The arrival of Buddhist Scriptures
History of Tibetan Buddhism can be traced back to the latter half of the 2nd century. When Thothori Nyantsen was the king of Tibet. During his time, some Buddhist scriptures arrived in southern Tibet from India. The 3rd century saw the spread of scriptures in the northern part of Tibet. At this point of time, Buddhism was not a dominant religion in Tibet. But, it was actually beginning to take shape. The tantric text was yet in the process of being written in India.
King Songtsen Gampo
The first major event in the history of Tibetan Buddhism occurred during the reigns of King Songtsen Gampo in 641. During his rule, Tibet was unified and he also married two Buddhist, Princess Wencheng from China and Princess Bhrikuti Devi from Nepal. This was followed by Buddhism being declared as the State Religion. A network of 108 Buddhist temples was constructed. And, to facilitate the installation of the Buddha statues his wives had brought from their homes. However, along with all this, conflict with the existing national religion, Bon, too continued for long.
The most important event in the history of Tibetan Buddhism was the arrival of sage Padmasambhava. He was invited over to Tibet by King Trisong Detsen in the year 774. Padmasambhava translated numerous Buddhist texts into Tibetan language and combined tantric Buddhism with the local Bön religion. It created what is today widely known as the Tibetan Buddhism. Apart from these, Padmasambhava also laid down the foundation of the first Tibetan Buddhist School, Nyingma. Subsequently, in the coming years, all the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism arose from this School itself.
By the middle of the 9th century, Buddhism suffered a major opposition from the locals. Furthermore, the government withdrew its support. It took the arrival of another great Indian scholar, Atisha to restore Buddhism in Tibet. His disciple, Dromton laid down the foundation of yet another old School of Buddhism, Kadampa.
With the advent of the 11th century, Tibetan Buddhism became dominant in Central Asia. Especially in countries like Mongolia and Manchuria. In both these countries, it was adopted as the State Religion. From the 11th century onwards, the other Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug, also started emerging. In the successive centuries, each of these Schools established itself in different parts of Tibet.
Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism
Nyingma (The Ancient Ones’) Nyingma implies ancient and old in the Tibetan language. This School is the oldest amongst the four school. It is also the largest one after the Gelukpa School. Because the Nyingma lamas wear red robes and caps. There is another name of the school is the Red Hat Sect in the history of Tibetan Buddhism.
History of Nyingmapa Tradition
The School traces its origin to the 8th century when Guru Padmasambhava and the Nalanda University abbot Shantarakshita came to Tibet. King Trisong Deutsan (742-797) invited them to spread Buddhism there. Guru Padmasambhava and Shantarakshitas arrived along with 108 translators and 25 of Padmasambhava’s trusted disciples.
At this point in time, Bon religion was prevalent in Tibet. King Trisong Deutsan entrusted the task of translating the Buddhist Dharma Texts into the Tibetan language. He also entrusted to both these men and their translators and disciples. Padmasambhava looked after the translation work of tantric while Shantarakshita paid attention to the Sutra-teachings. These laid the foundation of the Tantric history of Tibetan Buddhism.
From the 8th century to 11th century, the Nyingma was the sole school of Buddhism in Tibet. It was a period when Buddhism was severely suppressed by the ruling kings. It was only after the 11th century that Nyingma recognized itself as a separate School due to the emergence of other Schools. The followers of this School called themselves Nyingmapa. Nyingma happens to be the only one amongst the four schools whose supporters have never been in charge of political power.
Characteristics of Nyingmapa Tradition
Unlike other Schools, where tantric teachings involve four levels, Nyingma School has 6 levels. The Outer Tantra comprises Kriya, Carya or Ubhaya, and Yogatantra while the Inner Tantra includes Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga/Dzogchen (The “Great Perfection”).
The Termas (Hidden Treasures) and the Tertons (treasure revealers) are of special mention. It is believed that during the reign of king Langdarma when Buddhism was on a decline. Padmasambhava, along with his disciples, hid numerous scriptures, ritual objects, and relics in concealed places to protect Buddhism. This gave rise to the practice wherein two methods of dharma transmission was adopted. The first one involved “long” oral transmission from Teacher to a student in unbroken lineages. While the other one was basically a “short” transmission of “hidden treasures”. This discovery could either be physical, from the rocks and caves or directly to the minds of Terton.
