The dGe-lugs-pa emphasise the importance of gradual and systematic teaching, of monastic discipline and thorough scholarship, as a necessary basis for the Vajrayana teachings. The bKa'-gdams-pa teachings on the bodhisattva path are combined with Tsong-kha-pa's teachings on the emptiness doctrine of Nagarjuna and Candrakirti. The distinctive dGe-lugs-pa system of teachings is known as the Graduated Path (lam-rim), and for the few who practise the Vajrayana, the main Tantras practised by the dGe-lugs-pa are Vajrabhairava, Guhyasamaja and Cakrasavara and Kalacakra.
The dGe-lugs-pa tradition stems from the teachings of Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419) who was both a prolific scholar and a visionary. He travelled extensively in Tibet and received teachings from numerous masters, including 'Bri-gung bKa'-brgyud-pa, Sa-skya-pa and rNying-ma-pa lamas. He was most influenced by the bKa'-gdams-pa school and emphasised monastic discipline and non-involvement in political conflict. He founded dGa'-ldan monastery in the Lhasa (lHa-sa) area in 1409, and one of his successors, dGe-'dun-grub (1391-1475) built up the school and established the monastery of bKra-shis lHun-po near Shigatse (gZhis-ka-rtse) in gTsang. Another famous teacher who strengthened the monastic base of the school, dGe-'dun rGya-mtsho (1475-1542), later came to be seen as dGe-'dun-grub's reincarnation, and his reincarnation, bSod-nams rGya-mtsho (1543-88), received the title of "Ta-le" from the Altan Khan, thus becoming known as the third "Dalai Lama". The dGe-lugs-pa continued to be bolstered by their Mongol supporters, a great-grandson of Altan Khan being recognised as the fourth Dalai Lama. The following Dalai Lama made a pact with the Gu-shri Khan and proceeded to unify Tibet in the mid-seventeenth century. After a period of chaos and civil war in the early eighteenth century, the seventh Dalai Lama assumed power in 1750 and the dGe-lugs-pa's temporal authority was restored. From this time, the dGe-lugs-pa monastic hierarchy controlled the pre-modern Tibetan government. Its "three seats" in the Lhasa area - dGa'-ldan, 'Bras-spung and Se-ra - were the focus for hundreds of branch monasteries and recruited monks from all over Tibet. bKra-shis lHun-po became the seat of the Panchen (Pa-chen) Lama incarnation line from the seventeenth century: the fifth Dalai Lama recognised a reincarnation of the Abbot of bKra-shis lHun-po, who had been his tutor, and the Panchen Lama soon became considered the second most important dGe-lugs-pa incarnation. bKra-shis lHun-po became wealthy and powerful in its own right, and the Manchu dynasty tried to take advantage of political rivalries between Lhasa and bKra-shis lHun-po, a policy which was continued by the Chinese Nationalist and Communist Governments.
The dGe-lugs-pa share much of their ritual symbolism with the other Tibetan Buddhist schools. Many guru yoga practices focus on Tsong-kha-pa, while images of the Buddha Sakyamuni are more central in dGe-lugs-pa devotional practice than that of the other schools. They are also known for their popular devotional deity practices on Avalokitesvara (spyan-ras-gzigs) and Tara (sGrol-ma).
It is not possible to estimate numbers of followers, but the dGe-lugs-pa were politically dominant in the pre-modern Tibetan state and owned large estates. They were subsidised by the government and had the largest monasteries and the largest number of monks of any of the Tibetan Buddhist schools. The "three seats" in the Lhasa area housed 22,000 monks between them in the twentieth century. Many dGe-lugs-pa monks were recruited under the "monk tax" levy; the ranks of monks included government administrators, menial monastic workers and "fighting monks" (ldab-ldob), as well as religious scholars, ritual experts and meditators. The dGe-lugs-pa were less well represented in Khams, outside the areas of political Tibet, although they had major monasteries in A-mdo in the north-east, where they sometimes had a close relationship with the rNying-ma-pa. The dGe-lugs-pa have been very active in exile; besides the Dalai Lama, who is an ecumenical figure, many contemporary lamas of the tradition have successfully re-established monasteries and centres in India, Western and East Asian countries. The important dGe-lugs-pa monasteries in Tibet have also been reconstructed since the 1980s, although the Chinese government attempts to keep a tight control over monastic recruitment and organisation and in this context, the monasteries have become the focus of political resistance to Chinese rule.
Centre The dGe-lugs-pa have a number of Main Centres in India. The "three seats" have various centres, particularly in South India, which are reconstructions of their colleges. dGa'-ldan, for instance, has centres in Karnataka (P.O. Tibetan Colony, Lama Camp No.1, Mundgod, North Kanara, Karnataka, India, 581411), at Bodhgaya (Ganden Phelgyeling Monastery, P.O. Bodhgaya, District Gaya, Bihar, India) and elsewhere; 'Bras-spung also has centres in the same settlement (P.O. Tibetan Colony, Lama Camp No.2, Mundgod, North Kanara, Karnataka, India, 581411) and Se-ra has centres in the Mysore area (P.O. Bylakuppe, District Mysore, Karnataka, India, 571104).