Religion is a complex cultural aspect that usually constitutes of various beliefs, values, practices and virtues that play a fundamental role of guiding the behavior of the adherents. These are used alongside teachings and doctrines that provide rich information about the particular faith and enable the adherents to be well informed about the same. Different religions also employ varied and particularistic myths and symbols that enhance their faith in the particular religion. Also, they have specific languages that are unique to their way of worship.
This often reflects their value system as well as beliefs and practices. This diversity is inherent in the major religions of the world and it can not be disputed that they make worship worthwhile. Just like other religions of the world, Tibetan Buddhism has a unique value system that is defined by its religious doctrine and institutions. It uses Tibetan language in spiritual worship and employs the Tibetan Buddhist Canon that contains various texts that are recognized as commentaries and scriptures. This paper provides an in depth analysis of the various facets of Tibetan Buddhism religion.
Tibetan Buddhism is also referred to a Lamaism and is posited to have developed at the dawn of the 7th Century BC. It is characteristic to the Tibet that is found in the Himalayan region and constitutes the Bhutan, Nepal and India. Mitchell ascertains that it is widely employed in Bhutan and in fact considered a state religion in the same (79). Other regions in which this religion is widespread are Tuva, Buryatia and Kalmykia in Ruissia, North Eastern China and Mongolia. The 1959 Tibetan uprising is implicated to have played a critical role in popularizing the religion and increasing its accessibility to a significant percentage of the world population. Religious statistics ascertain that currently, it has close to twenty million adherents across the region.
In his review, Situ indicates that the religion was introduced in Tibet by the Indians in 173AD. This began with the southern region but was later disseminated in the north in the third century. At this time, it is posited that the religion did not have a great impact to the population and had not been yet transformed in its modern Tantric form. The unification of Tibet and subsequent declaration of Buddhism as a state religion in 641 AD had a significant impact on the spread of this religion in the region. Nevertheless, religious documents affirm that the Asians played a significant role in the spread of the same.
Adherents employ certain religious texts in their worship that have been translated from the original Sanskrit through time. The first and most common text is the Tibetan Buddhist Canon. According to Ray, this is compressed in more than three hundred volumes and has several thousands of personal texts. In particular, the texts include the sarvastivada, mahayan and the tantrics. It was categorized in two main classes after it was fully compiled in the fourteenth century. The first section is also referred to as the Kanjyur or the translated word and it entails 600 canonical texts contained in 98 volumes. The original text of this was printed in china in 1400. The current Tibetan edition was printed in 1731 in sNar-tang. Tenjyur, also referred to as the transmitted word contains treatises and semi-canonical commentaries by Buddhist masters. It has 224 volumes and a total of 3626 texts and is divided in to three main segments.
These entail the sutras, made up of 64 texts and one volume, commentaries on sutras that contains 137 volumes and has 567 texts and finally the commentaries about Tantras that has 86 volumes and a total of 3055 texts. Situ cites that Bardo Thodol is considered the most common text and it is used to explain the experience that the soul undergoes during the period between death and rebirth that is also referred to as the bardo. This is usually recited over a person that is dying or one who is recently deceased and is believed to be a symbol of Shamanism influence.
Tibetan Buddhism also has distinctive beliefs that are represented in the bodhisattvas, Dharma protectors and pantheon of Buddhas. It is believed that Arya-bodhisattvas have the capacity to escape the death and rebirth cycle. These have the option of choosing to remain in the world and offer their help to other adherents. This according to them is critical in enabling the adherents to reach buddhahood or nirvana. Powers indicates that Dharma protectors comprise of mythic figures that are sourced form various religious backgrounds such as Hinduism and Bon religion and then incorporated in the Tibetan Buddhism. These figures are pledged to providing protection as well as upholding the Dharma.
Another distinct feature of the Tibetan Buddhism entails the five Dyani Buddhas that define the Tibetan art. They are usually found in Tibetan thangkas and mandalas. Their meaning is symbolic as adherents believe that every Buddha has the capacity to overcome a specific evil with a particular good. The wrath of the deities is another important feature of this religion. In this respect, it is believed that the deities are symbolic of the benevolent gods that work relentlessly towards eliminating violence and evil that is typical of the current world. They are thought to have hideous and hair rising features which are believed to be instrumental in triggering terror in and fear in evil spirits that threaten the wellbeing of the faithful.
They also believe that Tara, a Buddhist savior goddess is a representation of enlightened action and virtuous behavior. She is also called sgrol-ma and is revered because of her strong love for living things. In particular, it is believed that her love for humanity and the entire life supersedes that of her children. She is also responsible for providing longevity and offering protection to the cosmological journey of humanity. Thus she is important in guarding and guiding humanity throughout their enlightenment journey.
