Tibet: Indian legacy in the land of snows

Laden Tshering Samdup

Laden Tshering Samdup

By Laden Tshering Samdup

KATHMANDU, Nepal, 10 July 2016

At the age of 23, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced by the Chinese to abdicate his powers in Tibet. He sought sanctuary in India, arriving at the Indian border town of Tawang on 31 March 1959. Jawaharlal Nehru, setting aside all Chinese belligerences, acted as a gracious host, thereby adding another chapter to the centuries-old Indo-Tibetan spiritual relationship. This relation has its roots in the famous Samye Debate or Council of Lhasa Debate which lasted for two years 792-794ce, and was instituted to enable the then King of Tibet Trisong Deutsen to decide which, Indian or Chinese Buddhism, was to be adopted in Tibet. Kamalashila, a renowned scholar of Nalanda Mahavihara, arguing in favour of the Madhyamika school of Nagarjuna, is said to have prevailed over the Chinese scholar Mahayana Hashang who argued in favour of the Meditative Chan school of Mahayana.

Samye, the venue of this debate, has another significance to this relation, because it was here that the first Buddhist monastery was built in Tibet. Its architects were Guru Padmasambhava, a tantric Mahasiddha from Orissa, and Santaraksita, a Bengali Buddhist philosopher as well as the abbot of Nalanda university and an adept in Sutra. The two went on to complete the gigantic task of translating into Tibetan language (admixture of Brahmi and Gupta script) thousands of dharma books written in Sanskrit which were brought from India.

Guru Padmasambhava continued to play a pivotal role in Tibetan Buddhism and would go on to become a legend in Tibet. The Tibetans address him reverentially as Guru Rinpoche or ‘the precious Master’. He established the first sect of Tibetan Buddhism known as Nyingma or ‘the ancient ones’, whose followers are mostly found today in the Kham region of Tibet, and the Himalayan regions of Nepal and India. Rewalsar Lake in Himachal Pradesh, Matrika Caves, Pharping Muktinath in Nepal, and Paro Taktsang are places connected to the legends of Guru Rinpoche

The allure of Tibetans to Indian Buddhism is beyond all comprehension. Marpa, an ordinary Tibetan, sold all his belongings and crossed the treacherous Himalayas three times to visit India to seek the path to enlightenment under the tutelage of Naropada the Mahasiddha. Marpa subsequently established the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The head of a prominent branch of this sect is today His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.

The story behind the visit of Atisha Dipamkara Srijnana to Tibet is equally enchanting. The gold collected to pay ransom to the captors for the release of the Lama king Yeshe O was, at the express wish of the king, offered instead to Atisha as Guru, as was the custom those days. Atisha’s teachings in Tibet led to the establishment of the Kadampa school of Tibetan Buddhism, which subsequently was collated with other teachings by Je tshongkapa to form the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the head of which today is HH the Dalai Lama.

The above narrative, some factual, some fictional, gives an insight into the crucial role played by Indian enlightened minds in the formation and development of Buddhism in Tibet. Tibetans have acted as reverential hosts to them as well as many Hindu holy Gurus, and are faithfully following their dictates even now. Many dharma texts extinct in India have been safely preserved in Tibet. However, with the advent of communism in Tibet, all these Indian legacies face decimation. Tibetans are bravely fighting back in a non-violent manner, and many have given up their precious belongings and their lives, but theirs is a losing battle and unless Indians step in now in a decisive manner their legacies face the prospect of being gone forever. Mankind will also lose the power of compassion over the power of guns, and His Holiness Dalai Lama’s lonely crusade to save mankind will come to naught.


About the author

Laden Tshering Samdup is a retired businessman, living in Kathmandu. He has MA (Hons) economics from Birla Institute of Technology and Science from Pilani, Rajasthan, India. He can be reached c/o Boudha Peace School, Phulbari, Kathmandu, Nepal.

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