Religions in Tibet have different stories due to its long history, but generally it is categorized by three main religions as Animism, Bon and Buddhism. The Animism subjects to the control of animistic forces by bards and storytellers, and Bon accentuates the purity of space, funerary rituals and certain meditative practices, that may have originated in either Zoroastrianism or Kashmiri Buddhism, and Buddhist is the means of liberation from the sufferings of cyclic existence as originated from ancient India by Shakyamuni Buddha or Gautama Buddha, so below here we introduce religions on the Tibet plateau based on the above three categories.
2. Founder of Yungdrung Bon-Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche and Bon religion Origination in Zhang-zhung;
Bon appearance in Tibet
3. Gautama Buddha and Origination of Buddhism in India.
Initial appearance of Buddhism in Tibet
Decline and revival
Animism (from Latin word anima "soul, life") refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle. Animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) worlds, and souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment. Animism is particularly widely found in the religions of indigenous peoples.
It is the most ancient form of Tibetan religion, which has known as “nameless religion by RA Stein, it is a type of animism based upon the worship of the elements and mountain deities. Incense offerings would be made to appease local mountain spirits, and “wind horse” “Lungta” in Tibetan prayer flags or cairns affixed on prominent passes to ensure good auspices. Solemn declarations of truth and oaths would be made in the presence of local deities, to invoke good fortune, and talismanic objects or places were revered as life-supporting forces. Enemies or hotile forces could then be overpowered by drawing in their life-supporting talisman in a ceremony know as “Lahguk”. The so-called religion of humans (Michoi in Tibetan) which evolved out of this early animism relied upon storytellers (Drungkhen in Tibetan) and singers of riddles or epic poems to provide an ethical framework for social behavior.
Founder of Yungdrung Bon-Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche and Bon religion Origination in Zhang-zhung;
According to the Bön religion, about 18,000 years ago Lord Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche (Founder of Bon and Great Man of the Shen Tribe) was born in the land of Olmo Lung Ring Tazik. “Öl” symbolizes unborn, “mo” implies undiminishing, “Lung” denotes the prophetic words of Tonpa Shenrab, “Ring” refer to his everlasting compassion and “Tazik” indicate the region that scholars of the modern day recognize the present day Tajikistan, which is situated north-west of Tibet that once thought to be the mythical kingdom called Zhang-Zhung (ShangShung in Tibetan). Olmo Lungring is also known as “Shambhala” in Sanskrit and it continues to be known by this name among Tibetan Buddhists even today.
At the age of thirty-one he renounced the world and lived in austerity, teaching the dharma. During his whole life his efforts to propagate the Bön religion were obstructed by the demon Khyabpa Lagring (Khyab-pa Lag-ring), that fought to destroy or impede Tonpa Shenrab’s work until eventually the demon was converted and became his disciple. Once while pursuing a demon to recover his stolen horses the Lord arrived in present-day western Tibet. This was his only visit to Tibet. On this occasion he imparted some instructions on the performance of rituals, but on the whole he found the people unprepared to receive more teachings. Before leaving Tibet he prophesied that all his teachings would flourish in Tibet when the time was appropriate. Buddha Tonpa shed his human shell at the age of eighty-two. Admittedly 82 years in Olmo Lungring corresponds to some 8,200 years of human time.
There are three biographies of Lord Tonpa Shenrab. The earliest and shortest one is known as “Epitome of Aphorisms”; the second is in two volumes and is called “Piercing Eye”. These two accounts were rediscovered as Terma(Tibetan words literally meant to treasure) in the 10th and 11th centuries respectively. The third and largest is the twelve volume work entitled “The Glorious”. This last book belongs to the category of Bon scriptures known as “Oral transmission”, and was dictated to Loden Nyingpo who lived in the 14th century.
Eighteen hundred years after the passing of Tönpa Shenrab, Mucho Demdug came from heaven to Olmo Lung Ring as the speech emanation of Tönpa Shenrab. Mucho Demdug turned the wheel of Bön so that all the teachings of Tönpa Shenrab would be organized and classified. He taught many students, the best known of which are referred to as the Six Great Scholars or the “Six Ornaments of the World”(Zamling Khepi Gyendug). They translated the Bön teachings into their own languages and spread them throughout their native lands. These six great masters are: Mutsa Tahe, Tritok Partsa and Huli Paryag from Tagzig; Lhadag Ngagdo from India; Legtang Mangpo from China; and Sertok Chejam from Trom.
