Continuation of Chapter Two   

By: Joe Hing Kwok Chu            






              A major group of Buddhism were formed around the middle of the third century: Mahayana  (meaning major vehicle)

               The Mahayana group called the original Buddhist group hinayana means "The Lesser Vehicle." It is called by its followers: Theravada, "The way of the ancient." This is more conservative and closer to the original teaching of Gautama. It spreads over the most part of south and southeastern Asia. Some Mahayanists prefer to call the Hinayanists' teachings "Fundamental teachings" instead of  "The way of the ancient".

               Mahayana means "The Greater Vehicle."  It spreads over northern India, Kashmir, central Asia, Korea, Japan and China---particularly Tibet.  

               This sect of Buddhism is more adaptable to change and  to accommodate the needs of different regions and of different eras. It has been more acceptable than the Theravada Buddhism.

                 From the Mahayanists' point of view, Mahayana is designed to help the masses to attain enlightenment while the Theravada is designed to enlighten oneself.                  

              It is said that Buddhism was introduced into China  in the Han region (middle plain region 中原)approximately around third century B.C.   Tantric Buddhism was introduced during the early fourth  century together with other exoteric scriptures.1.21

              According to the legend, around 520 A.D., Bodhidharma, a Hindu Buddhist monk  belonging to the Brahmin caste, came to China via the sea.   He embarked at Canton (Guangzhou) and traveled north to  the then capital of China and had an audience with the  Emperor Wu Ti of Liang dynasty. The Emperor was disappointed that their viewpoints differed. Bodhidharma eventually went to the Shaolin monastery in the Henan province where he tried to  blend in and not call attention to himself. He meditated for nine years  facing a stone wall and passed away. He was credited as the founder of the Chan (Zen) school.  This was the legend of the Chan sect.  Some historians think that Bodhidarma was a fictional character, created by the Sixth Patriarch.

               In the eighth century, three Indian monks, Subhakarasimba  (637-735), Vajrabodhi (670-741) and Amoghavajra (705-740) imported into China, Tantric systems of the non-Shaktic type and won great influence of the court of Tang emperors. This  influenced the acceptance of Tantric Buddhism by the King of Tibet through the marriage of the daughter of the Tang emperor, Princess Wen Chen  to the King of Tibet.

               There are eight major sects1.3 of Mahayana Buddhism in China, but the most widely practised sects are:  Chan Buddhism, which is popular in the central part of China, and Tibetan Tantric (Esoteric) Buddhism, which is popular in the western and  northern part of China, like Tibet and Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Xikang, Yunnan and Outer Mongolia (which later became an independent state).

              During the third century, there was an important  development in Buddhism in India, which was the forming of  Buddhist Tantra.

               The Buddhist Tantra went through different stages of development:  

              1. Mantrayana was developed during the third and fourth century. It enriched Buddhism by the appurtenances of magical tradition  for enlightenment. Many mantras, mudras, deities and mandalas were introduced randomly into Buddhism.

              2. Vajrayana 1.31 was developed during the middle of the eighth century.  All previous teachings were systematized and grouped with the system of Five Tathagatas. 1.32

              3. Kalacakra was developed during the tenth century. Kalacakra emphasizes astrology and syncretism.




               It is not clear when Buddhism came to Tibet. According to the legend, Buddhism was introduced to Tibet two thousand years ago.        

               The more reliable version is that Buddhism was brought to Tibet around 641 A.D. by two of Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo's brides, Wen Chen, a princess of the Tang Dynasty, and Bhrikuti Devi, a princess of Nepal. Each brought with her an image of Buddha Sakyamuni. Temples were built for         these two images of Buddha.

              Before Buddhism was introduced, BÍn was the main religion in Tibet. The word "BÍn" came from the Chinese Han language referring to a region ( 彭)in middle China where the founders of the BÍn religion came from. The founders of BÍnism were some of  the members of the clan of Li Shi (李氏), ancestors of Lao Tze

         (author of Dao De Jing). The ancestors of Lao Tze were knighted in the region of BÍn. BÍnism is a polytheistic religion. It was popular among the nobles.

               According to the legend, BÍn was founded thirteen hundred years ago. Shen, a thirteen old boy was kidnapped by a demon. He was released thirteen years later when he was twenty -six years old. When he came back, he possessed magical powers of exorcism and prophecy. He taught people how to worship and to fight and get rid of demons. He did not have any religious scriptures or doctrines.

