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The Reincarnation of the Living Buddhas

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The reincarnation system for the Living Buddhas is the main point distinguishing tibetan Buddhism from other forms of Buddhism. What led to the introduction of the system?

The term Living Buddha emerged in the early Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) when Emperor Kublai Khan honored Pagba, head of the Sagya Sect, by granting him the title “Buddha of the Western Paradise”. Thereafter, eminent Tibetan monks we distinguished themselves in the practice of Buddhism were referred to as “Living Buddhas”. However, the term Living Buddha was not recognized as a special title for a monk who became the successor of the deceaed leader of a monastery until the eventual introduction of the Living Buddha reincarnation system.

In 1252, Kublai Khan granted an audience to Pagba and Garma Pakshi, an eminent monk with the Garma Gagyu Sect. Garma Pakshi, however, sought the patronage of Monge Khan who proceeded to bestow him a gold-rimmed black hat and a golden seal of authority. Prior to his death in 1283, Garma Paksli penned a will to ensure the established interests of his sect. The will advised his disciples to locate a boy to inherit the black hat, with the instruction based on the premise that Buddhist idelogy is eternal, and a Buddha would be reincarnated to complete the missions he had initiated. Garma Pakshi's disciples acted in accordance with the will and located the reincarnated soul boy of their master. The event marked the introduction of the Living Buddha reincarnation system for the Black-Hat Line of Tibetan Buddhism. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Emperor Yongle honored Black-Hat Living Buddha Garmaba as the “Great Treasure Prince of Dharma”, the first of the three “Princes of Dharma”. The Living Buddha reincarnation system remains in operation today. On September 27, 1992, the Curpu Monastery in Doilungdeqen County, Lhasa, was the site of a grand ceremony marking the enthronement of the 16th Living Buddha Garmaba. The event marked a new page in th history of the Garma Gagye Sect.

Various sects of Tibetan Buddhism reacted to the introduction of the Living Buddha reincarnation system by creating numerous similar systems. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) reign of Emperor Qianlong alone, 148 Grand Living Buddhas registered for reincarnation with the Board for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs, with the number of registrants rising to 160 by the end of the dynasty. The most influential reincarnation systems have since been the Dalai and Bainqen Lama systems.

The reincarnation system for the Dalai Lama was introduced in the 16th century. In the early years of the Qing Dynasty, the 5th Dalai Lama journeyed to Beiing to pay homage to Emperor Shunzhi. The Qing emperor granted him the honorific title of “the Dalai Lama, Overseer of the Buddhist Faith on Earth Under the Great Benevolent Self-subsisting Buddha of the Western Paradise”. The title Dalai Lama was thus established and is still in up today. The current Dalai Lama was enthroned in the Potala Palace on February 22, 1940, during a ceremony presided over by Wu Zhongxin, minister of the Commission for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs of the nationalist government of the Republic of China (1911-49). The nationalist government ordered that he be confirmed as the reincarnated soul boy of the 13th Dalai Lama without the requirement to carrying the established method of drawing lot from the golden urn and that he instead directly succeed as the 14th Dalai Lama. The reincarnatin system for the Bainqen Lama was introduced in 1713 when the 5th Bainqen was granted the honorific title as “Bainqen Erdeni”, with Erdeni meaning “great treasure” in Manchu. The 9th Bainqen Erdeni and the 13th Dalai Lama were at odds during the period of the Republic of China, with the 9th Bainqen Erdeni departing for China's hinterland. He later passed away in Qinghai Province. The Tashilhungpo Monastery, the resident monastery for the Bainqen Erdeni, located a boy by the name of Gongbo Cidain. All signs pointed to the fact that he was indeed the reincarnated soul boy of the 9th Bainqen Erdeni. Li Zongren, the acting president of the Republic of China, issued a special order instructing that the boy “be excuses from the lot-drawing method and given the special permission to succeed as the 10th Bainqen Erdeni”. The grand enthronment ceremony held in the Tar Monastery on August 10, 1949, was presided over by Guan Jieyu, minister of the Commission for Mongolian and Tibean Affairs of the nationalist government of the Republic of China. The Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism came to power in Tibet in the 17th century and the Living Buddha reincarnation system became a bone of contention with the upper class in Tibet. In 1793, as part of an effort to turn the tide by overcoming drawbacks characteristic of soul boys nominated from the same tribes, the Qing government promulgated the 29-Article Ordinance for the More Efficient Governing of Tibet. Article one of the Ordinance stipulates: In order to ensure the Yellow Sect continues to flourish, the Grand Emperor bestows it with a golden urn and ivory slips for use in confirming the reincarnated soul boy of a deceased Living Buddha. For this purpose, four major Buddhist Guardians will be summoned; the name's of candidates, as well as their birth years, will be written on the ivory slips in the three languages——Manchu, Han chinese and Tibetan; the ivory slips will be placed into the golden urn and learned Living Buddhas will pray for seven days before various Hotogtu Living Buddhas and High Commisioners stationed in Tibet by the Central Government officially confirm the reincarnated soul boy by drawing a lot from the golden urn in front of the statue of Sakyamuni in the Jokhang Monastery. The system of drawing lot from the golden urn thus perfected the Living Buddha reincarnation system of Tibetan Buddhism. Following the lot-drawing ceremony, the High Commissioners and leaders of the soul boy search group were required to report the result to the Central Government. The enthronement ceremony was held following the approval of the Central Government. The Qing court commissioned artisans to create two golden urns. One golden urn, used to confirm reincarnations of the Dalai Lama and the Bainqen Erdeni, is currently housed in the Potala Palace in Lhasa. The other, used to confirm the reincarnations of Mongolian and Tibetan Grand Living Buddhas and hotogtu Living Buddhas, is housed in the Yonghegong Lamasery in Beijing.

