Tibetan Buddhism

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Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhist Beliefs The basic philosophies for Tibetan Buddhism originate from Mahayana Buddhism, which is the oldest and most practiced form of Buddhism. Contrary to other religions, Tibetan Buddhists do not believe in a god or savior. Rather, they focus on relieving themselves of all temptations and possessions. This in turn will allow them to reach nirvana, or everlasting peace. However, they also offer food, chant prayers, and light butter lamps in order to reach this ultimate goal (“Dawa”). Symbols are another major part of many rituals and practices that are used by many Buddhists. Butter lamps, prayer wheels, and a wind horse are all examples of ritual tools. Each has its own unique and individual purpose. However, the most influential symbols are the Four Dignities. The dragon, which flies overhead clearing people’s minds of delusion and increasing what people know by hearing. The tiger, which symbolizes unconditional confidence, disciplined awareness, kindness and modesty. The snow lion, which represents unconditional cheerfulness, a mind free of doubt, clear and precise. Also, there is the Garuda, which symbolizes freedom from hopes and fears. These four have also been compared to the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. Each of these majestic creatures has its own special purpose and meaning, but all of them are useful to the people that believe in them (“Symbols”).These symbols also relate to the rituals that many Buddhists practice regularly. In most cases there are two specific types of rituals. The first of the rituals are the daily blessings or meditation. These are very ordinary and become a routine part of a Tibetan Buddhist’s day. Next, there are the special and more sacred rituals, which are used on certain occasions. For example, they will use special prayers to ask for a good harvest or to avoid disease and death. Although they serve great purpose, most special rituals are only used in a time of crisis because they are believed to be sacred and should be used sparingly (Lama). The ritual that is used most often happens to be meditation. Many people all across the world practice this even though most of them are not members of the Buddhist faith. “Meditation is a deep session of concentrated thought that cleanses the spirit and relaxes the body (Lama).” Many believe that meditation can actually heal ailments or even prevent sickness from occurring. However, the reason for meditation is simply to think about ongoing problems in a person’s life or to try and understand concepts that are unfamiliar. Unlike prayer, meditation focuses on what someone can do for themselves, not what others can. In turn, this is believed to bring solutions and tranquility rather than hope and despair (Lama).

The Dalai Lama Possibly the most influential figure in all of religion is the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is the leader of many lamas in the Tibetan Buddhist faith. Some of his responsibilities include overseeing new practices, preaching new beliefs, and caring for individuals in need. He also has written many books and articles on his own personal feelings on how to reach nirvana. Furthermore, he has given special blessings to political leaders and celebrities all over the world. This is considered to be one of the highest honors any one person can receive. However, the Dalai Lama typically prefers to stay as low-key and tranquil as humanly possible. This is due to the fact that the Chinese government is still trying to force him and the remaining Tibetan Buddhists out of Asia (“Dawa”). To truly understand the Dalai Lama, one must understand the history from which he and many others have risen. The first Dalai Lama, Gedun Drupa, was born in 1391. He founded the Tashi Lhunpo monastery and also many books that described his philosophies in great detail. However, the title “Dalai Lama” was not adopted until the mid 1570s. The first three Dalai Lamas were called abbots and then later renamed by the Mongolian king Altan Khan. The name Dalai Lama actually means “Ocean of Wisdom,” but many Tibetans also refer to him as “Rgyal-ba Rin-po-che” or “Precious Conqueror.” After the first three there were a series of Dalai Lamas that died in their youth bringing worry and concern to many. However, after many rulers had died in their youth, the thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso, took over. He reformed Tibet and took advantage of his political stature to reassert his beliefs. After surviving attacks from both the British and Chinese invasions of Tibet, he lived in exile among the people of China and India. Then, during the Chinese Revolution, Gyatso used the dying of the Manchu dynasty to free Tibet and make it an independent nation. Unfortunately, this only lasted until the 1950s, but it left a permanent mark on society and gave hope to millions of Buddhists around the world (Kornfield).

The History of Tibetan Buddhism The history of Tibetan Buddhism can be traced back to the second century where Thothori Nyantsen was the king of Tibet. It is believed that certain scriptures may have been adopted from northern India, but the major uprising undoubtedly started in Tibet. At this time, Buddhism was not the major religion in Tibet like it is today. Buddhism was just beginning to take shape and yet followers were already dividing themselves into different sections. The first major event in Tibetan Buddhism didn’t occur until 641 A.D. when Princess Bhrikuti Devi from Nepal married the Tibetan king Songsten Gampo. This unified the two nations and in turn led to the spread of Tibetan Buddhism throughout most of Southeast Asia. Tibetan Buddhism prospered and grew into the largest sect of traditional Buddhism until the second half of the twentieth century when Communist Chinese forces came in and swept the main followers out of China and much of Central Asia. Many of those who were forced out also gave up the religion altogether, but in many places there are those who are still holding on dearly to what they believe (Kornfield).


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