Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism



Dharma Land of Snows

Tibet is located in Central Asia. It is on the highest plateau in the world and includes Mt. Everest (Jomo Longma in Tibetan). The Tibetan territory is several times larger than France. There are more than six million Tibetans living in Tibet and nearby areas under the Chinese government. About four million ethnic Tibetans live in the southern Himalayas under the governments of India, Nepal, and Bhutan. There are approximately 200,000 Tibetan refugees living in South Asia and other countries. Tibet has approximately eight thousand Buddhist monasteries and most Tibetans are Buddhists, living simply as nomads, farmers, merchants, and artisans with an ancient spiritual culture.


Tibetan Buddhist History

Our supreme Dharma teacher, Shakyamuni, at thirty-five years old attained enlightenment of Buddha in Bodhgaya, India, on the fifteenth day of the fourth month, 2,592 years ago (591 B.C.E.). Buddha taught dharma for the next forty-seven years. Thereafter, the buddhadharma flourished throughout the world.

Since the eighth century, around 1,300 A.B.B. (After Buddha's Birth), the Kingdom of Tibet invited many great Indian Buddhist masters, most importantly the Dzogchen Masters Bikkhu Shantarakshita, Mahasiddha Guru Padmasabhava, and Mahapandita Vimalamitra to bring Buddhism to the Land of Snow. 

In those times, the kingdom of Tibet sent approximately four hundred of Tibet's most intelligent young people to India. Only about one hundred survived the difficulties to return as translators. These young Tibetans learned Sanskrit and Buddhism, and then invited more than two hundred great Indian Buddhist masters to Tibet to spread the buddhadharma. The most renowned translators were Sambhota, Vairocana, Yeshe Tsogyal, Kawa Palzek, Chokro Lhui Gyaltsen, and Bende Yeshe De. 

Emperor Trisong Detsen and the Tibetan government offered an extraordinary amount of gold, jewels, and other resources for the purpose of bringing the dharma to Tibet. Within forty years, most of the Buddha's teachings, consisting of more than 370 volumes of Tantras, Sutras, and Shastras were translated into the Tibetan language at the glorious Samye monastery, Pangtang Kame, and Ushang Doi Lhakhang in central Tibet.

As a result of the Buddha's teachings, great historical and cultural changes took place in Tibet. For example, twenty-five of Padmasambhava's disciples became Mahasiddhas, eighty people in Yerwa attained Rainbow Body, thirty practitioners from Chubori became great meditation masters, and twenty-five practitioners in Sheltrak reached high realization. Hundreds of hidden yogis attained Buddhahood and many Tibetans became fully ordained monks. In establishing Buddhism in Tibet some Tibetans opposed Buddhism and there were many obstacles to be overcome. Eventually, thousands of Tibetans became Bikkhus and Dzogchen yogis and attained enlightenment. Because of the miraculous change in their way of life, the entire population of Tibet gradually became peace-loving Buddhists. It is now widely known that Tibet has preserved all three yanas of original Buddhism: the Shravakayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge Tibet's great contribution to the preservation of original Buddhism in the world.