Literally, a virtuous friend; derived from the Tibetan ge-wai she-nyen. The title conferred on those who have completed extensive studies and examinations at Gelug monastic universities. The highest level of geshe is the lharampa.
For example, a "Lharampa Geshe" graduated with great honors and was among the top of his class. It is primarily a title referring to academic excellence and degree of training in the Buddhist philosophical texts.
The title Geshe was first applied to esteemed Kadampa masters such as Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1102-1176), who composed an important lojong text called Seven Points of Mind Training and Geshe Langri Tangpa (dGe-bshes gLang-ri Thang-pa, 1054-1123).
The geshe curriculum represents an adaptation of subjects studied at Indian Buddhist monastic universities such as Nālandā. These centers disappeared around the time of Islam's arrival in India, leaving Tibet to continue the tradition.
It first developed within the Sakya monastic lineage, where it was known as ka-shi ("four subjects") or ka-chu ("ten subjects"). The Sakyas also granted degrees at the conclusion of these studies, on the basis of proficiency in dialectical ritualized debate. In Tsongkhapa's time the Sakya degree was awarded at Sangphu, Kyormolung and Dewachen (later Ratö) monasteries.
The course of study which prevails in Kagyu and Nyingma circles emphasizes commentary over debate, and focuses on a somewhat wider selection of classics (with accordingly less detail). It ideally lasts for nine years, concluding with a three-year, three-month meditation retreat.
The Geshe curriculum consists of the "Collected Topics" (Tibetan: བསྡུས་གྲྭ་, Wylie: bsdus-grwa) which were preliminary to the syllabus proper, as well as the five major topics, which form the syllabus proper.
- Abhidharma (Higher Knowledge, Wylie Tib.: mdzod)
- Perfection of WisdomPrajñā Pāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom, Wylie Tib.: phar-phyin)
- Madhyamaka (Middle Way, Wylie Tib.: dbu-ma)
- ([[[Mūlamadhyamakakārikā]]|Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Wylie Tib.: rTsa dbu-ma)' by Nāgārjuna
- Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas (Catuḥśataka) by Āryadeva
- Introduction to the Middle Way (Madhyamakāvatāra, Wylie Tib.: ‘’dBu-ma-la ‘Jug-pa) by Candrakīrti
- Logic (pramāṇa Wylie Tib.: tshad-ma)
- Vowed Morality(vinaya, Wylie Tib.: dul-ba)
Conferral of the Degree
The topics for their dialectical examination are drawn from the whole course of study and the topic to be debated is selected by the abbot on the spot, so that students have no chance to do specific preparation. Thus, it is a real test of a student's abilities and the depth of his study.
There are four such categories: