The Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni, as do the rest of the Tibetan Buddhist Schools. This lineage further traces its origin back to the Kadampa tradition of the great Indian master Atisha (982-1054). It was founded by the Tibetan master, Je Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa (1357-1419), otherwise known as Je Rinpoche. Tsongkhapa is the founder of Drok Riwo Ganden, widely renowned as the Ganden Monastery, established in 1409 C.E. outside Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, which became the main seat of the Geluk tradition. The name of this lineage is derived from the name of the monastery that he founded. This tradition was further developed many other great seats established by many of his disciples though out the centuries.
The general Buddhist canon of the Kagyur (bk’a ‘gyur) and Tengyur (bstan ‘gryur) are the primary source for the lineage, as they are for the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition, the Geluk lineage relies on the writings of the primary Gelukpa masters, Je Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa, Gyaltsab Dharma Rinchen, Khedrup Gelek Palsang, and many others.
EXTENSIVE STUDY TRADITION
Among all the schools of Tibet, the Geluk school puts the most emphasis on pure philosophical studies, which can continue for many years. Major topics that are emphasized in the Gelukpa school is called the “Five Major Treatises”: (1) The Prajnaparamita, perfection of wisdom, (2) Madhyamaka, middle way, (3) Pramana, valid cognition, (4) Abhidharma, phenomenology, (5) Vinapa, monastic disciplines. In this tradition, these treatises are studied with great detail using the dialectical method. For a period of over fifteen years, these texts are studied using numerous Gelukpa commentaries, many of which often are unique to each monastic college. When such training in studies are completed, one receives one of the three types of degrees of Geshe (dge bshes), the high academic degree in Buddhist philosophy [equivalent to a masters degree]: Dorampa, Tsogrampa, and Lharampa (highest) degree.
A Geshe then has the choice to either join the Tantric Colleges, to study further and complete the tantric training, to return to one’s monastery and teach other monks, or to go into long term meditation retreat, if the student so wishes. This tradition of intensive study remains vibrant even in the exile situation in India.
The majority of the Gelukpa school students go through the study and practice Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo (lam rim chen mo), Great Exposition of the Stages Of The Path, which is based on Atisha’s Bodhipatha-pradipa (byang chub lam sgron), Lamp Of The Path Of Enlightenment that teaches the progressive path of training from the most basic yana to the highest path of Vajrayana. Students, if they desire, are then lead to the study and practice of Tsongkhapa’s Ngakrim Chenmo (sngags rim chen mo), Great Exposition of Tantras, which goes through the study of the highest teachings in Buddhism, Vajrayana.
GELUK LINEAGE AND LINEAGE MASTERS
The tradition of the Geluk or the Ganden lineage is an offspring of the root Kadhampa tradition of the Lord Atisha. The unbroken lineage of the Gandenpa or Gelukpa tradition has continued to the present time from Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), who founded this tradition with the opening of the Ganden Monastery in the early 15th century.
Je Tsongkhapa was born in the Tsongkha area of Amdo the region in eastern Tibet. When he was four, he received the complete lay ordination from the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje, whom gave him the name, Kunga Nyingpo. Je Tsongkhapa studied with masters of all the existing traditions of Kadam, Sakya, Kagyu and other Tibetan Buddhist lineages, and became one of the most well-known scholars and masters of the time.
Tsongkhapa taught extensively and engaged in meditation retreats. In addition to that, he wrote numerous commentaries and texts and his collected works contains eighteen volumes.
Among countless students, his main disciples were: Gyeltsap Dharma Rinchen (1364-1432), Khedrub Gelek Palsang (1385-1438), Gyalwa Gendun Drup (1391-1474) who became known as the first Dalai Lama, Jamyang Chöje Tashi Palden (1379-1449), Chamchen Chöje Shakya Yeshe, Je Sherab Senge, and Kunga Dhöndrup (1354-1438).
He had eight close disciples who continued his lineage and tradition. At the age of sixty, Je Tsongkhapa passed away (on the 25th day of the 10th Tibetan month) empowering Gyaltsap Dharma Rinche or Gyaltsap Je as his regent to succeed his throne in Ganden; this tradition of throne-holder still continues today.
GELUKPA SEATS IN TIBET AND IN EXILE
The main seat of the Gelukpa School is the Ganden Monastery in central Tibet, which is headed by the Venerable Ganden Tripa, the throne-holder of Ganden. Ganden Monastery was founded by Tsongkhapa in 1409 c.e. and is divided into two colleges, Shartse and Jangtse. Among other major Gelugpa monasteries or seats, Drepung Monastery was founded by Jamyang Chöje Tashi Palden, as close disciple of Tsongkhapa, in 1416 c.e. The Drepung monastic seat originally had seven branches but these were later combined into four: Loseling, Gomang, Deyang and Ngagpa. Drepung Loseling and Gomang are the main colleges that continue to train the students in traditional Drepung monastic educational trainings. Sera Monastery was founded by Chamchen Chöje Shakya Yeshi, a close disciple of Tsongkhapa, in 1419 c.e. This initially had five colleges, which were later, combined into two: Sera Jey and Sera Mey. Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was founded by Gyalwa Gendun Drup (the First Dalai Lama), a student of Tsongkhapa, in 1447, which later became the seat of successive Panchen Lamas. Many other great monasteries of this tradition grew all over Tibet and became of the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
There have been two main monasteries for tantric practice and study in the Geluk tradition. Gyüme, the Lower Tantric College, was founded by Je Sherab Senge, a student of Tsongkhapa, in 1440 C.E. Gyütö, the Upper Tantric College, was founded by Gyuchen Kunga Dhöndrup, a student of Tsongkhapa, in 1474 C.E. Thousands of monks studied and received tantric trainings at these monastic colleges.
All of these Gelug institutions put special emphasis on ethics, as taught in the Vinaya, which becomes the ideal ground for religious education and practice. The Gelug tradition purely stresses sound scholarship and subjects the teachings of sutra and tantra to intellectual analysis through the medium of dialectical debate. Training in debate has become one of the heart essences of the Gelukpa school.
All the major monasteries of Geluk school, Ganden, Drepung, Sera, and others have now built their exile monasteries in India.
HEAD OF THE GELUKPA SCHOOL
The head of the Geluk School is the Venerable Ganden Tripa (throne-holder) Rinpoche. At the time this article was originally written, the Ganden Tri Rinpoche is Venerable Yeshe Dhöndup, the 99th successor to the Ganden throne.