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Previous Lives 

Virtuous Vow-Holder

Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen

Out of the countless deeds that Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen can be celebrated for, his name offers a hint of the path that would come to define his life. “Duldzin” is short for “dulwa dzinpa”, literally meaning “Vinaya Holder” and indeed, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was an exemplary monk and highly respected scholar who possessed an unrivalled knowledge and understanding of the Vinaya texts (scriptures containing teachings by Lord Buddha on monastic discipline).

Not only did Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen understand the Vinaya texts but he also put them into practice. It is said that when his reliquary stupa was opened centuries later, those present observed a fragrant smell associated with that of perfect vow-holders. Ultimately however, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was a perfect and devoted disciple of his guru Lama Tsongkhapa, a practice that would come to characterise his life.

Born in 1374 in the Ü province of Tibet, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was a follower of the strict Kadampa monastic tradition; even his teacher, Lama Tsongkhapa praised him for his steadfast adherence to monastic discipline. In fact, many considered Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen equal to Lama Tsongkhapa in terms of attainments and he is regarded by some Gelugpa followers as part of the original Je Yab Se Sum, a term denoting Lama Tsongkhapa and his two heart sons. This is because Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was initially appointed as the first successor to Lama Tsongkhapa’s throne, an appointment he turned down in order to uphold his teacher’s lineage in a different manner.

Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen firmly believed that the guru is the root of all attainments. It was his guru devotion that motivated him to perform one of the greatest feats ever in Tibetan Buddhism — the construction and founding of Gaden Monastery. Gaden is one of the three main Gelug monasteries in Tibet; the other two are Sera and Drepung. At their height, tens of thousands of monks lived, studied and worked there. Monks from the furthest reaches of Tibet would travel for months to enrol in these institutions to receive their higher education. Thus, because of the central role they played in training teachers, scholars and students, these three monasteries are collectively referred to as the Three Pillars of Tibetan Buddhism.

It was this calibre of monastic university that Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen established when he undertook the immense task of constructing the monastery in accordance with Lama Tsongkhapa’s instructions. Taking on the role of head builder, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen oversaw the entire construction from the earthworks all the way to putting the finishing touches on the main altar.

Upon completion of its construction, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen invited Lama Tsongkhapa to inspect the temple and to perform the consecration rites, before offering the entire institution up to his teacher. Thus, Gaden was established based on pure guru devotion and adherence to monastic discipline.

Following his teacher’s instructions, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen also founded Tsunmo Tsel Monastery, literally meaning “Queen’s Garden”. Under his care, the sangha community there grew to over 800 monks. He is also recorded as the founder of Meldro Chakar Monastery.

But Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was not just a prolific builder of monasteries. He sponsored and commissioned many statues and thangkas of Maitreya Buddha during his lifetime, and made frequent requests to Maitreya. He also composed sadhanas for various rituals and commentaries, and wrote extensively on tantra. He travelled widely in order to impart precious teachings and initiations, once even visiting the famous Tsel Gungtang Monastery where he gave eloquent teachings on the Lamrim and advice on the Vinaya. His heartfelt advice had such an impact on the congregation, that the entire monastic community became greatly devoted to Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition. In fact, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was no ordinary teacher and his many esteemed disciples were considered the most important Gelug lamas of his day, such as Jamyang Choje Tashi Pelden, the founder of Drepung Monastery.

Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was 63 years old when he made his final journey to Tsunmo Tsel Monastery, where he entered parinirvana not long after arriving. It is said that because of his strong connection to Maitreya, he immediately took rebirth in Tushita Heaven, Maitreya’s celestial abode where he would always be by Lama Tsongkhapa’s side.

Without Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen, his deeds and the great teachers and practitioners he inspired and trained, the landscape of Tibetan Buddhism today would look very different. Over 600 years later, Gaden Monastery today continues to create learned scholars and accomplished practitioners who, upon completing their education, go out into the world to offer solace, refuge and a spiritual path to others. And incredibly, all this is possible because of one singularly devoted disciple’s actions nearly 700 years ago.

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