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The Gelug or Gelug-pa (or dGe Lugs Pa, dge-lugs-pa, or Dgelugspa; Mongolian language: Sharyn shashin, Yellow religion) — also known as the Yellow Hat sect — is the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), a philosopher and Tibetan religious leader. The first monastery he established was at Ganden, and to this day the Ganden Tripa is the nominal head of the school, though its most influential figure is the Dalai Lama. Allying themselves with the Mongols as a powerful patron, the Gelug emerged as the pre-eminent Buddhist school in Tibet since the end of the 16th century.
- 1 Origins and development
- 2 Teachings
- 3 Texts
- 4 Monasteries and Lineage Holders
- 5 Criticism
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
- 9 External links
Origins and development
The Gelug school was founded by Je Tsongkhapa. A great admirer of the Kadampa (Bka'-gdams-pa) teachings, Tsongkhapa was a promoter of the Kadam School's emphasis on the Mahayana principle of universal compassion as the fundamental spiritual orientation. He combined this with a novel interpretation of Madhyamaka containing uncommon features not found elsewhere.
Tsongkhapa said that these two aspects of the spiritual path, compassion and insight into wisdom, must be rooted in a wholehearted wish for liberation impelled by a genuine sense of renunciation. He called these the "Three Principal Aspects of the Path", and asserted that it is on the basis of these three that one must embark on the profound path of vajrayāna Buddhism.
Establishment of the Dalai Lamas
In 1577 Sonam Gyatso, who was considered to be the third incarnation of Gyalwa Gendün Drup, formed an alliance with the then most powerful Mongol leader, Altan Khan. As a result, Sonam Gyatso was designated as "Dalai" (a translation into Mongolian of the name Gyatso, meaning ocean), and Gyalwa Gendün Drup and Gendun Gyatso were posthumously recognized as the 1st and 2nd Dalai Lamas.
Sonam Gyatso was very active in proselytizing among the Mongols, and the Gelug tradition was to become the main spiritual orientations of the Mongols in the ensuing centuries. This brought the Gelugpas powerful patrons who were to propel them to pre-eminence in Tibet. The Gelug-Mongol alliance was further strengthened as after Sonam Gyatso's death, his incarnation was found to be Altan Khan's great-grandson.
Emergence as dominant school
By the end of the 16th century, following violent strife among the sects of Tibetan Buddhism, the Gelug school emerged as the dominant one. According to Tibetan historian Samten Karmay, Sonam Chophel (1595-1657), treasurer of the Ganden Palace, was the prime architect of the Gelug's rise to political power. Later he received the title Desi [Wylie: sde-sris], meaning "Regent", which he would earn through his efforts to establish Gelugpa power.
Scottish Botanist George Forrest, who witnessed the 1905 Tibetan Rebellion led by the Gelug Lamas, wrote that the majority of the people in the Mekong valley in Yunnan were Tibetan. According to his accounts, the Gelugpas were the dominant power in the region, with their Lamas effectively governing the area. Forrest said they used "force and fraud" to "terrorise the... peasantry".
Lamrim and Sunyata
The central teachings of the Gelug School are the Stages of the Path (lamrim), based on the teachings of the Indian master Atiśa (c. 11th century), and the systematic cultivation of the view of emptiness.
This is combined with the yogas of highest yoga tantra deities such as Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, Yamāntaka and Kālacakra, where the key focus is the direct experience of the indivisible union of bliss and emptiness.
Guhyasamāja is the principal one. As the Dalai Lama remarks,
There is a saying in the Gelug, 'If one is on the move it is Guhyasamāja. If one is still, it is Guhyasamāja. If one is meditating, it should be upon Guhyasamāja.' Therefore, whether one is engaged in study or practice, Guhyasamāja should be one's focus."
The Gelug school focuses on ethics and monastic discipline of the vinaya as the central plank of spiritual practice. In particular, the need to pursue spiritual practice in a graded, sequential manner is emphasized. Arguably, Gelug is the only school of vajrayāna Buddhism that prescribes monastic ordination as a necessary qualification and basis in its teachers (lamas / gurus). Lay people are usually not permitted to give initiations if there are teachers with monastic vows within close proximity.
Six commentaries by Tsongkhapa are the prime source for the studies of the Gelug tradition, as follows:
- 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 Guhyasamāja (gSang-'dus rim-lnga gsal-sgron) and
- The Golden Rosary (gSer-phreng)
Each Gelug monastery uses its own set of commentarial texts by different authors, known as monastic manuals (Tib. yigcha). The teachings of Tsongkhapa are seen as a protection against developing misconceptions in understanding and practice of mahāyāna and vajrayāna Buddhism. It is said that his true followers take The Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path as their heart teaching.
Monasteries and Lineage Holders
Tsongkhapa founded the monastery of Ganden in 1409 as his main seat.
Labrang Monastery, in Xiahe County in Gansu province (and in the traditional Tibetan province of Amdo), was founded in 1709 by the first Jamyang Zhaypa, Ngawang Tsondru. Many Gelug monasteries were built throughout Tibet as well as in China and Mongolia.
