Tāranātha (b. 1575–d. 1635), also known as Jetsun Tāranātha or Kunga Nyingpo, was one of the most consequential figures in the Jonang tradition of Buddhism, and one of the foremost scholars, historians, and statesmen of 17th-century Tibet. He was born into the patrilineal descendent of the famed 11th-century Buddhist translator Rwa Lotsawa Dorje Drak (b. 1016–d. 1128), and at the age of four, he was recognized as the re-embodiment of Kunga Drolchok (b. 1507–d. 1565), a former lineage-holder of the Jonangpa, Shangpa, and Sakyapa. Though his Tibetan name was Kunga Nyingpo, at a young age, he had a vision wherein an Indian adept bestowed on him the name “Tāranātha,” which he adopted as his personal name for the rest of his life. Tāranātha’s writings encompass a wide range of disciplines, including the Kālacakra Tantra and other major tantra systems of the Sarma or later transmissions, the zhentong view articulated by the Jonangpa master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (b. 1292–d. 1361), biography, ritual, and meditation instructions. Yet he is probably best known for his historical writings. Of these, his most famous work is his account of Buddhist India, inspired by his encounters with Indian yogins and scholars who traveled to Tibet, including his own guru Buddhagupta whom he met at the age of fourteen. Tāranātha spent much of his life reviving his Jonangpa tradition, building and refurnishing landmark monuments, commissioning world-class paintings and printings, and composing works that extended the literary heritage of the Jonangpa. By the end of his life however, Tāranātha became aware that much he had worked for throughout his life, including his monastic estate at Takten Phuntsok Ling and in fact much of the Jonang tradition, would become embroiled in local territorial struggles and fall under the siege of central Tibetan politics.
A few studies and online resources discuss the life and contributions of Tāranātha; however, the majority of materials currently related to Tāranātha are translations of his writings. Jonang Foundation and Treasury of Lives both provide short biographical introductions, while the Jonang Foundation links to a useful map and 3D replication of Tāranātha’s Takten Phuntsok Ling Monastery. Chimpa and Chattopadhyaya 1990, Tāranātha 2005, Tāranātha 2007, and Templeman 1983 are each translations of important writings by Tāranātha. Chimpa and Chattopadhyaya is outdated but continues to serve as an important source for understanding both Indian Buddhist history as well as Tāranātha’s interpretation of it. Tāranātha 2005 is a manual on the gradual approach of meditation while Tāranātha 2005 is on his philosophical presentation of zhentong, and Templeman 1983 is a translation of a historical work. Though not primarily concerned with Tāranātha, Stearns 2010 provides helpful information on Tāranātha as a central figure in Jonang history. Templeman 2008 is the only full-length study of Tāranātha, based on his autobiographical writings.
Chimpa, L., and A. Chattopadhyaya. Tāranātha’s History of Buddhism in India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990.
This is a translation of Tāranātha’s historical account of Indian Buddhism. It details Tāranātha’s particular view on the rise and development of the different systems of Buddhist thought in India.
Site of the international nonprofit support organization that preserves and promotes understanding of the Jonangpa order of Tibetan Buddhism. Includes an interactive map and 3D replica of Tāranātha’s Takten Phuntsok Ling Monastery along with a short biography. The library includes several translations of Tāranātha’s writings on philosophy and liturgy, including a translation of his Essence of Zhentong. Several Jonangpa.com [class:webLink] blog articles are also dedicated to Tāranātha.
Stearns, Cyrus. The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2010.
Though this work is on the biography of the Jonangpa master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, it includes several helpful sections on Tāranātha. In particular, Stearns looks at Tāranātha as a central figure in Jonang history, Dolpopa’s influence on him as a writer, and the historical role that Tāranātha played. Numerous references are made to Tāranātha’s writings throughout.
Tāranātha. Essence of Ambrosia: A Guide to Buddhist Contemplation. Translated by Willa Baker. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2005.
This is a translation of an instruction manual by Tāranātha on the ngöndro or preliminary practices in Tibetan Buddhism. It is his standard text on the gradual path or lam rim progressive approach toward enlightenment. However useful the translation is, historical information in the introduction should be checked against other sources.
Tāranātha. The Essence of Other-Emptiness. Translated by Jeffrey Hopkins. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.
This is a translation of Tāranātha’s Essence of Zhentong, a concise text comparing Indian Buddhist philosophical systems. The appendix translation is titled the Twenty-One Profound Points and is Tāranātha’s writing that compares the zhentong view of Shakya Chokden with that of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen.
Templeman, David. “Becoming Indian: A Study of the Life of the 16th–17th Century Tibetan Lama Tāranātha.” PhD diss., Monash University, 2008.
Derived largely from the autobiographical writings of Tāranātha and his biographies of Indian Buddhist masters, as well as his encounters with them in Tibet. It is currently the only full-length study of Tāranātha’s life.
Templeman, David, ed. Tāranātha’s Bka’ babs bdun ldan: The Seven Instruction Lineages. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1983.
This is a translation of Tāranātha’s history of the successive Seven Instruction Lineages (Bka’ babs bdun ldan), detailing the transmission of Buddhist tantrism in India.
An online encyclopedia of short biographies of Himalayan Buddhist masters. Includes a one-page biography with relevant Tibetan language biographical source listings and links to related biographies.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese