The Rise of Buddhism in Tibet: History, Introduction, and Revival

The rise of Buddhism in Tibet is very contradictory, but many sources say that the first official introduction of Buddhist scriptures into Tibet occurred during the reign of the 28th King of the Yarlung Kingdom (about 500 AD). This book was not translated into Tibetan until the reign of King Songtsen Gambo (b. 617), the 33rd King of Tibet.

King Songtsen Gampo,

The king married two wives from neighbouring countries, in addition to his three Tibetan wives, one from Nepal and one from China. Two princesses brought precious Buddha statues as dowry to Lhasa. They built temples to house these Buddha statues. Jokhang Temple was built by Princess Brekuti of Nepal, and Ramche Temple was built by Princess Wencheng of China. This marked the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet.

After the late 8th century, Tibet actively promoted Buddhism with royal support. Trisong Detsen, the 37th Tibetan king, invited the Indian master Padmasambhava, Śāntarakṣita, and Vimalamitra to Tibet. They established the first Buddhist monastery, Samye, and initiated large-scale translation of Buddhist scriptures. Additionally, Indian scholars such as Kamalashila were invited to translate these scriptures into Tibetan. These efforts greatly contributed to the firm establishment of Buddhism in Tibet, as the presence of the Sangha was deemed essential. In 792, King Trisong Detsen officially declared Indian Buddhism as the state religion of Tibet after a profound philosophical debate.

Guru Padmasambhava

Padmasambhava, a Maha Yogi from the Hindu Kush, provided an extensive introduction to the esoteric significance of Mahayana. It involves harnessing concealed power for liberation and to evade ceaseless rebirth. This approach also entails a Shamanistic methodology with novel objectives. Upon overpowering all the Bon magicians, Padmasambhava effectively transformed belief in Tibet, triumphing over them individually.

On impulse, the Great Samye Monastery was built around 775. Taking the classic Indian tradition, the Nalanda tradition as an idol, many temples were built between Lhasa and the Yarlung Valley. There are hundreds of meditation caves across Tibet and Himalayan kingdoms. It is believed that due to his visit, these hermits and caves can still be visited and operated by local yogis and meditators.

Deline and revival

Buddhism is almost disappeared when Langya King brutally persecuted it in 842 AD. For a long time, there was no ordination or central religious authority in Tibet, but the primitive Bon religion prevailed. With the help of Tibetan monks studying in India, Buddhism was revived with the help of the Guge King Yeshi.

The revival occurred in 1042 when Atisha Dipamkara (Jowo Je) introduced Buddhist philosophy, which became the foundation of philosophical teachings in most Tibetan traditions. After Atisha, the influence of the Indian master was limited. Drom Tonpa, the main disciple of Atisha, founded Kadam, which greatly impacted the Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug traditions.

Tibetan Buddhism carefully reflects the Buddhism that existed in India around the 11th century. Many Tibetan masters rejected the term Lamaism because it showed that Tibetan teachers developed their own forms of Buddhism. Since the beginning of Buddhism in Tibet, the Tibetan Bon religion has become a more influential religion. Prayer flags and incense may have been spread from the Bon religion.

Not only foreign influences, but Tibetan master also promoted the development of Buddhism, and gradually developed into four different sects in different periods: the Nyingma school founded by Guru Padmasambhava, Atisha and his Tibetan disciples Dromtonpa introduce Kadampa. The Kagyu Sect is founded Marba and Milarepa, the Sakya Sect founded by Khon Kunchok Gyalpo and Je Tsongkhapa founded the Gelug sect.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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