                       In BÍnism there were three different worlds: the heaven, the earth, and the underworld. People painted their faces red to ward off evil spirits. This pre-Tantric stage of  BÍn is called Dol BÍn.

                Later, a BÍn scholar named Pandita Shamthab Ngonpo introduced the six different doctrines of non- Buddhist philosophic schools that had developed during the time of Buddha Sakyamuni. He combined these six different philosophic doctrines with BÍn teachings. This is known as the Kyar BÍn.

                 During the later half  of the eighth century, during the period of King Trisung Detsan (755-797) who was a devoted Buddhist, a BÍn scholar named Gyalwa Changchub translated Buddhist          scriptures claiming them as BÍnism's own. King Trisung Detsan sentenced Gyalwa Changchub to death and ordered all BÍn followers to convert their belief to Buddhism. Later, the King was overthrown by his elder brother, Lang Darma, who was a monk and the tutor of his younger brother. Together with several nobles, Lang Darma staged a palace coup and murdered Trisung Detsan while he was drunk.Persecution of Buddhism followed. Several BÍn scholars continued the translation and reform of the Buddhist          scriptures and enriched the BÍn doctrines. This period is called Gyur BÍn.  

              After Lang Dharma seized power, he destroyed Buddhist monasteries, slaughtered monks and forced them to live secular lives. BÍn became the main religion of Tibet. Assassination of Lang Dharma was being planned. A monk who was well versed in martial arts volunteered to carry out the plan. His name was Lhalung Paldor. He rode a white horse painted with water soluble black paint, and wore a black cloak with white lining and concealed a sword under the cloak and a bow and arrows in his broad sleeves. He shot Lang Dharma while the latter was taking a stroll. He was able to fight his way out of         the area and rode his horse across a river to wash off the black paint on the horse and turned his cloak inside out so it looked white. He escaped successfully to the Kham region (Sichuan) where Buddhism was restored to life.

              During the reign of Trisung Detsan, BÍn religion became divided into three sects: White BÍn,  which sided with Buddhism,  Black BÍn which retained its primitive form of shamanism, and Striped BÍn, which was the mixture of BÍnism and Buddhism.   

              When Buddhism was first introduced into Tibet, it encountered difficulties with the Nobles and the BÍn priests.

              Around the year of 775 A.D. king Trisung Detsan invited two scholar monks from the Han region to translate Buddhist scriptures and to preach Buddhist doctrines. He also invited the then famous Tantric monks Shantirakshita and Padma Sambhava from Kashmir and India (now Northern Pakistan) to teach Buddhism to the Tibetans.  

              According to the legend, Padma Sambhava was born eight years after the death of Sakyamuni and was more than a thousand years old 1.33 because of his training in Tantra.

         As his name implies, he was born in the shape of a lotus blossom. Padma Sambhava sympathized with the BÍn religion. One of the assigned duties of Padma Sambhava was to subdue the demonic forces that were obstructing the building of the first Buddhist monastery (Samye Monastery) in Tibet. After subduing these forces, he traveled throughout Tibet subduing other local demonic forces and preaching Buddhism as well. Because of his supernormal powers that he had developed from his tantric training, and through the introduction of the tantric deities and magical forces, Padma Sambhava was able to appeal to the local shamanist priests (Bonpos) and their followers to accept tantric Buddhism.

               He was successful in spreading Buddhism in Tibet. Part  of the religious rituals, deities and religious theories of the BÍn religion were absorbed into the Tantric Buddhism. Today, Padma Sambhava is addressed in Tibet as Guru Rinpoche.

              Before Tantric (Esoteric) Buddhism came to Tibet, Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism had been in Tibet for many years. According to Buddhist legend Ch'an  (Zen) Buddhism was introduced into the middle part of China from India by an Indian monk Bodhidharma  around 520 A.D. After absorbing local culture, including the philosophies and practices of Taoism, Confucianism, and general Chinese value, it became today's Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism. Ch'an was introduced to Tibet before Tantric Buddhism arrived there.         Thus, Tantric and Ch'an (Zen) co-existed in Tibet for many years.  During the end of the eighth century, the King of Tibet invited the then prominent monks1.1 of Tantric and of Ch'an (Zen) to debate publicly. The public debate lasted three years from the year 792 to 794. The Monks of the Tantric sect won the debate. Since then, Tantric Buddhism became the main Buddhist  sect of Tibet. Today, Buddhism in Tibet actually consists of the exoteric teachings (sutras) and tantric practices.