Bon appearance in Tibet
The Bön teachings were by now well established in Zhang-Zhung. Zhang-Zhung was an independent state with its own language, literature, and culture. It was divided into three sections referred to as the “Three Doors”: inner (phugpa), outer(gopa), and middle (barpa). The inner door is Olmo Lung Ring, the middle door is Tazik, and the outer door is Zhang Zhung itself.
The Bon doctrine is taught by Tonpa Shenrab and recorded in three accounts was spread by his disciples to adjacent countries such as Zhang-Zhung, India, Kashmir, China, and finally reached Tibet. Its transmission was secured by siddhas and scholars who translated texts from the language of Zhang-Zhung into Tibetan. The works contained in the Bonpo canon as we know it today are written in Tibetan, but a number of them, especially the older ones, retain the titles and at times whole passages in the language of Zhang-Zhung, therefore the teachings flourished throughout the ancient empire of Zhang –Zhung and it gradually brought to Central Tibet sometime before 600 A.D, since then it was also prospered in Tibetan area until the emergence of Buddhism. Due in part to the nature of the narrative being slowly reshaped by the influence of Buddhism appearing in Tibet in the 7th century, and the Bön religion itself has actually gone through three distinct phases: Animistic Bön, Yungdrung or Eternal Bön, and New Bön. Many native Bon elements are obvious within Tibetan Buddhist rituals, and the New Bon of these day reflects Buddhist influence undoubtedly, though there remain many distinctions within these two religions, but both share a common and ultimate commitment to the enlightenment of all sentient beings. Integral to the religious practice of Bön is a heightened sense of esthetics. Whether it be through the arts, philosophy, theology, mudras, mantras, ritual, dance or astrology, examining, perceiving and experiencing our intrinsic relationship to nature, and to the natural mind is an ever- evolving outspread of revelation and practice whose transforming mere existence into an experience of living with universal wisdom and compassion for all.
In the eighth century, the assassination of the Emperor Ligmincha by the 38th Tibetan king Trisong Detsen ended Zhang Zhung’s independence. Thereafter, Zhang Zhung’s land and culture were assimilated into Tibet, and eventually disappeared. However, many Zhang Zhung words from ancient Bön texts still exist in the modern languages of Kinnaur, Lahul, Spiti, Ladakh, Zanskar, and some Himalayan regions of Nepal.”
Currently the practitioners of New Bon still honor the abbot of Menri monastery as the leader of their tradition,
As mentioned in the above, Bon religion has gone through three distinc phased which includes Old Bon, Yungdrung Bon, and New Bon. Yungdrung doctrine, or otherwise known as Eternal Bon, is dedicated to perpetuating the teachings of their founder Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, who occupies a preeminent position in Bon culture similar to that of Sakyamuni in Buddhism. The teachings and practice of Yungdrung Bon contain the Nine Ways or the Nine Gradual Views of Bon, the Four Portals and Treasure as the Fifth, and the External, Internal and Secret Bon.
Bön, was officially recognized by the Dalai Lama as the fifth wisdom school of Tibet in 1978.
1. Cha Shen Thegpa: the Way of Prediction - Describes the four methods of prediction; astrology, ritual examination of causes, and prophecy
2. Nang Shen Thegpa: the Way of the Visual World - explains the psychophysical universe, as relating to the origin and nature of gods and demons living in the world and the methodology of exorcism and the liberation of beings through energetic exchange
3. Trul Shen Thegpa: the Way of Illusion- rites for dispersing adverse powers
4. Si Shen Thegpa: the Way of Existence –describes the phases after death and the methods for guiding living beings toward final liberation
5. Ge Nyen Thepga: the Way of a virtuous layperson’s path, offers ten principles of practices for well being, and the practice of fasting
6. Drang Song Thegpa: the Way of Monk hood - explains the rules of monastic conduct and the first level of tantric practices
7. A Kar Thegpa: the Way of Pure A or Primordial Sound – elucidates higher tantric practices and the necessary rituals of visualization as well as the tantric practice of Che rim, explaining how to cut the bonds of rebirth, death and the intermediate state
8. Ye Shen Thegpa: the Way of Primordial – expounds upon the essential reasons for having the appropriate master, place and occasion for tantric practice and emphasizes the perfection tantric process Dzog rim, and obtaining the illusory body, Gyu lu.
