Gelug or Gelug Pa, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, was founded in the 14th century by Master Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa (1357-1419 AD).
The first monastery built by Master Tsongkhapa of the Gelug pa was Ganden monastery, so Gelugpa is also called “Ganden sect”
Because the teachings of the Gelug Pa originated from the Kadam School founded by Venerable Atisha, so it is also called “New Kadam School”.
And because monks wear yellow monk hats, it is also called “yellow sect”.
The word “Gelug” in the Gelug Pa means “Good rules”, which means that the sect advocates that monks should strictly abide by the precepts;
The main point of the Gelug School is “Madhyamika-Prasangika”, while in the philosophy of religion, “Madhyamika-Prasangika” is the most “ultimate” theory.
In 1402 AD and 1406 AD, Master Tsongkhapa wrote <Lamrim Chenmo — A Summary of the Stages of Enlightenment> and <Mizongdaocidilun — A Summary of the Stages of Tantra> respectively, which laid the theoretical foundation for the establishment of the Gelug Pa
In the first month of AD 1409, Tsongkhapa held the 1st Prayer Puja at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. In the same year, with the completion of Ganden Monastery, Tsongkhapa became the abbot, which marked the official establishment of the Gelug Pa
Master Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) was born in Huangzhong County, Qinghai Province, where the Kumbum (Ta’er) Monastery is located. Because the birthplace of Master Tsongkhapa was within the ancient Tsongkha area, So after he became famous he was called Tsongkhapa
When Tsongkhapa was three years old, Robe Dorje (1340-1383 AD), the fourth Karmapa Rinpoche of the black hat of the Karma Kagyu lineage, went to Beijing to pass through Tsongkha. Tsongkhapa followed his parents to visit the Karmapa Rinpoche whom granted Tsongkhapa the “Five Precepts” and gave him the name Gongga Ningpo.
When Tsongkhapa was 7 years old, he became a monk at Jakhyung Monastery, a Kadampa monastery at that time, which is now a Gelug Pa monastery. He followed “Dhondup Rinchen” to study “Exotoric Buddhism” and had a preliminary understanding of Kadampa‘s teachings.
In 1372 AD, Tsongkhapa went to the Uzang (Tibet) area to study Buddhism;
In 1373 AD, he arrived in to Drigung Til Monastery to learn with Drikung Rinpoche, the master of the Kagyu Pa
In the same year (1373 AD), Tsongkhapa went to Gongtang to study medicine, and from there he went to Rato Monastery, which was a Kadampa monastery and where Master Dhondup Rinchen once lived and studied Buddhism, and Tsongkhapa specially studied “The Five Teaching of Maitreya (Jonang Dharma)” in this monastery;
In 1375 AD, Tsongkhapa went to Sakya Monastery to worship the eminent monk Rindawa Xiongnuluozui (1349-1412 AD) as a teacher, and systematically studied the “Abhidharmakosa Sastra” and “Entering the Middle Way”. Rindawa had a profound influence on Tsongkhapa’s Buddhist thought.
At his age of 22 (1378 AD), Tsongkhapa began to travel to Buddhist training centers such as Sakya, Gongtang, and Sangpu, and participated in various debate activities to improve his thinking ability;
At his age of 27 (1383 AD), he received the ordination (Upasampada) of monks
Tsongkhapa began to write books at the age of 30 (1388 AD), and successively completed <The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom> (written in 1389), <Lamrim Chenmo — A Summary of the Stages of Enlightenment> (written in 1402), <Mizongdaocidilun — A Summary of the Stages of Tantra> (written in 1406), and other classics, built a Buddhist system that combines Esoteric (Tantra) and Exotoric Buddhism, and established the inheritance and authority of the Madhyamika School, and laid the theoretical foundation for the establishment of Gelug Pa
In the first month of the Tibetan calendar in 1409 AD, with the support of king Drakpa Gyaltsen (1374-1440 AD) of the Phagdru Regime, and the Chief of Neiwuzong Dzong (Liuwu District, the western suburb of Lhasa today) “Nanka Sampo” and his nephew “Banjue Sampo”, Tsongkhapa initiated a great prayer Puja in Lhasa, more than 10,000 monks from various sects participated.
After the puja, Tsongkhapa, with the support of the father and son of the local nobles “Rinchenbei” and “Rinchen Lhunpo”, built Ganden Monastery in Zhuo Riwoqi Mountain which is some 40 kilometers northeast of Lhasa;
So far, with the establishment of Ganden Monastery, it signified that “Tsongkhapa took the Kadampa teachings as the foundation of his sect, the Madhyamika should be the ideological view, and integrated the theories of all sects, practiced himself to obtain the Tao, and A new Buddhist sect — Gelug Pa was officially formed.”
After that, Tsongkhapa used Ganden Monastery as his base to reform the drawbacks of Tibetan Buddhism, especially advocating monks to strictly abide by Buddhist precepts, and as early as the age of 31, he took the responsibility of revitalizing Buddhist precepts, wearing a yellow monk hat as a symbol of strict observance of Buddhist precepts;
In response to the phenomenon that many monks at that time despised Buddhist teachings and canons, did not pay attention to the study of the “Tripitaka”, only paid attention to the master’s formulas, and abandoned the exotoric and devoted themselves to the tantras. Tsongkhapa advocated that the monks should follow the order of “studying the “Exotoric Buddhism” first, then the “Esoteric Buddhism(tantra)”, and asked the monks to live a pure religious life in the monastery, and it is strictly forbidden to marry a wife and have children to participate in secular life.
Tsongkhapa also used his knowledge in medicine, astronomy and calendar to help the people at that time, and gradually gained more and more followers, and gradually occupied the dominant position of Tibetan Buddhism.
Inheritance and development
In the 13th to 14th centuries, the Sakya Pa and Kagyu Pa had been in power in Tibet, and had been formally recognized by the Yuan Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty.
However, the upper -level monks who had been in charge of the regime chasing the power, and there were many people who ran the criminals;
The war caused by the confrontation between the different sects of Buddhism was also common, so that its original appeal and the functions of serving the feudal ruling class were also weakening.
By the 14th century, with the establishment of the “Gelug Pa”, Tsongkhapa was to revitalize Buddhism, and actively advocated the monks to adhere to the precepts; He wrote books, missionary apprentice, His most famous disciples include “Jia Caojie Dama Rinchen (1364-1432)” and “Kazhujie Grebe Sang (1385-1438)”
The abbot of Ganden Monastery is called “Gandan Tripa”, and it is also the leader of “Gelug Pa”.
Tsongkhapa served as the first abbot of Ganden Monastery after its completion. After he passed away, his disciple Jia Caojie accepted the dying wishes of his master (Tsongkhapa) and became the second “Tripa” of Ganden Monastery, thus establishing the “Triba” system.
Tsongkhapa’s disciple Kezhujie succeeded the third Ganden “Tripa”. Kezhujie continued to improve the education and selection system of Ganden Monastery. When the Gelug Pa established the Panchen reincarnation system in the later period, Kezhujie was posthumously regarded as the first generation of Panchen Lama.
According to this, after the passing away of the abbot of Ganden Monastery, It was not that the reincarnated soul boy is the new abbot. Instead, a group of learned monks will be held to debate, and the winner shall succeed;
In 1416 AD, Tsongkhapa’s disciple Jangyang Choje built Drepung Monastery in the western suburbs of Lhasa;
In 1418 AD, Tsongkhapa’s disciple Jamchen Choje built Sera Monastery in the northern suburb of Lhasa.
Ganden Monastery, Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery, the establishment of this three major monasteries in Lhasa laid a solid foundation for the development of the Gelug Pa
By the beginning of the 16th century, the Gelug Pa had begun to take on sectarian strength and scale of development, and formed the Dalai Lama (the “U” Tibetan area), the Panchen Lama (the “Zang” Tibetan area), the Cangkya Hotogtu (Inner Mongolia), and the Jetsun Dampa Hutugtu ( Mongolia). The four major living Buddha reincarnation systems, and all of which were all supported and confirmed by the government of Qing Dynasty
After this, the Gelug Pa became the ruling sect of the local regime in Tibet, and the form of “integration of politics and religion” in Tibet had been further developed since then.
In addition to the four major monasteries in the U-Zang area (Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Ganden Monastery, and Tashilhunpo Monastery), the central monasteries of the Gelug Pa also include the Ta’er (Kumbum) Monastery and the Labrang Monastery in east Tibet of Kham and Amdo, as well as, the Erdene Zuu in Mongolia
The Gelugpa monasteries all strictly follow the educational system formulated by Master Tsongkhapa, that is, the step-by-step learning sequence of “first ‘Exotoric Buddhism‘ and then ‘Esoteric Buddhism‘”
Organization and management system
The Gelugpa monasteries are closely organized, and the affiliation between the mother monastery and the child monastery is strict;
The monastery management implements the form of deliberation of committee members, and no individual may monopolize monastic administration.
This strict monastery management system helps to maintain the relative independence of the monastery organization, while avoiding the manipulation of the monastery by a secular ruler.
