Friday, September 30th, 2022 Tsongkhapa as a Mahāsiddha: A Reevaluation of the Patronage of the Gelukpa in Tibet

Friday, September 30, 20224:00PM - 6:00PMExternal Event, Jackman Humanities Building, Room 318, 170 St. George Street.


Pathbreakers: New Postdoctoral Research on South Asia at U of T



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.


Michael Ium
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department for the Study of Religion and The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Toronto

Rory Lindsay
Assistant Professor, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto

Christoph Emmrich
Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies; Associate Professor, Department for the Study of Religion and Buddhist Studies, University of Toronto

Main Sponsor

Asian Institute


Centre for South Asian Studies


The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Toronto

If you are attending a Munk School event and require accommodation(s), please email the event contact listed above to make appropriate arrangements.

Disclaimer: Please note that events posted on this website are considered to be public events – unless otherwise stated – and you are choosing to enter a space where your image and/or voice may be captured as part of event proceedings that may be made public as part of a broadcast, webcast, or publication (online and in print). We make every effort to ensure your personal information is kept and used in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). If you have any questions please get in touch with our office at or 416-946-8900.