AskDefine | Define Lamaism

Dictionary Definition

Lamaism n : a Buddhist doctrine that includes elements from India that are not Buddhist and elements of preexisting shamanism [syn: Tibetan Buddhism]

Extensive Definition

Tibetan Buddhism is the body of religious Buddhist doctrine and institutions characteristic of Tibet and the Himalayan regions, which include northern Nepal, Bhutan, India (Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Sikkim), Mongolia, Russia (Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva) and northeastern China (Manchuria: Heilongjiang, Jilin). It includes the teachings of the three vehicles of Buddhism: the Foundational Vehicle, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.
The occupation of Tibet by People's Republic of China began in 1950 and led to armed conflicts in late 1950's. The failed rebellion resulted in the Tibetan diaspora, which in turn eventually led to the spread of Tibetan Buddhism to many Western countries, where the tradition has gained great popularity.


problem of lack of standardisation in English terminology
importance of lineages and the concept of transmission
Atisha's calendar innovation only some two centuries after the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet enabled the Tibetans to keep unusually detailed accounts of lineages from that time. (Improve ref!)

The Tibetan Buddha Ideal

The ideal goal of spiritual development in Tibetan Buddhism, a Mahayana tradition, is to achieve the enlightenment of Buddhahood in order to most efficiently help all other sentient beings attain this state.
Buddhahood is sometimes partially defined as a state of omniscience. "Omniscience" relates to the Buddhist principle that all things derive from mind.
When, in Buddhahood, one is freed from all mental obscurations, one is said to attain a state of continuous bliss, mixed with a simultaneous cognition of emptiness, the true nature of reality. In this state, all limitations on one's ability to help other living beings are removed.
There are said to be countless beings who have attained Buddhahood. Buddhas spontaneously, naturally and continuously perform activities to benefit all sentient beings. However it is believed that sentient beings' karmas limit the ability of the Buddhas to help them. Thus, although Buddhas possess no limitation from their side on their ability to help others, sentient beings continue to experience suffering as a result of the limitations of their own former negative actions.

Tibetan definitions of “Buddhist”

Introspection as the mark of a Buddhist is embodied in the Tibetan term for Buddhist: literally, "internalist". In this connection a story is told about the Indian Buddhist Aryadeva. In preparation for debate with a non-Buddhist, he made a public display of cleaning the outside of a cess-pot. When asked why he was ignoring the inside, he explained that was what non-Buddhists did by obsession with external things like ritual.
More precisely, Tibetans specify two alternative criteria for being Buddhist: a) formal: having taken refuge and b) in belief: acceptance of the four seals of Dharma.

General Methods of Practice

preliminary practices
The transmission-realisation dichotomy
the analytic vs focussed/ fixation meditationdichotomy
Tibetan approach to Vajrayana; It is said that Vajrayana practice is the fastest method for attaining Buddhahood, however this is only the case for advanced practitioners who have a solid and reliable grounding in the preliminary practices (which may be categorized as renunciation, Bodhicitta and Wisdom, specifically, the wisdom realizing emptiness). For practitioners who are not qualified, Vajrayana practice can be very dangerous, and will only lead to increased ego problems and more suffering if it is not practiced with the pure motivation of Bodhicitta.
Even for the qualified advanced practitioner, a specific Vajrayana practice should only ever be followed on the basis of receiving the appropriate initiation (also known as an empowerment) from a lama who is fully qualified to give that initiation.

Native Tibetan Developments

Some have emphasised minor Tibetan innovations such as the system of incarnate lamas dating from the last two centuries, but such genuine innovations have been few. True to its roots in the Pala system of North India, however, Tibetan Buddhism carried on a tradition of eclectic accumulation and systematisation of diverse Buddhist elements and evolved their synthesis into an artform. Prominent among these achievements are the Stages of the Path (lamrim, lam-rim) and motivational training (lojong, blo-sbyong). (more references)

Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism has four main traditions (the suffix pa is comparable to "er" in English):
  • Kagyu(pa), Oral Lineage. This contains one major subsect and one minor subsect. The first, the Dagpo Kagyu, encompasses those Kagyu schools that trace back to Gampopa. In turn, the Dagpo Kagyu consists of four major sub-sects: the Karma Kagyu, headed by a Karmapa, the Tsalpa Kagyu, the Barom Kagyu, and Pagtru Kagyu. There are further eight minor sub-sects, all of which trace their root to Pagtru Kagyu. Among the eight sub-sects the most notable of are the Drikung Kagyu and the Drukpa Kagyu. The once-obscure Shangpa Kagyu, which was famously represented by the 20th century teacher Kalu Rinpoche, traces its history back to the Indian master Niguma, sister of Kagyu lineage holder Naropa. This is an oral tradition which is very much concerned with the experiential dimension of meditation. Its most famous exponent was Milarepa, an eleventh century mystic.
  • Sakya(pa), Grey Earth, headed by the Sakya Trizin, founded by Khon Konchog Gyalpo, a disciple of the great translator Drokmi Lotsawa. Sakya Pandita 1182–1251CE was the great grandson of Khon Konchog Gyalpo. This school very much represents the scholarly tradition.
  • Gelug(pa), Way of Virtue, also known casually as Yellow Hat, whose spiritual head is the Ganden Tripa and whose temporal, the Dalai Lama. Successive Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet from the mid-17th to mid-20th centuries. This order was founded in the 14th to 15th century by Je Tsongkhapa, based on the foundations of the Kadampa tradition. Tsongkhapa was renowned for both his scholasticism and his virtue. The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa school, and is regarded as the embodiment of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
See Tibetan Buddhist canon for texts recognized as scripture and commentary.

Red Hat and Yellow Hat Sects, Ka'ma and Sarma traditions

The schools are sometimes divided into the "Old Translation", or Nyingma, and "New Translation" (Sarma) traditions, with the Kagyu, Sakya and Kadam/Gelug among the latter. They are also sometimes classified as "Red Hat" and "Yellow Hat" schools, with the Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya among the former and the Gelug comprising the latter. The terms "Old Translation" and "New Translation" particularly relate to translations and lineages of various Tantric texts.

Minor Schools

Besides the above main schools, there are a number of minor ones like Jonang. The Jonangpa were suppressed by the rival Gelugpa in the 1600s and were once thought extinct, but are now known to survive in Eastern Tibet.
There is also an ecumenical movement known as Rimé.

Study of tenet systems in Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhists practise one or more understandings of the true nature of reality, the emptiness of all things. Emptiness is propounded according to four classical Indian schools of philosophical tenets.
Two belong to the older Hinayana path (Skt. for Lesser Vehicle, Tib. theg dman). (Hinayana is sometimes referred to as Śravakayāna (Skt. Vehicle of Hearers) because "lesser" may be considered derogatory):
  • Vaibhasika (Tib. bye-brag smra-ba)
  • Sautrantika (Tib. mdo-sde-pa)
The primary source for the former is the Abhidharmakosha by Vasubandhu and commentaries. The Abhidharmakosha is also an important source for the Sautrantikas. Dignaga and Dharmakirti are the most prominent exponents.
The other two are Mahayana (Skt. Greater Vehicle) (Tib. theg-chen): Yogacarin base their views on texts from Maitreya, Asanga and Vasubandhu, Madhyamikas on Nagarjuna and Aryadeva. There is a further classification of Madhyamaka into Svatantrika-Madhyamaka and Prasangika-Madhyamaka. The former stems from Bhavaviveka, Santaraksita and Kamalashila, and the latter from Buddhapalita and Chandrakirti.
The tenet system is used in the monasteries and colleges to teach Buddhist philosophy in a systematic and progressive fashion, each philosophical view being more subtle than its predecessor. Therefore the four schools can be seen as a gradual path from a rather easy-to-grasp, "realistic" philosophical point of view, to more and more complex and subtle views on the ultimate nature of reality, that is on emptiness and dependent arising, culminating in the philosophy of the Madhyamikas, which is widely believed to present the most sophisticated point of view.


Verhaegen (2002: p.28) frames the political and economical dynamic within the evolving context of Tibetan Buddhism:
Being politically involved from its very beginning in Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism's various schools and sub-sects, in order to further their own interests, had become allied with the hereditary nobility. The aristocratic families, seeking power, influence, and support, increasingly became the secular arms of the monasteries and sects they supported. In time, as the monasteries became increasingly economic and political entities, their power often eclipsed that of their patrons.
Although there were many householder-yogis in Tibet, monasticism was the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet. There were thousands of monasteries in Tibet, and nearly all were ransacked and destroyed by the Chinese communists, mainly during the cultural revolution. Most of the major ones have been at least partially re-established.
In Mongolia during the 1920s, approximately one third of the male population were monks, though many lived outside monasteries. These monasteries were largely dismantled during Communist rule, but many have been reestablished during the Buddhist revival in Mongolia which followed the fall of Communism.
Monasteries generally adhere to one particular school. Some of the major centers in each tradition are as follows:


The Nyingma lineage is said to have "six mother monasteries," although the composition of the six has changed over time: Also of note is


Many Kagyu monasteries are in Kham, eastern Tibet. Tsurphu, one of the most important, is in central Tibet, as is Ralung.



The three most important centers of the Gelugpa lineage are Ganden, Sera and Drepung Monasteries.

History of Tibetan Buddhism

According to a Tibetan legendary tradition, Buddhist scriptures (among them the Karandavyuha Sutra) and relics (among them the Cintamani) arrived in southern Tibet during the reign of Lha Thothori Nyantsen, the 28th "king of Tibet" (fifth century), who was probably just a local chief in the Yarlung valley. The tale is miraculous (the objects fell from the sky on the roof of the king's palace), but it may have an historical background (arrival of Buddhist missionaries).
The earliest well-documented influence of Buddhism in Tibet dates from the reign of king Songtsän Gampo, who died in 650. He married a Chinese Buddhist princess, Wencheng. According to a Tibetan legendary tradition, he also married a Nepalese Buddhist princess, Bhrikuti; but Bhrikuti, who bears the name of a goddess, is not mentioned in reliable sources. Songtsän Gampo founded the first Buddhist temples. By the second half of the 8th century he was already regarded as an embodiment of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
The successors of Songtsän Gampo seem to have been less enthusiastic about the propagation of Buddhism. But in the 8th century, emperor Trisong Detsen (755-797) established Buddhism as the official religion of the state. He invited Indian Buddhist scholars to his court. In his age the famous tantric mystic Padmasambhava arrived in Tibet according to the Tibetan tradition. In addition to writing a number of important scriptures (some of which he hid for future tertons to find), 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 that ruled China.

Transmission of Ch'an to the Nyingmapa

Chinese Ch'an Buddhism was introduced to the Nyingmapa in three principal streams: the teachings of Master Kim, Kim Ho-shang, (Chin ho shang) 金和尚 transmitted by Sang Shi in c750 CE; the lineage of Master Wu Chu, 無住 of the Pao T'ang School was transmitted within Tibet by Ye shes dbang po; and the teaching from Mo Ho Yen, 和尚摩訶衍 (Tibetan: Hwa shang Mahayana) that were a synthesis of the Northern School of Ch'an and the Pao T'ang School.
Tibetan King Khri srong lde btsan (742–797) invited the Ch’an master Mo-ho-yen (whose name consists of the same Chinese characters used to transliterate “Mahayana”) to transmit the Dharma at Samye Monastery. Mo-ho-yen had been disseminating Dharma in the Tun-huang locale, but, according to Tibetan sources, lost an important philosophical debate on the nature of emptiness from the Indian master Kamalashila, and the king declared Kamalashila's philosophy should form the basis for Tibetan Buddhism. However, a Chinese source says their side won, and some scholars conclude that the entire episode is fictitious.

Tibetan Buddhism in the contemporary world

Today, Tibetan Buddhism is adhered to widely in the Tibetan Plateau, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Kalmykia (on the north-west shore of the Caspian), Siberia (central Russia, specifically Buryatia and Chita Oblast), and the Russian Far East (concentrated in Tyva). The Indian regions of Sikkim and Ladakh, both formerly independent kingdoms, are also home to significant Tibetan Buddhist populations. In the wake of the Tibetan diaspora, Tibetan Buddhism has gained adherents in the West and throughout the world; there are estimated to be tens of thousands of practitioners in Europe and the Americas. Celebrity Tibetan Buddhism practitioners include Richard Gere, Adam Yauch, Jet Li, Allen Ginsberg; Philip Glass, and Steven Seagal (who has been proclaimed a tulku). One of the most prominent teachers in the contemporary world is Gelek Rimpoche, founder and director of the Jewel Heart Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Center. Jewel Heart is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan but has dharma centers worldwide. Gelek Rimpoche was Allen Ginsberg's teacher as well as being one of Philip Glass's teachers. Jewel Heart



