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Appendix-5 Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism, or Tibetan-language Buddhism, is also known as Lamaism. It is a major school of Chinese Buddhism.


In the early seventh century, Buddhism made its way into Tubo (the old name of Tibet) from Nepal and China’s Central Plains (the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River). Songtsan Gambo, king of Tubo, wed Tang Dynasty (618-907) Princess Wencheng and Nepalese Princess Bhributi. Each princess brought to Tubo a statue of Buddha, and their accompanying artisans built the Jokhang and Ramoche monasteries in Lhasa to house the two statues. Their accompanying Buddhist monks set about translating Buddhist scriptures in these monasteries.


Buddhism first got popular among the nobility and then gradually spread among the common people. The process of dissemination was divided into the pre-Hong period (the seventh century to the ninth century, equivalent to the Tubo period) and the post-Hong period (from the 10th century to the mid-20th century). During the post-Hong period, eminent Buddhist monks from India and Kashmir preached Buddhism on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which, by assimilating and integrating Bon, the indigenous religion in Tibet, developed into Tibetan Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana, or the Great Vehicle. Tibetan Buddhism has its own characteristics. For instance, its unique Living Buddha reincarnation system does not apply to any other Buddhist schools in China.


Through a prolonged period of cultural exchanges, Tibetan Buddhism has spread to other ethnic groups in China, such as the Mongolian, Tu, Yugur, Lhoba, Moinba, Naxi and Pumi ethnic groups. It has worshippers not only in China’s Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, but also in Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia and Russia.


During the heyday of Tibetan Buddhism, each Tibetan family was required to provide at least one member to become a monk or nun. This is why Tibetan monks and nuns made up 25 percent of the Tibetan population in the 16th century and thereafter. In 1951 when Tibet was peacefully liberated, there were 100,000 monks and nuns, or over 10 percent of the Tibetan population in Tibet. After the Democratic Reform in 1959, all monasteries went through reform according to suggestions by the 10th Panchen. Tibetan people have since enjoyed freedom to be lamas or resume secular life. Today, there are more than 1,700 sites for Tibetan Buddhist activities and about 46,000 monks and nuns in the Tibet Autonomous Region.


Religious Sects


Through long time evolution, Tibetan Buddhism was split into many sects, mainly Nyingma (known as the Red Sect), Sagya (known as Colorful Sect), Gagyu (known as the White Sect) and Gelug (known as the Yellow Sect). Of all the sects, Gelug, founded by Tsong Khapa after his religious reform in the early 15th century, was the most powerful. The two major Living Buddha systems, Dalai and Panchen, were stemmed from the Gelug Sect.


Living Buddha Reincarnation


The reincarnation of Living Buddha constitutes the biggest difference between Tibetan Buddhism and other schools of Buddhism. In 1283, when Garma Baxi, who had been bestowed with the title of Imperial Tutor by the Mongol Khan Mongo, was granted a gold-rimmed black hat as the badge of office on his deathbed, he expressed a wish to find a boy as his reincarnation to inherit the black hat. This was the beginning of the black-hat Living Buddha reincarnation system. Other Tibetan Buddhist sects followed suit. Statistics show that 148 Living Buddhas were registered with the Council for the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs during the reign of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperor Qianlong; and the number went up to 160 at the end of the Qing Dynasty. The Dalai Lama reincarnation system was introduced in the 17th century, and that for the Panchen Erdeni in 1713.



When the Gelug Sect took over power in the 17th century, the Living Buddha reincarnation system became a means employed by those in power in Tibet to seek prerogatives. To turn the tide, the Qing court promulgated the 29-Article Ordinance for More Effective Governing of Tibet in 1793. Article 1 of the Ordinance prescribed the introduction of the system of drawing a lot from the gold urn to determine the reincarnated soul boy of a deceased Living Buddha. For this purpose, the Qing court had two gold urns made: one for the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni, which is still kept in the Potala Palace in Lhasa; and one for Grand Living Buddha and Hutogtu Living Buddha in Mongolia and Tibet, which is still kept in the Yonghegong Lamasery in Beijing.


The state respects the faith in and practice of Living Buddha reincarnation, as well as the religious rituals and historical institution of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1992, the State Council Bureau of Religious Affairs approved the succession of the 17th Karmapa Living Buddha. In 1995, the Tibet Autonomous Region, at the approval of the State Council, accomplished the seeking and confirmation of the 10th Panchen’s reincarnated soul boy and the conferment and enthronement of the 11th Panchen, after going through the procedure of drawing a lot from the gold urn.


Since the Democratic Reform, there have been more than 30 Living Buddhas approved by the state and the Tibet Autonomous Region.


Living Buddha Reincarnation


Nyingma Sect

Founded in the 11th century, the Nyingma Sect is the oldest among Tibetan Buddhist sects. As monks with the sect wear red monk hats, the sect is called the Red Sect. It works only in the Tibetan-inhabited areas in China, but also in India, Nepal, Belgium, Greece, France and the United States.

Gedang Sect

Founded in 1056, the Gedang Sect went over to the Gelug Sect in the 15th century.

Sagya Sect

Founded in 1073, it was named Sagya (white clay in Tibetan) as the Sagya Monastery, the chief monastery of the sect, had grayish white walls. It is also called the Stripe Sect as the walls of the Sagya monasteries are painted with red, white and black stripes, respectively representing the Wisdom.

Gagyu Sect

Buddha, the Goddess of Mercy and Guardian Spirits. Founded in the 11th century, the Gagyu Sect pays high importance to Tantric practices, which are spread orally. Hence the name Gagyu, which means oral transmission. As the founders of the sect, Marba and Milha Riba, wore white monk robes when practicing meditation, the Gagyu Sect is also called the White Sect.

Gelug Sect

Founded in 1409, the Gelug Sect emerged later than any of the others. It has six major monasterie -- Zhaibung, Sera, Tashilhungpo, Gandain, Tar and Labrang. It is famous for its Dalai and Panchen reincarnation systems.


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