The Gelug Tradition

Lama-Je-TsangkhapaThe Gelug Tradition


The Gelug is one of the four main traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by the great Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) in the 15th century root from the Kadampa tradition founded by Atisha. Today it became the main school in Tibet mainly found around Lhasa and Amdo.

Founder of Gelug Tradition

The Kadampa tradition founded by Atisha was the direct source of inspiration for the development of the Gelug tradition founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). He was born in the Tsongkha region of Amdo province. At the age of three he received full-fledged lay ordination from the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpey Dorjey, and the name Kunga Nyingpo. At the age of seven he received novice vows from his teacher, Chöjey Dhondup Rinchen, and was given the name Lobsang Drakpa. Even at this young age he had received many teachings and initiations of Heruka, Yamantaka and Hevajra, and could recite by heart texts like Expression of the Names of Manjushri.

Tsongkhapa travelled extensively in search of knowledge and studied with masters of all the existing traditions beginning with Chennga Chökyi Gyelpo, from whom he received teachings on topics such as the mind of enlightenment and the Great Seal (Mahamudra). He was taught the medical treatises by Könchok Kyab at Drikung. In Nyethang Dewachen he studied the Ornaments for clear Realisation and the Perfection of Wisdom and, excelling in debate, he became famous for his erudition. He also travelled to Sakya where he studied monastic discipline, phenomenology, valid cognition, the Middle Way and Guhyasamaja with lamas such as Kazhipa Losel and Rendawa. He also received transmissions of the Six Doctrines of Naropa. the Kalachakra. Mahamudra, the Path and Its Fruit, Chakrasamvara and numerous others and transmitted them to his disciples.

In addition to his studies and teachings he engaged in extensive meditation retreats. The longest, at Wolkha Cholung, lasted four years during which he was accompanied by eight close disciples. He is reputed to have performed millions of prostration's, mandala offerings and other forms of purification practice. Tsongkhapa frequently had visions of meditational deities and especially of Manjushri, with whom he could communicate to settle his questions about profound aspects of the teachings.

Tsongkhapa studied with more than a hundred teachers, practised extensively and taught thousands of disciples mainly in the central and eastern regions of Tibet. In addition he wrote a great deal. His collected works, comprising eighteen volumes, contain hundred of titles relating to all aspects of Buddhist teachings and clarify some of the most difficult topics of sutrayana and mantrayana teachings. Major works among them are: the Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo), the Great Exposition of Tantras (sNgag-rim chenmo), the Essence of Eloquence on the Interpretive and Definitive Teachings (Drnng-nges legs-bshad snying-po), the Praise of Relativity (rTen-'brel bstodpa), the Clear Exposition of the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja (gSang-'dus rim-lnga gsal-sgron) and the Golden Rosary (gSer-phreng).Among his many main disciples, Gyeltsab Dharma Rinchen (1364-1432), Khedrub Geleg Pelsang (1385-1438), Gyalwa Gendun Drup (1391-1474), Jamyang Chöjey Tashi Pelden (1379-1449), Jamchen Chöjey Shakya Yeshe, Jey Sherab Sengey and Kunga Dhondup (1354-143S) arc some of the more significant.

Tsongkhapa finally passed away at the age of sixty on the twenty-fifth of the tenth Tibetan month, entrusting his throne in Ganden to Gyeltsabjey. So began a tradition which continues to the present day. The ninety-ninth successor to the Ganden throne, and thus the formal head of the Gelugpa, is Ven. Yeshi Dhondup.

Of the major Gelugpa monasteries in Tibet, Ganden Monastery was founded by Tsongkhapa himself in 1409 and was divided into two colleges, Shartsey and Jangtsey. Jamyang Chöje Tashi Pelden founded Drepung Monastery in 1416. At one time it had seven branches but these were later amalgated into four Loseling, Gomang, Deyang and Ngagpa. Of the, only two college. Drepung and Gomang have survived up to the present time. Another of Tsongkhapa's spiritual sons, Jamchen Chöjey Shakya Yeshi established Sera Monastery in 1419. This too initially had five colleges which were later amalgated into two-Sera-Jey and Sera-Mey. Similarly, Gyalwa Gendun Drup, the First Dalai Lama, founded Tashi Lhunpo Monastery at Shigatse in 1447, which was to become the seat of the successive Panchen Lamas. It originally had four colleges.

The Lower Tantric College, Gyumey, was established by Jey Sherab Sengey in 1440, and the Upper Tantric College Gyutö by Gyuchen Kunga Dhondup in 1474. At their peak there were more than five thousand monks in each of the monastic universities around Lhasa, Ganden, Drepung and Sera, while there were at least five hundred in each tantric college.

1st-Dalai-LamaJe Tsongkhapa's disciple Gendün Drup (1391-1472), founded Tashilhunpo Monastery, near Shigatse, West Tibet in 1447, which accommodated 4,000 monks. Gendün Drup’s reincarnation, Gendün Gyatso (1475-1542), made Drepung the centre of his study and teaching. When his incarnation Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), as head of Drepung, met Altan Khan, chief of the Tumed branch of the Mongols, near the Kokonor in 1578, the Khan bestowed upon him the title 'Tale' (Dalai), meaning 'Ocean (of Wisdom)'. He was counted as the Third Dalai Lama. The Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) brought about the pacification of the whole of Tibet under his direct rule, and did much to build up its stature. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Gelugpa order had become the established unifying power in the land.

The Gelugpa Tradition is Distinguished by its Excellent

The Gelugpa tradition is distinguished by its excellent standards of scholarship, and has produced countless extraordinary scholars and writers. These include—as well as the Dalai Lamas (who receive their main training in the Gelug tradition)—the Panchen Lamas, the heads of the Tashilhunpo Monastery. The First Panchen Lama, Chökyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662), an exceptional scholar, was the tutor of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Colleges of the great Gelugpa monastic universities tend to use different commentarial texts composed by their own scholars. For example, the works of Panchen Sonam Drakpa (1478-1554) are studied particularly at Drepung Losel Ling, Ganden Shartse, Gyütö and Ratö monasteries.

The writings of Jetsün Chökyi Gyaltsen (1469-1544/6) are studied at Sera Je and Ganden Jangtse, and those of Jamyang Shepa, Ngawang Tsondru (1648-1721/2), are used extensively at Drepung Gomang College. Young men would travel from all three regions of Tibet to enroll at these monastic universities as monks in order to receive an education and spiritual training. The Gelug tradition lays special emphasis on the place of ethics, as expressed through monastic discipline, as the ideal basis for religious education and practice. Consequently, the great majority of Gelugpa lamas are monks and the master who is a layman is a rarity. In addition, the Gelug tradition regards sound scholarship as a prerequisite for constructive meditation, hence, the teachings of both sutra and tantra are subject to rigorous analysis through the medium of dialectical debate.


His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama Biography

With Courtesy from The Government of Tibet.

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