other places in Central Asia like Khotan had come under the
influence of Buddhism even before thebeginning of the Common
Era, Tibet and Mongolia remained virtually untouched until
much later. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, Tibet
and Mongolia lay off the main caravan routes along which merchants
and pilgrims travelled between India and China. Secondly,
the Tibetan and Mongolian people who were nomads and warlike,
were generally indifferent to the Teaching of the Buddha and
the higher level of culture that came with it.
of Buddhism to Tibet
Tibet, however, all this changed in the seventh century. The
Tibetans, who had long been divided among many warring clans,
were united under the rule of a great king, Srong-tsangam-po.
His success in uniting the Tibetans brought him and Tibet newfound
prestige in Asia. As a result, he was able to wed both a Chinese
and a Nepalese princess. His Chinese and Nepalese queens were
both Buddhists and before long he, too, became interested in
sent representatives to India and China to study the Teaching
of the Buddha and to bring back Buddhist texts. The result of
these missions strengthened the king's faith in the Buddhist
religion. He had many Buddhist texts translated into Tibetan
and encouraged the people to practise the Buddhist teachings.
He also constructed many temples throughout Tibet. Thus Srong-tsan-gam-po
was the first patron of Buddhism in Tibet. However, no Tibetan
monks were ordained during his reign. Moreover, some of the
Tibetans regarded Buddhism as a foreign religion and were opposed
Growth of Indian Buddhist Influence in Tibet
the eighth century, one of the later rulers, while hearing of
the biography of Srong-tsan-gam-po, also developed an interest
in the Teaching of the Buddha. He invited Shantarakshita, a
famous Buddhist scholar, to Tibet. Shantarakshita was then the
abbot of the great monastic university of Nalanda in India.
He travelled to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, where he taught
the Dharma for several months.
were, however, many powerful people at the Tibetan court who
were opposed to Buddhism and they put pressure on the king to
expel Shantarakshita. The king discussed the matter with Shantarakshita
and they decided that it was better for him to go to Nepal for
the time being. Meanwhile, Shantarakshita suggested to the king
that Padmasambhava, a famous master of meditation, be invited
from India. Padmasambhava was able to remove all opposition
to Buddhism in Tibet. Soon, Shantarakshita also returned. Padmasambhava
and Shantarakshita together helped to establish the teachings
of the Mahayana and Vajrayana firmly in Tibet. Shantarakshita
and Padmasambhava respectively represented the best of the Buddhist
scholarship and meditative practices of India at that time.
Their teachings, therefore, had a great impact on Tibet. Although
Padmasambhava did not remain for long in Tibet, the Tibetans
remember him as the "Precious Master" without whom
Buddhism might not have been established in Tibet. Shantarakshita
continued to teach in Tibet until his death.
the time of these two great masters, great monasteries were
built and the first Tibetans were ordained. Many of the first
Tibetan monks achieved outstanding meditative powers. In the
course of the next fifty years, many more translations of Buddhist
texts were made and the earlier translations revised. A catalogue
of the translations was also prepared. Teams of Indian and Tibetan
monks working together accomplished all this. By now India had
become the primary source of Buddhist culture for the Tibetans.
Later Transmission of Buddhist Teaching from India
the ninth century, there was a short-lived persecution of Buddhism
in Tibet and many Tibetans felt that the purity of the Buddhist
teachings originally brought from India was lost. As a result,
many Tibetans again travelled to India to study and efforts
were made to invite Indian scholars to Tibet. The eleventh century
saw a great increase in contacts between Tibet and India and
a corresponding growth in Buddhist activity in Tibet. Of the
many outstanding persons who contributed to the revival of Buddhism
in Tibet, two may be mentioned. They are the famous Indian scholar,
Atisha, and the great Tibetan meditator and poet, Milarepa.
who came from the cast of India, was very learned. Before becoming
an abbot of one of the great monastic universities of India,
he had spent more than ten years in Srivijaya, one of the notable
Buddhist centres of Southeast Asia. He came to Tibet in the
later part of the eleventh century and remained there until
his death thirteen years later. He had considerable influence
on the later development of Tibetan Buddhism. Many of his teachings
were included in the various Buddhist traditions of Tibet.
who lived in the eleventh century, was of a humble background.
He studied diligently under one of the noted Tibetan teachers
and translators who had returned from India. Soon, Milarepa
came to be recognised as an outstanding meditator who had gained
extraordinary insight into the nature of things. He put his
meditative experiences into songs, which are remarkable both
for their beauty and for the depth of their wisdom.
the course of several centuries, not only did many outstanding
Indian masters visit Tibet, but also many Tibetans made the
difficult journey over the Himalayas to study the Dharma in
India. They brought back with them the Buddhist philosophy of
India and also the knowledge of Music, Medicine, Logic and Art.
Within a relatively short period, Tibetan society had been transformed.
What had once been a primitive nation was changed into one noted
for its learning and wisdom.
the entire collection of Buddhist literature from India was
translated into Tibetan. Hundreds of monasteries were established
and numerous Tibetan works on Buddhism were written. By the
thirteenth century, when Buddhism in India began to decline,
Tibet was ready not only to preserve Buddhism, but also to transmit
it to other lands.
Later Development of Tibetan Buddhism
the fourteenth century, yet another teacher influenced the development
of Buddhism in Tibet. He was Tson-kha-pa who was born in the
northeast of Tibet. Tson-kha-pa was noted for his careful adherence
to the code of monastic discipline and for the quality of his
numerous writings. He soon attracted many followers and in the
years after his death, his sect gradually gained a very large
following in Tibet.
continued to flourish in Tibet from the fourteenth century right
through to the present century. Learned scholars continued to
teach the Dharma and write commentaries. They also wrote original
works on Buddhism. Monks and lay followers continued to achieve
extraordinary levels of meditation.
the middle of the twentieth century, when Tibet came under the
rule of the People's Republic of China, Buddhism was repressed.
Many Tibetans fled to India and to the West to preserve their
religion. In this way, through the Tibetan refugees, many people
throughout the world came into contact with Tibetan Buddhist
traditions. Today, there are Tibetan Buddhist centres teaching
the Dharma in many lands. Recently, a liberalisation in the
policy of the government towards religion in China has permitted
a revival of Buddhism within Tibet also.
of Buddhism to Mongolia
thirteenth century saw the rise of Mongolian power in Central
Asia. Under Genghis Khan, an ambitious and brilliant
chieftain, the Mongols soon made their influence felt throughout
the region. By the middle of the century, links had been established
between the Mongol court and Tibetan Buddhist masters.
that time, an army under a Mongol prince threatened Tibet. Sakya
Pandita, the most outstanding Tibetan religious teacher of the
time, was asked to negotiate with the Mongols. Although Sakya
Pandita hesitated to go because of his advanced age, he eventually
Pandita succeeded in converting the Mongol prince and his court
to Buddhism. He began the work of translating the Buddhist scriptures
into Mongolian and taught the Dharma to the Mongols until his
Sakya Pandita's nephew, Cho-gyal-phag-pa, was invited by the
famous Kublai Khan to visit the Mongol court in China. When
Cho-gyal-phag-pa reached the imperial court in China, he became
the personal religious teacher of the Khan. He stepped up the
work of translating the Buddhist scriptures which had been started
by Sakya Pandita. During the reign of Kublai Khan, the Mongol
court came increasingly under the influence of Tibetan culture.
Thereafter, a succession of Mongol Khans continued to look to
Tibet for religious inspiration.
Institution of the Dalai Lama
the sixteenth century, the number of Tson-kha-pa's followers
in Tibet had grown dramatically and the Mongols came under the
influence of the new sect. It was then that one of the Mongol
rulers invited a chief monk from Tson-kha-pa's sect to Mongolia
and gave him the title of Dalai Lama (master whose wisdom is
vast like the ocean).
Dalai Lamas are believed to be embodiments of the Bodhisattva
Avalokiteshvara who, out of compassion for sentient beings,
assumes human form. Upon the death of a Dalai Lama, a search
is made for his successor, who is then recognised as the next
embodiment of the Bodhisattva. Today as in the past, the Dalai
Lama is held in high esteem by Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhists
the eighteenth century, the Manchus intervened to end a long
period of political strife in Tibet. They appointed the then
Dalai Lama as the ruler of Tibet. In this way, the Dalai Lamas
became political as well as religious leaders. This situation
lasted until the People's Republic of China assumed control
of Tibet in the middle of this century.
the Tibetans before them, Buddhism transformed the Mongols from
a primitive people to a nation respected for its learning and
wisdom. From the thirteenth to the twentieth century, Mongolia
remained a stronghold of Buddhism. There, the Teaching of the
Buddha was preserved in many monasteries as well as in the homes
of the people. Although Mongolia today is under Communist rule,
Buddhism survives in the hearts and minds of the Mongolians.