The 1st Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup, also Gendun Drub and Kundun Drup (1391–1474) is retrospectively considered to be the first of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet, who are believed to be reincarnations of Chenresig (Sanskrit: Avalokiteshvara), the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Gendun Drup was born in a cowshed in Gyurmey Rupa, near Sakya in the Tsang region of central Tibet, the son of Gonpo Dorjee and Jomo Namkha Kyi, nomadic tribespeople. He was raised as a shepherd until the age of seven. His birth name was Pema Dorje (Tibetan: པད་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་, Wylie: pad ma rdo rje, VajraLotus/LotusVajra) . Later, he was placed in Nartang (Nar-thang) monastery. In 1405 he took his novice vows from the abbot of Narthang, Khenchen Drupa Sherab. When he was 20, about 1411, he became fully ordained into the monkhood. He received the name Gendun Drubpa upon taking the vows of a fully ordained monk (gelong) from the abbot of Narthang monastery. At twenty years of age he became a disciple of Tsongkhapa (1357 – 1419) and the first abbot of Ganden Monastery, founded by Je Tsongkhapa himself in 1409.
By the middle of his life he had become one of the most esteemed scholar-saints in the country. Gendun Drup was a student of the great scholar and reformer Tsongkhapa.
It is said that Palden Lhamo, the female guardian spirit of the sacred lake, Lhamo La-tso, promised the First Dalai Lama in one of his visions "that she would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas".
Tradionally, Tibetan Buddhism knows four principal schools: Nyingma, Karma Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug. Since the 20th century the traditional religion of Tibet, Bön, has been adopted as the fifth school of Tibetan Buddhism.