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Tradition: Gelug Tradition Main Page

Gelug Tradition | Religious Traditions Main Page

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Subjects & Topics:
- Gelug Tradition Explanation (below)
- Gelug Outline Page
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

Principal Subjects of Gelug Painting in Sequence:
- Tsongkapa
- Tsongkapa Life Story
- Refuge Field Paintings
- Panchen Lama Incarnation Lineage Set (Nartang)
- Dalai Lama Incarnation Lineage Set
- Vajrabhairava & Protectors
- Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo
- Others...

Unique Gelug Topics:
- Dalai Lama
- Deity Paintings
- Drepung Monastery
- Ganden Throne Holders
- Ganden Monastery
- Hats, Gelug
- Labrang Monastery
- Number Sets
- Panchen Lama
- Potala Palace
- Protectors Outline
- Sera Monastery
- Tashi Lhunpo Monastery
- Others...


The Gelug (dge lugs) tradition, also known as the Ganden (dga' ldan) tradition follows the teachings of the fifteenth-century scholar monk Je Tsongkapa Lobsang Dragpa (rje tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419), who was trained in Sakya, Kagyu, and Kadam traditions. Tsongkapa, who was born in the far eastern Amdo region of Tsongkha, founded several monasteries in the Lhasa region, chief among them Ganden Namgyaling (dga' ldan rnam rgyal gling), in 1409, which became his primary seat. His main disciples also founded monasteries in both U and Tsang, creating an institutional foundation for the rapid growth of the tradition in the later part of the 15th century: in 1418 Khedrubje Geleg Palzang (mkhas grub rje dge legs dpal bzang, 1385-1438) established Palkor Chode (dpal 'khor chos sde) in Gyantse (rgyal rtse); in 1419 Jamchen Choje Shakya Yeshe (byams chen chos rje shAkya ye shes, 1355-1435) established Sera Tegchenling (se ra theg chen gling) outside of Lhasa; in 1416 Jamyang Choje Tashi Palden (1397-1449) established Drepung Monastery ('bras spungs dgon) outside of Lhasa, and in 1445 Gendun Drub (dge 'dun grub, 1391-1474) established Tashi Lhunpo (bkra shis lhun po) in Shigatse (gzhis ka rtse).

Like the Kadam tradition which the Gelug supplanted, the Gelug place an emphasis on monastic discipline and scholarship. The Gelug pride themselves on their scholarship of the philosophical texts and on their understanding and explication of the view of the Madhyamaka Prasangika philosophical school. They also maintain a strong, if somewhat less public, tradition of tantric transmission, scholarship, and practice. The Gelugpa practice an extensive system of lamrim (lam rim) and lojong (blo ljong), both of which have their origins with Atisha and the Kadampa tradition.

The Gelugpa also have a living tradition and lineage of Mahamudra teachings, which are said to have been transmitted to Tsongkapa via visionary experience of Manjushri. The primary teachings of the Tantrayana studied and practiced in the Gelug are the tantric cycles of Vajrabhairava, Chakrasamvara, and Guhyasamaja. The Kalachakra Tantra is also commonly practiced among many Gelug practitioners.

Around the year 1530 Gendun Gyatso (dge 'dun rgya mtsho, 1476-1542), the rebirth of Gendun Drub built a personal estate, Ganden Podrang (dga' ldan pho brang) in Drepung Monastery, and moved there from Tashi Lhunpo. In 1577 his reincarnation, Sonam Gyatso (bsod nams rgya mtsho, 1543-1588), who was the head of Drepung Monastery, was invited to Mongolia by Altan Khan, leader of the Tumet Mongols. There Altan gave him the title 'Dalai Lama' which was retroactively bestowed upon his previous incarnation, making Sonam Gyatso the 3rd. The full title is ghaikhamsigh vcir-a dar-a say-in cogh-tu buyan-tu dalai, meaning 'wonderful Vajradhara, good, brilliant, commendable ocean.' Altan and Sonam Gyatso entered into a 'patron-priest' relationship (yon mchod) modeled on that of Chogyal Pagpa and Khubilai in the 13th century. For Altan, patronage of the growing Gelug tradition was a way to recreate his forebears' influence in Tibet; for Sonam Gyatso, the opportunity for Mongol support for his missionary work both inside and outside of Tibet (he had earlier spent time on the Amdo borderlands spreading the Gelug teachings) was surely extremely attractive.

Meanwhile, in Lhasa, the Gelug tradition gained the backing of the ruling families, putting them in clear competition with the Kagyu tradition that was supported by the Ringpung (ring pung) family in Tsang. To counter the stronger Ringpung, in the 17th century the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682) and his treasurer, Sonam Chopel (bsod nams chos' phel), who was actively manipulating events, invited the Mongolian leader, Gushri Khan, to bring an army into Tibet and wipe out his rivals. Gushri Khan began his invasion in 1639, overrunning Kham from top to bottom Gushri laid siege to Shigatse for roughly a year, ultimately crushing all resistance and taking control of Tsang. The 5th Dalai Lama also established relations with the nascent Qing Dynasty in China, accepting titles from the Emperor that have been held up as evidence of his acceptance of Tibetan inclusion in the Qing Empire. Despite Chinese claims to the contrary, the the presence of Qing representatives in Lhasa, the Ganden Podrang, the seat of the Dalai Lamas, has been the nominal seat of political power in Tibet, even if for most of the last 400 years real power shifted among a number of players.

Throne-holders of Ganden (dga' ldan khri pa) are the nominal heads of the Gelug tradition. After Tsongkapa, the first holder of the golden throne, was his disciple Gyaltsab Darma Rinchen (rgyal tshab rje dar ma rin chen, 1364-1432), followed by Kedrubje.

Often portrayed as quite conservative both doctrinally and politically, there survives in the Gelug tradition a serious tension between the inclusion of officially proscribed teachings. The 5th Dalai Lama famously repressed the Jonang tradition and forcibly converted a number of Jonang, Kagyu, and Nyingma monasteries. Nevertheless many Dalai Lamas and other prominent Gelug hierarchs have engaged in non-Gelug teachings and practices. This has led to a backlash from more conservative members of the tradition, most visibly in the controversy over the deity Dorje Shugden (rdo rje shugs ldan). This Gelug protector deity is embraced by many Gelug followers, said to be charged with keeping the tradition pure (that is, purging the Gelug of those who embrace other, primarily Nyingma, teachings). Seen by many as an attack on the Dalai Lamas from within the tradition, worship of this deity is discouraged by the current Dalai Lama, who, since going into exile and taking on the role of leader of the Tibetan people, has embraced an ecumenical position unacceptable to more conservative-minded Gelugpa hierarchs.

Miranda Adams, 2009

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. November 2009].
"Manjushri Tsongkapa (founder of the Gelug Tradition), sometimes called the new Kadampa) firmly established himself in the old Kadampa and propagated the teachings of the Vinaya, Sutra, Madhyamika, Prajnaparamita, Secret Tantra, etc. His vast Tradition came to cover the entire earth. He explained his view of the meanings of the Sutras and Tantras with the aid of his special Deity and his own analytical wisdom, which came from the treasure chest of very deep wisdom. Many of the unique qualities of his teachings can be clearly seen in his excellent explanations."

(Excerpt from the Opening of the Dharma, A Brief Explanation of the Essence of the Limitless Vehicles of the Buddha. Written by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. Translated by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Gyatso, Malaysia, October 1984).

The images below are selected examples representing each of the main subject categories that the Gelugpa artworks have been divided into, accompanied by a written explanation.