Je Tsongkhapa

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Je Tsongkhapa in the fifth vision of Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, 1st Panchen Lama
Je Tsongkhapa
Tibetan name
Tibetan ཙོང་ཁ་པ།
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 宗哥·善慧稱
Simplified Chinese 宗哥·善慧称

Zongkapa Lobsang Zhaba,[1] or Tsongkhapa ("The man from Tsongkha",[2] 1357–1419), usually taken to mean "the Man from Onion Valley", born in Qinghai[1], was a famous teacher of Tibetan Buddhism whose activities led to the formation of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also known by his ordained name Losang Drakpa (Wylie: blo bzang grags pa) or simply as "Je Rinpoche" (Wylie: rje rin po che). He was son of an official of the Yuan Dynasty of China.[1]

In his two main treatises, the Lamrim Chenmo (Wylie: lam rim chen mo) and Ngakrim Chenmo (Wylie: sngags rim chen mo), Tsongkhapa meticulously sets forth this graduated way and how one establishes oneself in the paths of sutra and tantra.


Early years[edit]

With a Mongolian father and a Tibetan mother, Tsongkhapa was born into a nomadic family in the walled city of Tsongkha in Amdo, Tibet (present-day Haidong and Xining, Qinghai) in 1357. It is said that the Buddha Sakyamuni spoke of his coming as an emanation of the Bodhisattva Manjusri in the short verse from the Root Tantra of Manjushri (Wylie: 'jam dpal rtsa rgyud):

After I pass away

And my pure doctrine is absent,
You will appear as an ordinary being,
Performing the deeds of a Buddha
And establishing the Joyful Land, the great Protector,
In the Land of the Snows.[3]

According to hagiographic accounts, Tsongkhapa's birth was prophesized by the 12th abbot of the Snar thang monastery, and was recognized as such at a young age, taking the lay vows at the age of three before Rolpe Dorje, 4th Karmapa Lama and was named Künga Nyingpo (Wylie: kun dga' snying po).[4] At the age of seven, he was ordained as a śrāmaṇera by Döndrup Rinchen (Wylie: don grub rin chen, 1309–1385), the first abbott of Jakhyung Monastery (Wylie: bya khyung brag), and was given the ordination name Losang Drakpa (Wylie: blo bzang grags pa).

Monastic career[edit]

Tsongkapa, 15th-century painting, Rubin Museum of Art

It was at this early age that he was able to receive the empowerments of Heruka, Hevajra, and Yamantaka, three of the most prominent wrathful deities of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as being able to recite a great many Sutras, not the least of which was Mañjuśrīnāmasamgīti. He would go on to be a great student of the vinaya, the doctrine of behaviour, and even later of the Six Yogas of Naropa, the Kalachakra tantra, and the practice of Mahamudra. At the age of 24, he received full ordination as a monk of the Sakya school.

From Zhönnu Lodrö (Wylie: gzhon nu blo gros) and Rendawa (Wylie: red mda' pa), he received the lineage of the Pramanavarttika transmitted by Sakya Pandita.[5] He mastered all the courses of study at Drigung kagyud Monastery in Ü-Tsang.[5]

As an emanation of Manjusri, Tsongkhapa is said have been of "one mind" with Atiśa,[6] received the Kadam lineages and studied the major Sarma tantras under Sakya and Kagyu masters.[5] He also studied with a Nyingma teacher, the siddha Lek gyi Dorjé (Wylie: legs gyi rdo rje) and the abbot of Shalu Monastery, Chö kyi Pel (Wylie: zhwa lus pa chos kyi dpal),[5] and his main Dzogchen master was Drupchen Lekyi Dorje (Wylie: grub chen las kyi rdo je), also known as Namkha Gyaltsen (Wylie: nam mkha' rgyal mtshan, 1326–1401).[7]

In addition to his studies, he engaged in extensive meditation retreats, he is reputed to have performed millions of prostrations, mandala offerings and other forms of purification practice. Tsongkhapa often had visions of iṣṭadevatās, especially of Manjusri, with whom he would communicate directly to clarify difficult points of the scriptures.


Tsongkhapa was one of the foremost authorities of Tibetan Buddhism at the time, he composed a devotional prayer called the Migtsema Prayer to his Sakya master Rendawa, which was offered back to Tsongkhapa, with the note of his master saying that these verses were more applicable to Tsongkhapa than to himself.[8]


Tsongkhapa died in 1419 at the age of sixty-two, after his death several biographies were written by Lamas of different traditions.[9] Wangchuk Dorje, 9th Karmapa Lama, praised Tsongkhapa as one "who swept away wrong views with the correct and perfect ones."[9] Mikyö Dorje, 8th Karmapa Lama, wrote in his poem In Praise of the Incomparable Tsong Khapa:

When the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyue, Kadam
And Nyingma sects in Tibet were declining,
You, O Tsong Khapa, revived Buddha's Doctrine,
Hence I sing this praise to you of Ganden Mountain.[10]

Philosophy and practice[edit]


Tsongkhapa was acquainted with all Tibetan Buddhist traditions of his time, and received lineages transmitted in the major schools,[5] his main source of inspiration was the Kadam school, the legacy of Atiśa. Tsongkhapa received two of the three main Kadampa lineages (the Lam-Rim lineage, and the oral guideline lineage) from the Nyingma Lama, Lhodrag Namka-gyeltsen; and the third main Kadampa lineage (the lineage of textual transmission) from the Kagyu teacher Lama Umapa.[11]

Tsongkhapa's teachings drew upon these Kadampa teachings of Atiśa, emphasizing the study of Vinaya, the Tripiṭaka, and the Shastras.[5] Atiśa's Lamrim inspired Tsongkhapa's Lamrim Chenmo, which became a main text among his followers, he also practised and taught extensively the Vajrayana, and especially how to bring the Sutra and Tantra teachings together, wrote works that summarized the root teachings of the Buddhist philosophical schools, as well as commentaries on the Prātimokṣa, Prajnaparamita, Candrakirti's Madhyamakavatara, logic, Pure Land and [12] the Sarma tantras.[5]


According to Thupten Jinpa, the following elements are essential in a coherent understanding of Tsongkhapa's understanding and interpretation of the Madhyamaka refutation of essentialist ontology:[13][note 1]

  • Tsongkhapa's distinction between the domains of the conventional and ultimate perspectives;
  • Tsongkhapa's insistence on a prior, correct conceptual identification of the object of negation;
  • Tsongkhapa's differentiation of the various connotations of the all-important term 'ultimate' (paramartha skt.);
  • Tsongkhapa's distinction he draws between that which is not found and that which is negated.


Tsongkhapa's first principal work, The Golden Garland of Eloquence (Wylie: legs bshad gser phreng[14]) demonstrated a philosophical view in line with the Yogacara school[15] and, as became one of his hallmarks, was more influenced by Indian authors than contemporary Tibetan sources. At this time his account of the Madhyamaka "propounds a philosophy that later Gelukpas [...] call Yogācāra-svātantrika-madhyamaka, [...] yet does not have the authority of Candrakīrti's Prāsaṅgika interpretation."[16]

After this early work, his attention focussed on the Prajnaparamita sutras and Dharmakirti's Pramanavartika, and it is this emphasis that dominates all his later philosophical works.[15] Garfield suggests his stance as:

A complete understanding of Buddhist philosophy requires a synthesis of the epistemology and logic of Dharmakirti with the metaphysics of Nagarjuna[15]

Prasangika - rejection of essentialism[edit]

Tsongkhapa was a proponent of Candrakirti's consequentialist or prasangika interpretation of the Madhyamaka teachings on sunyata (emptiness),[17] rejecting the Svatantrika point of view.[18] According to Tsongkhapa, the Prāsaṅgika-approach is the only acceptable approach within Madhyamaka,[18] rejecting the Svatantrikas because they state that the conventional reality is "established by virtue of particular characteristics" (rang gi mtshan nyid kyis grub pa):[18]

The opponents of Candrakirti's Prasanna-padā[note 2] are both (a) the essentialists, who accept that things ultimately have intrinsic nature, and (b) the Svātantrikas, who refute that, but accept that things conventionally have intrinsic character or intrinsic nature.[19]

The classification into Prasangika and Svatantrika originated from their different usages of reason to make "emptiness" understandable,[20] the Svātantrikas strive to make positive assertions to attack wrong views,[20] whereas the Prasangikas draw out the contradictory consequences (prasanga) of the opposing views.[21] In Tsongkhapa's reading, the difference becomes one of the understanding of emptiness,[22] which centers on the nature of conventional existence, the Svātantrikas state that conventional phenomena have particular characteristics, by which they can be distinguished, but without an ultimately existing essence.[23][18] In Tsongkhapa's understanding, these particular characteristics are posited as establishing that conventionally things do have an intrinsic nature, a position which he rejects:

Svatantrikas (like Bhavaviveka) are those Madhyamikas who accept that, at a conventional level, things actually do have intrinsic nature just as they are perceived. To exist at all entails having intrinsic existence. However, since there is nothing that holds up under ultimate analysis, everything is ultimately empty. Emptiness is the lack of ultimate existence.[20]

Although Tsongkhapa is regarded as the great champion of the Prasangika-view, according to Thomas Doctor, Tsongkhapa's views on the difference between Prasanghika and Svatantrika are preceded by a 12th-century author, Mabja Jangchub Tsondru (d. 1185).[18]

The Object of Negation[edit]

Identyfying the correct Object of Negation[edit]

For Tsongkhapa, extended rational analysis is required to correctly establish what it is that is to be negated,[note 4] this correct establishment is necessary to reach a liberating insight into emptiness, while avoiding the trap of nihilism, the possibility that "seeming reality becomes extinct or invalidated if a phenomenon is empty of that very phenomenon."[27][28]

While the "I" or self is accepted as nominally existing in a conventional way,[29][30][note 5] for Tsongkhapa, following Candrakirti, the object to be negated by reason is the "metaphysical fiction" of an intrinsic nature which is "erroneously reified."[31] Tsongkhapa argues that "there exists within each of us a natural belief, [a naive, normal, pre-philosophical way of seeing the world], which leads us to perceive things and events as possessing some kind of intrinsic existence and identity."[28] It is this mistaken perception which is the object to be negated.[31][28][note 6][note 7]

According to Tsongkhapa, Buddhist (in concreto, the Sarvastivada) and non-Buddhist essentialist schools are not negating the correct object,[40] but are only negating "imaginary constructs" and "acquired ignorance," not the innate perception of an inherently existing self,[note 8] they have "realized only a coarse selflessness and having thereby suppressed, but not removed from the root, the obstructions to liberation."[note 9] According to Tsongkhapa, the negation of acquired, philosophical notions won't eradicate the afflictions or free one from cycles of rebirth,[note 10] the negation has to go further, since the object of negation is not an acquired, philosophical notion of a permanent self, but the innate perception of an inherently existing self.[note 11]

Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Jampa, referring to Kalden Gyatso, notes that "there are actually two objects that must be refuted or destroyed," namely this sense of "I," and the subjective self, "the mind grasping at that false 'I'." By analyzing the sense of "I" and it's logical contradictions, it's seemingly true existence is seen through, which "destroys the continuum of the subjective mind grasping it. What continues is a wisdom mind."[43]

Rejection of the storehouse-consciousness[edit]

The dawning realization of emptiness can be frightening, arousing "fear of annihilation."[44] Some Mahayana sutras therefore argue that the so-called storehouse consciousness or mind-basis-of-all consciousness was taught by the Buddha "provisionally, for the benefit of those who could be helped by believing in its existence but who would be harmed by hearing the teachings about emptiness. In his own mind, the basis of his teaching was emptiness. [...] This is because the purpose of positing a mind-basis-of-all is supposed to be to provide a basis for experience without positing external objects."[45] The Prasangika refute the idea of a storehouse consciousness or mind-basis-of-all consciousness,[46] but present the alternative viewpoint of "the mere 'I'" which carries karma from life-to-life and uses other techniques to overcome the fear of annihilation.[44][note 12]


Tsongkhapa saw emptiness as a consequence of pratītyasamutpāda (dependent arising),[17] the teaching that no dharma ("thing") has an existence of its own, but always comes into existence in dependence on other dharmas. According to Tsonghkhapa, dependent-arising and emptiness are inseparable.[50][note 13][note 14]

Tsongkhapa's view on "ultimate reality" is condensed in the short text In Praise of Dependent Arising[53] c.q. In Praise of Relativity[54][55] c.q. The Essence of Eloquency.[55] It states that "things" do exist conventionally, but ultimately everything is dependently arisen, and therefore void of inherent existence:[55]

Whatever depends on causes and conditions
Is empty of intrinsic reality
What excellent instruction could there be
More marvellous than this discovery?[55]

This means that conventionally things do exist, and that there is no use in denying that, but it also means that ultimately those things have no 'existence of their own', and that cognizing them as such results from cognitive operations, not from some unchangeable essence.[56] Tsongkhapa:

Since objects do not exist through their own nature, they are established as existing through the force of convention.[56]

According to Tsongkhapa, emptiness is empty of inherent existence: emptiness only exists nominally and conventionally. Emptiness is co-dependently arisen as a quality of conventional phenomenon and is itself a conventional phenomenon.[57] There is no "transcendental ground," and "ultimate reality" has no existence of its own, but is the negation of such a transcendental reality, and the impossibility of any statement on such an ultimately existing transcendental reality: it is no more than a fabrication of the mind.[55] Emptiness is an ultimate truth (a fact which applies to all possible phenomena, in all possible worlds), but it is not an ultimate phenomenon or ultimate reality (something which has always existed, is self-created, and is self-sustaining), it is also not a "Tao" or a primal substance from which all other things arise. Buddhapalita:

There is no way to overcome the misconceptions of those who think that emptiness is a real thing, for example, if you tell someone, 'I have nothing.' and that person says, 'Give me that nothing.' How could you make that person understand that you have nothing?[58]

Susan Kahn further explains:

Ultimate truth does not point to a transcendent reality, but to the transcendence of deception, it is critical to emphasize that the ultimate truth of emptiness is a negational truth. In looking for inherently existent phenomena it is revealed that it cannot be found, this absence is not findable because it is not an entity, just as a room without an elephant in it does not contain an elephantless substance. Even conventionally, elephantlessness does not exist. Ultimate truth or emptiness does not point to an essence or nature, however subtle, that everything is made of.[56]


For Tsongkhapa, calming meditation alone is not sufficient, but should be paired to rigorous, exact thinking "to push the mind and precipitate a breakthrough in cognitive fluency and insight."[55] According to Patrick Jennings,

Tsongkhapa describes a procedure for establishing the non-existence of a substantial, abiding essence in either the self or in 'exterior' phenomena, such as pots or potatoes, it is essential during this procedure that one does not confuse the non-findability of a substantial, non-relational self with the refutation of the existence of a relative or conventional self – the self as it appears to ordinary cognition and which is subject to the law of cause and effect.[55]


Almost as soon as Tsongkhapa's later works were published, they became highly influential, and have remained that way to present, some of the greatest subsequent Tibetan scholars have become famous for their own works either defending or attacking Tsongkhapa's views.[note 15]

Tsongkhapa's rejection of Svatantrika has been criticised within the Tibetan tradition, qualifying it as Tsongkhapa's own invention, "novelties that are not found in any Indian sources,"[60] and therefore "a major flaw"[60] and "unwarranted and unprecedented within the greater Madhyamaka tradition."[18][note 16] According to Thupten Jinpa, the Gelugpa school sees Tsongkhapa's ideas as mystical revelations from the bodhisattva Manjusri,[63][note 17] whereas Gorampa accused him of being inspired by a demon.[64][65][note 18] Brunnhölzl further notes that, according to his Karma Kagyü (Mahamudra) critics, Tsongkhapa was mistaken in some regards in his understanding of emptiness,[66] taking it as a real existent, and thereby hindering the liberation of his followers.[62][note 19] According to Van Schaik, these criticisms furthered the establishment of the Gelupga as an independent school:

As Khedrup and later followers of Tsongkhapa hit back at accusations like these, they defined their own philosophical tradition, and this went a long way to drawing a line in the sand between the Gandenpas and the broader Sakya tradition.[68]


Statue of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa school, on the altar in his temple (his birthplace) in Kumbum Monastery, near Xining, Amdo, Tibet.

New tradition[edit]

Sam van Schaik says that Tsongkhapa "wanted to create something new" and that the early Gandenpas defined themselves by responding to accusations from the established schools:

Though the Sakya had their own teachings on these subjects, Tsongkhapa was coming to realize that he wanted to create something new, not necessarily a school, but at least a new formulation of the Buddhist Path.[69]

Monasticism and lineage[edit]

Tsongkhapa emphasised a strong monastic Sangha,[5] with the founding of the Ganden monastery in 1409, he laid down the basis for what was later named the Gelug ("virtuous ones") order. At the time of the foundation of the Ganden monastery, his followers became to be known as "Gandenbas." Tsongkhapa himself never announced the establishment of a new monastic order.[70]

After Tsongkhapa had founded Ganden Monastery in 1409, it became his main seat, he had many students, among whom Gyaltsab Je (1364–1431), Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, 1st Panchen Lama (1385–1438), Togden Jampal Gyatso, Jamyang Choje, Jamchenpa Sherap Senge, and the 1st Dalai Lama (1391–1474), were the most outstanding. After Tsongkhapa's passing his teachings were held and kept by Gyaltsab Dharma Rinchen and Khedrub Gelek Pälsang, from then on, his lineage has been held by the Ganden Tripas, the throne-holders of Ganden Monastery, among whom the present one is Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu, the 102nd Ganden Tripa.

After the founding of Ganden Monastery by Tsongkhapa, Drepung Monastery was founded by Jamyang Choje, Sera Monastery was founded by Chöje Shakya Yeshe and the 1st Dalai Lama founded Tashilhunpo Monastery. Many Gelug monasteries were built throughout Tibet but also in China and Mongolia, he spent some time as a hermit in Pabonka Hermitage, which was built during Songsten Gampo times, approximately 8 kilometres north west of Lhasa. Today, it is also part of Sera.

Among the many lineage holders of the Gelugpas there are the successive incarnations of the Panchen Lama as well as the Chagkya Dorje Chang, Ngachen Könchok Gyaltsen, Kyishö Tulku Tenzin Thrinly, Jamyang Shepa, Phurchok Jampa Rinpoche, Jamyang Dewe Dorje, Takphu Rinpoche, Khachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, Trijang Rinpoche, Domo Geshe Rinpoche,[71] and many others.

Prayer Festival[edit]

The annual Tibetan prayer festival Monlam Prayer Festival was established by Tsongkhapa. There he offered service to ten thousand monks, the establishment of the Great Prayer Festival is seen as one of his Four Great Deeds. It celebrates the miraculous deeds of Gautama Buddha.

Western understanding of Madhyamaka[edit]

According to Karl Brunnholzl, Tsongkhapa's Madhyamaka has become widely influential in the western understanding of Madhyamaka:

First, with a few exceptions, the majority of books or articles on Madhyamaka by Western - particularly North American - scholars is based on the explanations of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Deliberately or not, many of these Western presentations give the impression that the Gelugpa system is more or less equivalent to Tibetan Buddhism as such and that this school's way of presenting Madhyamaka is the standard or even the only way to explain this system, which has led to the still widely prevailing assumption that this is actually the case, from the perspective of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism in general, nothing could be more wrong. In fact, the peculiar Gelugpa version of Madhaymaka is a minority position in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, since its uncommon features are neither found in any Indian text nor accepted by any of the other Tibetan schools.[72]


Tsongkapa, 15th-century painting, Rubin Museum of Art

Tsongkhapa promoted the study of logic, encouraged formal debates as part of Dharma studies,[5] and instructed disciples in the Guhyasamāja, Kalacakra, and Hevajra Tantras.[5] Tsongkhapa's writings comprise eighteen volumes, with the largest amount being on Guhyasamāja tantra, these 18 volumes contain hundreds of titles relating to all aspects of Buddhist teachings and clarify some of the most difficult topics of Sutrayana and Vajrayana teachings. Tsongkhapa's main treatises and commentaries on Madhyamaka are based on the tradition descended from Nagarjuna as elucidated by Buddhapālita and Candrakīrti.

Major works[edit]

Major works among them are:

  • The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (lam rim chen mo),
  • The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra (sngags rim chen mo),
  • Essence of True Eloquence (drang nges legs bshad snying po; full title: gsung rab kyi drang ba dang nges pai don rnam par phye ba gsal bar byed pa legs par bshad pai snying po),
  • Ocean of Reasoning: A Great Commentary on Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (dbu ma rtsa ba'i tshig le'ur byas pa shes rab ces bya ba'i rnam bshad rigs pa'i rgya mtsho),
  • Brilliant Illumination of the Lamp of the Five Stages / A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages (gsang 'dus rim lnga gsal sgron),
  • Golden Garland of Eloquence (gser phreng) and
  • The Praise of Relativity (rten 'brel bstod pa).

English translations[edit]

Bronze depicting Tsongkhapa, who is known and revered by Mongolians as Bogd Zonkhova.
Lam Rim = Great Treatise
  • The Great Treatise On The Stages Of The Path To Enlightenment, Vol. 1, Snow Lion, ISBN 1-55939-152-9
  • The Great Treatise On The Stages Of The Path To Enlightenment, Vol. 2, Snow Lion, ISBN 1-55939-168-5
  • The Great Treatise On The Stages Of The Path To Enlightenment, Vol. 3, Snow Lion, ISBN 1-55939-166-9
  • Dependent-Arising and Emptiness: A Tibetan Buddhist Interpretation of Mādhyamika Philosophy, trans. Elizabeth Napper, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-364-8: this volume "considers the special insight section of" the Lam Rim (p. 8).
Lam Rim - Medium Treatise
  • The Medium Treatise On The Stages Of The Path To Enlightenment - Calm Abiding Section translated in "Balancing The Mind: A Tibetan Buddhist Approach To Refining Attention", Shambhala Publications, 2005, ISBN 978-1-55939-230-3
  • The Medium Treatise On The Stages Of The Path To Enlightenment - Insight Section translated in "Life and Teachings of Tsongkhapa", Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2006, ISBN 978-81-86470-44-2
  • The Medium Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Calm Abiding Section) translated in B. Alan Wallace, Dissertation, 1995, (Wylie: byang chub lam gyi rim pa chung ba)
Lam Rim - Small Treatise
  • Wallace, B. Alan (1995), The Cultivation of Sustained Voluntary Attention in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism - Small Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment 
Golden Garland of Eloquence
  • Golden Garland of Eloquence - Volume 1 of 4: First Abhisamaya, Jain Pub Co, 2008, ISBN 0-89581-865-5
  • Golden Garland of Eloquence - Volume 2 of 4: Second and Third Abhisamayas, Jain Pub Co, 2008, ISBN 0-89581-866-3
  • Golden Garland of Eloquence - Volume 3 of 4: Fourth Abhisamaya, Jain Pub Co, 2010, ISBN 0-89581-867-1
  • Golden Garland of Eloquence - Volume 4 of 4: Fourth Abhisamaya, Jain Pub Co, 2013, ISBN 978-0-89581-868-3
  • Ocean of Reasoning: A Great Commentary on Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-514733-2
  • Essence of True Eloquence, translated in The Central Philosophy of Tibet, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-02067-1
  • Guided Tour Through the Seven Books of Dharmakirti, translated in A Millennium of Buddhist Logic, Motilal Barnasidass, 1999, ISBN 81-208-1646-3
  • The Fulfillment of All Hopes: Guru Devotion in Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-153-X
  • Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-290-0
  • The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra - Chapter 1 of 13, translated in Tantra in Tibet, Shambhala Publications, 1987, ISBN 978-0-937938-49-2
  • The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra - Chapter 2 & 3 of 13, translated in Deity Yoga, Shambhala Publications, 1987, ISBN 978-0-937938-50-8
  • The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra - Chapter 4 of 13, translated in Yoga Tantra, Shambhala Publications, 2012, ISBN 978-1-55939-898-5
  • The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra - Chapter 11 & 12 of 13, translated in Great Treatise on the Stages of Mantra: Chapters XI–XII (The Creation Stage), Columbia University Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-935011-01-9
  • The Six Yogas of Naropa: Tsongkhapa's Commentary, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 1-55939-234-7
Lamp of the Five Stages
  • Brilliant Illumination of the Lamp of the Five Stages, Columbia University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-1-935011-00-2
  • A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages, Library of Tibetan Classics, 2013, ISBN 0-86171-454-7
  • Ocean of Eloquence: Tsong Kha Pa's Commentary on the Yogacara Doctrine of Mind, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-1479-5
  • The Splendor of an Autumn Moon: The Devotional Verse of Tsongkhapa Wisdom Publications, ISBN 978-0-86171-192-5
  • Three Principal Aspects of the Path, Tharpa Publications
  • Stairway to Nirvāṇa: A Study of the Twenty Saṃghas based on the works of Tsong-kha-pa, James B. Apple, State University of New York Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7914-7376-4

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to Thupten Jinpa, Tsongkhapa's interpretation of the Madhyamaka's key tenets is to be regarded as an important lineage within the Buddhist religious and philosophical milieu, sharing the basic soteriological concerns of the Buddhist path.[13]
  2. ^ A seminal text regarding the Prāsaṅgika/Svātantrika distinction
  3. ^ It is unclear which specific school of thought Tsongkhapa refers here to.
  4. ^ In his Lamrim Chenmo, Tsongkhapa refers to opponents[note 3] who argue that it is absurd "to conduct the extensive rational analysis required for refutations and proofs [which] is to meander among mere conventional words," because "if something exists, it cannot be refuted, and, if it does not exist, it need not be refuted." [24] In response, Tsonghkhapa refers to Nagarjuna’s]] Refutation of Objections, among other texts, :
    "What use is it to establish the negation
    if what does not exist anyway, even without words?
    To answer that, the words “does not exist”
    Cause understanding; they do not eliminate."[25]

    HTsongkhapa also quotes Nagarjuna's Commentary on Refutation of Objections: "The words, “All things lack intrinsic nature,” do not cause things to lack intrinsic nature, but, in the absence of intrinsic nature, they do make it understood that things lack intrinsic nature."[24]

    Tsongkhapa then gives the following paraphrased example. If a person named Devadatta is not in the house, but someone says, “Devadatta is in the house.” Then in order to show that Devadatta is not there, someone else will say, “Devadatta is not there.” Those words do not cause Devadatta not to be there but allow the first person to understand that Devadatta is not in the house. Similarly, the words, “Things lack intrinsic nature,” do not cause things to lack intrinsic nature, but help the those confused by ignorance to gain a valid cognition of reality.[26]
  5. ^ See:
    * Hopkins: "[I]f you have understood the view of the Middle Way School, you may conceive the I as only being nominally existent."[29]
    * Tsongkhapa: "“self” refers to mere essential or intrinsic existence and also refers to the object of an awareness that simply thinks, “I.” Of these two, the former is the object negated by reason, whereas the latter is accepted conventionally, so it is not refuted."[30]
  6. ^ It is the conception that conventional phenomena have an "ontological status—a way of existing—in and of themselves, without being posited through the force of an awareness."[32]Tsongkhapa goes on to say: "The referent object that is thus apprehended by that ignorant conception, the independent ontological status of those phenomena, is identified as [the] hypothetical “self” or “intrinsic nature.”[33]
    Lama Tsongkhapa further explains: "Suppose that we leave aside analysis of how [phenomena] appear—i.e., how they appear to a conventional awareness—and analyze the objects themselves, asking, 'What is the manner of being of these phenomena?' We find they are not established in any way. Ignorance does not apprehend phenomena in this way; it apprehends each phenomenon as having a manner of being such that it can be understood in and of itself, without being posited through the force of a conventional consciousness.[34]
    According to Tsongkhapa, "[that] what exists objectively in terms of its own essence without being posited through the power of a subjective mind is called [...] 'intrinsic nature'” or ignorance[35]
    Tsongkhapa goes on to say: "The absence of this quality in the person is called the selflessness of the person; its absence in phenomena such as eyes, ears, and so forth is called the selflessness of objects. Hence, one may implicitly understand that the conceptions of that intrinsic nature as present in persons and objects are the conceptions of the two selves."[36]
  7. ^ The Indo-Tibetan rope & snake analogy explains this further. Under low light, the thought might arise that a striped rope on the ground is a snake, "but there is nothing on top of or inside this rope [...] to which we could" validly apply the term and therefore establish a conventionally existing snake.[37]

    The Dalai Lama expands: "Like this example, a thought of 'me' may arise on the basis of the aggregate factors of our experience. But there is nothing about these aggregates as the basis for labeling - not any of their parts, nor the collection or network of their parts, nor their continuum over time, nor something separate and apart from them - which is a basis with the defining characteristic making it 'me,' to which we could possibly apply the name 'me.' That being the case, this 'me' is nothing more than simply what can be designated by a mental label on the basis of aggregate factors of experience.[38]

    In reality, the self of persons, objects, and abstracts is like the term-concept "snake" being designated upon a rope, "the snake is merely what can be designated by a mental label."[39] Like this, the object of negation or ignorance is viewed to be the thought and perception which grasps the self of persons and objects to be established within their respective bases of designation. To put this in somewhat simpler terms, the thought and perception which grasps persons, things, and abstracts phenomena as existing in-and-of themselves - with characteristics or an identity of their own - is seen to be ignorance in this system.
  8. ^ Tsonghkhapa: "Based on just this [intrinsic nature], the referent object of the way that ignorance apprehends things as explained above, essentialist schools—Buddhist and non-Buddhist—reify many different things. When you negate the referent of ignorance’s cognitive process, you completely stop all of these tenet-driven reifications, as though you cut a tree at its root. Therefore, those who have the faculty of wisdom should understand that the referent object of innate ignorance is the basic object of negation and should not devote themselves merely to refuting imaginary constructs that are imputed only by the advocates of philosophical tenets. [...] What binds all living beings in cyclic existence is innate ignorance; acquired ignorance exists only among those who advocate philosophical tenets, so it cannot be the root of cyclic existence. It is extremely important to gain specific and certain knowledge of this point."[40]
  9. ^ Daniel Cozart explaining this idea in greater detail:"A second category of tenets is concerned with implications of the Mahayana and Hinayana path structures. For the most part, they are tenets propounded to demonstrate that some persons who are regarded by other schools as Arhats liberated beings-are only ersatz Arhats, having realized only a coarse selflessness and having thereby suppressed, but not removed from the root, the obstructions to liberation. These tenets, then, revolve around the unique Prasangika assertion that the root of cyclic existence is the conception of inherent existence, which is more subtle than the conception of a self described by other systems of tenets. Five assertions are elucidated in this regard:
    • One must realize emptiness in order to become liberated and therefore some "Arhats" who have only realized a coarse selflessness are not actually liberated.
    • There is desire that either is, or is thoroughly mixed with, the conception of true existence, and so-called Arhats still have this sort of desire.
    • Although some of these "Arhats" do indeed have yogic direct perception of the four noble truths, one does not have to be an Arhat or even a Superior (one who has directly realized emptiness) in order to have such yogic direct perception.
    • Although some of these "Arhats" have indeed realized the coarse aspects of the four noble truths, such a realization is not sufficient to overcome the obstructions to liberation.
    • Since true cessations, the irrevocable cessation of some portion of the afflictions of desire, hatred, etc., are also emptinesses, such "Arhats" who have not realized emptiness could not have experienced true cessations, i.e., could not have overcome the afflictive obstructions."[41]
  10. ^ Tsongkhapa: "If you do not understand this and fail to eradicate the perspective of innate ignorance, then, when you refute a personal self, you will only refute a self that is permanent, unitary, and independent [...] Even if you actualized such a selflessness in meditation and consummated your cultivation of it, nothing would come of it. It would be extremely absurd to claim that you can overcome innate afflictions by seeing as nonexistent the two selves imputed by acquired misconceptions."[42]
  11. ^ Chandrakirti: "When knowing selflessness, some eliminate a permanent self, but we do not consider this to be the basis of the conception of "I." It is therefore astonishing to claim that knowing this selflessness expunges and uproots the view of the self. [This is equivalent to] if someone sees a snake living in the wall of his house. To ease his concern, someone else says, 'there is no elephant there.' Alas, to others it is ridiculous that this would expel the fear of the snake.[42]
  12. ^ According to the Gelugpa, the Chittamatra hold that the mind-basis-of-all consciousness is that which bears the karmic seeds and is findable upon analysis. That is, "if one sought the basis of the designation of the person one would discover the mind-basis-of-all."[47] The Madhyamika-Prasangika posit that beings accumulate karma and experience their effects without the mind-basis-of-all? They posit that karma is carried on the mere "I" which is dependently designated on the basis of the aggregates, stating that "it is a sufficient basis with which to associate the factors of disintegratedness (karma)."[48] Daniel Cozant expands by saying that since phenomena are neither inherently created nor inherently destroyed according to Prasangika, that "therefore, the possibility of a later effect is not precluded."[49]
  13. ^ They exist in a relationship of entity or identity. A relationship of entity or identity is one in which two objects are merely conceptually distinct, but not actually distinct, for example, the relationship between the mental categorization of a dog and that of an animal, with regards to the same being. If it is a dog, then it must also be an animal. Additionally, this relationship applies to impermanent phenomenon and products: if it's impermanent, it must be a product.[51]
  14. ^ The Heart Sutrastates this as follows:

    "Form is empty. Emptiness is form.
    Emptiness is not other than form; form is also not other than emptiness.
    In the same way, feeling, discrimination, compositional factors, and consciousness are empty.
    Shariputra, likewise, all phenomena are emptitness; without characteristic;
    unproduced, unceased; stainless, not without stain; not deficient, not fulfilled."[52]

  15. ^ As Thakchö says,[59] Rongton Shakya Gyaltsen, Taktsang Lotsawa, Gorampa, Shakya Chogden, The eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, Mipham Rinpoche, Gendün Chöphel and others have raised serious and fierce objections against Tsongkhapa's views of Madhyamaka, whereas Gyaltsab Je, Khedrub Je, Gendun Drub, Sera Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen, Panchen Sonam Dragpa, Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen, The first Jamyang Zhépa, Changkya Rolpai Dorje, Konchog Jigme Wangpo and others have vehemently defended his interpretation.
  16. ^ According to Brunnhölzl, writing from a Karma Kagyü (Mahamudra) point of view on Madhyamaka,[61] "All critics of Tsongkhapa, including the Eighth Karmapa, agree that many features of his Centrism are novelties that are not found in any Indian sources and see this as a major flaw."[60] Yet, Brunnhölzl also notes that "the point here is whether what is said accords with and serves to accomplish the Buddha’s fundamental concern of liberation from cyclic existence and attaining Buddhood."[62]
  17. ^ Thupten: "The traditional Geluk understanding of these deviations in Tsongkhapa's thought attributes the development of his distinct reading of Madhyamaka philosophy to a mystical communion he is reported to have had with the bodhisattva Manjusri [...] It is interesting that the tradition Tsongkhapa is claiming to honour is, in a strict sense, not the existing system in Tibet; rather, it appears to be in the tradition of Manjusri as revealed in a mystic vision![63]
  18. ^ Sonam Thakchoe or José Cabezón: "Gorampa, in the Lta ba ngan sel (Eliminating the Erroneous View), accuses Tsongkhapa of being "seized by demons" (bdud kyis zin pa) and in the Lta ba'i shan 'byed (Distinguishing Views) decries him as a "nihilistic Madhyamika" (dbu ma chad lta ba) who is spreading "demonic words" (bdud kyi tshig)."[64][65]
  19. ^ According to Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, as described by Brunnhölzl, there are "two main types of misunderstanding emptiness:
    1) misconceiving emptiness as utter nonexistence
    2) misconceiving emptiness as a real entity"[62]
    Emptiness can be misconstrued as a real entity in two ways: "Tsongkhapa and his followers claim that emptiness is an existent and thus the actual nature of entities, which are its supports. Most other Tibetans in this category, such as Dölpopa and Sakya Chogden, say that only emptiness (which is really established) exists, whereas, ultimately, all other phenomena of the seeming level do not exist. Both of these views are mistaken with regard to the path to liberation.[67]


