In one of Tsongkhapa’s (rJe Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa) (1357-1419) previous lives, when he was a small boy, Buddha gave him a conch shell. He also presented him a mask of the Dharma protector Chogyal (Chos-rgyal) and a skull-club. Buddha’s disciple Maudgalyayana buried all of them in Tibet for the future. Many centuries later, Tsongkhapa unearthed them from a hill behind Ganden Monastery.
In 1414, after Tsongkhapa taught his Four Combined Commentaries to the Guhyasamaja Tantra (gSang-‘dus ‘brel-ba bzhi-sbrags) at Sera Choding (Se-ra Chos-sdings) retreat, he asked who among his disciples would take care of his tantric teachings. Gyu Sherab Sengge (rGyud Shes-rab seng-ge) (1383-1445) volunteered, and Tsongkhapa entrusted to him his copy of the text he had just taught, the mask of Chogyal, and the skull-club he had unearthed. He also entrusted him with his skull-cup inner offering bowl, a statue of Guhyasamaja (gSang-ba ‘dus-pa), and seven special thangka (thang-ka) scroll paintings.
Following Tsongkhapa’s wishes that he spread the tantra teachings, Sherab Sengge went to Tsang (gTsang) province in Central Tibet in 1426. There, at Yagshilung (g.Yag-shi lung), he taught Dulnagpa Palden Zangpo (‘Dul-nag-pa dPal-ldan bzang-po). According to popular account, Dulnagpa founded at this site, in 1432, Segyu Monastery (Srad-rgyud Grva-tshang), the Tantric College of Se District. This monastery is also known as Tsang Togyu (gTsang sTod-rgyud), the Tantric College of Tsang, Upper (Central Tibet). According to scholarly research, however, Gyu Sherab Sengge himself founded Segyu and then entrusted its care to Dulngapa Palden Zangpo.
In 1433, Gyu Sherab Sengge returned to Lower Central Tibet (U, dBus) and founded Gyume (rGyud-smad Grva-tshang) or Megyu Monastery (sMad-rgyud Grva-tshang), the Tantric College of Lower Central Tibet, in the southern part of Lhasa, at Norzin Gyaltsen (Nor-‘dzin rgyal-mtshan). At the time of the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kalzang Gyatso (rGyal-ba bdun-pa sKal-bzang rgya-mtsho, rGyal-dbang sKal-bzang) (1708-1757), Gyume moved to Changlochen (lCang-lo-can) in the northern part of Lhasa. In the 7th century, King Songtsen Gampo (Srong-btsan sgam-po) had prophesied there would be a great tantric monastery at this site in the future.
In 1474, Gyuchen Kunga Dondrub (rGyud-chen Kun-dga’ don-grub) (1419-1486), a disciple of Gyu Sherab Sengge, left Gyume when he was not chosen to succeed as abbot. Subsequently, he established Uto Jampeling Monastery (Jampel-ling Monastery of Upper U, dBus-stod ‘Jam-dpal gling Grva-tshang), better known as Gyuto (rGyud-stod Grva-tshang), the Tantric College of Upper (U). This, and not Segyu, is the monastery usually referred to nowadays as the Upper Tantric College. A few years after its founding, Gyuto moved to Ramoche Temple (Ra-mo-che) in Lhasa, the site of the Buddha statue brought to Tibet by the Nepalese queen of King Songtsen Gampo.
The monks of Gyume and Segyu met together each year at Yangpachen (Yangs-pa-can), a three days trek north of Lhasa, to observe the summer retreat. Unlike other Gelug monasteries, the Tantric Colleges observe the later summer retreat (dbyar-gnas phyi-ma), from the 16th of the 7th Tibetan month until the 30th of the 8th month. One year during the first half of the 17th century, during the civil war between Tsang and U, the monks of Gyume and Segyu were prevented from meeting at Yangpachen. From then on, the two tantric monasteries observed their summer retreats separately, Gyume at Chumiglung (Chu-mig lung) and Segyu at various locations in Tsang. Gyuto held its summer retreat at Dragyerpa (Brag-g.yer-pa).
The main study at Gyume and Gyuto is of the tantric systems of the Akshobhya form of Guhyasamaja (gSang-‘dus Mi-skyod-pa), the Luipa tradition of Chakrasamvara (bDe-mchog Lu’i-pa), and Thirteen-Couple Vajrabhairava (‘Jigs-byed lha-bcu-gsum). Tsongkhapa taught special methods for combining the practice of the three. The textbooks followed in Gyume and Segyu are by Gyu Sherab Sengge, while those in Gyuto are by Gyuchen Kunga Dondrub. The monks also study tantric rituals, art, and music, and do intensive meditation retreats. The main protector of Gyume originally was Palden Lhamo (dPal-ldan Lha-mo), but when Gyume was unable to maintain its rituals, Ganden Jangtse Monastery (dGa’-ldan Byang rtse Grva-tshang) assumed the responsibility. Thereafter, the main protector of Gyume became Dorje Legpa (Dorleg) (rDo-rje legs-pa). The main protector of Gyuto is Six-Armed Mahakala (dGon-po Phyag-drug).
