Tibet became one of the last major zones in Buddhist Asia to accept Buddhist teachings and rituals into its culture, which assumed a unique position as the perceived source for true dharma study during the 12-20th centuries.
Throughout their religious history, Tibetans have emphasized a balance of scholarship, contemplative Meditation, and the indivisibility of religious and secular authority; most of these values were formulated under the aegis of Buddhist Tantrism.
Tibetan Buddhism matured over the course of 14 centuries and will be assessed in this entry in phases that, if somewhat contested in scholarly literature, still represent important stages in its development.
2. Royal dynasty & early translations
Tibetan literature attributes the formal introduction of Buddhism to the reign of its 1st Emperor, Songtsen Gampo (d. 649/650).
Undoubtedly, though, proto-Tibetan peoples had been exposed to Buddhist merchants and missionaries earlier:
There is a myth that the 5th king before Songtsen Gampo, Thothori Nyantsen, was residing in the ancient castle of Yumbu Lakhang when a casket fell from the sky: Inside were a gold Reliquary and Buddhist scriptures.
While the myth is not early, it possibly reveals a Tibetan memory of prior missionary activity.
We do know that official contact with Sui China was accomplished from Central Tibet in 608 or 609 and that, as Tibet grew more powerful, Buddhist contacts increased.
Nonetheless, 2 of Songtsen Gampo’s wives - Wencheng from China and Bhṛkuṭī from Nepal - were credited with constructing the temples of Magical Appearance (Jokhang) and Ramoche.
Other temples were built as well, and 12 were later considered limb-binding temples, where a demoness representing the autochthonous forces of Tibet was subdued by the sanctified buildings.
Songtsen Gampo is also credited with having one of his ministers, Thonmi Sambhota, create the Tibetan alphabet from an Indian script and write the first grammars.
Buddhist progress occurred with the successors to Songtsen Gampo:
Notable was the foundation of the 1st real monastery in Tibet, Samye (ca. 780) and the influx of Indian, Chinese, and Central Asian monks around that time:
Particularly influential were Śāntarakṣita, an important Indian scholar, and his disciple Kamalaśīla.
Śāntarakṣita and his entourage were responsible for the first group of 6 or 7 aristocratic Tibetans to be ordained in Tibet. These authoritative monks did much to cement the relationship between Indian Buddhism and Tibetan identity.
Another teacher, Padmasambhava (8th century), was a relatively obscure tantric guru whose inspiration became important later.
Translation bureaus in Dunhuang and Central Tibet were opened by the Tibetan emperors, from Trisong Detsen (ca. 742–797) through Ralpacan (r. 815–838), but unofficial translations were recognized sources of concern.
While the official bureaus emphasized the Mahāyāna monastic texts, unofficial translations tended to feature more radical Tantric works:
During the reign of Sadnalegs (r. 804–815) a council was convened to regularize Tibetan orthography and to establish both translation methods and a lexicon of equivalents for official translators:
The result was the emergence of classical Tibetan, a literary language developed to render both sophisticated Buddhist terminology and foreign political documents into the rapidly evolving Tibetan medium.
Translations were initially made from several languages, but principally from Sanskrit and Chinese, so that a consistent tension between Indian and Chinese Buddhist practice and ideology marked this period.
The Northern Chan School was present in Tibet, but from 792 to 794 a series of discussions between Indian and Chinese exegetes at the Samye Debate was ultimately decided in favour of the Indians:
Eventually, Buddhist translations from Chinese were abandoned for exclusively Indic sources.
3. Fragmentation & Development
The last of the emperors, Langdarma (r. 838–842) began a campaign of suppression of Buddhism contemporary to the Huichang suppression in China.
Langdarma was assassinated by a Buddhist monk, and the vast Tibetan empire fragmented over imperial succession. The period from 850-950 was a chaotic time marked by popular revolts and warlordism.
Surviving Buddhist monks fled, and monastic practice was eclipsed in Central Tibet for approximately a century.
Aristocratic clans that had accepted Buddhism, however, continued to develop indigenous rituals and new literature based on the received tradition.
With the re-establishment of records in the late 10th century, we see active lay Buddhist behaviour - Pilgrimage, lay rituals, autochthonous divinities as protectors, and so on - that was to endure to the present.
Yet the monastic religious form was closely allied to the memory of the empire, and Samye stood empty:
Eventually several Tibetans under the leadership of Lume Tsultrim Sherab from Central Tibet travelled to Dantik Temple, in modern Xining, and received Monastic Ordination from Tibetan monks who had maintained it.
Returning to Central Tibet around 980, Lume Tsultrim Sherab and others began to refurbish Samye as well as construct networks of new temples. Their position, though, was often threatened by the lay lamas called Ban de, and the new monks were sometimes physically attacked.
One line of the Imperial House established itself in Guge, in West Tibet, and some two dozen men, pre-eminently Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055), were sent to study in Kashmir.
Like the Tibetan emperors, the Guge Kings supported Mahāyāna scholarship and were critical of extreme tantric behaviour, whether Tibetan or Indian.
While Rinchen Zangpo principally translated esoteric works, many other translators, especially Ngok Loden Sherab (1059–1109), specialized in Mahāyāna philosophical treatises, rendering many into Tibetan for the first time:
Thus, the Five Treatises of Maitreya and much of the work of Dharmakīrti and other scholastic authors were introduced to Tibetans through their activity.
A great translator’s convocation, where scholars discussed their texts and procedures, was called by the Guge King in 1076.
In Central Tibet, the later translation movement began with Drokmi Lotsawa Śākya Yeshe (ca. 990–1060), who studied in Vikramaśilā and elsewhere in India.
Following him, Gos Lotsawa, Ra Lotsawa Dorje Drakpa, Marpa, Khyungpo Naljor, and other scholars began the new translation or revision of Indian works.
Many of these 11th century Central Tibetan translators were concerned with the newly evolving Tantras, which they presumed had not been revealed to earlier Tibetans.
They also believed that the imperially sponsored systems had become mixed with indigenous Tibetan practices and derided them as “old style” (Nyingma).
For their part, certain Nyingma teachers - especially Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (1040-1159) - were also translators and defended their own texts by decrying perceived inadequacies of the new translators and their Indian informants.
Rongzom also composed the first synthetic Tibetan treatment of the Buddhist path in a detailed manual called the Disclosing the Great Vehicle Approach, which begins with monastic Buddhism and culminates in the Great Perfection (Dzogchen) teaching.
The Zur clan was also involved in Nyingma defence, and Zurchen Śākya Jungne and Zurchung Sherab Drakpa put together the earliest Nyingma Gyubum (Old Tantric Canon).
Another Nyingma response became the development of the “treasure” literature (Terma), grounded in indigenous scriptural composition during the 10th century, when Central Tibet was isolated.
Scriptural composition was normative Buddhist behaviour, liberating the intention of the Buddha from excessive literalness: In India, the practice was inhibited by various conservative strategies, but Tibetans began to stretch the form in creative ways:
By the 11th century, they realized that texts revealed in Tibet could not be justified on standard literary grounds:
They therefore formulated the ideology that these works had been hidden, physically or spiritually, as treasures by saints of the Royal dynasty. Many of these early treasures were dedicated to the Great Perfection view and practices.
In 1042 the important Indian missionary, Atiśa Dīpankara Śrījñāna (982–1054), arrived, invited by the Guge King:
Atiśa introduced the popular Bengali cult of the goddess Tārā and reframed Tantric Buddhism as an advanced practice on a continuum with monastic and Mahāyāna Buddhism.
This systematization, already known in India, became designated the triple discipline (trisamvara: the monastic, bodhisattva, and tantric vows) and Atiśa embedded this ideal in his Bodhipathapradīpa (Lamp for the Path to Awakening).
Atiśa also promoted the basic Mahāyāna curriculum of his monastery Vikramaśilā, where works like Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra (Introduction to the Conduct That Leads to the Enlightenment) were fundamental to monastic stability.
Atiśa’s lay lama disciple Dromton Gyalwe Jungne (1004–1064) founded the monastery of Reting in Central Tibet (1057) and organized the Kadampa order.
The tantric orders evolved out of the activity of the early Central Tibetan translators. Preeminent were the various traditions of the Dakpo Kagyu that derived from Marpa (1002/1012–1097).
While some of Marpa’s disciples were concerned with tantric scholarship, it was Marpa’s poet disciple Milarepa (1028/40–1111/23), and Milarepa’s disciple Gampopa, who effectively grounded the tradition in both Tantric and Monastic practice.
Likewise, Drokmi Lotsawa Śākya Yeshe’s centre in Mugulung did not last, but his later follower Khön Könchok Gyalpo (1034–1102) founded Sakya (Sakya) Monastery in 1073, and the Sakya order became widely acknowledged through the influence and learning of Khön clan members.
Beyond these, many smaller lineages were received from Indian masters but only partially succeeded in the institutionalization process of the 12th century, eventually becoming subsets of one or another of the major orders.
4. Lineage Development | 12-14th centuries
By the 12th century, small lineages began developing into specific orders that compiled the writings of exemplary figures.
The initial cloisters were expanded, becoming “mother” monasteries for a series of satellite temples and monasteries. Orders established dominion in their areas, so that lay practice tended to come under the aegis of important teachers.
Buddhist doctrinal and philosophical material became an important part of the curriculum. Translation activity continued, but with an emphasis on the revision of previous translations.
A Canon of translated scripture and exegesis was compiled throughout this period, so that by the end of the 14th century its major outlines became relatively clear.
Finally, the aura of the emerging orders attracted the interest of Central Asian potentates, beginning with the Tanguts and extending to the grandsons of Genghis Khan.
The Nyingma order had coalesced around the received teachings derived from the Royal dynastic period, whether transmitted in a human succession (Kama) or as revealed treasure teachings (Terma).
Pre-eminently, Vimalamitra and Padmasambhava among the Indians, and Vairotsana among the Tibetans, were the mythic sources for treasure scriptures.
The important treasure finder Nyangrel Nyima Özer (1142–1192) and his school in southern Tibet promoted Padmasambhava over other figures:
From Nyangrel’s group came the Mani Kabum, the vehicle for the spread of the cult of Avalokiteśvara as the special protector of Tibet, purportedly embodied in Emperor Songtsen Gampo.
Treasure hagiographies of Padmasambhava by Orgyen Lingpa (1323 – c. 1360) have proven classics of the genre.
Karma Lingpa (1326–1386) revealed the Bardo Thodol, widely known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Although Nyingma philosophical authors were relatively few, Longchen Rabjampa (1308–1363) set the standard for tantric scholarship:
Basing himself on treasures of the Nyingtig (seminal drop) tradition of the Great Perfection, Longchenpa authored important discussions of Nyingma theory and practice.
The Khön clan continued to develop Sakya Monastery, with the help of such individuals as Bari Lotsāwa (1040–1112), who assembled many relics at Sakya.
The great literary contributions, though, came from the 5 Sakya masters:
1) Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092–1158),
2) Sönam Tsemo (1142–1182),
3) Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147–1216),
4) Sakya Paṇḍita ( 1182–1251)
5) Drogön Chögyal Phagpa (1235–1280).
Sachen Kunga Nyingpo specialized in Tantric scholarship, writing the first summary of the Tantric path in Tibet and compiling 11 commentaries on the central text of the esoteric Lamdre (Path and Fruit), attributed to the Indian saint Virūpā.
Sachen’s sons, Sönam Tsemo and Dragpa Gyaltsen, contributed to the myth of the Buddha, established tantric exegesis, commented on Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra, and codified the Sakya understanding of the tantric path.
With Sakya Paṇḍita, the Sakya took to conservative philosophical scholarship, and the Sakya order came to be known for its maintenance of the triple discipline and its defence of Dharmakīrti’s epistemological system.
However, many original Tibetan contributions to Buddhism also came from this period:
Among his innovations, Chapa Chökyi Senge (Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge, 1109–1169) developed philosophical definitions, doctrines of universals, and methods of argumentation; many challenged Indian assumptions, especially those of Dharmakīrti.
