Gelukpa is the name of a Tibetan Buddhist school that gained political influence and control across the Tibetan cultural world after the 17th century. Gelukpa (dge lugs pa) in Tibetan literally means “Followers of the System of Virtue” and refers to a person associated with the Geluk (dge lugs) school of Tibetan Buddhism. Gelukpas are the latest among the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism to develop. There are no subschools within the tradition. The school has its beginnings among the disciples of Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) and was initially known as Gandenpa (dga’ ldan pa), “those of Ganden Monastery,” based on the founding of Riwo Ganden (ri bo dga’ ldan) monastery in 1409. Tsongkhapa advocated strict Buddhist monasticism enhanced by scholarly training among his followers. The charismatic Tsongkhapa also influenced the development of the school based on his institution-building skills in establishing networks of patronage and performance of public rituals. The tradition soon established the three monasteries of Ganden, Drepung (founded in 1416), and Sera (founded in 1419) that became known as the “three seats of learning” (gdan sa gsum) in central Tibet. A fourth monastic seat, Tashi Lhünpo (bkra shis lhun po), was founded in Tsang (gtsang) in western Tibet in 1447. These monastic institutions developed into intellectual and political centers of hegemonic power and influence within the later Geluk system of monasticism. The head of the Geluk monastic system is the Ganden Tripa (dga’ ldan khri pa), “Holder of the Ganden Throne,” regarded as the selected successors of Tsongkhapa. The Geluk system of monasticism, in part through its administrative organization and institution-building techniques, was able to establish influence throughout Tibet, constructing new monasteries and renewing old ones. Over time, the Gelukpas developed an elaborate institutional hierarchy and administrative bureaucratic apparatus that interconnected regional monasteries with the four Geluk monastic seats in central Tibet. The school gradually spread as a cultural force of Tibetan Buddhism from central Tibet across the Tibetan plateau and into Mongolia as well as regions of Inner and East Asia. The Geluk gained renown politically for its establishment of the Ganden Podrang (dga’ ldan pho brang) government in 1642 under the rulership of successive Dalai Lamas (dā la’i bla ma) until 1959. After the fourteenth and present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso (bstan ‘dzin rgya mtsho, b. 1935), escaped from the Chinese Communist invasion of Tibet in 1959, communities of refugee Geluk members (as well as non-Geluk Tibetans) re-established monasteries, nunneries, and colleges primarily in India and Nepal. Smaller versions of the three main monastic universities have been re-established in South India with over 10,000 monks. Although Geluk monastic communities still exist in the traditional geographical areas of Tibet, they do not resemble the pre-1959 institutions.
James B. Apple
Jebtsundamba Khutugtus of Mongolia
Buddhist reincarnations, stemming from the Tibetan term rJe btsun dam pa (“Holy Precious Master”) in the 17th century after fourteen previous rebirths in India and Tibet, appeared in Khalkha Mongolia. Their significance results from both religious and political activity. They became central to Khalkha Mongolian identity. The First Khalkha Jebtsundampa (1635–1723)—in Tibetan Blo bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan, in Mongolian Zanabazar and referred to as Ȯndür Gegen (“High Serenity”)—was the son of the Khalkha Tüśiyetü Khan Ġombodorji. As a child he was recognized as the reincarnation of Tāranātha Künga nyingpo (Kun dga’ snying po; 1575–1634), the great master of the Tibetan Jonangpa school. However, he was educated by the Gélukpa teachers, also in Tibet, and treated by this school as the reincarnation of yet another master, Jamyang chöjé (’Jam dbyangs chos rje; 1379–1449), an important Gélukpa teacher. His recognition was confirmed by the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Fourth Panchen Lama. Political plans of influential Tibetan clergy probably shaped this unusual situation. The position of the khan’s son, economic support given by his father, knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism, and his own charisma led Zanabazar to play a decisive role in disseminating Gélukpa Buddhist traditions in Khalkha Mongolia. He was also a gifted artist who cast in bronze superb religious sculptures. Due to political conflicts between Western and Eastern Mongols, the Khalkha lands were attacked by the Oirat Ġaldan Bośuġtu (1644–1697), and the Jebtsundamba fled to Southern (Inner) Mongolia. Khalkha Mongols and the Jebtsundamba allied with the Manchu Emperor Kangxi (r. 1662–1720). Upon Ġaldan Bośuġtu’s defeat and the Jebtsundamba’s return to his homeland, he was regarded as the main religious and political figure of the Khalkha Mongols. After the death of the second Jebtsundamba, who was engaged in anti-Manchu activity, in order to prevent merging of religion and secular power of the Mongols, Manchu authorities forbade searching for the Jebtsundamba incarnations in Mongolia. All subsequent seven incarnations were recognized among the Tibetans. The importance of the Jebtsundampa incarnations as religious and political leaders of Khalkha Mongolia (otherwise called Northern Mongolia or Outer Mongolia) resulted in elevating the Eighth Jebtsundampa or Boġda Gegen (1871–1924) to the position of a hierocratic monarch, Boġda Khaġan, similarly to the Tibetan Dalai Lamas, when Mongolia gained independence in 1911. His rule was interrupted by the Chinese in 1919 and again in 1921 by the communists. After his death the communist authorities forbade searching for the next incarnation. Nevertheless, the Ninth Jebtsundamba (1933–2013) was found in Tibet and raised in a monastery. In 1959 he fled to India where he lived as a lay Tibetan refugee. With democratization in Mongolia his recognition as Jebtsundamba was reconfirmed by the Dalai Lama in 1991 with a task of preserving the religious legacy of the Jebtsundambas and the Jonangpa tradition. In 2011 he was enthroned as the head of Mongolian Buddhists. After his passing the process of searching for the tenth incarnation has begun.