The Key Characteristics of Buddhism in Tibet
With a following of about four hundred million, Buddhism is considered to the fourth largest religion after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Once upon a time, a religious group that adheres to traditional, religion as well as philosophical ways of life, practices and believes was born. This birth was the beginning of Buddhism, which to large extend bases its teachings on Siddhartha Guatama, a spiritual leader, known as the Buddha. Buddha lived in the ancient days of between the fourth and sixth century in the current day northeastern part of India. He was a well informed philosopher and teacher who is known to have assisted the so-called sentient beings to stop suffering, attain what is known as nirvana and helped people who were followers of his teachings avoid what was seen as repeated rebirth and suffering.
Buddhism is considered to be a religion, a philosophy and a way of life with a key purpose of eliminating human suffering. It does not support the existence of soul, and its followers do not believe that worldly things are permanent. It further does not support the idea that the world is a happier place to live. It is a religion documented in the Tipitaka and it was first documented in Sri Lanka. Buddhism first language of documentation was Pali. Compared to the Christian’s holly book; the Bible, Tipitaka is about eleven times larger. One place where Buddhism is so much adored is in the Tibet where the paper next looks at its characteristics.
One of the key characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is that it takes the form of as theocracy. Samuel (1993, p.105) defines theocracy as “a form of government of state in which its officials are regarded as divinely guided”. In this regard, both politics and religion are combined in the governing of the Tibetan people. Another characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is that it has formed a few sects such as Ningma or Red sect, Kargyu or White sect sect, Gelug or Yellow sect, and Sagrya or variegated sect.
In addition, Tibetan Buddhism has a strong believe in the reincarnation lineages of specific lamas famously known as the tulkus. These reincarnation systems is wholly base on the theory and believes that the soul of Buddha’s never vanishes but instead, it reincarnates in succession in order to lead all his followers also accomplish his entire mission. For instance, the first reincarnation among the Tibet Buddhists monks was Karma Pakshi, which is believed to happen in 1193. After the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi, majority of the Tibetan Buddhism sects adopted the reincarnation systems in order to keep a strong and consistent leadership in this religion. Through the application of this system, heirs for many of the living Buddhas commonly refereed to as Gyalwas were carefully selected such as the prestigious and famous Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. The Tibetan Buddhism also believes that each Buddha can easily be manifested in a human form. For instance, the saint believed to have brought the Tibetan Buddhism to people of Himalayas.
The Tibetan Buddhism is tantric and esoteric. It is referred as being esoteric because it strongly believes that the Buddhism religious texts also known as sutras are only understood and clearly interpreted by a Buddhism religious master. On the other hand, Tibetan Buddhism is referred to as being tantric as it strongly believes that the enlightenment path is tremendously accelerated through the use of specified external rituals together with ritual objects. Also, Tibetan Buddhism believe that use of special Buddhism utterances commonly referred to as mantras help in achieving significant and higher awareness states.
In addition, Tibetan Buddhism also has strong believes in a unique pantheon of Dharmapala who are also refereed to as Dharma protectors, Buddhas, and bodhisattvas. Lopez (1997, p.125) Defines Bodhisattvas as “enlightened beings who are able to escape the rebirth and death cycle but affectionately and compassionately choose to remain here in this world so as to assist others in reaching Buddhahood or nirvana”. On the other hand, Dharma protectors are the mythic and mostly fearsome figures who are incorporated into this Tibetan Buddhism from diverse sources such as Bon religion and Hinduism. In Tibetan Buddhism, a district or a town mostly have its specific and own Buddhism Dharma protector together with a local mythology.
The method of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism is unique. Oral transmission of all teachings is usually carried out by the traditional lineage holders, which usually take place either in some small groups or in mass gatherings. The duration of the oral teachings in Tibetan Buddhism is not definite and can take a few seconds such as mantra or even months such as in teaching in a certain section to the Buddhism canon. A lot of emphases is put on the oral transmissions of these teachings as it is regarded more important than printed teachings. For instance, some of this Buddhism allows the oral teachings to be disguised or kept away from those who are not willing to listen or hear them.
The Tibetan Buddhism rituals together with ritual objects have unique characteristics and are of paramount importance to this type of Buddhism. For instance, the tantric practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism use special rituals and unique ritual objects. Meditation is a vital function, which may be carried out through the use of specific hand gestures known as mudras together with chanted mantras. Different traditions in Tibetan Buddhism employ some techniques of esoteric meditation. Such as Dzogchen and Mahamudra.Some of the qualified practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism also construct or study unique cosmic diagrams referred to as mandalas, which are believed, to aid in the development of inner spiritual being. Alama often use Dorje which is a small and unique eight-pronged dumbbell shaped object representing a strong scepter which generally represents compassion or method together with a valued handball referred to as drilbu which symbolically represents wisdom. In addition, a unique ritual dagger also known as phurpa is symbolically used to distract and kill demons thus releasing the demons to a good and better rebirth.
All the non-initiates in the Tibetan Buddhism are allowed to gain merit by organizing and performing certain rituals like water offerings, flower and food offerings, chanting players or religious pilgrimages. In addition, they light the butter lamps at the Tibetan temple or finance monks to do it on their behalf.
The Tibetan Buddhism also believes that villagers and other people gain blessings by participating or observing the cham dances. In this dances, energetic Buddhism dancers wearing costumes, which are richly ornamented and wearing masks, perform the sacred dances as the accompanying monks play the Tibetan traditional instruments. These Bhutan dances provide moral instructions. For instance, lessons on how to protect sentient beings, as they are believed to provide merit to these who protect them.
Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy that follows the teachings of the Buddha, known as Siddhartha Gautama, who lived between 566 and 483 BCE. Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world, after Christianity, Hinduism and Islam (Bechert & Gombrich 1984). The adherents of this religion are called Buddhists. Buddhism is not seen as a religion in the normal sense as it does not worship a creator god. It is rather seen as a definite path of practice and a tenet of spiritual development that lead to insight into the true nature of human life. Buddhism has unique practices such as meditation, which is a way of changing oneself, acquiring valuable qualities such as wisdom, awareness and kindness (Bechert & Gombrich, 1984).
Tibetan Buddhism is a religion followed by almost all Tibetans and Mongolians. Local Tibetans simply call it Buddhism, but in other countries, it is given words to qualify it, such as Lamaism. The name Lamaism was coined after their religious gurus called the Lamas. Tibetan Buddhism is a bit different from other forms of Buddhism as it is multifaceted and involves integrated teachings, which naturally implement, methods that cater for all human conditions. Tibetan Buddhism has the unique practice of identifying with reincarnations of certain dead spiritual gurus, otherwise known as tulkus, such as the Dalai Lama. They believe that these spiritual gurus are able to escape the cycle of death and rebirth, and compassionately opt to remain in the world with an aim of assisting other humans to achieve Buddhahood (Bechert & Gombrich, 1984).
Tibetan Buddhism is both tantric and esoteric. It is tantric since it teaches of the path to enlightenment, which they believe is greatly enhanced by the use of certain rituals. It is esoteric because of its belief that religious texts, otherwise known as sutras, can only be interpreted and implemented by a religious master. Tibetan Buddhism has several unique characteristics and is split into four major schools, namely; Kagyu Sakya, Gelug and Nyingma (Hinuber, 2000). Nyigma, or the ancient ones, is the oldest school, and was founded by Padmasambhava. Unlike other schools, which categorize their teachings into three vehicles; the Vajrayana, Mahayana and the foundation vehicle, the Nyigma order categorize its teachings into nine vehicles, and Atiyoga, or great perfection is the highest ranking vehicle (Hinuber, 2000).
Kagyu, or lineage of Buddha’s word is a type of oral tradition school which pays much concern with the experiential view of meditation. The six doctrines of naropa are central to the Kagyu order. These are meditation techniques which coincide with the teachings of the Tibetan book of the dead. Kagyu places a special value on the transmission of Buddhist teachings from teachers to their disciples (Hinuber 2000).
Sakya, or grey earth, is the smallest of the four orders of Lamaism. It represents the scholarly tradition. It is also the school with the most political influence, since the 13th century. Gelug, or way of virtue might be the youngest of the four schools but is the largest and the most important. It was originally a reformist movement known for its particular emphasis on logic and debate. It is headed by the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Buddhists regard the Dalai Lama as the embodiment of the bodhisattva of compassion. Practices in the Gelug School are mainly centered on achieving human concentration through the process of meditation, and arousing the bodhisattva within oneself. The meditation also involves special utterances, which are known as mantras, and certain hand gestures known as mudras, which the Tibetan Buddhists believe aid in accomplishing higher states of personal awareness (Hinuber 2000).
Tibetan Buddhism also has unique belief where ancient lost or hidden scriptures and manuscripts, known as termas, are recovered by the spiritual masters. Another distinguishing characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is the belief that a Buddha can be manifest in human form, evidenced in the person of Padmasambhava, the saint who is credited with bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the Himalayas region (Bechert & Gombrich, 1984). Another unique characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is the combination of religion and politics. From mid-17th to the mid-20th centuries, Tibet has been ruled by successive Dalai lamas. The Dalai Lama, in this case, was the political head as well as the religious head in the nation (Bechert & Gombric, 1984).
Tibetan Buddhism is also unique from other forms of Buddhism in that they have distinctive ritual practices which are believed to accelerate the path to enlightenment greatly. For non initiates in the Tibetan Buddhism, they may gain merit by performing certain rituals such as flower and food offering, which are performed in a set of bowls, chanting certain prayers or going on specific religious pilgrimages. They may also gain merit by lighting butter lamps at their local temples, or they can fund monks to light the butter lamps for them (Hinuber, 2000).
Tibetan villagers may obtain blessings by attending annual religious festivals, the main which is tsechu, held in their vicinity. This is because they are reminded of the strict Buddhist principles by watching the festival dances, mainly performed by monks. At certain such festivals, a humongous painting, known in Buddhist circles as thongdrol is unfurled briefly, and it is believed that having a glimpse of the painting frees the observer from all their present sins (Hinuber, 2000).
Though now forbidden in Tibet, Cham was a very important ritual. It was banned due to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Cham is a dance that features sacred masked dances, richly ornamented costumes, healing chants and sacred music. It was aimed at providing a fantastic glimpse into current, as well as, ancient Tibetan culture (Bechert & Gombich, 2000).
Synonymous to any other form of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism distinctively does not believe in the existence of the soul after death. It is brought out as a polytheistic and identifies with the existence of protective gods as well as goddesses, in addition to the being of demons plus spirits. In this regard, the Dalai Lama is perceived to be an incarnation of a god called Chenrezig. He was a Tibetan leader since the seventeenth century and those successive ones are taken to be a reincarnation of the previous dead Dalai Lama ,(Cabazon, Year-of-Publication)).The conception of reincarnation is indispensable among the Tibetan Buddhist belief. It provides an environment within which a non-mutable energy, action or deed called karma functions.
Furthermore, Tibetan Buddhist supports the belief that enlightenment is acquired through the process of alteration of three poisons; and they are infatuation, belligerence as well as ignorance straight into wisdom. In this connection, there are tools that are used to complete the process of transmutation which are only instituted in the tantric texts alleged to be both psychologically and magically helpful and can as well cause severe peril or destruction in any case they are misused. For instance, the Dalai Lama authored the “prayer work supplicating the truth”, (Cabazon, Year-of-Publication) in 1960 which was used as an inspiration and source of universal happiness to achieve Tibetan liberation among its doctrines.
Distinctly, Tibetan Buddhism, based on the diffusion process that characterizes its spread to other parts, it is a religion considered to be open to all people wishing to join it. In this connection, split branches of Buddhism are normally characterized by functional but autonomous universalizing structures and have evolved into what could be perceived as an ethnic subsystem. For instance, the Tibetan state grew as a theocracy on basis of Buddhism and this process toughened its uniqueness as a localized religion though still spreading into the United States.
