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Buddhism was introduced in Tibet in the 7th century AD under the reign of King Songtsen Gampo (around 617-650 AD). He married Nepalese and Chinese princesses who were both Buddhists. Buddhist influence in Tibetan religion and culture started when they brought with them Buddhist scriptures and statues. During Landama's reign, Buddhism was banned and eradication of the scriptures and statues began until it was restored again in the 10th century AD. Tibetan Buddhism, also called Lamaism, was established in the 10th century AD and gradually became dominant in Tibet. It proliferated into neighboring provinces and countries later and it gradually split into different sects and gained political influence.

Tibetan Buddhism is based on Madhyamika and Yogacara which belongs to the Mahayana school. It utilizes symbolic ritual practices of Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana) and incorporates features of the indigenous Tibetan Bon Religion. Tibetan Buddhism is more mystical than other forms of Buddhism due to Tantric and Bon influences, relying strongly on mudras (ritual postures), mantras (sacred speech), yantras (sacred art) and other initiation rites which are performed in secrecy.

Tibetan Buddhism has many sects and sub-sects. The following sects are the most influential ones:

The Nyingmapa sect, also known as the Ancient Ones, began around 750 AD with Padmambhava. Its name means "old" because it was the oldest sect in Tibet. The Nyingmapa sect was also called the Red sect because Nyingmapa lamas wore red robes and hats. It has a loose organization and focuses on mantras. The lamas can be married and they usually live in small groups. The sect has kept intact some practices that can also be seen in the indigenous Bon religion. Nyingmapa lamas believe that one's mind is pure and that one can be a Buddha through the Buddhist cultivation, that is, prevention of external disturbances or conflicts. Compared to other Buddhist sects, this sect has the most deities. Famous Nyingmapa monasteries include Mindroling Monastery and Dorje Drak Monastery. The former is well known for its Tibetan calligraphy.

Kahdampa is another sect in Tibetan Buddhism. Kahdampa means that Buddha's deeds and teachings should be doctrines of cultivation. It is Atisha's lineage. Its tradition stresses on the scriptures and discipline; although, a few outstanding ones can be imparted with Tantra. The sect believes in samsara and retribution. Its Yoga and Tantra are free from traditional and religious influence. Kahdampa's main monastery is the Ratreng Monastery. It was once the seat of Tibetan government when the Dalai Lamas were young. This sect was later converted to Gelugpa.

The Kagyupa sect began with two great teachers, Marpa and Milarepa. The name of this sect means "to teach orally". It focuses on Tantric cultivation. This sect is also known as the white sect because Marpa and Milarepa wore white robes. Unlike the Kahdampa sect, this sect's tradition focuses on the combination of quasi-qigong and Buddhism satori practices. It also advocates asceticism and obedience for individual development. Its doctrines are unique. One important contribution of the Kagyupa sect was the establishment of the tulku (incarnation lama) system wherein an existing lama can provide clues of his future lama embodiment. Kagyupa's principal shrine is the Tsurphu Monastery, which is the seat of Karmapa lama.

The Sakyapa sect was named after the Sakya Monastery and was established in 1073 AD. The sect governed the whole of Tibet for some time. Because the wall of the monastery was painted in red, white and black strips, it was colloquially called the colorful sect. Sakyapa's doctrines persuaded people to do good deeds to gain good incarnation in the next samsara. It also teaches the abandonment of an individual's temporal desires to be relieved from pain.

Gelugpa, the order of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, is also known as the yellow sect because they wear yellow hats. The sect began with Tsong Khapa, a great Buddhist reformer, in 1407 AD. It absorbed Kahdampa and carried on Atisha's tradition. It stresses on strict discipline and study of the scriptures. The successful reform made by this sect in the 17th century AD left the other sects to play a minor role in Tibetan society. Thus, it was the dominant sect during that time. It has six main monasteries namely: Ganden, Ta'er, Drepung, Labrang, Sera, and Tashilhunpo Monasteries.

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Gnomic Poem

Previous Period of Tibetan Buddhism

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