Tiktse Gompa – Seat of the Gelugpa in Ladakh
In the early 15th century Je Tsongkhapa sent six of his disciples to remote regions of Tibet to spread the Buddhadharma of the New Translation School. One of these pupils was Sherab Sangpo, who came to Ladakh and founded a small monastery at the end of the valley in the village of Stakmo. His disciple, Palden Sherab carried on with the work of his teacher and founded Khrig-rtse Gompa, Tiktse Monastery on a sacred hill above a village with the same name. The 12-storey monastery contains numerous stupas, statues, tankhas, wallpaintings, pillars engraved with the Buddha’s teachings, sacred shrines, and many precious objects.
The 15-m high Buddha Maitreya statue in the Dukhang.
The Gelug School traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni, as do the Kagyu, Nyingma, and Sakya Lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. The Gelugpas integrated the teachings of the Kadampa Tradition that was founded by Palden Atisha very decisively.1
Je Tsongkhapa, who was born in the year 1357 in the Tsongkha region of Amdo, founded the Gelug Tradition. The Government of Tibet in Exile wrote that the Fourth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje, gave him the lay ordination name Kunga Nyingpo when he was three years old and that Tsongkhapa received many teachings and initiations at a very young age. He travelled extensively in search of knowledge, studied with more than a hundred masters of all traditions, and also engaged in extensive meditation retreats. It is written that he did “millions of prostrations, mandala offerings, and other forms of purification practices. He frequently had visions of meditation deities, especially of Manjushri, with whom he could communicate to settle his questions about profound aspects of the teachings.
The Government of Tibet in Exile tells us that“Tsongkhapa had thousands of disciples in Central and East Tibet. In addition, he wrote a great deal. His collected works, comprising 18 volumes, contain 100 titles relating to all aspects of Buddhist teachings and clarify some of the most difficult topics of sutrayana and mantrayana. Some of his major works are: The Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo); The Great Exposition of Tantras (sNgag-rim chen-mo); The Essence of Eloquence on the Interpretive and Definitive Teachings (Drang-nges legs-bshad snying-po); The Praise of Relativity (rTen-‘brel bstod-pa); The Clear Exposition of the Five Stages of Guyasamaja (gSang-‘dus rim-lnga gsal-sgron); and The Golden Rosary (gSer-phreng). Among his many disciples are: Gyeltsab Dharma Rinchen, Shedrub Geleg Pelsang, Gyalwa Gendun Drub, Jamyang Chojey Tashi Pelden, Jamchen Chojey Shakya Yeshe, Jey Sherab Sengey, and Kunga Dondup.“Tsongkhapa passed away at the age of 60 on the 25th of the 10th Tibetan month, entrusting his throne in Ganden to Gyeltsabjey. So began a tradition, which continues to the present day. The 99th successor to the Ganden throne, and thus the formal head of the Gelugpa, is Ven. Yeshi Dhondup.”2
Je Tsongkhapa is “the founder of the Drok Riwo Ganden, widely renowned as Ganden Monastery (…) outside Lhasa, which became the main seat of the Gelug tradition. The name of this lineage is derived from the name of the monastery that he founded. This tradition has further developed many other great seats, which were established by many of his disciples throughout the centuries.“Among all the schools of Tibet, the Gelug School puts the most emphasis on pure philosophical studies.”3 The Government of Tibet in Exile wrote, “The Gelug tradition regards sound scholarship as a prerequisite for constructive meditation, hence the teachings of both sutra and tantra are subject to rigorous analysis through the medium of dialectical debate.“In general, the curriculum of study covers the five major topics: the perfection of wisdom, philosophy of the Middle Way, valid cognition, phenomenology, and monastic discipline. These five are studied meticulously by the dialectical method using Indian texts as well as Indian and Tibetan commentaries to them, often textbooks unique to each monastic tradition, for a period of 15 to 20 years.”4 The site of His Holiness the Karmapa added, “On completing this training, a monk is awarded one of the three levels of the degree of Geshe (Doctorate of Buddhist Philosophy), Dorampa, Tsogrampa, and Lharampa, of which the highest is the Geshe Lharampa. A Geshe then has the choice to either join the Tantric Colleges, to study further and complete the tantric training, to return to his monastery and teach other monks, or to go into long term meditation retreat. This tradition of intensive study remains vibrant even in the exile situation in India.”5 Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche speaks about a subtle difference in the views, “The Kagyu and Nyingma sects generally hold the Shentong position, while the Gelug generally holds the Rangtong position.”6
In the short life-story of Kyabpa Jigten Sumgon it is stated that by the 13th and 14th centuries the Drikung Kagyu School had established monasteries in Wanla, Alchi, Saspol, and Phiyang and that after the 15th century the Gelugpa School established itself in Ladakh and became the focus of royal patronage at Spituk, Likir, and Tiktse. By the turn of the 16th century the power and influence of the Gelug School of Buddhism in Central Tibet had grown immensely. Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama, strengthened Tibet’s political power when he brought Buddhism back to Mongolia in 1578. The Fourth Dalai Lama was born in Mongolia but sent to Tibet for his education. In 1642, “Gushri Khan placed the spiritual and political rule of Tibet in the hands of the Fifth Dalai Lama. He unified Tibet under the control of the GelugSchool of Buddhism.”7
View from the roof of Tiktse Monastery of stupas that were constructed more than 800 years ago and over the farthest reaches of the entire heartland. Like other monasteries, Tiktse only seems to come to life when festivals are celebrated, especially during the offering of sacrificial cakes for the welfare of the country. Little stalls are set up with refreshments and shops for the many visitors who wish to take part in the annual monastic event.
Choglamsar is a home and school for Tibetan refugees, who are welcome in Ladakh, and isone of the very many projects founded and heedfully sponsored by Irmtraut Waeger since the early 1970’s.
With special gratitude to the webmaster of Thrangu Rinpoche’s site, Lee Miracle, for his patient and unfailing assistance.May virtue increase!All photos taken by Gaby Hollmann in 1984, compiled in 2006.
1 See the life-story of Palden Atisha in Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche, Seven Points of Mind Training, in section of his teachings in this website.2 The Government of Tibet in Exile, The Gelug Tradition, in the site: Tibet.com/Buddhism/gelug, January 2006. See also Monasteries and Their Founding Lamas, in the site: Gomang.org, March 2006.3 Website of His Holiness the Kamapa, The Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, in: Kayuoffice.org/Buddhism, January 2006.4 The Government of Tibet in Exile, The Gelug Tradition, ibid.5 Website of His Holiness the Kamapa, The Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, ibid.6 Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, An Aspirational Prayer of Mahamudra, Namo Buddha Publications, Boulder, 2001, p. 32. -See Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche’s short explanation on the difference between Rangtong and Shentong Hemis Gompa in this site.7 Rise of the Geluk School, in the site: Wikipidea.org/History of Tibet, January 2006.