Je Tsongkhapa was born in Tsongka Kingdom, Amdo, in 1357. He is the fourth of six sons. The day after Tsongkhapa’s birth, Chojey Dondrub Rinchen sent his main disciple to the parents with gifts, a statue, and a letter. A sandalwood tree grew from the spot where his umbilical cord fell to the ground. Each leaf had a natural picture of the Buddha Sinhanada and was thus called Kumbum, a hundred thousand body images. The Gelug monastery called Kumbum was later built on that spot.
Tsongkhapa was not like an ordinary child. He never misbehaved; he instinctively engaged in bodhisattva type actions; he was extremely intelligent and always wanted to learn everything. At the age of three, he took lay vows from the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpay Dorjey(1340-1383). Soon after, his father invited Chojey Dondrub Rinchen to their home. The lama offered to care for the education of the boy and the father happily agreed. The boy stayed at home until he was seven, studying with Chojey Dondrub Rinchen. Just seeing the lama read, he instinctively knew how to read without needing to be taught.
During this time, Chojey Dondrub Rinchen gave the boy the empowerments of Five-Deity Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Yamantaka, and Vajrapani. By the age of seven, he had already memorized their complete rituals, had completed the Chakrasamvara retreat, was already doing the self-initiation, and already had a vision of Vajrapani. He frequently dreamt of Atisha (982-1054), which was a sign that he would correct misunderstandings of the Dharma in Tibet and restore its purity, combining sutra and tantra, as Atisha had done.
At the age of seven, Tsongkhapa received novice vows from Chojey Dondrub Rinchen and the ordination name Lobsang Dragpa. He continued to study in Amdo with this lama until he was sixteen, at which time he went to U-Tsang (Central Tibet) to study further. He never returned to his homeland. Chojey Dondrub Rinchen remained in Amdo, where he founded Jakyung Monastery (Bya-khyung dGon-pa) to the south of Kumbum.
When he was 40, and as probably the most learned man of his era, Tsongkhapa joined the Kadam monastery of Reting. Here, in 1402, Tsongkapa completed his magnum opus, The Great Graduated Path (Lamrim Chenmo), which was principally based on Atiśa’s Bodhipathapradīpa and has become the root text of the Gelug school. As elsewhere in his voluminous writings, Tsongkhapa emphasizes Prāsaṅgīka-madhyāmaka as the highest form of reasoning and stresses the correct understanding of relative reality as that which, while not possessing even a conventional own-being, can nevertheless be demonstrated by reasoning to be not non-existent. At the heart of The Great Graduated Path is the thesis that, while tantra may be necessary in order to become a fully enlightened Buddha, a prior study of sūtra is absolutely necessary for preliminary development of wisdom and compassion. In another important work, The Great Graduated Path of Mantra, which discusses the four classes of tantra, Tsongkhapa defines the relationship of tantra to sūtra as that between method and wisdom.
In 1408, Tsongkapa established the Great Prayer (Monlam Chenmo), a New Year festival held in the Jokhang, which won him much devotional support. In 1409, Tsongkapa had enough followers to found his own monastery of Riwo Ganden, and although initially calling his order the ‘New Kadam’, they soon became known as the Gelug. Tsongkhapa’s views were similar to those of Atiśa, and it is unclear whether Tsongkhapa had reformed a Kadam tradition which had become lax, or whether the Gelug simply grew out of the Kadam under the impetus of his own personal renown. The founding of Drepung followed in 1416, and of Sera in 1419, the year of Tsong Khapa’s death when his body was embalmed and placed inside a chörten(tomb stupa) at Ganden.