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BBC – Faiths

Tibetan Buddhism Tibetan Buddhism is a religious beliefs in exile, required from its homeland when Tibet was dominated by the Chinese. At one time it was believed that 1 in 6 Tibetan men Norbulingka Palace were Buddhist monks. Norbulingka Palace © The very best understood face of Tibetan Buddhism is the Dalai Lama, who has actually lived in exile in India since he left Chinese profession of his country in 1959.

Tibetan Buddhism combines the necessary teachings of Mahayana Buddhism with Tantric and Shamanic, and material from an ancient Tibetan faith called Bon.

Although Tibetan Buddhism is frequently thought to be identical with Vajrayana Buddhism, they are not similar – Vajrayana is taught in Tibetan Buddhism together with the other lorries.


Buddhism became a significant presence in Tibet towards the end of the 8th century CE. It was brought from India at the invite of the Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen, who welcomed 2 Buddhist masters to Tibet and had important Buddhist texts translated into Tibetan.

First to come was Shantarakshita, abbot of Nalanda in India, who constructed the first monastery in Tibet. He was followed by Padmasambhava, who came to use his knowledge and power to conquer “spiritual” forces that were stopping work on the brand-new monastery.

Groups within Tibetan Buddhism

  • Nyingmapa: Established by Padmasambhava, this is earliest sect, kept in mind in the West for the teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
  • Kagyupa: Founded by Tilopa (988-1069), the Kagyupa tradition is headed by the Karmapa Lama. Essential Kagyupa instructors consist of Naropa, Marpa, and Milarepa.
  • Sakyapa: Developed by Gonchok Gyelpo (1034-1102) and his kid Gunga Nyingpo (1092-1158).
  • Gelugpa: (The Virtuous School) Established by Tsong Khapa Lobsang Drakpa (also called Je Rinpoche) (1357 – 1419), this custom is headed by the Dalai Lama.
  • New Kadampa Tradition: one of the major Buddhist schools in the UK, established by the Tibetan-born Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Some Buddhists and non-Buddhists regard the NKT as outside the mainstream custom.

Special features of Tibetan Buddhism

  • the status of the instructor or “Lama”
  • fixation with the relationship in between life and death
  • important role of routines and initiations
  • abundant visual significance
  • components of earlier Tibetan faiths
  • mantras and meditation practice

Tibetan Buddhist practice features a variety of rituals, and spiritual practices such as the use of mantras and yogic techniques.

Supernatural beings are popular in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhas and bodhisattvas abound, gods and spirits taken from earlier Tibetan religions continue to be taken seriously. Bodhisattvas are portrayed as both good-hearted godlike figures and wrathful deities.

This esoteric context has allowed Tibetan Buddhism to establish a strong artistic tradition, and paintings and other graphics are used as aids to comprehending at all levels of society.

Visual help to understanding are really common in Tibetan Buddhism – pictures, structures of various sorts and public prayer wheels and flags provide an ever-present tip of the spiritual domain in the physical world.

Tibetan Buddhism is strong in both monastic communities and among ordinary individuals.

The lay version has a strong focus on outwardly religious activities instead of the inner spiritual life: there is much routine practice at temples, expedition is popular – often including many prostrations, and prayers are duplicated over and over – with using personal or public prayer wheels and flags. There are many festivals, and funeral services are really crucial ceremonies.

Lay individuals provide physical support to the monasteries along with depending on the monks to organise the rituals.

Aspects of faith


Tibetan monastery Tibetan monastery © A lama is a teacher. They are often a senior member of a monastic neighborhood- a monk or a nun- however lay individuals and married people can also be lamas. They are very frequently reincarnations of previous lamas.

As well as being learned in Buddhist texts and approach, lamas frequently have specific abilities in ritual.

The Dalai Lama

Dalai is a Mongol word meaning ocean, and refers to the depth of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom.

The very first Dalai Lama to bear the title was the 3rd Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso. (The two previous versions were named “Dalai Lama” after their deaths.)

The present Dalai Lama (2002 ), Tenzin Gyatso, was born in Amdo, Tibet in 1935 and is the fourteenth Dalai Lama.

The Karmapa Lama

Karmapa implies “one who performs the activity of a Buddha”. The existing incarnation (2002) is the 17th Karmapa. Two people have been stated the 17th Karmapa; Orgyen Trinley Dorje is generally and formally recognised as the official 17th Karmapa, however a rival Buddhist group offer their allegiance to Trinlay Thaye Dorje.


Tibetan Buddhism was much influenced by Tantra, and this has actually brought in a wealth of complex routines and signs and techniques.

Tantra came from India and appears in both the Hindu and Buddhist customs. It brings Tibetan Buddhism a magical aspect and an abundant portfolio of heavenly beings. It also brings a wide range of spiritual strategies such as mantras, mandalas, ceremonies, and lots of varieties of yoga.


Routines and basic spiritual practices such as mantras are popular with lay Tibetan Buddhists. They include prostrations, making offerings to statues of Buddhas or bodhisattvas, attending public teachings and events.

Tibetan temple events are often loud and aesthetically striking, with brass instruments, cymbals and gongs, and musical and outstanding chanting by formally dressed monks. It happens in strikingly developed temples and monasteries.

Advanced practices

Tibetan Buddhism likewise involves numerous advanced routines. These are only possible for those who have reached an advanced understanding of spiritual practice.

There are likewise advanced spiritual methods. These consist of elaborate visualisations and requiring meditations. It’s stated that senior Tibetan yoga adepts can achieve much greater control over the body than other human beings, and are able to manage their body temperature level, heart rate and other generally automated functions.

Living and passing away

Tibetan Buddhism emphasises awareness of death and impermanence. Everything is constantly dying – the cells of our bodies are passing away even while we live, reminding us of our own impermanence. And all the living things around us are passing away, too.

This awareness ought to not produce sadness or misery, nor ought to it cause a Buddhist to begin a frenzied pursuit of the impermanent satisfaction of life. Rather, it needs to lead the Buddhist to see the worth of every minute of presence, and be diligent in their meditation and other spiritual practice.

Awareness of death, combined with the understanding of the impermanence of everything, leads the Buddhist to realise that only spiritual things have any enduring worth.

Getting ready for death

Tibetan Buddhists utilize visualisation meditations and other workouts to imagine death and get ready for the bardo. They work towards a holistic understanding and acceptance of death as an unavoidable part of their journey.

Another way of preparing for death is to participate in helping those who have died through their experience in the bardo. This not just helps the dead, however allows the living specialist to gain a real experience of the bardo, prior to they themselves enter it.

Even those who can not acquire the spiritual awareness to have an awareness of the bardo are helped by accomplishing a higher experience of the impermanence of everything.

Tibetan Book of the Dead

This is among the excellent texts of Tibetan Buddhism, and a huge seller in the west. The English title is not a translation of the Tibetan title – the book’s true name is Excellent Freedom through hearing throughout the intermediate state, typically known in Tibet as Liberation through hearing.

The book handles the experiences of an individual as they pass in between death and renewal.


Bardo is the state in between death and rebirth. The various schools of Tibetan Buddhism have different understandings of this state which is considered lasting for 49 days.

The experience of an individual throughout bardo depends upon their spiritual training throughout life. An untrained individual is believed to be puzzled as to where they are, and might not realise that they have died. People are often unwilling to give up attachment to their previous life – and their negative emotions – may cause their rebirth to be less excellent than it would otherwise have actually been.

In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, the dead individual is assisted through bardo by a lama who reads prayers and carries out rituals from the Book of the Dead, recommending the deceased to break free from accessory to their previous life and their dead body. In some schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the lama will actively help the dead individual to move their consciousness from their body, in preparation for rebirth.

Many Tibetan Buddhists believe that it is possible for those left to help the dead individual on their journey by doing spiritual work that increases the merits of the deceased and hence helps them to a better rebirth.

During the 49 day period the dead can see clearly into the minds of those left behind, which allows the living to help the dead by thinking great thoughts, meditating on Buddha and other virtuous beings, and taking part in spiritual practices.

New Kadampa Tradition

The New Kadampa Custom

Atisha Atisha reestablished Buddhism into Tibet © The New Kadampa Tradition emerged from the Tibetan Buddhist custom and is among the major Buddhist schools in the UK. Some Buddhists and non-Buddhists regard the NKT as outside the mainstream

custom. Origins and history The New Kadampa Tradition is among the fastest growing Mahayana Buddhist traditions in the West, with 900 meditation centres in 37 countries. Established by the Tibetan-born meditation master, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, fans claim it offers regional access to Buddha’s mentors, meditation practice and an alternative view to life that promotes peace and consistency.

Kadampa Buddhism was founded in 11th Century Tibet by the Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (982 – 1054 CE). He was welcomed by King Jangchub Ö, a ruler of Ngari region of Tibet, to reintroduce Buddhism to Tibet. It had actually first been presented by Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita 200 years earlier, however was mainly destroyed by the anti-Buddhist purges of the Tibetan king, Lang Darma, who was a follower of Bön, the pre-Buddhist faith of Tibet.

Atisha did revive Buddhist practice in Tibet, and established what is now the custom of Kadampa Buddhism. Ka implies word and refers to the mentors of the Buddha and dam refers to Atisha’s special presentation of them, known as Lamrim or stages of the course to knowledge. Lamrim literally indicates Stages of the Path and encompasses all Buddha’s mentors. Atisha demonstrated how the courses of Sutra and Tantra were not different and could be practiced together.

3 centuries later on (in the 13th century) the Tibetan Buddhist master Je Tsongkharpa, among Tibet’s saints, developed and promoted Kadampa Buddhism throughout the country. He reformed the abbeys, emphasizing the practice of moral discipline, organized study and meditation, which define the three Kadam lineages. He likewise composed commentaries to lots of spiritual Buddhist texts, clarifying their meanings, and taught the union of Sutra and Tantra. His life was an example of pureness in body, speech and mind. His followers became known as New Kadampas or Gelugpas (The Virtuous Ones) who made every effort to end up being fantastic Bodhisattvas and Buddhas themselves, so they could help release others from the suffering of cyclic existence.

The New Kadampa Custom in the West

In 1976 Geshe Kelsang was welcomed to teach in the UK by Lama Yeshe, the headteacher of the FPMT, Structure for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Age-old Geshe Kelsang Gyatso © He taught at FPMT-Centre Manjushri Institute which was based at Conishead priory, Ulverston, Cumbria, England (now called Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre) with the true blessing of the Dalai Lama.

In the late 1970s Geshe Kelsang took the controversial choice of opening his own Buddhist Centre in York. He was asked to resign his post at Conishead Priory but withstood pressure to leave after a group of his closest students pleaded with him to remain.

Critics claim this was the start of a rift between Kelsang and the FPMT. They likewise accuse Kelsang of starting a breakaway movement and argue that the New Kadampa Tradition, as it is known today, is not part of the ancient Kadampa Custom but a split from the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Difference with the Dalai Lama

Regardless of the appeal of the New Kadampa Custom – typically referred to as the NKT for brief – the organisation was associated with a public disagreement with the Dalai Lama which began in 1996.

The problem centres on the focus put on the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden by Kelsang.

According to the NKT’s website: “A Dharma Protector is an emanation of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva whose main functions are to prevent the inner and outer barriers that prevent practitioners from getting spiritual realizations, and to organize all the needed conditions for their practice”.

Kelsang teaches that the divine being Dorje Shugden is the Dharma protector for the New Kadampa Tradition and is a manifestation of the Buddha.

The spirit Dorje Shugden is described by some as a “wrathful, sword-waving deity with huge ears and menacing fangs” or as “a … warrior figure, riding a snow lion through a sea of boiling blood”.

The New Kadampa Custom offers this description: “In his left hand he holds a heart, which symbolises great empathy and spontaneous great happiness … His round yellow hat represents the view of Nagarjuna, and the knowledge sword in his right-hand man teaches us to sever ignorance … Dorje Shudgen trips a snow lion … and has a jewel-splitting mongoose set down on his left arm, symbolising his power to bestow wealth on those who put their rely on him … His wrathful expression suggested that he destroys ignorance, the real enemy of all living beings, by true blessing them with terrific knowledge.”

Image of Dorje Shugden, a ferocious three-eyed figure riding a white lion. Dorje Shugden atop his snow lion © The NKT venerates Dorje Shugden as its protector deity. The Dalai Lama, nevertheless, has rejected and spoken out versus this practice. He has described Shugden as an evil and malevolent force, and argued that other Lamas prior to him had likewise placed restrictions on praise of this spirit.

After the Lama made these statements public in 1996 some followers of Dorje Shugden objected versus the Dalai Lama in London, accusing him of suppressing their religious flexibility.

Today members of the New Kadampa Tradition continue to praise Dorje Shugden.

Growth of the motion

Although some Buddhists and non-Buddhists regard the NKT as outside the mainstream tradition, the organisation has continued to grow.

Based Upon Lama Tsongkhapa’s prominent works, Geshe Kelsang has written 20 books in English, and these have actually in turn been equated into other languages. The earnings of these books are fed into the ‘NKT International Temples Project’, a Buddhist charity structure temples dedicated to world peace.

Alongside this Kelsang has established research study programs to encourage a Western audience to understand the Buddha’s teachings.

Kadampa Buddhist Temple The very first New Kadampa Temple was built in

1998 at Manjushri Centre, Cumbria. © Geshe Kelsang has likewise been the driving force behind the building of the first New Kadampa Buddhist temple at the Manjushri Centre in Cumbria, England.

A second temple was opened in Glen Spey, New York in 2005. Work is underway on a third temple near Sao Paulo in Brazil, which will be known as the Centro de Meditacao Kadampa do Brasil. Strategies are afoot for additional temples at Tara Centre in Derby, England and in Melbourne, Australia.

NKT members want to construct a Buddhist temple in every significant town and city worldwide. This job is called the International Temples Project for World Peace.


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