Written by Mrs. Courtney Rae October 8th, United States of America
Travel in Tibet is fraught with ethical and moral concerns, given the current situation. If you want your money to go to Tibetans, and if you want to better understand Tibetan culture and history, as well as what life is really like these days, this is absolutely the company to choose. I had the most incredible trip thanks to Losal and Nima, whose quiet strength, profound faith, and deep knowledge opened the place and culture to me in ways that left me humbled and grateful.
Nima, my guide, was a fount of information and wisdom, answering every question I had no matter how obscure, helping to educate me in the nuances of schools of Buddhism and sharing her own faith in every sacred place we visited. Losal strove to help me understand the historical and the long-standing customs, and cultural traditions of Tibet, and facilitated conversations with several remarkable people who are spearheading projects to improve the lives of Tibetans, from training artisans in traditional crafts to improving health care access in rural villages.
Apart from the major sights in Lhasa like Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple that, while important, are on every traveler’s itinerary, I was able to visit Samye Monastery and Tsurphu Monastery, among others, which few Westerners ever see. Tibet Universal Tours and Travel makes a point of taking its visitors to lesser known but arguably more significant sites in order to better understand the inextricable links between Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism. Sharing food in a monastery kitchen with a pilgrim who performed prostrations for over 500 km to reach Samye was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had. And walking up to Sera Monastery to see the enormous thangka on display during the Shoton Festival, along with more than 10,000 local Tibetans, amidst murmured prayers and wafting juniper smoke, and then joining half the city for a picnic on the grounds of Norbulingka Palace, gave me a glimpse of the lived experience of the faithful.
I stayed in charming Tibetan-run hotels and ate amazing Tibetan food in family-run restaurants—every arrangement Tibet Universal Tours and Travel makes is with an eye to supporting local people and local enterprises, which is a really important consideration when traveling in this region.
Losal even arranged for me to visit to a traditional rural village outside of Shigatse prefecture, so that I could learn about rural life, and the generous hospitality I was shown by the family was unparalleled. Apart from the incredible open-heartedness and resilience of the Tibetan people, there’s the staggering beauty of the country itself, which simply defies description and has to be seen to be believed. I’ve traveled all over the world, but this must be one of the most meaningful and powerful trips I’ve ever undertaken. I hope someday to return.
Here are some more associated topics that you might be interested in:
- My Tibet Adventure Tour…
- Tibetan Local Travel Agency
- About Tibet
- A Brief History of Tibetan Buddhism བོད་རྒྱུད་ནང་བསྟན་གྱི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་གནས་བསྡུས།
Blog written by Mr. Lucero from Spain on 19th September 2018
It is the history, the culture, tradition, devotional faith and the Tibetan people that truly mesmerize me and keeps me haunting for having a Tibet Tour. I remember it was 25th July 2018 and the clock striking 8.10 pm. As I had just returned from my office so I am immediately ran for taking a hot water shower and slipped into comfortable pajamas. I then thought to feed something to my hungry stomach. And what could be better than 2 minutes of instant Cuppa Maggie (my all-time favorite). After grabbing the Maggie cup, I turned on the TV and grabbed my couch to enjoy the yummy soupy noodles. It was then when I found the movie to be tele-casted again on HBO HD.
And when the adventurous idea of exploring Tibet hit me instantly…..
And as I am a globetrotter, it felt like the almighty above immediately gave the answer to my question of “where to go next?” You know that feeling when a secret escape is impending – you can feel it on the top just as you have been manacled down into a workload of riotous proportions. I just want to run away and didn’t want to come back to the office on Monday morning and reply to hundreds of emails those will just be waiting for me.
I wanted to set my out-of-office reply to something hilarious like, “Sorry I am currently out of the office exploring the breathtaking beauty of the Himalayas and drinking yak butter tea, which is a bit disgusting, but I’ll suggest you all to try it out once. I will be returning on…” and then the idea hit me. YES! It’s Tibet where I will be going on my next adventure.
Amazing Tibet Trip Package….
With a reputable travel agency, you can pick this excellent Tibet Trip Package and get set for one of the most adventurous holiday experiences of your life. The tour critically features majesty, limitless, quietness of many sacred Buddhist sites, including the splendid Potala Palace, the great Jokhang Temple, the deeply luminous Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery and so on. Also, you will travel amidst the world’s highest mountain range, with incredible views of the Mt. Everest, and make heartfelt connections with ‘her’.
Oh Yes, the Not-To-Forget….My Tibet Tours and Travels
Oh! My Tibet Adventure Tour what an adventure it was. From the highlights of the ancient city Lhasa and the base camp of Mount Everest, the Tibet Tours was truly the trip of a lifetime that I’ll cherish forever and the one I had been waiting for. The landscape of the Tibet was awe-inspiring, the people were overtly friendly and amazingly kind, the history and culture were richly rewarding, and the photo ops were everywhere. It was a phenomenal introduction to the Himalayan culture and Central Asia.
Lhasa, City of the Gods
I got off the train at Lhasa station. Nothing but crisp, fresh, and neat pavement. Taking a taxi to the city center, took me via designer stores, tall hotels, and wide planes. This was something I had not imagined. Everything was so new and modern, where’s the spiritual and magical Lhasa?
Soon the driver dropped me off at my hotel I got to encounter a little bit of the real Tibet. I stayed in a luxurious hotel near Barkhor Square and the breakfast was served on the rooftop terrace where one can mostly enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Lhasa. On my first evening, I thought to take a stroll around the town and checked into the supermarket. I ventured off in the direction of Potala Palace and again, I was mesmerized to see all the branded shops and designer stores. It felt like am going to get bankrupt now (in all smile).
Oops, I forgot to mention about the Yak Burger…
I am a hard-core non-vegetarian and I love my meat. On my first night at Tibet, I had a good encounter with a yak. Being on the roads for a while made my stomach cry in hunger for a real big meal and I ended up at a Tibetan restaurant where within few seconds I got myself indulged on the local special of Yak meat. Oh! The dish was sweet and savory, perhaps the best meal of the whole trip. So surely I can recommend eating some burger, steak or yak meat, it doesn’t matter as they are equally delicious.
On this tour of Tibet, you can also pay a visit to the world famous highest peak, the Mt. Everest at Everest Base Camp. If you have more time left, you can also make a visit to heavenly Namtso Lake or explore holy Mt. Kailash in Ngari. I was ecstatic about being in Tibet. I made my dream come true! I wanted to come to Tibet and here I was. Have you ever been to Tibet? What are your Tibetan experiences? Don’t forget to share them in the comment section below.
“With a reputable travel agency, you can pick this excellent Tibet Trip Package and get set for one of the most adventurous holiday experiences of your life.” Know all about my adventurous trip to Tibet….
Below here some more blog links that you might be interested in
- About Tibet Universal Tours and Travel
- Potala Palace
- TOP 4 REASONS TO VISIT TIBET: THE BEST TRAVEL DESTINATION
- A Brief History of Tibetan Buddhism བོད་རྒྱུད་ནང་བསྟན་གྱི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་གནས་བསྡུས།
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
Buddhist Prayer Beads or Mala ཕྲེང་བ།
Buddhist Prayer Beads or Mala in Sanskrit are a traditional tool used to count the number of times a mantra is recited. It also uses to count breaths while meditating and counting prostrations, or the repetitions of a Buddha’s name. They are similar to other forms of prayer beads or mala used in various world religions. And, therefore the term “Buddhist rosary” also appears.
Conventional Buddhist tradition
Conventional Buddhist tradition counts the beads at 108. It is signifying the mortal desires of mankind. The number of the Buddhist prayer beads or mala is attributed to the Mokugenji Sutra. Wherein Shakyamuni Buddha instructed King Virudhaka to make such beads and recite the Three Jewels of Buddhism. In later years, various Buddhist sects would either retain the number of beads or divide them into consecutive twos, fours, for brevity or informality. Attachment of the decorative tassel to the beads, flanked by talismans or amulets depending on one’s local tradition. Because prayer beads are often painted in pigment. Various traditional schools attribute a consecration ritual by the Sangha to the beads. To “open the eyes” for the purpose of achieving Enlightenment unique to the Karma of each believer.
Since a common part of Tibetan Buddhist practice is repeating (mentally or out loud) certain mantras thousands or even hundreds of thousands of times. It is useful to use your mala for counting off the number of prayers. This is like a spiritual abacus. It is helpful, even if you are not actively counting. The mala serves to focus and calm the mind though the repeated recitation of the mantra.
