Theses Doctoral

The Role of Texts in the Formation of the Geluk School in Tibet during the Mid-Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

Tsering, Sonam

The dissertation delineates how the writings compiled in The Collected Works (Gsung ’bum) of Jey Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (1357–1419), the founder of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism, constitute the centrality of the Geluk thought and philosophy and have contributed towards the school’s formation.

It details how the texts have played a prominent role in establishing doctrinal authority, defining philosophical boundaries, postulating intellectual identity, and reorienting monastic education for the school. These texts have also considerably enhanced the intellectual, spiritual, and charismatic authority of Jey Tsongkhapa as a teacher and philosopher. This dissertation bases its approach on the premise that the life and writings of Tsongkhapa define the core identity of the Geluk School and that an explicit rejection of either tantamount to an outright abnegation of its membership.

The dissertation begins with a critical retelling of Tibet’s religious history to contextualize the subject. The second chapter presents the culture and practice of life writing in Tibet to inform about the mechanism employed in traditional auto/biographies. Given the enormous attention drawn by the study of Jesus Christ (c. 4 BCE–c. 33 CE) in western academia, the chapter includes a literary review of contemporary studies and research for their emulation in the study of Tibetan hagiographies. The life story of Tsongkhapa is recounted in the third chapter. The fourth chapter details significant historical events that helped recenter Tsongkhapa in the Tibetan religio-cultural landscape. The fifth chapter presents his oeuvre—The Collected Works, the first extensive xylographic work printed in Tibet in the early fifteenth century. It also outlines the volume contents, presents sample texts, and chronicles the history of its publication and printing. The sixth chapter illustrates the centrality of Jey Tsongkhapa’s writings and its integration into the Geluk monastic educational system. The seventh chapter explicates on the topic of textual transmission and demonstrates how the texts were passed down through unbroken lineages to this day. The dissertation concludes with an epilogue and other back matters, including a list of transliteration of names, which are phoneticized in the main body for the ease of reading.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Tuttle, Gray
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 30, 2020