Six Mother Monasteries of Nyingmapa Tradition in Tibet
Six Monasteries have been considered mother monasteries in the Nyingma tradition. Initially, these monasteries included Dorje Drag, Mindrolling and Palri monastery in Upper Tibet. Kathok, Palyul and Dzogchen monasteries in Lower Tibet. However, the decline of Palri Monastery and subsequent growth of Shechen Monastery led to Dorje Drag and Mindroling in Tsetang becoming the mother monasteries in the upper Tibet. In the central and lower Tibet, Shechen and Dzogchen and Kathok and Palyul Monasteries occupied the position of Mother Monasteries respectively. Quite often, the Dodrubchen replaces Kathok in the list. Samye monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet belongs to this tradition. From these mother monasteries, several other monasteries were developed not only in Tibet but also in Bhutan and Nepal.
The another name of Kagyu School is the Oral Lineage” and “the Spotless Practice Lineage” school.
History of Kagyupa
The Kagyu School owes its origin in Tibet to the great Translator Marpa (1012-1097). Marpa spent 17 years in India. During this period, he received teachings from the renowned Indian sages Tilopa and Naropa. Marpa spread these teachings in Tibet. Amongst his disciples, Milerepa was the most important one. Milerepa, in turn, had a disciple Gampopa (1079-1153). He established the distinct Kagyu School. Further, Gampopa’s teaching also led to the foundation of ‘Four Major School’ and ‘Eight Minor’ sub Schools of Kagyu.
Characteristics of Kagyupa
The doctrine lays emphasis on four principal stages of meditative practice. The Four Yogas of Mahamudra through which the follower achieves the perfect realization of Mahamudra. The four stages include –
- The development of single-pointedness of mind,
- The transcendence of all conceptual elaboration,
- The cultivation of the perspective that all phenomena are of a “single taste”,
- The fruition of the path, which is beyond any contrived acts of meditation.
Four Major Schools of Kagyupa
Kagyu School comprises one major and one minor subsect. The major subsect, Dagpo Kagyu that includes all those Schools dating back to the times of Gampopa. It is further subdivided into four major sub-sects: the Karma Kagyu, the Tsalpa Kagyu, the Barom Kagyu, and Pagtru Kagyu. The Pagtru Kagyu (minor subsect) gave birth to eight subsects – Drukpa Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu, Mar Kagyu, Shugseb Kagyu, Taklung Kagyu, Trophu Kagyu, Yamzang Kagyu and Yelpa Kagyu.
Kagyupa Monasteries in Tibet
In the history of Tibetan, Kham, and eastern Tibet is the center of the BuddhismImportant Kagyu Monasteries. Some of the important Buddhist Monasteries of Tibet include Palpung Monastery, Ralung Monastery, Surmang Monastery and Tsurphu Monastery.
History of Sakyapa
During the late 11th century, Sakya Schools of Tibetan Buddhism emerged when the Buddhist scripts were being translated from Sanskrit to the Tibetan language in the second round of translation. “Five Venerable Supreme Masters” – Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, Sonam Tsemo, Drakpa Gyaltsen, Sakya Pandita and Chogyal Pakpa founded the school. The first monastery of this sect was established by Tibetan lama, Khon Konchog Gyalpo. The monastery was erected at a unique grey landscape of Ponpori Hills near Shigatse in southern Tibet. It is from here that Sakya that translates into ‘Pale Earth’ draws its name.
Characteristics of Sakyapa
The most important teaching of the Sakya sect in the history of Tibetan Buddhism is the system of Lambdre or the “Path and its Fruit”. This is drawn from the Siddha Virupa (Birwapa/Birupa) and rests upon the Hevajra Tantra. The esoteric Vajrayogini lineage known as “Naro Khachoma” and tantric practices also forms part of the Sakya School.
Unlike other Schools, Sakya has two different forms of teachings. The first one is for the generic audience and has sutra as its basis. On the other hand, the second is private education with tantric as its base.
Sub-schools of Sakyapa Sect
Two sub-schools of Sakya sect spring from the main lineage. The Ngor was established by Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo and Tshar was founded by Tsarchen Losal Gyamtso.
Important Sakyapa Monasteries in Tibet
Important Monasteries in the history of Tibetan Buddhism associated with Sakya sect include the Sakya Monastery, Gonggar Monastery, and the Erer Monastery. The location of the Gonggar Monastery is in Gonggar County of Shannan Prefecture. And, the Ngor Monastery stands near Shigatse.
The most recent, nonetheless the largest of all the Schools, the Gelug is the School of the Virtuous.
