The Education System of Tibetan Buddhism
I am fairly concerned about Buddhist education. To my knowledge, Tibetan Buddhism has a very systematic and coherent scheme in its education, which has trained many of its monastic students to become outstanding and illustrious monastic talents.
Answer: Nowadays, it is not a simple and easy thing for an ordinary person to maintain a basic living standard, and, in addition, to attain success in society. For these, he has to strive, with great efforts,
in the turbulent torrents of the secular world, all day long, rushing, anxious, and overworked for the whole load of things that he has to face, whether for himself, his family, the livelihood, the job,
or for the children. As Buddhists, we deeply understand and sympathize with this situation.
While, for a monastic person, practising conditions, surroundings, and atmosphere are much simpler, the only thing he should be concerned about is his practice progress and the essential meaning of Buddha-dharma.
If a monk, who wears the robe of kasaya, cannot stand loneliness or resist the temptations of the outside world, ignoring all the secular people’s incessant complaints of grievance, and cries of tiredness, makes “the reckless move” to throw himself into the secular sea, and eventually, to drown himself in the mire of poisonous emotions, like the ordinary lay people do – this is a pity, indeed.
on the one hand, planted the very precious seed of Buddha-dharma in the mind of the general public; and on the other, have set an exemplary figure, for the ordinary people, of what a Buddhist should be like, especially, of what a dharma-teacher or master should be like.
To turn people’s mind from worldly trifles onto Buddha-dharma wisdom, and helping them to truly understand the truths of buddhism – this is the greatest, as well as the most valuable, conduct of Buddha-dharma propagation for benefiting sentient beings.
Thanks to there being such a system in Buddha-dharma education, a large number of mahāsiddhas (great spiritual masters who have attained the supreme accomplishment) are outstanding; and again, thanks to their efforts, generations of Buddhist practitioners can continue to grow up,
When King Trisong Detsen invited Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava to come to Tibet, and established the Samyé Monastery in a place now named Shannan (Lhoka Prefecture, or the South of Mountains), young Tibetans were initiated to become monks, successively.
From then on, monastery-based communities for Buddhist education and practice took shape. During the Earlier Propagation Period, not only had monastic education witnessed its development, but also departmental teaching appeared and grew to a certain scale. When it came to the Later Propagation period,
the monasteries’ position as the basis of education turned out to be more significant than ever, and furthermore, specialized colleges, of various subjects named after the great treatises, such as the Commentary on Dignaga’s ‘Compendium of Valid Cognition’ (Pramāṇavārttikakārika),
Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen has also written a book titled The Entrance Gate for the Wise, elucidating theories on the three aspects: dharma teaching, philosophical debate, and the composition of texts,
in which he also touched upon the education concept and plausible measures in Tibetan Buddhism, thus providing, to some extent, a theoretical foundation for the further standardization of monastic education.
the three great university monasteries in Lhasa (“the Great Three” of Gelugpa university monasteries) – Ganden, Sera, and Drepung – implemented a rigorous monastic education system, in all the other Gelugpa monasteries in the Tibetan region.
The monastic education system in the Gelugpa order has a tremendous influence in all of Tibetan Buddhism, and its reaching span is also very wide. Let me use the Gelugpa monastic education system as an example, and give you a specific analysis of the education characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism.
and graduate from there, after obtaining the Geshe degree, and then go to a Tantrayana college for tantric study, but by the time they graduate, they still remain as Sutrayana scholars; in the second type,
The curriculum in the Sutrayana college is fixed, and it focuses on the study of what people usually call – “The Five Major Texts”: Treatise on Valid Cognition (Pramāṇavarttika) by great commentator Dharmakīrti,
Usually, it takes over fifteen years to finish the study of these five great texts, and normally, you need to finish one subject before you can go to another, and textual recitation and memorization, as well as a coherent and thorough understanding, are particularly valued.
These two tantric colleges are the highest institutes in the Gelugpa lineage, and the candidates for the “lion” dharma seat of Je Tsongkhapa— Ganden Tripa, come from monks of these two tantric colleges.
This position is awarded entirely on the basis of hierarchical progression in the candidate’s level of dharma-listening, reflection, and meditation, proven in the tests, and the route to the position, itself, fully reveals the rigorousness and the staged order of the education system of Tibetan Buddhism.
three years as a Khenpo, and several years as a Khensur; after that, he must become either the Sharpa Chöjé, the abbot of Gyütö, (the Higher Tantric College), or Jangtsé Chöjé, the abbot of Gyümé, (the Lower Tantric College), with a tenure of fourteen years;
As for the ordinary tantric colleges, usually they consist of three academic grades: the junior, the middle, and the senior, and each of the three has a fixed curriculum and different requirements, respectively.
Having finished all the prescribed curriculum of the tantric college, and having passed the examinations, students can be conferred the corresponding academic degree that the monastery will offer, which may vary, depending on the monastery, in the different regions.
The aforementioned is a brief shot of the Buddhist education system of the Gelugpa school, and now, let me also take Five Sciences Buddhist Institute (Larung), the one I am in, as another example, and give you a little introduction to the education style of the Nyingmapa lineage.
In general, its teaching patterns is very similar to that of the Gelugpa lineage, however, the minor difference between the two, that sparkles amidst their general resemblance, may help you perceive the variety and colorfulness in the characteristics of Tibetan Buddhist education.
No matter what Buddhist lineage you were in, previously, and no matter which dharma tradition you have set your mind on propagating, in the future, the Five Sciences Buddhist Institute (Larung) welcomes you all.
then if the student is considered to be qualified, he or she will be allowed to stay in the Institute for further studies. Once accepted, practitioners are required, generally, to spend about one year on finishing the preliminary practices, as well as some foundational Buddhist courses.
Vowed Morality(Vinaya), first, and then, onto Middle Way (Madhyamaka), Logic (Hetuvidya), Abhidharma (Treasury of Higher Knowledge, Abhidharma Kośa), and, Ornament of Clear Realization (Abhisamayālaṃkāra), etc..
The remainder of time is spent on the study of medical science and other subjects. When students complete all the courses in the Institute, about twelve years will have flown by, swiftly but meaningfully.
Inner Science (adhyatma), Logic( hetu), Medicine (cikitsa), Fine Arts (silpa), Grammar (sabdavidya), as well as the five minor sciences, which are: Prosody (chanda), Poetics (kāvya), Synonymy (abhidhāna), Drama (nāṭaka), and Astrology (jyotiṣa).
In the whole life of a human being, twelve years actually is short and swift, however, for a person who truly wants to learn the great dharma that leads to emancipation from birth and death, in Larung, these fast-flying twelve years will bring him inexhaustible accumulations of merit and wisdom for all his future lives.
If we could also recall the fact that, in the ocean of profit, secular people are accumulating the karma of samsara in every minute, every second of these twelve years, a mixed feeling of sadness and joy might arise in our heart, spontaneously:
On hearing that the length of schooling in Larung is twelve years, and that it would be fifteen years, twenty years, or even more, in that of the Gelugpa lineage, many people might be astounded, thinking that spending so many days and hours in studying Buddha-dharma is, indeed, a bit too long.
Within the education system of of Tibetan Buddhism in its entirety, no matter whether it is in the Gelugpa monasteries, or in the Buddhist institutes of other lineages, selecting Khenpo, Geshe, or various other monastic talents on basis of dharma teaching, philosophical debate, and the composition of texts, after long years of dharma listening, reflecting, and meditating, is a way that is fairly commonly adopted.
In each lineage, the academic degrees of Khenpo are generally divided into three corresponding levels: the higher, the middle, and the lower, in a way just like that of “the Great Three” Lhasa monasteries of the Gelugpa tradition, dividing Geshe into different levels, such as Lharampa, Lingtse, Dorampa, etc..
If we want to match them with the secular academic degrees, the 1st Ranked Geshe Lharampa is similar to Ph.D, Geshe Lingtse is similar to the Master’s degree, and Geshe Dorampa is similar to the Bachelor’s degree.
Secular people usually regard obtaining different kinds of academic degrees as a target, or a driving force of their life’s objectives, since academic degrees are often closely linked with their personal benefits.
There are also various kinds of academic degrees in Tibetan Buddhism, but they only stand for an acknowledgment and a confirming of the conferee’s qualifications in Buddhist studies, and have nothing to do with the so-called “interests” of the conferee.
If there could be anything to do with the interests, undoubtedly these interests or benefits are connected with their non-worldly, ultimate target.
What has been mentioned above is only a brief introduction to the education system of Tibetan Buddhism, and those who are interested to know further may go deep into the Tibetan region by themselves and make a thorough exploration. Once you step through the gate of Tibetan Buddhism, the infinite, splendid, views would, perhaps, come to you, immediately, and continuously.