                 Tantra is an Indian word that originally meant lineage or connection, especially the lineage of teachers and disciples.

         It also means "to weave," which denotes action. Today, it still carries the same meaning, but it also means the part of teachings  that points to the methods that have been recorded in sacred (and secret) writings that open the short path to enlightenment.

               Tantric Buddhism is a sect of Buddhism that was well developed by the third century in India, before the development of Hindu Tantra. The difference between Hindu Tantra and Buddhist Tantra lies in the perception of divine powers (shakti). The Hindu Tantra emphasizes divine power, which is their focus of interest, while the Buddhist Tantra emphasizes wisdom (prajna).  The Buddhist deems that the divine power (shakti) corrupts and  creates illusion and only wisdom (prajna) can liberate it. Thus,  the Tantric Buddhists try to use divine power and transform it  into prajna (wisdom) so that it becomes one of the forces of  enlightenment.

                 Tantric Buddhism in China (including Tibet) is also known as Vajrayana Buddhism. (See II (d) The Development of Buddhism).

         The Tantric followers call themselves the sons and younger brothers

         of the Adamantine Vehicle.1.11


              Tantric Buddhism consists of two major schools: the Eastern Tantric Buddhism and Tsang (Tibetan) Tantric Buddhism. The Eastern Tantric is found in Japan,  Korean, and eastern part of China. The Tsang (Tibetan) Tantric is found in Tibet, Mongolia, Manchurian, and other western and south western parts of China.  

              To learn Tantra, one has to learn it from a qualified teacher. Teaching is carried on from mouth to ear. The Tantric writings can only be understood through a teacher. Tantra emphasizes master and disciple (teacher-student) relationships. The teacher is considered more important than the deities. When paying respect to one's teacher and the deities, one should respect the teacher first before respecting the deities. Those who study Tantra  have to study under a teacher. The training methods are always kept secret. They are not revealed in writings for the outsiders.    

               Because of political struggles and wars, and because the different groups emphasized the different aspects of the Buddhist doctrine, eventually Tibetan Tantric was divided into four major         groups; namely the red sect, the yellow sect, the white sect, the variegated sect. (Some deem that there are five major groups-----including the black sect.)


              1. The Red sect, (Red Cap) Nyingma was founded in the eighth century. Nyingma means "the ancient ones." The monks wear red hats 1.12 while preaching. The red sect uses meditation as a training method. It was criticized and exiled  to  the Khrisrong area of eastern Tibet and eventually moved on to  the middle part of Tibet. During the early stage, this sect maintained a village -type of organization. Religious gatherings were conducted in small groups in homes and small temples.

         During the eleventh century, it started to build monasteries. Compared to other sects, the Nyingmapas are initiated into the Tantras early and spend little time on other sacred studies.            Padma Sambhava was credited to be master of this sect. Its priests and followers can get married and have families.

               2. The White sect, bKa-rgyud, which means "Order of oral transmission." The name is derived from the fact that the teaching is passed on orally by master to disciple. It is very similar to the Red sect in that it stresses tantric practice and spends little time on Buddhist philosophy. The masters of the White sect are not all priests. The founders of this sect, such as Marpa, Milarepa and others used to wear white clothes while meditating. The walls of the monasteries were painted white. Maybe because of this, this group is known as the White sect. The lineage of this sect can be traced back to Lama Marpa (eleventh century A.D.) and his Indian teacher Naropa.  The bKa-rgyudpas are generally austere and adhere strictly to the the Buddhist rules of discipline. Many spend much of their lives in lonely caves practicing meditation that is closely identical with that of Ch'an (Zen). Many practiced a type of       psychic energy exercise call gtum-mo (Chuo Huo Ting, or psychic heat), which enables an adept to live in freezing temperatures with only a thin layer of clothing.

