Other Transliterations in use:
- Kunga Nyingpo
- Grol ba'i Mgon po
- Jetsun Taranatha
- Jo Nang Tāranātha
- Jetsun Taranatha
- Tāranātha, Jo Nang
Other Biographical Information
- Takten Damcho Ling Rtag brtan Dam chos Gling
Major Site(s) of Residence:
- Richo Chenmo Ri khrod Chen mo
- Cholung Changtse Chos lung Byang rtse
The last great throne-holder at Jonang , Taranatha was a successor to the reincarnation line of Kunga Dolchok. He recieved the entirety of major transmissions from the Kadam, Zhalu, Sakya, Shangpa Kagyu and Kamtsang Kagyu traditions, and was an expert on the tantras from the later translation period (gsar bsgyur). He recieved the Dro lineage of the Kalachakra from his teacher Kunga Palzang at Jomonang, and the transmissions according to Buton's Zhalu Rwa tradtion from Kenchen Lunrig Gyatso. As one of the most prolific authors in the Jonang tradition, his 23 volumes of collected works encompass topics on history, tantric ritual practice, zhentong thought, autobiography, pilgrimage, astrology, medicine, meditation, etc. In the year 1615, Taranatha founded Takten Damcho Ling Monastery (Phuntsok Ling) south of the Richo Chenmo mountain hermitage and Great Stupa of Jonang. Source
A Biography translated by Cyrus Stearns
Jetsun Taranatha was born at Karag (kha rag) in the hereditary line of the great Tibetan translator Ra Lotsawa Dorje Drak. His Tibetan name was Kunga Nyingpo, but he is generally known by the name Taranatha, which he received in a vision from a great Indian adept. When he was about one year old he declared, “I am master Kunga Drolchok!” But this was kept secret for several years, and it was not until he was about four years old that he was brought to Kunga Drolchok’s monastery of Cholung Changtse and formally recognized as his incarnation. He then began years of intense study and practice under the guidance of a series of great masters, many of whom had been major disciples of Kunga Drolchok.
Guided by Kunga Drolchok’s disciple Jampa Lhundrup, Taranatha first studied and mastered various subjects of sutra and tantra. Then he received a vast number of tantric teachings and initiations, primarily of the Sakya tradition of Lamdre, from another of his predecessor’s disciples, Doring Kunga Gyaltsen. Kunga Drolchok’s disciple Dragtopa Lhawang Dragpa taught Taranatha many esoteric instructions, especially the Six Yogas and Mahamudra, which caused a sublime primordial awareness to arise in the young prodigy’s mind. Jedrung Kunga Palsang, who was Kunga Drolchok’s nephew and successor on the monastic seat of Jonang, transmitted to Taranatha the teachings of Kalacakra and the Dharma protector Mahakala that he had received from his uncle. From Kunga Drolchok’s disciple Lungrik Gyatso, Taranatha received many transmissions, especially the Kalachakra initiation, the explanation of the Kalachakra Tantra, the esoteric instructions of the sixfold yoga according to the Jonang tradition, and the collected writings of dharma lord Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. He gained a special experiential realization when he practiced the sixfold yoga.
When Taranatha was fourteen years old, the Indian adept Buddhagupta-natha arrived in Tibet. This master became one of Taranatha’s most important teachers, passing to him countless transmissions of tantric initiations and esoteric instructions. Taranatha stated that his understanding of the secret mantra teachings was due to the kindness of Buddhagupta-natha alone. Several other Indian yogins and scholars, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, came to Tibet during Taranatha’s lifetime, such as Balabhadra, Nirvanasri, Purnananda, Purnavajra, and Krsnabhadra. Some of them taught him profound instructions, scholarly topics, and joined him in translating Sanskrit manuscripts into Tibetan. Several of Taranatha’s translations are now included in the Tibetan canonical collections of the Kangyur and Tengyur.
