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Tibet

Tibet is a beautiful picturesque Himalayan country that lies sandwiched between China and India. Lhasa is the capitol of this mountain country. Tibetans followed the ancient religion of Bon that was later taken over by Chinese and Buddhism became the religion of Tibet. Still there is a sect of people who follow Bon but they are in minority. When Tibet was conquered by China Bon was put aside and Buddhism took over as the official religion of Tibet.

The history of Tibet has it that when King Songtsen Gampo married both Nepalese princess as well as a Chinese princess they brought Buddhism to Tibet. As part of their dowries, they brought many Buddhist scriptures and statues to the court. That is when Buddhism began to take root in Tibet. Tibetan Buddhism has a distinct form of its own as it has absorbed aspects of Bon religion as well. Tibetan Buddhism also spread into neighboring provinces and countries. As the years passed a number of different sects evolved, which later developed into political as well as religious influence.

The Dalai Lama, who is presently in exile at Dharmshala in India had to flee the country due to Chinese oppression.  Tibetan Buddhism belongs to the Mahayana school of Buddhism. They are divided into five sects namely

 Nyingmapa, Kahdampa, Kagyupa, Sakyapa and Gelugpa.  Tibetan Budhism has strong influences from neighboring religions like Hinduism. The meditation and prayers are done on a regular basis in silence and they rely on mudras (ritual postures), mantras (sacred speech), yantras (sacred art) and secret initiation rites. A Lama is initiated at a very young age and joins the monastery. His head is shaven and he is given a red cloth to drape around himself. With simple wooden footwear the Lamas walk in the cold mountainous terrains in search of enlightenment. It is believed that asceticism and obedience are the only source of enlightenment. Once you follow that path you can reach Buddha.

Every family had to send at least one child to the monastery. This is where the child gets educated and initiated into monastic life. Even girls as young as seven years old were initiated into monastic lives. Life at the monastery is rigorous. Religious study and services are the main theme taught at the monastery. The study consists of Tibetan tantras, mantras, sutras, astrology, Tibetan medicine and other Buddhist theologies. These studies go on for 18years at the monastery. A ‘Geshe Lharampa’ Degree, which represents the highest degree in Tibetan Buddhism theology, will be conferred on those who not only pass the examination but also win. Only a few monks are able to qualify for this highest degree. A monk’s life is similar to the life of a nun in a Christian missionary. It is believed that the regimental life and rigidity prepares them to attain enlightenment and realize Buddha.

Supernatural beings are prominent in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhas and bodhisattvas abound, gods and spirits taken from earlier Tibetan religions like Bon continue to be taken seriously. Bodhisattvas are portrayed as both benevolent godlike figures and wrathful deities.

This metaphysical context has allowed Tibetan Buddhism to develop a strong artistic tradition, and paintings and other graphics are used as aids to understanding at all levels of society. Both the Lamas as well as the lay man follow rituals traditionally in Tibet. The layman relies on the Lamas to conduct the rituals for good as well as other occasions.

Similar to Hinduism the Tibetan Buddhists also chant mantras with “OM”. “Om mani padhme hum”, is a commonly chanted mantra among Tibetans. ‘Om’, symbolizes one's impure body, speech and mind, and Buddhism believes that even an impure body and mind can be transformed into purity to realize Buddha. ‘Mani’ is the jewel that symbolizes compassion, love, forgiveness and the wish to attain enlightenment, ‘Padhme’ means lotus flower which symbolizes purity and is associated with the Gods and ‘hum’ means us that is all of us should attain all the jewels to become rich. Just as a jewel can adorn and make a lay man rich, the knowledge of ‘Om’ will make the chanting person an enriched soul.

The Tibetan prayers include prayer wheels that are cylindrical in nature. The inscription of “Om mani padhme hum” is inscribed on it and there are small bells attached to it that help in making sounds when it is rotated.

The ‘chorten’ or a stupa is a tower like structure, which is an important monument of Tibetan religion. It is believed that Buddha physically resides inside it. It consists of three tiers. The base has a whitewashed structure and a whitewashed cylinder in the middle and a crowning steeple or shaft at the top. The Tibetans circle the stupa in the belief it can fetch them good health, wealth and fortune. The four ends of the stupa at the top are tapered upward signifying that the Lord above should shower us with his blessings as well as it is symbolic of the four directions east, west, north and south. Sun, moon, fire and water are worshipped all over Tibet. 

Some of the auspicious signs and symbols that are seen in Tibet denote the eight fold path of Buddhism.  

A white umbrella, which denotes purity and is akin to Virgin Mary. This also shows loyalty. 

Golden fish- this is happiness, rid of all miseries and salvation.

Vase-  giver of nectar that can give immortality.

Lotus – the flower of purity and spiritual enlightenment.

Conch shell- that spreads the teachings.

Knot of eternity – this unites everyone and binds them together.

Victory standard – this shows the victory of Buddhism over ignorance and death

Dhrama wheel- symbolizes time and how it keeps moving. It also reminds people of Sakhya Muni’s preachings.

Swastika – This is commonly used on walls and house doors. This symbols good fortune.

Sun and Moon- This is seen in all villages in Tibet as it symbolizes the giver of light and the attraction of opposites.

Kaal Chakra seal – This can be seen adorning the walls of monasteries. This symbolizes the highest initiations into occult knowledge that can be possessed only by a few lamas.


 

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