What is special about Tibetan Buddhism?

Tibet: The most colorful variety of Buddhism

What is the manifestation of Buddhism in Tibet?

Tibet is the classic land of Vajrayana or "diamond vehicle" - a later stage of Buddhism. In it we find a synthesis of different elements of Buddhist teaching, as they existed side by side - partly in the same monastery - until the expulsion of Buddhism in India in the 12th century. In Vajrayana the monastic rules of Hinayana merged with the healing paths of Mahayana and the magical practices of Tantra. Because of the central importance of tantric, esoteric teachings for shortening the path to salvation, one also speaks of "tantric Buddhism". This variant is the most colorful variety of Buddhism because of its multitude of teachings and ceremonies and its sprawling iconography.

How did the first attempt at proselytizing go?

The "early spread" ended around 850; the Nyingmapa, the "schools of the ancients", which are still to a small extent monasteryly organized, refer to them. King Trisong Detsen laid the foundations for the mission in an effort to assert himself against the nobility adhering to the old Bon faith and the Chinese and Central Asian missionaries. He brought the Indian tantric Padmasambhava into the country, who overcame the persistent resistance of the Tibetans by banning demons and integrated the pre-Buddhist, sometimes terrifying deities and spirits into Buddhism as "protectors of doctrine". Buddhism with Indian characteristics based on the Bodhisattva path became the state religion in 775 with the establishment of the first Samye monastery. The Chinese Chan, with its doctrine of the spontaneous awareness of Buddha-nature, could not prevail in Tibet. Around the year 850, after the murder of King Langdarma, who was hostile to the Buddhists, the empire fell apart. The ostracized belief lived on in Eastern Tibet.

How did Tibet finally become Buddhist?

Around the year 1050, on the initiative of converted West Tibetan rulers, the second mission got going: the East Indian monk scholar Atisha was invited to Tibet. During the 11th century, two of the main orders of Tibet, the Kagyupa and the Sakyapa, emerged. After 300 years of intensive Sanskrit translation work, the Tibetan canon of sacred texts, Kangyur, was constituted. It was printed in Beijing in 1410. During this time the special position of religious masters, the so-called lamas, developed in Tibetan Buddhism. The term "Lamaism" coined in the West is based on it. These masters transferred the various teaching and ritual traditions to their students.

The last of the four main orders, the Gelugpa or yellow hats, and the large state monasteries Drepung, Sera and Ganden in the vicinity of Lhasa, go back to the reformer of the monastic and monastic discipline Tsongkhapa (1357-1419).

Why are worldly and spiritual powers fused together?

This tradition is rooted in the Mongol period of the 13th century: The abbot of the leading Sakyapa at that time received secular power from Kublai Khan and then became the highest spiritual authority in the course of the mission among the Mongols. In the 16th century the secular and spiritual leaders, the "Dalai Lamas", emerged from the Gelugpa tradition: The 3rd head of the order received the title "Teacher whose wisdom is as great as the ocean" (Dalai Lama) from Mongol prince Altan Khan awarded. This title then passed on to his successors. The 5th Dalai Lama established the supremacy of the Order of the Yellow Hats over Tibet and the form of government that was valid until the Chinese invasion in 1959. A visible sign of their power was the expansion of the Potala, their residence in Lhasa.

What are the special features of Lamaism?

A special development is the idea, which has existed since the 12th century, of the series of rebirths of outstanding personalities from individual disciplines. When a great master has died, oracles indicate where to look for his rebirth. Tibetan Buddhism also emphasizes the tantric doctrine of polarity from the union of the male and female principle to the primordial state of "non-duality", the absolute, represented as the sexual union of male and female deities. In tantric meditation, the meditator unites and identifies with the so-called transcendent Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and protective deities. Colorful and hand-painted representations on scrolls, the so-called tankas, help with these visualizations.

Did you know that …

the Potala Palace in Tibetan Lhasa, which largely dates from the 17th century, was also the seat of the current 14th Dalai Lama, who is now in exile, until the Chinese invasion of 1959?