Tibetan Buddhism

Lhasa Tibetan Buddhism, also called Lamaism, is a distinctive form of Buddhism that arose (7th century) in Tibet and later spread throughout the Himalayan region, including the neighboring countries of Bhutan, Nepal, and Sikkim. The history of Tibetan Buddhism can be divided into three periods. During the 7th-9th century AD Buddhism was first introduced from India and was slowly accepted under Buddhist kings in the face of opposition by adherents of the indigenous shamanistic religion of Tibet, Bon. Instrumental in this process were the Indian Mahayana Buddhist masters Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita. During the 9th century, however, King gLang Dar Ma persecuted the new faith and effectively eclipsed it for some time.

The second period began with the reintroduction of Buddhism from India and its successive reform in the 11th century. Powerful ecclesiastical organizations were established and soon began to rule the countryside in alliance with clans of nobles or the distant Mongol rulers. During this period the Tibetan Buddhist canon (notable for its accurate translations of now-lost Sanskrit texts and its helpful commentaries) was compiled, and some of the sects that have persisted to the present were formed. These include the Sa-skya-pa, the rNying-ma-pa (who traced their roots back to Padmasambhava), and the bKa'rgyud-pa (to which belonged the famous yogi Milarepa, or Mi-la ras-pa, 1040-1123).

monks The third period began with the great reformer Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419), who founded the dGe-lugs-pa sect--the so-called Yellow Hats--to which the line of the Dalai Lamas belongs. Each of these lamas was thought to be the reincarnation of his predecessor (as well as that of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara) and became, at least nominally, the religious and secular ruler of the country. In 1959 the present, or 14th, Dalai Lama Dalai Lama fled the Chinese presence in Tibet along with thousands of ordinary Tibetans and many other high incarnate lamas. Since then they have all been living in exile, primarily in India but also in Nepal and elsewhere.

Among the characteristic features of Tibetan Buddhism are its ready acceptance of the Buddhist Tantras as an integral and culminating part of the Buddhist way; its emphasis on the importance of the master-disciple relationship for both religious scholarship and meditation; its recognition of a huge pantheon of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, saints, demons, and deities; its sectarianism, which resulted less from religious disputes than from the great secular powers of the rival monastic organizations; and, finally, the marked piety of both monastic and lay Tibetan Buddhists, which receives expression in their spinning of prayer wheels, their pilgrimages to and circumambulation of holy sites, prostrations and offerings, recitation of texts, and chanting of Mantras, especially the famous invocation to Avalokitesvara Om Mani Padme Hum.


Bell, Charles, The Religion of Tibet (1931; repr. 1968)
Beyer, Stephan, The Cult of Tara-Magic and Ritual in Tibet (1973)
Gyatso, Tenzin, The Buddhism of Tibet and and the Key to the Middle Way (1975)
Stein, R. A., Tibetan Civilization (1972)
Tucci, G., The Religions of Tibet (1980)
Waddell, L. A., Buddhism of Tibet, 2d ed. (1939).