Ven. Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen

Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen

Ven. Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen was born in 1924 in the Kham province of eastern Tibet. His parents named him Jamphel Yeshe and at a young age, he was inspired by the example of his uncle who was a monk at the local monastery. When the boy was only seven, he and his family decided that he would enter monastic life. For nine years he studied sutra and tantra, and received teachings on dialectics under the tutelage of Geshe Jampa Thaye, a highly respected teacher from Sera Monastery.

When he was 16, Geshe Gyeltsen decided to continue his studies and left for Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to study for his Geshe degree at Sera Monastery. The Geshe degree in the Gelug school is comparable to a western doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. The difference is that it usually takes more than twenty years to complete.

Geshe-la set out on the 33-day trek across 25 mountain passes, the only monk in a party of 15 merchants and pilgrims. Near Lhasa, they stopped near Gaden Monastery where some monks invited Geshe-la for tea the following day. The next morning, as he climbed the hill toward Gaden, he saw the great monastery for the first time, looking as though it would touch the sky. He wept tears of joy and knew without question that it was here, and not Sera, where he would continue his studies. That day was the anniversary of Lama Tsongkhapa’s enlightenment. In the evening, the light offerings of butter lamps and the sound of chanting filled every room in the monastery and Geshe-la felt deeply moved by its spiritual atmosphere.

He joined Shartse College, one of Gaden’s two main colleges. The abbot at that time was the late Kyabje Zong Rinpoche who took a special interest in the young monk’s progress. Geshe Gyeltsen studied logic, wisdom, compassion, ethics, phenomenology and mind training at Gaden for twenty years, and later became a teacher of junior monks.

Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen

After the Tibetan Uprising of March 10th, 1959, word reached Gaden that the Dalai Lama had left Tibet. Geshe-la and a group of six other monks left the monastery after evening prayers and made their way to India across the Himalayas; members of a mass exodus that fled the oppression of the Chinese Communist occupation. Geshe-la was one of the few senior monks who managed to escape out of the twenty thousand monks that had lived at Gaden, Sera and Drepung, Tibet’s three largest monasteries.

Geshe Gyeltsen, with fifty of the most highly regarded monks from each monastery, resettled at Dalhousie in northern India where he studied for two more years before taking his final Geshe examinations. These were attended by masters from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The last week of his exams took place in Dharamsala where Geshe-la engaged in rigorous debates under the scrutiny of the Dalai Lama and his two senior tutors, the late Ling Rinpoche and the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. He passed with honors and was awarded the highest degree of Lharampa Geshe.

In 1963 Geshe-la traveled to Sussex, England to teach at the Pestalozzi International Children’s Village. He arrived with 22 Tibetan children who were mostly orphans or the children of parents still living in Tibet. For seven years Geshe-la instructed these children in Tibetan writing, grammar, culture and Buddhist philosophy.

Geshe Gyeltsen came to the United States in 1976 and briefly held positions at USC, UC Santa Barbara, and at UCLA where he taught meditation and Tibetan language. His university students requested that he start a teaching center and in 1978 Geshe-la founded a center for the study of Buddhism in Los Angeles.

Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen

Geshe-la requested His Holiness the Dalai Lama to name the center and His Holiness gave the name of Thubten Dhargye Ling, which means Land of Flourishing Dharma. Geshe Gyeltsen was the spiritual director of Thubten Dhargye Ling from the time he founded it until he passed away. The center is now based in Long Beach where Geshe Gyeltsen’s teaching tradition continues through classes in meditation, retreats, celebrations of religious holidays and the regular weekly teachings of traditional Buddhist texts.

Geshe Gyeltsen was the author of Compassion: The Key to Great Awakening, a commentary on the Eight Verses of Mind Training and the Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, and a free book on emptiness, entitled Mirror of Wisdom. He founded centers in both Colorado and Texas and has students based in Mexico, Alaska, Omaha and England. Geshe-la was involved in the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California, a group of representatives from various Buddhist countries dedicated to further understanding between Buddhist cultures. He actively worked for human rights and true autonomy for the Tibetan people. One of his goals was to further education and religious study in Tibetan communities throughout India.

Geshe Gyeltsen was known for his great compassion and personal warmth; yet he retained a very traditional and uncompromising approach to teaching the Dharma. His strength of vision and devotion to his practice transcended time and culture, and he continues to inspire his students with the legacy he brought from Tibet.

Geshela passed away on February 13, 2009

Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen’s passing

Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen We were told many things by many Lamas about the significance of the many events surrounding Ven. Geshela’s passing, but here is an incomplete list of some of the things that stand out as evidences that Ven. Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen was a very realized and accomplished being.

1. The great rainbow that formed just as Geshela left his clear light meditation.

2. Geshela’s holy body remained perfectly for 3 days 3 hours during his clear light meditation.

3. Staying in clear light for relatively shorter time indicates a quicker rebirth.

4. Geshela’s holy body was preserved throughout the long flight to India despite everything.

5. The monks who prepared the holy body discovered that it had become smaller and it was pliable to set in the lotus posture. This they found very remarkable considering the long period of transportation.

6. There were very few obstacles, mistakes, or problems arising to interfere with the funeral proceedings. It all went almost perfectly.

7. The first smoke went to the West and slightly North, and will be considered one clue to the direction in which to find Geshela’s next incarnation.