9. La na me ba: the Unsurpassable Way – details the doctrine, views, meditation and behavior of the Great Perfection, Dzogchen
Gautama Buddha and Origination of Buddhism in India
“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger”—Quoted by Buddha.
It was more than 2500 years ago, Buddha was born as prince of King Suddhodana leader of Shakya clan in Kapilavastu kingdom which is current Lumbini in south of Nepal. And his birth was widely celebrated within the whole kingdom and various sources holds that Buddha’s mother Queen Maha Maya was died at his birth, a few days or seven days later, the infant was given the name Gautama Siddhartha, meaning "he who achieves his aim" where Gautama was his family name. As being a prince of a kingdom he was free of vexations, one day he disguised as a servant, he came into town and discovered all the miseries of the world. One evening, he met an old man, a dying man, then a man who had the plague crying in pain and a corpse covered with blood. He then realise that life as it always seemed to him was not a bed of roses and material wealth is not the ultimate goal of anyone.
From then on Gautama Buddha dedicated himself to find a way or a solution to end human misery and pain. He went on to become an ascetic, but that was not what he was looking for, he somewhat was not getting what he wanted, nor did he find solace in the so-called spiritual guidance of his times. It was then one fine day, when he heard a music teacher who would help him with his musical learning's, speak of the resistance of a string. If the string on an instrument was too tight it would not play the notes too well, however if it was too lose it would play shabby, that is when he realized and went ahead for the middle path, a road that went between he beliefs of an ascetic and the worldly human. With this as a key to his definition on saving humanity Gautama Buddha went ahead and began his ways of finding an answer through intense yogic forms of meditation, this was beneath a Pipal tree in Benaras, India. At the end of a single night of undisturbed meditation, he got to understand the meanings of life and death and the cycles of rebirth, and most importantly, he understood and got the answer to his main question on how to end the cycle of infinite pain and sorrow in this world, and if preached and practiced in a virtuous manner, he could save the world at large. Here is when Siddhartha Gautama emerged as the Buddha, or the Awakened One. His first teachings took place at the Deer Park, Benaras, which is where he made his first discourse on the Four Noble truths of the world. This is what the Buddha had gone forward doing in various parts of India and the world and thus after the holy master had long passed away, and when King Asoka of the Mauryan empire converted to Buddhism, the teachings of the holy master gained momentum and started spreading like wildfire across the country and parts of South East Asia and other places like Sri Lanka and Japan, as well. Buddhism now has become a fragmented stream in various parts of the world, except in Sri Lanka where they follow strictly the original ways of the maters teachings.
After Buddha's death, steles, stupas and monuments were built wherever Buddha had preached and his disciples met one year after his death in Rajagrha, capital of Maghada, in order to write the buddhist holy canon, this is divided into 3 "parts" Vinaya (the discipline), Sutras (sayings of the Buddha) and Abbidharma (or metaphysics). It was then gradually established that other Buddhas, Tathagathas (4 or 7) had preceded him, and one defines the statute of Boddhisatvas. Who are these Boddhisatvas? In fact future Buddhas who, before deliverance, remained halfway, and they were given as mission, helping men to reduce the number of rebirths in order to reach a quicker deliverance. They are the ones who will receive our prayers. When the image of a Buddha is stared at, there is no communication, because he is outside this world; on the other hand, if one stares at a Boddhisatva, this one may transmit to us this strength we are seeking from him. This is why the Dalai-lama who represents a Boddhisatva will be more venerated than the Panchen-Lama who represents only one Buddha. In -250 B.C., a school put forth the assumption that the Buddha and his likenesses, could only be produced outside any concrete existence. Then, within the Indian University of Nalanda, a legendary man, Nagarjuna founded the school of Madhamika (or average path) which obtained a deep importance in the diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet and in China. In holy texts, there were the 10 capital sins, the 10 virtues, and among them 6 are transcendental or " paramitas ". He multiplied texts named Prajnaparamitas or "transcendental extreme intelligence" which develops the doctrines of the vacuity, or void through texts full of meaningless expressions, but whose reading brings us closer to the deliverance. The concept of void takes form. " Tantrism " is a form of Buddhism which followed from there, copying the symbol of the couple Shiva-Kali, and introducing female demonstrations (dakkinis, yoginis, etc) into the Buddhist Pantheon. This new form of Buddhism is called Mahayana whereas it's primitive form that one meets in South-East Asia (Thailand, Burma, Kampuchea, etc) is named Hinayana. The first texts of Mahayana arrived in China around 65 years A.D. Many Chinese travelers, Fa-hien, Hiuan-tsang, etc. came in Maghada to obtain texts over the Himalayas in the solid mass of Karakorum, they speak little about Tibet, yet the Buddhist texts spoke of the holy lake of Anavatapta from where spout out the four large holy rivers of India and in the north of this lake, of a giant tree whose top (sap) is transformed into gold sheets and touches the sky. One recognizes the lake Manasarovar and the Mt Kailash in Tibet. Then gradually it also rooted later in the 7th century and well flourished till then.
Indeed, in the world, there are animals, creatures deprived of conscience and thus responsible for their acts, for whom misfortunes in their existence are without explanation. There are individuals deprived of moral who are able to perpetrate the darkest deeds to satisfy their desires. There are others who, although non-evil, are greedy who work to get rich (and often without success) and finally there are those who like him wish to have an existence where the individual, transgresses his personal case, seeks a healthy life, in harmony with nature, animals and especially people. Moreover, this moral objective must place the conscience on a level where earthly misfortunes are controlled by the spirit and with no effect on our minds. Thus the pain and all terrestrial miseries can be dominated. The spirit of conscience will rise to the level of the gods such as imagined at the time unburdened by human vicissitudes and away from time.
Buddha defined the twelve stages which mark the life of an individual, the discovery of the 5 senses, knowledge, love, founding of a family, getting property, etc. Moreover life is no more than an uninterrupted succession of births and rebirths. This conscience which is given to us at birth, if it is well used, if is gradually enriched by knowledge, humanism and generosity, it still transcends mankind towards a level of higher happiness. Thus any action, any word, corresponds to an energy which will be either positive (towards goddess or the ideal of man), or negative (as the animal) according to whether we achieve good or evil deeds. In the same way, our soul will leave an imprint on the spirit of future generations. Thus, it can be said it does not die.
Initial appearance of Buddhism in Tibet
Buddhism emergence in Tibet was much paradoxical, but in many reference it said the first official introduction of a Buddhist scripture into Tibet happened during reign of 28th Yarlung king Lhatho Thori Nyantsen,(around 500 CE), however, the book was not translated at the time.
Then later the 33rd King of Tibet, Song Tsen Gampo (born 617) had translated it, More over the king Songtsen Gampo married for two wives from alliances with neighbouring powers. One came from Nepal, the other from China; both are Buddhist and both broung with them precious Buddhist images as a part of their dowry, then later they built temples in Lhasa to house their Buddha images, so that the Jokhang temple was built by Princess Brikuti(Nepalese prince) and Ramoche temple was built by Prince Wencheng (Chinese prince), it is the first visible foothold of Buddhism in Tibet. But it is not until the second half of the 8th century that Tibetan kings actively promote Buddhism as their state cult. It is the 38th King of Tibet, Trisong Detsen(in some histoy book it said he was 37th King of Tibet) invited Indian Pandit Shantarakshita and Kamalasila, who suggested to invite Padmasambhava (or Guru-Rinpoche) to Tibet when they were failed to build the Samye monastery against the Bon objection.
An ordained spiritual community was established in the first Buddhist monastery; Samye, which was built by Padmasambhava. In this period, translation of scriptures genuinely began. At that time numbers of Indian scholars invited to Tibet and Buddhism canons were translated into Tibetan, apart from that Guru Padmasambhava had controlled the rebellion from the Bon believers at the same time. So all these contributed to the firmly establishment of Buddhism in Tibet, as the presence of Sangha is considered essential.
In 792, after a great philosophical debate, King Trisong Detsen officially declared Indian Buddhism to be the state religion of Tibet, not the Chinese Buddhism who was failed in debate.
A magician originating in Hindhukush Padma-sambava introduced deeper the tantric doctrines of Mahayana. On this occasion, the problem was of implementing the occult forces (or magic existing rituals) to ensure the deliverance and to avoid the infinite succession of rebirths. One could use the methods of the shamanism, but with new objectives. Padma-sambava succeeded in modifying the Tibetan faith after having triumphed over all the magicians Bon-Po, whom he defeated one after the other. Under his impulse, the large temple of Samye was built in 12 years (towards 775) taking as model an Indian temple (perhaps that of Nalanda). He erected many temples between Lhasa and the valley of Yarlung, moreover, he left his foot prints everywhere in Tibet and hundreds of meditating caves within the country is believed to be blessed by his attendance, those hermitages and caves are still can be visited and functioning by local Yogis and meditators.
Decline and revival
Buddhism almost disappeared after 842 when King Lang Darma violently persecuted Buddhism. After this, for a long time there were no ordinations and no central religious authority in Tibet. Instead, the original Bon religion prevailed.
In 978, with the introduction of several Indian Pandits and Tibetan monks studying in India, Buddhism revived, with the help of king Yeshe O from Guge Kingdom. A real revival occurred after 1042, when Atisha-di-Pankhara (or Jo Je Palden Atisha) put Tibetans "back on the right track".
He presented the Buddhist philosophy in a very clear and condensed manner, which became the basis for philosophical teachings in most Tibetan traditions. After Atisha, the influence from Indian teachers was limited. Atisha's main disciple was the layman Dromtönpa, who founded the Kadam-tradition. This tradition does not exist in that form anymore, but it strongly influenced the later schools of Kargyu, Sakya and especially Gelug.
Tibetan teachers like His Holiness the Dalai Lama insist that Tibetan Buddhism these days still carefully reflects the Buddhism as was present in India around the 11th century. He also rejects the term Lamaism, as it suggests as if the Tibetan teachers have developed their own form of Buddhism.
Since from the Buddhism origination in Tibet, it encountered various impress in different period of time and that gave rise to the present Tibetan Buddhism, which distinct from its origin Indian and other Asian counterparts, and Tibetan Bon religion has testified one that influenced the most, arguably the prayer flags and burning incense are passed from Bon. Not only the external influences, also the rising of Buddhist scholars within Tibet has contribute for the development of Buddhism and it gradually evolved into four different sects in different period, which are Nyinmapa founded by Guru Padmasambhava, Kadam founded by Atisha and his Tibetan disciple Dromtonpa, this is later converted into Gelug, Kargyu founded by Marpa Lozawa and Kyungpo Nyaljor, Sakya founded by Khon Konchok Gyalpo and Gelug founded by Je Tsongkhapa.
The word “Nyingma” literally means antiquity and it is the oldest form of Buddhist tradition in Tibet. The Nyingma school is more or less a continuation of the initially introduced Buddhism by the Indian Pandit Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche). Historic information of Padmasambhava is generally shrouded in myths, (he is said to have lived for 3,600yrs in India prior to coming to Tibet), but he came to Tibet in 817 at the invitation of 38th King Trisong Detsen.
Initially, the study of logic and philosophy was limited, but much emphasis was put on tantric practice. It must be noted however, that also within the Nyingma school considerable reformation has taken place over the ages.
Some typical aspects for the Nyingma tradition: the practice of Dzogchen (seeking to examine the fundamental nature of mind directly, without relying on visualizations and images) and the presence of hidden scriptures or "terma" from Padmasambhava, which are discovered by later Masters.
In the present day head of the Nyingmapa sect is Mingdrolling Trichen Gyurme Kunsang Wangyal, unfortunately he was passed in 2008 in India. And then the throne holder of Payul lineage Kyabjé Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche or Penor Rinpoche, He was widely renowned in the Tibetan Buddhist world as a master of Dzogchen, he also passed in 2009. Now the Lama Achuk (H.H Jamyang Lungdok Gyaltsen) Rinpoche from Yachen monastery of Ganzi prefecture and Dordrak Rinzin Choephle from Dorje Drak monastery in the southern Tibet are two prominent figures of the sect.
Not existing as such anymore, but it was the main reformation school after revival of Buddhism in the 11th century by Atisha di Pankara from India and Dromtonpa as his Tibetan disciple. Atisha combined two lineages: from Manjushri via Nagarjuna (emphasizing emptiness) and from Maitreya via Asangha (emphasizing compassion). Atisha's brief text 'A lamp for the path to full awakening' formed the basis of the later Gelug presentation of Lamrim.
