About the Gelug Tradition

The Gelug tradition is the youngest of the four major Buddhist traditions in Tibet, being 600 years old. The tradition's founder, Lama Tsongkhapa, gathered the various streams of study and practice lineages descending from Indian and Tibetan masters into what he considered the most effective combination for complete awakening. Starting from Ganden Monastery that he founded towards the end of his life, the Gelug tradition grew into largest of the four traditions in Tibet.

Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug lineage

A traditional thangka depiction of Lama Tsongkhapa

The teachings and practice of Lama Tsongkhapa emphasised reliance on logic and reasoning in studying the great Indian treatises, dealing with topics such as valid cognition (pramana), the presentation of the path to awakening in the Perfection of Wisdom sutras (Abhisamayalamkara), Middle Way philosophy (Madhyamaka), metaphysics (Abhidharma), and monastic discipline (Vinaya); a thorough grounding in the general teachings based on the Stages of the Path (lam-rim) instructions of master Atisha; and the combined practice of the Vajrabhairava, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara tantric systems, with an emphasis on Guhyasamaja as the main practice. These formed the distilled essence of the Buddha's vast teachings which Lama Tsongkhapa considered the most beneficial for the disciples of his time, based on his own learning and spiritual experiences. Being tireless in his compassionate and wise activities, his legacy included a collection of some 210 writings, and countless disciples throughout Tibet who continued the lineage of blessings that flourishes to this day.​

Ganden Monastery in Tibet

The reconstructed Ganden Monastery in Tibet.


Credit: Antoine Taveneaux, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Institutionally, Gelugpas were the dominant tradition in Tibet and Mongolia. The disciples of master Tsongkhapa established numerous monasteries, such as the six major monasteries of the tradition: Ganden, Sera, Drepung (once the world's largest monastery with 10,000 resident monks), Tashi Lhunpo, Labrang, and Kumbum; the Upper and Lower tantric monasteries, Segyu monastery, and many others to preserve and uphold the lineage. After the Tibetan exile, many of these monasteries have been re-established in India.

104th Ganden Tripa Losang Tenzin Rinpoche, Sharpa Choje Losang Dorje Rinpoche, and Jangtse Choje Gosok Rinpoche, the three most senior lamas of the Gelug lineage at the re-established Ganden Jangtse Monastery's prayer hall in India.

The three Dharma Lords of the Gelug lineage in the main prayer hall of the re-established Ganden Jangtse Monastery in India. In the centre is the incumbent 104th Throneholder of Ganden (Ganden Tripa), Losang Tenzin Rinpoche, successor of Lama Tsongkhapa and head of the lineage. To the left is the Eastern Dharma Lord (Sharpa Choje), Losang Dorje Rinpoche, who is next in line to the throne. To the right is the Northern Peak Dharma Lord (Jangtse Choje), the 5th Gosok Rinpoche Ngawang Sungrab Tenzin Gelek, second in line to the throne.