Gaden Shartse Chenresig Center, located in Westminster, CA, is a sister center of the Gaden Shartse Monastery, one of the three major Gelug Monasteries in India.
Buxar Choegar: The First Monastic Complex Established After Exile
After China invaded Tibet in 1959, it was deemed favorable for the monks to follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India. They travelled through Mon Tawang, Bhutan, Lo region and other places to seek asylum in India.
His Holiness requested the Indian government for a place to provide a new academy for non-sectarian religious studies in order to restore and preserve the Tibetan culture. Consequently, Buxar Thoesam Thardoeling monastery was established in Buxar. Around 1,500 monks from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism were recruited and sent there to study and contemplate their respective religious philosophy texts for the next 10 years.
Relocation from Buxar Thoesam Thardoeling to South India
Although the 1,500 monks from all schools of Tibetan religion – Sakya, Geluk, Kagyu, and Nyingma – had generally made great achievements in their studies during the 10 years in Buxar, the monastery existed only temporarily because the monks faced many difficulties and problems acclimatizing to the location: water, weather, and other elements. Under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government, a project to relocate the monks from Buxar to South India was initiated in 1969. The abbot at the time, Lobsang Choephel, and 131 monks relocated to the Tibetan settlement camp in Mundgod where they initially lived in donated tents, five monks in each tent. While the monks focused mainly on their studies, they also worked to generate income in order to be self-sufficient and not be completely dependent on donations and assistance from others. During the day, the monks labored in the fields, started clothing businesses, set up factories, provided prayers and ritual services, worked at dairies, and so forth. In the evening, they attended dialectic debate classes, memorized and recited scriptures, and studied philosophical texts. As a result of their hardships and efforts put in, improvements were made each year in both their studies and livelihoods. Currently, the monks spend the majority of their time on their studies and practice.
The Number and Origin of Monks
There were more than 3,000 monks in the monastery in Tibet but there were only 132 monks during the relocation from Buxar to South India in 1969. As of 2022, there are approximately 1,500 monks in Gaden Shartse. The majority of the monks are from Tibet, Tibetan settlements, and the Himalayan regions such as Mon, Ladakh, Spiti, Kinnaur, Gasha, Nepal, and Bhutan. There are also a few Indian and monks from other countries.
The primary topics and texts studied at Gaden Shartse Monastery are Buddha’s sutra and tantric teachings and their commentaries composed by Indian panditas, works of Je Tsongkhapa and his two disciples (Gyaltsab Je and Khedrup Je), and works of Panchen Sonam Dakpa, Chim Jampel Yang’s commentary on Abhidharmakosha, Tsonawa’s extensive commentary on Vinaya, and Je Gedundrup’s Vinaya Jewel Garland.
Duration of Study
A student’s education begins with two years of preliminary classes followed by five years of primary education. Then come four years of studies on the Collected Topics and one year on Pramana (from the beginning of the text to the section on Lungyal). The remaining topics of Pramana are studied during the Winter Debate Sessions “Jang Gunchoe” which take place during the Prajna-paramita and Madhyamika classes. After that are five years on Prajnaparamita, three years on Madhyamika, two years on Abhidharmakosha, and two years on Vinaya. After completing 17 years of study, the advanced students spend six years preparing and sitting for the six annual Great Geluk Exams.After receiving the geshe degree, they go to either Gyuto or Gyumed Tantric Colleges to further their studies in tantra for a year. Thereafter, they continue to study tantra for another three years in the monastery and sit for the tantric examinations.
Attaining the Geshe Title
Once they have completed the six-year annual Great Geluk Exams, the students receive the Geshe Lharampa degree and are awarded the Geshe Lharampa title. Those who do not sit or complete the Great Geluk Exams are awarded the titles of Geshe Tsokrampa, Choetri, and Tsoksok after graduating from the monastic college. The geshes who do not go to Gyuto or Gyumed Tantric Colleges posit their tantric theses (tantric “dhamcha”) during the summer retreat and attain the title Geshe Uma Shering. Most geshes do go to Gyuto or Gyumed Tantric Colleges to further their studies in tantra after receiving their geshe degrees.
As a preliminary to attaining the geshe degree and title, one must participate in one of the dhamcha of Kachupai Mingtak, Ramjampai Shepa, Lingse or Doram.
Most geshes continue to stay in the monastery to give Dharma discourses to hundreds of monks after receiving their geshe degrees. They uphold the “victory banner” of studies and practice through listening and contemplation. Some devote their whole lives to spiritual practices by going to remote retreat places to strive on the “wheel” of concentration. A few exert themselves on the “Wheel of Action” to serve the Tibetan government, institutions, monasteries. There are also many who take on the responsibility to propagate the Dharma in other parts of India and in other countries, such as Nepal and Bhutan.