Biography of Gorampa Sonam Senghe
Published by the students of Sakya College, Rajpur, Dehradun, India
The great omnicient Go-rams-pa bSod-nams Seng-ge was born as the son of father Ru-tsha Shan-skyabs and mother Rgyal-ba-sman in the Tibetan Earth Bird Year, i.e., 1429.
As a child bSod-nams Seng-ge was precocious. He mastered reading effortlessly. When he attained the age of ten, bSod-nams Seng-ge reflected that all living beings who dwell in the world are afflicted by many various kinds of sufferings. Hence, he resolved to renounce the world and begged his parents' permission to do so.
When his parents had given him their consent he was given the vows of a novice monk by the abbot Byang-chub Sems-dpa' Kun-dga'-'bum. It was then that he was given the name, bSod-nams Seng-ge. Then he began formally to study Buddhist philosophy under the abbot Kun-dga'-'bum. He was introducted to logic and began to commit texts to memory. He was remarkably diligent and soon excelled among the students of Kun-dga'-'bum.
By the time bSod-nams Seng-ge had attained the age of nineteen, he had mastered the wide variety of texts, including the texts of logic and Paramita. It was then that an overwhelming desire took hold of him to go to Central Tibet in search of further instruction in the holy Dharma. Thus, he set about gathering together travelling companions and provision for the journey.
At the beginning of the following year, he left his native land together with many young students. Travelling via the Kong-lam they eventually reached bSam-yas, then bSang-phu, and finally Lhasa. At all the holy places along their route, bSod-nams Seng-ge offered prayers.
In the summer of the same year, he came to the Monastery of Na-lendra, where the renowned scholar Rong-ston was teaching. He was received by the master and was greatly pleased. At that time, a great number of students had assembled to hear discourses from the great Rong-ston. bSod-nams Seng-ge developed a firm faith in the master and decided to remain at Na-lendra equalled the most gifted students in intellectual ability.
In the autumn bSod-nams Seng-ge proceeded to Lhasa, where he met the scholar, gLing-sman Pandita Shes-rab dPal-ldan-pa from whom he received the agama of the Manjushri-namasangita. Shes-rab dPal-ldan-pa also taught him the biographies of a number of great teachers, including that of Rong-ston.
bSod-nams Seng-ge could not study with great Rong-ston, because the master, unfortunately passed away that very year. Then, hearing of a very excellent scholar, called Sangs-rgyas 'Phel who was teaching at the institute of 'Bras-yul, bSod-nam Seng-ge decided to go there to pursue his studies of the doctrine. At the institute of 'Bras-yul, he studied advanced philosophy under the scholar Sangs-rgyas 'Phel. There too, all were amazed by his extra-ordinary intelligence.
After bSod-nams Seng-ge had been at the institute of 'Bras-yul he conceived the idea of going to the great Monastery of Ngor E-wam Chos-sde to study Tantra under the famous rDo-rje-'chang Kun-dga' bZang-po.
At E-wam Chos-sde he was ordained by the master Kun-dga' bZang-po at the age of twenty six. There bSod-nams Seng-ge studied Tantra under Kun-dga' bZang-po and his successor dKon-mchog rGyal-mtshan. In addition, he studied ethics at E-wan Chos-sde. It is said that he not only mastered all the instructions which he received, but also practised them.
In the Iron Dragon Year, i.e., 1461, when bSod-nams Seng-ge was thirty two years old, he left E-wan Chos-sde, in the company of his elder half brother, with the intention of returning to Kham to visit his parents and practise meditation. On their way to Kham, they stopped at the institute 'Bras-yul where bSod-nams Seng-ge had studied philosophy under Sangs-rgyas 'Phel.
bSod-nams Seng-ge distinguished himself as the foremost among all the learned scholars there in philosophical debate. His skill in debate amazed all who were present, particularly because he had for many years devoted himself primarily to the study of Tantra. As the result of his success, the head of the institute, Sangs-rgyas 'Phel, asked bSod-nams Seng-ge to remain there to study and teach. Though he was unwilling to remain, he was eventually persuaded to do so through the intervention of dKon-mchog rGyal-mtshan. bSod-nams Seng-ge then remained at the institute of 'Bras-yul while his half brother proceeded alone to Kham. Not long after the two of the senior instructors at the institute left to pursue their studies in different parts of Tibet, bSod-nams Seng-ge then assumed the role of assistant teacher at the institute.
