Buddhism in Tibet

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Buddhist monks in Rumtek Monastery
Palpung Thubten Chokhor Ling
Young Tibetan monks in Drepung Monastery

The development of Buddhism in Tibet and in the highlands of Tibet goes back to first contacts in the 5th century AD . Buddhism was officially introduced as the state religion in Tibet in the 8th century by King Trisong Detsen . Various Buddhist schools have sprung up in Tibet over time.

Bon and Buddhism

A Bonpo text

Before Buddhism became known in Tibet, the Bon religion was predominant there. The Bon teachings spread from the originally independent West Tibetan Kingdom of Shang Shung to central Tibet and then further to the other regions of Tibet. As a result of syncretistic mixing with Tibetan Buddhism like this, this religion contains, on the one hand, natural religious ideas and animistic practices and, on the other hand, teachings and practices that correspond to the various Buddhist Yanas (main directions) up to Tantra and Dzogchen .

Due to the centuries-long coexistence with Buddhism, the traditions of "Yungdrung Bön" and "New Bön" are very similar to Tibetan Buddhism, especially in the tradition of the Nyingma school. In the origins of their tradition, the Bönpo do not refer to Buddha Shakyamuni , but to the Buddha Shenrab Miwoche as the founder of the tradition, who is said to have lived 18,000 years ago.

First contact with Buddhist teachings

Lha Thothori Nyentsen

The first contact of Tibetans with Buddhist teachings allegedly took place at the time of the 28th King of Tibet Lha Thothori Nyentsen in the 5th century. According to legend, a precious box miraculously appeared on the roof of the Yumbu Lagang Royal Palace at this time . This contained two Buddhist sutra texts, including the “Karandavyuha Sutra” on the meaning of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara , a gold miniature stupa , the six-syllable mantra Avalokiteshvaras Om mani padme hum ( Tibetan pronunciation: Om mani peme hung ) and other sacred objects. The king could not understand the meaning of the objects, but intuitively recognized that they were of special importance.

According to a less fantastic, possibly historically correct description, these objects were brought to him by an Indian monk who wanted to introduce Buddhist teachings to Tibet for the first time. However, since he did not speak the language of the king and there were no translators at hand, the latter traveled back to India without having achieved anything and only left the box and its contents as a gift to the king. Legend has it that thanks to his admiration for these precious objects, the elderly king miraculously regained the appearance and vitality of a young man and reached the age of 120 years.

Songtsen Gampo

Under the Central Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (reign 617–649), Buddhism really began to gain a foothold in Tibet for the first time, even if there were only a few Buddhists at the time and their temples resembled simple chapels. Songtsen Gampo married a Nepalese princess Bhrikuti as well as the Chinese princess Wen Cheng . Both were staunch Buddhists and brought the teachings of the Buddha closer to the king. At the insistence of his wives, the king himself founded two shrines in Lhasa , including the Jokhang Temple. For this reason, he is counted among the “Three Dharma Kings” of Tibet , alongside King Thrisong Detsen and King Relpacen . The dominant religion at that time was still Bon.

First major translation phase and spread of Buddhism

Nyingma school

The actual nationwide spread of Buddhism in Tibet took place at the time of the first translation phase of Buddhist scriptures, from Sanskrit into Tibetan , in the 8th century.

King Thrisong Detsen

The Tibetan king Thrisong Detsen invited the Indian masters Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita to Tibet in the second half of the 8th century to spread Buddhism there. They founded the first Buddhist monastery Samye-Ling , which developed into the most important teaching center of the time. Padmasambhava primarily taught the tantric aspects of Buddhism and, according to tradition, conquered the spirits and demons of Tibet, which is why Vajrayana Buddhism is said to have established itself in Tibet.

The translation of the Tripitaka and the outer tantras from this period has become the basis of the teaching collections of all Tibetan schools. The school tradition that emerged from this first translation phase is called Nyingma, literally “The Ancients”. Due to its early development, it is also known as the school of "ancient translations" and differs from the later schools in particular in the so-called inner tantras. From the 8th to the 11th centuries, the Nyingma tradition was the only Buddhist school in Tibet. In addition to Samye Monastery, the Kathog , Dorje Drag , Mindrölling , Pelyül , Dzogchen and Shechen monasteries , known as the “Six Big Seats” of the Nyingma, were the starting point for the spread of the Nyingma's teachings.

Persecution of Buddhism under King Lang Darma

The reforms introduced by the Buddhist King Relpacen, which severely curtailed the power of the Tibetan landed gentry and would have given the Buddhist monasteries a decisive influence in the regions of Tibet in the long term, led to his murder. His brother Lang Darma , a follower of Bon, ascended the throne and began the persecution of Buddhism. During his reign (836-842) Buddhism was strongly pushed back in its monastic form. Due to an encounter with a Buddhist yogi, who is said to have impressed Lang Darma with his miraculous powers ( Siddhi ), Lang Darma failed to persecute the Buddhist yogis. The oral tradition of the "School of Ancient Translations" (Nyingma-Kama), which at that time was mainly continued by yogis, survived the period of persecution unscathed. Furthermore, Guru Rinpoche, who foresaw the suppression of Buddhism in Lang Darma's time, and his closest disciples hid many tantric teachings that were rediscovered as " Hidden Treasures " in the centuries that followed. These rediscovered treasures became the basis for a large number of independent lines of tradition.

Second distribution - emergence of the "new schools"

The "second spread" (Tib .: phyi dar ) of Buddhism in Tibet took place from the 11th century. The Indian monk Atisha (982-1054) a well-known scholar of the Buddhist University of Vikramashila , traveled to Guge in 1042 and brought teachings of Mahayana and various Vajrayana practices with him. He emphasized the importance of the Vinaya rules and based his teachings in Tibet mainly on the sutra teachings, which are based on the second period of Buddha Shakyamuni.

Old Kadam School

The school of the "Old Kadam Masters" goes back to him. The Kadam School is a forerunner tradition of the three newer main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which emerged from the “second translation phase” of Tantric teachings from India to Tibet. The three main traditions of the "New Translations" ( Sarma ), from the 11th century onwards, are the Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug schools. The Kadam tradition was passed on to all Buddhist traditions in Tibet through Atisha's students and subsequent teachers. The school of the old Kadam masters has not survived as an independent school. She joined the Gelug School in the 14th century.

Kagyu schools

Marpa Lotsawa
Milarepa , tempera on cotton, Otgonbayar Ershuu

The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism go to Marpa the translator (1012-1097) back of the Mahamudra - lineage of Tilopa and Naropa further led. Marpa also studied with the great Indian masters Maitripa (also called Jhanagarbha ) and Kukuripa. He met Atisha during his third trip to India and studied the teachings of the Kadampa with him. From his travels to India he brought many Tantric scriptures back with him and translated them into Tibetan. Marpa's main pupil was Yogi Milarepa (1042–1123), who was widely known in Tibet because of his hard teaching time and his spiritual chants . Milarepa was only introduced into tantric practice after a long period of extremely tough trials. Milarepa's main disciples were Rechungpa and the monk Gampopa from Dagpo. Gampopa became famous for his scholarship. He established the form of teaching typical of the Kagyu schools by merging the monastic tradition of the earlier Kadampa and the yogi tradition of the Indian masters. The sub- schools of the Kagyu tradition that still exist today are the Barom , Karma , Drigung , Drugpa , Rechung , Shangpa , Taglung and Surmang Kagyu .


The Cö teachings ( Tib . : gcod ) of “cutting off” are closely connected with Master Macig Labdrön . The teaching comes from the Shiche tradition and was brought to Tibet by the Indian master Phadampa Sanggye (Tib .: pha dam pa sangs rgyas ) in 1092. In 1097 Phadampa Sanggye founded the Dingri Monastery from which the tradition in Tibet started. Macig Labdrön, who achieved the highest realization with the Cö practice, has become famous for her special life story and the spread of the Cö teachings in Tibet. Cö aims to cut off the ego attachment that is considered the root of worldly suffering through a specific ritual based on the teachings of Prajnaparamita (supreme transcendent wisdom). Phadampa Sanggye's tradition of this teaching has been preserved in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism to this day; it no longer exists as an independent school tradition.

Phadampa Sanggye can be seen as an incarnation of Padmasambhava as Macig Labdrön can be seen as an incarnation of Yeshe Tshogyel .


