| INTERVIEW -
HIS HOLINESS the 101th GANDEN TRIPA
Supreme Head of the Gelugpa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
The following is an interview with His Holiness the 101th Ganden Tripa, the Supreme Head of the Gelug Tradition.
The interview is conducted on the occasion of His Holiness the 101th Ganden Tripa’s first official visit to Singapore.
The interview is conducted by Kunga Nyima and is translated by
Associate Professor Huang Yi Yan of Taiwan.
It is conducted on 18 June 2003 at His Holiness’s residence in Singapore.
His Holiness the 101th Ganden Tripa is hosted on His first Official Visit to Singapore from 25 May 2003 to 23 June 2003 by the Charitable Assistance Society.
A Short Biography of HH the 101th Ganden Tripa
Q: What is the most essentially fundamental thing for a Buddhist?
A: Buddhists should know that samsara is suffering. We need to realize that samsara is
suffering first before we will try to obtain liberation from it. The only way to liberation from
samsara is through following the Teachings of the Buddha. According to the Texts, only by
following the Buddhist Teachings can there be ultimate liberation from samsara.
Q: What is the most important thing a Buddhist should remember?
A: A Buddhist should always remember the 3 Jewels: the Buddha, His Teachings [The Dharma ]
and His Assembly of Noble Disciples [ The Sangha ].
A Buddhist should clear internalize the supreme qualities of the 3 Jewels.
In general, the Buddha is like a doctor, the Dharma is like medicine and the Sangha is like
nurses and assistants to the doctor. We, sentient beings, in samsara, are like the patients. We
need to take the doctor’s prescription to get well. Moreover, we also need to rely on the
doctor and his assistants too.
A Buddhist needs to always take refuge in the 3 Jewels as well as to remember the qualities
of the 3 Jewels.
Q: How do we sustain "Bodhicitta": the attitude of completely dedicating ourselves for the
welfare of others; of wanting to attain the state of Complete Enlightenment or Buddhahood
solely for the good of others?
A: To put the Teachings into practice is difficult. If we can put the Teachings into practice, this is
real Bodhicitta. If we cannot, this cannot be Bodhicitta.
To give rise to Bodhicitta, we must first cultivate Loving-kindness [ Wishing all beings to
have happiness and the causes of happiness ] and Compassion [ Wishing all beings to be free
from suffering and the causes of suffering ]. Next, we must think of the kindness of our
mother. Then, we need to remember the kindness of all beings as they have acted as our
mothers in countless past lives. Following, we need to cultivate the wish to repay the
kindnesses of all these uncountable mother sentient beings.
To put Bodhicitta into practice is difficult. If we can put Bodhicitta into practice, this is real
Bodhicitta. If we cannot put Bodhicitta into practice, this cannot be genuine Bodhicitta.
Always try to sustain a good-heart. Do not be bothered about what others do. Just try to
sustain a good-heart. This is the way of the true Buddhists.
Q: Is vegetarianism compulsory? It has been suggested that cultivating crops kill untold
numbers of insects whilst the slaughtering of only one yak in old Tibet can feed the whole
family for a week. Therefore, from the numerical point of view, this group of people suggests
that we should consume meat of big-size animals rather than eating vegetables which
inevitably entail the death of countless creatures. Moreover, some masters have insisted on
vegetarianism as compulsory for a Buddhist whilst others quoted Buddhist texts to the
contrary. What is Your Holiness point of view?
A: In general, Lord Buddha has taught 3 differing points with regard to vegetarianism.
In the first one, in the Theravada tradition, it is taught that we cannot take the so-called three
categories of "Impure Meat": a) we perceive through our eyes or ears the killing of the meat;
b) we suspect that the meat is killed for ourselves; c) we know that the meat has been killed
for us. Besides these 3 categories of meat, we are permitted to partake of the rest.
In the second one, in the Mahayana tradition, it is taught explicitly that the taking meat is
necessarily unskillful and wrong. So vegetarianism is compulsory here.
