Buddhism in Tibet


The Bon religion of Tibet was animistic and shamanistic. Today, some of its principles have been incorporated into the Tibetan Buddhism. The formal introduction of Buddhism in Tibet took place 641 CE. In that year, the ruling king had two Buddhist wives, who are credited for introducing him to Buddhism. In 755 CE, Buddhism became the official religion of Tibet. However, in 842 CE, Buddhism was suppressed in the country and Bon was re-established as its official religion. Finally, with the help of King Yeshe, Buddhism was revived after 1024 CE.

Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

    1. Nyingma The oldest school of Buddhism in Tibet, it emphasizes teachings attributed to its founder Padmasambhava, tantric practices and the “great perfection” principles. Padmasambhava is also said to have built the first monastery in Tibet.

    1. Kagyu This school is famous for its system of meditation, called Mahamudra. It is traced back to the great Indian yogi Tilopa. What differentiates this from the other schools, are the particular esoteric instructions and tantras they emphasize. It places great importance on Guru Yoga and Guru Devotion.

    1. Sakya The main Dharma system of the Sakya School is the Path with Its Result, which is split into two main lineages, namely, “Explanation for the Assembly” and the “Explanation for Close Disciples”. Basically, it considers four stages of enlightenment. These are progressive stages that finally lead to enlightenment as an Arahat.

    1. Gelug The name of this lineage is derived from the name of the monastery that Tsongkhapa founded, the Gelug Monastery. It is also called the ‘yellow hat’ sect and places special emphasis on scholarship and strict discipline.

Buddhism in Tibet today

Once, it seemed that 1 in 6 Tibetan men were Buddhists. But, since China has conquered Tibet, Buddhism has become a religion in exile. The head of Tibetan Buddhism, Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India. Today, monasteries are controlled by the government. These are frequently visited by government officials to ensure that they adhere to the norms. This is not appreciated by monks however, who complain that they have no freedom to carry out their practices. There is pervasive oppression of Tibetan Buddhism today and has slowly escalated to a crisis. In 2008, strict measures were imposed including an attitude of zero tolerance.

Famous Buddhist sites in Tibet

  1. Yumbulagan

It was the palace of the first Tibetan King and the first building in Tibet according to legend. Under the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama, the palace became a monastery of the Gelugpa School of Buddhism. During the Cultural Revolution, it was destroyed but later was reconstructed.

  1. Garden monastery

This is one of the ‘great three’ university monasteries of Tibet and is located at the top of Wangbur Mountain, at an altitude of 4,300 meters. It is the farthest from Lhasa of the three university monasteries, and therefore traditionally had a smaller population, with some 6,000 monks in the early 20th century. Since its destruction in 1959, restructuring work has been going on.