A Brief History of Dalai Lama Institution and the Tibetan Schools of Buddhism

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The origin of Buddhism started in the fifth century during the reign of King Thothori Nyatsen with the arrival of Buddhist scriptures to Tibet from India. The scriptures were written in Sanskrit and were translated to Tibetan during the reigns of King Songtsan Gampo. The king a Chinese1 Buddhist Princess, who came to Tibet with a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha and a Nepalese Buddhist princess. It was during the reigns of King Trisong Detsen, in the 8th Century, Buddhism was made the official religion of Tibet. Eswar talks of the various Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Red Hat and the Yellow Hat, tracing the history and legacy, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

Before one can understand more about the origin of Dalai Lama, one needs to understand the origins of Tibetan Buddhism and the important Schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The origin of Tibetan Buddhism started in the fifth century during the reign of King Thothori Nyat

Sakya Lineage Tree

Sakya Lineage Tree

sen  with the arrival of Buddhist scriptures to Tibet from India. The scriptures were written in Sanskrit and were translated to Tibetan during the reigns of King Songtsan Gampo. The king married a ChineseBuddhist Princess, who came to Tibet with a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha and a Nepalese Buddhist princess. It was during the reigns of King Trisong Detsen, in the 8th Century, Buddhism was made the official religion of Tibet. He invited Buddhist  to his court, an important one being Padmasambhava who helped in establishing the Nyingma School of Buddhism. Nyingma is the first school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The next recognised school of Tibetan Buddhism is Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. The most important source of the Kagyu order may be traced back to the Indian Saint Tilopa, who developed spontaneous insight of enlightened realisation.3 His lineage was carried out by Naropa, who had joined the Nalanda University in today’s Bihar and whose teachings influenced the Tibetan Marpa, who upon returning to Tibet spent years translating

Tilopa

Tilopa

Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit to Tibetan. The lineage was carried forward by Milarepa, who was predicted by Naropa to be the future main disciple of Marpa. Milarepa4 had a dark history of mastering black magic and had to undergo a purifying process, which included building towers out of rocks based on Marpa’s specification and then tearing them down again. Finally, he was given the full transmissions of Mahamudra teachings received from Naropa and became the lineage holder of Marpa. It was Milarepa’s disciple Gampopa, a medical doctor who attained monkhood upon the death of his wife and children5 ,who was entrusted to complete the Kagyu transmission. Together, Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa are considered to be the founders of Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The next recognised school of Buddhism is the Sakya School. The history6 of this school traces back to Shakyamuni Buddha, and an important source of the Sakya order is the Indian saint Virupa whose teachings was passed on to the Tibetan Disciple Dorkmi Lotsawa Shankya Yeshe by Gayadhara. This lineage was further passed on to his disciple, Khon Konchok Gyalpo who built a monastery in the Tsang Region of Tibet which was famous for its Grey earth. This became a seat of Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism in 1073.

The Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya School constitute the Red Hat sect, named after the colour of the  monk’s hat at a formal occasion.

Marpa

Marpa

The newest amongst the recognised schools of Tibetan Buddhism is the Gelug or Yellow Hat school of   Tibetan Buddhism. This school continues the distinctive traditions of the Kadapa School of the great Indian master Atisha. This school was founded by Je Tsongkhapa who founded the Drok Riwo Ganden Monastery, popularly known as the Ganden Monastery established, in 1409 CE, outside Lhasa. Amongst his disciples, Tsongkhapa handed Gedun Drupa7 (the first Dalai Lama) a brand new set of robes as a sign that he would spread Buddhist teachings all over Tibet.

The Dalai Lamas are considered to be the reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion who had promised the Buddha to guide and protect the people of Tibet. The name Dalai Lama Means Ocean of and it is believed that it was during the time of the 3rd Dalai Lama the title ‘Dalai Lama’ was offered to Sonam Gyatso, the 3rd Dalai Lama by the Mongolian Ruler Altan Khan.

Gushir Khan

Gushir Khan

During the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Tibet was undergoing a political turmoil, and his discovery as the reincarnation was kept a until the political turmoil was laid to rest by the Mongolian chief Gushir Khan, and the Fifth Dalai Lama enthroned as the and Political leader of Tibet, a was henceforth until the XIV Dalai Lama devolved his temporal power and transferred his political power to a democratically elected leader, thus bringing an end to a 386-year-old tradition.


 

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Tibetan_Buddhism

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Tibetan_Buddhism

3 http://www.karmapa.org/karma-kagyu/lives/

4 http://www.karmapa.org/karma-kagyu/lives/milarepa/

5 http://www.karmapa.org/karma-kagyu/lives/gampopa/

6 http://kagyuoffice.org/buddhism/buddhism-in- tibet/the-sakya– school/

7 http://www.dalailama.com/biography/the-dalai- lamas#1

©Eswar Anandan

Photos sourced by the author.

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Eswar Anandan

Eswar Anandan

Eswar Anandan’s mother's traverse with Cancer opened his eyes and thoughts about the life outside the glass cubicles. In his own words: "Strong emotions gave way to words, words took poetic form, and I found a new purpose..." His first , 'Seasons' is a dedication to her.He is currently working on ‘Thoughts in Silence’ and ‘Story of a Nation’. Eswar is an entrepreneur and Friends of Tibet Campaigner.
Eswar Anandan

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