Buddhist Studies:

The Buddhist World

Tibetan Buddhism


Tibetans first came into contact with Buddhism when they occupied the oasis cities of central Asia. Some time later, in the 8th century AD, the first of many missionary monks arrived and the country’s first monastery was established in 787AD. However, despite some early success Buddhism soon went into decline due to opposition from Bon, the indigenous religion, and political turmoil. In the 10th century monks from India and Tibetans going to India re-introduced the religion together with many aspects of Indian civilisation and it soon began to flourish. As Tantra was the main type of Buddhism in India at the time, it was that which became established in Tibet.

A thangka painting of a Lama.

There are Four Principle Schools in Tibetan Buddhism. In the 17th century the head of the country’s most powerful sect, the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-82), made himself king and his successors ruled the country until 1951. Although living in a sparsely populated and geographically isolated region, the Tibetans gradually evolved one of the richest and most sophisticated forms of Buddhism. However, the powerful and conservative clergy refused to allow any form of modernisation or contact with the outside world, which made Tibet an easy target for communist China which invaded the country in 1951. Between 1959 and 1977 almost all traces of Buddhism were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were driven into exile. However, refugee monks have been highly successful in re-establishing themselves in India and since the 1960s have been equally successful in founding temples and centres in the West.

Chang Mai temple

The history of Thailand begins with the rise of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the thirteenth century, a State whose people were one in blood and language with the present Thais. Under devout kings of Ayudhya, Buddhism flourished, and by 1750 must have accumulated great quantities of sacred writings and valuable chronicles connected with the Monastic Order. Practically all such writings were destroyed in the devastation that attended the Burmese invasion of 1766-1767. Ayudhaya, the capital, fell after a siege of fourteen months during which fires and epidemics ravaged the city. However, by the 13th and 14th centuries monks from Sri Lanka succeeded in establishing Theravada Buddhism and it has remained the state religion ever since.

Wat Haripunchai (pictured above ) is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the Chiang Mai valley. This was the capital of a Mon kingdom about 1,000 years ago

Dalai Lama

Tibet in Exile

The Dalai Lama and about a 100 thousand men and women went into exile in India, in 1959. Completely destitute at the beginning of their exile, they have succeeded in gradually rebuilding their monasteries, preserving their culture and restructuring their society and keeping it alive, in spite of the extremely difficult circumstances. They have set up a government and rebuilt monasteries where masters pass on their teachings to young monks. They built schools where they provide a suitable education for more than 10,000 children supported by sponsors from all over the world. These schools are rated the best in the Himalayas. In spite of the extremely precarious circumstances in exile, Tibetans have recreated their monastic institutions.

Tibetans believe that the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara (Ocean of Wisdom). The Potala Palace, the residence of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama is thirteen storeys high, this vast structure on the Red Hill, dominating the Tibetan capital, is now a museum, though still regarded by many Tibetans as a sacred place. The present palace was raised on the site of a much older residence in the mid-seventeen century, in the time of the great Fifth Dalai Lama, who consolidated the Tibetan theocracy and the dominance of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect.

For his part, the Dalai Lama travels around the world spreading a message of Peace and Universal Responsibility. The Dalai Lama believes that the common aim of all religions, an aim that everyone must try to find, is to foster tolerance, altruism and love. According to him, if the authentic Buddhism of Tibetan Lamas disappears from the surface of the Earth, this loss will result in an imbalance that concerns us all, and we must all accept responsibility for it.


by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum, but while you are doing it, you should be thinking on its Turning the prayer wheelsmeaning, for the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast. The first, Om is composed of three letters, A, U, and M. These symbolize the practitioner’s impure body, speech, and mind; they also symbolize the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.

Can impure body, speech, and mind be transformed into pure body, speech, and mind, or are they entirely separate? All Buddhas are cases of beings who were like ourselves and then in dependence on the path became enlightened; Buddhism does not assert that there is anyone who from the beginning is free from faults and possesses all good qualities. The development of pure body, speech, and mind comes from gradually leaving the impure states and their being transformed into the pure.

How is this done? The path is indicated by the next four syllables. Mani, meaning jewel, symbolizes the factors of method-the altruistic intention to become enlightened, compassion, and love. Just as a jewel is capable of removing poverty, so the altruistic mind of enlightenment is capable of removing the poverty, or difficulties, of cyclic existence and of solitary peace. Similarly, just as a jewel fulfills the wishes of sentient beings, so the altruistic intention to become enlightened fulfills the wishes of sentient beings.

The two syllables, padme, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom. Just as a lotus grows forth from mud but is not sullied by the faults of mud, so wisdom is capable of putting you in a situation of non-contradiction whereas there would be contradiction if you did not have wisdom. There is wisdom realizing impermanence, wisdom realizing that persons are empty, of being self-sufficient or substantially existent, wisdom that realizes the emptiness of duality-that is to say, of difference of entity between subject an object-and wisdom that realizes the emptiness of inherent existence. Though there are many different types of wisdom, the main of all these is the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Purity must be achieved by an indivisible unity of method and wisdom, symbolized by the final syllable hum, which indicates indivisibility. According to the sutra system, this indivisibility of method and wisdom refers to wisdom affected by method and method affected by wisdom. In the mantra, or tantric, vehicle, it refers to one consciousness in which there is the full form of both wisdom and method as one undifferentiable entity. In terms of the seed syllables of the five Conqueror Buddhas, hum is the seed syllable of Akshobhya – the immovable, the unfluctuating, that which cannot be disturbed by anything.

Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. It is said that you should not seek for Buddhahood outside of yourself; the substances for the achievement of Buddhahood are within. As Maitreya says in his Sublime Continuum of the Great Vehicle (Uttaratantra), all beings naturally have the Buddha nature in their own continuum. We have within us the seed of purity, the essence of a ‘One Gone Thus’ (Tathagatagarbha), that is to be transformed and fully developed into Buddhahood.

Tibetan Buddhist Links