) By securing myself to the boat of listening to teachings, thinking about and meditating upon them, and by flying the mainsail of a pure, extraordinary wish, being propelled by the wind of unrelenting joyous effort, may I free all beings from 
the ocean of cyclic existence. 

(12) However much I might improve my mind by listening to teachings, being especially generous, keeping pure moral discipline and developing analytical discriminating awareness, may I be free to the same extent from all consequent feelings of haughty conceit. 

(13) Without being quenched, may I hear endless teachings on Buddha’s scriptural pronouncements close at the side of a learned master who opens up the exact meaning of these texts by relying on nothing but the force of pure logic. 

(14) Having analyzed fully and correctly with the four types of reasoning, day and night, the meaning of the teachings I have heard, may I cut off all doubts with the critical awareness I have gained from having thought about the points to be contemplated. 

(15) When, through an awareness that has come from having thought about the extremely profound ways of the teachings, I have found certain conviction in what they actually mean, may I devote myself to solitude with the joyous effort that severs all entanglements with this life and thereby actualize the insights with proper meditation. 

(16) When, by having listened to the teachings, thought about and meditated upon them, I have developed on my mind-stream the insights of the essential points of the Victorious Buddha’s intentions, may I never have any attitudes arise of longing for my own happiness or for the appearances of this lifetime which would just cause me attachment to worldly existence. 

(17) When, with an attitude of detachment from all objects of wealth, I have overcome miserliness, may I first gather beings into my circle by material generosity and then satisfy them completely by teaching the Dharma. 
(18) Having thought well about renunciation, may I always uphold the victory banner of Liberation for which I would never forsake until my attainment of Enlightenment even the most minor moral training I have assumed, though my life be at stake. 

(19) Whenever I see, hear or recall any beings who would beat, tease or humiliate me, may I be free of anger and in response address myself to their good qualities and thus meditate on patience. 

(20) Having completely abandoned the three types of laziness that prevent me from gaining virtues not yet attained and from improving further upon those that I have, I exert joyous effort in virtuous practices. 

(21) Having forsaken the mental quiescent states that would practically propel me into cyclic rebirth by their missing the power of penetrative insight to deflate the extreme of worldly existence and their lacking the moisture of compassion to soften away the extreme of tranquil passivity, may I meditate instead on a joint achievement of all three. 

(22) Having fully abandoned the endless variety of wrong, distorted views which take as supreme a partial idea of Voidness which the mind has made up from having become frightened at the true meaning of the profound nature of reality, may I gain the insight that all phenomena are primordially void of inherent, findable existence. 

(23) May I yoke to the flawless rules of discipline those monks who with a inconsiderate attitude discard the pure moral trainings, never fearing the actions despised by the holy and who, in breaking their precepts, are in fact trainees in virtue in outward appearance alone. 

(24) May I quickly and easily lead to the path praised by the Victorious Buddhas anyone who has missed the right path and is on a distorted, wrong trail, having come under the influence of a wrong-minded Guru or a misleading friend. 

(25) When I have captivated the bold masses of foxes of misinformed speech with my lion-like roar of correct explanation, debate and written exposition, may I then care for them with whatever means might be skilled for their taming and thus uphold the victory banner of the undeclined teachings. 
(26) Each time I am born and can drink of the nectar of the Sage Buddha’s words, may I be endowed with a good family, body, wealth, power and wisdom, a long life, no sickness and great happiness so that I might be best equipped to help others. 

(27) Toward those who continually harbour thoughts of harming my body, life or possessions and also towards those who speak unpleasantly to me, may I especially develop love as if I were their mother. 

(28) By developing on my mind-stream a pure, extraordinary wish and an Enlightened Motive of Bodhicitta through meditating on cherishing others more than myself, may I thereby confer on those who would harm me the peerless attainment of Enlightenment without any delay. 

(29) May everyone who sees, hears or recalls these prayers be undaunted in realizing the aim of all the great waves of Bodhisattvas’ prayers that they become enlightened. 

(30) By the force of offering these extensive prayers which have come into being by the power of my pure, extraordinary wish, may I fully complete the perfection of prayer and thereby fulfill the hopes of all living beings. 

I: The mode of Relying on a Spiritual Master, the foundation of the path. 
Reliance through thought. 
Cultivating faith, the root factor. 
Cultivating respect through recollecting kindness. 
Reliance through action. 
II: The stages of training based on such a reliance. 
Persuading to Take the Essence of a Fully Endowed Human Existence. 
Reflecting on the great value of leisure and fortune. 
Reflecting on its rarity. 
The manner in which to actually take the essence. 
Training the mind in the stages of path common to the practitioners of initial capacity. 
Meditating on Death Awareness. 
Reflecting on the Sufferings of Lower Realms. 
Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels. 
Generating conviction in the Karmic Laws. 
Training the mind in the stages of path common to those of middle capacity. 
Generating the aspiration to Achieve Liberation from Cyclic Existence.. 
Reflecting on the suffering of cyclic existence in general. 
Reflecting on the specific sufferings of individual realms. 
Presentation of the nature of the paths leading to liberation. 
Training the mind in the stages of path common to those of great capacity. 
The mode of Cultivating Bodhichitta (mind of enlightenment). 
The actual generation of the mind. 
Generating bodhichitta through the instruction of seven-point cause and effect. 
Meditation on equanimity. 
The seven points. 
Recognition that all beings as having been one's mother. 
Recollection of their kindness. 
Repaying the kindness. 
Loving kindness. 
Great compassion. 
Superior attitude. 
Generating bodhichitta through the instruction on equality and exchange of oneself with others. 
Reinforcing the generated altruistic mind through ceremony. 
The way in which the vows are received. 
How to protect the vows from degeneration. 
The mode of engaging in the deeds following the generation of the altruistic mind. 
Training in the bodhisattva deeds in general. 
Joyous effort. 
The four ripening factors. 
Training in the last two perfections in particular. 
Training in calm abiding, the essence of concentration. 
Training in Special Insight, the Essence of Wisdom (wisdom realizing emptiness).. 
On the selflessness of persons. 
On the selflessness of phenomena. 
On non-inherent existence of compounded phenomena. 
On non-inherent existence of uncompounded phenomena. 

Most of the representations of Je Tsongkhapa depict him in the following;
The hand posturing at the level of Tsongkhapa's heart represents him turning the Wheel of Dharma, dissolving ignorance by providing teachings. He is also holding stems of upala flowers, supporting a wisdom sword and a scripture of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in Eight Thousand Lines.

Tsongkhapa is usually accompanied by his two spiritual sons, Gyaltsabje and Khadrubje. Gyaltsabje is a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the nature of all Buddha's compassion. Khadrubje is a manifestation of Vajrapani, the nature of all Buddha's power. Tsongkhapa himself is the manifestation of Manjushri, who is the nature of all the Buddha's wisdom.

On some thangkas Tsongkhapa is descending from Tushita Pure Land via the clouds of compassion at Maitreya's heart. On others he is surrounded by Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Yidams and others.