In an entirely different direction, seminal Kagyu representatives, like Gampopa Sönam Rinchen (1079–1153), delineated the doctrines of the self-sufficient white remedy (dkar po gcig thub):
The expression dkar po gcig thub –which properly designates a unique and self-sufficient Sovereign Remedy – has been used metaphorically in several Tibetan sources to describe an “all-at-once” face-to-face encounter with and recognitive identification of innate and pure Mind which restores one to one’s true natural state by curing all afflictions and impurities. Gampopa used it to describe an aspect of his Mahāmudra teaching.
These doctrines posited a soteriology of a single meditative method under the rubric of the Great Seal (Mahāmudra).
Another Kagyupa, Drigung Jigten Sumgön (1143–1217), additionally proposed that all the Buddha’s statements were of definitive meaning (Nītārtha), so that they all had the same intention (gongchik).
Also based on esoteric Buddhist ideals, Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361) represented the newly formed Jonang School, a tradition grounded in Kalachakra exegesis:
Dölpopa’s reading of Śūnyatā (Emptiness) emphasized an emptying of attributes from a ground of reality and became technically known as the “other emptiness” (Shentong).
This position stood in opposition to the “self-emptiness” (Rangtong) of orthodox Mādhyamika School philosophy:
Like the ideology of the 8th-century Chinese Heshang Moheyan and the more radical Nyingma doctrines, most of these Tibetan contributions became refuted by the orthodox, who adhered to a narrow definition of acceptable statements based on conformity to Indian texts by specific authors.
The Sakya were granted control over Tibet during the Yuan dynasty, with the 5th of the great Sakya teachers, Chögyal Phagpa Lodrö Gyaltsen (1235–1280) was proclaimed Kublai Khan’s national preceptor in 1261.
Sakya leaders supported Mongol policies, such as the first census of Tibet, and some scholars became influenced by Mongol and Chinese literature, with Chinese imperial records translated into Tibetan.
However, about 1350, during the Yuan decline, the Kagyupa monk Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen (1302– 1364) challenged the Sakya for control of Central Tibet:
He was successful in some measure, and his Phagmo Drupa sub-tradition was the dominant political force for most of the next century.
One result was the formalization of the Tibetan canon under Tai Situ’s patronage, by Butön Rinchen Drup (1290–1364):
Butön catalogued the tantric canon (Gyubum) section of the translated scriptures (Kanjur) and compiled the translated authoritative treatises (Tanjur).
In the canonical compilation process, Butön wrote a history of the dharma, where scriptures and treatises were set out in a grand scheme of history, cosmology, and mythology.
About the same time, the learned Sakya hierarch, Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312–1375), wrote the Mirror Illuminating Royal Genealogy, representing the popular mythology of the imperial period and origin of the Tibetan people.
Moreover, the peculiarly Tibetan office of the Reincarnate Lama became institutionalized:
One of Gampopa’s important disciples, the Karmapa I Düsum Khyenpa (1110–1193) was said to have prophesied his own rebirth as Karmapa II Karma Pakshi (1204– 1283):
While earlier teachers were said to be the re-embodiment of specific saints or Bodhisattvas, this was the first formalization of reincarnation, with the previous saint’s disciples maintaining continuity and instructing his re-embodiment.
Following the lead of the Kagyupa, most traditions eventually appropriated the institution.
5. Great institutions & Gandenpa | 15-16th centuries
If the previous 3 centuries represented an intense struggle with intellectual and canonical issues, the 15-16th centuries demonstrated the struggle for Institutional Authenticity:
In part because of the political power wielded by the Sakya and Kagyu orders, many of the cloisters had become more social or political institutions, with religious involvement in the hands of the great clans or landed interests.
Indeed, Tibetan monasteries were ripe for reformation, with great wealth and political authority eclipsing aspects of spirituality.
The most important event of this period was the rise and development of the reform order of Je Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa (1357–1419):
Born in Amdo, Je Tsongkhapa originally studied in many traditions, but his most important intellectual influence was the Sakya monk Rendawa Zhonnu Lodrö (1349–1412), who had championed the radical Prasaṅgika-Mādhyamika system of Candrakīrti (ca. 600–650).