History of Gelugpa Tradition
It was founded by Gyalwa Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) as a reform movement within the Tibetan Buddhism. Gyalwa Tsongkhapa was a philosopher and a Tibetan religious teacher who was greatly influenced by the Kadam School of Tibetan Buddhism (11th century). The Kadampa had three lineages and Tsongkhapa combined all the three along with Sakya, Kagyu and other teachings to present his doctrine.
The first monastery of the Gelug School was founded by Tsongkhapa at Ganden. This monastery, till present date, is the nominal head of the school, however, its temporal head and most influential figure are the Dalai Lama. The first Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Gedun Drupa, was the disciple of Tsongkhapa. The current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.
By the time, 16th century drew to its end, the Gelug School had established itself as the most important School in Tibetan Buddhism. From the 17th century onwards to the mid of the 19th century, the Dalai Lama held the political power over central Tibet.
Characteristics of Gelugpa Tradition
The primary teachings of the Gelug School are Lamrim, or the “Stages of the Path” and the systematic cultivation of the view of emptiness. The first teaching rests upon the teachings of Atisha, an 11th-century Indian master. This is united with the deity yogas of Highest Yoga Tantra deities where the central focus is the realization of the indivisible union of bliss and emptiness.
Each Gelug Monastery has its own set of texts, however, the texts written by the Gelug School founder are considered most important. These texts are – The Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path, The Great Exposition of Tantras, The Essence of Eloquence on the Interpretive and Definitive Teachings, The Praise of Relativity, The Clear Exposition of the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja and The Clear Exposition of the Five Stages of Guhyasamaja.
Important Gelugpa Monasteries in the history of Tibetan Buddhism
Important Gelug Monasteries include Ganden Monastery, Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery, and Tashi Luhnpo Monastery. The monks of this monastery wear yellow hats which is why they are also called the Yellow Hat Sect.
Tibet Universal Tours and Travel offers in-depth thematic tour services, predominately focusing on Tibetan Bon religion and the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, for more information please link to THEMATIC TOURS
Here are some more topics about Tibet and Tibetan culture
- Tibetan Culture & Customs
- About Tibet the roof of the world
- Eight Auspicious Signs བཀྲ་ཤིས་རྟགས་བརྒྱད་།
- Prayer Wheels མ་ཎི་འཁོར་ལོ།
- TOP 4 REASONS TO VISIT TIBET
Visit Tibet to discover the amazing place in the earth. Here are top 4 reasons to visit Tibet. Traveling to Tibet gives you a great opportunity to explore the plateau region north of the Himalayas. The average altitude of Tibet is over 4000 meters above sea level. It is best described as the “Roof of the World”. For centuries Tibet has been known as the last home of mystery, the hidden and sealed land. In the place, where ancient mysteries still survive that have perished in the rest of the Orient. Many people from all over the world want to visit Tibet as a trip destination for at least once in their lifetime.
After a glance at the reasons below to visit Tibet, the Awe-inspiring Plateau Landscape, the Overwhelming Devoted Religion, the Welcoming and Friendly Tibetan People, the Long-standing Customs, and Traditions. One will surely start picturing before their eyes a trip to Tibet as a must-visit place. A well-known English proverb says that “Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times.”
1. Visit Tibet the Awe-inspiring Plateau Landscape
In many respects, Tibet is synonymous with the image of Shangri-La. And, the exoticism of a mystical land gifted with remarkable natural landscapesn and beauty. Over one-fifth of world’s top 100 independent summits is situated in Tibet. They include the Mt. Everest (alt. 8844.43m), “the world’s summit”; the Mt. Cho Oyu (alt. 8201m), the sixth highest mountain on the planet and the Mt. Shishapangma (alt. 8013m), the fourteenth highest mountain in the world. Moreover, the Mt. Kailash, one of the most sacred spots on earth, and is also a holy pilgrimage site for many religious believers in South Asia including the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Bon faiths.
There are numerous gorgeous and beautiful lakes in Tibet. These are Yamdrok Lake, Namtso Lake, Manasarovar Lake and Lhamo La-tso Lake. In addition, there are many other natural beauties like deep canyons, grand glaciers, bare stones, Gobi desert, lush forest, wild species, and vast prairie in Tibet. It shows a good reason to visit Tibet and experienced with a unique land and culture.
2. The Overwhelming Devoted Religion
Religion is extremely important to the Tibetans and has a strong influence on every aspect of their lives. Tibetan Bon religion is the indigenous spiritual tradition of Tibet. It rooted before the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th century AD. But nowadays Tibetan Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion. It is evident when you set your eyes on many things around you. Even on the attractive key chains that you buy from the smallest street shops. There has a depiction of Buddhism in some form or another. Tibetan people take their religion, beliefs, and values very seriously.
If you visit Tibet, you can visit many ancient monasteries, temples and palaces. These are dotted around the land of Tibet. You can explore many best-loved religious sites, which would enable you to familiarize with the biographies of the renowned spiritual masters and scholars of the past. You can observe the unique landscapes and the buildings that represent Bon and Buddhist architectures. They include such sites as the Potala Palace, which was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gambo. Jokhang and Ramoche temples, which are two of the holiest Buddhist temples in Tibet. These were built in the 7th century. The Yumbu Lhagang Palace, which was built in the second century B.C. by the first king of Tibet, ‘Nyatri Tsenpo’. Gaden, Sera and Drepung Monasteries, which are the biggest learning centres of Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. All are attracting you to visit Tibet.
3. The Welcoming and Friendly Tibetan People
Tibet has a rich cultural heritage as well as a deep unique societal tradition and values. Wisdom, knowledge about life, compassion, tolerance and peace of mind are some of the key values that underpin the Tibetan culture. The simplicity of life and the spirituality of minds of the people in this land are always distinct in many senses. Even a few days of stay and travel in and around Tibet will leave you with a strong impression. The simple traditional courtesies and values in the life of people. You also impressed by the ways in which one can attain some of the desirable qualities such as compassion and empathy for others.
4. The Long-standing Customs and Tradition
As many cultures around the world, Tibet has formed its own unique customs and traditions over thousands of years. They include traditional beliefs and practices. These are much related to everyday lives (i.e. clothing, food, housing, festival, folklore, wedding, funeral, customs and social taboos). Furthermore, the special sectors such as animal husbandry, astronomy, calendric system, medicine, architecture, hardware, textiles, literature, paintings, and sculptures. The music, dance, and local operas are great assets to enjoy as tourists.
Eight Great Buddhist Stupas མཆོད་རྟེན་ཆ་བརྒྱད་།
Eight Great Buddhist Stupas (Sanskrit) or Chorten (Tibetans) are the important Tibetan Buddhism and culture. Furthermore, it represents eight important events in the life and works of Buddha Shakyamuni. The Eight Great Buddhist Stupas are symbols of enlightened mind and the path to its realization. The Eight Great Buddhist Stupas represent the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind. Consequently, the eight stupas also the places of worship by Buddhist followers.
The Idea of Stupas
In ancient Indian art, the Buddha Shakyamuni was not represented as a person but as a stupa. Therefore, when Buddha Shakyamuni passed away, his followers built the eight great Buddhist stupas. The stupas built with relics and other holy objects that they collected from the Buddha’s cremation. Most noteworthy the Eight Great Buddhist Stupas represented eight important deeds of their great teacher. Since then, the Eight Great Buddhist Stupas contain some important relics of great masters. Furthermore, it also contains or other objects like scriptures that manifest the mind of enlightenment and peace.
The design of Buddhist stupas
First of all, the design of Buddhist stupas is very technical and each part symbolizes specific religious meanings and importance. The stupa has assumed the representation of the five purified elements and especially relevant to great religious teaching. The shape of the Stupa represents the Buddha and Crowned and sitting in meditation posture on a lion throne. His crown is the top of the spire and the head is the square at the spire’s base. Body is the vase shape and legs are the four steps of the lower terrace. The base is his throne and the square base represents earth. The hemispherical dome/vase represents water. The conical spire represents fire. The upper lotus parasol and the crescent moon represent air and the sun. And, the dissolving point represents the element of space.
Building a stupa is a very powerful way to purify negative karma and obscuration. Furthermore, it also powerful to accumulate extensive merit. In this way, you can have realizations of the path to Enlightenment. Moreover, you will be able to do perfect work to liberate suffering beings. Leading them to the peerless happiness of Enlightenment and which is the ultimate goal of our life.
Lotus Blossom Stupa (བདེ་གཤེགས་མཆོད་རྟེན། Dheshey Chorten)
First of all, the Stupa also known as Stupa of Heaped Lotuses or Birth of the Sugata Stupa and this stupa refers to the birth of the Buddha. “At birth Buddha took seven steps in each of the four directions” (East, South, West, and North). Most noteworthy, each direction lotuses sprang, symbolizing the Four Immeasurable: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. The four steps of the basis of this stupa are circular, and it is decorated with lotus-petal designs. Occasionally, seven heaped lotus steps are constructed. These refer to the seven first steps of the Buddha.
Enlightenment Stupa (བྱང་ཆུབ་མཆོད་རྟེན། Shangchuk Chorten)
It familiar as the Stupa of the Conquest of Mara. This stupa also symbolizes the 35-year-old Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. Where he conquered worldly temptations and attacks manifesting in the form of Mara.
Stupa of Many Doors (ཆོས་འཁོར་མཆོད་རྟེན། Chokhor Chorten)
Also known as the Stupa of Many Gates. After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha taught his first students in a deer-park near Sarnath. The series of doors on each side of the steps also represent the first teachings. Moreover, the teachings are the Four Noble Truths, the Six Perfections, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Twelve Links in the Chain of Dependent Origination.
Stupa of Great Miracles (ཆོ་འཕྲུལ་མཆོད་རྟེན། Chotrul Chorten)
Also known as Stupa of Conquest of theTirthikas. This stupa refers to various miracles performed by the Buddha when he was 50 years old. Legend claims that he overpowered Mara sand heretics by engaging them in intellectual arguments and also by performing miracles. This stupa was raised by the Lichavi kingdom to commemorate the event.
Stupa of Descent from the God Realm (ལྷ་བབ་མཆོད་རྟེན། Lhaba Chorten)
At 42 years old, Buddha spent a summer retreat in Tushita Heaven, where his mother had taken rebirth. In order to repay her kindness, he taught the dharma to her reincarnation. Consequently, local inhabitants built a stupa like this in Sankasya in order to commemorate this event. This stupa isalso characterized by having a central projection at each side containing a triple ladder or steps.
Stupa of Reconciliation (དབྱེན་ཟླུམ་མཆོད་རྟེན། Yidum Chorten)
This stupa commemorates the Buddha’s reconciliation of the disputing factions within the Sangha which had been divided by the enmity of his cousin Devadatta. Buddha reunited the Sangha at the Veluvana bamboo grove at Rafagriha, and the local inhabitants of the kingdom of Magadha constructed a stupa in this design. The reconciliation stupa is characterized by its four octagonal steps with equal sides. Furthermore, various symbolic meanings are given for the four levels of eights-sided steps, which total thirty-two in number.
Stupa of Complete Victory (རྣམ་རྒྱལ་མཆོད་རྟེན། Namgyal Chorten)
This stupa commemorates the Buddha’s prolongation of his lifetime by three months. This event occurred at the city of Vaisali when Buddha was eight years of age by the supplication of the lay devotee Tsundra. The celestial beings are said to have erected a stupa of this design. Most noteworthy, the complete victory stupa is characterized by having only three steps, which are circular and unadorned.
Stupa of Nirvana (མྱང་འདས་མཆོད་རྟེན། Nyadek Chorten)
This stupa refers to the death of the Buddha when he was 80 years old. It symbolizes the Buddha’s complete absorption into the highest state of mind. The Nirvana stupa is characterized by its circular bell-shaped dome and usually not ornamented.
The benefits of building a Stupa:
- If you make 1,000 Stupas, you will become a great ‘Wheel-turning Holder of the Wisdom Teachings’ (Mahayana Secret Mantra) and have clairvoyance knowing all the Buddha dharma.
- After death, without being born in the lower realms, you will be born in the superior realms.
- You will be able to extensively listen to the Dharma without forgetfulness.
- The “Stainless Beam” sutra states – ‘All negative karma and obscuration, including the five uninterrupted negative karmas, are purified even by dreaming of a Stupa. Seeing a Stupa hearing the sound of the bell of a Stupa and even for birds and flies etc., by being touched by the shadow of a Stupa.
- The sentient beings will always be protected by the Buddha. Who always pay attention to guiding them to achieve complete pure Enlightenment. They abide in the irreversible stage.
- It is explained by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Sutras. Building a Stupa for those who have passed away is extremely powerful. It immediately changes a suffering rebirth into a fortunate rebirth with the opportunity to meet the Dharma.
- It can also heal those with serious diseases.
- There is no question that it accumulates extensive merit and brings success and happiness. Therefore, dedicate to your ancestors, family members and friends who have passed away or who are sick, and for the happiness of yourself and your family in this and future lives.