In the third, in the Vajrayana tradition, it is taught that practitioners of this path should take
meat. The reason for this is given in the texts and requires extensive explanations. It is not
appropriate for me to elaborate here.
Students of Buddhism can choose to follow any of these 3 points. It is not possible for me to
dictate which points students should follow.
Q: There have been some Buddhist centres concentrating mainly on doing social work whilst
some concentrating mainly on spiritual practices. What is Your Holiness’s opinion on what
a Buddhist centre should concentrate on?
A: Doing both social work and spiritual practices are not contradictory but are in fact
complementary. Both have their own reasons for doing their respective work. Shantideva
said in "Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life" that the perfection of generosity does not
mean that one can only perfect the practice of generosity after one has alleviated the poverty
of all sentient beings. Lord Buddha has already perfected the practice of generosity.
However, there is still poverty in the world. Therefore, this proves the point as elucidated in
"Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life" that to perfect the practice of generosity means to
be able to perfect the activity of generosity from the point of view of one’s spiritual practice
rather than from already physical completion of the alleviating of poverty of all other beings.
Following this point of argument, cultivation of generosity through various spiritual
practices is important.
Even if I can help, I can only but help but a minute proportion of beings through doing social
work. Even if I can help 1000 beings, this is still a small proportion relative to the population
of Singapore and the number of beings in the whole universe.
There are 3 sets of vows: the Self-Liberation Vows; the Bodhisattva Vows and the Vajrayana
Vows. All these 3 sets of vows contain the Practices of the 6 Perfections including of course
the practice of generosity. Some examples of how we can exercise the vows include one
assisting if any beings fall sick or have other difficulties, one helping to guard banks as they
contain the wealth of many beings! From this point of view therefore, social work is therefore
an essential part of dharma practice.
In addition, however, we must also remember Shantideva’s teaching that the
accomplishment of the perfections lies in one’s mind through spiritual practices also.
Therefore, there are valid and good reasons for social work as well as spiritual practices.
There is no need to split them into two different groups.
Q: There have been comments that Buddhists from almost all traditions, be it Tibetan, Thai or
even the west, have been building too much big statues, stupas, centres and even monasteries
and that Buddhists should instead expend more of their resources on social welfare projects
such as hospitals, animal-shelter-homes, orphanages and others that directly benefit beings
in more tangible ways. What is Your Holiness’s opinion about this?
A: All are good. All can accumulate merit. Building hospitals or monasteries are good. Both
activities are not wasteful.
Q: Some Buddhist centres will only support or circulate news of activities organized by their
own centres. Some will even through either implicit or even explicit means, discourage their
members from attending programmes organized by other centres even if these programmes
are conducted by acknowledged great masters and are beneficial. It has been suggested that
these centres are trying to maintain the number of students or followers in their centres as
they are worried that their resources will be "lost" to other organizations. On the other
hand, these centres claim that they are only trying to "protect" their students from even
some of these important teachers, some of whom are even teachers of their centres’ own
spiritual advisers. What does Your Holiness think about this?
A: I have no comments. If I say something, some people may get angry with me! [ laughing ]
Q: Will there be an end to samsara?
A: It is difficult to say if there will be an end to samsara. It is mentioned in the texts that all
beings will eventually become Buddhas. But before that, samsara is there. It is also
mentioned in the texts that there does not exist a time where all beings will be free from
Q: There have been allegations of conversions of Buddhists to other religions through deliberate
and aggressive inaccurate depiction of Buddhism, conditional provisions of material aid,
educational opportunities and such. What does Your Holiness think of this?
A: We have to try our best to propagate the Buddhist Teachings. We have no ability to stop
these alleged practices. It is also no good for us to stop conversions through "fair" means.
The main thing is to develop and improve ourselves. We need to establish more Buddhist
centres. We need to improve the management of existing centres. Just like how other
religions spread their teachings, Buddhists should also follow likewise. We should not think
of going against other religions however!
Conducting certain religious ceremonies or "pujas" for welfare of the Buddhist teachings is
also another method.
