Je Tsongkapa meets Manjushri

Tibetan depiction of the manjushri mantra "oṃ arapacana dhīḥ"I have always been intrigued by some of the stories regarding Je Tsongkapa, a leading figure in Tibetan Buddhism.  I was taught that he was able to be so prolific, and impart such great understanding of the difficult points of what the Buddha taught, due to the fact that he talked directly with Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.

Spiritual traditions have a tendency to accumulate errors over time, especially in the hands of less realized humans that introduce their own ideas based on thought and not on actual practice and realization.   In the 14th century, Tibetan Buddhism was in such a shamble.  Je Tsongkapa took Tibetan Buddhism, studied with all the great masters of the time, and then cleaned the traditions up by teaching and writing over 10,000 pages of detailed commentaries (without an iPad).  He essentially reorganized Tibetan Buddhism and founded the school that started the tradition of the Dalai Lamas.

Since I have many friends and associates that have direct contact with “spirit guides”, it is not surprising to me that Je Tsongkapa could talk to Manjushri, however, it is surprising to me that Je Tsongkapa could not talk directly with Manjushri at first. Indeed, when he was in his thirties he went to another person (Lama Umapa) that had direct contact with Manjushri.  He would take his questions to Lama Umapa, who would then get the answers from Manjurshi.  As such he began studying with Lama Umapa or should we say Manjushri via Lama Umapa.

Later, after a four year retreat, Je Tsongkapa had cleared enough personal obstacles to be able to “see” Manjushri himself.  The Lama Tsongkhapa website site tells this marvelous story in detail.  Worth the read.

The part that always intrigued me was the fact that if Lama Umapa was able to speak to Manjushri directly, why didn’t he write 10,000 pages of commentary and become the person that reorganized Tibetan Buddhism?  It is intriguing that some people that have “supernatural” gifts have “lower” realizations than people without those gifts.  But wait, here I am judging Lama Umapa as lower simply because he didn’t manifest more.  Actually, he may have simply a different karma.  Perhaps he was already enlightened when he met Je Tsongkapa, but did not have Je Tsongkapa’s desire to write or teach.

Je Tsongkapa

Je Tsongkapa (1357-1419) was born in Eastern Je TsongkapaTibet. Tsongka means onion fields and refers to the place he is from.  Je is an honorific meaning Lord.

At age three he received lay ordination as a Kagyu. At 24 he was ordained as Lobsang Drakpa in the Sakya tradition. He studied with all the greatest teachers of his day in many different traditions. He is the founder of the Gelupa School of Tibetan Buddhism (the school of the Dalai Lamas).

Je Tsongkapa had three famous disciples: Gyaltsab Je (1362-1432), First Dali Lama: Gyalwa Gendun Drup(1391-1475), and Kedrup Je (1385-1438)

The story of how Gyalstab Je and Kedrup Je became his students is a good on:  Gyaltsab Je and Kedrup Je both went to challenge Je Tsongkapa. One of them got up on the throne as Je Tsongkapa was teaching to imply he could teach as well. Then after a few minutes of listening he stepped down, a while later he made prostrations, and then finally took off his hat and asked to by Je Tsongkapa’s student.

Geshe Michael Roach claimed in 1993 that Gyaltsab Je’s books were so deep that despite yearly study sessions for the last 22 years in the monastery (lasting 30 days straight and 16 hours a day) no one has reached the ending chapters.  So if the student was so adept, imagine the teacher.

Je Tsongkapa wrote 10,000 pages of commentaries on Buddhism – with only 5 -10% translated.  His holiness the 14th Dalai Lama commends the great and detailed work that Je Tsongkapa did.  Like no one in the history of Buddhism, he took every difficult point and explained them clearly in an irrefutable manner.  Indeed, in the gelupa tradition if Je Tsongkapa said it, then it is taken as truth – much like the word of a buddha.



The Matrix is another Buddhist philosophythe matrix movie review film in my list of top ten movies for Buddhists.  This movie, like Inception, demonstrates the basic Tibetan Buddhist tenant that the world we see and experience is deceptive.  Deceptive, in this instance, means that it appears one way when it actually is a different way.  Sometimes people use the analogy that this reality is really just a dream or say it is an illusion, but this is not accurate.  If I dream I am being hurt, I will wake up to find myself unharmed.  If, in this reality, I experience my finger being cut off, that reality is persistent, at least for as long as I maintain my identity.

What this boils down to is that this reality, for all intents and purposes, is not a dream.  It is “real”.  It just is a “deceptive” reality.  The basic deception is that things seem to come from outside of ourselves.  They seem to be “solid”, self existent things.  For instance, when someone gets mad at us, we think that that is coming from them and not about us.  Well, it might not be about us in our current state, but the whole situation is created by our mental potentials or karmic seeds planted by our past thoughts and actions.

An intellectual understanding that the reality we live in comes from us is not enough to set us free.  The characters in the Matrix demonstrate this.  The ones that are no longer plugged into deceptive reality continuously, still cannot control the happenings when they do enter the “matrix” of deceptive reality.  However, the main character, Neo, does gain the ability to use his mind to transcend what normally would be considered human limitations.  He is then able to move in ways that are not humanly possible, such as fly and dodge bullets.

The movie also could be seen as a metaphor for the enlightenment process. Like in the movie, the majority of people we see around us are not aware that the world they see around them is actually an elaborate deception.  If we tried to point that fact out to them they might become angry and would certainly dismiss us.

In the movie, a small number of people have realized the deception, yet their awareness of the deception does not allow them to change things.  They know the matrix world is not ultimately real, but they act like it is when they are in it.  These people are like Buddhist aryas.  A arya (stream-enterer) knows that they are not a separate self and the world is not occupied by self-existent objects, but they are (initially) unable to experience the world as it is ultimately.matrix movie review picture of neo stopping bulletsNeo represents someone that is progressing rapidly along the path to enlightenment and as his experience of ultimate reality increases his ability to manipulate deceptive reality increases.  While this type of manipulation is not part of the goal of Buddhism, many advanced practitioners experience these changes naturally.  Indeed, Bernadette Roberts a few weeks before she entered the permanent state of “No-Self” found she could know the future, levitate, and leave her body.   (All of which she disliked and quickly found a way to extinguish.)

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Reference:  Bernadette Roberts. (1991). The Path to No-Self.  State University of New York Press, Albany. p 169