  • Coleman, Graham, ed. (1993). A Handbook of Tibetan Culture. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.. ISBN 1-57062-002-4.
  • A Short History of Buddhism
  • Tibetan Tradition of Mental Development [A pithy lam-rim by a geshe appointed in 1973 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as head of the translation team at the Tibetan Library.]
  • An Anthology of Well-Spoken Advice on the Graded Paths of the Mind, Vol. I [The first part of a more extensive lam-rim by a geshe appointed in 1973 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as head of the translation team at the Tibetan Library. The language of this publication is very different from that of the 1978 work by the same lama due to widespread changes in choice of English terminology by the translators.]
  • Meditation on Emptiness [Definitive treatment of emptiness according to the Prasangika-Madhyamika school.]
  • Mind in Tibetan Buddhism: Oral Commentary on Ge-shay Jam-bel-sam-pel’s “Presentation of Awareness and Knowledge Composite of All the Important Points Opener of the Eye of New Intelligence
  • The Heart of Buddhist Meditation
  • Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment [This famous lam-rim text was written from notes on an extended discourse by the Gelugpa geshe, Pabongka Rinpoche in 1921 and translated through extensive consultation with Achok Rinpoche (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives).]
  • The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet
  • Smith, E. Gene (2001). Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
  • Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism [Part Two of this book, ‘’Theory: Systems of Tenets’’ is an annotated translation of ‘’Precious Garland of Tenets (Grub-mtha’ rin-chhen phreng-ba)’’ by Kön-chok-jik-may-wang-po (1728-1791).]
  • The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volume I
  • The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volume II
  • The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volume III
  • Wallace, B. Alan (1999), "The Buddhist Tradition of Samatha: Methods for Refining and Examining Consciousness", Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (2-3): 175-187 .

Further reading

* Wallace, B. Alan (October 25, 1993). Tibetan Buddhism From the Ground Up: A Practical Approach for Modern Life. Wisdom Publications. ISBN-10: 0861710754, ISBN-13: 978-0861710751
  • Yeshe, Lama Thubten (2001). "The Essence of Tibetan Buddhism". Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. ISBN 1-891868-08-X
  • Coleman, Graham, ed. (1993). A Handbook of Tibetan Culture. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.. ISBN 1-57062-002-4.
  • Mind in Tibetan Buddhism: Oral Commentary on Ge-shay Jam-bel-sam-pel’s “Presentation of Awareness and Knowledge Composite of All the Important Points Opener of the Eye of New Intelligence
  • The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet
  • Smith, E. Gene (2001). Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
Lamaism in Tosk Albanian: Tibetischer Buddhismus
Lamaism in Tibetan: ནང་པ་སངས་​རྒྱས་​པ།
Lamaism in Czech: Tibetský buddhismus
Lamaism in Danish: Tibetansk buddhisme
Lamaism in German: Buddhismus in Tibet
Lamaism in Estonian: Tiibeti budism
Lamaism in Spanish: Budismo tibetano
Lamaism in Esperanto: Tibeta budhismo
Lamaism in French: Bouddhisme tibétain
Lamaism in Korean: 티베트 불교
Lamaism in Italian: Buddhismo tibetano
Lamaism in Hebrew: בודהיזם טיבטי
Lamaism in Swahili (macrolanguage): Ubuddha wa kitibeti
Lamaism in Mongolian: Төвдийн Буддизм
Lamaism in Dutch: Tibetaans boeddhisme
Lamaism in Japanese: チベット仏教
Lamaism in Norwegian: Tibetansk buddhisme
Lamaism in Uzbek: Tibet Buddizmi
Lamaism in Polish: Buddyzm tybetański
Lamaism in Portuguese: Budismo tibetano
Lamaism in Romanian: Budism tibetan
Lamaism in Russian: Тибетский буддизм
Lamaism in Slovak: Tibetský budhizmus
Lamaism in Serbian: Тибетански будизам
Lamaism in Finnish: Lamalaisuus
Lamaism in Swedish: Tibetansk buddhism
Lamaism in Thai: พุทธศาสนาในทิเบต
Lamaism in Vietnamese: Phật giáo Tây Tạng
Lamaism in Turkish: Tibet Budizmi
Lamaism in Ukrainian: Ламаїзм
Lamaism in Chinese: 藏傳佛教
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1