This series of 15 thangkas depicts the life story of Lama Tsongkhapa, 15th century saint and scholar of Tibet. Typically hung in the grand hall of monasteries, they illustrate how, throughout his previous lives, the Noble Je Tsongkhapa cultivated the Path leading to Enlightenment and how his spiritual progression was attested by prophecies of all the Buddhas of the past.
1 . Manjusri, the embodiment of the wisdom of all the Buddhas. His attributes are a book placed on a lotus flower above his left shoulder and the sword of wisdom which cuts the veil of ignorance above his right shoulder. Je Tsongkhapa is venerated as an emanation of Manjusri.
2. Je Tsongkhapa. His hands are in the gesture (mudra) of teaching the Dharma.
3. In a previous life, Je Tsongkhapa receives a prophecy from the Buddha Peak-of-Power (Indraketudhvaja).
4. When he takes rebirth as a young brahman, Je Tsongkhapa offers a rosary (mala) made of crystal to the Buddha Sakyamuni.
5. The Buddha Sakyamuni teaches on the shore of the lake Anavatapta and the King of the nagas offers him a conch shell.
6. On the Mount Kailas, the Buddha preaches the Law to celestial beings and nagas.
7. On the Vulture peak(Gridhrakuta), the Buddha Sakyamuni prophesizes the apparition of Je Tsongkhapa in Tibet.
8. The conch is hidden on one of the mountains of Tibet.
9. and 10. Great disciples of Je Tsongkhapa.
1. The father of Je Tsongkhapa dreams a monk comes to dwell in their private temple on the upper floor.
2. In his dream, the father sees Vajrapani throwing a vajra that melts in his wife’s body.
3. The mother of Je Tsongkhapa dreams celestial beings are purifying her.
4. Neighbors dream that the Jowo of Lhasa is being invited to their village.
5. The Master Dondrup Rinchen has a vision of Vajrabhairava announcing the apparition of Je Tsongkhapa.
6. The mother sees in her dream a huge statue melting in her body.
7. The night before giving birth, the mother of Je Tsongkhapa dreams she is purified.
8. The Master Dondrup Rinchen sends protection pills for the newborn baby.
9. The Master Dondrup Rinchen offers cattle to the parents and requests that the child be entrusted to him.
10. At three years of age, the young child receives his lay vows from the Fourth Karmapa Rolpay Dorje.
11. At the feet of Dondrup Rinchen, Je Tsongkhapa takes the vows of novice.
12. The Master Dondrup Rinchen bestows empowerments to the child.
13. Je Tsongkhapa has a vision of Vajrapani and of the Indian Master Atisa.
14. Departure for Central Tibet. In Tcham-do, Je Tsongkhapa has a vision of the Sixteen Arhats and of Mahakala.
1. At seventeen years of age, Je Tsongkhapa receives teachings from Djen Na Chos-kyi Gyelpo, the Abbot of Drikung monastery.
2. He studies medicine in Kuntang with Lhadje Kon-chok Kyab.
3. In Nyerthang, he receives teachings from Tashi Senge and Densa Gekong.
4. In Dewachen monastery, he studies Partchin at the feet of the Masters Yonten Gyatso and Ugyen pa.
5. Losang Drakpa listens to the teachings of Djam-rin-pa on the Five Treatises of Maitreya.
6. In Chos-dzong, Lama Sonam Gyeltsen bestows on him the empowerment of Manjusri Arapatsana and the empowerment of the mandala of the Body of Heruka according to the tradition of Drilpupa.
7. When he is nineteen years old, he takes part in the philosophical debates of Sangpu monastery.
8. He takes part in the philosophical debates of Dewachen monastery and his fame spreads out.
9. In Shalu. the great Lotsawa Rinchen Namgyel grants him explanations on Heruka with the Thirteen Deities according to the tradition of Maitripa.
10. In Narthang, Je Tsongkhapa listens to many teachings at the feet of Mati Panchen.
11. He takes part to the philosophical debates in Sakya monastery and his fame increases.
12. Philosophical debates in Sangden monastery.
13. Philosophical debates in Karong monastery.
14. Philosophical debates in Ngam-rin monastery.
15. In the monastery of Jonang, Je Tsongkhapa listens to teaching on the Six Applications of the Kalacakra by Tchok-le Namgyel.
16. In Maray monastery. Tchi-po-lhe teaches him the Progressive Path of the Kadam-pa school.
17. He takes part in the philosophical debates in O monastery.
18. In Narthang,the great translator Donsang gives him teachings on the Abhidharma and on the Valid Cognition (Pramana).
19. He takes part in the philosophical debates in Ne-nying monastery.
20. He receives teachings on Partchin from Master Nyapon.
1. Je Tsongkhapa receives teaching on Abhidharma from Master Rendawa.
2. In Samling, in the region of Nyangto, he listens to the explanations of the
3. The great Lotsawa Djang-chup Tsemo comes to the Potala. Je Tsongkhapa receives teachings in Chos-dzong.
4. In Kyormo lung, he listens to the Great Commentary of the Vinaya-sutra at the feet of the Abbot Loselwa.
5. During a prayer assembly, he enters a meditative state that lasts for several hours.
6. He suffers from back pains and goes to see Master Ugyen renowned for the efficiency of his rituals.
7. With other learned religious, Je Tsongkhapa heads to Ne-nying.
7bis. He gives his first teaching on the Compendium of Manifest Knowledge (Abhidharma samuccaya)
8. During spring, passing through Narthang, he goes to Sakya where he receives teachings from the Venerable Rendawa.
9. He listens to the teachings of Lama Dorje Rinchen-pa.
10. The rituals accomplished by one Geshe of Sakya monastery relieve him from his back pains.
11. The Venerable Rendawa and Je Tsongkhapa go to Ngam-rim. Master Rendawa composes a developed commentary on the Compendium of Manifest Knowledge (Abhidharma Samuccaya). The young Je Tsongkhapa also listens to his teaching on the commentary of the Pramana-vartika.
12. In autumn, he receives news from his native country. In Lhalung, in the region of Mel, he devotes his energy to the training of mind in the Path of the Tantras under the direction of Lama Sonam Drakpa. He makes a retreat during which he studies a commentary of the Pramana-vartika.
13. He spends the winter in Dewachen where he reads numerous works. He leaves for Tsang.
14. He reaches Narthang where he listens to a teaching on a commentary of the Pramana composed by the great Lotsawa Donsang. He spends the summer in this monastery and takes part in the philosophical debates.
15. He receives teachings on the Madhyamaka.
16. He receives teachings from Lotsawa Namka Sangpo.
17. He goes to Sakya monastery where he takes part in the philosophical debates.
18. Philosophical debates in Soka Kuntang.
19. Vision of Sarasvati in Sangpu monastery where he takes part in the philosophical debates.
1. In Tse-tang, Je Tsongkhapa takes part in the dialectical debates on four of the great Treatises of Maitreya.
2. In Yarlung, he receives the vows of a fully ordained monk (bhiksu).
3. He meets Djen Nga Drakpa Jam-chup in the monastery of Tel. They exchange long conversations and the young Losang Drakpa receives teachings from this Master.
4. In Lharang Kheru, he gives teachings on Partchin, valid cognition (pramana) and Madhyamaka.
5. In Tsel monasery, he consults the works and the commentaries translated into Tibetan and begins to compose his commentary on Abhisamaya-alamkara.
6. In Lhasa, he accomplishes with great zeal the practices of Nyune at the feet of the self-manifested statue of Avalokitesvara
7. In autumn, he goes to Dewachen and gives many lectures.
8. During spring, he teaches in Cha-yul.
9. He returns to Tsel monastery where he continues the composition of his commentary of the Abhisamaya-alamkara.
10. He ends this composition in Dewachen.
11. In Kyormo lung, he receives teachings on the Kalacakra from Tokden Yeshe Gyeltsen.
12. The following summer, he gives numerous explanations on the Sutra-pitaka in front of vast assemblies of scholars.
13. He spends the winter at Tso-may in Tolung where he studies the Kalacakra. He also gives many lectures.
14. He teaches in Dewachen.
15. In Ngan-kar, he carries on his studies of the Kalacakra and teaches to highly learned monks.
16. He bestows empowerments in Monkar in Yarlung.
17a. He is invited to teach in Rik-nga lhakang.
17b. Staying in Monkar he expounds seventeen texts in one cycle of teachings.
18. During the summer, he conducts a retreat of Heruka in a grotto of Okar and develops high realizations.
19. During the autumn, he gives lectures in front of vast assemblies.
1. During the winter, Je Tsongkhapa gives lectures in a grotto of Kyormo lung.
2. When autumn comes, yearning to listen to the Basket of the Tantra, he goes to the region of Tsang and arrives in Rong where he listens to the teaching of high learned Masters.
3. Je Tsongkhapa bestows the empowerment of Sarasvati to Lama Umapa. Through the mediation Lama Umapa who has visions of Manjusri, Je Tsongkhapa asks Manjusri questions.
4. He goes to Taktsang where he meets learned Masters and receives teachings from them.
5. In Ba-U Bagner, he receives explanations on the Guyasamaja from the Venerable Rendawa.
6. In Chos-lung, he questions Manjusri through the mediation of Lama Umapa.
7. In Nyang-to, Je Tsongkhapa meets Rinpoche Chos-kyi pel and requests him to give teachings.
8. In Nyang to, in the Tri Tsakang, he studies ritual dances and melodies as well as the manner of tracing mandala and executing mudras.
9. One night, he dreams that Master Kyungpo Lhe comes to him holding a bell and a vajra and that having placed these objects on his head he utters the word ‘Karma bendza’
10. He dreams that Master Kyungpo Lhe shows him his heart in which a rosary of mantras is turning.
11. He receives initiations from the Master Kyungpo Lhe.
11bis. Under the direction of Gyeltsen Drakpa, he studies the ritual dances and melodies as well as the manner of tracing mandalas and executing mudras.
12. He listens to the teachings of Rinpoche Chos-kyi Pel in Panam Pakri.
13. He stays in Kadung in U region with Lama Umapa.
14. Retreat with Lama Umapa.
15. Visions of Manjusri.
16. Je Tsongkhapa stays in Lhasa with Lama Umapa.
17. He receives the four initiations of the Guyasamaja from Lama Umapa.
18. Je Tsongkhapa gives numerous teachings in Kyormo lung.
1. At thirty-six years of age, having made a small boat. Je Tsongkhapa leaves Kyormo lung for Olka with eight disciples.
2. Devoting himself to intensive practices of purification, he frequently has visions of the thirty-five Buddhas of confession, Maitreya-natha, Medicine Buddha, Maitreya and Amitayus.
3. Vision of Manjusri surrounded by multitude of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
4. At thirty-seven years of age, Je Tsongkhapa presents offerings to the great statue of Maitreya in temple Dzin-tchi and prays with great fervor.
5. Vision of Manjusri in the middle of a vast assembly of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.
6. Vision of Manjusri surrounded by numerous pandits and great yogis.
7. Vajrabhairava appears in the middle of a blazing fire and melts in Je Tsongkhapa.
8. Vision of Manjusri surrounded by Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, pandits and yogis that entirety fill the space. A sword springs out from the heart of Manjusri and its tip comes to touch the heart of Je Tsongkhapa. Ambrosia flows down the sword into the heart of the Noble Master, filling his body. The pure bliss he then experiences increases in an unconceivable manner.
9. Those who are present at this vision, open their mouth to drink this ambrosia. Some get a lot of ambrosia, others less, while some do not get any.
10. On the day of the celebration of the victory of Buddha Sakyamuni upon the heretics, Je Tsongkhapa presents lavish offerings. When he invites those to whom the offerings are intended, he makes a particularly intense vow. Immediately, he sees the whole sky filled with Buddhas.
1. Following the instructions of Manjusri, Je Tsongkhapa decides to repair the temple of Dzin-tchi. Having no riches, he wants to propitiate Vaisravana to get help but he realizes he does not even have butter to make the tormas for the ritual. A monk carrying some butter suddenly appears. The ritual is performed and the following day nomads bring plenty of butter.
3. The mandala of Manjusri-endowed-with-secrets is created. Je Tsongkhapa conducts a developed consecration ceremony.
4. Je Tsongkhapa indicates to the artists the respective colors of the Thirty-five confession Buddhas.
5. He goes to Lhodrak. Khenchen Tchakdor comes to welcome him and sees him as an emanation of Manjusri while Je Tsongkhapa sees the Khenchen as an emanation of Vajrapani.
6. Having listened to a teaching on Guru-yoga from the Khenchen, Je Tsongkhapa has a vision of Vajrapani who comes to melt in him.
7. When Je Tsongkhapa gives a teaching on the Siksa-samuccaya, the Khenchen sees above his head the Venerable Maitreya, while a white Manjusri appears above his right shoulder and the Goddess Sarasvati above the left. All around stands a vast assembly of Protectors and Dakinis headed by Mahakala.
8. At the feet of the Khenchen, Je Tsongkhapa listens to explanations on the Lamrim and receives initiations in the Heard lineage (Gnyen gyu). He has a vision of the Deities whose empowerment is conferred to him.
9. Je Tsongkhapa thinks of going to India to meet the Master Mitra. Vajrapani tells the Khenchen that if Je Tsongkhapa goes to India it will hurt his disciples. Following the instructions of Manjusri, Je Tsongkhapa offers the three monastic robes, the bowl, and so forth to the statue of Maitreya in the temple of Dzin-tchi.
10. While he stays in Nyel, he takes pan in the welcoming ceremonies of the great Tenrim, the work composed by Geshe Trinlay-pa. Je Tsongkhapa carefully reads this text and then gives teachings on it.
1. Je Tsongkhapa receives teaching from Khenchen Chos-kyap Sanpo.
2. He spends this summer retreat in the Yardren monastery. He has a vision of the Venerable Manjusri and Vaisravana. Manjusri makes a prophecy.
3. With thirty disciples, he goes to Tsari. He practices the self-initiation of Heruka and numerous extraordinary signs appear.
4. On his way back to Nyel, he has a gigantesque vision of the Protector Maitreya-natha who makes a prophecy about him.
5. In Senge dzong, he carefully examines the Six Applications of the Kalacakra and achieves a correct and firm comprehension. He has a vision of Kalacakra of golden color in his Solitary Heroe form, who delivers a prophecy about him.
6. The Goddess Sarasvati appears to tell him he will leave this world at the age of fifty-seven. The Venerable Manjusri appears in turn to indicate the methods that will enable to increase his longevity.
7. Extremely remarkable vision of Manjusri who grants teachings on the Progressive Path. Je Tsongkhapa presents numerous offerings.
8. While staying in Kang-chung, Je Tsongkhapa gives teachings in front of vast assemblies of religious and lay devotees.
9. Je Tsongkhapa gathers the inhabitants of the region of Nyel and bestows on them the vows of lay disciples, the vows of refuge, and so forth. He also exhorts them to make one hundred thousand ‘tsa-tsa’ (small icons made of clay).
1. Je Tsongkhapa spends the summer retreat in Reting. He meets Gyeltsab Je.
2. Teachings in Ode Kun-gyel. Vision of Nagarjuna surrounded by his Spiritual Sons. The Pandit Buddhapalita blesses Je Tsongkhapa with his work.
3. In autumn, teachings to the religious of Karpuk.
4. Summer retreat in Ye-Tora. Je Tsongkhapa gives teachings.
5. Teachings in Kawa-dong in Olka.
6. During the celebration of the Victory of Buddha Sakyamuni upon the heretics, Je Tsongkhapa presents countless lavish offerings in front of the statue of Maitreya in Dzin-tchi temple. As a result of the intense prayer he makes, an infinite assembly of all the Buddhas of the five families fills the space around him.
7. Teachings to Gyeltsap Je and other disciples.
8. The hat of Je Tsongkhapa falls in the river.
9. Teachings in Podong monastery in the region of Nyang.
10. During the autumn, Je Tsongkhapa goes to the region of Ki-sho and stays in the Potala. In front of the monks of the three great monasteries of Sangpu, Dewachen and Kuntang, he gives various teachings.
11. Teachings in Kawa-dong.
12. The Venerable Rendawa goes to Kawa-dong with some disciples.
13. Je Tsongkhapa and the Venerable Rendawa stay together and give numerous teachings.
1. Wishing to make a retreat, Je Tsongkhapa and the Venerable Rendawa go to Reting.
2. Je Tsongkhapa gives teachings in Reting and has long discussions with his Master Rendawa.
3. Je Tsongkhapa is invited in Drikung monastery. He receives instructions on the Tantras from Djen-nga Rinpoche and gives himself numerous teachings.
4. He directs the summer retreat in a monastery in Artchenbo.
5. He stays in the hermitage of Senge Shol near Reting.
6. Je Tsongkhapa has a Vision of all the Masters of the Lamrim tradition, from the Buddha to his actual Master. He then composes the Great Exposition of the stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chen-mo).
6bis. Divinities take the oath to protect the Teaching.
7. Je Tsongkhapa goes to Dewachen monastery in the region of On and gives numerous teachings on ethics.
8. He conducts the summer retreat in Dewachen monastery.
9. He stays in Ode Kun-gyel where he gives teachings on the Lamrim and composes the Great Exposition of the Stages of the Tantric Path (Ngak rim).
1. Je Tsongkhapa stays in Olka and expounds tantric teachings.
2. In 1407, while staying in the region of Sera, he has a vision of Mahakala with six arms.
3. He meets Khedrup Je.
4. The envoys of the emperor of China come to invite Je Tsongkhapa.
4bis. Teachings in the hermitage of Sera Chos-Ling.