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The Emancipation of A Million Serfs

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After 1959, Tibet began an epoch-making era reform. This was conducted by the central government of China pushing a primitive society of serfdom into the modern society of civilization.

In the countryside serfdom was abolished, rent and interest rates were reduced and farm-land was assigned to the landless serfs and slaves. In the pastoral areas after the reforms, the broad masses of herdspeople possessed their own tools, livestock and homes. Having cast off the heavy burdens of corvee, taxes and exploitation by moneylenders charging high interest rates, enthusiasm for production rose to an unprecedented high. In 1960, the total grain output of the Tibet Autonomous Region had risen 12.6 percent from 1959, while the amount of livestock rose by 31 percent. The Tibetan people had begun to possess the right to live comfortably, with enough to eat and to wear.

The Democratic Reforms of 1959 put an end to the political system of combining religious and political rule by introducing the new political system of people's democracy. In September 1959, the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region was proclaimed, the first Tibetan People's Congress was held in Lhasa and the Tibetan people began to exercise their rights to vote and to stand for election. Tibet practices regional national autonomy in accordance with the policies of the central government, which allows the Tibetan people to enjoy a high degree of autonomy and some special preferential treatment. Thus Tibet enjoys advantages over the interior in many aspects including the treatment of ethnic groups, religion, economic and social development and in the day-to-day life of the people.

At present, many Tibetans have become top leaders in both government and party organizations at all levels in the Tibet Autonomous Region, such as the five chairmen of the government of the Autonomous Region: Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, Tian Bao, Dorji Tshitan, Dorje Cering and Gyalncain Norbu. Some of them also hold important posts in the central government. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress which is similar to the national parliament of western countries, has always had a post of Vice-chairman reserved for Tibet. This is an unwritten convention. This title was even reserved for the 14th Dalai Lama during the first few years of his exile in India.

Nowadays the emancipated serfs have enough to eat and wear. When they catch up with the pace of China's reforms and opening up to the outside world they will be drawing near to prosperity. By 1993, the income per capita in Tibet Autonomous Region reached 1,660 yuan RMB, although in the countryside it was only 515 yuan RMB Amduo County in northern Tibet, which is famous for its animal husbandry has a regional income per capita of 1,338 yuan RMB, which is much higher than the national average in rural areas. Savings deposited in both urban and rural areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region reached 1.05 billion yuan RMB by August 1994, 4,400 times as much as was deposited in 1952. Modern electrical appliances, such as colour televisions, refrigerators, tape recorders and telephones are now popular in Tibet. The diet of the Tibetan people has become much richer, with fresh meat, eggs and vegetables appearing frequently. Traditional Tibetan clothing has become even more beautiful with people wearing Tibetan robes made from sheepskin otterfur rings and bracelets made from agate and hats decorated with gold and silver thread for their everyday clothing.

