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Introduction of Tibet

Historically, “Tibet” refers to a mountainous region in central Asia covering 2.5 million sq km. Today, “Tibet” officially refers to the Tibetan Autonomous Region within China, which is about half the size of historical Tibet.

Tibet, from the vibrant blue salt lakes of the Northern Plateau to the deep forested gorges of Kham which carries all the great rivers of East and Southeast Asia – Salween, Mekong and Yangtze, Tibet offers an endless array of amazing geological wonders. The Yellow River meanders through the north-eastern grasslands of Amdo. Further west, the Brahmaputra flows along the continental suture through a landscape of high altitude desert. In the Far-west are the deserted cave cities of the Sutlej Valley, and the gorge of the upper Indus.

The spectacular snow-covered mountains throughout the Tibetan plateau have long been a focal point of theological pilgrimage. The sacred peaks of Mt. Kailash in the far-west, the Amnye Machen in the northeast, the Kawa Karpo in the southeast, and the other “roof of the world” awe-inspiring peaks of the Himalayas has inspired numerous generations of trekkers seeking self-enlightenment by becoming one with nature’s majesty. Tibet provides the opportunity to become immersed in imaginative thoughts, meditation, and tranquility.
The peoples of the Tibetan plateau are stout-hearted and independently minded, living in complete harmony with this environment.

Visiting Tibet, whether out of a spirit of adventure, to commune with nature, or to explore its Buddhist and secular heritage requires planning and preparation. A valid passport including a standard Chinese entry visa is required. Additionally, an original Tibet visa permit is required. Tibet visitors must have a tour guide escort whom is authorized to provide such services.

Tibet is one of the last great remote, less trekked, and deeply fascinating places on earth. Tibet offers amazing geological wonders, also provides spiritual profound thoughts. Today, more and more travelers from all of the world are becoming intrigued by and interested in traveling to Tibet. Please allow Tour Into Tibet to provide our expertise and fulfill your dream to experience “the roof of the world”. At Tour Into Tibet your travel comfort and enjoyment are our top priority. Let’s start planning your Tibet adventure right now!

Brief History of Tibet

Coming soon.

Brief History of Tibetan Buddhism

Certain Buddhist scriptures arrived in southern Tibet from India as early as 173 AD during the reign of Thothori Nyantsen, the 28th king of Tibet. During the third century the scriptures were disseminated to northern Tibet. The influence of Buddhism was not great in Tibet, however, and was not yet in its characteristic Tantric form, for the earliest Tantras had just begun to be written in India.

The first significant event in the history of Tibetan Buddhism occurred in 641, when King Songtsen Gampo (c.609-650) unified Tibet and took two Buddhist wives (Princess Wencheng from China and Princess Bhrikuti Devi from Nepal). Before long, King Gampo made Buddhism the state religion and established a network of 108 Buddhist temples across the region, including the Jokhang and Ramoché temples to house the Buddha statues his wives had brought as their dowries. Conflict with the former national religion, Bön, however, would continue for centuries.

The most important event in Tibetan Buddhist history was the arrival of the great tantric mystic Padmasambhava in Tibet in 774 at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen. It was Padmasambhava (more commonly known in the region as Guru Rinpoche) who merged tantric Buddhism with the local Bön religion to form what we now recognize as Tibetan Buddhism. In addition to writing a number of important scriptures (some of which Tibetan Buddhists believe he hid for future monks to find at the right time), Padmasambhava established the Nyingma school from which all schools of Tibetan Buddhism are derived.

Tibetan Buddhism exerted a strong influence from the 11th century AD among the peoples of Central Asia, especially in Mongolia and Manchuria. It was adopted as an official state religion by the Mongol Yuan dynasty and the Manchu Qing dynasty of China.

Tibetan Buddhism spread to the West in the second half of the 20th century as many Tibetan leaders were exiled from their homeland. Today, Tibetan religious communities in the West consist both of refugees from Tibet and westerners drawn to the Tibetan religious tradition.

Distinctive Beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism

In common with Mahayana schools, Tibetan Buddhism includes a pantheon of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Dharma protectors. Arya-bodhisattvas are able to escape the cycle of death and rebirth but compassionately choose to remain in this world to assist others in reaching nirvana or buddhahood. Dharma protectors are mythic figures incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism from various sources (including the native Bön religion, and Hinduism) who are pledged to protecting and upholding the Dharma. Many of the specific figures are unique to Tibet.

Tibetan Buddhist Texts

Between the 11th and 14th centuries, the Tibetans translated every available Buddhist text into Tibetan. Today, many Buddhist works that have been lost in their original Sanskrit survive only in Tibetan translation.

The Tibetan Buddhist canon is a loosely defined list of sacred texts recognized by various sects of Tibetan Buddhism, consisting of more than 300 volumes and many thousands of individual texts. In addition to earlier foundational Buddhist texts from early Buddhist schools, mostly the Sarvastivada, and mahayana texts, the Tibetan canon includes Tantric texts.
The Tibetan Canon underwent a final compilation in 14th Century by Bu-ston (1290-1364). It is divided into two parts:

• The Bka’-‘gyur or Kanjyur (“Translated Word”), consists of canonical texts. The Kanjyur is made up of 98 volumes containing some 600 texts. The first printing of the Kanjur occurred not in Tibet, but in China (Beijing), and was completed in 1411. The first Tibetan edition of the Kanjur was at sNar-tang in 1731.

• The Bstan-‘gyur or Tenjyur (“Transmitted Word”), consists of semi-canonical commentaries and treatises by Buddhist masters. The Tenjyur contains 3626 texts in 224 volumes.

