Document Type



Tsongkhapa as Dzokchenpa: Nyingma Discourses and Geluk Sources

Despite their frequent depiction as polar opposites, the Nyingma and Geluk tradiitons of Tibetan Buddhism have important and sometimes surprising points of connection. The focus of this article is the Geluk founder Tsongkhapa’s (1357–1419) relation to Nyingma teachers, doctrines, and practices. My more specific concern is to examine a particular, relatively long-standing Nyingma discourse suggesting that Tsongkhapa was a crypto-Dzokchenpa. The main “proof-text” for this claim is The Garland of Supreme Medicinal Nectar, which records questions about Dzokchen posed by Tsongkhapa to the buddha/bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi through the medium of his Nyingma teacher Lodrak Namkha Gyaltsen (or Lekyi Dorjé, 1326–1401), and the answers conveyed by Lekyi Dorjé. The dialogue covers questions about the purity, nature, categories, and potential pitfalls of the practice of the Great Perfection. Here, I (a) outline some Nyingma claims about Tsongkhapa’s enthusiasm for (or even partiality to) Dzokchen and his relation to Padmasambhava, (b) discuss the contents of the Garland of Supreme Medicinal Nectar and two other Lekyi Dorjé-related texts, (c) set the Garland and the shorter texts within the context of Tsongkhapa’s overall corpus and projects, (d) reflect on the perspectives of later Gelukpa masters who are taken by Nyingmapas to confirm Tsongkhapa’s partiality to Dzokchen, and (e) offer a concluding assessment of the validity, function, and import of the Nyingma claims to the effect that Tsongkhapa was a crypto-Dzokchenpa, finding the textual evidence to be weak, but the discourse itself to be religiously significant.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.