Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen
Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen was
born in 1923 in the Kham province of eastern Tibet. His parents named him
Jamphel Yeshe, and at a young age he was inspired by the example of his uncle
who was a monk at the local monastery. When the boy was only seven he and his
family decided that he would enter monastic life. For nine years he studied
sutra and tantra and received teachings on dialectics under the tutelage of
Geshe Jampa Thaye, a highly respected teacher from Sera Monastery.
When he was sixteen Geshe
Gyeltsen decided to continue his studies and left for Lhasa, the capital of
Tibet, to study for his Geshe degree at Sera. The Geshe degree in the Gelug
school is comparable to a western doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. The
difference is that it usually takes more than twenty years to complete.
Geshe-la set out on the
thirty-three day trek across twenty-five mountain passes, the only monk in
a party of fifteen merchants and pilgrims. Near Lhasa, they stopped near Gaden
Monastery where some monks invited Geshe-la for tea the following day. The next
morning as he climbed the hill toward Gaden, he saw the great monastery for the
first time looking as though it was touching the sky. He wept tears of joy and
knew without question that it was here, and not Sera, where he would continue
his studies. That day was the anniversary of Tsong Khapa's enlightenment. in the
evening the light offerings of butter lamps and the sound of chanting filled
every room in the monastery, and Geshe-la felt deeply moved by its spiritual
He joined Shartse College,
one of Gaden's two main colleges. The abbot was Zong Rinpoche who took a special
interest in the young monk's progress. Geshe Gyeltsen studied logic, wisdom,
compassion, ethics, phenomenology, and mind training at Gaden for twenty years
and became a teacher of junior monks.
After the Tibetan Uprising
of March 10th 1959, word reached Gaden that the Dalai Lama had left Tibet. Geshe-la
and a group of six other monks left the monastery after evening prayers and made
their way to India across the Himalayas; members of a mass exodus fleeing the
oppression of the Chinese Communist occupation. Geshe-la was one of the few
senior monks who managed to escape out of the twenty thousand monks that had
lived at Gaden, Sera, and Drepung monasteries.
Geshe Gyeltsen, with fifty
of the most highly regarded monks from each monastery, resettled at Dalhousie in
northern India where he studied for two more years before taking his final Geshe
examinations. These were attended by masters from all schools of Tibetan
Buddhism. The last week of his exams took place in Dharamsala, where Geshe-la
engaged in rigorous debates under the scrutiny of the Dalai Lama and his two
senior tutors, Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche. He passed with honors and was
awarded the highest degree of Lharampa Geshe.
In 1963 Geshe-la traveled
to Sussex, England to teach at the Pestalozzi International Children's Village.
He arrived with twenty‑two Tibetan children who were mostly orphans or the
children of parents still living in Tibet. For seven years Geshe-la instructed
these children in Tibetan writing, grammar, culture and Buddhist philosophy.
Geshe Gyeltsen came to the
United States in 1976 and briefly held positions at the University of California
at Santa Barbara and the University of California at Los Angeles where he taught
meditation and Tibetan language. His university students requested that he start
a teaching center and in 1978 Geshe-la founded a center for the study of Tibetan
Buddhism in Los Angeles.
Geshe-la requested His
Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to name the center and His Holiness named it
Thubten Dhargye Ling, which means Land of Flourishing Dharma. Thubten Dhargye
Ling is now based in Long Beach where Geshe Gyeltsen offers classes in
meditation, holds retreats, celebrates religious holidays and gives regular
teaching on Buddhist texts, including the Lam rim or Stages of the Path. Geshe-la
has invited many eminent masters to teach at his center including Zong Rinpoche
and Lati Rinpoche.
was the fourth time
that Thubten Dhargye Ling has sponsored the visit of His Holiness to Los
Angeles. In 1984 His Holiness taught Tsong Khapa's Three Principle Paths and
gave an Avalokitesvara initiation. He returned in 1989 and conferred the
Kalachakra initiation and taught from the Thirty Seven Practices of a
Bodhisattva. in 1997 he gave the initiation of Sakyamuni Buddha and gave a
commentary on Nagarjuna's Precious Garland at UCLA.
Gyeltsen is the author of Compassion: The Key to Great Awakening, a
commentary on the Eight Verses of Mind Training and the Thirty Seven Practices
of a Bodhisattva and Mirror of Wisdom: Teachings on Emptiness, a
commentary on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun
and the Heart Sutra.
has founded centers in Alaska, Texas, Colorado, Mexico, and England. Geshe-la
has also been involved in the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California, a
group of representatives from various Buddhist countries dedicated to furthering
understanding between Buddhist cultures. He actively works for human rights and
true autonomy for the Tibetan people. One of his goals is to further education
and religious study in Tibetan Communities in India.
is known for his great compassion and personal warmth; yet he retains a very
traditional and uncompromising approach to teaching the Dharma. His strength of
vision and devotion to his practice transcend time and culture, and he continues
to inspire his students with the legacy he has brought from Tibet.
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