The most famous Tibetan Buddhist text is the Bardo Thodol (“liberation through hearing in the intermediate state”), popularly known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Bardo Thodol is a funerary text that describes the experiences of the soul during the interval between death and rebirth called bardo. It is recited by lamas over a dying or recently deceased person, or sometimes over an effigy of the deceased. It has been suggested that it is a sign of the influence of shamanism on Tibetan Buddhism.

The Bardo Thodol actually differentiates the intermediate states between lives into three bardos (themselves further subdivided). The chikhai bardo (“bardo of the moment of death”) features the experience of the “clear light of reality,” or at least the nearest approximation to it of which one is spiritually capable. The chonyid bardo (“bardo of the experiencing of reality”) features the experience of visions of various Buddha forms (or, again, the nearest approximations of which one is capable). The sidpa bardo (“bardo of rebirth”) features karmically impelled hallucinations which eventually result in rebirth.
The Bardo Thodol also mentions three other bardos: those of “life” (or ordinary waking consciousness), of “dhyana” (meditation), and of “dream.” The “six bardos” together form a classification of states of consciousness into six broad types, and any state of consciousness forms a type of “intermediate state” – intermediate between other states of consciousness.

Distinctive Practices of Tibetan Buddhism

Non-initiates in Tibetan Buddhism may gain merit by performing rituals such as food and flower offerings, water offerings (performed with a set of bowls), religious pilgrimages, or chanting prayers (see prayer wheels). They may also light butter lamps at the local temple or fund monks to do so on their behalf.

In Bhutan, villagers may be blessed by attending an annual religious festival, known as a tsechu, held in their district. In watching the festival dances performed by monks, the villagers are reminded of Buddhist principles such as non-harm to other living beings. At certain festivals a large painting known as a thongdrol is also briefly unfurled — the mere glimpsing of the thongdrol is believed to carry such merit as to free the observer from all present sin.

Tantric practitioners make use of rituals and objects. Meditation is an important function which may be aided by the use of special hand gestures (mudras) and chanted mantras (such as the famous mantra of Avalokiteshvara: “om mani padme hum”).

A number of esoteric meditation techniques are employed by different traditions, including mahamudra, dzogchen, and the Six yogas of Naropa.

Qualified practitioners may study or construct special cosmic diagrams known as mandalas which assist in inner spiritual development. A lama may make use of a variety of ritual objects, each of which has rich symbolism and a ritual function.

Another important ritual is the Cham, a dance featuring sacred masked dances, sacred music, healing chants, and spectacular richly ornamented multi-colored costumes. Mudras are used by the monks to revitalize spiritual energies which generate wisdom, compassion and the healing powers of Enlightened Beings. With accompanying narration and a monastic debate demonstration, the program provides a fascinating glimpse into ancient and current Tibetan culture. However, due to China’s occupation of Tibet, this ritual is now forbidden.

Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

There are four principal schools within modern Tibetan Buddhism:

Nyingmapa(“School of the Ancients”) is the oldest of the Tibetan Buddhist schools and the second largest after Geluk. The Nyingma school is based primarily on the teachings of Padmasambhava, who is revered by the Nyingma school as the “second Buddha.” Padmascambhava’s system of Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism was synthesized by Longchenpa in the 14th century. The distinctive doctrine of the Nyingma school is Dzogchen (“great perfection”), also known as ati-yoga (extraordinary yoga). It also makes wide use of shamanistic practices and local divinities borrowed from the indigenous, pre-Buddhist Bon religion. Nyingma monks are not generally required to be celibate.

Kagyüpa(“Oral Transmission School”; also spelled Bka’-brgyud-pa) is the third largest school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its teachings were brought to Tibet by Marpa the Translator, an 11th century Tibetan householder who traveled to India to study under the master yogin Naropa and gather Buddhist scriptures. Marpa’s most important student was Milarepa, to whom Marpa passed on his teachings only after subjecting him to trials of the utmost difficulty. In the 12th century, the physician Gampopa synthesized the teachings of Marpa and Milarepa into an independent school. As its name indicates, this school of Tibetan Buddhism places particular value on the transmission of teachings from teacher to disciple. It also stresses the more severe practices of hatha yoga. The central teaching is the “great seal” (mahamudra), which is a realization of emptiness, freedom from samsara and the inspearability of these two. The basic practice of mahamudra is “dwelling in peace,” and it has thus been called the “Tibetan Zen.” Also central to the Kagyupa schools are the Six Doctrines of Naropa (Naro Chödrug), which are meditation techniques that partially coincide with the teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Sakyapais today the smallest of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is named for the Sakya (“Gray Earth”) monastery in sourthern Tibet. The Sakya monastery was founded in 1073 by abbots from the Khön family. The abbots were devoted to the transmission of a cycle of Vajrayana teachings called “path and goal” (Lamdre), the systemization of Tantric teachings, and Buddhist logic. The Sakyapa school had great political influence in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Gelugpa(or Dge-lugs-pa or Gelukpa, “School of the Virtuous”), also called the Yellow Hats, is the youngest of the Tibetan schools, but is today the largest and the most important. It was founded in the late 14th century by Tsongkhapa, who “enforced strict monastic discipline, restored celibacy and the prohibition of alcohol and meat, established a higher standard of learning for monks, and, while continuing to respect the Vajrayana tradition of esotericism that was prevalent in Tibet, allowed Tantric and magical rites only in moderation.” {1} Practices are centered on achieving concentration through meditation and arousing the bodhisattva within. Three large monasteries were quickly established near Lhasa: at Dga’ldan (Ganden) in 1409, ‘Bras-spungs (Drepung) in 1416, and Se-ra in 1419. The abbots of the ‘Bras-spungs monastery first received the title Dalai Lama in 1578. The Gelugpa school has held political leadership of Tibet since the Dalai Lamas were made heads of state by the Mongol leader Güüshi Khan in 1642.