Geshe Palden Tsering
Geshe-la as he was called using his scholastic title, was also known by his full ordination name Losang Geleg. Although he appeared as a simple ordinary monk, his inner qualities of compassion and wisdom were profound. He taught his students skillfully, acting sternly with some students, but more often than not being a kindly grandfather figure, with a wonderful sense of humour, a generous spirit, and fondness for parties to foster a sense of community and as a means to attract people to the dharma. He constantly worked for the benefit of others, resolving both worldly and spiritual problems experienced by those seeking his advice and help. You can get a glimpse of his everyday life from this article in Mandala Magazine in 1995.
Geshe-la was born 1934 in Zakok, in the Derge region of Kham in Eastern Tibet. At the age of eight, he took the novice monk ordination and joined Za Gonsar Trashi Ganden Choepel Ling Monastery, where his elder brother and uncle cared for him. On becoming a monk, he received the name Lobsang Thinley. Until he was fifteen he studied language and literature.
Then together with his brother he travelled to Lhasa, Tibet's capital, in order to join Sera Jey Monastery, which was one of the three great monasteries of the Gelug tradition existing in Tibet at that time. The journey from their home monastery took three months, walking all the way carrying their luggage on their backs.
At Sera Jey monastery on Lhasa’s outskirts, Geshe-la studied for 7 years completing the topics of Signs and Reasoning (Tib. ta-rig), Awareness and Knowing (lo-rig) and Tenets (drub-ta) as part of the Geshe degree. In 1959, due to the Communist invasion, Geshe-la fled from Tibet, together with his teacher, the Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. They arrived in India after almost a year of rough and dangerous travel by way of a circuitous route. For three years Geshe-la lived in Kalimpong with his teacher, “doing a lot of cooking with very good cooks” and continuing his studies on the side. Then for eight years he lived in Buxa, a place allocated to the refugee monks by the Indian government. There, Geshe-la’s studies included Epistemology (Pramana), the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita), Middle Way Philosophy (Madhyamaka),
Metaphysics (Abhidharma), and Monastic Discipline (Vinaya).
From 1971, Geshe-la lived in Dharamsala, situated in the Himalayan foothills, where he was studying, while also cooking and serving his teacher. Being the seat of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile, many great teachers of the Tibetan tradition also resided there, notably His Holiness, His Holiness' senior and junior tutors Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, and many distinguished scholars and practitioners. For these fifteen-odd years, Geshe-la pursued his studies, receiving many rare and precious teachings of both sutra and tantra, including many commentaries and initiations. In 1973, Geshe-la took the full monk (bhikshu) ordination from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in South India.
During 1986 Geshe-la travelled as the attendant for Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey who was conducting a teaching tour throughout Austraila. Then, in 1987, Geshe-la took his final monastic examination (Geshe exam) at Sera Jey Monastery in South India in the presence of 5000 monks, receiving the Rigrampa Geshe degree, equivalent to a Doctorate of Philosophy.
For three years from 1988 Geshe-la lived with Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey in Dunedin, New Zealand and during that time, while continuing to receive teachings, initiations and oral instructions, he also obtained valuable training in teaching others. In 1992, Geshe-la came to Dorje Chang Institute in Auckland where he was the resident teacher until 2002. During this period Geshe-la travelled to Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia for teaching purposes as well. Geshe-la gave regular teachings on sutra, bestowed initiations, and led and engaged in retreats. Over the ten years at the Institute, Geshe-la taught many important texts, including Lama Tsongkhapa's Middle-Length Lam-Rim and Pabongkha Rinpoche's Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, two of the eighteen major Gelug commentaries in the Stages of the Path (lam-rim) tradition.
He also led many nyung-ne fasting retreats and the fire pujas for his own and others’ enabling retreats. Where possible, Geshe-la gave the Eight Mahayana Precepts on the major holy days. Geshe-la drew on the vast knowledge and experience he had gathered over the years, having received instructions and practiced in all the Tibetan traditions. The Nyingma Dzogchen master Trulshik Rinpoche from Solo Khumbu in Nepal and the Sakya master Dagchen Choktrul Rinpoche from Kham were among the twelve lamas that Geshe-la relied on throughout his life. Geshe-la also requested Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche to give the Drikung Phowa Chenmo teachings at Dorje Chang Institute, and encouraged all of his students to receive this transmission.
In 2003 Geshe-la started this centre, with the blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who named it Trashi Ganden Choepel Ling, the same as Geshe-la's home monastery in Tibet. In all activities, Geshe-la taught with a mind of loving-kindness and compassion, caring greatly for his students. Especially, his thought was to give help and to bring benefit to others.
In the final years of his life, Geshe-la continued to teach while also undertaking a long personal retreat. He became ill with cancer and had to interrupt his retreat after consulting with his teachers. Having entrusted the future of the centre to the trustees, he departed for India to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his other living teachers, and complete the activities of this life. Much to the sorrow of his students, Geshe-la passed away in Dharamsala on 2nd September 2007.
Rituals were conducted by monks of his house in Sera Jey Monastery, where Geshe-la had served as house teacher. Master Chang Lin, the founder and abbess of Pu Shien Temple in Ellerslie, Auckland, was also a student and patron of Geshe-la. She kindly hosted a memorial ceremony at her temple in lieu of a funeral as Geshe-la's cremation took place in India. The 49 day ceremonies were observed at the centre under the guidance of Geshe Sangye Thinley and Geshe Dhonam, including weekly Avalokitesvara practice, construction of an Avalokitesvara sand mandala by Jam Tse Dhargyey Ling monks, and a concluding Heruka Guru Puja. A stupa was commissioned to enshrine a portion of Geshe-la's remains, and the consecration was performed in 2010 by a gathering of geshes, monks, nuns, and lay students led by Za Choeje Rinpoche.