Geshe Tashi Tsering was the main teacher at Chenrezig Institute from 1990 to 2009, guiding the ordained and lay communities and teaching the dharma with extraordinary skill and clarity. That a teacher of such remarkable wisdom and compassion, who is so committed to benefiting the students and the community, resides at Chenrezig Institute is truly amazing. The extent of our great fortune is more evident once one understands something about his life.
Geshe-la was born in Kardze in eastern Tibet in 1937. At the age of seven he joined his uncle and brother at a small, local monastery called 'Khangmar' and began the traditional monastic training. At such a young age he did not know the recitations performed by the assemblies at the monastery, so instead he would sit and make a prayer he had memorised: 'With my heart going out with great compassion in whatever direction the most precious teachings have not yet spread or once spread have declined, may I clearly reveal this treasure of happiness and benefit'.
At sixteen, after completing his preliminary education at Khangmar, he went to Lhasa and was enrolled in Sera Jhe Monastic University where he commenced advanced studies in Buddhist scriptures and debate. It was here that Geshe-la decided that studying the dharma was really the most beneficial thing to do and set his mind on becoming a geshe.
Following the annexation of Tibet by Communist China a few years later, Geshe-la, like many others, fled across the Himalayas to India, walking for almost a month with very little to eat or drink. He resettled in the refugee camp at Buxor in north-eastern India, along with monks from many different monasteries and from all lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. The food and living conditions were extremely poor and hundreds died from disease but the monks continued their monastic studies as best they could.
Ten years later Sera Monastery was re-established near Mysore in southern India. There, after a further seven years of study, Geshe-la entered the seven years of written and oral debate examinations required to achieve his geshe degree. During this time he also taught three or four classes a day in various subjects including philosophy and monastic discipline. Geshe-la excelled in all his exams and finally in 1984 was awarded the rank of lha-rampa geshe with the highest honours.
Geshe-la then entered Gyume Tantric College to train in the tantric texts and rituals. He sat debate examinations on tantric subjects, first at Gyü-me in 1988 and 1989, then at Sera in 1990 in the presence of the abbots and officials of all three great monastic seats as well as His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Following repeated requests made by Lama Zöpa Rinpoche over several years, Geshe-la finally agreed to come to Australia to teach at Chenrezig Institute. He arrived in June 1990 with the blessing of His Holiness. He taught regularly for several years at introductory and intermediate levels before establishing an advanced study programme, the Buddhist Studies Programme (BSP), for students interested in understanding the profound teachings in a deeper way.
So it seems that the wishful prayers of the young monk from Khangmar Monastery in eastern Tibet have been realised: Geshe Tashi Tsering has firmly planted the root of dharma here in Australia where it did not exist before. Through his kindness and great skill in teaching, those wishing to gain a clear and unmistaken knowledge of the Buddhist teachings now have the opportunity.
In early 2009 Geshe Tashi Tsering was appointed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as the Lama Umdze - Chief Lama and Ritual Master - at Gyume Tantric College in South India. Although Geshe-la is now distant in physical terms, if we keep him in our hearts and act in accordance with his wishes and advice, then, like all the Buddhas, he will be right in front of us all the time. There is no greater method than this to stay close to our teachers; this is the practice of guru devotion, our refuge in the Buddha Jewel.
To have experienced Geshe-la’s knowledge and wisdom of the Dharma - the actual refuge; to have had his perfect example to follow - our refuge in the Sangha Jewel - is something so rare and meaningful that it cannot be described in words! Those of us who are Geshe Tashi Tsering’s students are profoundly lucky to have met and established a bond with such an amazing teacher, whose kindness and other perfect qualities are inconceivable.
We have affectionately referred to Geshe Tashi Tsering as “Geshe-la” for many years, but in light of his new position it is now more suitable and very nice for us to refer to him using the honorific “Kuzhab".
Kuzhab Tashi Tsering will return to Chenrezig Institute in July 2009 to bestow bodhisattva vows and teach.