Larger monasteries are generally divided into three levels: “Laki”, “Dratsang” and “Khangtsen”, and each has its own management organization.
The deacons implement a tenure system, each performing their own responsibilities, and important matters will be decided through consultation.
Below “Laki” is “Dratsang”, and Dratsang can be divided into “Exotoric Dratsang” and “Esoteric Dratsang”. “Dratsang” is the main place for monks to study scriptures in each monastery.
Each Dratsang has a “Khenpo” who is responsible for managing daily affairs such as the study of the scriptures in the Dratsang.
The khenpo of Dratsang is generally a high-ranking monk who is proficient in Buddhist scriptures and has obtained a Geshe degree.
Taking the three major monasteries in Lhasa as an example, the tenure of Khenpo varies from monastery to 6 years for Drepung Monastery and 7 years for Sera Monastery and Ganden Monastery.
“Khangtsen” is the most basic organization divided according to the origin of monks.
Gelug Pa Buddhist Theory
The basic teaching of the Gelug Pa is the “Madhyamika” belonging to “Mahayana Buddhism”.
The so-called “prasanga” is a method of debate of the Indian Buddhist master “Zhiba Tsho”, which “responds to and refutes the faults or errors in the process of discourse with the method of logical reasoning”; and the “Madhyami theory” formed on the basis of this method is the “Madhyamika (prasanga)”.
In philosophical theory, it inherits the idea of “Madhyamika” of “Nagarjuna” passed down by Master Atisha, and follows the theory of “dependent origination and emptiness of nature” to guide the practice of “Exotoric Buddhism” and “Esoteric Buddhism“.
The so-called “dependent origin” means “arising from conditions”, that is to say, “all dharmas arise for a reason”;
The so-called “nature emptiness” is the abbreviation of “self-nature emptiness”, that is to say “all dharmas have no self-nature and arise from conditions, this is the emptiness in nature because of the conditioned”
In the practice, the method of the double movement of “stopping and contemplating (emphasis on both)” is adopted, that is, two methods of “Peace of mind, undisturbed by distractions” and “Analyze the truth with truthful wisdom” are advocated.
The Gelug Pa believes that “stopping and contemplating” is “to keep the mind in peace, and if you get a sense of light ease, it is the body of ‘stopping”; “contemplating” is to “get a sense of light ease through thinking, which is the body of “contemplating”.
The practice should be “stopping and contemplating” in cooperation with each other, from stopping to contemplating, from contemplating to stopping, and then to Nirvana.
The Gelug Gelug believes that “precepts” are the foundation of Buddhism, so they attach importance to all subtle teachings, and ask monks to set an example and act according to the rules.
After hundreds of years of development, the Gelug Pa has formed a complete set of rigorous and systematic teaching system, including a systematic Buddhist education system and a degree system, and attaches great importance to monks studying and debating, which has been followed to this day.
First of all, the Five Great Treatises were promoted as Buddhist teaching materials, and an educational mechanism with subject classification and high and low levels was established in the monastery.
Its educational subjects are collectively called “Five science”
Master Tsongkhapa believed that all Dharma includes “teaching” and “proving”.
And all the “teachings” of the Dharma are captured in the “Three Treasures” of sutras, laws, and treatises;
And the Dharma of all “proving” is captured in the “three studies” of morality, concentration, and wisdom.
Therefore, advocating the “Three Treasures” should not be neglected, and the “Three Studies” must be studied comprehensively.
The order of learning and training is stipulated as follows: To learn “esoteric teaching”, one must first learn “exotoric”. It is believed that only after mastering the learning of “exotoric teaching” can one begin the study of “esoteric teaching“.
In addition, all the teachings of the “exotoric teachings” can be measured, while the “esoteric teachings” can only be learned by a few qualified monks; This is clearly explained in Tsongkhapa’s <Lamrim Chenmo — A Summary of the Stages of Enlightenment> and <Mizongdaocidilun — A Summary of the Stages of Tantra>. Moreover, these two books have made specific provisions on the content of learning the “exotoric teachings” and the content of practicing the “esoteric teachings”, as well as the sequence that should be followed.
At the same time, Gelugpa monasteries also attach importance to grammar, rhetoric, craftsmanship, medicine, calendar and other disciplines, which have played an important role in the development of Tibetan ideology and culture.
The content of the study
I. The study of “Exotoric Buddhism”
The monks who study the “Exotoric Buddhism” first learn the Five Great Treatises, including:
Five Great Treatises
“Ornament of Clear Realization (Abhisamay-alamkara)”,
“Entering into the middle way (Madhyamaka vata ra)”,
The order of study of the five great treatises:
-1.1, The 1st thing to study is "Pramanavarttika" which is the main writing of Dharmakirtti (about 634-673 AD). This book is a commentary to "Pramana-samuccaya" which was written by Dinna (about 440-520 AD). The "Pramana-samuccaya" is a classic about logic and a work for studying methodology, so it is necessary to study first, because mastering the method of logical thinking is conducive to the study of other Buddhist theories (Another way of saying: exercise logical thinking, choose choose right view) -1.2, The 2nd thing to study Maitreya's "Ornament of Clear Realization", which summarizes the content of the "Prajna Sutra" with the guideline of the practice rank, that is, it mainly explains the method of cultivating the Mahayana in the "Great Prajna Sutra" (Another way of saying: Talking about Bodhisattva's Practice and Achievement) -1.3, The 3rd thing to study "Entering into the middle way", which was written by Candrakirti (600-650 AD). This book is to explain and clarify Nagarjuna's "Mula-madhyamaka-karika". (Another way of saying: Buddhism's highest philosophical thought) -1.4, The 4th thing to study Gunaprabha's (about 6th century AD) "Vinaya", which is a classic about the generality of precepts. It summarizes and organizes all the various aspects of the precepts in the order of precepts, keeping precepts, and returning to cleanliness(repentance and atonement). (Another way of saying: The main content of listening, thinking, and cultivation)
-1.5, The 5th thing to study "Abhidharmakosa Sastra" which was written by Vasubandhu (about the end of the 4th century AD). This is a book on Theravada Buddhism, which is a collection of Buddhist teachings, and the compendium of the "Great Vipassana" (Another way of saying: Identifying the nature of all dharmas is an introductory book on Buddhism)
The above five treatises are compulsory courses for monks to learn. After studying these five major treatises, anyone, who has obtained the “Larampa-Geshe” degree from any of the three major monasteries (Ganden monastery, Drepung monastery and Sera monastery), can be admitted to study “Esoteric Buddhism” in Gyuto Dratsang or Gyume Dratsang after being recommended.
II. The study of “Esoteric Buddhism”:
The specific regulations on the content and procedures of learning esoteric teaching are:
Practicing the tantric tantras based on the three sutras of “Gsang vdus”, “Demchog”, “Dorje Jigyed”, as well as mantras, empowerments, mandala rituals, etc.
III. Academic system, courses & study period settings
It is different in class, academic system, curriculum and year setting in different Gelug Pa monasteries
“Exotoric Buddhism” educational system can be roughly divided into 13 levels and 15 levels. For example, Drepung Monastery is divided into 15 levels, while Ganden Monastery, Ta’er Monastery and Labrang Monastery are divided into 13 levels.
A monk who has just entered the monastery is called “Draba”. After entering the monastery, he must hold a teacher apprenticeship ceremony. A monk needs to have two teachers, one is a life teacher whom is responsible for daily life; the other is a culture teacher whom teaches the rules and regulations of the monastery and basic cultural knowledge.
When a monk reaches the level of spelling, reading and reciting Buddhist scriptures, he needs to recite the three designated scriptures, and after being recommended by his teacher, he will be eligible to study at the 1st level of the 13th grade of Exotoric Buddhism College. The monk is now called “Bechava”.
As a Buddhist monk “Bechava”, one has to go through a long learning process of 13 levels. Each level must go through hard study and pass the debate examination of the corresponding level before being promoted to the next level to continue learning.
Take Gye Dratsang of Sera Monastery as an example:
There are 15 classes, 22 years of schooling, classified according to five major treatises,
There are 3 classes in the logic department, each level is studied for one year, for a total of 3 years;
The Prajna Department has 6 classes, the first 5 levels each take one year, and the last level 2 years, for a total of 7 years;
There are 2 classes in the Madhyamikas, and each level is to study for 2 years, for a total of 4 years;
The Precepts and Abhidharmakosa Sastra are for 4 years.
The total learning period is 22 years
After completing all the above-mentioned syllabus courses in turn, only the monks with excellent grades are eligible to be selected to enter a study class called “Dazeng Dha”, and get ready to participate the debate exam which is the highest level of Geshe degrees of “Larampa” and “Tsorampa”
IV. Two Special Classes
In addition to their normal study time, monks from the three major monasteries, Ganden Monastery, Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery in Lhasa, have to attend two special study classes: one is the “Summer Study” at Sangpu Monastery, the other one is the “Winter Sutra Study Class” of Raoga Monastery.
Every summer, monks from the three major monasteries go to Sangpu Monastery for short-term intensive study. Since Sangpu Monastery could not accommodate large-scale debate activities, so only a one-day debate was held in the monastery’s square, and then the summer class at Sangpu Monastery is over. In a sense, Sangpu Monastery’s summer study and debate is just a commemorative activity for the establishment of logic teaching and sutra debate system in this monastery
The winter debate puja is held in Raoga Monastery. The three major monasteries in Lhasa have to send outstanding monks to go to Raoga Monastery to study and debate for one and a half months, and there is a debate in the open air every day.
During this special period, focus on studying logic and debate. According to the regulations, only the monks who pass this debate are eligible to apply for the pre-selection places for the Geshes of the three major monasteries. The acquisition of the traditional “Geshe” degree marks the completion of the monk’s studies in the sutra or tantra, and he has the status of a scholar and enters the upper level of the sangha.
Those who have obtained the “Larampa Geshe” can enter Gyuto Dratsang or Gyume Dratsang to study tantra, and gradually become Khenpo of the Tantric Dratsang, gradually promoted to be Khenpo of Shartse Dratsang or Khenpo of Jangtse Dratsang of Ganden Monastery. Then wait for the promotion to be “Ganden Tripa”, the abbot of Ganden Monastery. Some eminent monks have even started a new living Buddha reincarnation system.
“Geshe” means “good knowledge, or mentor and friend”, and it is also translated as “Doctor of Buddhism”.
Geshe degrees are traditionally awarded only to monks who have achieved certain success in their studies at the “Exotoric Academy”, and not to monks who practice “Esoteric (Tantra)”.
In the Gelugpa monasteries, the grades of Geshes are not uniform, and the names of degrees are not the same.
Generally speaking, the Geshe degrees of the three major monasteries in Lhasa (Depung Monastery, Sera Monastery, and Ganden Monastery) are the most authoritative, and their systems are also the most complete and sound. Therefore, the following is only a brief description of the four Geshe degrees of the three major monasteries.
–“Larampa”: The first-class Geshe is “Larampa”, which means learned man of Lhasa, and is the highest degree of Geshes;
–“Tsorampa”: The second-class Geshe is “Tsorampa”, which means the outstanding and wise person of the whole monastery, and is a little lower than the Larampa Geshe.
*The two above-mentioned Geshes can only be obtained after several examinations and the final approval of the Kashag government at that time.
–“Lindsay”: The third-class Geshe is “Lindsay”, which means a talented person selected from the monastery;
–“Dorampa”：The fourth grade of Geshes is “Dorampa”, which means the Geshes who passed the debate and questioned on the stone steps in front of the assembly hall of the monastery
*The examination and recognition of the above two kinds of Geshes do not need to be approved by the Kashag government, but are decided by the monasteries themselves.
Tsongkhapa himself did not absorb the reincarnation system.
It was because Tsongkhapa’s youngest disciple, Gedun Drupa, adopted the reincarnation method of the Karma Kagyu School after his death.
Gedun Gyatso, a boy who was born in “Dana”, designated by relatives of Gedun Drupa and some eminent monks, became the reincarnation of Gedun Drupa.
And this gradually formed the Dalai Lama reincarnation system, and the honorary title of “Dalai Lama” was used in the Sonam Gyatso period.
In the mid-16th century, the Gelug School began to implement the reincarnation system.
In 1546 AD, Sonam Gyatso of Drepung Monastery was officially called a living Buddha, in order to inherit the thrown of the Dharma King with the former Gedun Gyatso.
In 1578 AD, Sonam Gyatso went to Qinghai to preach at the request of the Altan Khan of the Mongolian Tumt tribe, and was given the title of Dalai Lama by Altan Khan. This was the beginning of the Dalai Lama’s name, and Sonam Gyatso was considered the third Dalai Lama.
After that, Gelug Pa recognized Gedun Drupa as the 1st Dalai Lama and Gedun Gyatso as the 2nd Dalai Lama respectively.
In 1642 AD, Gushi Khan of the Mongolian Heshuo tribe was invited by the leaders of Gelug Pa, Dalai Lama V Luosang Gyatso and Luosang Chokyi Gyaltsen, to send troops to defeat the hostile groups of the Gelug Pa. Thus, Gelug Pa ranks above other sects of Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1645 AD, Gushi Khan bestowed the honorary title of “Panchen Lama Boketuo” to Luosang Chokyi Gyaltsen, thus establishing the reincarnation system of the Panchen Lama.
In 1751, the Qing Dynasty officially authorized Dalai VII Kelsang Gyatso to manage local government affairs in Tibet. Hence, Gelug Pa became the Tibetan Buddhism sect that ruled Tibet. The unique system of the Tibetan’s political and religious integration had been further strengthened