Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk of Sera Mey Monastery

Very few people alive today are capable of even reading and comprehending the Commentary on Valid Perception, so we are fortunate to have in Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk a scholar who is moreover qualified to write a commentary that gives us a door to travel back into the increasingly more difficult earlier explanations.

Gyaltsab Je’s Light on the Path, for example, is so deep and packed with analysis that only a handful of students in the traditional monastic curriculum ever get further than the second of its four chapters, despite the fact that a month of intense debate is devoted to the book every year in the course of a monk’s philosophical studies, which take up to two decades. And without understanding this generation of commentaries, it is difficult to grasp accurately the Indian commentaries, without which the original sutras can hardly be appreciated in depth.

sera mey

Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk was born in 1928 in the Tarlam region of Kham, eastern Tibet, and entered the monastic life at the age of eight. When he was fifteen, he travelled to Lhasa, the national capital, and entered the Sera Mey college of Sera Monastic University, considered one of the greatest educational institutions of the country.

For seventeen years, he devoted himself to an intense study of the classical texts of Buddhism, winning honors in every area of the traditional curriculum. He became an accomplished debater, and gave successful defenses of his knowledge in public oral examinations at every one of the great Gelukpa colleges. At an early point in his scholastic career he had already taken on students of his own.

His knowledge was not gained without great effort. He would devote long and tireless hours to the college debate ground, where student monks meet to review their daily lessons in heated philosophical debates. His free time was given almost entirely to memorization of the great philosophical texts, a traditional requirement of a monk’s training. He would recite his texts from memory late into the night, and to keep himself from falling asleep would perch high in a tree, or on a large boulder, where the self-imposed punishment for dozing off would be a nasty fall. In this manner Geshe Wangchuk was able to commit to memory literally thousands of pages of the original works, and became something of a walking encyclopedia.

As a result of his philosophical acumen and vast store of knowledge, he received the highest honors in the final examinations that mark the end of the long course to become a Geshe, or master of Buddhist philosophy.

In the difficult period following the loss of Tibet, Geshe Wangchuk suffered greatly. He was imprisoned for some time and then, during the “Cultural” Revolution, assigned to hard labor. In 1977, he was appointed to the Bureau of Cultural Preservation, where he devoted himself to a research of written and physical antiquities. He has travelled to China on various occasions and, with the relaxation of some of the previous restrictions, has visited Japan and India.

In recent years, Geshe Wangchuk has made exceptional efforts to help preserve the Buddhist religion in Tibet. He has played a leading role in the restoration of the literary classics of the country, and has served in Beijing as a university professor of Buddhist philosophy, as well as performing the duties of a traditional lama by teaching many students in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet. He also assisted the late Panchen Lama in his efforts to gain the release of the many monks imprisoned during demonstrations for a free Tibet.

Among the notable events of his life, Geshe Wangchuk includes the traditional acts of generosity he has performed for monks and monasteries during his trips to India. Despite his limited means, he has made donations to help build new temples and support needy refugee monks. The most important part of any Buddhist’s life is the success of his relationship with his spiritual instructors, and in his autobiography Geshe Wangchuk describes his studies under some thirty great religious teachers. In his usual modest way he concludes that “On the good side, I have never once in my life deprecated one of my lamas; and yet, on the bad side, I don’t feel that I was able to pay proper service to any one of them either.”

Geshe Wangchuk has composed a great many original works. In his student days, he wrote a eulogy of Je Tsongkapa and essays on difficult points of the Madhyamika and Vaibhasika schools of Buddhist thought; all these papers were destroyed in the upheaval during the loss of Tibet.

Throughout the 1960s, he continued writing on various subjects, but again these manuscripts were all burned during the chaotic “Cultural” Revolution. Since this time, he has been a prolific writer, publishing works on the comparative study of the classical philosophical schools of Buddhism; a historical essay of 21 great Tibetan monasteries; numerous articles in Buddhist journals; versed petitions and prayers to eminent lamas; and a summary of the 500-year history of Sera Mey College.

In the past few years, Geshe Wangchuk has been allowed to travel outside of Tibet for extended teaching tours, and has greatly benefitted the students and teachers of the Tibetan refugee community in India. Within the last year, he has given an extensive public discourse on the entire text of Liberation in Our Hands, an immense description of the lam-rim or steps on the path to enlightenment, composed by the illustrious Pabongka Rinpoche, Dechen Nyingpo. He has also found time to give public teachings on the subjects of logic and valid perception set forth in the present book. It is greatly hoped that he will enjoy the freedom and health to continue this great work.

The details of Geshe Wangchuk’s life mentioned here have been summarized from a brief autobiographical work currently under publication by the press of Sera Mey College. The final pages of this text contain exquisite verses that describe his own life and practice, and it would not be inappropriate to include a few of these lines here, to show the value of modesty in the thinking of a great man:

It is an excellent thing
That I have imparted to others
The power to learn and become
The mystical worlds and beings;

It’s though a thing that makes me sad
That I myself have never
Seen the slightest vision
Of an angel’s face.

It is a thing of goodness
That I have paid my visits
To very holy places
And spared no effort there;

It’s though a thing that makes me sad
That they could not affect me
And here I am exactly
As I was before.

It is a thing of goodness
That I have had the chance
To meet and seek the blessings
Of many thousand lamas;

It’s though a thing that makes me sad
That I remain no more
Than a hollow log of wood
That never could be blessed.

It is a thing of goodness
That in society
I’ve dressed up in the handsome
Robes of a Buddhist monk;

It’s though a thing that makes me sad
That on my inside rains
A steady shower of sins,
Of evil thoughts, of wrong.

It is a thing of goodness
That I’ve donned the ritual robes
And taken in my hands
The holy bell and scepter;

It’s though a thing that makes me sad
That still I’m stuck in seeing
The world as ordinary,
And as no paradise.

It is a nice thing people speak
Of me in flattering terms
And give me all those titles
I really don’t deserve;

It’s though a thing that makes me sad
That actually I’ve not
The moral strength to watch
What I do and say.

It is a true thing, that if you
Don’t look very closely
I seem to you a monk
With the cleanest vows.

It’s though a thing that makes me sad
That if you really check
You’ll find I’ve not the slightest
Thing to show you now.

But of course he does, and in the present work Geshe Wangchuk shows himself as one of the greatest living scholars of the Buddhist logic tradition.

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5 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk, a great scholar and philosopher steeped in Buddhist philosophy, a great master of the Buddhist logic tradition, has contributed tremendously to the preservation of the Buddhist religion in Tibet today.

    His amazing self-discipline is to be applauded. Through this remarkable self –discipline and indefatigable spirit, he was able to master and memorize literally thousands of pages of original Buddhist works and became a walking Buddhist encyclopedia!

    As a Lama, he has given public teachings to many students in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet. He has taught on subjects such as logic and valid perception. He is a teacher who can present the most profound Buddhist philosophical subjects in ways that can be understood easily by his students. He has also given an extensive public discourse on the entire text of ‘Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand’, a Lamrim discourse composed by the inimitable great master Pabongka Rinpoche.

    Yet, he is a most unassuming and modest Lama, despite his being a great modern-day pundit. We see this in his lovely poem. Of his guru devotion, he says ever so modestly: “On the good side, I have never deprecated one of my Lamas; on the bad side, I don’t feel I was able to pay proper service to any on of them”.

  2. May this feeling of awe for beings such as the illustrious master Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk translate to determination to achieve the same result. So many live the span of their lives with just as much effort exerted, but for self gain which comes to nothing at the end of the day. How unfortunate! What a loss!

    Yet, Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk ends the poem with :
    It’s though a thing that makes me sad
    That if you really check
    You’ll find I’ve not the slightest
    Thing to show you now.

    What have I achieved today that truly has any positive, lasting effect on anyone….

  3. I love Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk’s poem in which he expresses his humility in verses, rejoicing in his virtues and at the same time regretting his shortcomings. He has lived an extraordinary life and his remarkable feats include preserving Buddhism in Tibet, restoring literary classics, teaching Buddhism in China and Tibet and helping to gain the release of monks from prison. What an extraordinary monk!

  4. Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk became a monk at the age of 8 years old. And at 15 years old he entered Sera Mey College of Sera Monastic University. Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk is very much respected by the Tibetans. In the early years you will not be able to find many good scholars to read and write the commentaries and explain on the earlier difficult teachings like Gyaltsab Je’s Light on the Path which only few students can comprehend. He has sacrificed so much to help preserve most of the teachings during the loss of Tibet. He was imprisoned. He has shown the act of generosity by donating to build new temples and supporting needy Refugee monks with his limited means.

  5. It is definitely an honor to have Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk around in the Tibetan Buddhist community. He has written so many great texts that has benefit all of us with regards to the understanding of Dharma.

    I believe that great scholars like Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk are very hard too come by. Especially when Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk has dedicated his life to the Dharma. Constantly improving himself and writing commentaries so that more students would be able to understand those difficult teachings as well.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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