Buddhism in Tibet
The first ever official appearance of Buddhism in Tibet is believed to have occurred during the reign of the King of the Yarlung dynasty named Lha-Tho-Tho-Ri-Nyentsen (born ca. 173 C.E.).
According to Tibetan religious history, one day a Buddhist text and relics were found by the King from the roof of his palace, but texts were written in Sanskrit, and no one at the court could read and understand the significance of the scriptures thus it remained an isolated event.
Tibetan accounts indicate that these texts actually were brought from India, and the King hid their origin after having a dream indicating that in four generations a King would be able to read and understand the texts.
The arrival of this text is considered to be the first introduction of Buddhism to Tibet.
But generally, when we talk about dissemination of Buddhism into Tibet, there are two periods of diffusion known as the ‘early diffusion’ and the ‘later diffusion’.
The first occurred in the 7th to 9th centuries during the height of its empire, when Tibet dominated vast tracts of central Asia.
The first successful transmission of Buddhism into Tibet occurred during the reign of the king Songtsen Gampo (ca. 618-650).
Under his military guidance, Tibet became a major power in Central Asia and China. During his reign, he moved his capital from Yarlung to Lhasa.
In order to make political alliances, the King married with Bhirkuti (daughter of Nepal’s King Amshuvarman), and in order to further political alliances he married with Chinese emperor T’ai-tsung’s daughter Wen-ch’eng. T
he king sent his minister Thonmi Sambhota and some students to India to develop the Tibetan script and to codify the language. Thonmi Sambhota discovered the Tibetan script based on the ancient Indian Dev-Nagric script as commissioned by the King.
The Buddhist Sanskrit texts and other Indian dialectical literature began to be translated into Tibetan from the 7th century onwards.
The first ever translator of Tibet was Thonmi-Sambhota, and he translated more than 21 texts of both Sutra and Tantra.
In addition, he composed grammatical texts for Tibetans.
The next great Dharma King was Trisong Deutsen (ca. 740-798), who by all accounts was a devout Buddhist who took a personal interest in propagating the Buddha-dharma.
In order to accomplish this, he invited the Indian scholar Shantarakshita to Tibet and later he was well known as the ‘Boddhisattava Abbot’.
Unfortunately, during his mission, a series of natural disasters occurred at this time.
Shantarakshita advised the King to invite the tantric adept Padmasambhava, who could defeat the spirits, demonic forces, and natural disasters.
Thus, the King invited Guru Padmasambhava to Tibet. In 755 king Trisong Deutsen, Guru Padmasambhava, and Khenpo Boddhisattva (well known as Khen-Lob-Choe-Sum in Tibetan), celebrated the successful establishment of Buddhism in Tibet by founding its first monastery, which was called Samye.
It was built in three stories, each in a different architectural style, one Indian, one Chinese, and one Tibetan.
After the monastery was finished, seven Tibetans received monastic vows and from then on their ordination was considered to be the inauguration of monastic Buddhism in Tibet.
After this the King turned his attention to the translation of Buddhist scriptures, realizing that Buddhism would never flourish in Tibet as long as its scriptures remained in a foreign language.
The King began inviting translators from India, Kashmir, and China, and he also began sending young Tibetans to India for training. Therefore, the King presided over a massive translation effort in order to render the corpus of Buddha’s teachings into Tibetan.
Since that time, enormous volumes of Buddhist texts were deliberately translated into the native Tibetan language.
The translations of the Buddha’s teachings, commentaries, and other exegetical works by Indian scholars and adepts took place in an
accurate way by using a systematic methodology formulated under the luminary Indian Paditas (translators) such as Acharya
Shantarakshita, Daanashila, Surendraboddhi, who collaborated with the Tibetan Lotsawas (translators) such as Kawa Peltsek, Chogro Lugyaltsen, Shang Yeshe De, and so on.
The third religious King of Tibet was Tri-Ralpa-Chen (who reigned from 815-836).
By all accounts he was deeply committed to Buddhism, and spent lavish amounts of money on the construction of temples and monasteries, and also supported the visits by Indian Buddhist scholars to Tibet, as well as trips to India by Tibetan scholars.
One of the major contributions of his reign was his sponsorship of a project to standardize translation equivalents for Buddhist texts.
The translations produced during this period continue to be favored by the Nyingma school, which considers them to be more faithful to the original spirit of the texts than the later translations, prepared during the period of the ‘second dissemination’ of Buddhism.
vigorously persecuted Buddhist monastic establishments, however, for accomplished Mahasiddhas, Tantric Yogins who practiced in the solitude and wilderness, the inner Tantric teachings and practices remained intact.
After the collapse of his empire, came the dark period of political and cultural fragmentation in Tibet.
During the period of ‘Sarma’ or the second dissemination of Buddhism into Tibet, the monastic based Sutra teachings were destroyed and needed to be revived, however the Nyingma Tantras remained secured.
The most important event of this period, however, was the translation, correction and restoration of Buddhism, and particularly the arrival of the great Indian scholar and adept Atisha Dipamkarshrijnana (982-1054).
There are now four major main schools of Tibetan Buddhism:
the old school of ‘Nyingma’, trace their origin to the first period of Buddhism in Tibet and the New school ‘Sarma’, which includes Sakya, Kagyu, and Geluk – developed the second or later period of Buddhism in Tibet.
As far as the diffusion of the early and later periods of Buddhism in Tibet is concerned, there is no difference from the viewpoint of the Sutra part of the Buddha’s teachings but the difference occurs from the Tantric point of view.
This period is called the ‘early diffusion of Buddhism or early period of Translation’ Nga-gyur-Nyingma.
emphasis on approach, either by focusing on an intellectual approach to the Buddha’s teachings, or by focusing on the practice of
The principal practices of the Nyingma School relies on these Tantric texts, and its Tibetan origins are traced to Buddhist pioneers of the time of Dharma King Trisong Deutsen, Acharya Padmasambhava and Abbot Bodhisattva or Shankarashita.
The original teacher of this lineage that comes to be associated with the Nyingma school was Samantabhadra (Kun-Tu-Sangpo’), who is the ‘Primordial Buddha’ and who embodies the truth body or Dharmakaya of all Buddhas.
According to the transmission of the Kama teaching tradition (Kama), Vajrasattva (Dorje-Sempa), who transmitted the teaching tradition to Garab Dojre, or Prahevajra, (b. 55 C.E), who was the first human teacher of the tradition.
Garab Dorje passed these teachings on to Jampal Sheynyen Manjushrimitra, Jampal SheyNyen taught them to his student Shri Simha (b. 289 C.E), who in turn passed them on to Vimalamitra, Padmasambhva, and Janasutra.
the three types of lineages –
The Nyingma transmission lineages include:
Naropa was renowned for his mastery of the teachings of Sutras, Trantras, Vinaya, and eventually he rose to the position of Abbot of Nalanda University, the greatest seat of Buddhist studies in the world at the time.
Physician, scholar-practitioner, and monk, Gampopa combined the Kadam tradition, stemming from the teachings of Atisha, with Milarepa’s oral instructions, and wrote the renowned text on the gradual path known as ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’.
The essence of this teaching lies not in the texts or doctrines of Buddhism, but rather in direct, personal realization of truth, which is epitomized in the practice of Mahamudra.
The Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origins to India, particularly to the great adept Virupa, who is the first human to disseminate the most distinctive of its teachings, the practice of the Path and its Fruit (Lamdre).
The Sakya lineage has been preserved and disseminated by his succeeding son the ‘Great Sakyapa’ Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), who spread the basic teachings of the Sakya tradition called the Separation from the Four Attachments (Zhenpa-Zhie-Dral).
The beginning of his school can be traced to his founding of Ganden Monastery in 1410.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of Je-Tsongkhapa was his brilliant synthesis of Buddhist doctrine and practice outlined in his two seminal treatises, The Great Exposition of the Stages of Path (Lam-Rim) and The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra (Ngak-Rim).
see also:Tibetan Buddhism