BUDDHISM IN TIBET
THE INITIAL INTRODUCTION
Probably Buddhism was first introduced to Tibet in 173 CE
during the reign of the 28th Yarlung king Lha Thothori Nyantsen, but had apparently
The first official historic introduction of a Buddhist scripture into Tibet
happened during reign of King Hlato Ri Nyentsen (28th king of Tibet - around
500 CE), however, the book was not translated at the time.
33rd King of Tibet, Song Tsen Gampo (born 617) had the book translated and
married two Buddhist princesses. With this, one can say that Buddhism was
first really introduced to Tibet as a practice.
The 37th King of Tibet, Trisong Detsen invited Indian Pandit Shantarakshita
and Kamalasila, who suggested to invite Padmasambhava (or Guru-Rinpoche) to
Tibet, who arrived in 817.
An ordained spiritual community was established in the first Buddhist
monastery; Samye, which was built by Padmasambhava. In this period, translation
of scriptures genuinely began. As of this time, one can say that Buddhism
was firmly established in Tibet, as the presence of Sangha is considered essential.
In 792, after a great philosophical debate, King Trisong Detsen officially
declared Indian Buddhism and not Chinese Buddhism to be the religion of Tibet.
DECLINE AND REVIVAL
Buddhism almost disappeared after 842 when King Lang Dharma
violently persecuted Buddhism. After this, for a long time there were no ordinations
and no central religious authority in Tibet. Instead, the original Bon religion
In 978, with the introduction of several Indian Pandits and Tibetan monks
studying in India, Buddhism revived, with the help of king Yeshe O. A real
revival occurred after 1042, when Atisha-di-Pankhara (or Lama Atisha) put
Tibetans "back on the right track".
He presented the Buddhist philosophy in a very clear and
condensed manner, which became the basis for philosophical teachings in most
Tibetan traditions. After Atisha, the influence from Indian teachers was limited.
Atisha's main disciple was the layman Dromtönpa, who founded the Kadam-tradition.
This tradition does not exist in that form anymore, but strongly influenced
the later schools of Kargyu, Sakya and especially Gelug.
Note that Tibetan teachers like His Holiness the Dalai Lama
insist that Tibetan Buddhism these days still carefully reflects the Buddhism
as was present in India around the 11th century. He also rejects the term
Lamaism, as it suggests as if the Tibetan teachers have developed their own
form of Buddhism.
The Nyingma school is more or less a continuation of the
initially introduced Buddhism by the Indian Pandit Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche
- see image on the right). Historic information of Padmasambhava is generally
shrouded in myths, (he is said to have lived for 3,600 in India prior to coming
to Tibet), but he came to Tibet in 817 at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen.
Initially, the study of logic and philosophy was limited, but much emphasis
was put on tantric practice. It must be noted however, that also within the
Nyingma school considerable reformation has taken place over the ages.
Some typical aspects for the Nyingma tradition: the practice of Dzogchen
(seeking to examine the fundamental nature of mind directly, without relying
on visualizations and images) and the presence of hidden scriptures or "terma"
from Padmasambhava, which are discovered by later Masters.
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Not existing as such anymore, but it was the main reformation
school after revival of Buddhism in the 11th century by Atisha di Pankara
from India (c. 982-1052, see the image on the left) and Dromtonpa as his Tibetan
disciple. Atisha combined two lineages: from Manjushri via Nagarjuna (emphasising
emptiness) and from Maitreya via Asangha (emphasising compassion). Atisha's
brief text 'A lamp for the path to full awakening'
formed the basis of the later Gelug presentation of Lamrim.
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This tradition started with the Tibetans Marpa Chökyi
and Khyungpo Nyaljor, in the 11th. century, who had Tilopa (988-1069) and
his disciple Naropa (1016 - 1100) as Indian masters.
Probably the most famous practitioner and master in the lineage is Milarepa
(1040-1123), who attained Buddhahood in one life time by an incredible display
of perseverance (image on the right). Milarepa was a disciple of Marpa (image
on the left) who in turn was a pupil of Naropa.
The Kargyu tradition is both a meditation lineage and philosophy training
Typical aspects of the Kargyu tradition are the practice of Mahamudra
(not unlike Dzogchen of the Nyingma) and the Six Yogas of Naropa.
It should be noted that currently several suborders of the Kargyu lineage
exist, like the Karma Kargyu (with as leader the Karmapa), the Drikung Kargyu
and the Drukpa Kargyu schools.
For a Kargyu lineage see
this page of the kargyu.org website.
The Sakya tradition has its origins with the translator
Drogmi, who transferred the lineage of the Indian master Virupa to Khon Konchog
Gyalpo. On this occasion, Khon Konchog Gyalpo built the Sakya monastery (meaning
grey earth) and founded the Sakya tradition. In 1247, the Mongolian prince
Godan Khan conquered Tibet and gave temporal authority over Tibet to Lama
Kunga Gyaltsen (better known as Sakya Pandita - see image on the right), who
was one of the earliest major figures in this lineage. In 1254 Mongol emperor
Kublai Khan invited Chögyal Phagpa for teachings. Also Kublai Khan made
Buddhism state religion in Mongolia and made Chogyal Phagpa the first religious
and secular leader over Tibet. Sakya masters ruled Tibet more than 100 yrs,
before the Gelug took over secular power with the Dalai Lamas.
