In Tibet, history, society and daily life are closely intertwined with Buddhism. In 600-800 century AC Buddhism was introduced by the Tibetan kings and from the 11th century Buddha’s teachings have become supreme in Tibet.

From 1642 to 1959 the Dalai Lama, based in Lhasa, was Tibet’s head of state and the monasteries played a dominant political and economic role. The Tibetan translations of the Buddhist holy scriptures from the Indian language Sanskrit are significant contribution to the world culture.The vast literary treasure, which in the course of time was lost in India, has been preserved until today in Tibetan.

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Buddhism in Tibet is very diverse. The largest monasteries can be compared to the universities where the Buddhist teaching tradition is kept alive. In each village there is also a small temple or monastery where rituals are performed on behalf of local people. In the wild and untouched nature the hermits live who dedicate their lives to meditation and yoga exercises. But also for the laity the religious actions and attitudes are a central part of life. Pilgrims are travelling to the holy mountains, to the great monasteries and above all to the holy city of Lhasa that is the most important event in the individual’s life.

Buddhism in its Tibetan version is also widespread outside Tibet. In the 16th century the Mongols were converted to Buddhism by the Tibetans. They soon developed a monastery after Tibetan pattern and the holy scriptures were translated from Tibetan to Mongolian. From the 1960’s the numerous centres of Tibetan Buddhism were established worldwide, including Norway (Karma Tashi Ling in Oslo).

Nonviolence as ideology

Despite some peculiarities Buddhism in Tibet is entirely in accordance with the basic ideas of Buddhism in the other countries with Buddhist culture. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, is arguably the foremost international representative of Buddhism today.

The core of his message is tolerance, responsibility and above all universal compassion as the basis for world peace and protecting the planet’s natural environment. Tibetans are deeply influenced by Buddhist ethics where a core point is the respect for all sentient beings.

Religion and the liberation struggle

In recent years – particularly after 1987- Buddhism has been the foundation for Tibetan’s non-violent struggle for national independence. Nuns and monks have gone ahead in the ongoing demonstrations and religious acts such as e.g. the ritual pilgrimage through the sacred places has now a new political content.New ideas about democracy and human rights are conveyed to the population of monks and nuns and provided an ideological justification in Buddhism. So the Buddhism in Tibet today has became an alternative to the Chinese one-party state system and political unification, an option based on universal values in the modern world.

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Reccomended reading

  • Geoffrey Samuel, Civilized Shamanism. Buddhism in Tibetan Societies, Kathmandu (Smithsonian Institution Press) 1993
  • Marilyn M. Rhie/Robert A.F Thurman, The sacred Art of Tibet, London (Thames and Hudson) 1991
  • Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying