Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Lamaism, is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in Tibet and spread to neighboring countries of the Himalayas. Tibetan Buddhism is known for its rich mythology and iconography and for the practice of identifying the reincarnations of deceased spiritual masters.
Tibetan Buddhism has exerted extensive and profound influence on the Tibetan race. Buddhism spread into Tibet in the 7th century, and gradually infiltrates Tibet's history, politics, economics, culture, exchanges and habits and customs to become the most extensively worshipped religion of Tibetans.
Someone think the Tibetan Buddhism is not an independent Buddhism system. They identify it as a mixture of the traditional Buddhism and the Bon religion. But in fact, it is a false perspective. Tibetan Buddhism contains the monks debating culture that is not existed in other religions. And the Buddhist figures in Tibetan Buddhism system are totally different in the appearances which may be a little frightening.
There are two definitions to explain Tibetan Buddhism. One refers to the Buddhism system which is formed in Tibetan regions and then has been spread over and influenced some neighbor districts such as Mongolia, Sikkim, Bhutan, etc. The other one refers to the Buddhism recorded and spread by Tibetan language, can be understood as the “Buddhism in Tibetan language”.
Began in the mid-seven century, Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism has developed into a unique religion mixed political factors with religious culture. And in Qing Dynasty, rulers built up a strong relationship with Tibetan and Mongolians in Tibet, Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Mongolia by show respects towards the Tibetan Buddhism. After 13th century, Tibetan Buddhism had influenced the centre government to make the political policy towards Tibet. And in the beginning of the last century, Tibetan Buddhism printed its footprints in Europe and America. At that time, organization about Tibetan Buddhism had been built up. And now, this religion has become one of the beliefs in the western courtiers.
Although Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 7th century, it became a major presence at the end of the 8th century. Although Buddhist influence waned during persecutions between 838 and 942, the religion saw a revival beginning in the late tenth century.
With the rapid development of this religion, monks in Tibet began their cultural-exchanging trips to India, the homeland of Buddhism, to study the religion, and Indian scholars were invited to Tibet to lecture and give teachings. First to come was Shantarakshita, abbot of Nalanda in India, who built the first monastery in Tibet. He was followed by Padmasambhava, who came to use his wisdom and power to overcome "spiritual" forces that were stopping work on the new monastery.
Lama is a Tibetan word, meaning “superior master” or “superior man”. The ordinary monks were called “Drakpa” in Tibetan, while “Lama” was only for the temple abbots or adept monks. Later “Drakpa” are also called “lama”
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and is considered as a reincarnation of Lord Buddha. The first to bear the title of Dalai Lama was Sonam Gyatso, Grand Lama of the Drepung monastery and leader of the Gelugpa (YellowHat) sect in 1578. It was the 5th Dalai Lama in the 17th century who assumed spiritual and political leadership of Tibet and became the living manifestation of Chenrezi - the Buddha of Mercy and Compassion. His selection is based on the Mahayana Buddhism belief that he would always take a rebirth. The present and the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was identified and enthroned in 1940, with the Potala Palace in Lhasa as his traditional seat of government.
Perspective on Life and Death
Supernatural beings are prominent in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhas and bodhisattvas abound, gods and spirits taken from earlier Tibetan religions continue to be taken seriously. Bodhisattvas are portrayed as both benevolent godlike figures and wrathful deities.
Tibetan Buddhism recognizes the natural fact that human beings tend to avoid admitting death as an immediate threat in their own lives. Indeed, this refusal to acknowledge the imminence of death and impermanence is regarded in Buddhism as a fundamental cause of the confusion and ignorance that prevents spiritual progress. Spiritual growth is achieved not by cowering from death, but by confronting it head on.
Rich visual symbolism
Visual aids to understanding are very common in Tibetan Buddhism - pictures, structures of various sorts and public prayer wheels and flags provide an ever-present reminder of the spiritual domain in the physical world.
Many sculptures and paintings were made as aids for Buddhist meditation. The physical image became a base to support or encourage the presence of the divinity portrayed in the mind of the worshipper. Images were also commissioned for any number of reasons, including celebrating a birth, commemorating a death, and encouraging wealth, good health, or longevity. Buddhists believe that commissioning an image brings merit for the donor as well as to all conscious beings. Images in temples and in household shrines also remind lay people that they too can achieve enlightenment.
In Tibetan Buddhism system, there are four major sects, namely Nyingma Sect, Kagyu Sect, Sakya Sect and Gelug Sect.
The Nyingma Sect, also known as the Red Hats, is the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism. The code of this sect relies relies on very early esoteric scriptures known as tantras. In this school there is a good deal of emphasis placed on meditation. It is based on a lineage of teachings and traditions introduced during the reigns of the Buddhist Kings of the Yarlong Dynasty in the 8th and 9th century by Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche), Shantarakshita, Vilalamitra and others. Guru Rimpoche built Samye monastery to serve as a principal centre of learning for this sect.
The lineages of the Kagyu ('Oral Lineage') school of Tibetan Buddhism derive primarily from two sources: Marpa Chokyi Lodoe (1012-1099) and Khyungpo Nyaljor (978-1079). The main feature of this school is that the teacher, after having mastered the teachings, clears away defects - relating to intellectual understanding, meditation and the various levels of realization. Upon completion of the process, the teacher is able to point out and introduce mahamudrato the disciple. The Kagyu teachings have been transmitted and preserved this way, in an unbroken line, until the present time.
This is an oral tradition which is very much concerned with the experiential dimension of meditation. Kagyupa: Founded by Tilopa [988-1069), the Kagyupa tradition is headed by the Karmapa Lama. Its most famous exponent was Milarepa, an eleventh century mystic who meditated for many years in mountain caves before eventually reaching enlightenment; other important Kagyupa teachers include Naropa and Marpa.
Sakya Sect was created by Gonchok Gyelpo (1034-1102) and his son Gunga Nyingpo (1092-1158). Originated in the 11th century, Sakya School has been closely associated with the Khon Family.
The Sakya ('Grey Earth') sect originated in the 11th century (C 1035 AD) and has been closely associated with the Khon Family. Khon Lui Wangpo Sungwa became a disciple of Guru Rimpoche in the 8th century. Through the next thirteen generations, the dharma continued to be propagated through the Khon family. In 1073 AD, the Sakya Monastery was built by Khon Konchok Gyalpo, which established the Sakya Tradition in Tibet. Over a period of time, the main Sakya tradition gave rise to two other traditions called the Ngor lineage and the Tsar lineage, which together constitute the three schools (Sa-Ngor-Tsar-gsum) of the Sakya tradition. Presently, the headquarters of the Sakya sect are at Rajpur in Uttar Pradesh. The Sect is currently headed by Ngawang Kunga Theckchen Rimpoche.
The Gelug (Way of Virtue) Sect combines the teachings and practices of the Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya with the Sutra and Tantra systems of Indian Buddhism and the intellectual heritage of Nagarjuna and Asanga. Gelug(pa), also known as Yellow Hats, whose spiritual head is the Ganden Tripa and whose temporal head is the Dalai Lama, who was ruler of Tibet from the mid-17th to the mid-twentieth century.
The other major Gelug monasteries, Sera, Drepung, Ganden and Tashi Lhunpo monasteries and Gyumey Tantric College, have been re-established in various Tibetan settlements in Karnataka, and Gyuto Tantric College has been re-established in Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh.