Session 1 -TIBETAN BUDDHISM A BRIEF HISTORY

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM

Over recent years Buddhism has become increasingly popular in the West. Probably a big reason for this is the changing economic climate. People chasing unobtainable targets, set by managers who’ve been railroaded into creating unobtainable deadlines in order to keep their jobs. As you can imagine, the end result is a society driven by fear and mental sickness. It’s true, most Westerners turn to Buddhism, Mindfulness & Meditation when something’s wrong in their life but It would be wonderful if we could try and prevent this stress related sickness altogether.  Buddhism started of course with the Buddha. The word ‘Buddha’ means ‘one who is awake’ for example, having woken up to understand the nature of reality – how things are.

The Buddha was born a prince named Siddhartha Gautama in Nepal around 2,500 years ago. He considered himself a normal human being with no special powers. He did however become enlightened, understanding life in the deepest way possible.  According to traditional stories, he had a privileged upbringing, but came out of  his sheltered life when he ventured for the first time out of the palace gates. He realised that life isn’t all about wealth and privilege, and that it includes things like old age, sickness, and death.  When he started to learn about these things, Buddha also wanted to find out more so he decided to leave his palace and follow the traditional Indian path of a holy man, a sadhu or seeker of truth. He  met several different teachers, and learned very skilfully about meditation.   Through these practices, the Buddha realised that all sufferings in the world are created through ignorance about the nature of true reality.

Buddha statues are now more popular in the West, especially in yoga studios & meditation centres. Most people know the statues are related to Buddhism, but it’s sometimes confusing for non-Buddhists to understand the different types of Buddhism. For example, Zen & Tibetan Buddhism are different. These changes happened over many years after the death of the Buddha because of the way his teachings were delivered. Whenever Buddhist teachers found some kind of new culture, instead of separating themselves from it, they would incorporate this culture within Buddhist tradition, learning about and analyzing it.

This is why Buddhism is unique in the fact it respects every faith, religion and belief system. It’s also why for example, Buddhism looks very different in Japan than it does in Thailand or Tibet etc.

As Buddhism came to Tibet it incorporated the local deities, found support for the teacher-student relationship, and developed its own unique practices and traditions.
Tibetan Buddhism is unique because it’s now become the most prominent type of Buddhism practiced in the West. One of the reasons why Tibetan Buddhism has become more popular in Western countries, is because of very famous visionaries such as, the Dalai Lama to Jon Kabbat Zinn, and also because it’s been taken into mainstream media by celebrities such as the famous actor Richard Gere.  Here in the West, yoga studios are now on the increase and tend to incorporate elements of Tibetan Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhist practice such as Mindfulness & Meditation.  If we want to understand why Tibetan Buddhism has become so important in Western culture, we should first understand a little bit about the history.  In 641 CE King Songtsen Gampo unified Tibet and took two Buddhist wives, Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of China. Many years later, the King asked two great teachers to come to Tibet from India, they were; A monk named Shantarakshita and the yogi Padmasambhava. At that time, there were also animistic and shamanistic traditions that were considered by Buddhists to be a separate religion called Bon.

The King tried to move people away from Bon but at the same time, a monastery he was trying to build, kept running into problems and obstacles. This is why, he invited Padmasambhava to get rid of these obstacles. The obstacles are often referred to in Tibetan Buddhism as local demons, but things didn’t work out quite as the King planned. Instead he converted them to serve his work in propagating the teachings and this is how Tantric Tibetan Buddhist tradition came about.

Tibetan Buddhism teaches, that even the most difficult and seemingly negative things in our life can be positive fuel for our spiritual journey, as these very things help us develop tolerance and patience.  Buddhism became more prominent in Tibet towards the end of the 8th century. It was brought from India at the invitation of the Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen. The King invited two Buddhist masters to Tibet and had important Buddhist texts translated into Tibetan.  Tibetan Buddhism is a religion in exile, forced from its homeland when Tibet was conquered by the Chinese. At one time it was thought that 1 in 6 Tibetan men were Buddhist monks.

Until 1949, Tibet was an independent Buddhist nation in the Himalayas which had very little contact with the rest of the world. It existed as a rich cultural storehouse of the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings of Buddhism. Religion was a unifying theme among the Tibetans — they had their own language, literature, art, and world view developed by living at really high altitudes, under often very harsh conditions.
The Dalai Lama is to Tibetans, an incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, and he was born to be both the political and spiritual leader of the country. The current Dalai Lama (the 14th) was only 24 years old when Communist China invaded his country in 1959.

It first started in 1950 when the Communist Chinese invasion led to many years of turmoil, and the overthrowing of the Tibetan Government. The Dalai Lama was forced to leave his country in 1959 – 100.000Tibetans followed. Since the invasion, 1000,000+ Tibetans have been killed, tortured & imprisoned under the Chinese policy of (re-education)  Re-education is the Chinese way of forcing Tibetans to live the Communist way & denounce The Dalai Lama by means such as torture & imprisonment.  Tibetans have become a minority in their own country and it is now illegal to speak the mother language. Chinese is now the only official language in Tibet.
Up to 6,000 monasteries and shrines have been destroyed & Tibetans have begun starving to death for the first time in recorded history. The country’s natural resources are devastated, and wildlife depleted to extinction. In brief- Tibetan culture comes close to being eradicated there.
Peaceful demonstrations/protests/speech/writings by nuns, monks, and Tibetan laypeople have resulted in deaths and thousands of arrests. These political prisoners are tortured and held in sub-standard conditions, with little hope of justice.

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Potala Palace
The best known face of Tibetan Buddhism is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama who once lived in the Potala Palace, but who has lived in exile in Dharamsala India since he fled Chinese occupation of his country in 1959.
Tibetan Buddhism combines the essential teachings of Mahayana Buddhism with Tantric, Shamanic, and material from an ancient Tibetan religion called Bon.

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