Gendun Drub (1391-1474) was the first Dalai Lama of Tibet. Dalai lama He was a disciple of Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (1357–1419), the great founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Gendun Drub was the first Abbot of Ganden Monastery, the founder of Tashilhunpo Monastery and established three religious colleges in Shigatse, Tsang. The Treasure of Lives He was a well-known scholar-saint, known for combining study and practice. He recorded his insights on the Buddha’s teachings and philosophies in 8 voluminous books. Some of his well-known works are ‘Sunlight on the Path to Freedom’, ‘Praise of the Venerable Lady Khadiravani Tara’, ‘Crushing the Forces of Evil to Dust’, ‘The Song of the Eastern Snow Mountains’ and his three extensive commentaries on the Vinaya. He passed away in 1474 while meditating at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery at the age of 84. He was given the title of the 1st Dalai Lama posthumously over 100 years after his death. Gendun Drub, 1st Dalai Lama
Gendun Drub was born in 1391 in Gyurmey Rupa near Sakya in the Tsang region of central Tibet. From a very young age, Gendun Drub showed a deep interest in religious symbols and practices. He was an avid learner and used to carve sacred Tibetan syllables and prayers into stones. After his father’s death, his mother sent him to Nartang Monastery to study where he was given the name of Pema Dorje. The Treasury of Lives At the age of 15, he received the name of Gendun Drubpa Pel (dge ‘dun grub pa dpal), and after five years was ordained as a full monk in 1411. Due to his exemplary accomplishments in Vinaya studies, he earned the title of “omniscient” (thams cad mkhyen pa). In 1415 at the age of twenty-five, at Ganden Monastery, Ü-Tsang, he met the great Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419) where he became his student and learned a great deal of religious teachings culminating into his legacy. The Treasury of Lives
Gendun Drub met his fellow student and heir to Tsonkhapa’s tantric teachings, Sherab Sengge (1383-1445) at Sangpu Monastery. They studied and travelled together for twelve years spreading Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim teachings in monasteries including Sakya and Kadam monasteries in Tsang. Tsemrinpoche In his life span as a spiritual teacher, Gendun Drub trained abbots of the Hadam, Geluk, and Sakya Monasteries across Tibet and Kham.
The first Dalai Lama had a humble beginning. He was born in a nomadic tribe belonging to the Drom (‘brom) clan. He was raised as a shepherd for 7 years before being sent to Nartang Monastery by his mother. Tsemrinpoche
His father’s name was Gonpo Dorje (mgon po rdo rje) and his mother’s name was Jomo Namkyi (jo mo nam mkha’ skyid). His father died in 1398 when he was 7 years old. Unable to support the goatherd, his mother sent him to his uncle who was a monk at Narthang Monastery near Shigatse. The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin
As per a legend, he experienced divine intervention on the night he was born. It is said that after his camp was attacked by bandits, his mother hid him among rocks for the night. Upon returning the next day, she found him safe and unharmed guarded by a large black raven. It is believed that it was the Tibetan Buddhist guardian deity, Mahākāla protecting him in the form of the raven. The Treasury of Lives Later, Gendub Drub became devoted to Mahākāla.
According to another tradition, Palden Lhamo, the female Dharma protectress of the Gelug tradition, and the guardian spirit of the scared lake of Lhamo Lhatso (lha mo lha mtsho) came into Gendun Drun’s vision and promised that she would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas. Tsemrinpoche To present, she remains the personal Dharampala (Dharma protector) of all the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama. Gedun Gyatso, the 2nd Dalai Lama, formalized coming to the sacred lake as a customary practice for monks to seek a vision with guidance about the whereabouts of the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama
Upon entering the Nartang monastery, he took upāsaka lay vows from the fourteenth abbot, Khenchen Drubpa Sherab (1357-1423) and in 1405, at the age of 15 he took his novice vows where he received the name Gendun Drubpa Pel (dge ‘dun grub pa dpal). In 1411, he took his Bhiksu (monk) vows and became a fully ordained monk. The Treasury of Lives He passed the 12 grades of monkhood in 12 years, taking the highest vows after his ordination. The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin
In 1432, Gendun Drub became the Abbot of the Sakya monastery Tanak Riku and converted it into a Geluk monastery. The Treasury of Lives After the death of Tsongkhapa’s successor, Khedrup Je (the 1st Panchen Lama, 1385–1438), Gendun Drup assumed the leadership of the Gelugpa. He later became the Abbot of Drepung Monastery, Lhasa. The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin He entered a meditation retreat at Narthang in 1441 at the age of 50. The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin He held great prayer festivals twice at Tashi Lhunpo, one in 1463 and the next one in 1474, which was attended by around 1600 monks and 10000 laypeople. The Treasury of Lives Gendun Drub founded Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in 1477 in Shigatse, Tsang, despite strong opposition from the dominating Sakya and Kagyu monasteries. Its establishment increased the influence of Gelugpa in Tsang. He also established three religious colleges in Shigatse. Tashi Lhunpo Monastery became the fourth great Gelugpa monastery in Tibet after Ganden, Drepung and Sera Monasteries. Gendun Drub remained the Abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery until his death. The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin The Monastery now serves as the seat of the Paṇchen Lama incarnation line.
Gendun Drub had no political role. The political intervention of Dalai Lamas began much after his time after the enthronement of the 5th Dalai Lama.
In 1474, at the age of 84, Gendun Drub passed away while meditating at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. Before his death, he went on foot to visit Narthang Monastery for his final teaching tour. The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin
- He was known as the “Perfecter of the Monkhood” and often called Panchen Gendun Drup, ‘Panchen’ being the title meaning ‘great scholar.’
- He was identified as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, the compassionate bodhisattva.
- The Sakya master Tangtong Gyelpo (1361-1485) allegedly tried to prevent him from establishing Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse. The Treasury of Lives
- His mortal remains were laid to rest at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and can be seen in the present time.