Biography of the Venerable Rendawa Shonnu Lodro

By Jurgen Stoter -Tillmann and Acharya Tashi Tsering

The venerable Rendawa Shonnu Lodro was born in the female earth-ox year of the sixth cycle of sixty years (1349), in Renda Kabso (red Mdha khab so), a place near Sakya, into the lineage of the minister Gar Tong Tsan Yul Sung (hgar stong bcan yul bsung) as son of Tashi Gyal Tsan (bkra sis rgyal mchan) amd Wang Tshug Kyi (dwang phyug skyid). While this exalted son of the Victor dwelt in the womb auspicious signs, like rising of sun and moon, lighting of lamps, building of temples etc., appear to the mother in her dreams. Also at the time of birth of this exalted son of the Victor wondrous omens appeared in great numbers. Thereupon the parents sustained the young exalted son of the Victor with milk, curd, pure butter etc. He also received the name Tsunne (bcun ne) and as soon as he spoke, knew and comprehended meanings, faith and devotion greatly arose in him whenever he heard the names of the Three Jewels or saw Their objects. At the time when this exalted son of the Victor was still an infant his parents passed away, thus the nun Tashi Bum (bkra sis hbum) fostered him. While still a child, this magnanimous, exalted son of the Victor said to the nun: 'I will either assume to myself the seal of a great Sakya ruler, then leading the land of Tibet to happiness, or enter the door of teaching and make the Buddha teaching clear as the sun', whereupon the nun replied: 'Tsunne of great intelligence! I wonder if such will be accomplished by you?', and since then this young exalted son of the Victor was called 'Tsunne Lo Chen' (bcun ne lo chen) [Tsunne of great intelligence]. Since the karmic impressions of having practiced the teaching in the course of many previous lives came to unfold in the young exalted son of the Victor, he then spontaneously applied himself to the search of the sacred teaching, just as other children, without any training being required, spontaneously apply themselves to ingestion of milk and illusory games.

From Phag Chen Cho Zang Pal (hphags chen chos bzan dpal) this exalted son of the Victor received the vows of refuge, generation of the mind of enlightenment, temporary lay vows, and teachings on the great Compassionate One in great numbers. Then he contemplated as follows: 'If now that the the excellent basis of freedoms has once been achieved one does not estimate the saints having manifested in former times and does not bring hearing, contemplating and meditating to consummation, then, as if one would return empty-hand from the land of wish-fulfilling jewels, the freedoms and endowments which one had obtained will become useless. Again, after having quickly disentangled oneself from life in the prison-like household, this place from which many faults and emotional afflictions originate and where one is tormented with many sufferings, one should practice the utterly pure teachings.' Thus, with a strong point of renunciation, he took the novice vows from Sa Zang Pan Chen (sa bzan pan chen) at the age of eighteen, and received the name Shonnu Lo Dro. Then he met the master among scholars Nya Bon Kunga Pal Wa (nya dbon kun dgah dpal ba) and the great abbot Sang ja Pal Wa (sans rgyas dpal ba), he studied the 'Commentary on Valid Cognition' (by Dharmakirti), and with a logic thus utterly flawless he comprehended, in a superb manner, the eight subjects of logic so that he became well known as a distinguished scholar. Thereupon he studied the 'Seven Treatises' (on 'Valid Congition', also by Dharmakirti) along with commentaries, and also having gained superior understanding of the detailed explanations given by Sakya Pandita, the lord of wisdom, and U Yug Pa Rig Pa Seng ge (hu yug pa rigs pahi sen ge), he correctly comprehended glorious Dharmakirti's text and even wrote small commentaries and large commentaries of general meaning on the 'Commentary on Valid Cognition'. Then he thorougly studied the text 'Ornament of Clear Understanding' (by Maitreya) along with commentaries, and thus he soon turned into an outstanding scholar. Again, from the famous 'Noble Teacher', So Nam Gyal Tsan (bsod nams rgyal mchan), etc. he received the 'Perfection of Wisdom', and also completely mastering in particular the 'Twenty-thousand Views the great Commentary of the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Verses' (by Vimuktasena) as well as the commentaries of Dre Chem Po She Rab Pal (hbre chen po ses rab dpal) and Ar Jang Chub Ye she (ar byan chub ye ses), he grasped the intentions, as they really were, of Noble Vimuktasena and Simhabhadra and also composed commentaries on the 'Perfection of Wisdom' and explanations of the seventy topics (occuring in the 'Ornament of Clear Understanding'). Then he resolved to learn the subject of Pure Science (Abhidharma), fundamental to all teachings, and having betaken himself to the great translator Jang Chub Tse Mo (byan chub rce mo), he repeatedly heard higher and lower Pure Science. In penetrating the 'Five Treatises' (by Asanga), the 'Twofold Compendium' (by Asanga), the 'Eight Classes of Dissertation' (by Vasubhandu), the elucidations of their commentaries as well as the detailed explanations by Pang Ton Lo Tsa Wa Lo Dro Tan Pa (dpan lo), a master among scholars, he really gained insight into the theories of Asanga and his brother so that he himself wrote commentaries on higher and lower Pure Science, with condensed meanings. Then he betook himself to the great abbot Dog Lo Pa Kun Ga Zang Po (ldog lod pa kun dgah bzan po), and in the circle of abbot and monk disciples he was ordained monk. Once when the great abbot was teaching the 'Basic Treatise on Discipline' (by Gunaprabha) to him, the great abbot spoke to him: 'As regards discipline you have already become much more proficient than I am. Therefore the teaching is being transmitted to its master.' Following the great abbot's advice he wrote commentaries on the 'Basic Treatise on Discipline' as well as on its rites at the transmission of vows of individual liberation, and afterwards he unintermittently practisced the triad of summer-retreat, confession of downfalls and lifting of prohibition. Then he aimed at studying the texts of the Middle, and from Cho Je Jang Sen Pa (chos rje byan sen pa) he heard the texts of the Middle, the logic group of the Middle (five texts composed by Nagarjuna), 'The Four Hundred' (by Aryadeva), 'Entry into the Middle' (by Candrakirti) etc. Praying to the Three Jewels and again and again analyzing he correctly apprehended, thanks to previous aspirations and the blessings of the Three Jewels, the thinking of the exalted master Nagarjuna and his exalted disciple (Aryadeva), whereupon he composed commentaries on the three texts 'Treatise on the Middle', 'Entry into the Middle' and 'The Four Hundred', as well as a commentary concerning the general sense of the 'Clear Words', the commentary on the 'Root Wisdom' (i.e. 'Treatise on the Middle'). Thus, after the tradition of the Middle had been properly initiated through this Magnanimous One's explanation of the Middle and the hearing of all those who studied under him, he spoke: 'I have served the teaching'. Then, intending to enter the supreme of all vehicles, the diamond-vehicle, he besought the great translator Jang Chub Tse Mo for the empowerment of the 'Unshakeable Secret Assembly' and he reeived the secret name 'Unshakeable Diamond'. From the great translator Kyab Chog Pal Zang Po (skyab mchog dpal bzan po) he received detailed explanations on tantra and from the famous 'Noble Teacher', So Nam Gyal Tsan, the commentary on the 'Glorious Secret Assembly', 'Clear Lamp', along with secondary commentaries. He heard profound Mantrayana teachings in great numbers, like the 'Instruction of Hevajra' along with 'Path and Fruit' etc. From Sa Zang Pan Chen he received the empowerment of 'Supreme Bliss' (bde mchog) and from the great translator Kyab Chog Pa (skyabs mchog pa) 'Diamond Garland', 'Manjusri Diamond', 'Lord of the World', 'Diamond Youth' of the Sakyapa, 'Five Stages in Brief', 'Lamp of Collected Action' etc. he also fully understood the Sakyapa texts and those of Bu Ton Rin Po Che (bu ston rin po che) etc. Having mastered the commentaries on the tantra of 'Glorious Secret Assembly' along with their branch commentaries, he wrote a commentary on the root tantra (i.e. 'Secret Assembly'), the 'Clear Understanding' (by himself), 'Self-entry' (by himself), 'Offering Garland' (by himself), a survey of the 'Five Stages' (by Nagarjuna). He further wrote commentaries on 'Higher Tantra' (by Maitreya/Asanga), 'Letter to a Friend' (by Nagarjuna) and 'Compendium of Discourses' (by Nagarjuna). From glorious Gyal Sa Thog Me Zang Po (rgyal sras thogs med bzan po) he received many categories of teaching, the generation of the mind of enlightenment in motivation and practice, the mind training etc.

In brief, by having become proficient in word and meaning of all discourses and tantras while relying upon various spiritual friends and by extensively turning himself the wheel of teaching for those qualifying, this Magnanimous One penetrated, maintained and spread the precious teaching of the Buddha. Having betaken himself to U (dbus) this great scholar met the great venerable Tsong Kha Pa (con kha pa). Being both teacher and disciple, they then met at Nam Tse Deng (gnam rce lden), at Jang Ra Dreng (byan ra sgren), at many places in Kyi Sho (skyid sod), at Tag Tsang Jong Kha (stag chan rjon kha) in Tsang (gcan) etc., extensively turning the wheel of teaching and restoring the basics of the Victor's teaching, as is recorded in detail in the venerable Tsong Kha Pa's biography.

Determined to put into effect the essential meaning of what he had copiously studies this great venerable Rendawa, in line with the deeds of foregone saints, then totally rejected wealth, honor, fame and enjoyment, as if they were dirty spittle. Accompanied by a few disciples who, having mentally given up life and being motivated by a spirit of strong renunciation, wished to accomplish realization of the essence on the path of the supreme vehicle, he went into retreat in Gang Wu Le Kar Po Ja Gul Ju Lung Dor Je Jong (gans bu le dkar pohi gyas mgul gyu lun rdo je ljons) for a period of five years. In applying the paths of sutra and tantra he wholeheartedly accomplished realization of the path so that he gained complete experience on two stages, on the ordinary path and on the extraordinary path of tantra. Thus he attained the supreme realization extolled by the Victor, visions of the faces of many deities, arising of many doors of meditative stabilizations, recollection of many existences of his own and others, faculty to betake himself to many Buddha fields etc. Nevertheless, in order to direct future trainees, he displayed delight in solitude, and the exalted, wholehearted wish to accomplish realization.