Furthermore, another distinct Buddhist characteristic in Tibet is Karma. This is an essential Buddhist teaching perceived to be the most important and easily confusing teaching. In simple terms, the term implies an action or simply a deed. Thus, Tibetan Buddhism has it that any form of bodily, vocal, or mental act committed with an intention can be termed karma and is both moral as well as immoral. For instance, karma executed by the human body could include murder, burglary, as well as sexual delinquency. Furthermore, deceitfulness, giddy utterances, insults, in addition to callous speech are some of the examples of karma through. Additionally, the Sakyamuni Buddha,is the known founder of Buddhism who is characteristically adored among the Tibetan Buddhists and his spirit is belied to be reincarnated.
Besides, as Tibet acquired a formal political entity, it still opted to retain its identity as a spiritual land on basis of certain concepts such as chos srid gnyis idan, (Kvaerne, 1991), which is a type of regime that accepts both the religious in addition to secular actions. In addition, the chos rgyal, is a form that acknowledges the king of the land as the guardian and benefactor of the religion (Kvaerne, 1991). In contemporary history, the unanimity of the religious as well as the political wings in a state is somewhat articulated such symbols as the national flag, moreover in the national leader such as the Dalai Lama. From this argument, it is clear that the dichotomy amid the opinionated as well as the religious is a westernized principle which was not initially part of Tibetan history but surfaced during the Chinese takeover.
Most conspicuously, Tibetan Buddhism encompasses the Tibetan culture extensively as much as it encrypts the political configuration. In essence, the Tibetan cultural uniqueness is a derivative of the Tibetan Buddhism and as well, the Tibetan Buddhism influencing all that pertains to life including literature and language in addition to arts and architecture, (Kvaerne, 1991). For instance, Tibetan Buddhist literature is perceived to be one of the grand Asian fictitious traditions on basis of magnitude as well as the array of influence it has to the environs. This connection linking Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan identity is a noteworthy characteristic of Buddhism in Tibet.
In addition to this identity characteristic, the political mayhem and eventual loss of autonomy of the people of Tibet during the mid 20th century at the expense of communalists (Cabazon, Year-of-Publication), China brought about the impulsion for the principal diffusion of Tibetan Buddhist values outside Tibet. Furthermore, it has dictated the spotlight of this conduction in line to the conservation of the time-honored type of the religion, but not just an acculturated outline.
Additionally, Tibetan Buddhism is composed of the traditions of the three cores of Buddhism known as the vehicles of Buddhism. These include the Foundational Vehicle and the Mahayana as well as the Vajrayana vehicles as key characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism. During the onset of the 1959 Tibetan revolution, Tibetan Buddhism received much worldwide accessibility.
Another outstanding characteristic of the Tibetan Buddhism is the Nyingma tradition as a school. It is the most ancient of the four central schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This term literally implies “ancient”, and usually most often termed as the “school of the ancient translations”. This has been attributed to the era of translation of Buddhism into the Tibetan scripts. Important to note is that the Nyingma belief in point of fact is made up of a number of discrete lineages, all of which map out their genesis towards the Indian icon Padmasambhava. This master is accounted as one of the admired principles who founded the Tibetan Buddhism.
Another school is the Kagyu, which is s also identified as the “Oral Lineage” or assumed diffusion school. The prime difference between the Kagyu and the other schools of Himalayan Buddhism is chiefly the meticulous obscure directives and tantric they put emphasis on and the lineages of conduction which they go after.
The Sakya institution developed throughout the second era of conversion of Buddhist scripture from the original Sanskrit into Tibetan for the local populations in the course of the late 11th century. It was founded by a prominent intellectual as well as translator known as Drogmi who had acquired his studies at Vikramashila University. In this school, the head of the Sakya, who is also called Sakya Trizin, is always chosen among the male lineage of the Khön family unit. This shows that it relies on hereditary form of leadership. Another school is the Gelug whose core teachings are “Stages of the Path”. This is pooled with the divinity called yogas, whose main function is preaching peace.
This study clearly identifies the Tibet Buddhism as a highly varied religion all drawing major characteristics from Buddhism and the onset of communist invasion by china. From religion, through to political organization as well as artistic work, are major characteristics of Tibet Buddhism.