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First Toranba Geshi Degree Issued



BY KUNCHOK & LI DECHENG 


Some 30 eminent monks sent by various sects worked as the appraisal committee and questions were designed by some 40 eminent monks. Photo by Wen Quntai.

In October 2005, a total of 11 students of the China Tibetan Language Higher Institute of Buddhism completed their Buddhist studies for the Toranba Geshi title and a grand award ceremony. This marks the fresh progress that Tibetan Buddhism is making in Buddhist studies.

The China Tibetan Language Higher Institute of Buddhism issues the Toranba title on the basis of traditional practices combined with modern educational modes. Monk students need to pass the Institute¡¯s examinations and stay for one year studying the Five Works and other modern knowledge before winning the highest Geshi degree of Tibetan Buddhism.
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First Toranba Geshi Class

With the development of Tibetan society in recent years, Tibetan Buddhist circles have been seeking the introduction of an authoritative Geshi degree award system. In the meantime, the State leaders advised on the cultivation of Buddhist talents by strengthening education in the China Tibetan Language Higher Institute of Buddhism.


The 11th Panchen Erdeni receiving Toranba Geshi winners. Photo by Wen Quntai.

The Institute solicited the opinions of eminent monks and other celebrities and began to offer the Geshi degree study in 2003.

On August 20, 2004, the Tibetan Buddhist Geshi Degrees Granting Committee was founded and it held its first session in Lhasa. The committee is composed of 27 elected eminent monks and Living Buddha¡¯s, with Pagbalha Geleg Namgyi (Vice-Chairman of the CPPCC National Committee) as honorary chairman, and Living Buddha Jamyang Lobsang Qumei Tudain Qoigyi Nyima (President of the China Tibetan Language Higher Institute of Buddhism) as the chairman, and seven eminent monks and Living Buddha¡¯s including Living Buddha Zhukang Tubdain Kezhub (Vice-President of the Tibet Branch of the China Buddhist Association) as vice-chairmen.

On September 1, 2004, a grand ceremony was held to mark the beginning of the First Toranba Study Class of the Tibet Branch of the China Buddhist Association. A total of 11 monks including those hailing from Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan began to study in the senior Geshi class and 25 others in the first Toranba study class.

The 11 monks studying for the senior Geshi degree include Zhaxi Gyancain from Sera Monastery, Dainzin (Jamyang Puncog) from Qambaling Monastery, Lobsang Damqoi from Zhaibung Monastery, Gyaba Lobsang Puncog from Tashilhungpo Monastery, Lhorang Rabudain from Germo Monastery, Gongqoi Yingba from Gerdi Monastery, Zhaxi Dorje from Garze Monastery, Jancang Gongbo from Tar Monastery, Ngawang Chozhi from Wendoda Monastery and Gongqu Kejimba and Jamyang Gyamco from Lhabrang Monastery.

The Institute follows a teaching method combining traditional and modern education. The Toranba study class lasts for one year and Geshi study for two years. Major study courses include Five Theories of Buddhism, current State and world affairs, and Tibetan language. No student can be issued with any degree without passing the relevant examinations.
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Examinations and Toranba Granting Methods
After one year of study, the 11 monks showed up at the examination from September18-25 in the Tar Monastery.

A panel of 11 eminent monks was formed to supervise the examination which features Questions and Answers, a traditional method.


Pictured here is the site of the China Tibetan-Language Higher Institute of Buddhism.
Photo by Kunchok.

A group of five eminent monks distinguished in Buddhist knowledge was formed to supervise the Q & A for Geshi degrees. Thirty eminent monks hailing from various Buddhist sects took part in the appraisal work on treatises written by the student monks.

Some 40 eminent monks were active in raising 165 questions, and 55 debates were held in six days. Eleven Q & A¡¯s on treatises lasted for one day.

Some 300 monks were involved in the Buddhist sutra debates in front of an audience of tens of thousands, including those from Beijing, Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan, Inner Mongolia and Shanxi. Such a grand scene was rarely seen in the history of Tibetan Buddhism.


Pictured here is the site of the site of the China Tibet-Language Higher Institute of Buddism,where the final examination was held on the morning of October 18,2005.
Photo by Kunchok.

Through strict screening, Zhaxi Gyancain from the Sera Monastery, Gyaba Lobsang Puncog from the Tashilhungpo Monastery and Amyang Gyamco from the Lhabrang Monastery emerged in the first three places in terms of general scores.

