The Historical Background of “Ganden Tripa”
The Throne of Ganden and Head of Gelug Order of Tibetan Buddhism
Legend has it that the .Buddha had instructed his disciple, Maudgalyayana to conceal Conch Shell in the remote area in the northern part of Indian sub-continent. This area was to become Tibet in the coming times. Thus the seed of Buddhism had already been sown in Tibet as. early as 500 year before the Common Era. Slowly, but gradually the sprout of Buddhism began to surface on the soil of Tibet, first with the appearance of a couple of seminal Buddhist text during the reign of its 28th King, Lha tho tho Ri Nyengtsen (500 AD circa), followed by determined efforts of the 33rd King, Songtsen Gampo (617-698) who had the brilliant minister Thonmi Sarnbhota travel to India for study at the feet of illustrious Indian masters across the Himalayas. Upon return, the minister invented the modern Tibetan script and composed the basic manuals of Grammar. This stimulated the enterprise of translating Buddhist texts into Tibetan and given Dharma discourse in native dialect, right during the reign of Songtsen Gampo himself, with both the king and the minister, among others, being actively involved.
However, it was not until the reign of King Trisong Deutsen (742-844), 37th in the dynasty, that Buddhism took deep roots and spread to every nook and corner. The king invited the celebrated Indian Buddhist Master Acharya Shantarakshita (685-790), a former abbot of the famous Nalanda University, and Padmasambhava (762-804), a renowned tantric master from Odiyan in modern Pakistan The Trio complemcnted each other in clearing away obstacles, establishing monastic communities for learning and practice and overseeing the large scale translation of important sutra and tantric texts throught a strong force of altogether one hundreds and eight Indian scholars collaborating with as many Tibetan translators. In short, as the popular saying goes, Buddhism saw its beginning during the 28th kings, received its formal structure during the 33rd king, and flourished far and wide during the 37th king The mission advanced further with a strong personal interest and royal patronage of the 41st king, Tri Ralpachen (866-910) who supervised the project thoroughly reviewing and standardizing what was already running into a couple of hundreds of volumes during his reign. By this time, Buddhism had been well established and had permeated into the culture of the entire nation. This period is known as the Early Dissemination of Buddha’s Doctrine in history. Of the present four main Order of Tibetan Buddhism, only ‘Nyingma’ (The Old School), following the instruction lineage of Shantarakhita and Padmasambhava, had existed since then.
Unfortunately, during the short reign of the next king, Lang dharma (799-842), 42nd in the dynasty, Buddhism suffered immense setback and decline almost to the point of complete disappearance. Monasteries were razed to ground and libraries burnt Monks and nuns were either killed or force to breach their vows. All Dharma activities were declared illegal, forcing many to go underground for good. Eventually, through their initiative of some individuals and local kings, particularly in the western part of Tibet, streams of aspirants once again treaded the arduous route over the Himalayas to either learn or invite authentic masters from India. Those effort paid off with the production of such indigenous Dharma stalwarts as Lochen Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055) and Marpa Lotsava (1012-1097), to mention a few. Besides, several renowned Indian masters were invited into Tibet. They include Atisha Dipamkar (982-1054) from Vikramashila University who founded ‘kadam’ the first new order of Tibetan Buddhism since the desecration. Following the instructions of Indian adepts, Tilopa, Naropa and Marpa Lotsawa founded the Kagyu Order to which also being the exemplary yogi of Tibet. Milarepa, a renowned translator and Lamdre master Drogmi Lotsáwa (993-1074) travelled to India to learn at the feet of Indian adepts, Virupa, Avadhuti, Acharya Gayadhara, Shakyamitra and others. He later passed on his teachings to Khon Konchok Gyalpo (1034-1102) who founded the Sakya Order. These orders are collectively known as ‘Sarma’ (The New Schools), and this period of revival up to the present day is known as the Later Dissemination of Buddha’s Doctrine. Thus, the Old as well as the New Schools have existed side by side throughout later part.
In the 14th and 15th century, Tibet witnessed an unprecedented reformation and renaissance in the field of spiritual literature, in general, and of the middle way philosophy in particular. This was initiated mainly by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the great reformer and saint scholar who founded the ‘Geluk’ Order of Tibetan Buddhism, the latest of the four main schools. His main source of inspiration was the then existing Kadam tradition, a legacy ofAtisha. However, he ‘received training from early childhood at the feet of numerous masters of all the existing Kadam tradition, a legacy of Atisha. However, he received training from early childhood at the feet of numerous masters of all the existing traditions. He travelled widely in Tibet receiving teachings, lineages and empowerments until he had thoroughly mastered all aspects of Buddhist theories and practices. He propounded a well knitted spiritual pathway incorporating certain new tantric elements integrated with the profound middleway philosophy. Thus he reformed the old Kadam School and created the new one which is also known by the name of the ‘New Kadam’. The New Kadam School spread in the entire region of Tibet, eventually spreading to Mongolia and all other Himalayan Kingdoms, bringing them to Tibetan Buddhism. He himself established the majestic Gaden Monastic University in 1409 in the east of Lhasa, while his direct disciples established the other two universities of a similar scale, Drepung and Sera in 1416 and 1419 respectively. He is revered by Tibetans as an emanation of the Buddha of wisdom (Manjushri), and is believed to have regularly seen and conversed with Manjüshri from an early age. He wrote extensively on every, aspect of Buddhism. His main works being ‘the great exposition on the graded path’ (Lamrim Chenpo) and ‘the great exposition of the path of secret mantra’ (Ngagrim Chenpo) which together present the main futures of all the Buddhist Sutra and Tantra system as well as the difference between Sutra and Tantra, the two division of Buddha’s word. They provided the clearest and most inclusive analysis of the Buddhist path that had yet been written.
Not long before Tsongkhapa passed away, at a ceremonial gathering of his principal disciples, he handed over one of his on robes and the yellow hat to Gyaltsab Je, Dharma Rinchen, thus formally endorsing him as his own successor. This way Gyaltsab Je became the second ‘Gaden Tripa’, the throne holder of Gaden and head of the Geluk order, after Tsongkhapa’s parinirvana with all the disciples concurring on his ascension with an average term of seven year in office, every Gaden Tripa ever since would have excelled in their studies and practice and graduated in colorful grades from any one of the Three Great seats of Geluk Monastic learning. Thereafter, they would have enrolled in either of the two Tantric Colleges, Gyuto and Gyumed, depending on which nation around Tibet or area in Tibet they had initially came from, and gradually serving in the crucial monastic posts, firstly, of the Discipline enforcer, followed by Deputy Abbotship and the Abbotship of the respective college. Thereafter, naturally they que in the line of succession to the throne, with the immediate successors from the two line of succession, known as ‘Jangtse Choeje’ of the Gyumed side and ‘Shartse Choeje’ of the Gyuto, alternating to ascend to the throne.
The Gaden Tripa are, therefore, determined through a rigorous selection process based on merit acamedic achievement, administration experience and seniority. Thus it is not a reincarnation lineage nor hereditary system. Just as the popular saying goes, “The throne of Gaden is free of monopoly, any capable and qualified son of mother can attain it”, the line of succession to the throne is entirely based on the excellence of scholarship and spiritual integrity.