Buddhism, Schools of: Himalayan Buddhism

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The historical Buddha Śākyamuni, born in Lumbinī and raised in Kapilavastu, both in present-day Nepal, must have often set his eyes on the slopes and peaks of the Himalaya, the "abode of snow," which can be seen on clear days from either of these places. Some 2,500 years after his birth, the Himalayan regions from Ladakh in the northwest across to Bhutan in the southeast are still suffused with the cultural practices of the Buddhist religionits manifold rites, practices, and doctrines, its symbols and institutions, all reflecting with great clarity the different waves of the spread of the Buddha's teaching to the Himalaya.

Patrons and Preceptors

The region of Kashmir, where Buddhism was first diffused about 250 bce, on the orders of King Aśoka, later became one of the gateways through which monastic and tantric lineages entered Tibet, especially during the so-called second spread (phyi dar ), from the end of the tenth century onwards. Particularly instrumental in this phase of the introduction of Buddhism into the western Himalayas were the early kings of Guge Purang (a confederation whose territory included what is today known as Ladakh), who selected a group of young men and sent them to Kashmir to be trained as "translators" (lo tsā ba ). One such link between the Indian and Tibetan cultures was Rin chen bzang po (9581055), later preceptor to King Ye shes 'od and his family. Due to efforts like his, Western Tibet became a center of Buddhist thought and practice based on a direct knowledge of Indian canonical and philosophical literature. Royal patronage was continued by later kings, one of whom financed, for example, the Indian journey of Rngog Lo tsā ba Blo ldan Shes rab (10591109). Another key figure, for having established a famous Vinaya ordination lineage in Tibet, was the Kashmiri Mahāpaita Śākyaśrībhadra (d. 1225), who was the last head of the Buddhist university of Vikramaśīla in Magadha and one of the teachers of Sa skya Paita Kun dga' rgyal mtshan (11821251).

Vikramaśīla was already seeking out contact with Tibet and other Himalayan regions during its peak period in the second half of the tenth century, the most notable example being in the person of Atiśa Dīpakaraśrījñāna (9821054), another one of its heads to reach Tibet. In his case it was the family of the early kings of Guge Purang who issued the invitation, the monk-scholar from present-day Bengal arriving at their royal court in the year 1042. The influence of Atiśa was far-reaching, especially his insistence on the observance of the monastic rule and a restricted use of the Tantras. After his death this Buddhist school became known as the Bka' gdams pa, which in turn served as the model for the "New Bka' gdams pa," or Dge lugs pa, founded by Tsong kha pa Blo bzang grags pa (13571419). This latter tradition was spread in the western Himalayas by a group of Tsong kha pa's disciples called the "six great diffusers of the teachings to the borders." It became prominent from the fifteenth century onward, with monastic lineages being established in Guge and Ladakh.

At about the same time, the Ngor pa tradition, a subsect of the Sa skya pa school, which had been founded by members of the 'Khon family to whom Sa skya Paita belonged, became influential in Purang. This religious shift was the result of Purang having become a dependency of Glo bo, another Himalayan kingdom (what is now Mustang in northern Nepal). Although this dominance of Glo bo over Purang was short-lived, it shows that the spread of Buddhist schools in the Himalayan region relied heavily on royal support for the definition and maintenance of their monastic institutions. This was true also in the next period in the history of the western Himalayas, when the rulers of Ladakh became the dominant political power and the twin countries of Guge and Purang faded into the background. The most popular Buddhist teacher during that time was Stag tshang ras pa (15741651), a religious figure still of great significance for the Ladakhi people. He was a member of the 'Brug pa subsect of the Bka' brgyud pa school, and he was generously supported by the king of Ladakh, from whom he received a number of estates while acting as his preceptor.

A significant role in the diffusion of Buddhist traditions in the western Himalayas was also played by another subsect of the Bka' brgyud pa school, the 'Bri gung pa, whose major zone of activity was the area around Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash. The hermitages around the sacred mountain were established by yogins following the example of their great fellow yogin Mi la ras pa (1028/401111/23), and were later occupied mainly by followers of the 'Brug pa, founded by Gling ras pa Padma rdo rje (11281188), and of the 'Bri gung pa, founded by Skyob pa 'Jig rten mgon po (11431217). These two schools left the strongest imprint on the tradition of Buddhist pilgrimages to Kailash, the "Snow Mountain Ti se" (gangs ti se ), the legends surrounding their representatives being mainly responsible for the drive to idealize and spiritualize this Himalayan region. The 'Bri gung pa are said to have fostered innumerable numbers of "hermits" (ri pa ), headed by what may be called a "rector" (rdor 'dzin ), who supervised their spiritual life at the sacred mountain. In the fifteenth century the influence of the 'Bri gung pa in the Kailash area declined, doubtless under that of the Ngor pa tradition. In Ladkah, the 'Bri gung pa had become influential at the beginning of the thirteenth century, but when the ruling house became patrons of the 'