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By Lama Tsongkhapa; Translated by Joshua Cutler and Guy Newland
Fixing your attention on an object of meditation and controlling it is said to be like taming an elephant. An elephant trainer ties a wild elephant to a tree or sturdy post with many thick ropes. If it does as the trainer teaches it, then fine; if not, it is subdued and controlled, struck repeatedly with a sharp iron hook. You mind is like the untamed elephant; you bind it with the rope of mindfulness to the sturdy pillar of an object of meditation. If you cannot keep it there, you must gradually bring it under control by goading it with the iron hook of vigilance.
Mindfulness continually fastens your attention to the object of meditation. However, indirectly vigilance also focuses your attention on the object of meditation, for you depend on noticing actual or incipient laxity and excitement with vigilance, and then stabilize your attention on the primary object without falling under their influence.
It is said that you achieve concentration on the basis of mindfulness and that mindfulness is like a rope that actually fastens your attention to the object of meditation continuously. So mindfulness is the main technique to sustain in achieving concentration.
Also, mindfulness has a way of apprehending its object that carries a sense of [certainty]. If, while maintaining concentration, you stabilize your mind casually without a solid sense of certainty about the object, then your mind may take on a limpid clarity, but it will not have the vivid intensity of certain knowledge, so you will not develop powerful mindfulness. Therefore, subtle laxity will be unchecked, and only flawed concentration will ensue. …
By Lama Tsongkhapa
In the 11th century, Tibet was blessed by the arrival of the Indian Buddhist master Lama Atisha. Motivated to present an organized summary of the sutra teachings, Atisha composed a short text entitled, The Lamp of the Path. Three hundred years later, Lama Tsongkhapa expanded upon this text with his opus The Great Exposition on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo). The often referred to “Lam-Rim teachings” are taken from this seminal text. The teachings are presented in three scopes according to the capacities of varying practitioners — small, medium, and great — which organize practices and meditations on the path into gradual stages.
Lama Tsongkhapa’s famous prayer, The Foundation of All Good Qualities, is the most concise and stirring outline available of the Lam-Rim teachings. In only fourteen stanzas, Tsongkhapa offers us a prayer that covers the entire graduated path to enlightenment, short enough to recite every day, profound enough to study for a lifetime.
The foundation of all good qualities is the kind and venerable guru;
Correct devotion to him is the root of the path.
By clearly seeing this and applying great effort,
Please bless me to rely upon him with great respect. …
The story of Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) continues to fascinate and inspire not only followers of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which he founded, but illustrious lamas from other lineages as well – viz. Gyalwa Mikyo Dorje, the eighth Karmapa. Lama Tsongkhapa Day marks the anniversary of the parinirvana of this important teacher who was born in the Amdo region of eastern Tibet and spent many years traveling from one monastery or yogic hermitage to another in search of the various lineages of the Buddhist teachings.
Much has been written about (and by) this extraordinary teacher, whose arrival in the world was forecast by Buddha himself. As a young boy in a previous incarnation he offered Buddha Shakyamuni a clear crystal rosary and received a conch shell in return. The Buddha prophesied that the boy would be born in Tibet, would found a great monastery [Ganden], would present a crown to the statue of Buddha in Lhasa, and would be instrumental in the flourishing of the doctrine in Tibet. All this occurred exactly as the Buddha had prophesied.
According to Prof. Robert Thurman, “Tsongkhapa attained full enlightenment in 1398 and then taught for twenty-one years in such an intelligent, energetic, and charismatic way that his movement transformed the whole of Tibet and brought it into a genuine renaissance regarding its embodiment of the Dharma.”
A comment from James Blumenthal, associate professor of Buddhist philosophy at Oregon State University: “Tsongkhapa was one of the greatest philosophical minds of our human heritage. He was an extraordinary scholar, a meditation master, a phenomenal teacher, and an innovative thinker. He was able to take both the breadth and the depth of the Buddhist traditions of India and Tibet and present them in a clear, systematic, and approachable way for the maximum benefit to his students…”
Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) is one of the most significant Tibetan Buddhist masters, whose studies and meditations in all the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism resulted in the founding of the Gelugpa lineage. Buddhists all over the world honor his birthday on Lama Tsongkhapa Day, which this year falls on November 29. Lama Zopa Rinpoche advises the following practice to be performed on that day. [Editor’s note: Correction–Lama Tsongkhapa Day is the day of Je Tsongkhpapa’s parinirvana.]
As preparation, set up 1,000 offerings to Lama Tsongkhapa (1,000 sets of seven or eight offerings, including water, lights, flowers, incense, and food). If one is not able to do all these offerings, then set up as many hundreds of offering bowls as possible.
Perform the puja of 1,000 offerings to Lama Tsongkhapa. This practice is based on the version of the puja of 1,000 offerings to Maitreya Buddha, first used in Bodhgaya in 1993. You should recite the actual offering verse 1,000 times.
If you cannot do the practice of 1,000 offerings to Lama Tsongkhapa, then do Lama Chöpa. Once again, set up as many offerings as possible. Perform an extensive offering practice, offering as much as possible at the offerings section of Lama Chöpa. You can use the Extensive light offering practice, which I wrote. As you do this practice, you should substitute ‘water,’ or ‘offering,’ for the word ‘light.’
After either of these extensive pujas, then recite the following:
- The Praise to Lama Tsongkhapa
- Palden Su Suma. This is a very special prayer of the glorified one of the three realms; it was highly regarded by Song Rinpoche.
- The Songs of the Mystic Experiences of Je Rinpoche
- The praise containing the line “My life has been meaningful.” This praise is by Lama Tsongkhapa himself, in which he says, “I studied this and my life has been made meaningful…” (Name of prayer in Tibetan: Dog chu du lä ma)
After each stanza that describes Lama Tsongkhapa’s attainments, we should rejoice. Rejoice at the qualities of holy deeds of Lama Tsongkhapa, by thinking how wonderful it is. Think, “May I also be like you.”
Also, we should pray that we too can achieve the same realizations and become like Lama Tsongkhapa, that we can become as vastly beneficial as the sky, just as Lama Tsongkhapa did.
In addition to the other offerings, it is best to offer as many light offerings as you can. It is very common to offer lights on Lama Tsongkhapa Day, even in Solu Khumbu, which is mostly Nyingma. Although the villagers and townspeople don’t really know about Lama Tsongkhapa, somehow on that day and night they still do lots of light offerings. …
by Lama Thubten Yeshe
In the Western intellectual world, the common interpretation is that Lama Je Tsongkhapa was just a professor. Western people do not recognize him as a great yogi, a great practitioner, a mahasiddha. Actually, Lama Tsongkhapa taught and wrote more on tantra than on sutra, but because he did not show his mahasiddha aspect, Westerners get the impression that he was only an intellectual. Some people think that Gelugpas, the followers of Lama Tsongkhapa, don’t do non-conceptual meditation, for example. They think that only the other traditions meditate in this way and that Lama Tsongkhapa negated this point and taught only intellectual, analytical meditation. I have heard Westerners say, “Gelugpas are always intellectualizing, always squeezing their brains.” That’s not true. You know it is not true.
Lama Tsongkhapa was already a great meditator while he was still a teenager. And from the time he was a teenager, he did not have sicknesses as we do. When he had a small problem, he would cure himself. When there was a flood or an avalanche, he would say a prayer, and everything would stop. If you read his biography, you can see that Lama Tsongkhapa was a great mahasiddha.
The Monlam Festival, the great prayer festival held in Lhasa after the Tibetan New Year, was started by Lama Je Tsongkhapa. The monks and nuns and lay people of all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism came together to make offerings and say prayers. At the first festival there were countless butterlamp offerings. Anyway, one day the many thousands of butterlamps in the temple became one mass of flame. Soon the fire was out of control, and everybody was scared that the temple might burn down. They ran to Lama Tsongkhapa crying, “Your offerings are going to burn down the temple!” Lama Tsongkhapa sat down, went into samadhi meditation, and suddenly all the flames were extinguished, blown out by one wind. This happened because of his inner fire meditation. We Tibetans consider that when you can control the four elements of your own nervous system through inner fire meditation, you can also control the outside elements. Lama Tsongkhapa didn’t need an ordinary fire-engine; with his inner fire-engine, the flames totally vanished. This proves that Lama Tsongkhapa was a powerful realized being. Also at that time he perceived the eighty-four mahasiddhas in space above Lhasa.
Lama Tsongkhapa had no shortage of telepathic power. One time he was staying in a small retreat hut maybe thirty minutes’ walk from the place where he later advised Sera Monastery be built. Suddenly he left, and nobody knew why. That same day some people sent by the Emperor of China, who had heard of Lama Tsongkhapa’s fame, arrived with an invitation for him to come to China, but he was nowhere to be found. No one knew this was going to happen that day, but Lama Tsongkhapa knew, and he escaped over the mountain.
This shows that Lama Tsongkhapa had telepathic power, but it is also a good example of his perfect renunciation. He vomited at the thought of worldly pleasure. Can you imagine us in that situation? For sure we would accept the invitation! Me — I couldn’t even resist the invitation of some rich man to come to visit him. Although Lama Tsongkhapa was incredibly famous, he never went to distracting places; he stayed in isolated places in the snow mountains. But we go to the most confused places. This shows how we are, that our renunciation is not perfect.
Lama Je Tsongkhapa had many thousands of disciples all over Tibet and constantly received offerings, but he had no bank account, no house, not even one piece of land upon which to grow his food. Everything he received, he gave away. He stayed clean-clear. Ganden was Lama Tsongkhapa’s monastery, but he stayed there as if he were a guest: he came there, got things, gave them away, then left with nothing. Lama Tsongkhapa is the perfect example of living according to the Dharma.
Two or three years before Lama Tsongkhapa died, the Buddha Manjushri, with whom he had a special relationship, told him, “Now is the time you will die.” Suddenly countless Buddhas appeared and requested Lama Tsongkhapa not to die and gave him an initiation of boundless energy so that he could stay longer. Then Manjushri predicted that he would live until a certain age.
Shortly before Lama Tsongkhapa died, one of his teeth came out, and everybody saw that it emitted much rainbow light. He gave the tooth to Khedrub Rinpoche, one of his heart sons, but his other disciples said, “Oh, you gave this tooth to Khedrub Rinpoche, but can we have a little bit too?” Lama Tsongkhapa told them to pray for this, so Khedrub Je placed the tooth on the altar. Everyone did many prayers and much meditation. Radiant, rainbow light continued to come from the tooth.
After one week Lama Tsongkhapa said, “Where is my tooth? Bring my tooth here.” When he opened the box, they saw that the tooth had become a Tara image surrounded by relic pills. Lama Tsongkhapa gave some of the pills to the disciples who had wanted them. He also predicted that about five hundred years later these relics would go to Bodhgaya. This prediction has come true: although the Chinese destroyed what remained of Lama Je Tsongkhapa’s body, some of the relics went to India when Tibetans went into exile.
When Lama Tsongkhapa did die, he did it perfectly. First, he put everything in order. Next, he said to one of his disciples, “Bring a skullcup.” He then did the inner offering meditation and took thirty-three sips of the inner offering. This was a sign that inside he was the Guhyasamaja deity. Finally, sitting in meditation in his full robes, he died. This is what distinguishes a mahasiddha. He doesn’t have to announce, “I am a mahasiddha” — his actions prove it. Lama Je Tsongkhapa proved himself.
Can you imagine being able to die deliberately and clean-clear? When we die, we leave a mess. We should motivate and pray that we die like Lama Je Tsongkhapa instead of dying like a cow. This is our human right. Pray that instead of dying depressed, with a miserable expression, you will die blissfully. Try. There is a chance. Resolve, “When I die, as much as possible I will control my emotions and die peacefully.” You must motivate, because motivation has power. When your time comes to die, because of your will-power you will remember your prayer. If you don’t have strong motivation now, you will end up completely shaking when death comes and everything goes bananas. If you know what to do beforehand, you will remember at the time of death. I am telling you this because I believe it, not because I have realizations.
One time, after Lama Je Tsongkhapa had passed away, Khedrub Je was sad. Lama Tsongkhapa had explained everything thoroughly from beginning to end, from Hinayana to Paramitayana to tantra, the entire path to enlightenment. Thousands and thousands of people had meditated upon his teachings and achieved realizations. Khedrub Je was sad because he was thinking, “Now Lama Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings are like lightning, like a mirage; they are disappearing. And unfortunately the Tibetan people are degenerating. He taught people not to cling to the desires of the sensory world, yet people are more grasping and have more desires than ever.”
Khedrub Je had reason to feel this; there were many degenerations. He was so sad, and he cried and cried. Then he prayed and offered a mandala. Suddenly Lama Tsongkhapa appeared in youthful aspect on a jeweled throne surrounded by deities, dakas, and dakinis. He said to Khedrub Je, “My son, you shouldn’t cry. My principal message to people is to practice the tantric path. Practice this and then give it to qualified people. Instead of crying you should help to do this as much as possible, and that will make me very happy.” It’s the same with you. If you practice, Lama Tsongkhapa will smile.
Another time, Khedrub Je had some technical questions on tantra but couldn’t find anyone to answer them. Again he cried. His heart was breaking. Again he prayed strongly and offered a mandala. Lama Je Tsongkhapa manifested and gave him many teachings and initiations.
At still another time that Khedrub Je cried so hard and prayed so much, Lama Tsongkhapa manifested in a reddish-colored aspect, holding a sword and a skullcup and riding on a tiger. Later he also manifested as Manjushri, and at another time in his usual form but riding a white elephant. Five visions appeared when, for different reasons, Khedrub Je cried and prayed.
Why do I tell you these stories? It is good to know that Lama Je Tsongkhapa was a great yogi, a mahasiddha — there is no question — and that Khedrub Je had such inner realizations that just by calling on him, Lama Tsongkhapa would manifest. You should also understand that Lama Tsongkhapa’s principal field was tantra. Even though we are degenerate, we have the chance to hear his way of explaining the tantric path and to try to actualize it. We are so lucky. Even if we do not know much about Buddhist things, if we practice what we do know, Lama Tsongkhapa will be very happy.
“Lama Tsongkhapa’s special field is tantra, particularly the illusory body,” said Lama Thubten Yeshe in one of his last major teachings before he passed away in 1984. “The way he describes everything and gives meditation instructions has distinctive characteristics; it is incredibly clean-clear. When you understand them, you really get something helpful, and devotion arises. While giving this teaching, I have been feeling especially grateful to Lama Je Tsongkhapa. Because he explains the Six Yogas of Naropa in such a profound way, I feel much devotion to him. The way he puts things together, there is no question — he must be a mahasiddha.”
From The Bliss of Inner Fire by Lama Thubten Yeshe, edited by Robina Courtin and Ailsa Cameron; 1996 by Wisdom Publications, Boston.
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