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History Tibetan Buddhism

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Part of the article on Tibetan Buddhism


In Tibet

Guru Rinpoche - Padmasambhava statue

Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. Founder of the Nyingmapa, the earliest school of Tibetan Buddhism. Note the wide-open eyes, characteristic of a particular method of meditation.[1]

According to a Tibetan legendary tradition, Buddhist scriptures (among them the Karandavyuha Sutra) and relics (among them the Cintamani) arrived in southern Tibet during the reign of Lha Thothori Nyantsen, the 28th king of Tibet (5th century). The tale is miraculous (the objects fell from the sky on the roof of the king's palace), but it may have a historical background (the arrival of Buddhist missionaries).[2]

The earliest well-documented influence of Buddhism in Tibet dates from the reign of king Songtsän Gampo, who died in 650. He married Buddhist princesses from Nepal (Bhrikutidevi) as well as Tang Dynasty China (Wencheng), among other wives; and founded the first Buddhist temples (including the Jokhang). By the second half of the 8th century he was already regarded as an embodiment of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.[3] One aspect of Buddhism's appeal (as opposed to that of state Bön) was its international character, as a religion of the major trade routes to India and Central Asia.

In the 8th century, King Trisong Detsen (755-797) established Buddhism as the official religion of the state.[4] He invited Indian Buddhist teachers to his court—most notably, the legendary tantric yogin Padmasambhava and the monk Shantarakshita--and ordered the construction of Samye, the first Tibetan monastery.

The end of the Tibetan empire (triggered by the assassination of its last emperor Lang Darma, an opponent of Buddhism) led to a loss of official support for Buddhist institutions. Within a few centuries, however, a "second diffusion" of Buddhism was occurring thanks to Indian Buddhist teachers such as Atisha. This wave of Buddhist activity was more populist in nature. Tibetan Buddhist monasteries became important centers of cultural and political influence, and entered into various alliances. The Sakya hierarchs won the support of the Mongol Empire, under whose authority they ruled over Tibet; while the Gelug order and its line of Dalai Lamas held a similar role with respect to the Oirat and Qing Dynasty courts.

Following the collapse of the Qing, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama declared independence for Tibet (as had Mongolia). Tibet remained de facto independent until 1950, when the Fourteenth Dalai Lama signed the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet agreeing to Chinese sovereignty. In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India, which agreed to host a Tibetan Government in Exile and a Tibetan refugee population (presently around 100,000). India—and to a lesser extent, Nepal—has now become a major center for Tibetan Buddhist religious activity. Meanwhile, in China, Tibetan Buddhists continue to suffer numerous human rights problem, including religious freedom issues.

In Mongolia

Although some of the emperors of the Mongol Empire had been Buddhist, the religion failed to take hold among the general population until the visit of Tibetan monk Sonam Gyatso—who would retroseptively be known as the Third Dalai Lama--to the court of Oirat leader Altan Khan. The result was new prestige for the Gelug sect, and later, the recognition of Altan Khan's son as the Fourth Dalai Lama. Nevertheless, Mongolian Shamanism remained a powerful competing force in Mongolian religious life.

The Mongolian nobility and Gelug hierarchy developed a symbiotic relationship which would not end until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, and the civil war which followed. By this time Buddhist institutions enjoyed vast power over Mongolian society. The Jebtsundamba Khutuktu (or Bogdo Gegeen) joined a group declaring independence for Mongolia, with himself serving briefly as Bogd Khan.

The new Communist government steadily stripped Buddhist institutions of their power until the late 1930s, when Stalinist repressions in Mongolia resulted in the destruction of thousands of monasteries, and the massacre of tens of thousands of people, many of them Buddhist monks accused of pro-Japanese sympathies. For many years the sole working monastery in Mongolia was Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbataar. The line of Khukhuktus was declared to have ended in 1929, but nevertheless revived again in 1990, after the rise of democracy (see 9th Jebtsundamba Khutughtu).

In the Himalayas

Buddhism entered Bhutan in the seventh century A.D., when Tibetan king Srongtsen Gampo ordered the construction of temples, at Bumthang in central Bhutan and at Kyichu in the Paro Valley. Padmasambhava is said to have passed through Bumthang, which he reached while flying on a tiger (actually a transformed version of his consort Yeshe Tsogyal). As the country developed, Buddhist culture became a unifying element.[5] From about the thirteenth century, Bhutan received Kagyupa refugees from Tibet, where the sect had come into conflict with the Mongol-backed Gelugpas. One such figure was Ngawang Namgyal, Drukpa Kagyu founder of a theocratic dynasty based at Thimpu which persisted until the British period. The British established a hereditary monarchy which endures today, with Tibetan Buddhism as the state religion and much of the Bhutanese government under the control of monks. At this time, the young tulku of Ngawang Namgyal (called the Shabdrung) is said to be held under house arrest. See History of Bhutan.
Between 1642 and 1975, Sikkim was ruled by a line of Chogyals ("Dharma Kings") whose progenitor was apparently predicted by Padmasambhava. From the 18th century Sikkim came under pressure from Nepalese Gurkha forces, encouraging an alliance with Britain. The result was a series of wars in the early 19th century (see Gurkha War), and the appropriation of Sikkim's sovereignty by the British. Sikkim voted against joining India, and remained independent until its 1975 annexation by India. Despite its Buddhist history, Sikkim's population is now mostly Nepali Hindu (a demographic fate which the rulers of neighboring Bhutan have long sought to avoid). Sikkim is also of importance to Tibetan Buddhists because of Rumtek Monastery, associated with the (disputed) line of Karmapas.
After the ninth-century collapse of the Tibetan empire, a scion of the royal house called Nyima-Gon founded the first Ladakh dynasty. The region became culturally and demographically Tibetanized. Many of Ladakh's best-known monasteries and palaces were built by the Namgyal Dynasty during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ladakh increasingly found itself on the defensive against Muslim states to the southwest, until 1846, when it was annexed to Dogra Kashmir. After Partition in 1947, Indian and Pakistani forces fought over Ladakh, resulting in its three-way division (including Aksai Chin). Ladakhi Buddhists often resent Muslim Kashmiri rule, and lobby for recognition of Ladakh as a Union Territory. See History of Ladakh.

  1. Wallace, 1999: 183
  2. Studholme, Alexander: The Origins of Om Manipadme Hum, Albany, NY 2002, p. 14.
  3. Macdonald, Alexander: Religion in Tibet at the time of Srong-btsan sgam-po: myth as history, in: The History of Tibet, ed. Alex McKay, Vol. 1, London 2003, p. 354-363 (for the queens see p. 355); Dargyay, Eva: Srong-btsan sgam-po of Tibet: Bodhisattva and king, in: The History of Tibet, ed. Alex McKay, Vol. 1, London 2003, p. 364-378 (for the queens see p. 373).
  4. Beckwith, C.I.: The revolt of 755 in Tibet, in: The History of Tibet, ed. Alex McKay, Vol. 1, London 2003, p. 273-285 (discusses the political background and the motives of the ruler).
  5. Worden, Robert L. "Arrival of Buddhism". In Savada.

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