Tsongkhapa had two styles of chanting at different times in his life, based on visions he had, in which protectors chanted to him in these ways. The two are called the mountain-cracking voice (ri-bo ral-ba’i skad) and the ocean-rolling voice (chu-gter 'khrog-pa’i skad). Both styles are with an extremely base voice, with the former being a flat monotone and the later undulating and producing overtones. The three main Gelug monasteries (gdan-sa gsum) near Lhasa – Sera (Se-ra dGon-pa), Drepung (‘Bras-spung dGon-pa), and Ganden (dGa’- ldan dGon-pa) – all use the ocean-rolling voice. Up until the time of the Fifteenth Ganden Tripa (dGa’-ldan Khri-pa, Ganden Throne-holder), Panchen Sonam Dragpa (Pan-chen bSod-nams grags-pa) (1478-1554), both Gyume and Gyuto used the mountain-cracking voice. Gyume has continued this style, while Gyuto adapted the ocean-rolling voice through the influence of Panchen Sonam Dragpa.
There are several ways of entering Gyume or Gyuto Tantric Colleges. Monks who have received one of the two higher Geshe degrees of Lharampa (dGe-bshes Lha-ram-pa) or Tsogrampa (dGe-bshes Tshogs-ram-pa) at Ganden, Drepung, or Sera Monasteries, enter either Gyume or Gyuto as a Geshe Karampa (dGe-bshes bKa’-ram-pa). The place where monks are born, and not their monastery, determines whether they enter Gyume or Gyuto. Mongolians and Ladakhis, for example, go to Gyume.
Geshe Karampas engage in intense study of the tantra commentaries through the medium of logic and debate. After presenting the tantra formal debate (sngags dam-bca’) on them, they receive the title Geshe Ngagrampa (dGe-bshes sNgags-ram-pa). Afterwards, they may either stay on at the tantric college or return to their home monasteries. If they return to Ganden Monastery, for example, they must present an additional tantra formal debate. One of the reforms of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Tubten Gyatso (rGyal-ba Thub-bstan rgya-mtsho) (1876-1933), was to make entrance into one of the two Tantric Colleges compulsory for all recipients of the two higher sutra Geshe degrees.
A monk may also enter Gyume or Gyuto without being a sutra Geshe, but then he does not engage in tantra debate. Such monks may enter Gyume or Gyuto either directly, starting at age 17, or they may come from one of the other great Gelug monasteries. They are examined on memorization of tantra ritual texts and receive the degree Kyerimpa (bsKyed-rim-pa). After receiving this degree, they may enter one of the large monasteries to study for a sutra Geshe degree if they wish. At Segyu Tantric College, monks train only for the Kyerimpa degree. There are no Geshe Karampas and no tantra debate.
Only Geshe Ngagrampas may become Geko (dGe-skos, Disciplinarians) of the Tantric Colleges. There are three each year at Gyume. The Lama Umdze (Bla-ma dbu-mdzad, Vice-Abbot) is chosen from among the former Gekos. He serves for three years, after which he becomes the Kenpo (mKhan-po, Abbot) for three years. The senior-most retired Abbot (mKhan-zur) of Gyume becomes the Jangtse Choje (Byang-rtse Chos-rje, Dharma Master of Jangtse), while his counterpart from Gyuto becomes the Shartse Choje (Shar-rtse Chos-rje, Dharma Master of Shartse). The Jangtse and Shartse Chojes alternate in becoming the Ganden Tripa (dGa’-ldan Khri-pa, Ganden Throne-holder), the head of the Gelug Tradition. A further reform of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama is that to be Abbot of one of the three great Gelug Monasteries, or one of its colleges, or to be a Tsenzhab (mTshan-zhabs, Tsenshap), a Master Debate Partner of a Dalai Lama, a monk must be a Geshe Ngagrampa.
The Gyume and Gyuto monks make a yearly Dharma lecture round (chos-thog) to various other monasteries. The Abbot must go each year of his tenure, to deliver the lectures, while the Lama Umdze goes only during his first year of office. Those who are training to become Kyerimpas must go on the Dharma round for six years, while Geshe Karampas are required to participate for only one year.
The Namgyal Monastery (rNam-rgyal Grva-tshang) of the Dalai Lamas follows the lineages and style of Gyume. The tantric colleges at Sera and Drepung Monasteries, namely Sera Ngagpa (Se-ra sNgags-pa Grva-tshang) and Drepung Ngagpa (‘Bras-spungs sNgags-pa Grva-tshang), also have a close historical relationship with Gyume. At present, Gyume Lower Tantric Monastery has relocated in India at Hunsur, Karnataka; Gyuto Upper Tantric Monastery at Bumdilla, Arunachal Pradesh; and Segyu Tantric Monastery in Darjeeling, West Bengal. More recently, Gyuto Tantric Monastery has relocated to Sidhbari, near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.