Though I have neither the capacity nor the interest to do the extensive Gelug studies found in the geshe program, I rejoice in the effort, determination and capacity of Ven. Gache. There are very few Westerners who are able to excel in such a difficult environment. It is more impressive taking into account Ven. Gache's struggle with fluency in the Tibetan language. An interesting story for anyone curious about what it really takes to become a "scholar" in Gelug's great monasteries:
http://mandala.fpmt.org/archives/mandal ... rik-chung/
Standing upright on a woodblock throne, before an assembly of several thousand monks, the Sera Je abbot invited my partner and me to rise. After prostrating, we donned our da gams (heavy wool capes) and gently paced up the central aisle towards the throne. After touching heads with the abbot, we returned to the center of the assembly, my partner in the second aisle and me in the central one. Slowly I began to chant my thesis [in Tibetan] for the debate: “Bodhichitta is the wish, for the benefit of others, to achieve perfect and complete enlightenment …
The journey is even more impressive considering Ven. Gache started out in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, and initially was not completely convinced that intensive study was the way to go:
Despite the inexplicable force that had called me and that convinced me to stay, the first years at Sera were far from straightforward. Specifically, I had significant doubts about the entire monastic system in the Tibetan tradition. In many Buddhist traditions, study is considered a beneficial but potentially misleading approach to the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha himself warned a follower intent on philosophical inquiry that he was like a man shot with an arrow who would not treat his wound until he knew the craftsman of the arrow. For me, the original decision to become a monk had come during a retreat at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in France. Thich [Nhat Hanh] warns: “Perfect understanding is awakened mind. It is not knowledge you can get from a university or even an institute of Buddhist studies. At some institutes of Buddhist studies, the monks and nuns squeeze so much knowledge into their heads. The teachers say a lot, the students take many notes, but the teaching has little to do with everyday sufferings and difficulties. When I see a novice working hard at university studies, I know that he or she will have regrets and difficulties in the future.”1
In apparent contrast, the Tibetan (and especially the Gelug) tradition compares meditation without study to climbing a bare rock face with crippled hands. The monastery reflects this perspective: study and debate drive the regime, and the loud clapping of hands and shouting of logical consequences juxtaposes sharply to the tranquility of, for instance, a Thai forest monastery. My misgivings were not just a simple adjustment struggle, and I presented my concern to Choden Rinpoche, as his counsel had been the catalyst for my choosing Sera in the first place. Rinpoche approved of my strong wish to do retreat, but emphasized that if I went through Sera’s study program first, my retreat would be much more meaningful.