In 1588 Jedrung Kunga Palzang, who had followed his uncle Kunga Drolchok as holder of the monastic seat of Jonang, enthroned Taranatha at Jonang, although a formal ceremony of investiture did not occur until 1595. Taranatha took upon himself the responsibility of causing the dharma lord Dolpopa’s insights to once again reach a wide audience. He was determined to revive what he saw as a priceless transmission lineage in danger of being lost. During the 1590s the instruction manual of Dolpopa’s dharma heir Chogle Namgyal was still being used at Jonang to teach the sixfold yoga, but very few people understood the philosophical tenet of Dolpopa and his spiritual sons. Taranatha was even more concerned that some of the previous holders of the monastic seat of Jonang had given initiations and instructions according to the Jonang tradition, but had also criticized and refuted Dolpopa’s vajra proclamations of the ultimate view of zhentong, which Taranatha felt was the secret teaching of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Even though he personally disavowed any ability to refute another system, he now felt the need to defend the original views of Dolpopa through refutation of erroneous opinions, and to establish the correct interpretations according to his lineage.
During this period Taranatha’s teacher Jampa Lhundrup advised him to restore the Great Stupa of Jonang that Dolpopa had built about 260 years before at Jonang. Taranatha put all his energy into the project. Just before the restoration work was finished, he had a marvelous vision one morning. The earth and sky seemed filled with countless people of all descriptions going in the same direction. He joined with them and arrived in a red, triangular valley with an incredible crystal mountain in the center. The mountain was totally filled with amazing stupas of different sizes, and in each stupa infinite buddhas and bodhisattvas were speaking back and forth about the dharma. Flowers fell from the sky like rain, and many other miraculous signs occurred. All of the people were making offerings to the crystal mountain filled with stupas, and chanting a series of verses in unison. Awestruck, Taranatha asked about the mountain, and was told that it was the Dhanyakataka Stupa, where the Buddha had first taught the Kalachakra Tantra. Taranatha later felt that perhaps this vision had occurred because everyone had been working so intensely to complete the restorations of the Great Stupa at Jonang.
In 1604, after a decade of efforts to revive the original Jonang teachings, all of Taranatha’s work was threatened by serious political conflict between the regions of Jang (byang) and Tsang. Jonang itself was in immediate danger of being attacked by hostile armies. While meditating at Dolpopa’s great stupa, Taranatha became despondent, and, seeing all his efforts about to be wiped out and the tradition itself perhaps destroyed, wished only to go into retreat far away from all the troubles created by deluded and impassioned people. But Dolpopa then appeared to him in a vision, encouraged him to continue as before, and assured him that his efforts would not be in vain. The next night Taranatha prayed to Dolpopa and experienced a vision of a bodhisattva who spoke a quatrain of verse. As a result of these events, Taranatha said he gained realization of Dolpopa’s true intentions as expressed in his zhentong teachings, and all his uncertainties and doubts were completely removed. He felt that a great key had been placed in his hands to open the doors of all the Buddha’s doctrine. As an expression of his realization he composed a versified text entitled, Ornament of the Zhentong Madhyamaka, which is one of his most important works solely devoted to the explication of the zhentong view. Taranatha said that he received several prophecies from Dolpopa, and thereafter met him many times, both actually and in dreams. He further commented, “That is the reason I am now an expert in the great omniscient Dolpopa’s view and preserve his true intentions.”
Taranatha had countless such visions during his life. For example, many times during the years 1618 and 1619 he experienced visions of the Kalapa court of the Shambhala emperors, beheld the rulers themselves, and heard their teachings. He felt that these visions were a result of his belief that the ultimate view of all sutras and tantras was zhentong Madhyamaka.
In 1615, the powerful Tsang ruler Desi Puntsok Namgyal provided a special piece of land and the necessary supplies and workers to begin construction of a monastery to serve as a center for the teachings of the definitive meaning of the Buddha’s doctrine. This monastery, which was finally completed in 1628, became Taranatha’s main residence and was known as Takten Damcho Ling.
Shortly before his death, Taranatha appointed his disciple Sangye Gyatso as his successor on the monastic seat of Takten Damcho Ling and made many prophetic statements about the Jonang tradition and the great political troubles that would soon sweep through Tibet. Unfortunately, Sangye Gyatso passed away not long after Taranatha himself. Thus another of the great master’s disciples, Kunga Rinchen Gyatso, was appointed to the monastic seat and led the Jonang tradition for the next fifteen years.
