The Initial Introduction
Probably Buddhism was first introduced to Tibet in 173 CE during the reign of the 28th Yarlung king Lha Thothori Nyantsen, but had apparently no impact.
The first official historic introduction of a Buddhist scripture into Tibet happened during reign of King Hlato Ri Nyentsen (28th king of Tibet - around 500 CE), however, the book was not translated at the time.
The 33rd King of Tibet, Song Tsen Gampo (born 617) had the book translated and married two Buddhist princesses. With this, one can say that Buddhism was first really introduced to Tibet as a practice.
The 37th King of Tibet, Trisong Detsen invited Indian Pandit Shantarakshita and Kamalasila, who suggested to invite Padmasambhava (or Guru-Rinpoche) to Tibet, who arrived in 817.
An ordained spiritual community was established in the first Buddhist monastery; Samye, which was built by Padmasambhava. In this period, translation of scriptures genuinely began. As of this time, one can say that Buddhism was firmly established in Tibet, as the presence of Sangha is considered essential.
In 792, after a great philosophical debate, King Trisong Detsen officially declared Indian Buddhism and not Chinese Buddhism to be the religion of Tibet.
DECLINE AND REVIVAL
Buddhism almost disappeared after 842 when King Lang Dharma violently persecuted Buddhism. After this, for a long time there were no ordinations and no central religious authority in Tibet. Instead, the original Bon religion prevailed.
In 978, with the introduction of several Indian Pandits and Tibetan monks studying in India, Buddhism revived, with the help of king Yeshe O. A real revival occurred after 1042, when Atisha-di-Pankhara (or Lama Atisha) put Tibetans "back on the right track".
He presented the Buddhist philosophy in a very clear and condensed manner, which became the basis for philosophical teachings in most Tibetan traditions. After Atisha, the influence from Indian teachers was limited. Atisha's main disciple was the layman Dromtönpa, who founded the Kadam-tradition. This tradition does not exist in that form anymore, but strongly influenced the later schools of Kargyu, Sakya and especially Gelug.
Note that Tibetan teachers like His Holiness the Dalai Lama insist that Tibetan Buddhism these days still carefully reflects the Buddhism as was present in India around the 11th century. He also rejects the term Lamaism, as it suggests as if the Tibetan teachers have developed their own form of Buddhism.
The Nyingma school is more or less a continuation of the initially introduced Buddhism by the Indian Pandit Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche, image on left). Historic information of Padmasambhava is generally shrouded in myths, (he is said to have lived for 3,600 in India prior to coming to Tibet), but he came to Tibet in 817 at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen.
Initially, the study of logic and philosophy was limited, but much emphasis was put on tantric practice. It must be noted however, that also within the Nyingma school considerable reformation has taken place over the ages.
Some typical aspects for the Nyingma tradition: the practice of Dzogchen (seeking to examine the fundamental nature of mind directly, without relying on visualizations and images) and the presence of hidden scriptures or "terma" from Padmasambhava, which are discovered by later Masters.
Not existing as such anymore, but it was the main reformation school after revival of Buddhism in the 11th century by Atisha di Pankara from India (c. 982-1052, image on left) and Dromtonpa as his Tibetan disciple. Atisha combined two lineages: from Manjushri via Nagarjuna (emphasising emptiness) and from Maitreya via Asangha (emphasising compassion). Atisha's brief text 'A lamp for the path to full awakening' formed the basis of the later Gelug presentation of Lamrim.
This tradition started with the Tibetans Marpa Chökyi and Khyungpo Nyaljor, in the 11th. century, who had Tilopa (988-1069) and his disciple Naropa (1016 - 1100) as Indian masters.
Probably the most famous practitioner and master in the lineage is Milarepa (1040-1123, image on left), who attained Buddhahood in one life time by an incredible display of perseverance. Milarepa was a disciple of Marpa (image on right) who in turn was a pupil of Naropa.
The Kargyu tradition is both a meditation lineage and philosophy training lineage.
Typical aspects of the Kargyu tradition are the practice of Mahamudra (not unlike Dzogchen of the Nyingma) and the Six Yogas of Naropa.
It should be noted that currently several suborders of the Kargyu lineage exist, like the Karma Kargyu (with as leader the Karmapa), the Drikung Kargyu and the Drukpa Kargyu schools.
For a Kargyu lineage see this page of the website : www.kargyu.org
The Sakya tradition has its origins with the translator Drogmi, who transferred the lineage of the Indian master Virupa to Khon Konchog Gyalpo. On this occasion, Khon Konchog Gyalpo built the Sakya monastery (meaning grey earth) and founded the Sakya tradition. In 1247, the Mongolian prince Godan Khan conquered Tibet and gave temporal authority over Tibet to Lama Kunga Gyaltsen (better known as Sakya Pandita, image of left)), who was one of the earliest major figures in this lineage.
In 1254 Mongol emperor Kublai Khan invited Chögyal Phagpa for teachings. Also Kublai Khan made Buddhism state religion in Mongolia and made Chogyal Phagpa the first religious and secular leader over Tibet. Sakya masters ruled Tibet more than 100 yrs, before the Gelug took over secular power with the Dalai Lamas.
A typical aspect of the Sakya tradition is called Lamdrey (leading to state of Hevajra), a concise presentation of the Buddhist philosophy. The Sakyas were much influenced by the Kadam lineage.
In 1354, the rule over Tibet was given to the monk Changchub Gyaltsen, who was not a Sakya. After this, the tradition declined in importance.
The Gelugs (yellow hats) tradition was founded by Tibetan teacher Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). The basis is formed by the old Kadam lineage, but it in fact includes all other Tibetan traditions. For example; Tsongkhapa's main teacher was the Sakya teacher Rendawa.
Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), received the title 'Dalai Lama' (Ocean of Wisdom) from the Mongol ruler Althan Khan in 1578. In 1642, the 5th. Dalai Lama became temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet by order of the Mongol ruler Gushri Khan. Although trained in all four schools, basically all Dalai Lamas were Gelug; one of the reasons that Gelug tradition is most widespread in Tibet. Note that the posthumously declared "First Dalai Lama" named Gedun Truppa (born 1391) was a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa.
Unlike what many people think, the Dalai Lamas are not the spiritual heads of the Gelugpa school; this is always the Gaden Tripa.
Some typical aspects of the Gelug tradition: emphasis on ethics and sound scholarship. Main Buddhist teachings are collected in the Lamrim presentation (not unlike the Lamdrey teachings of the Sakya). The Gelug introduced a scholarly title, Geshe, for a fully qualified and authoritative spiritual master.
WORDS OF TRUTH
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Honoring and Invoking the Great Compassion of the Three Jewels; the Buddha, the Teachings, and the Spiritual Community
O Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and disciples of the past, present, and future:
Having remarkable qualities Immeasurably vast as the ocean,
Who regard all helpless sentient beings as your only child;
Please consider the truth of my anguished pleas.
Buddha's full teachings dispel the pain of worldly existence and self-oriented peace;
May they flourish, spreading prosperity and happiness through- out this spacious world.
O holders of the Dharma: scholars and realized practitioners;
May your ten fold virtuous practice prevail.
Humble sentient beings, tormented by sufferings without cease,
Completely suppressed by seemingly endless and terribly intense, negative deeds,
May all their fears from unbearable war, famine, and disease be pacified,
To freely breathe an ocean of happiness and well-being.
And particularly the pious people of the Land of Snows who, through various means,
Are mercilessly destroyed by barbaric hordes on the side of darkness,
Kindly let the power of your compassion arise,
To quickly stem the flow of blood and tears.
Those unrelentingly cruel ones, objects of compassion,
Maddened by delusion's evils, wantonly destroy themselves and others;
May they achieve the eye of wisdom, knowing what must be done and undone,
And abide in the glory of friendship and love.
May this heartfelt wish of total freedom for all Tibet,
Which has been awaited for a long time, be spontaneously fulfilled;
Please grant soon the good fortune to enjoy
The happy celebration of spiritual with temporal rule.
O protector Chenrezig, compassionately care
For those who have undergone myriad hardships,
Completely sacrificing their most cherished lives, bodies, and wealth,
For the sake of the teachings, practitioners, people, and nation.
Thus, the protector Chenrezig made vast prayers
Before the Buddhas and Bodhisativas
To fully embrace the Land of Snows;
May the good results of these prayers now quickly appear.
By the profound interdependence of emptiness and relative forms,
Together with the force of great compassion in the Three Jewels and their Words of Truth,
And through the power of the infallible law of actions and their fruits,
May this truthful prayer be unhindered and quickly fulfilled.
This prayer, Words of Truth, was composed by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, on 29 September 1960 at his temporary headquarters in the Swarg Ashram at Dharamsala, Kangra District, Himachal State, India. This prayer for restoring peace, the Buddhist teachings, and the culture and self-determination of the Tibetan people in their homeland was written after repeated requests by Tibetan government officials along with the unanimous consensus of the monastic and lay communities.
"Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;
use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are."
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama