Buddha Shakyamuni is the founder of Buddhism and was born around 490 B.C.E. to a royal family. Buddha Shakyamuni was shocked and saddened by the sights of old age, sickness, and death and abandoned his princely life in search of Enlightenment. Buddha Shakyamuni thought he could reach enlightenment by practicing asceticism, a lifestyle of severe discipline. After six years of enduring many hardships, Buddha Shakyamuni realized that he had not come to a deeper understanding of life. He realized that neither luxury nor starvation would lead to enlightenment and instead decided to follow a moderate path or the Middle Way. The moment of his enlightenment took place while he was seated in meditation under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. In his enlightenment, he gained the realization that he had eliminated all desires and ignorance within himself. He had become a Buddha, meaning “awakened one.” He then turned the Wheel of Dharma three times: First sermon in Deer Park in Saranath; teachings on the Four Noble Truths; Second sermon in Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagriha, teachings on the Perfection of Wisdom; and Third sermon was taught in Vesali, teachings of the Chittamatra Mind-Only school of Mahayana.
Je Tsongkhapa, meaning: "the man from Tsongkha” or "the Man from Onion Valley" was born in 1357. He was an influential Buddhist monk and philosopher, whose activities led to the formation of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Je Tsongkhapa was acquainted with all Tibetan Buddhist traditions of his time, and received teachings and transmission from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. For Je Rinpoche, all Buddhist forms of meditation can fall into two broad categories which must be balanced and fully developed together: calming meditation, which are "meditations that engage and strengthen our capacity to focus and to stabilize the mind without distraction—culminating in perfect serenity" and insight meditations which "use and develop the capacity to discern and to analyze the qualities of an object—culminating in meditative wisdom."
Je Tsongkhapa was a prolific author with a broad knowledge of Buddhist Philosophy, Logic, Hermeneutics and practice. He wrote numerous works on madhyamka philosophy (such as Ocean of Reasoning, a commentary on Mulamadyyamakakarika), Mahayana practice (such as Lamrim Chenmo), and Vajrayaa (Great Exposition of Secret Mantra). Je Rinpoche’s philosophy is based on the idea that "a complete understanding of Buddhist Philosophy requires a synthesis of the epistemology and logic of Dharmakirti with the metaphysics of Nagarjuna.
Je Tsongkhapa is also known for his emphasis on the importance of philosophical reasoning in the path to liberation. According to Je Tsongkhapa, meditation must be paired with rigorous reasoning in order to push the mind and precipitate a breakthrough in cognitive fluency and insight.
Je Tsongkhapa passed away in 1419 at the age of sixty-two at Ganden monastery. Je Tsongkhapa's works and teachings became central for the Ganden or Gelug school, where he is seen as a major authoritative figure. To this day, Je Rinpoche’s writings are taught and studied extensively by Tibetan Buddhists all over the world.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born on 6 July 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. At the age of two, the child, then named Lhamo Dhondup, was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.
The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet.
At 23, His Holiness sat for his final examination in Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple, during the annual Great Prayer Festival (Monlam Chenmo) in 1959. He passed with honors and was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree, equivalent to the highest doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.
His Holiness has travelled to more than 67 countries spanning 6 continents. He has received over 150 awards, honorary doctorates, prizes, etc., in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. He has also authored or co-authored more than 110 books.
His Holiness continues to give teachings on a regular basis from his residence in North India.