It is commonly believed that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Tibetans. Although His Holiness the Dalai Lama is widely respected, this information is in fact inaccurate. In Tibetan Buddhism, the majority of practitioners are adherents of the Gelug tradition and the supreme spiritual head of this lineage is known as the Gaden Tripa.
The Gaden Tripa is the Throne Holder to the seat of Lama Je Tsongkhapa. Considered the representative of Lama Tsongkhapa on earth, the position of the Gaden Tripa is highly significant due to the degree of influence and prevalence of the Gelug tradition. The very first Gaden Tripa was Gyaltsab Je, one of Lama Tsongkhapa’s two heart sons, who held the throne from 1419 to 1431.
To better understand the magnitude and significance of this position, below are some of the many Gelug monasteries that view His Holiness the Gaden Tripa as their supreme head of their lineage, as well as the approximate number of monks that live in some of them:
- Gaden Monastery (consisting of 3,000 monks)
- Drepung Monastery (consisting of 6,000 monks)
- Sera Monastery (consisting of 10,000 monks)
- Gyuto Tantric Monastery (consisting of 500 monks)
- Gyumed Tantric Monastery (consisting of 500 monks)
- Tashilhunpo Monastery (consisting of 300 monks)
- Gaden Sumtseling Monastery (consisting of 700 monks)
- Kirti Gompa Monastery (consisting of 600 monks)
- Denma Gonsa Monastery (consisting of 5,000 monks)
- Riwo Choling Monastery
- Chatreng Sampheling Monastery
- Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s Monastery
- Chamdo Gaden Jampaling Monastery
- Segyud Monastery
- Samding Monastery
- Rato Dratsang
- Labrang Monastery
- Kumbum Monastery
- Namgyal Monastery
- Dhetsang Monastery
- Amdo Tashikyil Monastery
- Thiksey Monastery
- Alchi Monastery
- Phelgye Ling Monastery
The above list consists only of the larger monasteries, and does not take into account the countless smaller Gelug monasteries throughout Tibet that would also view His Holiness the Gaden Tripa as the supreme leader of their lineage. It too does not take into account the millions of Tibetan Gelug practitioners throughout Tibet who would fold their hands to the Gaden Tripa and follow his every word.
What is unique about the position of the Gaden Tripa is that it is an appointed office, and not a reincarnation lineage. This means the office is highly meritocratic, and appointment to the role is not reliant on birth, position or rank. It is instead reliant on study, practice, the holding of vows and therefore the level of respect a practitioner gains as a result of doing all of this perfectly. Thus anybody, even an ordinary monk, can ascend to the throne of the Gaden Tripa and through the power of his practice, become able to influence millions of scholars and practitioners on the Buddhist path.
The position of Gaden Tripa is held for only a seven-year term. Thus there have been many more Gaden Tripas than Dalai Lamas to date (102 against 14). The most recently retired Gaden Tripa is His Holiness Jetsun Lungrik Namgyal, who was the 101st Gaden Tripa.
Learn more about the Gaden Tripa system and the 101st Gaden Tripa:
Witness the respect the Gaden Tripa received among the Sangha community of Tibetan Buddhism
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Gaden Tripa received among the Sangha
Biography of His Holiness Gaden Trisur Rinpoche Jetsun Lungrik Namgyal Rinpoche
His Holiness Gaden Trisur Lungrik Namgyal Rinpoche, the 101st Gaden Tripa, was born in 1927 in the Dawa region of Eastern Tibet. At the age of 8 years old, His Holiness joined the local monastery in Yangding and was consequently ordained as a monk.
Later His Holiness entered Gaden Shartse Norling College. While a student there Rinpoche studied Pramana Vidya (Logic), Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom), Madhyamika (Middle Way Philosophy), under the guidance of various highly attained Masters, and also received many precious teachings and empowerments of the pure Gaden lineage.
During the Chinese revolution in 1959, Rinpoche escaped to India. Arriving at Buxa along the border of India and Bhutan, he continued his studies and completed the Madhyamika (Middle Way Philosophy), Abhidharma (Treasury of Knowledge), and Vinaya (Spiritual Rules and Moral Law). Apart from the normal course of studies, Rinpoche often went for meditation retreats. In 1969, Rinpoche revised through the five major treaties of Buddhist philosophy and participated in the final exam at a renowned local Tibetan University, graduating in the 1st position of honor.
In 1970, a major debate exam which lasted over a period of 20 days was held. Candidates included over 30 outstanding scholars from the 3 great monasteries and other universities. Rinpoche still managed to emerge on top and the title of Geshe Lharampa was officially conferred upon him. Consequently, Rinpoche joined the Gyuto Tantric University and focused on intensive study of the Tantras.
In 1983 and 1992, the Dalai Lama appointed Rinpoche as the abbot of Gyuto Tantric University and abbot of Gaden Shartse Norling Monastery respectively. During the years of Rinpoche’s abbotship, apart from supervising the administration and discipline of the Sangha, he also conducted various pujas and teachings personally. Rinpoche’s contribution towards the monastery is widely recognised, and deeply respected by all. In 1986, these remarkable qualities inspired the Dalai Lama to choose him as the representative of Buddhism in Ecumenical Encounters of Assisi interfaith meetings convened on the initiative of Pope John Paul II in Italy.
In 1995, Rinpoche was bestowed the honorary rank of Shartse Choje (2nd rank among dignitaries of the Gelug tradition). After 6 years in that position, on January 20, 2003, the Dalai Lama, during his Kalachakra Empowerment in Bodhgaya, announced the appointment of Venerable Lungrik Namgyal as the 101st Gaden Tripa – the supreme head of the Gelug tradition, and literally, the Holder of the Throne of Tushita.
Rinpoche is one of the most qualified Buddhist teachers alive today – being highly trained in both fields of Sutra and Tantra. Rinpoche has dedicated his whole lifetime to the propagation of the Buddhadharma, and has been tirelessly visiting many parts of the world to spread the Teachings. Countries which Rinpoche has visited include – France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, America, China, Taiwan and Singapore. His Holiness Trisur Rinpoche currently lives in Paris, where he transmits precious Buddhist teachings of his lineage in Thar Due Ling Dharma center in Chelles, France which he founded in 1980.
His Holiness Gaden Trisur Rinpoche and Dorje Shugden
In 2010, His Holiness the 101st Gaden Tripa successfully completed his term of office as the Gaden Throne-holder without blemish. After stepping down, he came to hold the title of His Holiness the Gaden Trisur, ‘Trisur’ meaning ‘Tripa Emeritus’. His Holiness the 101st Gaden Trisur primarily resides in France, but also has his private household and office (known as a Ladrang) in Karnataka, India, Kathmandu, Nepal and Yangding, Tibet.
His Holiness the Gaden Trisur studied for and received his Geshe degree in Gaden Shartse Monastery. During his time there, His Holiness was a member of Dokhang Khangtsen*. Gaden Shartse was home to 1000 monks who were intensely dedicated to the pursuit and realization of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition. In this community, Geshe Lungrik Namgyal (as he was known before ascending to the Gaden throne) achieved renown as a pure monk who held his vows well. He also gained a reputation for being an erudite scholar, direct in his speech and no-nonsense in his attitude – yes is yes, and no is no, and although His Holiness manifests a strict demeanour, he is also known to be incredibly kind.
Later, when Geshe Lungrik Namgyal was selected by the Dalai Lama to become the Gaden Tripa, he devoted himself to promoting Gelug lineage as a living example of Tsongkhapa’s teachings. Those who are aware of his works and deeds will find it impossible to utter a single negativity about him, since His Holiness never once gave cause for criticism or doubt to be directed against him. He is truly a person who showed by example that by focusing on one’s practice, an ordinary being can become extraordinary.
As the Gaden Tripa, this monk of stainless repute never journeyed back to Gaden Shartse Monastery to swear in or take an oath that he gave up Dorje Shugden. Upon the completion of his term as the Gaden Tripa, in January 2010, His Holiness officially left Gaden Shartse Monastery. He joined Shar Gaden Monastery immediately, in a move echoing those of other elite lamas such as His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche and His Eminence Domo Geshe Rinpoche.
His Holiness the Gaden Trisur’s departure from Gaden Shartse was a surprising development as His Holiness is a very senior Lama within the Gelug hierarchy. Being a former and living throne-holder of the Gelug lineage, His Holiness even ranks above the current Gaden Tripa since he is senior in order of ascension.
His Holiness the Gaden Trisur’s actions demonstrate that, contrary to the claims of the Tibetan leadership, not ALL lamas and ALL Gaden Tripas are in agreement with the ban on Dorje Shugden. They in fact demonstrate that His Holiness is an unwavering practitioner of Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition, which includes the practice of Dorje Shugden. Having represented Lama Tsongkhapa on earth for seven years, His Holiness’ decisions – whether about Dorje Shugden or otherwise – can be trusted since he firmly believes that simply because something is a rule, does not mean it has to be followed unless it brings benefit and it arises from logic. Otherwise, it has been reported, His Holiness will not hesitate to speak up if necessary.
Some may ask why His Holiness did not reveal his practice during his tenure as the Gaden Tripa. In fact, His Holiness had all along not been happy with the Dorje Shugden ban but did not speak against it. Realising the preciousness of his position, he refused to act in a manner that would stain the reputation of the office he held. Thus he waited until he became an ‘ordinary’ monk again, before making his practice known so that any attacks would be personal to him, and not to the position. Actions like these make it clear to us that His Holiness is without ego, valuing Dharma above politics, and it is clear this attitude has influenced his most loyal and closest students.
Because His Holiness joined Shar Gaden Monastery, his private household and office (Ladrang) joined too. This Ladrang is located in Gaden Shartse, and conveniently borders Shar Gaden Monastery, with just one wall separating the two locations. When Shar Gaden Monastery held a series of teachings in 2009/2010, all of Trisur Ladrang’s students attend although they had not yet joined Shar Gaden.
During the time of His Holiness’ departure from Gaden Shartse, his assistant was sent to speak with the current Gaden Shartse abbot to inform him that His Holiness Gaden Trisur Rinpoche was leaving Gaden Shartse Monastery to join Shar Gaden. It was exactly what happened with Trijang Rinpoche and his Ladrang in Gaden. Thus as of 2015, two influential and significant Ladrangs from Gaden Shartse have left to join Shar Gaden.
Although His Holiness the Gaden Trisur has left Gaden Shartse, his throne will remain in Shartse just like Trijang Rinpoche’s throne for should the throne be removed, then Gaden Shartse’s link with these high lamas will be severed. His Holiness Gaden Trisur Rinpoche was the student of the previous Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang whom he remains totally devoted to. His Holiness the Gaden Trisur is also very devoted to his Dorje Shugden practice and has never abandoned it. He is an erudite master and scholar. Some people may say, “Oh, many of the high Gelugpa lamas have given up the practice of Dorje Shugden” but I disagree. Many of the high Gelugpa lamas have not given up Dorje Shugden; if they have not been practising openly, then they have been practising secretly and now more and more are coming out to practise openly. There are high-ranking lamas who will stand up for what they believe. With time, more and more monks will join Shar Gaden Monastery because they remain loyal to their lineage, lamas, and practices.
His Holiness the Gaden Trisur gives us strength, inspiration and much-needed courage to stand up and say there is nothing wrong with Dorje Shugden’s practice and we will continue on. From the bottom of my heart and the depths of my being, I fold my hands and place my head on His Holiness the Gaden Trisur’s lotus feet that he will remain for a long time with us, bless us and continuously bestow teachings as he is Lama Tsongkhapa on earth.
*khangtsen – fraternity houses in the monastery, categorized by regions in Tibet for administrative purposes
Additional information about His Holiness the 101st Gaden Trisur Jetsun Lungrik Namgyal Rinpoche:
- He is a ‘no nonsense’ lama. Yes is yes, and no is no.
- He is very direct, open and straightforward.
- He is staunchly loyal towards H.H. Trijang Rinpoche.
- He will not go along with the rules just because they are rules. He will think about it and speak up if necessary.
- He looks strict, but actually he is direct.
- He was unhappy with the Dorje Shugden ban, but kept quiet all this time, and refused to go to swear in at Gaden Shartse Monastery. He wanted to speak out, but he thought about the sanctified position of Gaden Tripa, so he thought it would be better for him to finish his term, and speak up when he was an ‘ordinary’ monk again with no position. Then, if anyone ‘attacked’ him, it would just involve him as an individual, and no harm would come to the position and create undue and unnecessary problems for the Gelugpas on the whole.
- Gaden Trisur Rinpoche has a large ladrang with land in Gaden Shartse Monastery; it conveniently borders with Shar Gaden Monastery. His ladrang is right next door to Shar Gaden, separated by one wall only. When Shar Gaden Monastery had a series of teachings (in 2009 / 2010), all of Trisur Ladrang’s students attended.
- Gaden Trisur Rinpoche is also raising funds and spending his own funds to improve and offer needed items to his provincial monastery in Yangding Tibet. He has recently sent a large set of Tsongkhapa images from Nepal to Yangding.
- Gaden Trisur Rinpoche hails from Dokhang Khangtsen of Gaden Shartse Monastery, but he had kept his Dorje Shugden practice quiet.
His Holiness Gaden Trisur Rinpoche Jetsun Lungrik Namgyal who was the 101st Throne Holder of Tsongkapa gives us so much strength, hope and inspiration. We thank H.H. Gaden Trisur Rinpoche from the bottom of our hearts. With tears streaming down my face as I type this to everyone here. H.H. Gaden Trisur Rinpoche’s assistant said that he went to meet Gaden Shartse’s current abbot and told the abbot that their province in Tibet, their lamas, their lineage, their monasteries in Tibet all practise Dorje Shugden and that they would not be able to give up the practice.
H.H. Gaden Trisur Rinpoche could not give up the practice of Dorje Shugden, he had completed his 7 year term of office as Gaden Tripa and now he is a Trisur, he had resigned from Gaden Shartse Monastery and joined Shar Gaden Monastery to continue to practise Dorje Shugden freely.
A blessed letter bestowed upon me
by His Holiness the 101st Gaden Trisur Jetsun Lungrik Namgyal
(February 13, 2008)
His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche, from the Monastic Seat of Gaden Shartse, is an exceptional master who has intentionally taken birth for a noble mission. To take upon himself the responsibility of upholding the pristine and golden dual sutra and tantra Legacy of Manjunatha Tsongkhapa, who re-discovered the wide and ancient pathway shown by the historical Buddha, Tsem Rinpoche sought ordination into Buddhism at his personal initiative, and progressed along his training strictly according to the Vinaya.
At Gaden Monastic Seat, he also studied the Abhidharma and Sutra Pitaka. He has diligently put into practice whatever he has learned. Particularly noteworthy about Rinpoche is that he has engaged in aspects of generosity practice, such as offerings to the Buddha and the Sangha members, that are truly noteworthy and impressive.
Among his many endeavors, Rinpoche is currently involved in the challenging task of building an exceptional image of Manjunatha Je Tsongkhapa rising to 108 feet in height. Such an undertaking demands immense effort, forbearance and perseverance. I would like to recommend that this worthy project deserves the whole-hearted support of the benefactors of the Dharma. With my heartfelt prayers that this endeavor of Tsem Tulku Rinpoche will be fully realized.
101st Successor to the Throne of Gaden
February 13, 2008
His Holiness the 101st Gaden Trisur Rinpoche wrote a foreword for my book “Compassion Conquers All”
(Admin) The book has since been repackaged (2014) and can be purchased here:
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