Sherab Sengge

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Sherab Sengge b.1383 - d.1445

Name Variants: Gyume Sherab Sengge; Khedrub Sherab Sengge; Nartangpa Sherab Sengge

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Sherab Sengge (shes rab seng+ge) was born in 1383 in a place called Gurme (gur me) in Tsang. His father was Dampa Marpo (dam pa dmar po) and mother was Choku Tashi (chos sku bkra shis). It is said that he did not like people coming to his home but that he showed signs of interest in religion when he was a small boy.

At the age of ten, he was admitted to Nartang (snar thang) Monastery where he was ordained by Khenchen Drubpa Sherab (mkhan chen grub pa shes rab, 1357-1423) and given the name Sherab Sengge. The Sakya scholar Yaktruk Sanggye Pel (g.yag khrug sangs rgyas dpal, 1350-1414), Shangpa Kunkhyen Sherab Pelzang (shangs pa kun mkhyen shes rab dpal bzang, 14th century) and Rongton Sheja Kunrik (rong ston shes bya kun rig 1367-1449) all gave him transmissions, empowerments, and teachings, including those on logical reasoning. When he was twenty, Drubpa Sherab gave him full ordination.

In 1410, he traveled to U and met Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419), from whom he received teachings on Vinaya and Abhidharma. He then went to On Tashi Doka ('on bkra shis do kha) with Tsongkhapa who taught him logical reasoning, Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and his commentary on it, as well as his text on scriptural hermeneutics, the "Essence of Eloquence" (legs bshad snying po).

At Ganden (dga' ldan) Monastery, Tsongkhapa gave Sherab Sengge instructions, transmissions, and commentaries on various tantric teachings including Cakrasaṃvara, Kālacakra, and Hevajra. Persevering in his study of the teachings, he mastered the tantras. Later, at Sangpu (gsang phu) Monastery, he taught Cakrasaṃvara rituals to Gendun Drub (dge 'dun grub, 1391-1474), who would come to be regarded as the First Dalai Lama (tA la'i bla ma 01).

In 1419, at Sera Choding (se ra chos sdings) retreat center, Tsongkhapa taught his Four Interwoven Commentaries on the Guhyasamāja Tantra (gsang 'dus 'grel ba bzhi sbrags) to a number of disciples. According to legend, he asked who among them would take care of his tantric teachings. While none of the scholars present dared to take the challenge, Sherab Sengge stood up, prostrated to his master and said he would do it. Tsongkhapa gave him the text he had just taught, together with relics such as a skull cup he had unearthed, a gold statue of Guhyasamāja, and seven paintings.

Sherab Sengge then took up residence at the palace of the Fifth Pakmodrupa Desi, Drakpa Gyeltsen (phag mo gru pa sde srid 05 grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1374-1432), the ruler of Tibet from 1385 to 1432. After that he was appointed teaching master (slob dpon) of Sangpu Lingto Tongmon College (gsang phu gling stod mthong smon grwa tshang), and possibly abbot of the monastery, as well.

In accordance with Tsongkhapa's command, in 1426 Sherab Sengge went to Tsang together with Gendun Drub. At Yakshilung (g.yag shi lung) he taught tantra to Duldzin Pelden Zangpo ('dul 'dzin dpal ldan bzang po, 1402-1473). In 1432, in Lhunpo Tse (lhun po rtse), the two lamas established the Segyu College (srad rgyud grwa tshang), with the patronage of the local ruler, Situ Sonam Pel (si tu bsod nams dpal) and his wife, Dakmo Shakya Pel (bdag mo shakya dpal). This was the first institution that focused on the tantric practices of the new Geluk lineage.

In 1433 he established Gyume College (rgyud smad grwa tshang), the Lower Tantric College in the southern district of Lhasa known as Nordzin Gyeltsen (nor 'dzin rgyal mtshan). This was the first of two tantric colleges of the Geluk tradition in Lhasa; the second, Gyuto College (rgyud stod grwa tshang), or Upper Tantric College, was established in 1475 by his disciple Kunga Dondrub (kun dga' don grub, 1419-1486). (During the time of the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso (ta la'i bla ma 07 skal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-1757) Gyume was moved to the Changlochen district in the northern section of the city.) At Gyume, Sherab Sengge installed the statue of Guhyasamāja that Tsongkhapa had given him in 1419 as the main image of the temple. He administered the college for thirteen years, giving teachings on Lamrim, the Yamāntaka tantric practice, the Six Teachings of Nāropa (na ro chos drug), and others. During this period he also established the Zheteng Kha Monastery (bzhad steng kha dgon).

Among his other disciples was Paṇchen Zangpo Tashi (paN chen bzang po bkra shis, 1410-1478/9), who helped Gendun Drub establish Tashilhunpo (bkra shis lhun po) Monastery and served as its second abbot.

In 1440, Sherab Sengge and Gendun Drub again went to Tsang and gave tantric teachings at Nartang (snar thang), Jangchen (byang chen), and Lhunpo Tse (lhun po rtse). He participated in the carving of the blocks for printing the first edition of Tsongkhapa's collected works, which was sponsored by the Nedong prince (sne gdong mi dbang) Drakpa Gyeltsen (grags pa rgyal mtshan).

Sherab Sengge passed away in 1445 at Ganden Monastery.




Blo bzang tshul khrims. 2006. Rgyud pa grwa tshang 'dzugs pa po mkhas grb shes rab seng ge'i rnam thar. In Rje tsong kha pa'i rnam thar chen mo, pp. 477-483. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang. TBRC W2DB4600.

Ye shes rgyal mtshan. 1990. Shes rab seng ge'i rnam thar. In Lam rim bla ma brgyud pa'i rnam thar, pp. 731-740. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang. TBRC W1CZ2730.

Don rdor and Bstan 'dzin chos grags. 1993. Rje shes rab seng ge. In Gangs ljongs lo rgyus thog gi grags can mi sna, pp. 471-476. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang. TBRC W19803.

Anon. 1992. Rje btsun shes rab seng ge'i rnam thar mdor bsdus. In Dpal gyi chos sde chen po bkra shis lhun po, pp. 9-13. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang. TBRC W21634.


Thinlay Gyatso
May 2014