              The White sect can be further grouped into four different  sub-groups:

              a. Mrla-ras-pa

              b. phag-mo-grll-pa  (Pagdru)

              c. Karma-pa (Kama)

              d. hBrug-pa  (Dug)

          3. The Yellow sect, (Yellow Cap) Gelug came from a reformed version of the bKagdam sect (Bromslon). The name Yellow sect is the abbreviation of "Yellow Cap sect."  Its lamas  wear bright yellow colored headdresses.

               The bKa-gdam sect was one of the earliest sects of Tibet.   bKa-gdam means "Buddha's commandments" and the sect teaches the original Buddhist doctrines.  The bKa_gdam sect was founded by Domtonpa Gyalwa who was a disciple of the prominence monk Atisa. After Atisa passed away, Domtonpa founded the Rating Monastery in 1056 A.D.  The bKa-gdam sect stresses discipline, steps in meditation,  and the relationships between Tantra and Buddhist philosophy.

         One of its principal Buddhist writings is Atisa's work of  "Bodhipathapradipa"  (The Lamp that Shows the Path to  Enlightenment), which distinguishes the practices according to three levels of spiritual development:

              a. The lowest: seeking happiness in this world , considering only their own interest.

              b. The second: seeking happiness for their own but more intelligently, by leading a virtuous life.

              c. The third: having the salvation of all at heart.

               The Yellow sect was founded by Lopsang Drakpa, who is better known as Tsong-ka-pa, during the fifteenth century. He was a monk from Amdo (Qing Hai province of western China). When he was       sixteen, he went to Tibet to study Buddhism. He studied under  the masters of different sects. When the religion became degenerated, Tsong-ka-pa went to the island of Qing Hai Lake of Qing Hai province to preach. (Qing Hai derived its name from the its large lake Qing Hai, meaning green sea).  He then went back to Tibet to reform the bKa-gdam sect. Eventually the bKa-gdam sect merged with the new teaching and became Gelug sect (Yellow sect).  This is the main stream of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. It held the political and religious power of Tibet until the Chinese Communists  took over the whole of mainland China in 1950.

                The Gelug sect stresses discipline and learning. Often  Lamas of this sect are expected to spend twenty years on sutra  and scholastic study before starting on the Tantras.  Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama are from this sect.

         4. The Variegated sect, Sakya, is very similar to the Yellow sect. The main monastery is Sakya Monastery, situated in the Sakya Region where the sect gets its name. This sect was popular in Tibet during the thirteenth century. The walls of the monasteries are painted with wide vertical stripes of red, white and black, symbolizing the three Bodhisattvas: Jampeyang (Manjusri), Chenresig (Avalokitesvara), and Chanadorje (Vajrapani). Because of these colors, this sect is known as the        Flowery (variegated) sect to the Han race (the majority race of China). The Sakya sect was founded by Khon Konchog Gyalpo of the Khon clan in Sakya. As a boy, he studied the ancient tantric Buddhism with his father, and later he studied new tantric Buddhism from Brogmi (992-1072), a great scholar and translator who had studied in India. It emphasized education and translation of Buddhist writings. The Sakya Region is strategically situated on the trade route linking Nepal Valley and Shigatse. The sect         flourished rapidly and established numerous monasteries. Many of its members became wealthy from trading between Tibet and Nepal. This sect is very similar to the Yellow sect (Gelug).  It was famous for the learning of its teachers who were active in translating the Indian Buddhist scriptures.  Just like the Red sect, the priests and followers of the Sakya sect can get married and have families.

          (c)    THE BLACK SECT

               The Black sect originally was the primitive BÍn religion of Tibet.  Most religious scholars do not classify BÍn religion as one of the Buddhist sects. BÍn later absorbed the teachings of Buddhism and mixed with the rituals of polytheism.  BÍn is divided into three different sects, namely: the Black BÍn, the White BÍn, and the Striped BÍn. The White BÍn has assimilated itself with Buddhism. The Black BÍn still follows the original teachings. The Striped BÍn is a mixture of the Black and White BÍn.

              In Tibet, the followers of Black BÍn usually do not mingle with the followers of other sects and do not marry followers of other sects.  During the period of the 13th Dalai Lama, an injunction was         issued to restrict the activities of the BÍn religion. Now,  it is said that the 14th Dalai Lama expressed that the BÍn religion that had accepted Buddhism can be accommodated.2


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By: Joe Hing Kwok Chu