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Buddhism and Tibet

Jul 25, 1994 08:57 PM
by Eldon B. Tucker

This is by Brenda Tucker.

Dear Jerry:

After reading your comments regarding Wesak coming from "Tibetan
Buddhism," I was really curious about what extent you had researched
any history of Wesak.

I finally ran across some interesting history of Buddhism (although no
mention of Wesak) and thought a quick review might be useful if you
were ever in a position to dive further into the question of Wesak's

I've been sent to bed for a month by the doctor's so that the baby
won't be born in the sixth month before it might be able to breathe
successfully, so have been reading mainly Renaissance European
biographies: Bacon, Carlyle, and Voltaire.  A book I received from my
parents for my birthday is interestingly enough "tooted" as a companion
reader to LITTLE BUDDHA, the film.  Its title is ENTERING THE STREAM.
It is edited by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chodzin Kohn, Boston:
Shambhala, 1993.  Sherab Kohn is also the author of the first two
chapters: "The Life of the Buddha" and "A Short History of Buddhism."
His account of the spread of Buddhism is what I am using when I repeat
the following.

Four assemblies took place.  At the first assembly of five hundred
arhats and held at Rajagriha under the patronage of King Ajatashatru of
Magadhan immediately after the Buddha's parinirvana (and death), three
extensive recitations became the Tripitaka.  Ananda told of the
Buddha's sutras and the place and circumstances regarding his actual
spoken teachings.  Upali recited the rules for living a monastic life.
Mahakash- yapa recited the matrika, or terms and analytical synopses of
the teachings in the sutras.

One hundred years later the Second Council in Vaishali of 700 arhats
met to discuss their differences.  As a result and in the following
century, 18 schools developed.  Especially of interest are:
Sthaviravada (way of the elders) held firmly to the Tripitaka;
Mahasanghikas asserted the fallibility of arhats in hopes of weakening
the authority of the monks and opening the way for the laymen, and
Sarvastivadins ("all exists") taught that the divergent view from past,
present, and future realities all exist.

The third assembly (according to the Sthaviravadin tradition (known in
Pali as the Theravada)) took place under King Ashoka.  He declared the
Sthaviravadin teachings the standard and the other teachings
deviations.  Therefore Sarvastivadins migrated to the west, including
Kashmir and Central Asia.  "Today a Sarvastivadin Vinaya lineage still
survives in all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism." p.47 (Vinaya means

Under King Kanishka reigning over a Kushan empire (Northern India and
large parts of Central Asia) in the first-second centuries, a Fourth
Council added major new commentaries on the Tripitaka mainly under
Sarvastivadin influence.  At this time the way of the bodhisattva or
Mahayana Buddhism appeared.  The ideal of the arhat was replaced with
that of the bodhisattva.  The arhat sought to escape samsara, but
bodhisattvas vowed to remain in samsara to liberate all beings.
Likewise, "buddha" came to mean more than a series of historical
personages, but referred to a self-existing principle of enlightenment.
Those who held exclusively to the old Tripitaka became known as the

Two great masters created further schools in the second-fourth
centuries.  Nagarjuna's PRAJNAPARAMITA sutras (foundational Mahayana
scriptures), his commentaries and treatises became the teachings of
Madhyamaka (Middle Way).  Asanga founded the Yogachara school which
focused on experience.

Buddhism suffered a blow in the sixth century by invading Huns.  Dharma
revived although Hinayana largely vanished from India by the seventh
century and another form became dominant - Tantra.

Tantra also known as Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle) or Mantrayana became
known through scriptures known as Tantras.  Its leap was even further
than Mahayana's leap past the Hinayana school, emphasizing liturgical
meditation and replacing the bodhisattva with the siddha, the tantric

The thirteenth century brought suppression again of the Budhha Dharma
by Islamic conquerors, but Hinayana forms remained in Southeast Asia
and Mahayana and Vajrayana in most of the rest of Asia.


The Buddha Dharma of Tibet depended on Vajrayana tradition and joined
it to the Sarvastivadin monastic rule.  King Detsen (755-797) invited
two great teachers from whose teachings the Nyingma school stems.

An eleventh century spreading after years of persecution resulted in
the Kagyu and Shakya schools.  The Tibetan canon was formed, including
a major part of Indian Buddhist writings and tantric scriptures,
preserving many texts otherwise lost.

Gelukpa school became a reform movement in the fourteenth century and
was the fourth of the principal Tibetan Buddhist schools.  "By the late
twentieth century, as a result of Chinese repression Buddhism in Tibet
was reduced to a vestige, but it remained in Sikkim and Bhutan.
Centers of Tibetan Buddhism also developed in northern India and Nepal
as well as in Europe, Australia, and North America." p.  52

My comments:

Tibetan Buddhism includes the "past, present, and future existent
reality" idea of the Sarvastivadin school as well as four principle
schools inherent to Tibet which survived by migrating to the western
world.  No other locale where Buddhism flourished has been able to make
this boast.  The only further mention in the book of Buddhism in the
West is written in the sense that our intellectuals became drawn to the
study and became influenced by Buddhist thought, spreading it around.

To quote Kohn once again, "Theravada Buddhism has had a significant
impact since the 1930s, Zen since the 1950s, and the tantric Buddhism
of Tibet since the 1970s." p.  54

I just wasn't sure if your research had included this vast of an arena
when speaking of Tibetan Buddhism, whether meaning Sarvastivadin
principles, Tibetan canon, several schools once indigenous to Tibet, or
the migration into the West from Tibet.

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