The Sakya Founding Fathers

Sakya was originally the name of a monastery founded by Khön Könchog Gyelpo (1034–1102) with its headquarters in the Sakya district near Shigatse in southern Tibet. The tantric teachings of the Sakyapa were translated from Sanskrit by Bari Lotsawa in the eleventh century. He traveled to India and brought various tantric teachings to Tibet. The Sakya tradition was then brought to full bloom by the "five venerable supreme masters". These include things Künga Nyingpo , Sönam Tsemo and Dragpa Gyeltshen , the first Sakya Pandita Künga Gyeltshen and Chögyel Phagpa . These five supreme masters based their teachings on those of the great Indian scholar and Siddha Virupa. They adopted his Mahamudra lineage as well as the teachings of many other great siddhas. The teachings of Lamdre , which is closely related to Hevajra tantra, is one of the main transmissions of the Sakya. The Sakya lineage also adopted teachings from the ancient Kadampa. Around 1264 the Sakya master Chögyel Phagpa received feudal rule over Tibet from the Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan , who ruled Mongolia , China and Tibet at the time. These were practiced by the Sakya until 1354. The head of the Sakya tradition is the Sakya Thridzin . Various sub -traditions developed from the Sakya tradition, including the Ngor , Tshar , Bulug , Bodong , Dzong and Jonang traditions.


Je Tsongkapa statue in the Kumbum monastery

Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) founded the Gelug School ("School of the Virtuous"), which strongly represented the ideals of the earlier Kadam School and attached great importance to monastic discipline and celibacy (see also Vinaya ). In contrast to the other Tibetan schools, the teachings of the Gelug School were not adopted into the Gelug teaching building due to a separate translation phase. By the time the Gelug was founded, the Buddhist culture of India had already been wiped out by the Islamic invasion. All "new tantric scriptures" had been transmitted to Tibet centuries earlier by Bari Lotsawa, Marpa Lotsawa and others. The core of the Gelug transmissions lies in the teachings of the Kadampa, especially the Mahayana teachings of Atisha . Tsongkhapa summarized these teachings in his work Lamrim Chenmo ("Great Explanation of the Gradual Path"). The " Lamrim -Stepped Path to Enlightenment" is the basis of the path of enlightenment taught by the Gelug to this day. Already in Tsongkhapa's time, however, various tantras of the New Translations were transferred to the Gelug School, and others were added later, including tantras of the Nyingma. The Dalai Lamas , important lamas of the Gelug, played an important spiritual role and, from the time of the 5th Dalai Lama until the Chinese occupation of Tibet, which began in 1950, temporarily held secular rule over Tibet. The spiritual head of the Gelug order is the Ganden Thripa . The three main monasteries of the order are Ganden , Sera and Drepung .

Non-sectarian movement

In the 19th century, the masters Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo , Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye and Orgyen Choggyur Lingpa created the " Rime Movement", which collected group-wide teachings from all areas of Tibet and from masters of all traditions. Competition and sectarianism among the various Buddhist schools in Tibet should be overcome.

Situation since 1950

In the 1950s, Buddhist religious dignitaries were persecuted and imprisoned in Tibet. Most of the 500,000 monks were either killed in labor camps or prisons, or were forcibly married. The identification with so-called living Buddhas ( Trulkus ) was considered "counterrevolutionary" and "superstitious" at that time. After 1959, the traditional structures of Tibet were eliminated. Between 1959 and 1976, 99% of the sacred buildings in Tibet were destroyed. Practically all educational, cultural and religious institutions in Tibet were destroyed in the course of the " cultural revolution ". Despite various improvements, the practice of religion in the People's Republic of China is still subject to certain conditions and is not possible without restrictions.

The spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the People's Republic of China can be determined using the following figures from 2000. Accordingly, the followers of Tibetan Buddhism today represent the majority within Lamaism .

Name of the people Areas (share) number
Tibetans Tibet , Qinghai , Sichuan , Gansu , Yunnan 5,416,000
Mongols Inner Mongolia , Fuxin , Harqin Left Wing , Front Gorlos , Dorbod , Qinghai , Subei , Weichang , Bayingolin , Bortala , Hoboksar 5,813,000
Han Chinese Tibetan settlement areas (proportion) approx. 500,000
Qiang Sichuan (share) 306,000
Naxi Lijiang in Yunnan (share) 300,800
Do Qinghai , Gansu 241,000
Xibe Liaoning and Qapqal in Xinjiang (share) 190,000
Primi Yunnan (proportion) 33,000
Yugur Sunan in Gansu 13,000
Monba Tibet 8,900
Kyrgyz Dorbiljin , Fuyu 1,500
total approx. 16,000,000