Today's Tibet is to some extent a typical dual-structure community. The ancient mysterious Potala Palace contrasts greatly with Lhasa's Holiday Inn Lido, where credit cards are used. Under the socialist system. Tibetan Buddhism has shaken off the influence of the “dark Ages”. It was not suffocated by the democratic reform and industrialization programme, rather, it is now rejected by law. Particularly after China's reform and peeing up to the outside world, religion in Tibet has been granted a new lease of life. The Central Government has spent US $ 240 million renovating temples so be whole region now has 1,425 temples and religious laces for her 34,000 monks and nuns to engage in religious activities and the key religious festivals of the major religious sects have also been resumed. The Jokhang Temple and the Samve Temple both of which have long histories, have been completely renovated. In 1994 the Central Government provided a large amount of capital including gold, silver and other precious stones to help renovate the Potala Palace, which is now open to both monks and lay people. Religious personnel from Tibet enjoy wide respect in China, and many of them have been elected to the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at various levels go participate in the administration and discussion of state affairs. Religious groups have Conducted academic exchanges both inside and outside China, with the help of the government.

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The Influence of Tibetan Buddhism

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Tibetan Buddhism refers to Tibetan language Buddhism, and is also known as Lamaism.

Tibetan Buddhism has exerted extensive and profound influence on the Tibetan race. Buddhism spread into Tibet in the 7th century, and gradually infiltrate Tibet's history, politics, economics, culture, exchanges and habits and customs to become the most extensively worshipped religion of Tibetans. Prolonged ethnic cultural exchanges also enabled Tibetan Buddhism to make its way into the Mongolian, Tu , Yugu, Luoba, Moinba, Naxi, Purmi and other ethnic minority nationalitites throughout China. Buddhism has long been widely worshipped in China's Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, and the Xinjiang Uygur and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions. It has also made its way into Sikkim, Bhuttan, Nepal, the Mongolian People's Republic and Buryat in the Republic of Russia.

More than 1,400 Tibetan monasteries and other religious venues were renovated and opened following the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951. Chinese government and policies for religious freedom enable 34,000 monks in various monasteries to freely study Buddhist sutras and hold various types of Buddhist activities in their respective monasteries. In addition, the broad masses of religious have set up shrines, Buddha halls and sutra recitation rooms in their homes, and undertake pilgrimages to sacred sites.

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Long long ago, Tibet was a boundless sea. A large piece of continental plate on orogenic-movement drifting from the south met together with the European plate. At that time, a large stretch of highland was uplifted on the earth. This region of today with a high altitude and cold weather had once been an area with a warm, humid climate of subtropical zone of grassland with low altitude which provided a profitable condition for ancient human beings who lived and multiplied in this land. The scientists' survey tells: the activity of the ancient human being in Tibet shows clear difference between areas. The earlier cultural remains were mainly discovered in the west and north of Tibet, which belonged to the earlier uplifted areas. But the later cultural remains were mainly distributed in the east and middle part of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. That is to say, the ancient human being in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau firstly originated and activated in today's high altitude areas.

Before the 7th century, there were many tribes in Tibet. Wars broke out as the tribes tried to scramble for their domains. Among them, the Tubo tribe owned a large number of lands at its flourishing period in Yarlung. The earliest capital city of Tubo was in today's Nedong County in Lhoka. After Namri Songtsen, the thirty-second generation of Tubo prince inherited the power and he consolidated and developed the Tubo's territory. Later in order to refrain from the interior opposite influence between the tribes, Namri Songtsen moved the national capital from Nedong to Gyama area, present Medro Gongkar County, and built the Gyama palace. In the early 7th century, Songtsan Gampo, the son of Namri Songtsen, inherited the power, he completed his father's cause and realized the unification of the Tibet plateau and set up the central slave regime——the Tubo Kingdom.

In order to consolidate the newly emerging power, Songtsen Gampo adopted a series of important measures. For instance, in the year 633, he moved the capital of Tubo Kingdom to Lhasa, built the Potala Palace on the summit of the Red Hill and rebuilt the road and some other houses around the Potala Palace. Step by step, Lhasa had become economic, political and cultural center of the Tubo Kingdom. To consolidate his regime, Songtsan Gampo advocated the advanced methods of the Tang Dynasty and set up system for civil and military officials, appointed the officials to control the garrisons in other areas and delimited the administrative regions etc. He divided the administrative areas into 18 big areas and established five big “Ruchen” (Ru is Tibetan pronunciation at the time). Every Ruchen was divided into; up and down parts of Ru; every branch of “Ru” had 5,000 families who are the common herdsman in peacetimes, but soldiers at war times. Meanwhile, he strengthened the system of discussing official business in alliance. He also remitted taxes, developed agricultural production and promoted economic prosperity. He sent people to ancient India to learn scripts and created the Tibetan written language and calendar and made great contribution to develop the Tubo's culture.

