Tibetan Buddhism

General Information

Lamaism is the Tibetan religion of about 3 million Tibetans and 7 million Mongols and others. The Dalai Lama is the equivalent of the Pope for them. A secondary leader is the Teshu Lama (or Panchen Lama). These two are regarded as 'Living Buddhas', being reincarnations of Buddha passing from one existence to another. When one dies, his successor is sought from among the baby boys born at the time the leader passed away because it is believed that the soul of the Buddha has only passed into another existence.

Lamaism is considered a corrupt form of Buddhism. It is sometimes called the Yellow Religion. In some areas it has degenerated into a form of spirit worship.

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects

Lamaism - Tibetan Buddhism

Advanced Information

Tibetan Buddhism, also called Lamaism, is a distinctive form of Buddhism that arose (7th century) in Tibet and later spread throughout the Himalayan region, including the neighboring countries of Bhutan, Nepal, and Sikkim. The history of Tibetan Buddhism can be divided into three periods. During the 7th - 9th century AD Buddhism was first introduced from India and was slowly accepted under Buddhist kings in the face of opposition by adherents of the indigenous shamanistic religion of Tibet, Bon. Instrumental in this process were the Indian Mahayana Buddhist masters Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita. During the 9th century, however, King gLang Dar Ma persecuted the new faith and effectively eclipsed it for some time.

The second period began with the reintroduction of Buddhism from India and its successive reform in the 11th century. Powerful ecclesiastical organizations were established and soon began to rule the countryside in alliance with clans of nobles or the distant Mongol rulers. During this period the Tibetan Buddhist canon (notable for its accurate translations of now - lost Sanskrit texts and its helpful commentaries) was compiled, and some of the sects that have persisted to the present were formed. These include the Sa - skya - pa, the rNying - ma - pa (who traced their roots back to Padmasambhava), and the bKa'rgyud - pa (to which belonged the famous yogi Milarepa, or Mi - la ras - pa, 1040 - 1123).

The third period began with the great reformer Tsong - kha - pa (1357 - 1419), who founded the dGe - lugs - pa sect - the so called Yellow Hats - to which the line of the Dalai Lamas belongs. Each of these lamas was thought to be the reincarnation of his predecessor (as well as that of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara) and became, at least nominally, the religious and secular ruler of the country. In 1959 the present, or 14th, Dalai Lama fled the Chinese presence in Tibet along with thousands of ordinary Tibetans and many other high incarnate lamas. Since then they have all been living in exile, primarily in India but also in Nepal and elsewhere.

Among the characteristic features of Tibetan Buddhism are its ready acceptance of the Buddhist Tantras as an integral and culminating part of the Buddhist way; its emphasis on the importance of the master - disciple relationship for both religious scholarship and meditation; its recognition of a huge pantheon of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, saints, demons, and deities; its sectarianism, which resulted less from religious disputes than from the great secular powers of the rival monastic organizations; and, finally, the marked piety of both monastic and lay Tibetan Buddhists, which receives expression in their spinning of prayer wheels, their pilgrimages to and circumambulation of holy sites, prostrations and offerings, recitation of texts, and chanting of Mantras, especially the famous invocation to Avalokitesvara Om Mani Padme Hum.

Joseph M Kitagawa And John S Strong

C Bell, The Religion of Tibet (1931); S Beyer, The Cult of Tara - Magic and Ritual in Tibet (1973); T Gyatso, The Buddhism of Tibet and and the Key to the Middle Way (1975); R A Stein, Tibetan Civilization (1972); G Tucci, The Religions of Tibet (1980); L A Waddell, Buddhism of Tibet (1939).

Dalai Lama

{dah' - ly lah' - muh}

General Information

Dalai Lama is the title of the religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who was also, until 1959, temporal ruler of Tibet. Each Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of his predecessor. When one dies, the new incarnation is sought among newly born boys; the child is identified by his ability to pick out possessions of the former Dalai Lama from a group of similar objects. The Dalai Lama is also regarded as an emanation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Lord of Compassion.

The first Dalai Lama was Gan - den Trup - pa (1391 - 1474), head of the dominant Ge - luk - pa (Yellow Hat) monastic sect and founder of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery. He and his successor, however, did not actually bear the title Dalai, which was first bestowed on the third Dalai Lama (1543 - 88) by a Mongol prince in 1578 and applied retroactively.

The 14th Dalai Lama, born Tenzin Gyatso, 1935, was installed in 1940. He remained in Tibet from the Chinese takeover in 1950 until 1959, when he fled to India following an abortive Tibetan revolt against Chinese Communist rule. He established a Tibetan government - in - exile in Dharmsala, India, and has worked to preserve Tibetan arts, scriptures, and medicine. In 1989 he was warded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent struggle to end Chinese domination of his homeland.

Tibet's secondary spiritual leader is the Panchen Lama. The 10th Panchen Lama (1939 - 89) served as nominal ruler of Tibet from 1959 until 1964. He was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution but later was returned to favor.

J Avedon, In Exile from the Land of Snows (1984); B Burman, Religion and Politics in Tibet (1979); Dalai Lama, My Land and My People (1962), Freedom in Exile (1990), and My Tibet (1990); M H Goodman, The Last Dalai Lama (1986); R Hicks and N Chogyam, Great Ocean (1990); C B Levenson, The Dalai Lama: A Biography (1989).

Also, see:

Mahayana Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism

Zen Buddhism


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet