His Holiness the 100th Ganden Tripa and
the Tibetan Buddhist education system
The Cultural Revolution more than 30 years ago caused the Snow Lion to shake off snow flakes on its body, stalk out of its snowy reign, fling open the door to the western world the teachings of Lord Buddha.
However, much as the Lion's roar has awakened the western realms, how, though, is it going to enter into the world of the common people, enlightening them?
The key is in learning English.
True. In the history of the Gelugpa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, it is rare indeed for its Throne-Holders to endorse or even encourage its monks' efforts to master a foreign language. The present official Head of the Gelugpa Tradition is just such a rare being.
During the interview, His Holiness said, "Although the society has changed extremely rapidly, Buddhism has still a practical role to play. Nowadays, outside of Tibet, the Tibetan monks have an even more urgent need to improve themselves such as through learning of the English language."
As a result, with the permission and even encouragement from Tibet's overall leader, the Dalai Lama, the Ganden Tripa, whilst holding the post of the Abbot of the Tantric College of Lower Lhasa and the Abbot of Namgyal Monastery [ the Dalai Lama's own personal monastery ], in addition to improving the monks' sutric and tantric education syllabus, the Ganden Tripa also introduced the so-called "modern" subjects of English, Mathematics amongst others with the help of both local and western instructors. This becomes an important facilitator for the western seekers of the Buddha's teachings.
The Ganden Tripa's introduction of these never-before changes to the Tibetan Buddhist education system exerts a significant degree of impact upon the generally-perceived veiled arena surrounding Tibetan Buddhism - it is now poised and has adapted itself to the value of its own preservation.
The 100th Holder of the Throne of Tzongkhapa -
the Supreme Spiritual Head of the Gelugpa Tradition
His Holiness the 100th Ganden Tripa's name is Lobsang Nyima. His Holiness is aged 72.
Since 5 years ago, He has inherited the exalted position of Tzongkhapa, the Founder of the Gelugpa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. [ Tzongkhapa Himself being the first Ganden Tripa ]
This is the first time, the Ganden Tripa is in Singapore. His Holiness is here to conduct Buddhist teachings and Buddhist Initiation Ceremonies at the invitation of the Charitable Assistance Society.
Worthy of note is that although the present Ganden Tripa is not selected on the basis of his being the reincarnation of a high lama, due to the belief of a prophecy by Tzongkhapa that the 100th incumbent of His spiritual throne will be that of His own emanation, the present Ganden Tripa is greatly revered by all His followers and casted upon His identity, an unfathomable mystery.
The Ganden Tripa feels that education is very important, believing that this is the essential key to the preservation of Tibetan culture. His Holiness said that the Tibetan monks should go deep into the inner meanings of the scriptures to discover their own "inner Tibet". His Holiness feels that without internalisation of knowledge or inner awakening, the Tibetan culture will be shaky and weak just as how things tend to decay first before getting completely rotten.
"After fleeing to India, our ancient Tibetan Buddhist culture is in danger of total elimination altogether. I feel a special responsibility to take care of the younger monks' welfare, that they can have the opportunity to a complete education. From here, they can then help to preserve their own spiritual heritage."
Pacifier of man-eating tigers and wild elephants
Compassionate gaze, loving smile, unshakable meditative posture, His Holiness is just like the gentle, warm old grandfather.
Probably also from such compassion, it is said that while helping in the construction of the Tantric College of Lower Lhasa in south India, the ravenous tigers and trampling elephants are tamed at the sight of His Holiness.
Of course, being the perfect Buddhist practitioner that a Ganden Tripa is, such "miraculous" events are simply carelessly brushed aside. His Holiness, in fact, always carries Himself in a most humble manner, never allowing Himself to become the center of any discussion.
Touching upon the subject of His escape from Tibet, the Ganden Tripa is surprisingly relaxed and undramatic, speaking as if the escape is not about Himself but about another person, "Of course there is physical hardship. However, this deepens my faith in the Buddha's teachings and makes me into a stronger person. Whatever has to happen, no one can escape"
His Holiness is born in 1928 in a small village in Eastern Tibet. He became a monk at the age of 12 in a local monastery. At the age of 17, He entered into Drepung Monastery near Lhasa to further pursue His Buddhist studies.
In 1959, at the age of 31, the Ganden Tripa, following the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India where He received His Geshe degree [ equivalent to Doctorate in Buddhist philosophy ], entered the Tantric College of Lower Lhasa to pursue intensive study of Buddhist tantras, worked all the way from the lower hierarchy of monkhood up to become the Abbot many years later.
In 1984, He became the Jangtse Choje, the next-in-line to the Ganden Tripa.
11 years later, in 1995, He formally became the supreme spiritual leader and the Official Head of the Gelugpa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism - His Holiness the Ganden Tripa.
While acting as the Abbot of the Tantric College of Lower Lhasa, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama appointed Him to also become the Abbot of His own personal monastery in Dharamsala, the prestigious Namgyal Monastery. The Ganden Tripa held this position for a full 6 years.
Commenting on His relationship with the Dalai Lama, the Ganden Tripa said, "We enjoyed an extremely close relationship. He [ the Dalai Lama ] is a completely dedicated leader who exerts every effort for the well-being of the Tibetan people. Recollecting these years, what makes me truly satisfied is that I have never let down the Dalai Lama's expectations."
Love to "work for Lord Buddha"
For the past 10 years, His Holiness has lived in south India's Drepung Monastery. The Ganden Tripa wakes up at 6 every morning to start teaching over 2000 monks for the next 5 hours or more, attend to administrative duties, study the scriptures, compose Buddhist commentaries, formally recognise and enthrone reincarnated high Tibetan teachers as well as to attend to other countless spiritual responsibilities.
The Ganden Tripa has also been to the United States of America, Mexico and Japan to teach.
Although the attendant said that owing to slight high blood pressure and diabetes, the Ganden Tripa gets tired easily, His Holiness interjected, "Not tired. I like working for Lord Buddha."
Speaking on His personal spiritual cultivation, the Ganden Tripa said, "I cannot perform miracles. I cannot fly or disappear into the earth. I only try to remember my religious aspirations and precepts. I try to apply them in my daily life."
What is a Ganden Tripa ??
Although a Ganden Tripa need not necessarily be a tulku or the reincarnation of a high lama, a Ganden Tripa is accorded protocol only privileged to that for a Dalai Lama or a Panchen Lama: the "royal" parasol, the eight auspiscious symbols above which He walks over, the precious incense vases and the like.
This underscores a significant point in Tibetan Buddhism. With its reverence for reincarnated high lamas, Tibetan Buddhism also holds in high esteem, lamas who practise hard and attain realization in the present life.
In Tibetan, "Ganden" here refers to the entire Gelugpa Tradition [ not to be confused with Ganden Monastery who also carries the same name ]. "Tripa" means the "Throne-holder". Hence, the "Ganden Tripa" means "The Throne-holder of the Gelugpa Tradition" which in effect means the Official Head and supreme spiritual leader of the Gelugpa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
The precious lineage of the Ganden Tripas can be traced from 581 years ago to the founder of the Gelugpa tradition, Tzongkhapa [ the first Ganden Tripa and the Main Teacher of the first Dalai Lama ]. This holy line survives right up to the imposition of Chinese influence in Tibet - the reign of the 97th Ganden Tripa [ Ling Rinpoche who is also the Main Teacher of the present Dalai Lama ]
The route to becoming a Ganden Tripa is not as fascinating or exciting an account as that of the discovery of a reincarnated lama.
A top Buddhist philosophy graduate from any of the three great Gelugpa Monasteries of Drepung, Sera or Ganden, known as Geshe Lharampa, [ translated as "Spiritual Friend" ] may choose to enrol in either the Tantric College of Lower Lhasa [ "Gyumey" ] or the Tantric College of Upper Lhasa [ "Gyuto" ] - the only two main Gelugpa tantric collleges that specialise in transmitting of the tantric teachings.
From here, the monk may get promoted to become the Disciplinarian or "Gegu" in Tibetan.
A year later, the monk may again get promoted to become the Assistant Abbot or "Lama Umdze" in Tibetan.
Three years later, the monk may then rise to become the Abbot or "Khenpo" in Tibetan.
Another three years later, the monk may retire to become the Abbot Emeritus or "Khensur" in Tibetan.
[ the translator's note: each stage of "promotion" is not necessarily automatic and the span of years dividing each "promotion" is not definite ]
The Abbots Emeriti from both the Tantric Colleges of Lower and Upper Lhasa respectively possess the possibility of further promotion. The Abbot Emeritus from the Tantric College of Upper Lhasa [ "Gyuto Khensur" in Tibetan ] will occupy the next higher position of "Sharpa Choje" while the Abbot Emeritus from the Tantric College of Lower Lhasa [ "Gyudmed Khensur" in Tibetan ] will occupy the next higher position of "Jangtse Choje".
The "Sharpa Choje" and "Jangtse Choje" are literally known as the "Lords of Dharma" of the Gelugpa Tradtion. These two "Lords of Dharma" take alternate turns to occupy the highest position in Gelugpa - the Ganden Tripa.
All the Ganden Tripas hold their post for a full 7 years.
A retired Ganden Tripa, known as a "Ganden Trisur", is, by now, of highly advanced age.
For the ordinary monk, a direct and uninterrupted elevation to the position of Ganden Tripa takes a modest estimate of at least fifty years. Indeed, most of the eligible candidates pass away to the "Pure Realms" long before then.
A living Ganden Tripa is a supreme spiritual head. A reincarnated Ganden Tripa is a so-called "living Buddha" or "tulku" in Tibetan.
Therefore, only a Ganden Tripa can be uniquely addressed as "Tri Rinpoche".