When the head of the institute Sangs-rgyas 'Phel, left to receive additional Tantric instructions from dKon-mchog rGyal-mtshan, he asked bSod-nams Seng-ge to act as the head of the institute in his absence. After Sangs-ryas 'Phel's departure, bSod-nams Seng-ge taught the texts of Paramita, logic, Vinaya and Abhidharma at the institute. The knowledge of the students at the institute increased markedly during the course of his teaching. As a result, his fame spread throughout Central Tibet. It was then that he composed among other works, a commentary on the sDom-gsum Rab-dbye of Sakya Pandita and a summary of Paramita. When Sangs-rgyas 'Phel returned to the institute, bSod-nams Seng-ge went to E-wam Chos-sde at the request of dKon-mchog rGyal-mtshan. There he continued his studies under dKon-mchog rGyal-mtshan, meditated, taught and composed a number of biographies and works on Tantra. He became acquainted with bSod-nams Chos-kyi Kun-dga' bKra-shis-rgyal-mtshan dPal bZang-po who suggested that bSod-nams Seng-ge found a monastic institute of his own. bSod-nams Seng-ge accepted the suggestion and together they resolved to found an institute in the near future. Shortly thereafter, bSod-nams Seng-ge first found a small monastic institute at rTa-nag gSer-gling in upper gTsang.
bSod-nams Seng-ge founded his institute at rTa-nag gSer-gling with the objective of furthering the study of Buddhist religion and philosophy in Tibet. The method of instruction pursued at the institute conformed to the tradition which had been established by Rong-ston and other masters of Sakya doctrine.
Eventually a permanent location was found for the institute at rTa-nag Rin-chen-rtse and in 1474, bSod-nams Seng-ge took up his residence there. He named the monastery Thub-bstan rNam-rgyal. At Thub-bstan rNam-rgyal, bSod-nams Seng-ge taught logic and Paramita with detailed explanations. He also taught Vinaya and composed works on Sutra and Tantra.
Among others he taught the following texts: the Abhisamayalankara, with its commentary composed by Haribhadra, the Abhidharmakosa of Vasubandhu, the Abhidharmasamuccaya of Asanga, the five principal texts of the Madhyamaka system taught by Nagarjuna, the Catuhsataka of Aryadeva, the Madhyamakavatara of Chandrakirti, the Bodhicaryavatara of Shantideva, the Pramanavarttika of Dharmakirti, the sDom-gsum Rab-dbye and the Tshad-ma Rigs-gter of Sakya Pandita. bSod-nams Seng-ge taught all these texts from memory, along with detailed explanations. In addition, he taught numerous Tantric texts, including three Hevajra Tantras, the Cakrasamvaratantra and Guhyasamajatantra with its commentary composed by Chandrakirti, the Pradipauddyotana.
bSod-nams Seng-ge wrote numerous works, including several texts on Paramita, a commentary on the Pramanavarttika, a commentary on the Tshad-ma Rigs-gter of Sakya Pandita, a commentary on the Mulamadhyamakakarika, a commentary on the Madhyamakavatara, an exposition of Madhyamaka system entitled the dBu-ma-spyi-don, a summary of the five treatises of Nagarjuna and the like. In addition he composed many works on Tantra. bSod-nams Seng-ge was moreover a skilled debator who vanquished many opponents in philosophical disputations.
bSod-nams Seng-ge also later assumed the post of abbot of the E-wam Chos-sde Monastery. He held the post for four years. There he delivered many Tantric teachings, most notably that of the Lam-'bras. Throughout the year during which he held the post of abbot of the E-wam Chos-sde Monastery, he continued to look after his own monastery of Thub-bstan rNam-rgyal, dividing his time between the two insitutions.
In 1490, while returning to Thub-bstan rNam-rgyal from his second visit to Sakya, bSod-nams Seng-ge passed away. His cremated remains were enshrined at Thub-bstan rNam-rgyal.