Yes, he is. There is no truth to the statement some make that Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is not a real, but fake or self-proclaimed, Geshe.
Geshe, literally “Virtuous Friend”, is a title given to those who successfully complete a prescribed course of study, usually at a Gelugpa monastery. In an account of his life, Geshe Kelsang explains:
My real situation is that in Tibet I studied the Geshe training for many years in my local monastery called Jampa Ling and Tashi Lhunpo University and passed two exams. One exam was memorization and the other was the actual exam. Soon after that, people publicly called me “Geshe”.
Later in Tibet I joined Sera Je Monastery and further studied the Geshe training. In India, I mainly emphasized meditation retreat. When I was living in a high mountain called Dalhousie, I received a letter from Sera Je Monastery. The letter encouraged me to go to Sera for an exam. Since I heard that the exam method or system had been re-created, I did not accept this new system.
However, in 1973 I had my Geshe ceremony in Sera Je Monastery, making numerous offerings to thousands of monks; and received a special traditional khatag (white scarf) to indicate that I am a Geshe.
Generally, recognition from the Dalai Lama is not required to become a true Geshe. Before the Dalai Lamas, many pure true Geshes have appeared such as Geshe Potowa, Geshe Jayulwa, Geshe Langri Tangpa, Geshe Sharawa, Geshe Chekawa and so on. These Kadampa Geshes have no connection with the Dalai Lama. I have no connection with the Dalai Lama but I still believe I am a Geshe.
Please give a copy of this information to people who ask for it. Thank you.
In the colophon to Geshe Kelsang’s long life prayer written by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, Geshe Kelsang’s Spiritual Guide and the Junior Tutor to the Dalai Lama, he says:
This short prayer for the long life of the Tsangpa Geshe, Kelsang Gyatso, of Sera Je, who is endowed with great learning and pure and immaculate conduct, was composed by Yongdzin Trijang Dorjechang at the request of the Manjushri Centre community, England.
In the preface to Geshe Kelsang’s book Meaningful to Behold, Trijang Rinpoche also says:
The excellent expositor, the great Spiritual Master Kelsang Gyatso, who studied myriad Buddhist scriptures at the famous Je College of the great monastic university of Sera Tegchen Ling, practiced the meaning of the teachings he received and became a wise, serious, and accomplished Master.
In his foreword to Geshe Kelsang’s book Clear Light of Bliss, Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche says:
I am very happy to learn that Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has given extensive teachings on Secret Mantra based on Protector Manjushri Je Tsongkhapa’s great treatises and on other authentic commentaries on Mahamudra, including the first Panchen Lama’s root text.
Both Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche and Vajradhara Trijang Rinpoche are lineage holders of the Gelugpa tradition and widely revered by all contemporary Gelugpa Lamas.
In his preface to Geshe Kelsang’s Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition, published by Routledge and Kegan Paul in 1984, the 14th Dalai Lama addresses Geshe Kelsang Gyatso by his correct title:
Very often people who are interested in studying Tibetan Buddhism are dissuaded from doing so because they cannot always find books that are written in a way that they can easily follow. This is particularly true for people who have to spend most of their lives making a living, the stress and strain of which leaves them little time for anything else. At the same time, our present life style does not help to solve our problems, and in fact, the only sensible way to live a life less tense life seems to be by developing our mental and spiritual capabilities. I am, therefore, happy that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has attempted to present the basic teachings of Lord Buddha in a manner that people can relate to and put into practice in their daily lives. I would like to thank the translator and editors for their efforts. H.H. The Dalai Lama (Seal)