According to the Buddhist Teachings, it is considered negative karma to desecrate the
Buddhist teachings. Similarly, we should not desecrate teachings of other religions.
We simply need to improve ourselves with diligence. In the context of Tibetan Buddhism,
the Sakyapas will need to preserve and propagate teachings of the Sakya Tradition. The
Kagyupas, the Nyingmapas and the Gelugpas will similarly need to do likewise.
Q: What does Your Holiness feel about the state of Buddhism in the west?
A: Buddhism has been taught and transmitted in the west but it is difficult to ensure that every
Teaching has been taught and learnt well. There is definite room for improvements in terms
of the way the Buddhist centers are being managed, the way the western students are
learning the teachings, the way these students are practicing the teachings, the way in which
the teachings have been taught and others. Another matter of concern is that many Tibetan
teachers in the west have no place of their own.
Q: Does Your Holiness feel that it is timely and appropriate to introduce the Bhikshuni or
Fully-ordained Nun’s Order into Tibetan Buddhism?
A: I have not much comment about this matter.
Q: Does Your Holiness feel that the "tulku" system or the system of finding reincarnated
teachers is still relevant today?
A: There are still many masters getting recognized today. I do not know whether it is still
Q: What is Your Holiness opinion of astrology and divination?
A: Some people believe in them and some people do not. I personally have not much opinion
about this matter.
Q: There have been great concerns and fear almost amongst Vajrayana students in both the east
and west, on their need to, at all cost, at least read through the meditation text of their
yidam daily as they have been told to do so by their teachers during initiation ceremonies of
which they participated. These students considered missing doing the meditation of their
Yidam or missing reading through the relevant text even for a day a serious transgression of
their vow or commitment. What is Your Holiness’s opinion about this matter?
A: The main point is not to simply and blindly read through the Yidam’s meditational text or
"sadhana" daily without understanding.
The main point is to keep strictly to our best ability all the commitments we have taken: the
Self-liberation, the Bodhisattva and the Tantric commitments.
It is good and important to do the meditational text of your yidam daily especially if you
have promised to do so daily but this is not the main point. The main and most important
point is to keep the above 3 sets of vows to our best ability.
If you have promised your Teachers to do certain "sadhanas" or "Practice Texts" daily, you
should definitely try to do them daily. If you really cannot do it due to sickness, it is perfectly
fine. But you should continue after you have recovered from your sickness.
If you miss your "sadhana" due to that you have forgotten to do it, you should still continue
to do it the very next day. You should also do at least 21 times the long Vajrasattva 100-
Syllable Mantra or to do the "Confession to the 35 Buddhas" the very next day.
If for whatever reason you miss your "sadhana" such as not having the time due to work,
you should let your Teacher know about it and then re-take the particular initiation again. In
the meantime, before say you can re-take the initiation again, continue with the practice. You
should also do at least 21 times the long Vajrasattva 100-Syllable Mantra or do the
"Confession to the 35 Buddhas".
If owing to work commitments you cannot continue with your daily practice of the promised
"sadhana" anymore, you should let your Teacher know about this. If you are not able to let
your Teacher know about this or your Teacher has already passed away and you still cannot
continue to do your practice daily, you should then do at least 21 times the long Vajrasattva
100-Syllable Mantra or do the "Confession to the 35 Buddhas" daily.
It is important to check if there is any commitment that comes with any particular initiation.
If you are not able to keep the commitments, you should not take the initiation.
If a student has promised to do say 5 "sadhanas" a day, the student should not decide for
himself or herself without consulting their Teachers first whether he or she can simply do
only one "sadhana" in place of all the rests daily.
However, it is also important that students should not feel unreasonably or overly upset or
fearful of missing daily practice for whatever reasons.
Q: How will Your Holiness describe Your relationship with HH the Dalai Lama?
A: His Holiness the Dalai Lama has taken care of me in my past lives. His Holiness has taken
care of me when I was just a newly-ordained monk, when I was the Abbot of the Tantric
College of Upper Lhasa, Abbot of Ganden Shartse Monastery, when I was the Lord of
Dharma of the Eastern End or the "Sharpa Choje" and even when I am now the Ganden
Tripa or the Supreme Head of the Gelugpa Tradition. His Holiness is one of my precious
Root Teachers. I have taken a photograph with HH the Dalai Lama this year [ May 2003 ].
There is nothing in the world that I cherish more.
Then, not forgetting also, that His Holiness is, in some ways, my "boss". [ giggles]
Q: Does Your Holiness practise the controversial protector Shugden banned by HH the Dalai
A: Did you not hear of the announcement made by HH the Dalai Lama in front of nearly
300,000 people in Bodhigaya in December 2002 about this? I did not do the practice of this
protector. [ laughing ]
Q: What is Your Holiness’s opinion on a student being non-sectarian and doing practices or
receiving teachings and initiations from all the 4 Tibetan Buddhist lineages?
A: I feel that it is best if a practitioner can do the practices of all these four lineages without
discrimination. However, it may be difficult for some unless they have the capacity.
On the other hand, it is also possible for a practitioner to concentrate only on one lineage.
However, this latter practitioner even concentrating only on one lineage, needs to have
sincere and genuine respect and appreciation for all the other lineages he or she is not
As we are Buddhists, we all said the Refuge Prayer in which it is mentioned that we take
refuge in the Community of Noble Ones. This means the beings who have gained
Enlightenment. These beings can be found in all the different lineages. Therefore, when we
take refuge, we take refuge in these Enlightened Beings in all the lineages. If we accept only
those Enlightened Beings found in our lineage and reject those Enlightened Beings of other
lineages, what we do and say are different. I consider such sectarian attitude or behaviour a
very serious breach of Buddhist commitment.
In summary, if we have the ability, it is best if we can follow teachings from all the lineages.
Otherwise, we can concentrate on learning from any one of the lineages that we have affinity
towards but at the same time maintaining sincere and genuine respect and appreciation of
the other lineages.
The Gelugpa Tradition
Q: Can Your Holiness tell us the distinguishing characteristics of the Gelugpa Tradition of
which You are the Official Head?
A: Both in the west and the east, people recognize the Gelugpa monks by the yellow pointed hat
they wear. This is the special characteristic! [ laughing ]
The uncommon feature of the Gelugpa is that outwardly, the Gelugpa monks adopt a
subdued and gentle form of the Shravaka practitioner who live according to the Vinaya rules
of the Sutra Vehicle whilst inwardly possessing the full realization of the Generation and
Completion Stages of the Tantra Vehicle.
The Gelugpa Tradition perceives the Sutra and Tantra Vehicle as complementary and not
Q: Does Your Holiness feel that Tibetan Buddhism, in particular, the Gelugpa Tradition, has
been upheld well in exile?
A: I feel that in general, Tibetan Buddhism has been relatively well preserved. In India, the
number of monks in the great monasteries has increased due to diligent efforts. However,
efforts to make further progress beyond the current situation may be difficult as most efforts
have already been expended towards preservation itself. One of the difficulties faced by the
monks is that as they are now in exile, they have to take care of their livelihood themselves
such as growing crops in the fields. In Tibet in the past, monks only need to study and
practise without having the need to work for their own living.
Q: Does Your Holiness feel that there could be some changes introduced into the Geshe study
programme followed by the great monasteries of the Gelugpa Tradition?
A: There have been some suggestions about this. The five great texts that form the curriculum of
the Geshe study programme is not for the purpose of winning debates. The debates are not
to be only done in mouth but are to be followed by actions throughout the 20 to 30 years of
study. The debates are not mere games.
Before we can start practising, we need first to know what and how to practise and this we
can achieve through studying.
