A Brief History of Tibet by Tim Lambert

· Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism

There is still so much ignorance and misinformation about Old and New Tibet that I have collected more material in order to respond to the so many posts on this subject. I have highlighted relevant parts of the articles and made my own comments where appropriate.


The earliest inhabitants of Tibet were a pastoral people. They herded goats, cattle and sheep. By 100 BC people in Tibet learned to irrigate the land and grew rice and barley as well as raising herds of livestock. In the 6th century AD Tibet was divided into different kingdoms but early in the 7th century AD Tibet became a single, unified state.

Also in the early 7th century a form of writing was created in Tibet based on Indian writing. Tibet became a highly civilised nation between India and China. It was also powerful. In 763 AD the Tibetans captured the Chinese capital Changan.

The earliest religion of Tibet was called Bon. It was a shamanistic religion. Its followers believed there were good and evil spirits everywhere in nature. The shamans could communicate with the spirits and act as intermediaries.

However in the 8th century Buddhism was introduced into Tibet from India. The first Buddhist monastery was built at Samye in c.779 AD. Bon did not die but it adopted many Buddhist teachings. Tibetan Buddhism also adopted Bon beliefs.

However a ruler named Lang Darma 838-842, persecuted Buddhists and after his death Buddhism declined. Moreover in the 9th century Tibet split up into warring states.

Buddhism revived in Tibet in the late 10th century. Men like Rinchen Zangpo 958-1055 who founded monasteries and temples, and the Indian teacher Atisha 982-1055 led the revival. Furthermore in 1073 the great Sakya monastery was founded.

In the early 13th century the Mongols conquered a vast empire across Asia. In 1207 Tibet submitted to the Mongols. As a result, although Tibet became a vassal state it was never fully absorbed into the Mongol Empire.

Then in 1247 Goden Khan, the Mongol leader, made Sakya Lama temporal ruler of Tibet. He became the first priest-ruler of Tibet.

Later Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor of China, made the Sakya lama his spiritual advisor. It was a symbiotic relationship. The lama advised the emperor and in turn received his patronage and protection.

However in 1350 the Tibetans rebelled against the Sakya lama and overthrew him. Tibet then became a secular state.

In the 15th century several new monasteries were founded in Tibet. In 1409 at Gandan. In 1416 at Drepung, at Sera in 1419 and at Trashilingpo in 1447.

In Tibet Buddhists were divided into several sects. One of these was called the Gelug pa or yellow sect. In 1578 the leader of the sect, Sonan Gyats met the chief of a Mongol tribe called the Tumet. The Mongols were converted to Buddhism and the two men formed an alliance. Sonan Gyats was given the title Dalai Lama. However he was called the third Dalai Lama. The two previous leaders of the sect were posthumously named the first and second Dalai Lamas. Sonan Gyats, the third Dalai lama, became the spiritual advisor of the Mongols while the Mongol chiefs became his patrons and protectors.

The early 17th century was a period of civil war in Tibet. Then in 1640 the Mongols entered Tibet to support the Fifth Dalai Lama. In 1642 they made him temporal ruler as spiritual leader of Tibet. From then on the Dalai Lama was a priest-king.

When the Dalai Lama dies it is believed that he is reincarnated as a child. When the child is discovered he becomes the new Dalai Lama.

Under the Fifth Dalai Lama Tibet was prosperous and powerful. However when the Dalai Lamas died his second in command, the Desi, kept the death secret. The Desi ruled in the Fifth Dalai Lama’s name. He also concealed the discovery of a child believed to be the 6th Dalai Lama. The 6th Dalai Lama was finally installed in 1697.

However his less than pious ways angered the leader of the Tumet Mongols. In 1705 the Mongols attacked Tibet and they killed the Desi. They also deposed the 6th Dalai Lama, who they claimed was an impostor. The leader of the Tumet, Lhasang Kan installed a man of his choice as Dalai Lama. However the Tibetan people refused to accept him.


In 1707 another Mongol people, the Dzungars invaded Tibet and killed Lhasang Kang. The Chinese were alarmed by the Dzungar success. In 1720 they sent a representative called an Amban to Tibet. They also stationed Chinese troops there. In time the Chinese began to see themselves as overlord of Tibet.

In the 18th century Tibet isolated itself from the rest of the world. However in the early 20th century Tibet suffered a British invasion. At that time the British ruled India. While the British did not seek to rule Tibet they feared that it would fall under Russian influence.

The Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia and the Chinese representative or Ambman declared that the Dalai Lama was deposed. The Tibetan people ignored him. The British then forced Tibet to sign a treaty allowing some trade with the British Empire and excluding ‘foreign influence’ (Russia) from Tibetan affairs.

The Chinese were alarmed by the British invasion of Tibet. They feared that if Tibet fell into British hands then China would fall under British influence. In 1909 the Chinese invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled to India.

However in 1911 a revolution* broke out in China and the emperor was overthrown. Chinese troops in Tibet were forced to withdraw. In 1912 the Dalai Lama returned. However in 1913 Chinese troops returned and occupied parts of Tibet.

In 1914 the British persuaded the Chinese to accept a treaty called the Simla Convention. The treaty divided Tibet into 2 regions, Inner Tibet and Outer Tibet. The Dalai Lama ruled Outer Tibet (although China claimed suzerainty or loose control). The Chinese were given partial control over Inner Tibet, although the treaty said Tibet would not be absorbed into China.