However, Je Tsongkhapa became dissatisfied with the contemporary understanding of monastic institutions and more general aspects of scholarship.
With successive visions of Mañjuśrī, Je Tsongkhapa understood that he was to emphasize the system that Atiśa had brought to Tibet.
Eventually, after many years of wandering through Tibet bestowing instruction, he was persuaded to settle down and in 1409 founded the monastery of Ganden, the Tibetan translation of Tuṣita, the name of Maitreya’s Heaven.
Je Tsongkhapa’s order was called the Gandenpa, although it was also known as the New Kadampa or the Gelug (Virtuous Order). He changed the colour of their hats to yellow as well, giving them the name Yellow Hats in the West.
In a series of important treatises, he articulated a systematization of the exoteric Mahāyāna meditative path (Lam Rim Chen Mo) and the esoteric practice according to the Vajrayāna (Ngak rim chenmo = Great Treatise on the Stages of Mantra).
In the latter instance, he employed interpretive systems developed by exponents of the Guhyasamāja Tantra to articulate a systematic Hermeneutics that could be applied to all tantras.
Je Tsongkhapa, though, is best noted for his intellectual synthesis of the Mādhyamika and Yogācāra systems of Buddhism, using Indian treatises as a basis for his great commentaries and sub-commentaries, and emphasizing the philosophical position of Candrakīrti.
3 of his disciples were most important in the continuation of his work:
Gyeltsab Darma Rinchen (1364–1432) was Je Tsongkhapa’s successor at Ganden and was especially noted for his orthodox summaries and commentaries that became the basis for much of Gelugpa scholasticism.
Khedrubje Gelek Pelzang (1385–1438) succeeded him at Ganden and was known for his acerbic tone toward his contemporaries as well as his epistemological treatises and his Kalachakra Tantra exegesis.
Gedun Drupa (1391–1474, posthumously the first Dalai Lama) founded the great monastery of Tashi Lhunpo in 1447 and was also noted for his scholarly work on epistemology.
The rush to construct new Gandenpa monasteries continued through the 15th century, with Drepung (1416) and Sera (1419) founded in the area of Lhasa, while others spread out east and west.
Some of these monasteries eventually enrolled several thousand monks and were virtual religious cities.
Part of this process led to the mission of Sonam Gyatso (1543–1588) to the Mongols, who had lapsed from Buddhist practice after their involvement with the Sakya.
Widely received, he was given the title Dalai Lama by Altan Khan, a title extended to his earlier incarnations beginning with Gedun Drupa.
Sonam Gyatso’s reincarnation (Dalai Lama IV, Yonten Gyatso, 1589–1616) was discovered as the great-grandson of Altan Khan, the only Dalai Lama not Tibetan by birth.
The intellectual and institutional vitality of the Gandenpa did not go unopposed, and the Sakya in particular found much to criticize. Interestingly, the Sakya tradition also became involved in its own reform movement:
Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (1382–1456) founded the monastery of Ngor Ewam Choden in 1429 and established it as the most important tradition of esoteric Lamdre instruction, supplemented by the personality and work of Tsarchen Losal Gyatso (1502–1566).
The 16th century was a high-water mark for scholarship in other traditions as well:
Karmapa VIII, Mikyö Dorje (1504–1557), questioned the basis for Gandenpa confidence and provided a critique of the Nyingma as well.
The Kagyupa historians Pawo Tsuglag Threngwa (1504–1566) and Drukchen Padma Karpo (Kunkhyen Pema Karpo, 1527–1592) forcefully established their readings of Tibetan history and the tantric movement.
Ngari Panchen Pema Wangyal (1487–1542) formulated the classic Nyingma statement of the triple discipline.
Sokdokpa Lodrö Gyaltsen (1552-1624) compiled the statements of Nyingma opponents and established a defence of Nyingma and treasure legitimacy.
