Is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso a self-proclaimed Geshe?

[From James Belither, former Secretary of the New Kadampa Tradition:]

In Tibet before he joined Sera-je Monastery near Lhasa, Geshe Kelsang studied on the Geshe training programme for many years in his local monastery of Jampaling. He then took two examinations at the great monastic university of Tashi Lhunpo, one for memorization of texts, the second being the actual examination. After the second examination he was awarded a degree from that monastery, and from that time on the other monks and local people called him Geshe Kelsang.

Later, he continued with the Geshe training programme in Sera-je Monastery until he left for India in 1959, where he alternately studied and engaged in meditation retreats. One day he received a letter from Sera-je Monastery in south India, encouraging him to attend a Geshe offering ceremony and to take an examination in order to receive a certificate. In 1973 he went to Sera Monastery and made an extensive offering at the Geshe offering ceremony to a large assembly of monks from both Sera-je and Sera-mey monasteries, in Sera Tsogchen Prayer Hall. He also made the traditional offerings to Sera-je Monastery. On that occasion the monks of his class offered him a ‘katag’, or ceremonial scarf, and gifts in the traditional way. If he was not considered a Geshe then what was the point of inviting him to participate in this ceremony?

At that time he declined to take the examination, which was a new system that had been recently introduced. He later explained that this was because he did not think that receiving a piece of paper was important.

The present abbot of Sera-je, Geshe Jampa Tekchog, also made offerings at another Geshe offering ceremony and he also did not take this examination for receiving a certificate.

Lama Thubten Yeshe, founder of the FPMT, although he completed his Geshe studies, never took the examination for receiving his Geshe degree, although later Sera Monastery offered him an honorary Geshe degree, no doubt after he became so well-known.

If it has been known for years that Geshe Kelsang is not a Geshe, then why has Sera Monastery waited until 1996 to declare him a fraud? For years, ever since 1978, a large number of Tibetan Lamas, including some of the most eminent within the Gelugpa Tradition have been invited by Geshe Kelsang to Manjushri Centre and other Centres. If he is a fraud then why did they not expose him?

Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, and the Dalai Lama have all written prefaces to his books. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche refers to Geshe Kelsang as ‘this most precious Spiritual Guide’. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche refers to him as ‘The excellent expounder, the great Spiritual Master Kelsang Gyatso …’, and in the colophon to the long life prayer that he wrote for Geshe Kelsang he says, ‘This brief prayer for the long life of the Tsang-pa Geshe, Kelsang Gyatso, of Sera-je Monastery, who is endowed with great learning and immaculately pure conduct, …’.

It is only now, when Geshe Kelsang has dared to face up to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile in refusing to accept the Dalai Lama’s ban against the practice of Dorje Shugden—a practice given to him by his Spiritual Guide Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche—that Geshe Kelsang’s credentials as a Buddhist teacher have been called into question.

The campaign to discredit Geshe Kelsang is clearly an attempt to silence him and to act as a warning to others. As one Tibetan Lama living in America said to another Lama living in Germany who was planning to come out publicly against the Dalai Lama’s ban ‘No, you mustn’t do that. They’ll do to you what they’ve done to Geshe Kelsang.’

Actually, having been a student of Geshe Kelsang for the past twenty years, it matters little to me whether my teacher has an ecclesiastical title or not. The title ‘Geshe’ originally had the meaning of ‘Virtuous or Spiritual Friend’. Through having been inspired by his writings, teachings, example, and personal advice, Geshe Kelsang is a dearly loved Spiritual Friend and Guide to myself and to thousands of others. (James Belither, alt.religion.buddhism.tibetan, 30 January 1998)