Neither side was satisfied with the treaty. In 1918 the Chinese invaded Tibet again but were forced to retreat.

In the 1920s and 1930s some attempts were made to modernise Tibet but it remained a traditional and very isolated country. It was also a feudal society. Most of the land was owned by monasteries or by rich families. Most of the people were serfs. In 1951 Tibet was annexed by China. However in 1959 resentment of Chinese rule led to a rebellion. The rebellion was quickly crushed and the Dalai Lama fled to India.

Under Chinese rule serfdom was abolished and in 1965 Tibet was made an autonomous region.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

In 2006 a railway was built from Beijing to Lhasa. It is the highest railway in the world. However in March 2008 rioting took place in Lhasa. Nevertheless at the present time the Tibetan economy is growing rapidly and the region is rich in minerals.

Today the population of Tibet is about 3 million. [1] (1114 words)

Myth and Reality

Tibet’s isolation and unique religious practices

have made it the focus of many Western myths.

by Foster Stockwell


Western concepts of Tibet embrace more myth than reality. The idea that Tibet is an oppressed nation composed of peaceful Buddhists who never did anyone any harm distorts history. In fact the belief that the Dalai Lama is the leader of world Buddhism rather than being just the leader of one sect among more than 1,700 “Living Buddhas” of this unique Tibetan form of the faith displays a parochial view of world religions.

The myth, of course, is an outgrowth of Tibet’s former inaccessibility, which has fostered illusions about this mysterious land in the midst of the Himalayan Mountains — illusions that have been skillfully promoted for political purposes by the Dalai Lama’s advocates. The myth will inevitably die, as all myths do, but until this happens, it would be wise to learn a few useful facts about this area of China.

First, Tibet has been a part of China ever since it was merged into that country in 1239, when the Mongols began creating the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). This was before Marco Polo reached China from Europe and more than two centuries before Columbus sailed to the New World. True, China’s hold on this area sometimes appeared somewhat loose, but neither the Chinese nor many Tibetans have ever denied that Tibet has been a part of China from the Yuan Dynasty to this very day.

The early Tibetans evolved into a number of competing nomadic tribes and developed a religion known as Bon that was led by shamans who conducted rituals that involved the sacrifice of many animals and some humans. These tribes fought battles with each other for better grazing lands, battles in which they killed or made slaves of those they conquered. They roamed far beyond the borders of Tibet into areas of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, Xinjiang, Gansu, and Qinghai. Eventually one of these tribes, the Tubo, became the most powerful and took control of all Tibet. (The name Tibet comes from Tubo.) During China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907), Emperor Taizong improved relations with the Tubo king, Songtsen Gampo, by giving him one of his daughters, Princess Wenzheng, in marriage. The Tubos, in response to this cementing of relations, developed close fraternal ties with the Tang court, and the two ruling powers regularly exchanged gifts.

The princess arrived in Tibet with an entourage of hundreds of servants, skilled craftspeople, and scribes. She was a Buddhist, as were all of the Tang emperors, and so Buddhism entered Tibet mainly through her influence, only to be suppressed later by resentful Bon shamans. Some years later another Tang princess was married to another Tubo king, again to cement relations between the two rulers.

The fact that the Tibetans and the Chinese had united royal families and engaged actively in trade (Tibetan horses for tea of the Central Plain) didn’t mean an absence of conflict between them. Battles occasionally occurred between Tang and Tubo troops, mostly over territorial issues. At one point in the 750s, the Tubos, taking advantage of a rebellion against the Tangs by other armed groups in China, raced on horseback across China to enter the Tang capital of Chang’an. But, they couldn’t hold the city.

In 838, the Tubo king was assassinated by two pro-Bon ministers, and the Bon religion was re-established as the only acceptable religion in Tibet. Buddhists were widely persecuted and forced into hiding.

Trade between Tibet and the interior areas continued during the Five Dynasties (907-960) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279) that followed the collapse of the Tang, although relations between the two ruling powers were limited. During this time Buddhism revived in Tibet as a result of the Buddhists’ willingness to accommodate some Bon practices. The form of Buddhism that resulted from this merging of the two religions was quite different from that of China and other countries in Southeast Asia, as well as from the form that had been practiced previously in Tibet.

Tibetan Buddhism, often called Lamaism, appealed to the Mongols, who conquered most of Russia, parts of Europe, and all of China under the leadership of Genghis Khan. The Mongols, like the Tibetans, were tribal herders who had a religion of animism similar to Bon.

When Kublai Khan, the first Yuan emperor, appointed administrators to Tibet, he elevated the head of the Tibetan Buddhist Sakya sect to the post of leader of all Buddhists in China, thus giving this monk greater power than any Buddhist had ever held before – and probably since. Needless to say, the appointment irritated the leaders of the other Buddhist sects in Tibet and the much larger group of non-Tibetan Buddhists in China. But, they couldn’t do anything to counter the wishes of the emperor.

The Yuan Dynasty divided Tibet into a series of administrative areas and put these areas under the charge of an imperial preceptor. Furthermore, the Yuan court encouraged the growth of feudal estates in Tibet as a way to maintain control there.

