The following is extracted from a talk given by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso on Je Tsongkhapa Day 1996 at Manjushri KMC:
Most of you know the story of Buddha’s life: how he got ordained, engaged in meditation retreat for six years, and finally under the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya attained enlightenment.
The way Je Tsongkhapa demonstrated his attainment of enlightenment was a little bit different. He did not show his attainment of enlightenment during his life, but while he was passing away.
When the time came for him to leave his old, gross body that had come from his ordinary parents, ordinary people thought he was dying, but at that time instead of experiencing the ordinary clear light of death that is experienced by ordinary beings during the death process, he experienced the ultimate example clear light.
From that state, instead of arising from the clear light of death in the form of a bardo, or intermediate state, being he appeared in the form of the illusory body. From that state, instead of taking an ordinary rebirth he attained the Emanation Body of a Buddha. In this way, he showed the manner of attaining enlightenment.
He showed this way of attaining enlightenment for certain specific reasons that would help his future followers. However, many of his direct disciples, as well as many of his future followers, including Gyalwa Ensapa, for example, attained enlightenment before death. As I have explained many times, Gyalwa Ensapa completed his training in Highest Yoga Tantra and attained full enlightenment in three years, and did not wait until the time of his death.
There are many different ways to attain enlightenment. Since many of his disciples were ordained, Je Tsongkhapa wanted to show an especially good example to his ordained disciples. Thus he showed the manner of attaining enlightenment at the time of death instead of attaining enlightenment before death.
Today we remember Je Tsongkhapa’s great kindness and dedicate all our virtuous actions including this evening’s puja so that his Dharma will flourish throughout the world and provide many living beings with the great opportunity to attain liberation and full enlightenment.