Tibetan Buddhism 3: Origins of Tibetan Buddhism (2)

By: Gazang Jia, Tibetan Religons
Updated: March 08, 2018

Meanwhile, some Buddhist offerings, most of which were statues of Buddha, were introduced into Tubo. Among them were a statue of the 11-faced Avalokites vara naturally formed inside the heart of a candana snake from southern India, a life-sized statue of Aksobhya at the age of eight by Princess Tritsun from Nepal when she married Songtsen Gampo and a life-sized statue of Sakvamuni at the age of twelve by Princess Wencheng from China's Tang Dynasty (618-907) when she entered Tubo as Songtsen Gampo's bride. The last two were not only the most precious objects of Buddhism at the time in Tubo but also milestones in the official dissemination of Buddhism in Tubo. In the view of the Tubo people at that time, the three statues would represent the flourish of Mahayana in Tubo. Hence, in order to enshrine the statues. Tubo spared no effort to build large-scale Buddhist temples. The precious Buddha statues introduced into Tubo were gifts of Princess Tritsun from Nepal and Prince Wencheng from China's Tang Dynasty. Tubo did its utmost to build high-profile temples to enshrine the statues properly, thus pioneering the spread of Buddhist architecture in Tubo.


According to the Historical Collection of Tibet and the Han and other Tibetan historical records, during the reign of Songtsen Gampo, a total of 108 temples were built in Tubo, but available records show that only 18 can be found today, including Tokhang and Ramoche in Lhasa and the Chanzhub Temple in the Shannan prefecture. The three famous temples were actually Buddhist halls for statues of Buddha to be worshipped by the people, instead of housing local monks or migrant monks or holding large religious rituals. They were largely different from formal Buddhist monasteries that emerged later. This first batch of Buddhist temples played an important role in promoting the dissemination and further development of Buddhism in Tubo. Particularly, the aforementioned three famous temples are of crucial importance among the temples and monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism.


The stupa and the mani stone pile out of the Nechung Monastery.


During the reign of Songtsen Gampo, the creation of Tibetan scripture, the translation of sutras and the construction of Buddhist temples laid a foundation for the formal introduction of Buddhism into Tubo. At the time, no local monks or nuns appeared and the number of invited ones was fairly limited. Scholar-monks invited from India, NePal and the Han to translate Buddhist sutras were quickly sent back by Tubo after completing their work.


According to Tibetan historical records in Treasure Sermons of Mani, Feast for Scholars and History under the Pillars, two monks from the Western Regions (likely from Yutian Prefecture of the ancient Western Regions) journeyed to Tubo driven by admiration for King Songtsen Gampo, popularly considered as the incarnation of Avalokitesvara. Despite of their initial wishes, they had to return home soon after they reached Tubo. Because the general population knew nothing of Buddhism or monks, they were greatly surprised at the sight of two baldish monks wearing yellow robes from the Western Regions, while the 1atter were terrified by local customs and conducts. This partly reflected the fact that Buddhism could not merge into Tubo society at the time when the basic principles of the Bon religion were the dominant criteria for everything in Tubo.


It is not difficult to see that Buddhism spread via religious rituals of the Bon religion, and didn’t give full play of its special religious functions at the time.