From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Tibetan name
Tibetan དགེ་ལུགས་པ
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 格魯派 / 黃教 / 新噶當派
Simplified Chinese 格鲁派 / 黄教 / 新噶当派
Statue of Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa school, on the altar in His Temple (His birth place) in Kumbum Monastery, near Xining, Qinghai (Amdo), China. Photo by writer Mario Biondi, July 7, 2006

The Gelug, Gelug-pa, dGe Lugs Pa, dge-lugs-pa or Dgelugspa is the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.[1] It was founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), a philosopher and Tibetan religious leader. The first monastery he established was named 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.

"Ganden" is the Tibetan rendition of the Sanskrit name "Tushita", the Pure land associated with Maitreya Buddha. At first, Tsongkhapa's school was called "Ganden Choluk" meaning "the Spiritual Lineage of Ganden". By taking the first syllable of 'Ganden' and the second of 'Choluk' this was abbreviated to "Galuk" and then modified to the more easily pronounced "Gelug".[2]

Origins and development


The Gelug school was founded by Je Tsongkhapa. A great admirer of the Kadam school, Tsongkhapa was a promoter of the Kadam emphasis on the Mahayana principle of universal compassion as the fundamental spiritual orientation. He combined this with extensive writings on Madhyamaka and Nagarjuna's philosophy of Śūnyatā (emptiness) that, in many ways, marked a turning point in the history of philosophy in Tibet.[3]

Establishment of the Dalai Lamas

In 1577 Sonam Gyatso, who was considered to be the third incarnation of Gyalwa Gendün Drup,[4] formed an alliance with the then most powerful Mongol leader, Altan Khan.[4] As a result, Sonam Gyatso was designated as the third 3rd Dalai Lama; "dalai" is a translation into Mongolian of the name "Gyatso" ocean,[4] and Gyalwa Gendün Drup and Gendun Gyatso were posthumously recognized as the 1st and 2nd Dalai Lamas.[5]

Sonam Gyatso was very active in proselytizing among the Mongols,[5] and the Gelug tradition was to become the main spiritual orientations of the Mongols in the ensuing centuries.[5] This brought the Gelugpas powerful patrons who were to propel them to pre-eminence in Tibet.[5] The Gelug-Mongol alliance was further strengthened as after Sonam Gyatso's death, his incarnation was found to be Altan Khan's great-grandson, the 4th Dalai Lama.[5]

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[6] (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.[7]

From the period of the 5th Dalai Lama in the 17th century, the Dalai Lamas held political control over central Tibet. The core leadership of this government was also referred to as the Ganden Phodrang.

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".[8]


Lamrim and Sunyata

The central teachings of the Gelug School are Lamrim, based on the teachings of the Indian master Atiśa (c. 11th century), and the systematic cultivation of the view of emptiness.

Vajrayāna Practice

This is combined with the yogas of Anuttarayoga Tantra iṣṭadevatā such as the Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, Yamāntaka and Kālacakra tantras, where the key focus is the direct experience of the indivisible union of bliss and emptiness.

The Guhyasamāja tantra 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."[9]


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).[citation needed] 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:

  1. The Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo)
  2. The Great Exposition of Tantras (sNgag-rim chenmo)
  3. The Essence of Eloquence on the Interpretive and Definitive Teachings (Drnng-nges legs-bshad snying-po)
  4. The Praise of Relativity (rTen-'brel bstodpa)
  5. The Clear Exposition of the Five Stages of Guhyasamāja (gSang-'dus rim-lnga gsal-sgron) and
  6. 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

Gelug monks in Spituk Monastery during the Gustor Festival


Tsongkhapa founded the monastery of Ganden in 1409 as his main seat.

Drepung Monastery was founded by Jamyang Choje, Sera Monastery was founded by Chöje Shakya Yeshe and the Gyalwa Gendün Drup founded Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

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.

Lineage holders

Tsongkhapa had many students, his two main disciples being Gyaltsab Je (1364–1431) and Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, 1st Panchen Lama (1385–1438). Other outstanding disciples were Togden Jampal Gyatso, Jamyang Choje, Jamchenpa Sherap Senge and Gendün Drup, 1st Dalai Lama (1391–1474).

After Tsongkhapa's passing, his teachings were held and spread by Gyaltsab Je and Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, 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,[10] 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 Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso

See also



  1. Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 129.
  2. Mullin 2001, p.367.
  3. Jinpa, Thupten. Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy. Routledge 2002, page 10.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 McKay 2003, p. 18.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 McKay 2003, p. 19.
  6. also Sonam Choephel or Sonam Rabten
  7. Samten G. Karmay, The Great Fifth
  8. Short 2004, p. 108.
  9. Speech to the Second Gelug Conference by the Dalai Lama (06-12-2000), retrieved 03-23-2010).


  • 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., ed. (2003), History of Tibet, RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0-7007-1508-8<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mullin, Glenn H. (2001). The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation. Clear Light Publishers. Santa Fe, NM. ISBN 1-57416-092-3.
  • Short, Philip S. (2004), In pursuit of plants: experiences of nineteenth & early twentieth century plant collectors, Timber Press, ISBN 0-88192-635-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links