Tibetan Buddhism has distinctive practices that define their way of worship. The non initiates or non believers can gain merit through performing a host of activities and rituals. These include flower and food offerings, water offerings that are performed using bowels, chanting prayers and religious pilgrimages. In addition, they can light butter lamps in the temples found in the locality or alternatively pay the monks who can light the lamps on their behalf.
The most common religious festival that is believed to be a source of blessing to the villagers is the tsechu. The religious dances that are performed by the monks play a critical role in reminding the villagers of vital religious principles that pertain to the responsibility of protecting nature and avoiding any activity that has the potential to cause harm to the same. Further, certain festivals employ Thongdrol that is represented by a large painting. It is believed that this drawing has intrinsic deliverance powers. Basically, individuals are encouraged to look at the painting during such festivals in order to free themselves from their sins.
The Tantric practitioners are cited to make use of various objects as well as rituals. Of great importance to their faith is meditation that is accompanied by use of chanted mantras and special hand gestures. In his review, Ray lists dzogchen, mahamudra and the six yogas that define the Naropa to be vital traditions that use specific esoteric meditation techniques. The qualified practioners also study and or construct vital cosmic diagrams that are called mandalas and which ate important in developing, nurturing and nourishing internal spirituality. Numerous ritual objects are also employed in worship and have various functions as well as meanings.
The Cham is a type of a dance and ritual that usually features masked dances, healing chants, sacred music and multicolored ornaments. In addition, Mudras are employed by the monks and are considered important in revitalizing spiritual energies that then generate love, compassion, healing powers and wisdom to the faithful that are enlightened. The Cham ritual also includes a demonstration of debates by the monasties and narration. Generally, Powers contends that it is a rich ritual that reflects a fascinating glimpse in both the conventional and modern Tibetan culture. Despite being very imperative in this respect, studies cite that since Tibet is occupied by China, the practice is widely forbidden.
Tibetan Buddhism has four principle schools that guide the mode of worship that is employed by the adherents. The first one that is the oldest and the second largest is the Nyingmapa which implies the school comprised of the ancients. It bases its teachings primarily on padmascambhva system of Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana. It emerged in the 14th century and is posited to have been developed and synthesized by Longchenpa. Its main feature is the Dzogchen that implies great perfection and comprises of extra-yoga. Furthermore, it explores a wide array of shamanistic practices as well as local divinities that are also assumed by the indigenous communities of the pre-Buddhist on religion. Its respective monks are not required by their norms to practice celibacy.
The oral transmission schools is them considered the third largest and its teachings were introduced in the 11th century by Marpa. This was a Tibetan holder that is believed to have traveled to India and pursued relative studies under the guidance of Master Yogin Naropa. Apart from gathering the Buddhist teachings, Marpa also translated the same and then introduced them to Tibet during this period. The most important student of Marpa was Miralepa who was exposed to trials and intensive education. The teachings were then passed on to him and together with Gampopa who was a physician, they managed to synthesize and translate them in to what they are today.
This school lays particular emphasis on the need to transmit vital teachings from the teachers to the followers. Mitchell contends that it also puts emphasis on the severe practices that are perpetuated by hatha yoga. The theme of the teachings is the great seal. This implies the ability to realize and appreciate one’s emptiness and freedom from samsara as well as the intricate connection between these two that makes them virtually inseparable. The fundamental practice that is prescribed by this is tendency to dwell in peace and is also called the Tibetan Zen. Furthermore, the Kagyupa schools and relative meditation practices are also central to this school of thought.
Sakyapa is the smallest school of thought in this respect and is found in the southern region. It was founded by abbots that hail from the Khon family in 1703. It is posited to have had a great political influence during the14th and 13th centuries. Essentially, the abbots sought to transmit the Vajrayana teachings and systemize tantric teachings as well as Buddhist logic. Finally, the Gelugpa is the youngest, largest of all the schools and is considered the most important. It enhances practice that concentrates on meditation and the need to arouse the bodhisattva that is found within.
From the review, it is certain that religion is a complex aspect that comprises of various beliefs, practices and values. In addition, it uses vital religious books and texts that enhance the worship. Within the Tibetan Buddhism religion, there are various intrinsic schools if thought that prescribe different practices. However, all these practices are fundamental in worship as they define the respective faith. Without this, it is certain that the faith could have been meaningless. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that despite having different factions, they have been reconciled and hence there are no notable conflicts. In this consideration therefore, it can be contended that religion is a very broad and diversified aspect of culture.
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