During Songtsen Gampo's time, the development of the Tubo Kingdom came to a period of great prosperity. In order to develop the relationship between Tubo and the surrounding countries, he sent envoys to Nepal firstly and then twice sent envoys to the Tang Dynasty emperor to propose to Princess Wen Cheng who he later married. The Tibetans and Hans had through the marriage of their royal families and various meetings, formed close economic and cultural relations laying the groundwork for the ultimate foundation of a unified nation. Now in Lhasa the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the statue of Princess Wen Cheng is still enshrined and worshipped in the Potala Palace. The Monument to the Alliance between the Tibetans and the Han erected in the 9th century still stands in the square in front of the Jokhang Temple.

And by relying on his own armed strength to expand his territories steadily in other hand. With his territories expanding Guhuei to the north, Songtsen Gampo made an expedition to the west till they reached the four towns such as Gueizi, Yutian, Yianqi etc, where it connects with Nanzhuo, Dasi countries to the east. The Tubo kingdom had become the strongest military power in the west of China since the Qin and Han Dynasties.

Songtsen Gampo is the most important and well-known king of Tibet in Tibetan history. In 650, Songtsen Gampo died of illness. The Tubo Kingdom gradually declined. Because Trisong Detsan, the king of Tibet used force to fight against outside and went in for a large-scale construction and increased the heavy load of the people. He sharpened the social contradiction and led to successive turmoil. In 823, because of the aristocrats in the interior of the Tubo Kingdom fought for their power with each other, the society was in a turbulent situation. The slaves launched a large-scale uprising and stroke relentless blow at the rule of slavocracy's class. Therefore, the Tubo Kingdom was thoroughly collapsed from then on.

Relations between Tibet and China continued to develop afterwards. In the 13th century, the ruler of Tibet met a Yuan Dynasty prince and officially decided on the terms for Tibetan submission to China including presenting the prince with map and census books, the payment of tributes and the acceptance of rule by appointed officials. From then on. Tibet was an official administrative region of China. This happened 200 years before Colombus' discovery of the Americas. In the following several hundred years, though there were shifts in the political power of the central government and the local Tibetan government alike, relations between them became more and more close, and Tibet's position as an administrative region of China has never changed. Rulers of both the Ming Dynasty, founded in the 14th century, and the Qing Dynasty founded in the 17th century were directly responsible for the appointment of Tibets' local officials, as well as for the selection of high commissioners stationed in Tibet to supervise local administration on behalf of the central authorities.

The majority of Tibetans believe in Tibetan Buddhism of which many sects developed during Tibet's long history. After the establishment of the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century, the emperors granted honorific titles to the 5th Dalai Lama and the 5th Baingen Erdeni of the Gelukpa sect in 1653 and 1713 respectively henceforth officially establishing the titles of the Dalai Lama and the Baingen Erdeni and their political and religious status in Tibet. The Dalai Lama in Lhasa ruled most of Tibet while the Baingen Erdeni ruled the remaining area from Xigaze. The Chinese emperors also enacted regulations stipulating that the selection of children said to be the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama or Baingen Lama should be reported to the imperial court for approval, and that the central government would send high officials to supervise in person. The discovery of the 14th Dalai Lama who is in exile at present was indeed reported to the central government by the Tibetan local government in the traditional manner after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. In 1940 the Chairman of the national government issued an official decree conferring the title of the Dalai Lama.

After the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, the central government notified local Tibetan authorities to “send delegates to Beijing to negotiate the peaceful liberation of Tibet” On 23rd May 1951. The “17-Article Agreement” was signed after delegates from the central government and the local Tibetan government reached agreement on a series of questions concerning Tibet's peaceful liberation. The Dalai Lama sent a telegram and the Baingen Lama issued a statement both supporting the “17-Article Agreement” and expressing their desires to “safeguard the unification of the motherland and her territorial sovereignty.” In February 1952, the Military Area of Tibet was officially set up. In April 1956, the Tibet Autonomous Region was established. In 1959 the rebellion led by the Dalai Lama was pacified.