(1) Ngag dbang blo gros grags pa. 1992. Dpal ldan jo nang pa’i chos ’byung rgyal ba’i chos tshul gsal byed zla ba’i sgron me. Koko Nor: Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1992, pp. 53–59.
(2) Taranatha. 1978. Rgyal khams pa tA ra nA thas bdag nyid kyi rnam thar nges par brjod pa’i deb ther shin tu zhib mo ma bcos lhug pa’i rtogs brjod. Paro: Ngodrup and Sherab Drimay.
Contributed by Cyrus Stearns.
Writings About Tāranātha
- bka' gdams lha bzhi'i rjes gnang rin 'byung las khol du phyungs pa (4, pp 351-365)
- Dpal dus kyi 'khor lo'i dbang gong ma'i cho ga (, pp )
- dpal dus kyi 'khor lo'i mchod chog nyer mkho (15, pp 47-104)
- dpal ldan bla ma dam pa'i rnam par thar pa dad pa'i ljon shing (12, pp 449-452)
- dpal rgyud sde lnga'i dkyil 'khor gyi cho ga don gsal rgyas byed (11, pp 129-209)
- dus 'khor lha dgu'i sgrubs thabs rgyas pa (15, pp 25-45)
- gcod yul gyi dbang nam mkha' sgo 'byed du grags pa (14, pp 361-370)
- gcod yul rgya mtsho'i snying po stan thog gcig tu nyams su len pa'i tshul zab mo'i yang zhun (14, pp 353-360)
- gcod yul zab mo'i khrid yig gnad don snying po (14, pp 185-200)
- grub chen zhi ba sbas pa'i thugs bcud bka' babs bdun ldan gyi gzhung rdo rje'i lam bzang po (17, pp 207-218)
- grub mchog spyi la brten pa'i bla ma'i rnal 'byor rgya gar lugs dngos grub thig le 'khyil pa (16, pp 133-148)
- Khrid brgya'i brgyud pa'i lo rgyus kha skong (, pp )
- myur mdzad ye shes kyi mgon po phyag drug pa'i gtor chog nyer bsdus (12, pp 623-624)
- Ni gu lugs kyi bde mchog lha lnga'i dkyil chog (, pp )
- ni gu lugs kyi bde mchog lha lnga'i sgrub thabs (11, pp 245-254)
- ni gu'i 'khrul 'khor rtsa 'grel (12, pp 137-145)
- ni gu'i brgyud 'debs (12, pp 331-332)
- phyag chen ga'u ma'am rang babs rnam gsum zhes bya ba'i khrid yig (12, pp 237-249)
- phyag drug pa'i sgrub thabs gtor ma'i chog phrin las gter mdzod tA ra nA tha'i gsung (12, pp 573-591)
- rgyal thang lugs kyi gcod dbang nam mkha' sgo 'byed kyi cho ga (14, pp 165-171)
- Rgyud sde lnga'i dkyil 'khor sgrub pa'i thabs (, pp )
- Rgyud sde lnga'i lha lnga gtso bor bsdus pa'i man ngag bla ma gong ma'i phyag len (, pp )
- rnal 'byor yan lag drug pa'i rtags tshad kyi yi ge (15, pp 233-268)
- Rnam rgyal lha dgu'i sgrub thabs bum chog dang bcas pa (, pp )
- sbyor drug gegs sel (15, pp 269-313)
- shangs lugs bde mchog lha lnga'i sgrub thabs kyi rnam par bshad pa zab don gsal byed (11, pp 297-331)
- shangs lugs rgyud sde lha lnga'i brgyud 'debs (11, pp 63-64)
- skyes bu gsum gyi man ngag gi khrid yig bdud rtsi'i nying khu (3, pp 181-273)
- thun mong ma yin pa'i smon lam rgyal ba rgya mtsho ma (15, pp 619-625)
- zab lam ni gu chos drug gi gzhung khrid ma mo'i lhan thabs kha skong (12, pp 103-135)
- zab lam ni gu chos drug gi khrid yig zab don thang mar brdal ba zhes bya ba bklags chog ma (12, pp 1-101)
- zab lam rdo rje'i rnal 'byor gyi 'khrid yig mthong ba don ldan (15, pp 133-231)