There are 19 classes which follow the Tibetan lunar calendar. The first class starts just after Tibetan New Year (beginning of March / 1st Tibetan month) and continues until the middle of the following year. For the first 8 years graduation occurs at mid-year (July-August / 6th Tibetan month ), and then the remaining classes graduate at the end of each year
(November-December / 10th Tibetan month ). Details of how the above mentioned topics are divided up and studied during each year of the program are described below.
As the entire program of study is undertaken in Tibetan language, foreigners must initially spend between one to three years gaining proficiency in both colloquial and textual Tibetan.
Year 1: Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy (Dus chung). Introduction to Buddhist philosophy and debate, based on a textbook authored by Tutor Purbujok, the tutor to the 13th Dalai Lama. This textbook belongs to a genre of such introductory texts called Collected Topics ( bsdus grwa)
Year 2: Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy (Dus dring). Mind and Awareness ( blo rig ), an introduction to Buddhist psychology and epistemology and Signs and Reason (r taks rig ), an introduction to Buddhist logic.
Year 3: Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy (Dus chen).
- Seventy Topics , an introduction to the seventy topics as presented in Buddha Maitreya's Ornament for Clear Realization , material which will be studied in detail during the following years of the Perfection of Wisdom classes
- Grounds and Paths ( sa lam ) is an introduction to the grounds and the five paths of each of the three vehicles of Buddhist practice.
- Tenets ( grub mtha ) is an introduction to the systems of thought of the four main Buddhist schools, namely the Great Exposition (Vaibhasika), Proponents of Sutra (Sautrantika), Mind-Only (Chittamatrin), and Middle Way (Madhyamika) schools.
Perfection Of Wisdom Classes
Year 4: Paramita I (Shung sarpa). The first part of chapter one of Ornament for Clear Realization (abhisamayalamkara) , which sets out ten factors that characterize the attainment of the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path, namely the omniscience mind of a Buddha. It includes a detailed study of a number of the bases for the achievement of this state, including:
- Introduction to the Perfection of Wisdom sutras
- The twelve deeds of the Buddha
- Various logical reasonings used to establish emptiness
- The three types of exalted knower
- Turning of the three Dharma wheels
- Identifying the Buddha's teachings and its commentaries
- The nature and types of the Perfection of Wisdom
Year 5: Paramita II (Shung nyingpa). This year sees a digression from the study of topics in the Ornament for Clear Realization (abhisamayalamkara) with the study of the Mind-Only (Chittamatrin) section of Lama Tsong Khapa's text The Essence of Eloquence: Treatise Differentiating the Interpretable and the Definitive (legs shad snying po). This focuses on Mind-Only views of how Buddhist scriptures should be interpreted, the meaning of the three turnings of the wheel of Dharma, and the nature of reality in terms of the three natures.
Year 6: Paramita III (Surkol sarpa). The second part of chapter one of Ornament for Clear Realization (abhisamayalamkara) , includes:
- Mind generation (bodhicitta)
- Advice on how to progress on the paths
- The two truths
- The four noble truths
- The three jewels of refuge
- The five wisdom eyes, and the six clairvoyances
- The path of preparation
- Buddha lineage (buddha-nature)
- An extensive presentation of grounds and paths
Year 7: Paramita IV (Surkol nyingpa-lower). A continuation of the digression from the sequential study of Ornament for Clear Realization ( abhisamayalamkara) , although the subjects studied here are amongst those that it refers to:
- The four concentrations and four formless absorptions
- The twelve links of dependant arising
- The twenty types of Sangha
Year 8: Paramita V (Surkol nyingpa-upper). The digression continues with the study of Lama Tsong Khapa's presentation of the Mind-Only (Chittamatrin), school's concept of the mind-basis-of-all, based on His root text on this topic, and the commentary to this.
After this the study of the Ornament for Clear Realizations (abhisamayalamkara) , continued with chapter two, which approaches the Buddhist path from the point of view of eleven factors which characterize the attainment of the Bodhisattva type of realizations.
Chapter three presents the path from the point of view of the nine factors which characterize the attainments of the Hearer and Solitary Realizer vehicles
Year 9: Paramita VI (Parchen I). Chapter four of Ornament for Clear Realization ( abhisamayalamkara) , presents an alternative systematic presentation of the paths to Buddhahood in terms of eleven characterizing factors.