When the Yuan Dynasty collapsed, it was replaced by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which wasn’t composed of persons of Mongolian heritage. Tibet then became splintered because the Ming court adopted a policy of granting hereditary titles to many nobles and a policy of divide and rule.

Although the Ming court conferred the honorific title of Desi (ruling lama) to the head of one of Tibet’s most powerful families, the Rinpung family, they also bestowed enough official titles to his subordinates to encourage separatist trends within the local Tibetan society. One of these titles was given to the head of the newly founded Gelugpa sect, better known as the Yellow sect. He later took on the title “Dalai Lama.”

Tibet During the Qing Dynasty

The next and last dynasty, the Qing, came to power in 1644 and lasted until 1911. At the time of its founding, the most prominent Tibetan religious and secular leaders were the fifth Dalai Lama, the fourth Panchen Lama, and Gushri Khan. They formed a delegation that arrived at the Chinese capital, Beijing, in 1652.

Before they returned to Tibet the following year, the emperor officially conferred upon Lozang Gyatso (the then Dalai Lama), the honorific title “The Dalai Lama, Buddha of Great Compassion in the West, Leader of the Buddhist Faith Beneath the Sky, Holder of the Vajra.” (Dalai is Mongolian for “ocean”; lama is a Tibetan word that means “guru.”)

The fifth Dalai Lama pledged his allegiance to the Qing government and in return, received enough gold and silver to build 13 new monasteries of the Yellow sect in Tibet. All successive reincarnations of the Dalai Lama have been confirmed by the central government in China, and this has become a historical convention practiced to this very day.

A later Qing emperor suspected the intentions of the seventh Dalai Lama, so he increased the power of the Panchen Lama (also of the Yellow sect). In 1713 the Qing court granted the title “Panchen Erdeni” to the fifth Panchen Lama, thus elevating him to a status similar to that given to the Dalai Lama (Panchen means “great scholar” in Sanskrit, and Erdeni means “treasure” in Manchu.)

The largest part of the Tibetan population (more than 90 percent) at that time was composed of serfs, who were treated harshly by the landlords and ruling monks. All monasteries had large tracts of land as well as a great number of serfs under their control. The ruling monks’ exploitation of these serfs was just as severe as that of the aristocratic landlords.

Serfs had no personal freedom from birth to death. They and their children were given freely as gifts or donations, sold or bartered for goods. They were, in fact, viewed by landlords as “livestock that can speak.” As late as 1943, a high-ranking aristocrat named Tsemon Norbu Wangyal sold 100 serfs to a monk in the Drigung area for only four silver dollars per serf.

If serfs lost their ability to work, the lord confiscated all their property, including livestock and farm tools. If they ran away and subsequently were captured, half their personal belongings were given to the captors while the other half went to the lords for whom they worked. The runaways then were flogged or even condemned to death.

The lords used such inhuman tortures as gouging out eyes, cutting off feet or hands, pushing the condemned person over a cliff, drowning and beheading.Numerous rebellions occurred over the years against this harsh treatment, and in 1347 alone (the seventh year of Yuan Emperor Shundi’s reign), more than 200 serf rebellions occurred in Tibet.

Foreign Aggression

Foreign nations made numerous attempts to invade Tibet and take it away from China. These were repulsed by Chinese troops and Tibetan fighters. The first such invasion took place in 1337 when Mohammed Tugluk of Delhi (in what is now India) sent 100,000 troops into the Himalayan area.

During the second half of the 18th century, troops from the Kingdom of Nepal invaded Tibet twice in an attempt to expand Nepal’s territory.

During the 19th century, Britain competed with Russia in pouring large sums of money and many spies into a struggle to see which of the two might eventually occupy and control Tibet. When the British finally invaded Tibet, first in 1888 and again in 1903, the Russians were so involved in conflicts at home that they couldn’t stop the British troops from pushing all the way to Lhasa. And the Qing government, having recently lost the Opium War to the British, did nothing either.

The Tibetans, using spears, arrows, catapults and homemade guns, fought valiantly but to no avail against the invading British army and its big cannons and machine guns. The British withdrew after imposing “peace” terms and before the harsh winter began because they feared the Tibetan resistance would prevent supplies from getting through to the occupying troops, thereby causing them to starve to death.

The British signed a Convention with China in 1906, the second article of which stipulated that the British would no longer interfere with the administration of Tibet and that China had sovereignty over Tibet. But, they conveniently forgot the terms of this agreement when, the very next year, they signed a Convention with Russia that specified British “special interests” in Tibet. It would probably fill a book to detail the many ways the British from that point on tried to take over Tibet and make it a part of their colony of India.

Yet, something needs to be said about the conference held at Simla, India, in 1914. Conference participants included representatives of the new Nationalist government of China that had overthrown the Qing Dynasty just two years before, plus Tibetans, and British-Indians. The British had blackmailed the Chinese into attending by threatening to withdraw their recognition of the new nationalist government and by saying they would work out an agreement with the Tibetans alone if the Chinese didn’t participate.

The Simla Conference failed because the Chinese and the 13th Dalai Lama both opposed the British plan to divide Tibet into two parts (Inner and Outer Tibet). The conference, however, did produce one document that since has caused dissension — a map drawn by the British representative Arthur H. McMahon that never was shown to the Chinese, although it was revealed secretly to the Tibetan delegates.

McMahon’s map showed a new boundary line that included three districts of Tibet — Monyul, Loyul, and Lower Zayul — within the territory of British- India. This so-called “McMahon Line” first became public 23 years later when it appeared in a printed set of British documents related to the conference and other diplomatic matters. The McMahon Line became the basis for India’s failed attempt to take over this part of Tibet in 1962. The British, who made a great show of their desire to have “independence for Tibet” at the Simla Conference, in drawing this map were adding 90,000 square kilometers  (an area three times the size of Belgium) from Tibet’s natural territory to their own Indian colony.

During and after World War II and shortly before Britain’s departure from India, the American Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S., the forerunner of the C.I.A.), operating under Cold War guidelines, joined the British Foreign Office as the instigator of the Tibetan “freedom movement.”

Much of what the O.S.S. did in Tibet remains hidden in secret files at C.I.A headquarters near Washington, D.C., but one of their plots has been widely reported. It involved a smear campaign launched against the regent who had been appointed to act for the young 14th Dalai Lama after the 13th Dalai died in 1933. The regent was hostile to U.S.-British intrigues in Tibet, so the O.S.S. spread rumors about his alleged incompetence and criminal activities. Eventually these charges led to the regent’s arrest and murder in a Tibetan prison. The 14th Dalai Lama’s father subsequently was poisoned because he was a friend and supporter of the regent.

Tibetan Buddhism

Before considering Tibet today, some words should be said about Tibetan Buddhism as a religion. The accommodations it made with Bon resulted in its becoming very different from other forms of Buddhism, particularly from the more common and much larger Chan Buddhism of China (called Zen in Japan). Images found in Tibetan Buddhist temples are much fiercer than those found in other Buddhist temples, and some Tibetan ceremonies that once used human skulls, human skin, and fresh human intestines clearly reflect the animistic elements of Bon.

Also, Tibetan Buddhists rely a great deal on prayer wheels, which most other Buddhists scorn. These are mechanical devices with prayers written on them that are constantly turned by water or wind so the forces of nature do the work of sending prayers to heaven.

The reincarnation of Living Buddhas, which is unique to this form of Buddhism, began as early as 1294 with the Karma Kagyu sect, a sub-sect of the Kagyu sect (known as the black hats). It then spread to all of Tibetan Buddhism’s other sects and monasteries, but it didn’t reach the Gelugpa sect (the one that includes the Dalai and Panchen Lama lines) until after 1419.

From the beginning, the system of selecting Living Buddhas was open to abuse because it was easy for clever members of the monk selection committee to manipulate the objects presented to potential child candidates in order to make sure a particular child was chosen. In the case of the fourth Dalai Lama, the child selected was the great-grandson of the Mongolian chief Altan Khan. He was chosen at a time when the Gelugpa sect badly needed the protection of the Altan Khan’s followers because the Gelugpa were being persecuted by the older Tibetan sects, who were jealous of the Yellow sect’s rapid growth.

Tibet Since 1949

In 1949, the Chinese Communists won the revolution and overthrew the Nationalist government. But they didn’t send their army into Tibet until October 1951, after they and Tibetan representatives of the 14th Dalai Lama and 10th Panchen Lama had signed an agreement to liberate Tibet peacefully. The Dalai Lama expressed his support for this 17-point agreement in a telegraphed message to Chairman Mao on October 24, 1951. Three years later the Dalai and Panchen Lamas went together to Beijing to attend the first National People’s Congress at which the Dalai Lama was elected vice-chairman of the Standing Committee and the Panchen Lama was elected a member of that committee. After the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet, they took steps to protect the rights of the serfs but didn’t, at first, try to reorganize Tibetan society along socialist or democratic lines. Yet, the landlords and ruling monks knew that in time, their land would be redistributed, just as the landlords’ property in the rest of China had been confiscated and divided among the peasants.

The Tibetan landlords did all they could to frighten the serfs away from associating with the PLA. But, as the serfs increasingly ignored their landlords’ wishes and called on the Communists to eliminate the oppressive system of serfdom, some leaders of the “three great monasteries” (Ganden, Sera, and Drepung) issued a statement, in the latter half of 1956, demanding the feudal system be maintained. At this point, the PLA decided the time had come to confiscate the landlords’ property and redistribute it among the serfs. The landlords and top-level monks retaliated by announcing, in March 1959, the founding of a “Tibet Independent State,” and about 7,000 of them assembled in Lhasa to stage a revolt. Included were more than 170 “Khampa guerrillas” who had been trained overseas by the O.S.S. and air-dropped into Tibet, according to a former C.I.A. agent. The O.S.S. also gave them machine guns, mortars, rifles and ammunition.

The PLA put down the revolt in Lhasa within two days, capturing some 4,000 rebels. The rebellion had the support of the Dalai Lama, but not of the Panchen Lama. After it failed, the Dalai Lama, along with a group of rebel leaders, fled to India.

The most disruptive event of recent years was the “cultural revolution,” which lasted from 1966 to 1976. It turned most of Tibet’s farm and herding areas into giant communes and closed or destroyed many monasteries and temples, just as it did elsewhere in China. At its end, the communes were disbanded and the temples and monasteries were repaired and reopened at government expense.

