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What is Tibetan Buddhism?

Preface 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According to historical documents, these treasures were brought to Tibet by Indians Buddhists.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 States.

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.

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