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"Geshes" in Tibetan Buddhism

By Source: 2015-07-03

Lamas with degree titles enjoy lofty positions in Tibetan Buddhism circle since only a few monks could get these degree-like titles after a long time hard religious cultivations and practices. These degrees reflect the holders' authoritative accomplishment in their respective study field. Besides the "Nzhing Ram Ba" and "Tho Ram Pa" degrees awarded by the High-level Tibetan Buddhism College of China in Beijing, those degrees achieved in Tibet are collectively called "Geshe" in Tibetan language, which means "clear perception or well known", and often refer to those in the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

According to different levels, "Geshe" is subdivided into "Lharampa Geshe", "Tsorampa Geshe", "Linsaipa Geshe", "Dorampa Geshe", "Arampa Geshe", "Menrampa Geshe", "Karampa Geshe", and so forth.

"Lharampa Geshe"

"Lharampa Geshe" is the highest "Geshe" degree in the Exoteric Tibetan Buddhism. Candidates need to attend the sutra debates and answer questions put forward by esteemed lamas from the three major monasteries in Lhasa (the Ganden, Drepung and Sera monasteries) during the "Monlam Prayer Festival" (inaugurated by Tsongkapa in 1409) held in the Jokhang Temple after Losar, the Tibetan New Year Festival. They could only get this degree after being acknowledged by the present esteemed lamas at the Jokhang Temple.

"Tsorampa Geshe"

"Tsorampa Geshe" is the second highest degree title after Lharampa Geshe. Candidates need to attend the Monlam Chenmo (prayer meeting) held in the Ramoche Temple and the related sutra debates. They also need to answer questions from the esteemed lamas from the three major monasteries and get their approval to achieve the degree.

"Linsaipa Geshe"

"Linsaipa Geshe" can be achieved in each of the three major monasteries as long as the candidate lama could pass the sutra debate examination.

"Dorampa Geshe"

"Dorampa Geshe" is lower than the "Linsaipa Geshe" degree and can be achieved by attending the sutra debates on exoteric scriptures during a prayer meeting held in front of the main assembly hall of a monastery. Lama candidates can get this degree title in any monastery able to hold such grand prayer meetings.

Apart from the four "Geshes" mentioned above, there are also some specialized professional "Geshes" such as the "Arampa" and "Menrampa".

"Arampa Geshe"

"Arampa Geshe" is a degree for lamas who have studied and cultivated Tantric Tibetan Buddhism in the Esoteric Dratsangs in monasteries.

Generally, the admittance standards are very strict for lamas who want to practice Tantric study in the Esoteric Dratsangs. Monks need to study the five major shastras of Exoteric Tibetan Buddhism and graduate from the Exoteric Dratsangs with any of the above mentioned Geshe degrees. Then he might get appointed or recommended to study Tantric Tibetan Buddhism in the Esoteric Dratsangs. If they could learn and graduate properly, they may achieve the "Arampa Geshe" degree.

Furthermore, the "Arampa Geshe" degrees achieved in different monasteries also reflect various authorities. For example, degrees achieved in the Upper Tantric College and Lower Tantric College in Lhasa are the supreme canonical "Geshes".

"Menrampa Geshe"

"Menrampa Geshe" is more like a Tibetan medicinal degree. There monks cultivating Tibetan medicines and medical treatment in the medical dratsangs in the Tibetan monasteries. Usually, the medical study and practice could take a long time since the theoretical knowledge is very profound and extensive while field study on medicines and treatment in the wild is a must step that costs lot of time. Thus, it is more difficult to achieve this "Geshe" degree.

Besides the above "Geshe" degrees, there are also other lower level "Geshe" degrees such as "Karampa" and "Rabjampa".

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