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Teacher: Dalai Lama I, Gendun Drub

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Biography: Gendun Drub, 1st Dalai Lama

Gendun Drub, 1391-1474 [Tbrc P80], was born to a family of nomadic farmers in the Iron Sheep Year (1391) near Sakya in Tsang. His father was named Gonpo Dorje (mgon po rdo rje) and his mother Jomo Namkyi (jo mo nam mkha skyid). His birth name was Pema Dorje (padma rdo rje). According to legend, the on night he was born, the family's camp was attacked by bandits, and his mother, fearing for the life of her newborn child, wrapped him in blankets and hid him among the rocks before she fled for her life. The next morning, upon her return, she found her son resting peacefully among the stones, with a large black raven standing guard before him, protecting him from the flocks of crows and wild vultures that had gathered to attack him. The raven is said to have been an emanation of Mahakala, who would become Gendun Drub's personal deity. As a young child Gendun Drub demonstrated an extraordinary inclination for religious practice, spending hours outside carving sacred syllables and prayers into stones in the Tibetan tradition.

Gendun Drub's father died when he was seven, and his mother sent him to Nartang (snar thang) monastery to begin his education. When he entered the monastery he was given the name Pema Dorje (pad+ma rdo rje) and upasaka lay vows from the 14th abbot, Drubpa Sherab (grub pa shes rab). At fifteen he took novice vows, receiving the name Gendun Drubpa Pal (dge 'dun grub pa dpal), and at twenty became a fully ordained monk. At Nartang Gendun Drub earned the title "omniscient" (thams cad mkhyen pa) as a result of his accomplishment in studies, particularly in Vinaya and logic. In addition to Druba Sherab, Gendun Drub also studied with Sherab Sengge (shes rab seng ge).

When he was twenty-five, in 1415, Gendun Drub traveled to U where he met Tsongkapa, remaining at Ganden for roughly twelve years, although Tsongkapa passed away only four years after their meeting. Gendun Drub was profoundly affected by Tsongkapa's teachings. It is said that Tsongkapa gave Gendun Drub a piece of his own monastic robes upon their meeting, and that this auspicious act predicted the later benefit that Gendun Drub would bring to the practice of monasticism in Tibet. Indeed, among his extensive and greatest works are three commentaries on the Vinaya, that are considered among the most influential in the lineage.

For twelve years Gendun Drub and Sherab Sengge traveled together, visiting Sakya and Kadam monasteries in Tsang and spreading Tsongkhapags Lamrim teachings. Because he taught widely for fifty years, from age thirty-five to eighty-five, he trained abbots of most Kadam and Gelug monasteries across Tibet and Kham, and even those of some Sakya monasteries.

In 1432 Gendun Drub became the abbot of the Sakya monastery Tanag Riku (rta nag ri khud), transforming it into a Gelug monastery. He also built a residence at Jangchen monastery (byang chen), attracting a larger and larger number of students there.

Gendun Drub founded Tashilhunpo (bkra shis lhun po) in 1447 in Shigatse, Tsang, an outpost of Gelug teachings in a region that was then largely dominated by Sakya and Kagyu monasteries. It is said that the Sakya master Tangton Gyalpo (thang ston rgyal po) attempted to prevent him from establishing the new monastery. Gendun Drub established three religious colleges (mtshan nyid) there, divided into twenty-six houses (mi tsan).

Taking the Lhasa Monlam Chenmo was founded first by Tsongkapa, in 1409, Gendun Drub established a great prayer festival at Tashi Lhunpo, first in 1463 and then again in 1474, when one thousand six hundred monks and ten thousand laypeople attended, firmly establishing the Gelug presence in Tsang.

At the age of eighty-four Gendun Drub passed away at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, under auspicious circumstances among his disciples. Among his greatest achievements were the founding of Tashi Lhunpo in Tibet, and the compilation of collected writings. He was particularly influenced by the lojong or mind-training teachings of the Kadampas of Tibet, and wrote extensively in their praise.

Miranda Adams, 2009


Tshe mchog gling yongs 'dzin ye shes rgyal mtshan. 1970 (1787). Biographies of Eminent Gurus in the Transmission Lineages of the teachings of the Graduated Path, being the text of: Byang chub Lam gyi Rim pa'i Bla ma Brgyud pa'i Rnam par Thar pa Rgyal mtshan Mdzes pa'i Rgyan Mchog Phul byung Nor bu'i Phreng ba. New Delhi: Ngawang Gelek Demo, vol 2, pp. 608-651.

Mullin, Glenn. 1985. "Kun-ga Gyal-tsen's 'Life of the Dalai Lama I, the twelve wonderous deeds of omniscient Gen-dun Brub'.' Tibet Journal vol 11, no 4, pp. 3-42.

Shen Weirong, Janice Becker, trans. 2005. "The First Dalai Lama Gendun Drup." In Brauen, Martin, ed. The Dalai Lamas: A Visual History. London: Serindia, pp. 33-41.

Yon tan rgya mtsho. 1994. Dge ldan chos 'byung gser gyi mchod sdong 'bar ba. Paris: Yon tan rgya mtsho, pp. 218-222.

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. November 2009].

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