Materials of Mala
The most common type of materials of the Buddhist prayer beads or mala is precious or semi-precious stones, wood, seeds, or bone.
Each time you work your way around the mala, saying a mantra for each bead. You are considered to have completed 100 mantra recitations. The extra 8 beads are “spare” to make up for any miscounts or mistakes you may make along the way.
There is also a head bead and it is larger than the others and it is often called a “guru bead.” Some believe that these Buddhist prayer beads have a special significance, as representing one’s guru. For example, but very practically, this bead is the starting point for the circuit and is not counted among the 108 total.
Counting of a large number of mantras
In case it is necessary to recite a very large number of mantras, Tibetan Buddhist Beads or malas have Bell and Dorje counters. It is a short string of ten beads, usually silver, with a bell or Dorje at the bottom. The Dorje counter is used to count each round around the mala. And the bell counters to count each time the Dorje counter runs out of beads. After that, the Dorje counter is reset. These counters are placed at different points on the mala depending on tradition. Sometimes at the 10th, 21st or 25th bead from the Guru bead. Traditionally, one begins the mala in the direction of the Dorje (skillful means) proceeding on to the Bell (wisdom) with each round.
A ‘Bhum’ counter, often a small brass or silver clasp in the shape of a jewel or wheel is used to count 1000 repetitions. When mala is not in use you can hang it in a clean place, maybe near your altar. We actually keep ours in a special bookshelf under our altar. It’s all up to you and your intention to treat it with care and respect while maintaining a practical, non-extreme attitude.
Prayer Wheels མ་ཎི་འཁོར་ལོ
Prayer Wheels is a unique Tibetan Buddhism practice. In Buddhist practice, the key factor is the mind. But, application of the body and speech also important factors to strengthen our commitment. Meditation and yogic practice are common for the perfection and peace of mind. To generate the mind of enlightenment, there are other ways like prostration, pilgrimage circumambulation (kora), mantra recitation and the turning of prayer-wheels. Rolls of text with the mantra, or sacred words, of the Buddha of compassion Avalokiteshvara and other sacred prayers are coiled inside the wheel. A master then consecrates the wheel. So that, when it turns the blessings of compassion, helps to bring peace and happiness to all the beings.
The Buddhist practitioner turns them while reciting the mantras, meditating on the deity of compassion. And, feeling compassion for all the beings. As per Buddhist text that Lhamo Sengdongma, or the Lion-faced Dakini, gave this practice of turning prayer wheel to master Padmasambhava for the sake of the people in the degenerate age. He in turn, brought it to Tibet in the eighth century. Since then it has become a very popular practice, especially for elderly Tibetans.
Tibetan Culture and Prayer wheels
Prayer wheels are found all over Tibet. It is also found where Tibetan culture is influential. There are many types of prayer wheels. However, small hand-held wheels are the most common by far. Tibetan people carry them around for hours, and even on long pilgrimages. People spinning them any time they have a hand free. Larger wheels, which may be several yards (meters) high and one or two yards (meters) in diameter. It can contain myriad copies of the mantra. And it may also contain sacred texts, up to hundreds of volumes. They can be found mounted in rows next to pathways, to be spun by people entering a shrine. Or, along with the route which people use as they walk slowly around and around a sacred site. The form of spiritual practice called circumambulation.
Stream spins prayer wheels are also placed where they can be spun by wind or by flowing water. Smaller mounted wheels can be spun by the heat rising from a flame of butter lamps, or placed on a table top to be spun by hand. Tibetan Buddhist Mani wheels are always spun clockwise. It rotates the syllables of the mantra so that they would pass a viewer in the order that they would be read. It follows the direction of the sun. Moreover, it matches the clockwise circumambulation of stupas. Practitioners of Bon, the pre Buddhist spiritual tradition of Tibet, spin their prayer wheels counter-clockwise. The same direction they use in circumambulation.
Effect of the Prayer Wheels
If someone with AIDS, cancer or some other disease meditated like this and every day, for as many hours as possible. There would definitely be some effect. Quite a few people who have completely recovered from terminal cancer through meditation. Even though the person might not know about Dharma, about reincarnation or karma. Because they want to have peace of mind now and a peaceful death. The reason is that they care about having a healthy body and a healthy mind. They should use this extremely powerful and meaningful method of healing.