Gelug means Order of Excellence or Virtuous Order in the Tibetan language. This Buddhist sect requires its followers to strictly abide by its disciplines. The Gelug monks usually wear yellow peach-shaped hats, and so it is also known as the Yellow Sect.
The Gelug Sect was stared by Tsongkhapa in the late 14th century, following a period of religious reform. Tsongkhap was originally a monk of the Kargdam Sect. He went to the U-Tsang region to study the Buddhist scriptures in 1373, and combined features of other Tibetan Buddhist sects, such as the Sakya and Kagyu sects, in his new doctrine. He gave equal importance to esoteric and esoteric forms of Buddhism. Tsongkhapa strictly abided by the religious disciplines and set a good example for his followers. To show his difference from other monks and his determination to observe the commandments, Tsongkhapa began to wear a yellow hat. He wrote books to explain the Buddhist scriptures and did missionary work to spread the spirit of Buddhism, thus earning great respect among religious believers.
In 1409, Tsongkhapa constructed the Gandain Monastery in Dagze. He and his disciples recruited many followers to the temple, and formed the Gelug Sect. After the death of Tsongkhapa, his disciples established the Zhaibung Monastery, the Sera Monastery and the Zhaxilhunbu Monastery, as the influence of the Gelug Sect spread. The lofty spirit and rigorous study attitude of Tsongkhapa and his followers were highly appraised by monks of other Tibetan Buddhist sects, and many of them converted to the Gelug Sect. Most of the Gelug Sect monasteries were magnificent and housed large numbers of monks and exquisite Buddhist sculptures. They followed a strict scripture study system. The Gelug Sect grew to be the monst influential Tibetan Buddhist sect.
In the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the influence of the sect spread further to the Mongolian Plateau and part of xinjiang, and the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama reincarnation systems were formed. With the backing of the Ming and Qing imperial governments, which officially conferred the titles of the Dalai and Panchen lamas, the Gelug Sect gradually became the leading religious sect in Tibet. It is held in great esteem by the people of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and has remained influential for six centuries.
The Gelug Sect has absorbed from other sects in developing its own traditions. It emphasizes abiding by religious disciplines and matching deeds with words. Every detail in the lives of its monks must conform to Buddhist rules. The exemplary behavior of Tsongkhapa and his followers gained them great respect among all sectors of Tibetan society. It is said that since Tsongkhapa strictly abided by the religious disciplines, his body exuded a natural fragrance.
The Gelug Sect pays great attention to the study of the Buddhist classics, and emphasizes grasping the whole Tibetan Buddhist system. It resolved the contradiction between esoteric and esoteric doctrines, which had bedeviled Tibetan Buddhism for a long time. Gelug monasteries are sometimes more like universities than places of worship, with knowledgeable professors and diligent monk-students.
Gelug monks usually spend 20 years mastering five volumes of Buddhist scriptures and collateral materials. The Gelug Sect has two institutions of higher learning-the Upper Esoteric Institution and Lower Esoteric Institution-in Lhasa. There are also some esoteric institutions attached to monasteries for research work. The sect pays attention to the study of social sciences and Tibetan traditions and cultures as well.
Gelug monasteries are found throughout Tibet. They are the centers of Buddhist culture in their areas.