8. When the “Fire House” was opened we witnessed that Geshela had left what was described to us as an extremely rare and exceptional type of relic. Among the fragments that were left was a formation that the ritual expert who conducted the ceremony explained to us was the “eye, tongue, and heart”; an impression or formation associated with the body, speech, and mind. Again, this is considered a sign of very high spiritual accomplishment.

9. Upon the sand mandala at the base of the Fire House the ritual master discerned a small footprint formation that also faced in the North West direction. He interpreted this to mean that Ven. Geshela would be reborn soon and in a direction North West of Gaden Monastery.

10. A few days later, Ven. Kyabje Lati Rinpoche mentioned, in a humorous way, that this might mean Geshela could be born in America.

Source: Thubten Dhargye Ling (

Many great masters have kept their practice of Dorje Shugden strong. Here we see Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche, meeting with Kensur Lati Rinpoche and Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen. The Tibetan leadership forced Kensur Lati Rinpoche and Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen to give up the practice, but they went to meet Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche in 2000, a sign that they still had great faith in Dorje Shugden. Why else would they meet a Dorje Shugden lama? Despite the ban enforced by the Tibetan leadership, they held their own views strongly. Click on image to enlarge.

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  1. Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen is a very devoted disciple of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. He practiced Dorje Shugden intensely and also did monthly pujas with many of his students at their centre in L.A.for decades.

    When the ban came, Geshe-la went underground with his Dorje Shugden practice. In order to make good relations for Gaden Shartse (his home monastery) and the Tibetan Govt in exile, he started sponsoring Namgyal Monastery (personal Monastery of Dalai lama). He was always well recieved by Namgyal monks in Dharamsala.

    Geshe-la continued to have great faith in Dorje Shugden till the end of his life but never showing to anyone. As Gaden Shartse was a bastion of Dorje Shugden practice, Dalai Lama was quite harsh with Gaden Shartse Monastery and it’s incumbents. In order to placate Dalai lama’s anger towards Shartse, Geshe-la did his best to sponsor and get involved with Namgyal Monastery. It did work in the end. He had a good relationship with Dalai lama and Namgyal Monastery which served Gaden Shartse very well. As a Geshe of Gaden Shartse, Geshe-la ‘showed’ Dalai lama that Gaden Shartse monastery would ‘tow’ the line. Which made it much easier for many in Gaden Shartse monastery.

    Geshe-la is very well known for his compassion and erudite knowledge of Buddhism.

    He will be severely missed by many. Many miraculous signs appeared during his death and entry into clear light as well as at the cremation. He was a great Yamantaka siddhi.

    May his perfect incarnation return soon.


  2. My favorite anecdote about Geshe-la is when he went to the local diner with some of his students after the Sunday Teachings. Geshe-la sat in back with some of the others from TDL, rather close to a group of rowdy teenagers. The teens were very noisy and at one point came up to Geshe-la and in a rather rude tone asked “what’s with the robes?” Geshe-la very patiently explained that he was a monk and the robes were an outward expression of his inner faith. Many who were with Geshe-la were very upset and embarrassed that their precious Teacher was talked to so rudely and with such little respect. However, as Geshe-la and the entire group was leaving the diner, Geshe-la joyfully remarked how pleasant and respectful the boys were. Wow, what a teaching that was. Geshe-la experienced the same group of teens as everyone else, but his perception of the events were entirely different. Geshe-la had already planted the seeds with his pure-view to experience a beautiful encounter with the “rowdy” teens.
    Geshe-la, everything you did was us Teaching for us. We love you and are waiting for your swift return to help guide us migrators to fields of bliss.

  3. No offense intended but most Ven. Geshe Gyeltsen was my closest heart Guru for 17 years and in all that time, the only thing I ever heard him say to his students in open and closed classes (repeatedly) about Dorje Shugden was that he practiced Dorje Shugden until His Holiness said to stop, so he stopped,because His Holiness was one of Geshe-la’s closest hueart Gurus, so close that Geshe-la would weep spontaneous tears of pure joy upon coming into His Holiness’presence, and he would remind us (repeatedly) that proper Guru devotion was the only path to enlightenment so Geshe-la would never go against the teachings of His Holiness. His Holiness spoke to Geshe-la by phone right before Geshe-la entered Clear Light meditation on 2/13/2009 and now His Holiness, in a very pure,(not “mixed”) blessing, has identified Geshe-la’s reincarnation in Mundgod. As such, His Holiness remains one of Geshe-la’s closest heart Gurus, so, as ignorant as I am of many things, even I can see that if Dorje Shugden practice alienates you from the Dalai Lama and causes such a painful division among us, it can’t possibly be good. Extremely sorry, but Geshe-la and His Holiness deserve better. And please do at least a little research, His Holiness is close friends with the true 17th Karmapa of India, just as He was with the 16th, He’s never supported the Chinese choice of Karmapas and He isnt “angry” at Gaden Shartse, He gives teachings and initiations there frequently. So, as always, your choice to find out the truth or believe harmful lies about pure beings without examination.

  4. In looking up information online about the passing of Geshe Gyeltsen I was astonished to find this article on this website. I knew Geshe-la well for many years – we first met in 1979 – and I know that he stopped this protector practice. He was a sincere and devoted disciple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

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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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