Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Teacher (Lama) - Tsongkapa

བླ་མ། 喇嘛
(item no. 410)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1400 - 1499
Lineages Gelug and Buddhist
Size 120.65x93.98cm (47.50x37in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.5.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Monastic

Gender: Male

TBRC: P64

Interpretation / Description

Lord Tsongkapa, Lobsang Dragpa (1357-1419): founder of the Gelugpa School, surrounded by life story vignettes beginning at the viewers bottom left corner with the birth of Tsongkapa and moving clockwise around the composition to the bottom right corner with the founding of Ganden Monastery. Tsongkapa Biographical Details

To the viewers left of Tsongkapa's face is the lineage of teachers belonging to the Buddhist philosophical system called Yogachara. The lineage begins with Shakyamuni Buddha followed by the bodhisattva Maitreya and then Asanga, etc. On Tsongkapa's left is the Madyamika philosophical tradition of the bodhisattva Manjushri followed by Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, etc. The two lineages continue downward and end with the repective teachers of Tsongkapa. Two small figures, Achala and Sarasvati, are also depicted immediately adjacent to the upper halo of Tsongkapa.

At the top center are the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas, again repeated on the viewers far right beginning in the second register down from the top of the painting. The meditational deity Vajrabhairava is depicted in the top right corner. Between those are two short registers containing the Six Ornaments and Two Excellent Ones of the Southern Continent. Seven Mahasiddhas are depicted below that.

At the middle right, above an image of the special Kalachakra protector, Vajravega, is a small narrative vignette of Lhodrag Khenchen Lekyi Dorje meeting with Tsongkapa. Below the Vajravega are various scenes depicting debate and philosophical discussion.

Below the throne is a register containing both meditational deities and protectors. Starting from the viewers left are Panjarnata Mahakala, Chaturbhuja Mahakala, Chakrasamvara, Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja, Hevajra, Shadbhuja Mahakala, Vaishravana and Yama Dharmaraja. Below that is a register half the length containing Akshobhya Buddha, Ushnishavijaya, Green Tara, Sitatapatra, unidentified figure, Amitayus Buddha and Mahachakra Vajrapani. Again, below that in the lowest register is Inner Yama Dharmaraja surrounded by four retinue figures.

The birth and early life of Tsongkapa appears in the bottom left corner of the painting. At the bottom center-left are two registers, an upper and lower. In the upper register is the 4th Karmapa Rolpai Dorje and directly below are Lobzang Dragpa along with his mother and father, all seated in a row beneath Karmapa. In the bottom right corner is the founding of Ganden Monastery.

Jeff Watt 9-2000

Central Figure Schematic:
1. Yellow Section - Tsongkapa and principal students. The standing figure on the left is Gyaltsab Dharma Rinchen (1374-1434) and the standing figure on the right is likely to be Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsen and NOT Kedrub Geleg Pal Zangpo (1385-1438).
2. Blue Section - Yogachara Lineage Teachers (Maitreya)
3. Green Section - Madyamaka Lineage Teachers (Manjushri)
4. Red Section - Meditational Deities & Protector Deities



Deity Iconography Schematic:
1. Stirachakra Manjushri
2. Thirty-five Confession Buddhas
3. Vajrabhairava
4. Thirty-five Confession Buddhas
5. Sita Achala (white)
6. Vina Sarasvati (white)
7. Vajra Vegas (Kalachakra protector deity)
8. Buddha with retinue
9. Panjarnata Mahakala
10. Chaturbhuja Mahakala
11. Chakrasamvara
12. Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja
13. Hevajra
14. Shadbhuja Mahakala
15. Vaishravana Riding a Lion
16. Yama Dharmaraja (Outer)
17. Buddha with retinue
18. Akshobhya Buddha
19. Ushnishavijaya
20. Shyama Tara (green)
21. Sitatapatra
22. Namasangiti Manjushri (?)
23. Amitayus Buddha
24. Mahachakra Vajrapani
25. Yama Dharmaraja (Inner)

Tsongkapa Life-story:
The Blue Section surrounding the center of the composition depicts the life-story of Je Tsonkapa beginning at the bottom left and circling to the right ending at the bottom right.

Jeff Watt 9-2000 / updated 9-2011

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Teacher: Tsongkapa (Yogachara & Madhyamaka Lineages)
Subject: Life Story Paintings (Literary Genre)
Tradition: Gelug Teachers (Paintings)
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
Teacher: Tsongkapa (Early Paintings)
Teacher: Tsongkapa Main Page
Collection of RMA: Best of Collection 2
Exhibition: Big!
Teacher: Tsongkapa (Masterworks)
Teacher: Tsongkapa Life Story Main Page (Painting Sets)
Subject: Life Story Paintings Main Page
Subject: Lineage Paintings - Dual