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Geshe Thubten Wanggyel

Geshe (Tib. dge bshes, short for dge-ba'i bshes-gnyen, "virtuous friend"; translation of Skt. kalyāņamitra) is a Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monks.

Geshe means “good knowledge” in Tibetan

Geshe ; Lit. a spiritual preceptor. A man learned in ecclesiastical law, ‘a kind of Doctor of Divinity’ (Tucci).

The degree is emphasized primarily by the Gelug lineage, but is also awarded in the Sakya and Bön traditions. Geshe (ge-xi): Title equivalent to a PhD in a Tibetan monastery.

Geshe is the highest academic title one can attain in the Geluk Sect of Tibetan Buddhism with the title Larampa Geshe being a distingished geshe.

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.

One must memorize a vast amount of Buddhist material and must pass certain debates before one can attain such title. It usually requires at least twenty years of study.

"Geshe" refers to a certain level of monastic and philosophical training. It is traditionally received after approximately 25 years of full-time intensive study at one of the great monasteries.

It is similar to someone getting a "ph.d." level of study and accomplishment, although it is much more than that. There are also different levels of Geshe.

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 geshe degree flowered under the Gelug monastic lineage. Under Gelug domination, monks from various monastic lineages would receive training as geshes through the great Gelug monasteries.

Gelugpa geshes often went on to study at one of Lhasa's tantric colleges, Gyütö or Gyüme.

(The tantric colleges also grant a "geshe" title for scholarship in the tantras.)

Under Sakya and Gelug influence, the Kagyu and Nyingma monastic lineages developed their own systems of scholarly education.

Their schools grant the degree of ka-rabjampa ("one with unobstructed knowledge of scriptures") as well as the title Khenpo, which the Gelug tradition reserves for abbots.

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.

The exoteric study of Buddhism is generally organized into "five topics", listed as follows with the primary Indian source texts for each:

  1. Abhidharma (Higher Knowledge, Wylie Tib.: mdzod)
  1. Perfection of WisdomPrajñā Pāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom, Wylie Tib.: phar-phyin)
  1. Madhyamaka (Middle Way, Wylie Tib.: dbu-ma)
  1. Logic (pramāṇa Wylie Tib.: tshad-ma)
  1. Vowed Morality(vinaya, Wylie Tib.: dul-ba)

Conferral of the Degree

In the Gelug school, the degree may not be earned by laymen (though some monk recipients later give up their robes), or by women (including nuns).

The Gelug curriculum, which lasts between 12 and 40 years, centers around textual memorization and ritualized debate, and is invariably taught through the medium of the Tibetan language.

Each year an examination is held for those who have completed their studies. In it their performance is evaluated by the abbot of the particular college.

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.

At the conclusion the abbot assigns each candidate to a category of geshe according to his ability.

There are four such categories:

Lharampa being the highest.

After this, in order to qualify, the geshe candidates are not allowed to miss even one of the three daily debate sessions during the subsequent eight months.