Tsongkhapa had many students, his two main disciples being Gyaltsab Je (1364–1431) and Khedrub Je (1385–1438). Other outstanding disciples were Togden Jampal Gyatso, Jamyang Choje, Jamchenpa Sherap Senge and Gyalwa Gendün Drup, the 'first' Dalai Lama (1391–1474).
After Tsongkhapa's passing, his teachings were held and spread by Gyaltsab Je and Khedrub Je who were his successors as abbots of Ganden monastery. The lineage is still held by the Ganden Tripas – the throne-holders of Ganden Monastery – among whom the present holder is Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu, the 102nd Ganden Tripa (and not, as often misunderstood, by the Dalai Lama).
Among the main lineage holders of the Gelug are:
- The successive incarnations of the Dalai Lama (also commonly referred to as 'Gyalwa Rinpoche')
- The succession of the Panchen Lama, the Chagkya Dorje Chang, Ngachen Könchok Gyaltsen, Kyishö Tulku Tenzin Thrinly, Jamyang Shepa, Phurchok Jampa Rinpoche, Jamyang Dewe Dorje, Takphu Rinpoche, Khachen Yeshe Gyaltsen
- Successive incarnations of Kyabje Yongzin Ling Rinpoche
- Successive incarnations of Kyabje Yongzin Trijang Rinpoche
The traditional Geluk understanding of these deviations in Tsongkhapa's thought attributes the development of his distinct reading of Madhyamaka philosophy to a mystical communion he is reported to have had with the bodhisattva Manjusri... It is interesting that the tradition Tsongkhapa is claiming to honour is, in a strict sense, not the existing system in Tibet; rather, it appears to be in the tradition of Manjusri as revealed in a mystic vision!
Even as serious a scholar as Go rams pa cannot resist suggesting, for example, that Tsong kha pa's supposed conversations with Manjusri may have been a dialogue with a demon instead.
Gorampa accuses Tsongkhapa of being seized by demons and spreading demonic words:
Gorampa, in the Lta ba ngan sel (Eliminating the Erroneous View), accuses Tsongkhapa of being "seized by demons" (bdud kyis zin pa) and in the Lta ba'i shan 'byed (Distinguishing Views) decries him as a "nihilistic Madhyamika" (dbu ma chad lta ba) who is spreading "demonic words" (bdud kyi tshig).
Karl Brunnholzl notes that Gelugpa Madhyamaka is not consistent with “any Indian text” or the other Tibetan schools:
First, with a few exceptions, the majority of books or articles on Madhyamaka by Western - particularly North American - scholars is based on the explanations of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Deliberately or not, many of these Western presentations give the impression that the Gelugpa system is more or less equivalent to Tibetan Buddhism as such and that this school's way of presenting Madhyamaka is the standard or even the only way to explain this system, which has led to the still widely prevailing assumption that this is actually the case. From the perspective of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism in general, nothing could be more wrong. In fact, the peculiar Gelugpa version of Madhaymaka is a minority position in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, since its uncommon features are neither found in any Indian text nor accepted by any of the other Tibetan schools.
All critics of Tsongkhapa, including the Eighth Karmapa, agree that many features of his Centrism are novelties that are not found in any Indian sources and see this as a major flaw.
Sam van Schaik notes that Tsongkhapa "wanted to create something new" and that the early Gandenpas defined themselves by responding to accusations from the established schools:
Though the Sakya had their own teachings on these subjects, Tsongkhapa was coming to realize that he wanted to create something new, not necessarily a school, but at least a new formulation of the Buddhist Path.
As Khedrup and later followers of Tsongkhapa hit back at accusations like these, they defined their own philosophical tradition, and this went a long way to drawing a line in the sand between the Gandenpas and the broader Sakya tradition.
- Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 129.
- Jinpa, Thupten. Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy. Routledge 2002, page 17-18.
- Brunnholzl, Karl. The Center of the Sunlit Sky. Snow Lion Publications. 2004, p. 17.
- McKay 2003, p. 18.
- McKay 2003, p. 19.
- also Sonam Choephel or Sonam Rabten
- Samten G. Karmay, The Great Fifth
- Short 2004, p. 108.
- Speech to the Second Gelug Conference by the Dalai Lama (06-12-2000), retrieved 03-23-2010).
- Jinpa, Thupten. Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy. Routledge 2002, page 17.
- Cabezón, José. Freedom from Extremes. Wisdom Publications 2007, page 17.
- Thakchoe, Sonam. The Two Truths Debate:. Wisdom Publications 2007, page 125.
- Brunnholzl, Karl. The Center of the Sunlit Sky. Snow Lion Publications. 2004, pg. 17.
- Brunnholzl, Karl. The Center of the Sunlit Sky. Snow Lion Publications. 2004, pg. 555.
- Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 103.
- Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 109.
- The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet by Ringu Tulku, ISBN 1-59030-286-9, Shambhala Publications
- Ringu Tulku: The Rimé (Ris-med) movement of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great Paper given on 7th Conference of International Association For Tibetan Studies in June 1995
- McKay, A. (editor) (2003), History of Tibet, RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0-7007-1508-8
- Short, Philip S. (2004), In pursuit of plants: experiences of nineteenth & early twentieth century plant collectors, Timber Press, ISBN 0-88192-635-3
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