This tradition started with the Tibetans Marpa Chökyi Lodro(1012-1097) and Khyungpo Nyaljor, in the 11th. century, who had Tilopa (988-1069) and his disciple Naropa (1016 - 1100) as Indian masters.
Probably the most famous practitioner and master in the lineage is Milarepa (1040-1123), who attained Buddha hood in one life time by an incredible display of perseverance. Milarepa was a disciple of Marpa who in turn was a pupil of Naropa. The Kargyu tradition is both a meditation lineage and philosophy training lineage. Typical aspects of the Kargyu tradition are the practice of Mahamudra (not like Dzogchen of the Nyingma) and the Six Yogas of Naropa.
Later the Kargy lineage is divided into 12 lineages which basically categorized into 2 as four primary schools of the Dagpo Kargyu and eight secondary schools of the Dagpo Kargyu, where the four primary schools of the Dagpo Kargyu are Karma Kamtsang, Barom Kargyu, Tshalpa Kargyu and Phagdru Kargyu. Then Eight secondary schools are Drikung Kargyu, Drukpa Kargyu,Martsang Kargyu, Shugseb Kargyu, Taklung Kargyu, Trophu Kargyu, Yabzang Kargyu and Yelpa Kargyu. But in the present day existing Kargyu lineage schools are Karma Kargyu (with as leader the Karmapa), the Drikung Kargyu and the Drukpa Kargyu schools.
In the present day the prominent head of the sect is 17th Karmapa where there are two candidates claimed to be the reincarnation of 16th Karmapa who died in 1981, Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee one of the tow who currently resident at Gyurdui monastery in Himachal Pradesh of Northern India, he was recognized by 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche in 1992, and the other is Karmapa Thaye Dorje who is recognized by the H.H Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Lodro in 1994, currently Karmapa Thaye Dorje is resident in Rumtek monastery in Sikkim of India where the monastery of previous Karmapa is exist.
The Sakya tradition has its origins with the translator Drogmi, who transferred the lineage of the Indian master Virupa to Khon Konchog Gyalpo. On this occasion, Khon Konchog Gyalpo built the Sakya monastery (meaning grey earth) and founded the Sakya tradition. In 1247, the Mongolian prince Godan Khan conquered Tibet and gave temporal authority over Tibet to Abbot Kunga Gyaltsen (better known as Sakya Pandita), who was one of the earliest major figures in this lineage. In 1254 Mongol emperor Kublai Khan invited Chögyal Phagpa from this sect for teachings. Also Kublai Khan made Buddhism state religion in Mongolia and made Chogyal Phagpa the first religious and secular leader over Tibet. Sakya masters ruled Tibet more than 100 years, before the Gelug took over secular power with the Dalai Lamas.
A typical aspect of the Sakya tradition is called Lamdrey (leading to state of Hevajra), a concise presentation of the Buddhist philosophy. The Sakyas were much influenced by the Kadam lineage.
In 1354, the rule over Tibet was given to the monk Changchub Gyaltsen, who was not a Sakya practitioner and after this, the tradition of Sakya declined its importance in Tibet.
There are two most important figures of the Sakya lineage that recognize as head of the lineage by whole sect. They are Sakya Drolma Phudrang lives in Derahdun(North of India) and Sakya Phuntsok Phudrang in USA, Drolma Phudrang and Phuntsok Phudrang holds the power of Sakya lineage head alternatively by generations, since both of them are allowed to marry and their son success the throne. Currently Sakya Trichen Drolma Phudrang holds the importance.
Tsongka pa life story (1357-1419)
Tsongkapa was born in Tsongka, Amdo, in 1357, the fourth of six sons. The day after Tsongkapa’s birth, Chojey Dondrub Rinchen sent his main disciple to the parents with gifts, a statue, and a letter. A sandalwood tree grew from the spot where his umbilical cord fell to the ground. Each leaf had a natural picture of the Buddha Sinhanada, and was thus called Kumbum, a hundred thousand body images. The Gelug monastery called Kumbum was later built on that spot.
Tsongkapa was not like an ordinary child. He never misbehaved; he instinctively engaged in bodhisattva type actions; and he was extremely intelligent and always wanted to learn everything. At the age of three, he took lay vows from the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpay Dorjey(1340-1383). Soon after, his father invited Chojey Dondrub Rinchen to their home. The lama offered to care for the education of the boy and the father happily agreed. The boy stayed at home until he was seven, studying with Chojey Dondrub Rinchen. Just seeing the lama read, he instinctively knew how to read without needing to be taught.
