Bliss of Inner Fire
The Mahasiddha Je Tsongkhapa
In the Western academic world, the common interpretation is that Lama Je Tsongkhapa was just a philosopher. Western academics do not seem to recognize him as a great yogi, a great tantric practitioner, a mahasiddha. Actually, Lama Tsongkhapa taught and wrote more on tantra than on sutra; but because he did not publicly show his mahasiddha aspect, Westerners have the impression that he was merely an intellectual.
Some people think that Gelugpas, the followers of Lama Tsongkhapa, do not practice nonconceptual meditation. They think that the other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism meditate in this way, but that Lama Tsongkhapa negated nonconceptual meditation and taught only intellectual, analytical meditation. I have heard Westerners say, ˘Gelugpas are always intellectualizing, always squeezing their brains.÷ This is not ture.
Lama Tsongkhapa was already a great meditator while still a teenager. From then on, he did not experience ordinary sicknesses; when he had a small health problem, he would cure himself. Also, if a flood or an avalanche was about to happen, he would say a prayer, and the disaster would be averted. If you read Lama Tsongkhapa's biography, you will see that he was a great mahasiddha.
Monlam Chenmo, the great prayer festival celebrated in Lhasa for the two weeks after the Tibetan New Year, was started by Lama Je Tsongkhapa. The monks, nuns, and laypeople of all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism came together to make offerings, including thousands of butterlamps, and to say prayers. One day during the first festival, the many thousands of butterlamps in the temple becaome one huge mass of flame. The fire was soon out of control. Terrified that the temple might burn down, people ran to Lama Tsongkhapa for help. He sat down, went into deep samadhi meditation, and suddenly all the flames were extinguished, as if blown out by one gust of wind.
Lama Tsongkhapa was able to do this through his inner fire meditation. We Tibetans believe that when you can control the four elements of your own nervous system through inner fire meditation, you can also control the external elements. Lama Tsongkhapa didn't need an ordinary fire engine; with his inner fire engine, he instantly extinguished the flames. This proves that Lama Tsongkhapa was a powerful realized being. At that time he also had visions of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas, perceiving them in the skies above Lhasa.
Lama Tsongkhapa also had no shortage of telepathic power. For example, he was once staying in a small retreat hut some thirty minutes walk from the place where he later advised Sera Monastery be built. Suddenly one day he disappeared, and nobody knew why. Later that same day a delegation from the Emperor of China arrived; the Emperor had heard of Lama Tsongkhapa's fame and wished to invite him to come to China, but he was nowhere to be found. No one knew the delegation was coming that day, but Lama Tsongkhapa knew, and he escaped over the mountains.
This shows Lama Tsongkhapa's telepathic power, but it is also a good example of his perfect renunciation. He vomited at the thought of wordly pleasure. Can you imagine us in that situation ? We would definitely accept the invitation. I can't even resist the temptation to visit a rich benefactor, let alone an emperor. Although Lama Tsongkhapa was incredibly famous, he never went to distracting places but preferred to stay in isolated places in the mountains. On the other hand, we go to the most confused places, which shows our renunciation is not yet perfect.
Lama Je Tsongkhapa had many thousands of disciples all over Tibet and constantly received offerings, but he had no bank account, no house, and not even one piece of land on which to grow his food. He gave away everything he received and stayed clean-clear. Lama Tsongkhapa was the head of Ganden, a monastery he founded, but he stayed there as if he were simply a guest: he would arrive, receive offerings, give them away, then leave with nothing. Lama Tsongkhapa is a perfect example of someone living in accordance with Dharma.
Lama Tsongkhapa's death also reveals that he was a mahasiddha. From his childhood, Lama Tsongkhapa had a special relationship with the Buddha Manjushri and received teachings directly from Manjushri. Two or three years before Lama Tsongkhapa died, Manjushri told him he was about to die. Suddenly countless Buddhas appeared. They requested Lama Tsongkhapa not to die and gave him an initiation of boundless energy so that he could live longer. Manjushri then told him that his life span had been extended and predicted the new time of his death.
Shortly before Lama Tsongkhapa died, one of his teeth fell out, and everybody saw that it emitted rainbow light. He gave the tooth to Khedrub Je, one of his heart sons, but this disappointed his other disciples, who asked if they could have some of the tooth. Lama Tsongkhapa told Khedrub Je to place the tooth in a box on the altar, where radiant rainbow light continued to emanate from it, and everyone prayed and meditated.
A week later, when Lama Tsongkhapa opened the box, the tooth had transformed into a tiny Tara image surrounded by relic pills. Lama Tsongkhapa gave the Tara statue to Khedrub Je and the relic pills to the other disciples. He also predicted that after five hundred years the relics would be brought to Bodhgaya in India. This prediction was accurate. Although the Chinese Communists destroyed what remained of Lama Je Tsongkhapa's body, some of the relics were saved and taken to Bodhgaya by Tibetans fleeing into exile in India.
When Lama Tsongkhapa finally died, he died perfectly. First, he put everything in order. Next, he asked one of his disciples to bring him his skullcup. He then performed the inner offering meditation and took thirty-three sips of the inner offering, a sign that inside he was the Guhyasamaja deity. Finally, sitting in meditation in his full robes, he died. These are the actions that distinguish a mahasiddha from an ordinary being. An accomplished master doesn't have to announce, I am a mahasiddha. His actions prove it.
Can you imagine being able to die deliberately and clean-clear ? When we die we leave a mess. We should motivate and pray that instead of dying like a cow, we will die as Lama Tsongkhapa did. This is our human right. Pray that instead of dying in a depressed, miserable state, you will die blissfully. Make the resolution : When I die, I will control my emotions and die peacefully, just as Lama Tsongkhapa did. You must motivate, because motivation has power. When the time of your death comes, you will remember your resolution. On the other hand, if you don't have strong motivation now, you will end up shaking with terror and completely lose control when your death comes. If you have prepared yourself beforehand, you will remember what to do at the time of death.
At one point after Lama Je Tsongkhapa had passed away, Khedrun Je was sad because he felt that Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings were disappearing. Lama Tsongkhapa had explained the entire path to enlightenment thoroughly from beginning to end, from Hinayana to Paramitayana and Tantrayana, and thousands upon thousands of people had meditated upon his teachings and achieved realizations. However, Khedrub Je thought, Lama Je Tsongkhapa's teachings seem like a mirage. Unfortunately the Tibetan people are degenerating. He taught us not to cling to the desires of the sensory world, yet people have more grasping and more desires than ever.
Khedrub Je felt very sad, and he cried and cried. He then prayed and offered a mandala. Suddenly Lama Tsongkhapa appeared to him in a vision. He was in a youthful aspect, seated on a jeweled throne surrounded by deities, dakas, and dakinis. He said to Khedrub Je, My son, you shouldn't cry. My principal message is to practice the tantric path. Do this and then transmit the teachings to qualified disciples. Instead of crying you should help to do this as much as possible, and you will make me very happy.
At another time, Khedrub Je had some technical questions on tantric practice but could not find anyone who could answer them. Again he burst into tears. His heart was breaking. When he prayed strongly and offered a mandala, Lama Je Tsongkhapa again manifested to him in a vision and gave him many teachings and initiations.
At yet another time that Khedrun Je cried so hard and prayed so much, Lama Tsongkhapa manifested to him in the aspect of a mahasiddha. Reddish in color, he was holding a sword and a skullcup and riding on a tiger. He also manifested to Khedrub Je in the form of Manjushri and at another time in his usual form, but riding on a white elephant. Five visions appeared when, for different reasons, Khedrub Je and prayed to Lama Tsongkhapa.
Why do I tell these stories ? it is inspiring to know that Lama Je Tsongkhapa was without doubt a great yogi, a mahasiddha, and that Khedrub Je had such inner realizations that Lama Tsongkhapa would manifest when Khedrub Je simply called on him. You should also understand that Lama Tsongkhapa's principal field was tantra. Even though we are degenerate, we are very fortunate to have the chance to hear Lama Tsongkhapa's way of explaining the tantric path and to try to actualize it. Even if we do not know very much about Buddhist teachings, if we practice what we do know, Lama Tsongkhapa will be very happy with us.