Year 10: Paramita VI I(Parchen II).
- Chapter five of Ornament for Clear Realization (abhisamayalamkara) , which gives a detailed analysis of three of the upper paths, namely, the paths of preparation, seeing and meditation by means of eight characterizing factors.
- Chapter six, gives an alternative presentation of the path in terms of thirteen characterizing factors, including the six perfections.
- Chapter seven, which analyses the final moment in the continuum before the attainment of Buddhahood in terms of four characterizing factors.
- Chapter eight, which looks at the nature of the resultant state of Buddhahood in terms of four characterizing factors.
Middle Way Classes
Year 11: Madhyamika I (Uma sarpa་I )
Year's 11 and 12 are based on the study of the Tibetan scholar Jetsun Choekyi Gyaltsen's monastic textbook entitled General Meaning (of the) Middle Way . This sets out the position of the Consequence (Prasangika) School views as understood by Lama Tsong Khapa which is based on the texts of Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. The following main topics are looked at
- The reasons why the Hearer and Solitary Realizer practitioners actually have the same realization of emptiness as that of the Bodhisattva.
- The identification of the object of negation in relation to emptiness, in contrast to the Middle Way Autonomy (Svatantrika) School's understands of this.
Year 12: Madhyamika II (Uma sarpa II).
- The progressive debate about the nature of reality according to the views of the nature of reality of the three successive Middle Way Indian masters: Buddhapalita, who elucidated Nagarjuna's view; Bhavaviveka, who in the 6th century criticized this presentation and became the founder of the Autonomy School (Svatantrika); and Chandrakirtri (7th century, who defended and extended Buddhapalita's presentation, thereby founding the Consequence School (Prasangika)
- The eight unique views of the Consequence School (Prasangika) in contrast to the lower schools.
- How the omniscient mind of a Buddha observes objects
Year 13: Madhyamika III (Uma nyingpa III)
Year's 13 and 14 involve a study of Lama Tsong Khapa's commentary on Chandrakirtri's root text, entitled Illumination of the Thought. The material of the first two years of the Middle Way classes is thus restudied, and a number of new topics are covered.
Year 14: Madhyamika IV(Uma nyingpa IV)
A continuation of the above studies.
Monastic Disciple Classes
Year 15: Vinaya I (Dulwa-sar I)
- Annual monastic calendar
- Ordination rituals and procedures
- Various categories of ordination and faults
- Four root downfalls
Year 16: Vinaya II (Dulwa-sar II)
- Detailed study of all the Gelong (Bhikshu) vows in terms of four aspects:
- The circumstances surrounding the Buddha's pronouncement of the vow
- What the vow is aimed at preventing
- What is involved in the breaking of the vow
- Variations and circumstances to be taken into consideration
- Year 17: Vinaya III (Dulwa-sar III)
- Study of the Gelongma (Bhikshuni) vows
- Various monastic activities such as the confession ceremony and the rain's retreat.
Year 18 & 19: Abhidharma (Zoad and Karam-lower). This is a study of the early Theravadan type of Buddhist system of phenomenology which is consolidated and systematized into the 'Abhidharma basket' of texts from within the Buddhist canon. Based on these texts, Master Vasubandhu (4th century) composed the brief summary that is the root text for these classes. This text represents the thinking of the early Great Exposition Schools ( vaibashika ).
- Five Treatises
- Faculty Course Enrolment
- Course Sessions
- Holday & Breaks
- Class & Subjects
- Lharampa Geshe Classes
Year 20 - 25: Lharam. At the completion of the above basic program of studies, a small number of the best performing monks from the class are selected to continue their studies for the Lharam title - a further six year course.
This course consists of further study of Vinaya and Abhidharma, as well as a continuing systematic review of all of the topics studied over the course of the Geshe Studies Program. Each year public examinations set by the Geluk organization must be attended. Successful completion of this leads to the granting of the Lharam Geshe title / degree.
Monks who do not go on to the Lharam class are eligible to be granted one of the three lower degrees of Geshe, namely the Tsogram