The idea that most Tibetans are unhappy about what has happened in Tibet and want independence from China is a product manufactured in the West and promoted by the dispossessed landlords who fled to India. Indeed, to believe it is true stretches logic to its breaking point. Who really can believe that a million former serfs – more than 90% of the population – are unhappy about having the shackles of serfdom removed? They now care for their own herds and farmland, marry whomever they wish without first getting their landlord’s permission, aren’t punished for disrespecting these same landlords, own their own homes, attend school, and have relatively modern hospitals, paved roads, airports and modern industries.

An objective measure of this progress is found in the population statistics. The Tibetan population has doubled since 1950, and the average Tibetan’s life span has risen from 36 years at that time to 65 years at present.

Of course some Tibetans are unhappy with their lot, but a little investigation soon shows that they are, for the most part, people from families who lost their landlord privileges. There is plenty of evidence that the former serfs tell a quite different story.

You will find some Tibetans who hate the Hans (the majority nationality of China) and some Hans who hate the Tibetans, a matter of ordinary ethnic prejudice ­ something any American should be able to understand. But, this doesn’t represent a desire for an independent Tibet any more than black- white hostilities in Washington, D.C., Detroit, or Boston represent a desire on the part of most African-Americans to form a separate nation.

Tibetan Culture Today

The final part of the Tibetan myth has to do with Tibetan culture, which the Dalai Lama’s supporters say has been crushed by “the Chinese takeover of Tibet.” Culture is an area that requires great care because it is fraught with biases and self-fulfilling judgments. The growth of television in America, for example, is cited as killing American culture by some and as enhancing it by others.

Regarding the field of literature, prior to 1950 Tibetans could point with pride to only a few fine epics that had been passed down through the centuries. Now that serfs can become authors, many new writers are producing works of great quality; persons such as the poet Yedam Tsering and the fiction writers Jampel Gyatso, Tashi Dawa, and Dondru Wangbum.

As for art, Tibet for centuries had produced nothing but repetitious religious designs for temples. Now there are many fine artists, such as Bama Tashi, who has been hailed in both France and Canada as a great modern artist who combines Tibetan religious themes with modern pastoral images.

Tibet now has more than 30 professional song and dance ensembles, Tibetan opera groups, and other theatrical troupes where none existed before 1950.

No, Tibetan culture is not dead; it is flourishing as never before.

(Foster Stockwell is an American writer who grew up as the son of missionaries in southwestern China (Chengdu) near Tibet, and has visited China many times in recent years. His several books include Religion in China Today (New World Press) and Mount Huashan (Foreign Languages Press)) [2] (Accumulative 4499 words)

Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism



China is home to a multiplicity of religious beliefs, with the

world’s three major religions – Buddhism, Catholicism and Islamism –

all having large congregations, organizations and activity venues in

the country. Buddhism in China mainly includes Han Chinese language

Buddhism, which spread into China in 2 B.C.; Tibetan language

Buddhism, which spread into Tibet in the 7th century; and Pali

language Buddhism, which spread into China in the 13th century.

Tibetan Buddhism refers to Tibetan language Buddhism, and is also

known as Lamaism.

Tibetan Buddhism has exerted extensive and profound influence on the

Tibetan race. Buddhism spread into Tibet in the 7th century, and

gradually infiltrate Tibet’s history, politics, economics, culture,

exchanges and habits and customs to become the most extensively

worshipped religion of Tibetans. Prolonged ethnic cultural exchanges

also enabled Tibetan Buddhism to make its way into the Mongolian, Tu

, Yugu, Luoba, Moinba, Naxi, Purmi and other ethnic minority

nationalitites throughout China. Buddhism has long been widely

worshipped in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as Sichuan,

Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, and the Xinjiang Uygur and

Inner Mongolia autonomous regions. It has also made its way into

Sikkim, Bhuttan, Nepal, the Mongolian People’s Republic and Buryat

in the Republic of Russia.

More than 1,400 Tibetan monasteries and other religious venues were

renovated and opened following the peaceful liberation of Tibet in

1951. Chinese government and policies for religious freedom enable

34,000 monks in various monasteries to freely study Buddhist sutras

and hold various types of Buddhist activities in their respective

monasteries. In addition, the broad masses of religious have set up

shrines, Buddha halls and sutra recitation rooms in their homes, and

undertake pilgrimages to sacred sites.

Formation of Tibetan Buddhism

Books on the history of Tibetan Buddhism record the following legend

of how Buddhism spread to Tibet: On one particular day in the 5th

century, Lhathothori Nyantzan, forefather of the Tubo Kingdom, was

resting on the summit of Yungbolhakang. He suddenly found several

Buddhist treasures falling from the sky. While the Tubo King had no

idea what they were for, a mysterious voice from the sky informed

him that the 6th Tsampo (king) of the Tubo Kingdom would know the

use of the objects.

According to historical documents, these treasures were brought to

Tibet by Indians Buddhists. Upon seeing that Tibetans had no idea of

their significance, the Indian monks had no choice but to secret

them in a safe place and return to india. The fact remains that

Buddhism did spread into Tibet during the reign of Tubo King

Songtsan Gambo in the 7th century.

Songtsan Gambo did his best to establish friendly ties with

neighboring countries in order to strengthen economic and cultural

exchanges and learn from the advanced cultures of various races. In

the process he married with Princess Khridzun of Nepal and Princess

Wencheng of China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907). Each princess journeyed

to Tibet with a statue of Buddha, and once there set about building

the Jokhang and Ramoge monasteries in Lhasa. Artisans accompanying

the princess were involved in the construction of monasteries, and

Buddhist monks in their tourages began translating Buddhist

scriptures. Buddhism thus spread to Tibet from Nepal and Han areas.

Tibet reeled under power struggle for more than half a century

following the death of Songtsan Gambo. Buddhism failed to flourish

until Tride Zhotsan, great grandson of Songtsan Gambo, finally took

power. In 710, Tride Zhotsan asked for the hand of and eventually

married Princess Jincheng of the Tang Dynasty. The new bride moved

the statue of Buddha, which Princess Wencheng brought to Tibet, to

the Jokhang Monastery. Meanwhile, she arranged monks accompanying

her to the Tubo Kingdom to take in charge of the monastery and

related religious activities. She engaged in a painstaking effort

and finally succeeding in persuading the Tubo court to accept monks

fleeing from Western Regions and build seven monasteries to house

them. While the measures further boosted the development of Buddhism

in Tibet, they nonetheless sparked discontent amongst ministers

worshipping the Bon religion. The ministers left no stone unturned

to obstruct the development of Buddhism, with to situation lasting

until Trisong Detsan, the son of Tride Zhotsan, came to power.

Trison Detsan relied on Buddhism to fight ministers who rallied

behind the Bon religion. As part of the effort, he invited Zhibatsho

and Padmasambhava, famous Indian monks, to build the Samye Monastery

in 799. Seven noble children were later tonsured to the monastery,

which became the first monastery in Tibetan Buddhist history to

tonsure monks. The event thus pioneered the tonsure system of

Tibetan Buddhism.

In addition to inviting Indian monks to Tibet, Trisong Destan sent

trusted emissaries to China’s hinterland to invite monks to lecture

in Tibet. Mahayana became one of the many Han monks who contributed

to ensuring that Han Buddhism flourished in Tibet. Mahayana remained

in Tibet for 11 years lecturing on Buddhism and completing nine

books on Buddhist tenets.

Tubo kings in ensuing dynasties did their utmost to promote Buddhism

by building monasteries and commissioning the translation of

Buddhist sutras. At the same time, they granted monks royal incomes

and even encouraged them to become involved in government affairs in

order to undermine ministers who supported the Bon religion. The

policy spawned the deep hatred of said ministers, who eventually

arranged for the assassination of Tritso Detsan in 842. The

ministers threw their support behind Darma, the brother of Tritso

Detsan, to become the new Tubo king. This was in turn followed by

the large-scale suppression of Buddhism in the region.

Shortly after assuming power, Darma set out to suppress Buddhism,

but was soon assassinated by Tibetan Buddhists, and war erupted

between the different power factions. Slaves, who were thrown into

the abyss of misery, rose to revolt. Tibet was torn apart by various

forces. The “diffusion of Buddhism” was thus halted.

The early 10th century witnessed the entry of a feudal society in

tibet, with each of the Tubo ministers occupying a part of the

kingdom and becoming feudal powers in their respective localities.

They proceeded to promote Buddhism in order to strengthen their own

rule. Buddhism was thus revived in Tibet. In terms of form and

content, however, Buddhism rising in Tibet during tit particular

period was worlds apart from Tubo Buddhism. The 300-odd years of

struggle between Buddhism and the Bon religion resulted in each

absorbing the strong points of the other. Buddhism became

increasingly Tibetanized as the region entered the feudal stage.

Tibetan Buddhism emerged and entered a stage of rapid development.

Buddhist Sects and Characteristics

Numerous Buddhist Acts emerged after the mid-11th century, including

the Nyingma, Gatang, Sagya, Gagyu, Zhigyed, Gyoyul, Gyonang, Kodrag

and Xalhu sects. The latter five were rather weak owing to the lack

of political support. They were thus forced to join force or were

otherwise annexed by other sects, and as individual entities fell

into the oblivion of the long flow of history. The following five

sects enjoyed impressive popularity:

Nyingma Sect. The sect, founded in the 11th century, is also known

as the Red Sect and is the oldest sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The sect

paid great attention to absorbing the fine points of the Bon

religion and, at the same time, did its best to locate Buddhist

sutras secreted away when Darma moved to suppress Buddhism. Based on

its practice of Buddhism deeply rooted in the Tubo Kingdom of the

8th century, the sect called itself Nyingma, a word meaning ancient

and old in the Tibetan language. Monks of the Nyingma Sect wore red

hats, hence the name the Red Sect. The Red Sect mainly advocates the

study of Tantrism. Its theory was strongly influenced by Han Chine

language Buddhism, and is quite similar with the theory of Ch’an

School of Buddhism in China’s hinterland. Today, the Red Sect is not

only active in Tibetaninhabited areas in Ghina, but also in India,

Bhuttan, Nepal, Belgium, Greece and France, as well as in the Unite


Gatang Sect. The Gatang Sect, founded in 1056, primarily advocated

the study of Exoteric teachings, with later emphasis on Tantrism. In

the Tibetan language, Ga refers to the teachings of Buddha, with

tang meaning instruction. The combination Gatang thus refers to

advising people to accept Buddhism based on the teachings of Buddha.

