Geshe Namdak answers a few questions for IMI


Geshe Tenzin Namdak from the Netherlands finished the twenty year long study programme at the Sera Jey Monastic University in South India to earn his Geshe degree. Geshe la kindly answered a few questions for us:

Can you please tell us how the Geshe ceremony went and how you feel about it? 

For two weeks leading up to the final formal ceremony I had to “sit damcha” or answer in debate with each of the classes in the geshe program. Although there was not enough time to prepare, to review all the subjects, the sitting damcha went quite well. It was also enjoyable to go back to the debate court yard with high energy debates after almost a year of not going to debate. For the final ceremony one has to answer debate questions in a big assembly and recite about 25 pages from memory. The two texts to be memorized are a homage prayer and a part of a commentary, in my case Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen’s commentary on the Madhyamak?vat?ra. To do this in front of the assembly of about 1500 Sera Jey monks was a nerve-wracking time, but it went well.


Do you think that being ordained helped you to complete such a difficult program? If so, in what way?

Of course, being ordained and living in a Sangha community, makes it easier to study and practice. Doing things together builds a kind of energy. Outside of the monastery it has, most of the time, been more difficult to study like we do in Sera. Living in a close community is not always easy; there is tension between having to follow the discipline and one’s own ideas to do things differently. We should know that it will be difficult to find the perfect place. I also had my doubts over the years and wanted to leave and do retreats, but then Lama Zopa Rinpoche kindly told me: “It will be good for your Lam Rim”.  So, after examining to stay at a particular place or doing a particular program, in consultation with one’s teacher(s), making the decision to do it and going for it without re-thinking it again and again, makes it easier for the mind. Just go with the flow after one has decided to do it. Obstacles can come, but they are also impermanent and disappear. I also experienced these, sometimes the mind is a bit unhappy or the living conditions are not perfect or you want to do something else. Most of these mentally created difficulties are very shortsighted. When looking at the big picture of the long term benefits of the study program and reflecting on the positive sides, I always thought: other things will also not be easy and where will the conditions be better for study and practice than Sera. Discussing difficulties with other Sangha members and listening how they deal with it, has also been of great help. If you asked me, “What will you miss when leaving Sera?”, then I have to answer, “My teachers and hanging out (debating and going to prayers and pujas) with my classmates.” Thus, the 19 years in a Sangha community feels to have been very beneficial.  The Buddha also advised his ordained followers to live in Sangha communities and most of our teachers also showed the aspect of first studying and living in such a place.


What advice do you have for Sangha who are thinking about undertaking long term study?

Being low in intelligence and knowledge and full of afflictions, I am not in a position to advise others, but can give a few thoughts. Long term study was emphasized by the great realized masters of Nalanda and also His Holiness the Dalai Lama always emphasizes the importance of studying the Buddhist teachings extensively.  It prepares the mind for contemplation and meditation. After having studied for quite some years, one gets a better understanding of the path and has more information and ways of reasoning to think in one’s contemplations. Many masters of the past, like Lama Tsong Khapa, got realizations while reading a text and contemplating the meaning. Study and practice are not two separate things.  But of course there is great benefit in doing personal retreats during a long and intensive period of study. Cutting distractions from the outer world can help to make one’s meditations more effective. Lama Tsong Khapa also did many short retreats while studying and longer retreats after having studied for many years. The three fold advice he got from Mañju?r? has proved to be very beneficial: “See the lama and tutelary deity inseparable, accumulate merit and purify defilements, and study the great texts”


What are your plans for the future?

I will give some courses and talks, do some retreat and finish a few projects in the monastery this year, then enter the traditional one year program for geshes in Gyume Tantric College at the beginning of next year. If I am still alive after that, following the advice of my teachers, I will have to teach a bit more and do some retreats.


Read the IMI’s interview with Geshe Namdak here and more on the FPMT website here.


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