The Tibetan Buddhist Toranba Examination Committee held that the 11 student monks qualified for the Toranba Geshi degree and suggested that they be given the Buddhist academic title. In response, the Institute granted the Toranba Geshi title to the 11 student monks and the certificates given to them were signed by Living Buddha Jamyang, its President.

On the afternoon of October 18, 2005, the Toranba title granting ceremony was held in the Institute. Leaders of the CPC United Front Work Department, the State Religious Affairs Bureau and the China Buddhist Association attended and expressed their congratulations. Also attending the ceremony were responsible members of Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and Inner Mongolia, as well as eminent monks of Tibetan Buddhism, specialists and scholars in Beijing, totaling hundreds in number.

On October 19, the 11th Panchen Erdeni received the 11 successful candidates in a ceremony also attended by some 300 people, including eminent monks from Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and Inner Mongolia, as well as student monks of the Institute and the Yonghegong Lamasery. The 11 Toranba title receivers presented the 11th Panchen Erdeni with hada scarves, and the young master gave them blessing touches on their foreheads and offered them alms.

Buddhist Geshi Degree
Various sects of Tibetan Buddhism, along with the major monasteries, have developed their own modes of Buddhist study and the issuance of Buddhist degrees. Of these, monasteries of the Gelug Sect have been doing so for more than 1,000 years. Only a small number of lamas could be entitled to such prestigious degrees known in general as ¡°Geshi¡± meaning ¡°knowledgeable¡±, which then come in grades with such titles as Lharangba, Corangba, Lingseba, Dorangba, Ngarangba, Manrangba and Gerangba.

Lharangba Geshi is the highest of Buddhist degree for the Gelug Sect, and also the highest of its kind for the open school of Tibetan Buddhism. Monks intent on applying to take the tests leading to the granting of the Lharangba Geshi have to go through a process of answering questions related to the Buddhist tenets posed by eminent monks with the three major monasteries in Lhasa¡ªthe Gandain, Zhaibung and Sera¡ªand designed to be very difficult to answer.

Corangba Geshi is one rank down to Lharangba in terms importance. Each monk who gains it needs to have succeeded in answering questions raised by eminent monks from the aforementioned three major monasteries in Lhasa during the Grand Summons Ceremony held in the Ramoche Monastery in Lhasa.

Lingseba Geshi is the third most important Buddhist degree issued to monks who succeed in a debate on Buddhist doctrines in one of the three major monasteries in Lhasa.

Dorangba Geshi refers to the Buddhist degree granted to those monks who succeed in debate on Buddhist doctrines on the stone steps in front of the Grand Sutra Hall of various major monasteries and, in terms of importance, it comes after Lingseba Geshi.

In addition to these Geshi degrees already discussed, there are others specialized in specific fields, such as Ngarangba and Manrangba.

Ngarangba Geshi is a kind of Geshi degree for monks who succeed in studying Tantric theory in the Tantric School of one of the major monasteries and also in mediation. The Tantric School has rigid demands in regard to enrolment of monk students who are graduates of ÎÅ˼ School teaching the Five Major Works of Tibetan Buddhism, especially those who have won one of previously mentioned kind of Geshi degrees and then have been sent or recommended to study in Tantric procedures. Ngarangba Geshi varies in ranking, but that won in the Upper and Lower Tantric Schools in Lhasa is deemed the most authoritative.

Manrangba Geshi is a kind of Geshi degree or Tibetan medicine degree monks win through a long period of study in the medical school of a major monastery. They have to stay in the school for a prolonged period because they are required to gather medicinal herbs in the mountains.


Toranba Geshi degree was granted on the afternoon of October 18,2005.Living Buddha Jamyyang, President of the Institute,issued the certiticates to the successors. Photo by Wen Quntai.

Salient Features and Significance of the New Geshi System
The new system was introduced on the basis of the traditional way of studying the sutras of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a brand-new Geshi award system, which fully respects and carries forward the traditional system in terms of sutra studies and Geshi title promotion.

In terms of content, the way to study them and the way the tests are given, the new system basically follows the traditional practice of various sects of Tibetan Buddhism. Hence it is well received among the eminent monks of Tibetan Buddhism and the people who gain titles through it enjoy social acknowledgement.

The new system is geared to cultivate outstanding talents of Tibetan Buddhism, which is obviously a boon for the continued development of Tibetan Buddhism. It attaches importance to both the open and secret schools of Tibetan Buddhism, both study and self-cultivation, and also stresses the study of modern social knowledge. This makes it possible for various Tibetan Buddhist sects to co-exist on the basis of equality, unity, mutual respect and mutual study, and for further development of the system.


 

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