Becoming the Ganden Tripa

His Holiness the Ganden Tripa or Gaden Tripa (golden throne holder of Ganden) is the supreme spiritual head of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Ganden Tripa is the direct successor to the founder of the Gelugpa school, King of Dharma Je Tsongkhapa.

The title of the Ganden Tripa is an elected position held for a period of seven years. It is awarded based on merit and only the best Buddhist scholars and practitioners can ascend the golden throne of Ganden as the Ganden Tripa.There is an old saying in Tibet:

“If a mother’s son has the right qualifications, then the Ganden throne is open to him.”

The title of the Ganden Tripa is not a reincarnation lineage but an appointed title; though there are incarnations of the Gaden Tripas who are held in high esteem.

More information on: Ganden Tripa incarnations

Monastic studies at Ganden, Sera and Drepung

Ganden Jangtse Monastery

The Ganden Monatsery is one of the three main Gelugpa Monastic Universities

Firstly, a monk studying at one of the three main Gelugpa monastery of Ganden, Sera or Drepung must undergo the extensive traditional monastic studies for 15 to 20 years of the five main Buddhist philosophical texts:

  • Abhidharma (Higher Knowledge)
    Compendium of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma Samuccaya) by Asanga
    Treasury of Higher Knowledge(Abhidharma Kośa) by Vasubandhu
  • Prajna Paramita (Perfection of Wisdom)
    Ornament of Clear Realization (Abhisamayālaṃkāra) by Maitreya as related to Asanga
    The Way of the Bodhisattva (Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra) by Shantideva
  • Madhyamaka (Middle Way)
    Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā)’ by Nāgārjun
    Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas (Catuḥśataka) by Āryadeva
    Introduction to the Middle Way (Madhyamakāvatāra) by Candrakīrti
    Ornament of the Middle Way (Madhyamakālaṃkāra) by Shantarakshita
    The Way of the Bodhisattva (Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra,) by Shantideva
  • Logic (Pramana)
    Treatise on Valid Cognition (Pramāṇavarttika) by Dharmakīrti
    Compendium on Valid Cognition (Pramāṇasamuccaya) by Dignāga
  • Vowed Morality (Vinaya)
    The Root of the Vinaya (Vinaya-mūla-sūtra, Dülwa Do Tsawa, ) by the Pandita Gunaprabha
Monks debating

Tibetan Monks during debate

Geshe Lharampa (Ph.D in Buddhist Philosophy)

On the completion of his studies, a scholar monk then receives one of the four levels of Geshe degree which is equivalent to a Ph.D degree. There are four such Geshe degree levels: Dorampa, Lingtse, Tsorampa and Lharampa. Geshe Lharampa degree being the highest degree. In order to succeed as a Ganden Tripa, a scholar monk will have to achieve the highest Geshe Lharampa qualifications.

Gyuto Upper Tantric College & Gyume Lower Tantric College

Depending on the Geshe’s place of origin in Tibet, the Geshe will have to enter either Gyuto (the higher Tantric college) or Gyume (the lower Tantric college). His studies continue for a period of at least 1 year or more before he become a Geshe Ngarampa (Tantric degree). After which the Ngarampa Geshe can be appointed as Lama Gekul (disciplinarian). This term lasts from about 6 months to 1 year.

Gyuto Tantric Monastery

Gyuto Tantric Monastery in India

The Lama Gekul can be further appointed as Lama Umze (Chant Master) for 3 years. At the end of the 3 year term, the Lama Umze is appointed for 3 years as a Khenpo/Khen Rinpoche (Abbot) of either the Gyuto Higher Tantric college or the Gyume Lower Tantric college. On retirement the Khen Rinpoche (Abbot) is then known as Khen-sur Rinpoche (Abbot Emeritus).

Sharpa Choeje & Jangtse Choeje

If there is an opening, the Khensur Rinpoche (Abbot Emeritus) is then eligible for the post of Sharpa Choeje (Dharma Master of the Eastern Peak) if he was a former Abbot of Gyuto or as Jangtse Choeje (Dharma Master of the Northern Peak) former Abbot of Gyume.

The Sharpa Choeje Rinpoche or Jangtse Choeje Rinpoche is then in line for the seat of the Ganden Tripa. The Ganden Tripa is appointed every 7 years on an alternating basis from Sharpa Choeje (Dharma Master of the Eastern Peak) and Jangtse Choeje (Dharma Master of the Northern Peak).

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