Tsongkhapa as a Mahāsiddha: A Reevaluation of the Patronage of the Gelukpa in Tibet

When and Where

Friday, September 30, 2022 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Room 318
Jackman Humanities Building
170 St. George Street, 3rd floor


Michael Ium


Please note that this event will be held fully in-person with limited attendance. Register to secure your space. The lecture will be videorecorded.

This event is part of the series Pathbreakers: New Postdoctoral Research on South Asia at U of T and is co-sponsored by the Centre for South Asian Studies.

Prof. Rory Lindsay (Dept. for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto) will be the discussant and Dr. Christoph Emmrich (Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies; Dept. for the Study of Religion and Buddhist Studies, University of Toronto) will chair the event.

Please join us at 4:00 pm for this in-person event on Friday, September 30, 2022 in room 318 of the Jackman Humanities Building.

Space is limited. Please register on Eventbrite.ca to reserve your space.

This paper offers a reevaluation of the early patronage of the Geluk tradition in Tibet in the fifteenth century. Due to modernist biases and an overemphasis on the Gelukpa as embodying one pole within various dichotomous formulations favored by historians of religion (for instance, as clerical rather than shamanic), existing accounts of this patronage emphasize the importance of Tsongkhapa’s virtue and erudition, leading some scholars to conclude that charisma and magical power were inconsequential to the growth of the tradition. Instead, I argue that Tsongkhapa’s status as a mahāsiddha or “great adept” of Buddhist Tantra was a primary factor in his gaining patronage from the political elites of the Pakmodrupa Dynasty. This status was mediated by the endorsement of the mahāsiddha Lhodrak Namkha Gyeltsen and then popularized in later biographical works (as well as within Tibetan paintings). This status also stimulated continuing patronage of the tradition, even after Tsongkhapa’s passing.

Michael Ium is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion and Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies. He is primarily a historian of religion with specialties in Tibet and South Asia. Under the guidance of his advisor José Cabezón, the focus of his dissertation is the early history of Ganden Monastery in Tibet and how that history impacted the construction of the Geluk tradition. He recently spent two years in Nepal and South India translating dozens of classical Tibetan texts related to his dissertation.

    Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies
    Centre for South Asian Studies

Contact Information

Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies


Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies


170 St. George Street, 3rd floor