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Transmission of Buddhism into Tibet

The Anterior Propagating Period of Buddhism in Tibet

The Tibet King Trisong Detsen was a believer of Buddhism in the 8th century. In order to spread Buddhism, he invited Santarakshita and Padmasambhava, two Buddhism masters in India, to promote Buddhism in Tibet (referred to as the Tufan in ancient times). After their arrival, they began to establish the base of Buddhism, and the first monastery, Samye Monastery, was thus constructed for tonsured monks. After the establishment of the Samye Monastery, Trisong Detsen specially dispatched people to India to invite 12 monks to hold the ceremonies of tonsure and commandment for seven young aristocratic Tibetans. This was an extremely important event in the history of the Tibetan Buddhism.

After King Tritsug Detsen Ralpachen ascended the throne in Tibet at the beginning of the 9th century, he ordered his people to translate a lot of Buddhist canons with the amount exceeding that had been finished by the Han Nationality. He also stipulated that every seven families should sustain one monk's life and monks were allowed to take part in events and issues of the court. Buddhism was therefore thriving thanks to the support of the Tibetan king.

However, the measures of King Tritsug Detsen Ralpachen gained no popularity and favor among the aristocrats and the common people. Before long, the aristocrats plotted to murder King Tritsug Detsen Ralpachen, and a large-scale campaign was carried out against the Buddhism. The Samye Monastery and other famous monasteries were closed, and monks were forced to believe in Bon Religion, a local religion in Tibet. This Buddhism-banning campaign heavily attacked Buddhism, so the period of about 100 years after the Lang Darma was called Buddhism Destructing Period, and the period from the reign of King Srongtsen Gampo, when Buddhism was introduced into Tibet, to the Lang Darma reign was called the Anterior Propagating Period of Buddhism in the history of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Posterior Propagating Period of Buddhism in Tibet

From the beginning of the 10th century, Buddhism was revived in Tibet because of continuous efforts of the remaining monks' and the popularization of Buddhism by the Guge Dynasty. Guge Kingdom was located in Ngari region in the western part of Tibet in the 10th century. The King Kho-re (Ye shes vod), the second king of the Guge Dynasty, handed his throne to his brother and became a monk (Dharma Name: Yeshes'od).

Yeshes'od revived Buddhism with the support of the royalty. He dispatched many monks to India to get Buddhist canons and study Buddhism, organized people to establish and repair monasteries and translate Buddhist canons. When he heard that there was a great master named Atisha in India, he decided to invite him to propagandize Buddhism in Tibet. In order to raise the fund needed to invite Atisha, he disregarded his seniority and led troops to attack the neighboring nationality that believed in Islam. But he failed and was captured by his enemy. The victorious ruler said that it would take gold equivalent to his body weight to trade back his freedom. Therefore, Yeshes'od's grandnephew Byang Chub 'od tried his best to collect the gold needed. However, when his grandnephew brought enough gold to trade him back, Yeshes'od declined the offer. Instead, he asked Byang Chub 'od to take the gold to India to invite the great master Atisha to propagate Buddhism in Tibet, and before long he himself died of illness in jail.

The Buddhist master Atisha was moved by the piety of Yeshes'od and accepted the invitation regardless of his own seniority. He arrived at Guge in 1042.

Atisha's propagation of Buddhism in Tibet was very successful. At that time, people did not have clear understanding of Buddhism that was newly revived and the Open School and Secret School continuously disputed and insisted on their own opinions on the issues of cultivation and practice. In view of the situation, Atisha wrote a sutra to clear away the confusion among people. This sutra has become one of the famous books in the Posterior Propagating Period of the Tibetan Buddhism. Because of the continuous efforts of Atisha and the Tibetan monks who still lived in the Snowy Region, the Tibetan Buddhism finally realized the systematization of dogmata and the standardization of practice.

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