5. Teachings in the region of Ki-may in Drumbu-lung.
6. Instauration of the Great Prayer Festival (Monlam chen-po).
7. Je Tsongkhapa goes on the Drok Riwo mountains, where Ganden monastery will be built.
8. Teachings in Sera Chos-Ling.
9. Teachings in Sanri.
1. Construction of Ganden monastery on the Drok Riwo Mountain.
2. Je Tsongkhapa and his disciples move to Ganden.
3. Je Tsongkhapa goes to Samten Ling in the region of Olka and gives numerous teachings
4. On the third day of the twelfth month of the year of the cow, he has a vision of Manjusri in the middle of a mandala of nineteen Deities.
5. On the evening of the fourth day, he has a vision of Buton Rinpoche who ho entrusts him with the Root Tantra of the Guyasamaja.
6. Je Tsongkhapa achieves a firm comprehension of the Teachings of Marpa.
7. While staying in Ganden, he composes several works.
8. In 1411, Je Tsongkhapa suffers from serious health problems. In order to eliminate these hindrances, he makes an intensive practice of Vajrabhairava.
9. In 1412, Je Tsongkhapa makes a retreat and experiments many extraordinary visions.
10. Je Tsongkhapa devotes himself to practice with seven close disciples.
11. He has a vision of the Buddha Sakyamuni who executes the mudra of the Victory upon demons.
12. He has vision of Protectors such as Mahakala with six arms and four arms, Yama, Vaisravana, and so forth who drag the troops of demons.
1. During the summer of his fifty-eighth years, Je Tsongkhapa is invited by Miwang Drakpa Gyeltsen to go to Trashi Doka, in the region of On. At this time, he meets Je Gedun Drup. He gives teachings in front of vast religious assemblies.
2. He stays in Ganden where he expounds the teachings. He has a vision of the Venerable Manjusri who makes a prophecy about him.
3. Lama Tokden-pa dreams he arrives at one stupa and is told it is the stupa of Je Tsongkhapa. Dakinis holding ritual vases full of ambrosia purify and wash this stupa. He also see other stupas nearby.
4. While he is edifying Yangpa chen temple, Je Tsongkhapa has a vision of the Buddha Sakyamuni, Maitreya, Amitabha and Yamantaka.
5. During the construction of Yangpa chen temple, he has a vision of Heruka with the mandala of the Deities. At that time, an assembly of Dakinis appears in the sky and presents offerings while singing praises.
6. In 1417, during the inauguration ceremony of Yangpa chen, all the persons hear violente sound that seem to melt in the Offerings Hall (chos-kang).
7. In 1418, Je Tsongkhapa gives teachings on the commentaries of the Guyasamaja and the Kalacakra.
8. While he is presenting tormas to the Protectors of the Law, he composes a particular melody for Yamantaka.
9. In 1419, in the middle of numerous monks, of U and Tsang regions. he composes a commentary to the Root Tantra of Heruka and transmits his instructions.
10. He leaves Ganden for Lhasa where he presents offerings to the Jowo and makes sincere vows.
11. Staying in the region of Tolung, he gives numerous teachings to religious and lay devotees.
1. Je Tsongkhapa leaves Tolung and goes in a palanquin to Drepung monastery. A rainbow appears in front of the palanquin.
2. When he conducts the consecration ceremony of the statues of the tantric college of Drepung, the Wisdom Beings Vajrabhairava and Mahakala with six arms manifest themselves.
3. Teaching in Drepung in front of vast religious assemblies.
4. Leaving Drepung for Lhasa, he bows to the Jowo, presents offerings and pronounces vows for the durability of the Teaching.
5. In Sera, he teaches the Root Tantra of the Guyasamaja and of Heruka.
6. Foundation of the tantric monastery of San-ngak kar.
7. Consecration ceremony of San-ngak kar.
8. Teachings in Drakar.
9. On the road to Drushi, extraordinary sounds are heard.
10. Travel in palanquin from Drushi to Ganden. Je Tsongkhapa stops in Yangpa-chen where he presents vast offerings.
11. He takes part to a vast prayer assembly in Ganden.
12. Back to his room in Ganden, Je Tsongkhapa is seriously ill. He gives his last instructions to his disciples and particularly to Gyeltsab Je whom he designates as his successor.
13. Je Tsongkhapa passes away.
Thangka description is taken from Dje Tsongkhapa by Francoise Wang (A Detchene Eusel Ling Publication, 2002)
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