See also



  • Tsültrim Allione : Tibet's wise women - testimonies to female awakening. Theseus Verlag, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-89620-162-X .
  • Robert Bleichsteiner : The yellow church. Mysteries of Buddhist Monasteries in India, Tibet, Mongolia and China. Belf, Vienna 1937.
  • Regina von Brück, Michael von Brück : The world of Tibetan Buddhism. Kösel, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-466-20402-X .
  • Karin Brucker / Christian Sohns: Tibetan Buddhism. Handbook for Practitioners in the West. OWBarth Verlag, Bern 2003, ISBN 3-502-61083-5 .
  • Thierry Dodin, Heinz Räther: Myth Tibet. Perceptions, projections, fantasies. DuMont Reiseverlag, Ostfildern 1997, ISBN 3-7701-4044-3 .
  • Dalai Lama : Introduction to Buddhism. The Harvard Lectures. Herder, Freiburg, ISBN 3-451-04946-5 .
  • Dilgo Khyentse : The heart jewel of the enlightened. Theseus Verlag, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-89620-102-6 .
  • Andreas Gruschke : Tibetan Buddhism. (Overall title: Diederichs compact .) Kreuzlingen - Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7205-2391-8 .
  • John Powers : Religion and Culture of Tibet. The spiritual heritage of a Buddhist country. OW Barth, Munich 1998, pp. 175-22, ISBN 3-502-65487-5 .
  • Giuseppe Tucci , Walther Heissig : The religions of Tibet and Mongolia. (= The Religions of Mankind , 20), Stuttgart 1970.
  • Sebastian Schüler: From Syncretism to Padmaism - On the relationship between religion and politics in early Tibetan Buddhism under Padma Sambhava . In: Journal of Religious Culture . No. 137 , 2010, p. 2-17 ( pdf ).
  • Werner Vogd: The empowered master: A systemic reconstruction using the example of the Sogyal Rinpoche scandal , Heidelberg: Carl Auer, 2019


  • Stephan Bayer: The Cult of Tārā. Magic and ritual in Tibet . University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1978, ISBN 0-52003635-2 .
  • Ringu Tulku : A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet - The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great . Shambhala Publications, ISBN 1-59030-286-9 ,
  • Lati Rinpoche / Jeffrey Hopkins : Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism . Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, USA 1980, ISBN 0-937938-00-9 .
    • German: Steps to Immortality: Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism with a foreword by the 14th Dalai Lama , Diederichs Yellow Row, No. 41, 1983.

Web links

Commons : Buddhism in Tibet  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ CI Beckwith: The revolt of 755 in Tibet in The History of Tibet. ed. Alex McKay, Vol. 1, London 2003, pp. 273-285.
  2. Padampa Sang-gyé The Sang-yab by Machig Labdrön
  3. “Since demons (a projection of the ego) can only harm someone who has something to defend, they cannot molest someone who has no sovereignty (i.e. ego) to protect. This is the philosophical basis of the Chöd teachings. ” Allione in note 63 of the life story of Machig Lapdrön, p. 328 of the book Tibet wise women
  4. Galerie Goetter "Mongolian Miniature Painting" ( Gelug section ). In: Mongolian Art . Retrieved June 2, 2015.
  5. Zeljko Marković: Lamaism In: Christoph Auffarth, Jutta Bernard, Hubert Mohr (Hrsg.): Metzler-Lexikon Religion. Present - everyday life - media. JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2005, ISBN 3-476-00091-5 (e-book), p. 314
  6. Zeljko Marković: Lamaism In: Christoph Auffarth, Jutta Bernard, Hubert Mohr (Hrsg.): Metzler-Lexikon Religion. Present - everyday life - media. JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2005, ISBN 3-476-00091-5 (e-book), p. 314
  7. Th. Heberer : Beijing issues the "Administrative Method for the Reincarnation of a Living Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism". Analysis against the general background of the Tibet issue. Journal of Chinese Law, Issue 1/2008, PDF
  8. world.tibetcul.com: Dangdai Zangchuan Fojiao zai guowai ( Memento from July 8, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  9. http://www.adherents.com/adh_branches.html#Buddhism
  10. Chinese Zangqu