A typical aspect of the Sakya tradition is called Lamdrey (leading
to state of Hevajra), a concise presentation of the Buddhist philosophy. The
Sakyas were much influenced by the Kadam lineage.
In 1354, the rule over Tibet was given to the monk Changchub Gyaltsen, who
was not a Sakya. After this, the tradition declined in importance.
Gelugs (yellow hats) tradition was founded by Tibetan teacher Je Tsongkhapa
(1357-1419 - see image on the left). The basis is formed by the old Kadam
lineage, but it in fact includes all other Tibetan traditions. For example;
Tsongkhapa's main teacher was the Sakya teacher Rendawa.
Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), received the title 'Dalai Lama' (Ocean of Wisdom)
from the Mongol ruler Althan Khan in 1578. In 1642, the 5th. Dalai Lama became
temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet by order of the Mongol ruler Gushri
Khan. Although trained in all four schools, basically all Dalai Lamas were
Gelug; one of the reasons that Gelug tradition is most widespread in Tibet.
Note that the posthumously declared "First Dalai Lama" named Gedun Truppa
(born 1391) was a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa.
Unlike what many people think, the Dalai Lamas are not the spiritual heads
of the Gelugpa school; this is always the Gaden Tripa.
Some typical aspects of the Gelug tradition: emphasis on ethics and sound
scholarship. Main Buddhist teachings are collected in the Lamrim presentation
(not unlike the Lamdrey teachings of the Sakya). The Gelug introduced a scholarly
for a fully qualified and authoritative spiritual master.
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WORDS OF TRUTH
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Honoring and Invoking the Great Compassion of the Three Jewels; the
Buddha, the Teachings, and the Spiritual Community
O Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and disciples of the past, present, and future:
Having remarkable qualities Immeasurably vast as the ocean,
Who regard all helpless sentient beings as your only child;
Please consider the truth of my anguished pleas.
Buddha's full teachings dispel the pain of worldly existence and self-oriented
May they flourish, spreading prosperity and happiness through- out this
O holders of the Dharma: scholars and realized practitioners;
May your ten fold virtuous practice prevail.
Humble sentient beings, tormented by sufferings without cease,
Completely suppressed by seemingly endless and terribly intense, negative
May all their fears from unbearable war, famine, and disease be pacified,
To freely breathe an ocean of happiness and well-being.
And particularly the pious people of the Land of Snows who, through various
Are mercilessly destroyed by barbaric hordes on the side of darkness,
Kindly let the power of your compassion arise,
To quickly stem the flow of blood and tears.
Those unrelentingly cruel ones, objects of compassion,
Maddened by delusion's evils, wantonly destroy themselves and others;
May they achieve the eye of wisdom, knowing what must be done and undone,
And abide in the glory of friendship and love.
May this heartfelt wish of total freedom for all Tibet,
Which has been awaited for a long time, be spontaneously fulfilled;
Please grant soon the good fortune to enjoy
The happy celebration of spiritual with temporal rule.
O protector Chenrezig, compassionately care
For those who have undergone myriad hardships,
Completely sacrificing their most cherished lives, bodies, and wealth,
For the sake of the teachings, practitioners, people, and nation.
Thus, the protector Chenrezig made vast prayers
Before the Buddhas and Bodhisativas
To fully embrace the Land of Snows;
May the good results of these prayers now quickly appear.
By the profound interdependence of emptiness and relative forms,
Together with the force of great compassion in the Three Jewels and their
Words of Truth,
And through the power of the infallible law of actions and their fruits,
May this truthful prayer be unhindered and quickly fulfilled.
This prayer, Words of Truth, was composed by His Holiness
Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, on 29 September 1960 at
his temporary headquarters in the Swarg Ashram at Dharamsala, Kangra District,
Himachal State, India. This prayer for restoring peace, the Buddhist teachings,
and the culture and self-determination of the Tibetan people in their homeland
was written after repeated requests by Tibetan government officials along
with the unanimous consensus of the monastic and lay communities.
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OPINION OF THE CURRENT SITUATION IN TIBET
"They were conquerors, and for that you want only
brute force - nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength
is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.
They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got.
It was just a robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale,
and men going at it blind - as is very proper for those who tackle darkness.
The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those
who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves,
is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much."
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Who better than His Holiness the Dalai Lama....A
Survey of the Paths of Tibetan Buddhism.
The authoritative source for Tibetan matters, including the Buddhist traditions
is found on the website of the Tibetan Government
in exile .
If you want to help, see the website
of the Tibetan Relief Fund of the UK.
A good summary of the Tibetan Buddhist history is found on this page of Simhanada
Much information on Tibet can be found on this FAQ
sheet of Tibet.
September 11, 2011