Its doctrines were promoted far and wide and thus exerted great

influence on various Tibetan Buddhist sects. However, along with the

rise of the Gelug Sect in the 15th century, the Gatang Sect

dissolved with its monks and monasteries merging with the former.

Sagya Sect. Sagya means “white land” in the Tibetan language. The

Sagya Sect, founded in 1703, derived its name from the fact that the

Sagya Monastery, the sect’s most important monastery, is grayish

white in color. Enclosures in the sect’s monasteries are painted

with red, white and black stripes, which respectively symbolize the

Wisdom Buddha, the Goddess of Mercy and the Diamond Hand Buddha.

Hence, the sect is also known as the Stripe Sect. The ever

increasing influence of the sect and the expansion of feudal forces

throughout its formation led to the increasing fame of the “five

Sagya Sect Forefathers”. The Fourth Forefather Sapan Gonggar

Gyaincain was summoned to Liangzhou in 1247 by the Yuan Dynasty

(1271-1368) ruler to dialup matters concerning Tibet pledging

allegiance to the Yuan Dynasty. This was followed by Sapan bringing

various feudal forces in Tibet under control of the Mongols.

Following the death of Sapan, Pagan, the Fifth Forefather of the

Sagya Sect, emerged as a high-ranking official in the Yuan court.

Pagba Was granted honorary titles such as “State Tutor”, ”Imperial

Tutor” and ”Great Treasure Prince of Dharma.” Thereafter, the

Sagya Sect emerged as the Yuan Dynasty representative in Tibet.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) , Gonggar Zhaxi, an eminent monk

with the Sagya Sect, journeyed to Nanjing, capital of the Ming

Dynasty, to pay homage to Emperor Yongle. Gongar was granted an

honorary title as the “Mahayana Prince of Dharma”, one of the three

Princes of Dharma.

Gagyu Sect. The Gagyu Sect, founded in the 11th century, stresses

the study of Tantrism and advocates that Tantrist tenets be passed

down orally from one generation to another. Hence the name Gagyu,

which in the Tibetan language means “passing down orally.” Marba

and Milha Riba, the founders of the Gagyu Sect, wore white monk

robes when practicing Buddhism , leading to the name White Sect. In

the early years, the White Sect was divided into the Xangba Gagyu

which declined in the 14th and to 15th centuries, and the Tabo

Gagyu. The Tabo Gagyu was powerful and its branch sects were either

in power in their respective localities or otherwise dominant

amongst feudal forces.

Gelug Sect. The Gelug Sect, founded in 1409, was the most famous

Buddhist sect in Tibetan history dating to the 15th century. The

sect was founded during the reform of Tibetan Buddhism initiated by

Zongkapa. Zongkapa himself was born at a time when the Pagmo Zhuba

replaced the Sagya Regime in power. At that time, upper-class monks

involved in political and economic power struggle led a decadent

life, and rapidly lost popularity with society. Faced with this

situation, Zongkapa called for efforts to follow Buddhist tenets. He

proceeded to undertake lecture tours in many areas and wrote books

accusing decadent monks of failing to abide by Buddhist tenets.

Zongkapa spared no effort to press ahead with Buddhist reform. For

example, in the first month of 1409 according to Tibetan calendar,

Zongkapa initiated the Grand Summons Ceremony in Lhasa’s Jokhang

Monastery. The ceremony remains in practice even today. This effort

was closely followed by the construction of the famous Gandain

Monastery and the founding of the Gelug Sect which was famous for

its strict adherence to commandments. The Tibetan language meaning

of Gelug is “commandments”. Zongkapa and his followers wore yellow

hats, and thus the Gelug Sect is also known as the Yellow Sect.

Since its founding, the Yellow Sect has built the Zhaibung, Sera,

Tashilhungpo, Tar and Labrang monasteries, which join the Gandain

Monastery as the six major monasteries of the Gelug Sect. The Yellow

Sect is also known for formation of the two largest Living Buddha

reincarnation systems – the Dalai and Bainqen systems.

The Reincarnation of the Living Buddhas

The reincarnation system for the Living Buddhas is the main point

distinguishing tibetan Buddhism from other forms of Buddhism. What

led to the introduction of the system?

The term Living Buddha emerged in the early Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

when Emperor Kublai Khan honored Pagba, head of the Sagya Sect, by

granting him the title “Buddha of the Western Paradise.”

Thereafter, eminent Tibetan monks we distinguished themselves in the

practice of Buddhism were referred to as ”Living Buddhas.”

However, the term Living Buddha was not recognized as a special

title for a monk who became the successor of the deceaed leader of a

monastery until the eventual introduction of the Living Buddha

reincarnation system.

In 1252 , Kublai Khan granted an audience to Pagba and Garma Pakshi,

an eminent monk with the Garma Gagyu Sect. Garma Pakshi, however,

sought the patronage of Monge Khan who proceeded to bestow him a

gold-rimmed black hat and a golden seal of authority. Prior to his

death in 1283, Garma Paksli penned a will to ensure the established

interests of his sect. The will advised his disciples to locate a

boy to inherit the black hat, with the instruction based on the

premise that Buddhist idelogy is eternal, and a Buddha would be

reincarnated to complete the missions he had initiated. Garma

Pakshi’s disciples acted in accordance with the will and located the

reincarnated soul boy of their master. The event marked the

introduction of the Living Buddha reincarnation system for the

Black-Hat Line of Tibetan Buddhism. During the Ming Dynasty

(1368-1644), Emperor Yongle honored Black-Hat Living Buddha Garmaba

as the ”Great Treasure Prince of Dharma,” the first of the three

“Princes of Dharma.” The Living Buddha reincarnation system remains

in operation today. On September 27, 1992, the Curpu Monastery in

Doilungdeqen County, Lhasa, was the site of a grand ceremony marking

the enthronement of the 16th Living Buddha Garmaba. The event marked

a new page in th history of the Garma Gagye Sect.