  1. ^ a b c 陈庆英 (2005). 达赖喇嘛转世及历史定制英. 五洲传播出版社. pp. 6–. ISBN 978-7-5085-0745-3. 
  2. ^ van Schaik, Sam. "Amdo Notes III: Gold and turquoise temples". early Tibet. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Heart Jewel: The Essential Practices of Kadampa Buddhism, p. 3, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1997) ISBN 978-0-948006-56-2
  4. ^ Cabezón & Dargyay 2007, p. 9386
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Crystal Mirror VI : 1971, Dharma Publishing, page 464, 0-913546-59-3
  6. ^ Geshe Tenzin Zopa, LAM RIM Graduated Path to Enlightenment, p. 7
  7. ^ The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan yogin by Źabs-dkar Tshogs-drug-raṅ-grol, Matthieu Ricard. State University of New York Press: 1994. ISBN 0-7914-1835-9 pg 25[1]
  8. ^ Thurman 2009, p. 9
  9. ^ a b Thurman 2009, p. 34
  10. ^ Thurman 2009, p. 243.
  11. ^ Berzin, Alexander (December 2003). "The Life of Tsongkhapa". Study Buddhism. Retrieved 2016-06-06. 
  12. ^ Halkias, Georgios. Luminous Bliss: a Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet, with an Annotated Translation and Critical Analysis of the Orgyen-ling golden short Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2013, Chapter 4.
  13. ^ a b Thupten Jinpa. Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy - Tsongkhapa's quest for the middle way. RoutledgeCurzon 2002, pages 68–69
  14. ^ "legs bshad gser phreng". Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center. TBRC. 
  15. ^ a b c Ngawang Samten/Garfield. Ocean of Reasoning. OUP 2006, page x
  16. ^ Gareth Sperham, Tsongkhapa: mature period, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  17. ^ a b Cabezón 2005, p. 9387.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Thomas Doctor, Exploring the Stuff that Madhyamaka Hermeneutics are Made of: A Note on a Clear Predecessor to Tsongkhapa's Prasangika/Svatantrika Distinction
  19. ^ Tsongkhapa, The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Volume Three); ISBN 1-55939-166-9, pp 225–275 after a very lengthy and well-referenced debate, strongly relying upon Candrakirti's (a Prasaṅgika) analysis of Bhāvaviveka (a Svātantrika) in the Prasanna-padā ('Clear Words' La Vallée Poussin (1970) 28.4–29; sDe dGe Kanjur (Kanakura 1956) 3796: Ha 9a7-b3)
  20. ^ a b c Newland 2008, p. 77.
  21. ^ Newland 2008, p. 77–78.
  22. ^ Newland 2008, p. 78.
  23. ^ Shantarakshita 2005, p. 131–141.
  24. ^ a b Tsong Khapa 2002, p. 205.
  25. ^ Tsong Khapa 2002, p. 204-5.
  26. ^ Tsongkhapa 2002, p. 205.
  27. ^ Brunnholzl 2004, p. 567.
  28. ^ a b c Jinpa 2006, p. 374.
  29. ^ a b Hopkins 1999, p. 49.
  30. ^ a b Tsong Khapa 2002, p. 215.
  31. ^ a b Garfield & Thakchöe 2011, p. 77.
  32. ^ Tsong Khapa 2002, p. 212.
  33. ^ Lama Tsongkhapa, Lamrim Chenmo Pg 212
  34. ^ Lama Tsongkhapa, Lamrim Chenmo Pg 213
  35. ^ Tsong Khapa 2002, p. 213.
  36. ^ Lama Tsongkhapa, Lamrim Chenmo Pg 213
  37. ^ Dalai Lama, Alexander Berzin The Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra P 323
  38. ^ Dalai Lama, Alexander Berzin The Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra P 323
  39. ^ Dalai Lama, Alexander Berzin The Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra P 323
  40. ^ a b Tsong Khapa 2002, p. 211.
  41. ^ Cozart, Daniel Unique Tenets of the Middle Way Consequence School Pg 235
  42. ^ a b Tsong Khapa 2002, p. 197.
  43. ^ Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Jampa, Identifying the Object of Negation
  44. ^ a b Hopkins 1994, p. 245.
  45. ^ Cozart, Daniel. "Unique Tenets of The Middle Way Consequence School" Pg 436
  46. ^ Cozart, Daniel. "Unique Tenets of The Middle Way Consequence School" Pg 236-7
  47. ^ Cozart, Daniel. "Unique Tenets of The Middle Way Consequence School" Pg 235
  48. ^ Cozart, Daniel. "Unique Tenets of The Middle Way Consequence School" Pg 236
  49. ^ Cozart, Daniel. "Unique Tenets of The Middle Way Consequence School" Pg 236-7
  50. ^ Newland 1999, p. 112.
  51. ^ Duckworth, Douglass. Mipam on Buddha-Nature: The Ground of the Nyingma Tradition Pg 255
  52. ^
  53. ^ Alexander Berzin, In Praise of Dependent Arising
  54. ^ Robert Thurman, Praise of Buddha Shakyamuni for his teaching of Relativity. The Short Essence of Eloquence
  55. ^ a b c d e f g Patrick Jennings, Tsongkhapa: In Praise of Relativity; The Essence of Eloquence
  56. ^ a b c Susan Kahn, The Two Truths of Buddhism and The Emptiness of Emptiness
  57. ^ Tsong Khapa 2002, p. 191.
  58. ^ Lama TsongkhapaLamrim ChenmoPg 192
  59. ^ Thakchoe 2004, p. 4
  60. ^ a b c Brunnhölzl 2004, p. 555.
  61. ^ Brunnhölzl 2004, p. 11-12.
  62. ^ a b c Brunnhölzl 2004, p. 556.
  63. ^ a b Jinpa, Thupten. Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy. Routledge 2002, page 17.
  64. ^ a b Thakchoe 2004, p. 125.
  65. ^ a b Cabezón & Dargyay 2007, p. 17.
  66. ^ Brunnhölzl 2004, p. 558-560.
  67. ^ Brunnhölzl 2004, p. 556-557.
  68. ^ van Schaik 2011, p. 109
  69. ^ van Schaik 2011, p. 103
  70. ^ Cozort/Preston : 2003, Buddhist Philosophy, page VIII-IX
  71. ^ Kyabje Domo Geshe Rinpoche
  72. ^ Brunnhölzl 2004, p. 17


Further reading[edit]

  • Newland, Guy (2008), Introduction to Emptiness: As Taught in Tsong-kha-pa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, Ithaca 
  • Thupten Jinpa (2013), Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy: Tsongkhapa's Quest for the Middle Way, Routledge
  • Ary, Elijah (2015), Authorized Lives: Biography and the Early Formation of Geluk Identity, Simon and Schuster 

External links[edit]