The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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It is a tradition that derives from Indian Mahayana Buddhism, especially the doctrine of non-substantiality (Skt shunyata ) of the Madhyamika school, and incorporates the doctrine of the Yogachara (Consciousness-Only) school as well as the esoteric rituals of Vajrayana (Tantric, or Esoteric, Buddhism).
The title lama means a venerable teacher. Some lamas of certain Tibetan monasteries are believed to be successively reincarnated, each head lama being considered a reincarnation of the last in the lineage.
A series of religious kings contributed to its adoption and eventual institution as a state religion. Song-tsen Gampo took as his wives a Nepalese princess and a Chinese princess, both of whom were devout Buddhists.
He invited Shantarakshita, a noted Indian monk of the Madhyamika school, to come to Tibet to teach Buddhism. On Shan-tarakshita's advice, the king also invited the Indian Tantric master Padmasambhava.
Padmasambhava is credited with "converting" the Bon deities to Buddhism (incorporating them into the Buddhist teachings) and quelling Bon opposition. Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava together established Tibet's first monastery at Samye in 779.
The king decided in favor of the Indian teacher and thus officially adopted the teachings of Indian Buddhism, or more specifically, the Mahayana teachings founded on Nagarjuna's philosophy of the Madhyamika school and the bodhisattva ideal.
King Trhitsug Detsen (806-841), a grandson of King Thisong Detsen, built temples and monasteries and contributed greatly to the translation of Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures into Tibetan as well as to Buddhist art and culture.
In either case, after a period of political and religious turmoil, the ruler of western Tibet invited Atisha, an Indian Buddhist teacher of the Madhyamika school, to the region in 1042 to help restore Buddhism.
Atisha propagated Buddhist teachings, reformed Tantric practices that had involved overt sexual activity, and brought about a revival of Buddhism. Atisha's teachings were inherited by his disciple Dromton, who founded the Kadam school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism also spread outside of Tibet, most notably in Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. In the mid-thirteenth century, Sakya Pandita, an eminent scholar of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism, journeyed to Mongolia with his nephew and student, Phagpa.
In 1578 the Mongolian ruler Altan Khan hosted the renowned Sonam Gyatso, the leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, and conferred upon him the honorific title "Dalai Lama." Dalai is a Mongolian word for ocean.
The title was also applied to his two predecessors.
The Dalai Lama came to be regarded as the country's spiritual leader and temporal ruler, and each was believed to be a successive incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Perceiver of the World's Sounds.
Since the popular uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet in 1959 and the resulting exile of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso (b. 1935), and his followers, interest in Tibetan Buddhism has grown in the West.