Tibetan buddhism

21.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Tibetan Buddhism is a combination of the meditative practices, teachings and techniques of Mahayana traditions (one of the two branches of Buddhism).

It is practiced in Tibet and the neighboring Himalaya regions and in Kalmyk, Mongolia, Buryat, Tuvin and some other territories.

The idea focusses on the rebirth of famous Buddhist characters through whom the teaching (Dharma) is passed, and secular and clerical authorities are the basis of the religion in Tibet.

The evolvement of buddhism in tibet

Initially, the Tibetan people had the Bon religion which had some common features with Shamanism.

The history of Tibetan Buddhism is represented by several stages.

At the end of the 4th century A.D., its first adherents appeared but at that time they did not influence the local people. Qians who lived in the southwestern provinces of China observed the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. During the first half of the 7th century, Tibet began to become more interested in the Indian traditions of Mahayana, which is why it adopted the doctrine from Hotan. 

King Songtsen Gampo encouraged the swift spread of the Buddhist tradition, as he simultaneously ruled in several large regions of Tibet including:

  • central and eastern parts,
  • Shang-Shung (west),
  • northern part of Myanmar,
  • Nepal.

Due to his marriage to princesses from China and Nepal who brought holy images of Buddha, scriptures devoted to astrology and also medicine, the new teaching was introduced gradually to the Tibetan peoples. The king decided to develop a more efficient system of the Tibetan written language and to translate Buddhist texts from the Sanskrit. But the measures were not on a large-scale. Later, at the end of the 8th century, King Trisong Detsen accepted the Indian form of Buddhism. During that period, his reign extended to the borders with the East Turkestan deserts and in the west to Samarkand lands. The King ruled for some time in the capital of Changan, which partially influenced the doctrine in Tibet, but the full form of the Chinese religion was denied. 

Tibetan buddhism

The Indian teaching arrived in Tibet for the first time in the 8th century due to the teacher Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), with whom the emerging of the “old school” – Nyingma was connected.

After persecutions began in the middle of the 9th century, the school existed secretly. The holy texts were kept in caves and were discovered by followers only many centuries later. There are also other pieces of evidence of the religion. For example, ruins of monasteries remained in Kirghizia and within the borders of Lake Issyk-Kul petroglyphic Buddhist inscriptions in the national language were found. In the 10th century, Tibetan rulers invited new teachers from India who again started to undertake translations and to spread the Buddhist religion. Four key schools began to develop at that time:

  • Sakya,
  • Kagyu,
  • Jo Nang,
  • Kadam (this was reorganised in Gelug in the 14th century).

This event can be called the second wave in the development of the Indian concept of Buddhism in Tibet.

Essence of the tibetan buddhism tradition 

The Dalai-lama teacher is the greatest personality, the authority of whom evolves the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai title, meaning “ocean” was translated from the Mongolian, and was first conferred on a student of the great teacher. Dalai-lama was a student of the Tibetan religious leader Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the New Kadam tradition or Gelug.

Dalai-lama re-united Tibet spiritually, becoming a religious and state leader. The mentor (Lama) plays one of the most critical roles in Tibetan Buddhism. Being a spiritual leader, he teaches his disciples, and they study the Buddhist concept of his school, mastering its meditative practices.

Five schools of Tibetan Buddhism-Lamaism repeat the essence of the Indian concepts of the ancient and early medieval periods.

One can follow the path of achieving a refined understanding of the Universe via learning the essence of the four religious practices of India. The most mature concept is Madhyamika – “Middle way”.

Tibetan Buddhism schools have several characteristics similar to the Indian teaching including:

  • holding disputes,
  • the achievement of exceptional abilities – Siddha,
  • one-time following the sutra (unification) way and tantra (continuity),
  • the monks’ vows.

Sacred texts were published in Kangyur (Kanjur)  – collection of Buddha’s genuine words – and Tengyur (Tanjur) -comments. 

An extensive number of religious works were translated into the national language from Sanskrit and a smaller amount from the Chinese (if the original was lost). There are also many works in the national language.

The main symbol of Tibetan Buddhism is the endless knot. This does not have a beginning or an end and denotes fully obtaining the four noble truths and the five types of initial Wisdom. The knot depicts twelve interconnected links pointing to continuality and is the basis of cyclic existence. Its endlessness is a distinguishing feature of Tibetan Buddhism – the interaction of all living creatures and phenomena in the Universe.

Geography of tibetan buddhism

Geography of tibetan buddhism

An acquaintance with the Hindu tradition in Mongolia began in the 13th century, during the rule of Kublay, a teacher who was the head of the Sakya School who had arrived in the country. He developed a renewed written language of the Mongolian people to make the translation of Indian sacred texts easier.

In time, the Tibetan variant of Buddhism adjusted to the country, which resulted in the development of special clothing for spiritual mentors and the Soyombo alphabet.

Tibetan Buddhism arrived in Buryatia from Mongolia via the Transbaikal population and later from a provincial monastery. To weaken the Mongolian positions, the Russian tsarist government provided the title of mentors to Buryat temples. As a result, their school stopped being dependent on the Mongolian school.

In Tyva, the doctrine tended to be more similar to the Mongolian doctrine than the Buryat tradition. Many Shaman practices were borrowed from there.

In western Mongolia, the teaching did not spread very widely in the 18th century. However, at the end of the 16th, and early 17th century, the Dzungar Khanate accepted the religion due to the influence of the Gelug School that came from Tibet.

At the beginning of the 17th century, some of the Oirat people separated from Dzungaria and formed a Kalmyk Khanate to the north of the Caspian Sea. They had their own written language, and the religious leader of Kalmykia became the king and was called Lama. Up to the 19th century, spiritual rulers received instructions from Tibet.

In China and Manchuria, Tibetan Buddhism appeared due to conquests.   

Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhism worships the Guru and considers religious practice without a teacher unacceptable and even dangerous. Tibetan Buddhism differs from classical Buddhism in its dogmatism and rituality that have developed as a result of a specific mentality and its mixing with local religions and customs.