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Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism, form of Buddhism prevailing in the Tibet region of China, Bhutan, the state of Sikkim in India, Mongolia, and parts of Siberia and SW China. It has sometimes been called Lamaism, from the name of the Tibetan monks, the lamas [superior ones]. The religion is derived from the Indian Mahayana form of Buddhism, but much of its ritual is based on the esoteric mysticism of Tantra and on the ancient shamanism and animism of Bon, an older Tibetan religion. It is also called Tantrayana [tantra vehicle] or Vajrayana [vehicle of the thunderbolt].

Beliefs and Practices

The most dedicated Tibetan Buddhists seek nirvana, but for the common people the religion retains shamanistic elements. The worship also includes reciting prayers and intoning hymns, often to the sound of great horns and drums. A protective formula of esoteric significance, Om mani padme hum [Om, the jewel in the lotus], is repeated; it is inscribed on rocks and walls, tallied on prayer wheels, and displayed on banners and streamers. In addition to a large pantheon of spirits, demons, and genii, many Buddhas and bodhisattvas (future Buddhas) are worshiped along with their ferocious consorts, or Taras. The monastic orders include abbots, ordained religious mendicants, novices (candidates), and neophytes (children on probation). The standing of nuns is inferior.

Early History

The traditional account of its origin is that Buddhism was introduced into Tibet by a Nepali and a Chinese princess, devout Buddhists, who became (7th cent. A.D.) the wives of the Tibetan king Srongtsen Gampo. The new religion was actually established, however, by one of the successors of that king when he called from India the Padmasambhava, a Tantric mystic and teacher who founded (c.750) a Buddhist monastery near Lhasa. Buddhist writings were later translated from Sanskrit in two sections: the Kanjur [translated word], a collection of sacred texts, and the Tanjur [translated treatises], a collection of commentaries (see Buddhist literature).

The early lamas and their successors, constituting the so-called Red Hat sects, rapidly built up power. The Bon shamans, however, fought back successfully, and for over a century the new faith was suppressed. In 1042 a reformer, Atisa (982–1054), a monk from India, arrived in Tibet, unified the priesthood, improved the moral tone by enforcing monastic rules, and tried to eliminate any vestiges of Bon ritual from the religion. He was the founder of the Kadampa sect. Another sect, the Kargyupa, was founded by the translator Marpa (1012–97) and his famous disciple Milarepa.

Tibetan Theocracy

In the 13th cent. Kublai Khan, after his conversion, bestowed temporal rule upon the abbots of the Sakya monastery (and leaders of the Sakyapa sect), who subsequently ruled W Tibet from c.1270 to 1340. The lama Tsong-kha-pa (d. 1419), a great reformer, subsequently reorganized the orders, strengthened monastic discipline, introduced a rigid rule of celibacy, and prescribed rigorous routines for meetings, confessions, and retreats. This reform movement called itself the Gelukpa [virtuous] sect and is generally known as the Yellow Hat sect.

Soon Yellow Hat influence spread to Mongolia, and in 1641 a ruling Mongol prince bestowed temporal and spiritual control of all Tibet upon the fifth grand lama of the order, whose title was Dalai or Ta-lai [ocean-wide] Lama. The Dalai Lama was proclaimed a divine reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, ancestor of the Tibetan people, and was installed in the Potala (palace) in Lhasa. He soon became the temporal leader of Tibet, while spiritual supremacy resided with the chief abbot of the powerful Tashi Lumpo monastery near Xigazê, who is known as the Tashi or Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is regarded as a reincarnation of Amitabha, the Buddha of Light.

The succession to grand lama, either Dalai or Panchen, depends on direct reincarnation. Upon the death of either, his spirit is believed to pass into the body of some infant just born. An exacting series of tests and divinations determine the proper boy, who is then carefully trained for his great responsibility.

The 14th Dalai Lama was installed in 1940 and the 10th Panchen Lama in 1944. In 1959, following the Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule (see Tibet), the Dalai Lama went into exile in India, and the Chinese installed the Panchen Lama (d. 1989) in his place as ruler. Until the Chinese repression of Buddhism in Tibet in the 1960s, nearly a fifth of the population resided in lamaseries.

Since the 1980s there has been greater tolerance of religious practice in Tibet, although the Chinese government has attempted to exercise control over the religion. In 1995 China rejected the boy who was confirmed by the Dalai Lama as the new Panchen Lama and forced the selection of a different boy, and in Jan., 2000, the head lama of the Karmapa order fled Tibet for India. China subsequently announced (2007) that it would approve any future reincarnation of a Buddha and that only monasteries within China could apply for approval, a move clearly intended to assert China's control over the Dalai Lama's successor.