Various sects of Tibetan Buddhism reacted to the introduction of the

Living Buddha reincarnation system by creating numerous similar

systems. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) reign of Emperor

Qianlong alone, 148 Grand Living Buddhas registered for

reincarnation with the Board for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs, with

the number of registrants rising to 160 by the end of the dynasty.

The most influential reincarnation systems have since been the Dalai

and Bainqen Lama systems.

The reincarnation system for the Dalai Lama was introduced in the

16th century. In the early years of the Qing Dynasty, the 5th Dalai

Lama journeyed to Beiing to pay homage to Emperor Shunzhi. The Qing

emperor granted him the honorific title of “the Dalai Lama, Overseer

of the Buddhist Faith on Earth Under the Great Benevolent

Self-subsisting Buddha of the Western Paradise.” The title Dalai

Lama was thus established and is still in up today. The current

Dalai Lama was enthroned in the Potala Palace on February 22, 1940,

during a ceremony presided over by Wu Zhongxin, minister of the

Commission for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs of the nationalist

government of the Republic of China (1911-49). The nationalist

government ordered that he be confirmed as the reincarnated soul boy

of the 13th Dalai Lama without the requirement to carrying the

established method of drawing lot from the golden urn and that he

instead directly succeed as the 14th Dalai Lama.

The reincarnatin system for the Bainqen Lama was introduced in 1713

when the 5th Bainqen was granted the honorific title as “Bainqen

Erdeni,” with Erdeni meaning “great treasure” in Manchu. The 9th

Bainqen Erdeni and the 13th Dalai Lama were at odds during the

period of the Republic of China, with the 9th Bainqen Erdeni

departing for China’s hinterland. He later passed away in Qinghai

Province. The Tashilhungpo Monastery, the resident monastery for the

Bainqen Erdeni, located a boy by the name of Gongbo Cidain. All

signs pointed to the fact that he was indeed the reincarnated soul

boy of the 9th Bainqen Erdeni. Li Zongren, the acting president of

the Republic of China, issued a special order instructing that the

boy “be excuses from the lot-drawing method and given the special

permission to succeed as the 10th Bainqen Erdeni.” The grand

enthronment ceremony held in the Tar Monastery on August 10, 1949,

was presided over by Guan Jieyu, minister of the Commission for

Mongolian and Tibean Affairs of the nationalist government of the

Republic of China.

The Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism came to power in Tibet in the

17th century and the Living Buddha reincarnation system became a

bone of contention with the upper class in Tibet. In 1793, as part

of an effort to turn the tide by overcoming drawbacks characteristic

of soul boys nominated from the same tribes, the Qing government

promulgated the 29-Article Ordinance for the More Efficient

Governing of Tibet. Article one of the Ordinance stipulates: In

order to ensure the Yellow Sect continues to flourish, the Grand

Emperor bestows it with a golden urn and ivory slips for use in

confirming the reincarnated soul boy of a deceased Living Buddha.

For this purpose, four major Buddhist Guardians will be summoned;

the name’s of candidates, as well as their birth years, will be

written on the ivory slips in the three languages – Manchu, Han

chinese and Tibetan; the ivory slips will be placed into the golden

urn and learned Living Buddhas will pray for seven days before

various Hotogtu Living Buddhas and High Commisioners stationed in

Tibet by the Central Government officially confirm the reincarnated

soul boy by drawing a lot from the golden urn in front of the statue

of Sakyamuni in the Jokhang Monastery.

The system of drawing lot from the golden urn thus perfected the

Living Buddha reincarnation system of Tibetan Buddhism. Following

the lot-drawing ceremony, the High Commissioners and leaders of the

soul boy search group were required to report the result to the

Central Government. The enthronement ceremony was held following the

approval of the Central Government.

The Qing court commissioned artisans to create two golden urns. One

go1den urn, used to confirm reincarnations of the Dalai Lama and the

Bainqen Erdeni, is currently housed in the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

The other, used to confirm the reincarnations of

Mongolian and Tibetan Grand Living Buddhas and hotogtu Living

Buddhas, is housed in the Yonghegong Lamasery in Beijing. [3]

(accumulative 7582 words)




[1] ABrief History of Tibet: http://www.localhistories.org/tibet.html

[2] Tobet: Myth and Reality: http://journeyeast.tripod.com/myth_and_reality.html

[3] Tibet Buddhism: http://loveforlife.com.au/content/09/01/18/brief-history-tibet-tim-lambert-myth-and-reality-foster-stockwell


Comments RSS
  1. sai

    even though i used to follow dalai lama i never knew the facts thanks for your your wonderful rescearch god bless the world will be a lot better in the coming years. God bless peace be on you

    • mbplee

      battulvinay, thank you. So often the truth is hidden by bigotry and this is a real shame.

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