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Formation of Tibetan Buddhism

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Books on the history of Tibetan Buddhism record the following legend of how Buddhism spread to Tibet: On one particular day in the 5th century, Lhathothori Nyantzan, forefather of the Tubo Kingdom, was resting on the summit of Yungbolhakang. He suddenly found several Buddhist treasures falling from the sky. While the Tubo King had no idea what they were for, a mysterious voice from the sky informed him that the 6th Tsampo (king) of the Tubo Kingdom would know the use of the objects.

According to historical documents, these treasures were brought to Tibet by Indians Buddhists. Upon seeing that Tibetans had no idea of their significance, the Indian monks had no choice but to secret them in a safe place and return to india. The fact remains that Buddhism did spread into Tibet during the reign of Tubo King Songtsan Gambo in the 7th century.

Songtsan Gambo did his best to establish friendly ties with neighboring countries in order to strengthen economic and cultural exchanges and learn from the advanced cultures of various races. In the process he married with Princess Khridzun of Nepal and Princess Wencheng of China's Tang Dynasty (618-907). Each princess journeyed to Tibet with a statue of Buddha, and once there set about building the Jokhang and Ramoge monasteries in Lhasa. Artisans accompanying the princess were involved in the construction of monasteries, and Buddhist monks in their tourages began translating Buddhist scriptures. Buddhism thus spread to Tibet from Nepal and Han areas.

Tibet reeled under power struggle for more than half a century following the death of Songtsan Gambo. Buddhism failed to flourish until Tride Zhotsan, great grandson of Songtsan Gambo, finally took power. In 710, Tride Zhotsan asked for the hand of and eventually married Princess Jincheng of the Tang Dynasty. The new bride moved the statue of Buddha, which Princess Wencheng brought to Tibet, to the Jokhang Monastery. Meanwhile, she arranged monks accompanying her to the Tubo Kingdom to take in charge of the monastery and related religious activities. She engaged in a painstaking effort and finally succeeding in persuading the Tubo court to accept monks fleeing from Western Regions and build seven monasteries to house them. While the measures further boosted the development of Buddhism in Tibet, they nonetheless sparked discontent amongst ministers worshipping the Bon religion. The ministers left no stone unturned to obstruct the development of Buddhism, with to situation lasting until Trisong Detsan, the son of Tride Zhotsan, came to power.

Trison Detsan relied on Buddhism to fight ministers who rallied behind the Bon religion. As part of the effort, he invited Zhibatsho and Padmasambhava, famous Indian monks, to build the Samye Monastery in 799. Seven noble children were later tonsured to the monastery, which became the first monastery in Tibetan Buddhist history to tonsure monks. The event thus pioneered the tonsure system of Tibetan Buddhism.

In addition to inviting Indian monks to Tibet, Trisong Destan sent trusted emissaries to China's hinterland to invite monks to lecture in Tibet. Mahayana became one of the many Han monks who contributed to ensuring that Han Buddhism flourished in Tibet. Mahayana remained in Tibet for 11 years lecturing on Buddhism and completing nine books on Buddhist tenets.

Tubo kings in ensuing dynasties did their utmost to promote Buddhism by building monasteries and commissioning the translation of Buddhist sutras. At the same time, they granted monks royal incomes and even encouraged them to become involved in government affairs in order to undermine ministers who supported the Bon religion. The policy spawned the deep hatred of said ministers, who eventually arranged for the assassination of Tritso Detsan in 842. The ministers threw their support behind Darma, the brother of Tritso Detsan, to become the new Tubo king. This was in turn followed by the large-scale suppression of Buddhism in the region.

Shortly after assuming power, Darma set out to suppress Buddhism, but was soon assassinated by Tibetan Buddhists, and war erupted between the different power factions. Slaves, who were thrown into the abyss of misery, rose to revolt. Tibet was torn apart by various forces. The “diffusion of Buddhism” was thus halted.

The early 10th century witnessed the entry of a feudal society in tibet, with each of the Tubo ministers occupying a part of the kingdom and becoming feudal powers in their respective localities. They proceeded to promote Buddhism in order to strengthen their own rule. Buddhism was thus revived in Tibet. In terms of form and content, however, Buddhism rising in Tibet during tit particular period was worlds apart from Tubo Buddhism. The 300-odd years of struggle between Buddhism and the Bon religion resulted in each absorbing the strong points of the other. Buddhism became increasingly Tibetanized as the region entered the feudal stage. Tibetan Buddhism emerged and entered a stage of rapid development.

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