Originating in 1409, the Geluk Sect of Tibetan Buddhism was formed during the Reformation led by Je Tsongkhapa, a renowned reformer in the history of Tibetan Buddhism in the 15th century. He was born when the Jangchup Gyaltsen replaced the Sakya sect. At that time, monks of the highest class not only sought political and economic power but also lived corrupt lives, losing support from society.
Revolution of Buddhist culture and traditions
Recognizing this situation, Tsongkhapa preached and spread the tenets, urging people to value religious disciplines. He wrote books to explain his religious theory, criticizing the monks who disregarded these disciplines and advancing the Buddhist Reformation in Tibet. The Geluk (yellow hats) tradition was founded by Lama Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) and is based on the old Kadam lineage, encompassing all other Tibetan traditions. For instance, Tsongkhapa’s main teacher was the Sakya teacher Randhawa.
Founding Grand Lhasa Monlam Festival
In 1409, during the first month of the Tibetan calendar, he held the Great Prayer Festival to celebrate Buddha’s victory over magic competition, which is still observed today. Following this, Tsongkhapa constructed the renowned Ganden Monastery and established a highly disciplined sect known as Gelug (meaning proficient in discipline). Since Tsongkhapa and his followers wore yellow hats, they became known as the Yellow Sect.
Major Monasteries of Geluk Sects
Following the founding of Ganden Monastery, several other influential monasteries emerged, solidifying the region’s reputation as a centre for Buddhist teachings and devotion. One of the most prominent monasteries was Drepung, which was established shortly after Ganden. Known for its grandeur and vastness, Drepung Monastery quickly gained recognition as one of the largest monastic institutions in the world. Nestled in the picturesque hillsides, it became a beacon of knowledge and enlightenment for countless devotees. The monastery was adorned with intricately carved statues, colourful murals, and sacred scriptures, creating an ambience of spiritual serenity and awe. Monks and visitors alike were captivated by the serene beauty and profound teachings that echoed through the hallowed halls.
Sera Monastery, another remarkable institution, was founded soon after Drepung. Situated on the outskirts of Lhasa, the capital city, Sera Monastery was renowned for its intellectual pursuits and scholarly debates. These debates, known as “Sera Me,” attracted scholars from far and wide, seeking to engage in rigorous philosophical discussions and exchange profound insights. The monastery’s courtyard would come alive with animated debates, as monks passionately presented their interpretations of Buddhist scriptures, challenging each other’s beliefs and expanding their intellectual horizons.
Tashihunpo Monastery, situated in the heart of Shigatse, was a spiritual haven for those seeking solace and inner tranquillity. This sacred sanctuary, founded by the first Dalai Lama, served as the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama. With its golden rooftops shimmering under the Tibetan sun, Tashihunpo Monastery became a symbol of devotion and reverence. Pilgrims from all corners of the world flocked to this spiritual sanctuary, seeking blessings and guidance from the revered spiritual leaders who resided within its walls.
Kumbum Monastery, nestled amid the breathtaking landscapes of Amdo, held a special place in the hearts of Tibetan Buddhists. This sacred institution was the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Geluk sect. The monastery’s golden spires and magnificent architecture stood as a testament to its significance and historical legacy. Inside, pilgrims were greeted by the mesmerizing sight of countless statues, each meticulously crafted to represent the various deities and enlightened beings of the Buddhist pantheon. The air was filled with the soft murmur of prayers and the fragrance of burning incense, creating an atmosphere of divine grace and serenity.
Lastly, Labrang Monastery, located in the picturesque town of Xiahe, was a treasure trove of Tibetan cultural heritage and religious fervour. Founded in the 18th century, Labrang Monastery provided a sanctuary for Buddhist scholars and practitioners alike. Its vast complex housed numerous prayer halls, libraries, and living quarters for monks, creating a vibrant and bustling monastic community. Pilgrims would embark on arduous journeys to Labrang, drawn by the allure of its sacred relics, vivid murals, and the opportunity to receive teachings from esteemed spiritual masters.
System of Living Buddha – Reincarnation
The establishment of the two greatest systems of Living Buddha Reincarnation, namely the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lamas, has played a significant role in the spiritual and cultural development of Tibet. One of the most renowned figures in this lineage is Sonam Gyatso, who received the distinguished title of ‘Dalai Lama’ (Ocean of Wisdom) from the Mongol ruler, Altan Khan, in 1578. Sonam Gyatso’s recognition as the Dalai Lama marked a pivotal moment in Tibetan history. The title itself carries immense weight and signifies the holder’s deep knowledge and spiritual wisdom.
Altan Khan, recognizing Sonam Gyatso’s exceptional qualities, bestowed upon him the responsibility of spreading Buddhist teachings and leading the Tibetan people towards enlightenment. However, it was not until the 5th Dalai Lama’s ascension to power in 1642 that the Dalai Lamas truly solidified their position as the temporal and spiritual leaders of Tibet. This significant development came under the order of Mongol ruler Gushri Khan, who saw the potential in the Dalai Lama’s leadership and sought to establish a stable rule in Tibet.
Dalai Lama’s Role of Spreading Geluk Sect
It is important to note that while the Dalai Lamas received training in all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, they predominantly belonged to the Gelug tradition. This tradition, founded by Tsongkhapa in the 14th century, places great emphasis on the study and practice of Buddhist philosophy. The Dalai Lamas’ affiliation with the Gelug tradition has contributed to its widespread influence and recognition throughout Tibet.
The Dalai Lamas, as the foremost leaders of the Gelug tradition, have not only carried the responsibility of guiding their followers but have also played significant roles in shaping Tibetan history. From their spiritual teachings to their diplomatic endeavours, the Dalai Lamas have left an indelible mark on Tibetan culture and society. Their influence extends beyond the borders of Tibet, as they have been recognized and revered by people from all over the world. The Dalai Lamas’ commitment to peace, compassion, and the promotion of human rights has earned them global admiration and respect.
Gedun Drupa, the First Dalai Lama, was a disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa and was key in establishing the Dalai Lama lineage. While not spiritual heads of the Gelugpa school, the Dalai Lamas are seen as the reincarnations of Avalokiteshvara.
Some distinct aspects of the Gelug tradition include a focus on ethics and rigorous scholarship. The main Buddhist teachings are compiled in the Lamrim presentation, resembling the Lamdrey teachings of the Sakya.
The Gelug introduced the scholarly title of Geshe for a fully qualified and authoritative spiritual master. The spiritual title of Ganden Tripa is held by the head of the Gelugpa and is not based on reincarnation or hereditary succession. Instead, it is appointed through competitive examinations among candidates, with a term lasting seven years.