6. The Rise of Dalai Lamas & Nyingma | 17-18th centuries
The Tibetan religious landscape changed dramatically again in the 17th century:
Clans in the provinces of Ü and Tsang had been warring for several decades, and each had its associated religious affiliation:
In Ü, the 5th Dalai Lama - affectionately known to Tibetans as the Great 5th (Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, 1617–1682) - had developed a base of power in Drepung Monastery.
The Great 5th Dalai Lama was extraordinarily learned, with teachers from the Ganden, Sakya, Shalu, and Nyingma traditions.
He was also highly ambitious and built on the previous Dalai Lamas’ Mongolian connections, finally using the military might of Güshi Khan’s Khoshut Mongols to solidify control over Tibet in 1642, inaugurating the reign of the Dalai Lamas.
Some traditions favoured by the Great 5th were greatly benefited:
Because of his strong Nyingma connections (he was one of the very few Gandenpa treasure finders) the Nyingma tradition prospered.
This was an important time for treasure traditions, with visionaries like Namchö Mingyur Dorje (1645–1667) and Urgyen Terdak Lingpa (1646–1714) revealing new textual cycles. Likewise, Nyingma scholarship flourished, with scholars like Minling Lochen Dharmashri (1654–1717).
Virtually all the greatest Nyingma monasteries were built during this period - Dorje Drak (1632), Katok (originally 1159 but resurrected in 1656), Palyul (1665), Ogyen Mindrol Ling (1670), Dzogchen (1685), and Zhe-chen (1735).
Despite a short-lived suppression from 1717-1720, the Nyingma tradition in the 18th century was graced by exceptional figures as well, especially the historian Katok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (1698–1755) and the Omniscient Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798).
Jigme Lingpa was to dominate Nyingma meditative traditions for the next 2 centuries with his Longchen Nyingthig revelations.
Conversely, traditions not favoured by the Great 5th experienced significant problems:
Most notoriously, he suppressed the Jonang order, which had been undergoing a revival through the profound influence of Jonang Tāranātha (1575–1634), an erudite scholar and historian:
However, after 1642 the monastery was placed in Gandenpa’s hands, the literature of the Jonangpa was suppressed, and the order survived only in a few minor convents in far north-eastern Tibet.
The works of scholars critical of Je Tsongkhapa or his disciples were also suppressed, so that copies survived only in rare collections.
The unfortunate sectarianism displayed by the Gandenpa at this time was embodied in the literary form of the monastic syllabus (yig cha), the obligatory textbook of sectarian principles.
Sectarianism was occasionally mitigated by open-minded Ganden scholars like Changkya Rölpe Dorje (1717–1786).
This period was the great printing period for Tibetan Buddhism:
Despite Tibetan forays into woodblock printing as early as the 13th century in Mongolia, the entire Tibetan canon (Kanjur and Tanjur) was not completely printed until the 18th century.
The first Kanjur editions were printed under Chinese patronage, which continued through the 18th century (Yongle, 1410; Wanli, 1606; Kangxi, 1684–1692, 1700, 1717–1720; Qianlong, 1737).
Editions produced in Tibet included the Litang (1608–1621), Narthang (1730–1732), Derge (1733), Choni (1721–1731), and the Lhasa (1930s).
The Tanjur editions include the Qianlong (1724), Derge (1737–1744), Narthang (1741–1742), and Chone (1753–1773).
In this same period, the collected works of the Sakya masters were printed in Derge (ca. 1737), and Jigme Lingpa reorganized and expanded the Old Tantric Canon; it was eventually printed from 1794 to 1798.
7. Non-sectarian Movement & Openness | 19-20th centuries
The 19th century saw the rise of a non-sectarian movement in Eastern Tibet (Khams), where the Sakya and the Nyingma orders were especially supported:
This movement tried to move Tibetans from a narrow view of lineage toward an ecumenical vision of Buddhist study and practice and specialized in the collection and publication of compendia of religious practice and ideas.
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892) received training in both Sakya and Nyingma schools, and he promoted the study of their esoteric systems.
Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye (1813–1899) developed a synthetic vision of treasure, one that integrated Nyingma, Bonpo, and Kagyu systems all together in his great Rinchen Terdzö (Treasury of Gems).
