Tsongkhapa: The Great Buddhist Lama, Scholar and Reformer of Tibetan Buddhism

Tsongkhapa: The Great Buddhist Lama, Scholar and Reformer of Tibetan Buddhism

Item Code: RS83
Copper Sculpture Gilded with 24 Karat Gold
13.3 inches X 12.5 inches X 5.5 inches
4.26 kg
Tsong Khapa was one of the greatest lamas of Tibet. He was a renowned clarifier of the doctrine and the founder of Gelug Order. He is known as Jey Rinpoche ("Precious Master") to all Tibetan Buddhists, of whatever sect. He was born in 1357 A.D. in Tsongkha, a region of Amdo, Oriental Province of Tibet, presently integrated in the Chinese province of Qinghai, whence his epithet which has assumed the proportions of a proper name in Mongolia and thence in other many literature. It is said that the house, in which he was born, was overshadowed by a tree each of whose leaves have had an image or the arapachana mantra inscribed. Around it grew the Kumbum Jambaling monastery. His parents were great devout Buddhist. Since his childhood he showed his religious bent of mind and his keen intelligence was evident when he was little. At a young age, he received various degrees from his studies in Central Tibet where he mastered the five main subjects taught by a Tibetan monastic university - abhidharma, madhyamika, Prajnaparamita, pramana, and vinaya. He is believed to have attained perfect enlightenment in 1398 A.D., discovering that he had been all along an incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjushri. He then spent the next twenty-one years transforming Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan society, directing a kind of mass revival or spiritual renaissance into channels of long-term benefit to the Tibetan nation. In essence, he turned a time that was generally believed to mark the final decline of the Buddhist teaching into a time of renewed enthusiasm, widespread insight, and mass rededication to the universal and immediate opportunity to utilize the human life experience as a vehicle for evolutionary fulfillment in enlightenment.

Tsong Khapa had a very sound theological foundation, and was always among the winners in debates, he held a lot of influence. The vinaya received his special attention. He abhorred the erosion and the weakening of morals. He imposed strict monastic discipline, with the interdiction of the use of alcohol, requirement of strict celibacy, and a tight daily schedule. He also attempted to restrict black magic and to resist the erosion of tantric ritual.

Tsong Khapa establishes the Great Prayer (Monlam) Festival at Lhasa in 1409. In 1410, he founded a monastery and named it Garden, "Joyous", after the Tushita Paradise of Maitreya. Here he served as the first Throne-Holder of Ganden (Ganden Tripa). Almost 400 years earlier, Atisa, the founder of the Kadam Order, had also tried to clean house at one time, so the Kadampa was readily absorbed into the new Gelugpa. Under the leadership of Tsong Khapa, the newly founded Gelug Order quickly spreads across Tibet and became the largest school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Due to the practice of celibacy, the possibility of hereditary successions vanished. This made way for a line of reincarnation. Someone who is to be designated as a new monastery abbot or Lama is considered to be an incarnation of his predecessor. Out of this grew the succession of Yellow Hats leadership. As the Lamas of Gelugpa Order wear the conical yellow hat of pandita which became the distinctive headgear of Gelug hierarchs that earned the sect its sobriquet as the "Yellow Hat" sect. The Dalai Lama himself is a member of the Gelugpa Order, although he is not its head. The line of Dalai Lamas began in the 16th century. The Dalai Lamas gradually acquired secular rule over Tibet as well, because the Gelug Order grew to become the most important monastic Order in Tibet. The fifth Dalai Lama, who transferred the administrational seat to Lhasa and who began building the Potala, selected the Lama of the Tashilunpo Monastery as an incarnation of Amitabha and conferred on him the title of Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lamas are the teachers of Dalai Lamas. As the Dalai Lama is considered an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, whose celestial teacher is Buddha Amitabha, the Panchen Lama, the Dalai Lama's teacher, became known as an incarnation of Amitabha. Up to the present, the Panchen Lamas have served as abbot of Tashi Lhunpo monastery.

Tsong Khapa died in 1491 A.D. at the age of sixty-two. He is now considered a Buddha. Even after his parinirvana, the Gelugpa Order became most powerful sect in Tibet and surrounding countries, and Tsong Khapa's ninety-six disciples established many monasteries throughout Tibet, Mongolia and China.

This finely modeled sculpture depicts Tsong Khapa seated in Vajraparyankasana on a lotus throne. He has very sweet young face. His both the hands are making the gesture of teaching, and holding the stem of the lotus flowers (shown in the holders), between thumb and forefinger. In the holder on his right shoulder are the lotus flower and a sword, and on his left shoulder are a lotus flower and a book. The sword and the book identify Tsong Khapa as a manifestation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom, whose attributes are also the sword and the book. The lotus represents the purity and compassion, and the sword and book represent wisdom. The meaning of Tsong Khapa's hand gesture here is that he is the great guide on the way to liberation. He wears a conical pandita cap that has large flaps and the Tibetan lama’s robes covering both the shoulders, an undershirt under his outer robes. The borders of the garments are decorated with stylized design. His half close meditative eyes depict his spirituality. The image is very finely modeled and polished.

Select Bibliography

Barbara Lipton & Nima D. Ragnubs, Treasures of Tibetan Art, New York, 1996

Ben Meulenbeld, Buddhist Symbolism in Tibetan Thangka, Holland, 2001

Francoise Wang, Dje Tsongkhapa (Compilation and Translation), France, 2002

J.C. Huntington and D. Bangdel, The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art, Ohio, 2004

Lokesh Chandra, Transcendental Art of Tibet, Delhi, 1996

Marylin M. Rhie & Robert A.F. Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, Thames and Hudson, 1996

Marylin M. Rhie & Robert A.F. Thurman, Worlds of Transformation: Tibetan Art of Wisdom and Compassion, New York, 1999

This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on "Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)".

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