During this time, Chojey Dondrub Rinchen gave the boy the empowerments of Five-Deity Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Yamantaka, and Vajrapani. By the age of seven, he had already memorized their complete rituals, had completed the Chakrasamvara retreat, was already doing the self-initiation, and already had a vision of Vajrapani. He frequently dreamt of Atisha (982-1054), which was a sign that he would correct misunderstandings of the Dharma in Tibet and restore its purity, combining sutra and tantra, as Atisha had done.
At the age of seven, Tsongkapa received novice vows from Chojey Dondrub Rinchen and the ordination name Lozang Dragpa. He continued to study in Amdo with this lama until he was sixteen, at which time he went to U-tsang (Central Tibet) to study further. He never returned to his homeland. Chojey Dondrub Rinchen remained in Amdo, where he founded Jakyung Monasery (Bya-khyung dGon-pa) to the south of Kumbum.
At the age of 40, and as probably the most learned man of his era, Tsongkapa joined the Kadam monastery of Rating. Here, in 1402, Tsongkapa completed his magnum opus, The Great Graduated Path (lam.rim.chen.mo), which was principally based on Atiśa's Bodhipathapradīpa, and has become the root text of the Gelug school. As elsewhere in his voluminous writings, Tsongkapa emphasizes Prāsaṅgīka-madhyāmaka as the highest form of reasoning and stresses the correct understanding of relative reality as that which, while not possessing even a conventional own-being, can nevertheless be demonstrated by reasoning to be not non-existent. At the heart of The Great Graduated Path is the thesis that, while tantra may be necessary in order to become a fully enlightened Buddha, a prior study of sūtra is absolutely necessary for a preliminary development of wisdom and compassion. In another important work, The Great Graduated Path of Mantra, which discusses the four classes of tantra, Tsong Khapa defines the relationship of tantra to sūtra as that between method and wisdom.
In 1408, Tsongkapa established the Great Prayer (Mon.lam.chen.mo), a New Year festival held in the Jokhang, which won him much devotional support. In 1409, Tsongkapa had enough followers to found his own monastery of Riwo Ganden, and although initially calling his order the ‘New Kadam’, they soon became known as the Gelug. Tsongkapa's views were similar to those of Atiśa, and it is unclear whether Tsongkapa had reformed a Kadam tradition which had become lax, or whether the Gelug simply grew out of the Kadam under the impetus of his own personal renown. The founding of Drepung followed in 1416, and of Sera in 1419, the year of Tsong Khapa's death when his body was embalmed and placed inside a chörten(tomb stupa) at Ganden.
The Gelugs (yellow hats) tradition was founded by Tibetan teacher Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). The basis is formed by the old Kadam lineage, but it in fact includes all other Tibetan traditions. For example; Tsongkhapa's main teacher was the Sakya teacher Rendawa.
Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), received the title 'Dalai Lama' (Ocean of Wisdom) from the Mongol ruler Althan Khan in 1578. In 1642, the 5th. Dalai Lama became temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet by order of the Mongol ruler Gushri Khan. Although trained in all four schools, basically all Dalai Lamas were Gelug; one of the reasons that Gelug tradition is most widespread in Tibet. Note that the posthumously declared "First Dalai Lama" named Gedun Drupa (born 1391) was a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa.
Unlike what many people think, the Dalai Lamas are not the spiritual heads of the Gelugpa school; this is always the Gaden Tripa. Some typical aspects of the Gelug tradition: emphasis on ethics and sound scholarship. Main Buddhist teachings are collected in the Lamrim presentation (not unlike the Lamdrey teachings of the Sakya). The Gelug introduced a scholarly title "Geshe" for a fully qualified and authoritative spiritual master.
Ganden Tripa is the spiritual title for the head of the Gelugpa, not the Dalai Lama as in often misunderstood, Ganden Tripa is neither reincarnation nor heritable, it is appointed on the basis of some competitive examinations among the candidates, and duration of the position is 7 year term. The recent one is the 102th Ganden Tripa Thupten Nyima Lungthok Tenzin Norbu.