Both Lord Buddha and Je Tzongkhapa have said that before we accept any of Their
teachings, we need first to behave like a goldsmith examining the purity of his goods. A
goldsmith will first need to smelt the material under investigation. Next, he will need to
dissect the gold into appropriate sizes. Finally, he will need to shape the material. Similarly,
too, before we accept or commence any practices, we need first to investigate carefully the
sources of these practices through correspondingly adopting the above three processes,
whether they originate from the Buddha or any of the Indian or Tibetan lineal Teachers.
Study will assist in this task.
There have been suggestions too to introduce scientific study into the Geshe study
programme. In general, I feel that studying science is good. However, the study and practise
of the Buddha’s teachings is the only ultimate way to the liberation of all beings from
samsara and for us to become a Buddha so that we can liberate all beings from samsara.
Towards this objective, studying the Buddha’s teachings is sufficient. All the 500 Arahants of
the past have achieved this without requiring study of science. Studying the Teachings is not
to just acquire knowledge or to acquire official paper certificates. Studying the Teachings is
to free oneself from samsara and also that oneself can become a Buddha to liberate all beings
from their sufferings. Again, towards this aim, studying of the Teachings is sufficient. There
is no further need to include the study of science. However, to be a famous scholar
recognized by the world, we will then need to study both the Teachings and science!
[ laughing ]
The study of the Teachings is so that we can gain wisdom to realize Emptiness which is the
ultimate nature of phenomena. The study of the teachings entails the following three stages:
Listening to the teachings; contemplating what we have heard; putting into practice what we
have learnt. We need to listen to the teachings first before we can contemplate on them.
Before we can contemplate, we first need to listen to what has been taught. If we do not
listen, we cannot contemplate and subsequently, there is nothing for us to practise!
Therefore, first, we need to seek for knowledge through listening and studying the teachings.
I personally started to study the great texts when I was 25 years old. I am now 77 years old
and still I feel that I have not learnt enough.
In addition to the Gelugpa tradition, the other 3 traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, the Sakya,
the Nyingma and the Kagyu all contain examples of great realised masters who studied the
Teachings extensively. In the Sakya tradition, we have Sakya Pandita. In the Nyingma
tradition, we have Longchen Rabjampa. In the Kagyu tradition, the lineal Karmapas and
Dhakpo Lhaje or Gampopa are such great beings. All these masters learnt and studied
extensively the great texts and do not rely simply on merely one text alone.
In recent years, some teachers have taught that it is sufficient to rely only on the tantric
practices of the Vajrayogini [ Naro Kachodma ] and the Solitary Yamantaka. On the other
hand, it has been suggested that the current strong emphasis on the tantric practices of the
Vajrayogini [ Naro Kachodma ] and the Solitary Yamantaka instead of the combined tantric
practices of the 32 Deity Guhyasamaja, the 62 Deity Heruka Chakrasamvara and the 13
Deity Yamantaka recommended by Je Tzongkhapa are signs of the degeneration of the
tantric practices in the Gelugpa tradition. What is Your Holiness’s opinion on this matter?
The Vajrayogini or Naro Kachodma practices is not introduced into the Gelugpa Tradition
by Trijang Rinpoche but popularized earlier by masters such as Pabongka Rinpoche as
Pabongka Rinpoche is considered to be an emanation of Naropa who is Himself the first
Lineage Master of this tantric cycle. Trijang Rinpoche is Himself strongly affiliated to the
Vajrayogini cycle as even HH the Dalai Lama pronounced that Trijang Rinpoche is a great
practitioner of both the Heruka and Vajrayogini cycles.
In general, Je Tzongkhapa’s three meditational deities or yidams are the 32 Deity
Guhyasamaja, the 62 Deity Heruka Chakrasamvara and the 13 Deity Yamantaka. Amongst
these 3 yidams, Tzongkhapa especially meditates on Guhyasamaja and wrote most
extensively and deeply on this practice. Guhyasamaja is in fact Tzongkhapa’s main practice.
Both Guhyasamaja’s and Heruka’s meditation texts are long whilst Yamantaka’s text is
relatively shorter. The genuine good practitioner of the Gelugpa tradition must do all these
three practices inseparably.
I have personally heard HH the Dalai Lama taught before that doing the practices of these 3
yidams inseparably is not exactly to mean to read the meditation texts of these 3 yidams
separately. The point is to extract the essential and critical features of each of these 3
respective yidams and to subsequently integrate them into any one of these 3 yidams which
one has adopted as one’s main yidam.
For example, if your main yidam is Yamantaka, you integrate the essential features of each of
these 3 yidams into Yamantaka and you then concentrate on the practice of Yamantaka.
Similarly, if your yidam is Guhyasamaja, you then integrate the essential features of each of
these 3 yidams into Guhyasamaja and you then concentrate on the practice of Guhyasamaja.
This applies also if your yidam is Heruka.
The past great lineage Gelugpa Masters similarly do practices of these 3 yidams inseparably.
The recent great lineage Gelugpa Masters such as Ling Rinpoche [ who is the 97th Ganden
Tripa and the Senior Root Teacher of the present Dalai Lama ], Trijang Rinpoche [ who is the
Junior Root Teacher of the present Dalai Lama ] and Zong Rinpoche all practise these 3
yidams inseparably. These great masters have definitely mastered practices of these 3
Some teachers may have taught their students only to concentrate on Vajrayogini and
Solitary Yamantaka because their students may not have the ability or time to do the
practices of these 3 great Yidams.
However, in general, genuine Gelugpa practitioners who have the ability should do the
practices of these 3 great Yidams as His Holiness the Dalai Lama advised.
Q: What is Your Holiness’s opinion on mercy-killing or euthanasia?
A: To kill another being before his or her natural death involves the negative karma of killing
even if he or she themselves request to end their lives or if they are already unconscious on
life-support and their next-of-kin decides to end their life on their behalf.
Q: Does Your Holiness think that it is permissible to abort babies if they are conceived through
rape or if giving birth to the baby endangers the mother’s life or if the baby is so chronically
handicapped that it will die within a few seconds or minutes of its birth?
A: Any form of abortion will involve the negative karma of killing a being.
Q: What is Your Holiness’s opinion on experiments being done on animals for the alleged
benefit of human beings?
A: According to the Buddhist Teachings, giving suffering to another being is wrong.
Q: What is Your Holiness’s view on homosexuality?
A: Homosexuality seems to be getting more common in the world these days. Homosexuality,
like heterosexuality, are both activities of samsara. Neither seems to be particularly better or
worse than the other. Whether a man or woman is straight or gay does not make him or her
any particularly better or worse than the other. In general, both are activities of lay people.
Not that, however, that there is no karma involved in homosexuality, only that it is just like
heterosexuality, another activity of samsara.
Q: What is Your Holiness’s opinion of genetic engineering?
A: I do not know whether it is correct or wrong.
Q: Does Your Holiness think it is permissible to eradicate "pests": animals or insects which are
harmful to human beings such as mosquitoes, cockroaches, rats and such?
A: All beings are the same. It is considered negative karma to kill any being. Even if these
animals infect human beings with diseases, according to the Buddhist Teachings, it is still
considered an unskillful action to harm or eradicate them. However, to say not to stop
diseases getting spread to human beings as a result of infections from these animals also
does not seem to be totally correct. It is very difficult to decide. No matter which stand you
take, it is still very difficult.
Q: What is Your Holiness’s opinion of the so-called "pre-emptive strikes"?
A: There is one viewpoint that claims that crippling your enemy’s military resources first before they
initiates a brutal onslaught on civilians is actually a skilful means to protect lives. The
other viewpoint is that "pre-emptive strikes" initiates aggression first from one’s side
without provocation from the other and is therefore wrong.
It is difficult to decide.
Q: What is Your Holiness’s wish for the world?
A: I wish all beings in the world happiness, health and also that they will live even better.
Presentation from the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
A Short Introduction to Buddhism
[ As informal accompanying notes to the above interview with HH the 101th Ganden Tripa for friends unfamiliar with the Buddhist teachings ]