On April 26, 2016, Ven. Tenzin Namdak, Sera IMI House monk and FPMT registered teacher, received the title of “Geshe” after completing coursework for the geshe studies program at Sera Je Monastic University in South India. On May 8, he was officially awarded the degree during a three-day ceremony that included public debate, recitation of memorized texts, and pujas. Fellow Sera IMI House monk Ven. Tenzin Legtsok reports:
On May 8, 2017, Ven. Tenzin Namdak, registered FPMT teacher and native of the Netherlands, was officially awarded a geshe degree by Sera Je Monastic University in South India. He is the first Westerner ever to complete the full, formal course of studies at one of the “three seats”—Ganden, Sera, and Drepung monasteries—and sit for the final geshe examination there, too.
There are many steps leading up to the geshe degree. First, one must complete nineteen years of coursework comprising three years studying introductory topics, seven years on the Ornament of Clear Realization, four years on Supplement to the Middle Way, three years on vinaya, two years on abhidharma, and two months each year spent debating Valid Cognition.
After Ven. Namdak completed his exams for the final year of study, Lama Zopa Rinpoche requested the monastery to formally grant him the geshe degree as quickly as possible so that he can begin sharing his knowledge and experience with FPMT centers outside India. In July 2016, this request was granted, and Ven. Namdak began preparing for his final geshe examination ceremony.
For two weeks leading up to the final ceremony, Geshe Namdak and eight other monks becoming geshes sat for a small debate examination before each class in the geshe studies program. During the actual three-day ceremony, they sat in front of the entire assembly of over 1,000 monks and answered debate questions on the traditional five topics.
As the other eight geshes had primarily qualified to take the final degree through service to the monastery instead of study, Geshe Namdak was the only one among them to take the role of defender, the person who answers the questioner. The highlight, and perhaps most nerve wracking part of Geshe Namdak’s ceremony, was when he had to recite from memory a 25-page long passage from Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen’s commentary on Lama Tsongkhapa’s Thorough Elucidation of the Intent in front of the entire assembly!
On the day of his examination ceremony Geshe Namdak, offered lunch and a small money donation to each monk at Sera Je. During this puja, he was led in procession through the main temple accompanied by his two ordained students and twelve members of Choe Khor Sum Ling, the FPMT center in Bangalore where he teaches.
The final part of the celebration was the following day, when hundreds of well-wishers came to his residence, Sera IMI House, to make offerings and give their congratulations.
For more about Geshe Tenzin Namdak, see “The Union of Study and Practice,” an article about the benefits of long-term intensive study and practice in Mandala January-June 2016.
To learn more about the structure and purpose of debate in Tibetan Buddhism, read “Dhi! Ven. Tenzin Namjong on Debate, Study, and Life at Sera Je,” a Mandala online feature.
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