See W. Y. Evans-Wentz, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrine (1935, repr. 1958); P. H. Pott, God and Demon in Buddhism (1962); L. A. Waddell, Buddhism of Tibet (2d ed. 1939, repr. 1973); C. Bell, The Religion of Tibet (1931, repr. 1987); I. Hilton, The Search for the Panchen Lama (2000).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a genus of artiodactyls of the family Camelidae. Unlike the camels, the Lama have no hump. They are comparatively small animals, measuring 120 to 175 cm long, standing 90 to 100 cm high at the shoulder, and weighing 48 to 96 kg. The legs are long and slender. The neck and ears are long and the tail, short. The woolly coat is long.

Two species are found in the wild state—the guanaco (L. guanacoe) and the vicuña (L. vicugna). Some zoologists place the vicuña in a separate genus, Vicugna. There are also domesticated Lama. Wild and domestic species of Lama in captivity can crossbreed, often yielding fertile offspring. The llama (L. glama) is a domesticated guanaco and is somewhat larger than the wild species, weighing up to 110 kg. Its coloring ranges from pure white to black, and it is often spotted. Lama are raised in Peru and Bolivia as beasts of burden; they can carry loads of up to 60 kg along mountain paths. The fleece is clipped and used to manufacture a coarse fabric. The alpaca (L. pacos), which weighs up to 80 kg, is a domesticated guanaco crossed with a vicuña; it is raised for its valuable fleece in the high Andes (at elevations of more than 3,800 m).


Khaveson, la. I. “Dikie i domashnie formy verbliudovykh.” In the anthology Problemy proiskhozhdeniia, evoliutsii i porodoobrazovaniia do-mashnikh zhivotnykh, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Mammals of the World, vol. 2. Baltimore, Md., 1964.




a lake in the northwestern part of the Central Siberian Plateau, Krasnoiarsk Krai, RSFSR. The basin is of tectonic origin, and the lake extends in a latitudinal direction. Area, approximately 2,000 sq km; length, 100 km; width, approximately 20 km; depths, up to 20 m. The banks are high for the most part, reaching 400–600 m. The lake is notable for the low temperature of its water, even in the summer months.



a river in Moscow and Kalinin oblasts, RSFSR; it flows into Shosha Bay in the Ivan’kovskii Reservoir. Length, 139 km; basin area, 2,330 sq km. It is fed primarily by snow; average discharge in the middle reaches, 8.49 cu m per sec. The Lama freezes over in November and thaws in late March or early April. The ancient waterways from the Volga to the Moscow River (Volok na Lame) followed the Lama. The settlement of Volokolamsk arose on the Lama River in the 12th century.



a Buddhist monk in those countries where Lamaism is practiced.

The term first appeared in the eighth century in connection with the founding of the first monastery in Tibet and the organization of a monastic community. In Tibet originally only monks who had received a higher learned degree and the right to be teachers were called lamas. Later on, in Tibet and other countries where Lamaism spread, any person who took monastic vows came to be called a lama.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a priest or monk of Lamaism
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


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References in periodicals archive ?
(4) The chapter on the person of the Second Dalai Bla-ma in sDe-srid Sangsrgyas rgya-mtsho's continuation of the Fifth Dalai Bla-ma's autobiography has already been translated by Mullin (1986:6-15) and Ahmad (1999: 202-210).
It is known that the works of mKharnag Lo-tsa-ba had been used by later masters of the dGe-lugs-pa school, and it has also been observed that the Fifth Dalai Bla-ma had relied on some of mKhar-nag Lo-tsa-ba's biographical writings when composing his own works on the lives of the Third and the Fourth Dalai Bla-ma; see Tucci (1949:150).
For the references in the Fifth Dalai Bla-ma's records, see Ngag-dbang Blo-bzang rgya-mtsho: Gangd'i chu rgyun, vol.
(15) For the quotation from the work Lam yig don byang in the records of the Fifth Dalai Bla-ma, see Ngag-dbang Blo-bzang rgya-mtsho: Gangd'i chu rgyun, vol.
It turns out that the valley at the border of 'Ol-kha and Dvags-po, where the monastery of Chos-'khor rgyal had been erected--which housed a total of five different colleges--and at some distance from which the famous vision-lake of the incarnation lineage of the Dalai Bla-mas was located, takes a prominent place in the group of hidden lands which offered the followers of Padmasambhava security and protection in troubled times.