In the Sakya order, Jamyang Loter Wangpo (1847–ca. 1914) brought together 2 great compendia of new translation practices, as well as editing and publishing the Sakya esoteric system of the Lamdre in the face of criticism about the loss of secrecy.
2 Nyingma scholars established specifically Nyingma scholastic syllabi:
Jamgön Ju Mipham Gyatso (1846–1912) and Khenpo Shenga Rinpoche (1871–1927), the former studied by Nyingma students, while Khenpo Shenga was also favoured by the Ngor-pa sub-sect of the Sakya.
By the turn of the 20th century, Tibetans were becoming exposed to the wider world, especially through the Younghusband expedition (1904).
With a British trade agent forcibly placed in Tibet, the Chinese responded, and the 13th Dalai Lama alternatively took refuge with the Chinese and the British, with Tibetans becoming aware that the world was unexpectedly changing.
Sometimes this awareness had unforeseen consequences, and the scholar Gendün Chöpel (1901–1951) was especially provocative, as a monk with an interest in journalism, erotic literature, and intellectual criticism.
8. Communism & Tibetan diaspora
The Communist Chinese military success of 1949 and subsequent invasion of Tibet in 1950 succeeded in subduing Tibet, where centuries of prior Chinese efforts had failed.
For Buddhist traditions, the initial destruction of temples and monasteries in Eastern Tibet was still relatively modest, and many believed that Tibet could negotiate with Mao Zedong.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 changed everything, with the resultant massive destruction of virtually all monastic institutions and much of the religious art and literature. Some had read the signs, and Tibetans carried out or hid an astonishing amount of their portable art and books.
The 14th Dalai Lama had already fled Tibet in 1959, and over the next decade a steady stream of refugees began to populate the camps on Indian soil - perhaps 100 000 in all:
Ever true to their traditions, Tibetans immediately set about to construct temples, monasteries, monastic schools, and print their sacred books.
The latter project was assisted by the Public Law 480 Program of the United States so that Tibetan (and other) books were purchased as part of Indian debt servicing to the United States.
The Public Law 480 Program allowed foreign scholars access to Tibet’s great literature for the first time, while publishers could provide monasteries with discounted copies of their literature.
9. Post-Maoist Tibet
Since the opening of Tibet after the Cultural Revolution, there has been a resurgence of Buddhist practice:
The Chinese have resurrected religious buildings - the Potala, Norbulingka, the Jokhang, and so on - as museums for tourism, and Tibet’s cities have become Han Chinese enclaves, but Buddhism is thriving in the countryside.
Ever suspicious of religion, the Chinese have sought to control monastic construction and the number of clergy. The participation of monks (and foreign sympathizers) in insurrections has exacerbated Beijing’s mistrust.
Even then, individual teachers have temporarily managed against great obstacles, although their building efforts are often dismantled. Certain lamas find allies in Han businessmen, who provide capital and political legitimacy to construction projects.
China has also played politics with the process of reincarnation, installing its own Panchen Lama and incarcerating the Dalai Lama’s choice.
More curiously, Tibetan publishing has taken off in the People’s Republic of China since Mao’s death, making many rare chronicles available for the first time.
The continued tug-of-war between the Dalai Lama’s government in Dharamsala and Beijing over Human Rights and Religious Freedom is in part incomprehension by Beijing, in part stalling tactics until the Dalai Lama’s death.
Many young Tibetans in diaspora chafe at the Dalai Lama’s pacifism, and there is unhappiness among some Tibetans in India or Nepal about either the Dalai Lama’s policies or his ecumenical religious position.
Some Gandenpa sectarianism continues and promotes Dorje Shugden, a divinity representing the dominance of the Gandenpa.
American movie stars and the 1989 Nobel Prize for peace for the Dalai Lama have provided legitimacy to Tibetan aspirations, at the cost of some integrity.
Yet, despite tensions inside Tibet and elsewhere, there can be little doubt that Buddhism and national identity are so intertwined in Tibetans’ minds that the continuation of some sort of Buddhist practice by Tibetans is assured.