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Ganden monastery near Lhasa in Tibet

Ganden Monastery

Tsongkhapa was born in 1357 in the north-eastern province of Tibet, Amdo. During the time of the Their Dalai Lama his birthplace was marked by the erection of the Kumbum Jampa Ling Monastery near Xining. While stull very young he was recognised as possessing unusual spiritual qualities and as a young man was sent to Central Tibet to understanding of Buddhism in the more cultured region of the country. The monastrey he visited was that of Drigung, where he studied the doctrines of the Kagyu lineage and medicine. “From here he proceeded to Netang Samye, Zhalu and Sakya monasteries. He met his main teacher Rendawa at Tsechen Monastery just outside Gyantse. For many years he studied the full range of Buddhist philosophy, including the more esoteric tantric systems. Then he retreated to Lhoka, north of the Brahmaputra downstream from Tsetang, and spent the next four years intense meditation. Upon retuning to society he found himself much in demand as a teacher. One place where he taught was the hill in Lhasa on which the Potala was eventually built. Together with Rendawa he stayed for sometime at Reting where he composed his most famous work. The Great Exposition of the stages on the Path to Enlightenment. After another meditation and writing retreat at Choding Hermitage (above where Sera Monastery is now ) he founded, in 1409, the famous annual Monalm (prayer) festival in Lhasa, which after a twenty five years hiatus, was rein-augured in 1986.

After the prayer festival he decided to cease tracelling from place to place and to found his own monastery. He selected Mt. Drokri, a mountain upstream from Lhasa, and called the monastery ‘Ganden’ which is the Tibetan name for the Pure Land of Tushita, where the future Buddha Maitreya currently resides. Within a year seventy buildings had been completed but it was not until 1417 that the main hall of the monastery was consecrated.

Tsongkhapa died at Ganden two years later in 1419, and shortly before his death passed the mantle of succession to Gyeltsab Je, one of his two chief disciples. Gyeltsab Je held the position of Ganden Tripa (Throne Holder of Ganden) until his own death twelve years later, then it is passed to Tsongkhapa’s other chief disciple Khedrup Je. The post of Ganden Tripa was later given to the senior Dharma Master of one of the two main Ganden Colleges, Jangtse and Shartse. It was a five year post for which to qualify one must first have obtained a geshe degree with highest honours (Lharampa) proceeded to the abbotship of Lhasa tantric Colleges, and from there been appointed Dharma Master of either Jangtse and Shartse college. The tradition has been continued in India and the current Ganden Tripa Jampel Shen pen, is the 98th in the succession. It is the Ganden Tripa, not the Dalai Lama, who is the official head of the Gelukpa order. During his lifetime Tsongkhapa was regarded as a remarkable spiritual figure whose genius and saintliness held him above the sectarian differences of his times. Although greatly inspired by the example of Atisha, to the point of attributing authorship of his major written work to him and the spirit of the Kadampa tradition, Tsongkhapa nonetheless studied widely with representatives of all the major orders in Tibet and assimilated their lineages. It is unlikely that the intended from his own order though he must have realized, it was liable to happen. He could not have foreseen, though the dimensions this order (the Gelukpa) would eventually assume and the political power it would wield.

Over the following centuries Ganden Monastery grew to the size of a small township delicately perched along the high sheltered slopes of the mountain and it used to have 3300 monks.

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