Tsongkhapa was born in the Tsongkhapa Valley of Amdo, a province in northern Tibet, where the Kumbum monastery was later founded to commemorate his birthplace. The region is presently integrated in the Chinese province of Qinghai. He is one of the most historically renowned and universally revered Tibetan Lamas. Known as Je Rinpoche, Precious Master, by all Tibetan Buddhists, Tsongkhapa is recognized as an emanation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom, by virtue of his exceptional erudition. He founded Gelug sect, although he intended only to revive the Kadam Order stemming from Atisa. Tsongkhapa mastered the teachings of many lineages and assimilated his vast body of learning into the Gelug curriculum, featuring philosophy and debate along with advanced yogic and Tantric themes. Moreover he restored strict monastic discipline, with the interdiction of the use of alcohol, requirement of strict celibacy, and tight daily schedule. He attempted to restrict black magic and to resist the erosion of tantric ritual.
It is said that Shakyamuni Buddha and Padmasambhava both predicted the life and accomplishments of Tsongkhapa. During the time of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa was a young boy who offered the Buddha a clear crystal rosary and received a conch shell in return. The Buddha prophesied that the boy would be born in Tibet, create a great monastery, present a crown to the Buddha status in Lhasa, and be instrumental in the promotion of Buddhism in that country. Padmasambhava predicted that a fully ordained Buddhist monk would be born in the east near the land of China, be regarded as an emanation of a Bodhisattva of greatest renown, and attain the bliss-body (sambhoga kaya) of a Buddha. All this came to pass. The conch shell that the Buddha had given the boy was unearthed during the building of Ganden monastery in Lhasa; it could still be seen in Drepung monastery. The crown still adorns the head of the Buddha in Lhasa at the Jokhang.
At the age of three Tsongkhapa took lay vows and at the age of seven receive ordination as a novice monk. Within five year, Tsongkhapa received the empowerments of the Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, and Yamantaka mandalas. He commenced to travel across Tibet, studying at the feet of many masters. At the age of sixteen he journeyed to Drigung monastery, where he studied Perfection of Wisdom philosophy, the great Seal (Mahamudra), and a range of principal Mahayana and Vajrayana texts. Even at this early age his fame began to spread and he began to transmit his knowledge to a growing number of disciples while teaching at such monastic colleges as Drigung, Samye, Zhalu, and Sakya.
Tsongkhapa experienced his first encounter with the Bodhisattva Manjushri at the age of thirty-three. He could directly experience Manjushri's presence and receive teachings from him. Thus, Tsongkhapa came to be recognized as an emanation of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. In 1938 Tsongkhapa attained perfect enlightenment. Subsequently, he established the Great Prayer Festival at Lhasa in 1409. In 1410, he founded a monastery and named it Ganden. Here he served as the first Throne-Holder of Ganden. Under his leadership, Gelug Order spread across Tibet and became the largest school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Here he is presented in ornate robes and wearing the conical yellow hat of a pandita, the distinctive headgear of Gelug hierarchs that earned the sect its sobriquet as the 'Yellow Hat' sect. Tsongkhapa's main disciples, Gyaltsab Je and Khedrup Je, are depicted to his left and right sides, below his throne. Gyaltsab Je, became a monk in the Sakyapa sect and received a khachu degree in philosophy and Buddhist literature, the highest degree then offered, for which he was tested in ten subjects. Gyaltsab Je became the favourite disciples of Tsongkhapa and transmitter of his teachings. Khedrup Je was an erudite scholar he contributed a lot in the field. Khedrup Je had written the biography of his teacher.
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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