From the Editors / Snow Lion Articles

The Second Dalai Lama: His Life and Teachings

Book coverThe Second Dalai Lama now had a number of responsibilities revolving around an annual schedule. These included leading the Maitreya Festival in Lhasa toward the end of the year and also the various new year ceremonies, such as the torgya rite for exorcizing all negativities of the old year (performed on the last day of the year). Also as part of the new year rituals, there were religious ceremonies for opening the year auspiciously and thus encouraging prosperity and harmony in the months to come. After this came the Great Prayer Festival, celebrated by thousands of monks in the Jokhang Temple of Lhasa. He presided over this for two or three weeks in the first month of the year. He would then generally teach in Sera for a couple of weeks and also in either Drepung or Ganden. Thus his schedule from the late autumn to the first month of spring generally kept him in the Lhasa area. Following this he would often make teaching pilgrimages to various regions accessible from Lhasa, such as Tashi Lhunpo of Tsang or the Tolung area. Most years he returned to Chokhor Gyal in late spring and remained in retreat there during the summer. Again from here he would make several teaching pilgrimages each year to the outlying areas, such as Kongpo and southern Olkha.

His life was not without obstacles, however. For example, in the autumn of the Fire Bird Year (1537), hostile armies threatened to attack and destroy his monastery at Gyal. As Konchok Kyab puts it, “Evil demons had caused jealousy of the master’s great works to arise within the hearts of certain sectarian people. Numerous armies began to move toward Gyal from the east…Many negative signs appeared in the Lake of Visions.”

Book cover
The Second Dalai Lama responded with yogic means. He retreated to the Lake of Visions and performed invocations of and prayers to the Dharmapala goddess Palden Lhamo, requesting her to release her spiritual force and restore peace and harmony. A great storm erupted, and the skies were filled with terrible sounds. Palden Lhamo had given them a sign; all would be well. The Biography continues by stating that, as an external condition to fulfilling Palden Lhamo’s magical works, King Nangso Donyopa of Droda suddenly swept down from nowhere upon the invading armies and routed them. Konchok Kyab concludes his account of the incident by saying, “As for the routed soldiers, many of them died in flight. Others died in battle on the way…Moreover, those of them who reached home carried many contagious diseases with them, thus disseminating their community’s population…Since that time, no one has dared to attack Gyal.”

In the above account Konchok Kyab is very careful to avoid giving the actual identities of the “invading armies” and the leaders behind them. This is quite typical of Tibetan biographical writings, in which it is thought that the best approach to malicious and violent people is to relegate them to historical obscurity in this way, rather than giving them immortality by listing their names. The incident is only included in the Biography in order to illustrate the Second Dalai Lama’s use of tantric ritual to pacify the forces of evil. Thus the names of the pacification rituals that he performed are given in great detail, yet not a mention is made of the names of the peoples at whom the “pacification” was directed.

In the Earth Dog Year (1538), there seems to have been something of a hot philosophical debate going on between some of the lama intelligentsia. The Kargyupa lama Karmapa Mikyo Dorjey (the Eighth Karmapa) had written a commentary to the Prajnaparamita Sutra that the senior monks of Sera monastery considered to be an utter misrepresentation and misinterpretation of the meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom scriptures. They approached the Second Dalai Lama with the request that he write a refutation to it. He accepted, but composed only a single verse.

The Buddhas teach in various ways; sometimes what they say is literally true, and sometimes they teach in metaphors when this is more appropriate to the minds of listeners. They speak indirectly when to do so directly would impair the understanding of those to be trained.

Thus he made it known that he himself greatly enjoyed the Karmapa’s philosophical text and was amused by the passionate controversy it had aroused in the Sera community.

From The Second Dalai Lama: His Life and Teachings by Glenn H. Mullin

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