Tibetan Buddhism And The Influence Of China Cultural Studies Essay

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In order to completely understand the influence faced, a review of Tibetan Buddhism is appropriate. In the 4th century CE Vajirayana Buddhism develops in India. The 7th century saw Buddhism brought to Tibet by the wives of the King Songsten Gampo (C. 609-550). The King built the Jokhang and Romoche temples and made Buddhism the official state religion. A conflict developed due to the former religion of Bon. This conflict continued for centuries. In c.775 to 842 violence and persecution diminished Buddhism. In the mid 12th century Buddhism in India was almost extinct, which made Tibet the center for Indian Mahayana Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism had its breakthrough in 1253 when Mongolian leader Kublai Khan accepts the religious beliefs and it became the dominant religion of Mongolia. From 1253 to 1409 Tibetan Buddhism expanded into the eastern and central regions of Asia. Tibetan Buddhism continued to expand with into a well known and practiced religion. Schools and monasteries were built to further spread the message. In 1903 the first Dalai Lama (Gendun Drub) flees to China. A treaty between China and Britain without Tibetan participation recognized China over Tibet. In 1910 the Dalai Lama flees China for India. The Chinese Revolution in 1912 expelled all Chinese from Tibet and the Tibetans declared their independence from the new republic.

The Tibetan Buddhists continued to thrive and survive. Tibet continued to function as an independent government from China until 1951. The Tibetans also successfully defended the borders against China until 1931. In 1950 a 15 year old boy (Tenzin Gyatso) becomes the 14th Dalai Lama. Between 1950 and 1951 China invades and liberates Tibet and suppresses Buddhism. A Tibetan delegation treaty was signed in 1951 which allowed the religion but also allowed the establishment of Chinese civil and military headquarters in Lhasa. In March of 1959 a popular uprising was suppressed by China and the Dalai Lama escaped into India. In the past 50 years to present day the conflict continued. From 1963 to 1971 no foreign visitors were allowed into Tibet. Between 1963 and early 1980's persecution of Tibetans slowed due to the end of the Cultural Revolution. When Tibetans resumed the claims to independence, the actions taken by China in earlier centuries resumed. Progress seemed to develop in the early 1980's when the Chinese government sought diplomatic ties with the Dalai Lama. Some of the restriction in place seemed to ease up and Tibetan Buddhism continued. More recently in 1988 China established martial law in Tibet after a series of violent riots broke out. A mile stone for Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism was reached in 1989 when the famous Dalai Lama won the Nobel peace prize. The Dalai Lama did author several books of politics and religions and his own autobiography. The conflict and problems faced remained quiet from a few years, until 1995 when a Tibetan child is identified as the Panchen Lama. This child (Gedhun Choekyi) was abducted by Chinese authorities who put another child on the throne. This timeline of history related to Tibetan Buddhism will help us better understand this sensitive topic.

â- What does a Tibetan Buddhist believe?

Their beliefs are very similar to what is found throughout the Mahayana world. Because this nation was forced into isolation many unique feature have been developed and maintained. The most important practical element is the concern for magic as a means for dealing with life problems. This religion is sometimes referred to as Tantric Buddhism. This name was given due to the reliance on tantras that teach the various magical words and spells that help one deal with the unknown and are believed to guide the quest for positive rebirth and eventually enlightenment. The tantric connotation given to the religion is found in several sects of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Original Indian thought was that within each deity there are two elements: male and female. These two elements were separated in the minds of the devotee and into a god and his wife. An awareness of these two elements led certain Hindus and later Buddhist to seek a mystical union with them through sexual pleasures. In addition to bringing about a union, tantric saw enlightenment. It was also believed that followers can conquer the desire for something such as meat, wine and other forbidden items by overindulging in them. Tibetan Buddhism became most popular in early Medieval Tibet. The religion was reformed by a monk named Arisa and most of the erotic tantic behavior was removed and the religion had a whole a more spiritual foundation. Another unique feature of the Tibetan Buddhism is its use of the phase om mani padme hum, which means the jewel in the lotus. This phrase is said to invoke Avalokitechvara. He is known in many schools of Mahayana Buddhism, particularly in Tibet. Avalokitechvara is phrased by the Tibetan people and is worshipped because of his great compassion and ability as well as guidance on paths of enlightenment.

Yet another distinctive feature of the Tibetan Buddhist that will further help understand and paint a picture of the beliefs is the use of the prayer wheel. The prayer wheel is a round container that contains a prayer text. The object is to turn the container, which will agitate it. The agitation will somehow reveal the prayers. This is used several times throughout the day. The more advanced have they in monasteries and some have then near streams which are powered by water. The last feature that I am going to discuss here is the lama. The lamas are probably the term that mostly helps identify the Tibetan Buddhist. Even more commonly the Dalai Lama is a well know spiritual and political figure. The lamas are known as clergy and the word means "superior one". The lamas have had great respect, privilege and power. These leaders at one point in time actually had more power than the kings. Eventually the kings left rule under their own decision and the lamas ruled the county. The country was then run by the Buddhist priests. The priest was supposed to refrain from sex and take other vows, but eventually they allowed themselves more indulgence and to get married and have children. This freedom was not enjoyed for long, reform was introduced and all the original vows were restored. Furthermore the lamas were divided into two orders: the Red Hat School and the Yellow Hat School. Each school continued to develop the beliefs and add to unique characteristics to the religion as a whole. The Dalai Lama was the leader of the yellow hat group. Both groups seek to help the dying. As late as the 20th century the clergy still ruled the land in Tibet. The position of lama became so important that in 1950 as least 20 percent of the male populations lived in monasteries.

â- The positive impact.

The influence sustained has had a positive impact on Tibetan Buddhism. The positive impact has been the never ending struggle. Although this may seem somewhat confusing, I feel that his made the religion stronger. After researching this topic in the Religions of the World textbook and researching online websites, periodicals, maps and editorials I have found great respect for Tibet at a government, Tibetans as people and Tibetan Buddhism. I can trace the development of the core religion to 480 BCE and transmission of Buddhism to Tibet in 700 BCE. The struggle included violence, murder, riots and constant conflict. Even today the struggle continues. The Dalai Lama was an effective leader, spiritual and governmental. As I mentioned earlier, won to Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The China constantly fought the fight, trying to make Tibet a part of their Peoples Republic of China. The Tibetan Buddhist remained strong, sticking to the core values. A specific act of violence occurred in 1950 when China invaded Tibet. For many centuries Tibet was claimed by China, this claim was rarely challenged and therefore Tibet remained an independent existence. A young Dalai Lama led a revolt against China in 1959, but was defeated. The Dalai Lama escaped to India with many of his followers. The Tibetan Buddhists have still kept moving along in a positive manner. They have continued to preach and practice their belief and even do missionary work in India, Europe and North America. The Dalai Lama and his Tibetan Buddhist have translated the message into terms that people can understand. Most recently China and Tibetan Buddhism has still been in conflict. Recent changes may allow some revival of Buddhism is Tibet, but the Dalai Lama is still in exile.

â- The negative impact.

The influence of China has also brought on a negative impact to Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike the positive, the negative is the more obvious. The senseless violence and torture of innocent believers. The main topic of conflict is if Tibet is a part of China or not. As this seems simple, it is affecting the Tibetan Buddhism religion because people are being murdering. Aside from the violence in the early to middle 12 century, the majority of deaths are from rioting. In 2008 a violent outbreak strained the delicate diplomatic balance between China and its neighbors Nepal and India. These two countries accepted Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese rule, restricted independance activities to please the larger neighboring countries. On March 10, 2008 on the 49th anniversary of a failed attempt at uprising against Chinese rule and anti-Chinese protest broke out in Tibet. Since then more protests escalated into riots and spread into neighboring provinces. The violence also brought on negativity at an international level at that same time when China was set to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. A total of 24 suspects were arrested for "grave crimes".

â- The Government and its influence.

The government of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) contends that China has had control over Tibet since Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). In the late 19th century China adopted the western model of nation-state diplomacy. The late 1900's found treaties to be ineffective due to China's weak control over Tibetan local government. The PRC claims that Tibet has been an indivisible part of China since the Yuan dynasty of Mangol-ruled China in the 13th century. This constant government conflicts have undoubtedly placed the Tibetan Buddhist in a strained position. It's hard to imagine a country where you are constantly fighting for your identity.

I have heard and seen the term "free Tibet". I am accustomed to the Unites States, land of the free. If you do not have a land with which to practice your religion I can see where it might struggle to survive. As for Tibetan Buddhism, it is influenced by the Chinese government. The government seeks to control the land on which the Tibetan Buddhist seek to worship. The freedom to believe what you wish is not an issue in the United States, just dealing with the comments of the people is. Although the government is in control in China, a great amount of diversity exists in religious beliefs. The main religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholic and Protestant. The citizens are free to choose and express their religious beliefs and make clear religious affiliations. Buddhism has a history of 2,000 years in China, currently has 13,000 temples and about 200,000 Buddhist monks. Among the monks are 120,000 lamas and nuns and more than 1,700 living Buddha's. There are 3,000 temples of Tibetan Buddhism. In essence the Chinese government seeks to control land and territory, but gives the people freedom of religion.

â- The cultural influence.

China and Tibetan language belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Tibet has its own independent literature and grammatical structure which is very different from Chinese literature. Tibet literature was developed in the 7th century by King Songtsen Gampo, partially based on the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. This alone is a sign of Tibet having been independent for thousands of years in its early history. There was also some evidence of unique ethnicity in Tibetan culture. Chinese governments have recognized Tibet as having its own unique culture and language. They believe that this does not necessarily argue in favor of its independence. China has over 56 unique ethnic groups and is one of many multi-national states in the world.

The Chinese school system is also influencing the Tibetan Buddhism culture. The schools are claiming that teaching Tibetan is a priority. This has proven to not be the case, as the Chinesehave made intentional and drastic changes in order to stop Tibetans from getting a proper education. Among the teachers in China more than half are Chinese are taught in the Chinese language. They only subject that is taught in Tibetan language is Tibetan itself. All of the names and signs in the schools are in Chinese. The school curriculum is in Chinese. The students are even rumored to be taught that the Dalai Lama is a threat to China. China is making efforts to stop the development and transformation of Tibet. Tibet is still striving by improving incomes and changing lives. The influence of China on the Tibetan Buddhist can be seen in the culture. The Peoples Republic of China is trying to take over Tibet not only by using conflict and violence but by taking away the culture. China has influenced The Tibetan Buddhist in a cultural aspect because a vast majority of Tibetans are Buddhist. The citizen is free to express their religious beliefs and make clear choices, but I believe that this is only a "smoke screen" to divert international attention.

â- The debate.

There is a long standing debate here. Is Tibet part of China or not? In the history of Tibet it has been an independent country. The country was divided into different kingdoms and states and a part of the Chinese empire. The part of the Chinese empire is controlled by the Peoples Republic of China. The PRC and government of Tibet in Exile disagree over the definition of Tibet and if it is part of China or not. As the debate continues into either or not Tibet is part of China the Tibetan Buddhist are still strong. The message of Buddha has even spread to American.

There are a number of people that are practicing Buddhism and places of worship are evident all over the country. I believe China will forever try and incorporate Tibet into their republic. The debate will continue and the influence will as well.

â- Problems faced today.

After my study and research of Tibetan Buddhism and relating in to the influence China has upon it I think that China has had a major influence. I have explored were they have come from, what they believe. With this information I have broken down the influence into the positive impact, negative impact, government influence, cultural influence and the current debate. The most disturbing of information is of the violence and persecution sustained by the Tibetans. I someday would like to see resolve to this issue and read about the Tibetan Buddhist who is just that, not influenced in any way. Free to believe and the way they want without threats or worry of violence against them.

Sources used:

â-ºReligions of the World, 11th edition, Chapter 6 Buddhism




â-ºhttp://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2010/07/23/China-criticized-over-Tibet-riots/UPI- 94631279907050/