Thus, in order to accomplish realization of the essence in remote areas, he wandered to the dense forests of Kyi Drong (skyid gron) in Mang Yul (man yul), at the border of Tibet and Nepal, and retaining the biography of Mi La Ra Pa (mi la ras pa), the Victor's exalted son, he wholeheartedly set out to accomplish realization at Me Tog Dang Chen (me tog mdan chen), a place convenient for the wise. Now, many of this great being's followers who practiced the classes of teaching (discipline, discourse, pure science) and wholehertedly wished to accomplish realization in solitary places also gathered in this region and received the nectar of teaching from the great venerable Rendawa after having, now and then, requested him to grant it to them. In general, however, they engaged in working for realization in many of those solitary dense forests. Living in various groupings, some alone, some in groups of four, or eight, or twenty etc. they who had renounced accomplished realization. Many monks, invested with the three trainings, dwelt at the mountainous slopes to the right and to the left of Me Tog Dang Chen and in Mani La Ka (mani la kha), Drag Ka (brag kha) etc. Since in this region there were so many of them implementing all aspects of the path in accordance with the doctrine of the time when Buddha was still present, and that of the time of practice (an early period among the ten five hundred year periods which form the span of the five thousand years of Buddha teaching), the religious-oriented gods, delighted and pleased, uttered words of blessinf. But it was particularly the difficult ultimate point of the intention of the Sugata's instruction well elucidated by the glorious protector noble Nagarjuna, the profound dependent origination, the superb way of the Middle devoid of the extremes of permanence and annihilation, noble Nagarjuna's intention made clear by glorious Candrakirti, which this Magnanimous One really apprehended. Regarding the profound way of the Middle he achieved firm knowledge, definite and unshakeable, he obtained irreversible certainly. In clearly expounding the method of the way of the Middle in Tibet, this Magnanimous One not only triggered an extensive teaching activity within the class of discourse but on the basis of 'Clear Lamp', the commentary on the root-tantra 'Glorious Secret Assembly', the most perfect of all instructions, the quintessence of the great, secret Vajrayana, he also unsealed the six categories and the four modes (methods of teaching in the Vajrayana with various levels of meaning, requiring decoding to make the Vajrayana text intelligible), thus clarifying the essential teachings of the profound two-tiered path.

Further, this Magnanimous One wrote a commentary on 'Compendium of Discourses' and also on 'Letter to a Friend', as well as a complete rite of the 'Secret Assembly'. Moreover he composed eulogies of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in a variety of ways, he drew up answers to questions of many noble adherents of the teaching, offered advice to many faithful, wrote ingenious songs etc. Since this exalted son of the Victor, thie Magnanimous One, this lord among scholars well known under the name of Rendawa Shonnu Lodro, had thus zealously worked for the teaching, a great many disciples, adherents of the teaching, came to hold the lineages of the teaching. Among these it was glorious Tsong Kha Pa Lo Zang Drag Pa, the revered king of the teaching, who was the incomparable lord of the Mighty One's perfect teaching. Both the great venerable Rendawa's and the great venerable Tsong Kha Pa's exalted activities were well-suited to each other, not only in this life but in many existences.

After, in this way, this Maganimous One had greatly furthered the Victor's teaching most of the deeds of his present lifetime had been carried out; thus he pondered on betaking to another realm, and in order to urge future trainees to perform deeds similr to his own he uttered the encouraging words: 'After I had taken refuge to those who are infallible, the Three Jewels, etc.....' up to '.....may I become the exalted vajra rainbow body'. Then, having gone to Long Tse Sam Tan Ling (klons rce bsam gtan glin) he extensively turned the wheel of teaching for about five hundred monks, and intending to transcend suffering he manifested some illness at the time when, while lecturing on 'Entry into the Middle', he came to deal with the verse: 'When the unarisen is reality and intelligence is bare of arising as well....' (B(Res)III.). Thereupon, his disciples having implored him, he prolonged the time of his exalted life by seven days, teaching the doctrine. Finally, at the age of sixty-four, on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month of the male water dragon (of the seventh cycle of sixty years) (1412) he manifested the transcending of suffering, joyfully and happily betaking himself to the betakes himself to his homeland. While this exalted son of Victor passed into the pure land the whole earth, as if also grieving over it, fiercely shook. At this advent, the religion-oriented gods welcome this Magnanmious One to Tusita by holding many kinds of offerings towards him, while even men heard the resounding sound of the big drum beaten by the gods.