Geshe Ngawang Rabga, a Lharampa geshe from Lhowa Khamtsen at Sera Je Monastery, took up his position as our first resident geshe in March 2016, after having completed his tantric exams at Gyuto Monastery, and then studying English in Dharamsala. This is his first time teaching at an FPMT centre.
Geshe-la is teaching the FPMT Basic Programme with the support and assistance of our translator and our Basic Programme teaching assistant, and also teaching some introductory and intermediate courses.
An introduction to Geshe Ngawang Rabga-la
Geshe Ngawang Rabga-la was born in 1973 in Kham, one of the three main provinces of Tibet, in the area called Parkham Karshu, into a nomad-farmer's family. He has one brother and two sisters, one of whom is a nun. All his relatives remain in Tibet.
When Geshe-la was nine years old he took novice monk ordination from Chöden Rinpoche's brother, the highly revered lama, Lodro Sumpo, and entered one of the three most important local monasteries, Chungpa Choekhor Gong, which belongs to a Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. At that stage Geshe-la memorised many ritual texts.
About 1991, around eighteen years of age, on the advice of a renown scholar, Gen Thubten Yangphel-la, Geshe-la moved to Sera monastery near Lhasa to proceed in learning Buddhist Philosophy. His studies began with Collected Topics (Dudra), Types of Mind (Lorig), and Buddhist Logic (Tagrig) for one year.
In 1992, in order to continue his monastic education, Geshe-la decided to flee to India. In a group of 26, it took about 18 days of walking through high Himalayan passes to reach a motorable road in Nepal. Geshe-la stayed about a month in Nepal before proceeding to Delhi and then to Karnataka, a state in South India where the great monasteries of the Gelug tradition have been re-established for the Tibetan refugee community. There Geshe-la took full ordination vows from His Holiness Dalai Lama.
At that time the conditions in the monastery were poor; instead of concentrating solely on studying, the monks had to take turns in doing all kinds of work in the field and at building sites. Many of Geshe-la's friends returned to Tibet.
Despite all the difficulties, Geshe-la stayed at Sera monastery, where he spent more than 20 years until he finally graduated with Geshe Lharampa degree (equal to a doctorate) in 2013.
Geshe-la's favorite topics in Buddhist philosophy are Perfection of Wisdom and the Middle Way. It took about a decade to accomplish his studies on them in great detail.
Geshe-la's main teacher is the late Chöden Rinpoche, who taught him for all these years from the time when Geshe-la studied Collected Topics in the beginning until Madhyamika (Middle Way) class. Other teachers of Geshe Rabga-la are former abbot of Sera Je monastic college, Khensur Lobsang Tsering-la, and Gen Gendun Choephel-la (who is also a major student of Chöden Rinpoche as well as Ösel Hita's former tutor).
Geshe-la enjoyed his life in the monastery. He considers it the best environment to study Buddhism, especially in one of the three Great Seats (Sera, Ganden and Drepung monasteries). Geshe-la recalls that Chöden Rinpoche always emphasised that it's extremely important to study well and have a good motivation; then both study and practice will be accomplished together.
At the end of 2015, Geshe Ngawang Rabga-la was chosen by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to be Root Institute's first resident geshe to teach the Basic Programme which began here in September 2016.
Geshe-la considers it of a great importance to study the main topics of Buddhist philosophy presented in the Basic Programme which will form a foundation to continue one's education in Buddhism.
And besides all the benefits from study, Geshe-la sees how lucky the students are to have the opportunity to live and learn in the heart of Buddhist world, the holiest of holy places – Bodhgaya.
Geshe-la's advice for the students of the Basic Programme
On the path to knowledge we might meet some difficulties. It'd be good not to have any problems but such situations are very rare, therefore we have to utilise whatever circumstances we have as a path. Whatever external conditions there are – climate, environment, food etc. – we need to always concentrate on our main goal, which is to build a firm foundation in Buddhist philosophy. In that way, having put due effort into our studies, we'll get to the point where we can proceed to practice Dharma properly – with understanding based on knowledge. That's very important for our future prospects. We should generate a pure motivation, take good care of our health, help others, and study well. That's what will give good results and bring us to our goal. And I from my side will try my best to help the students develop in their studies.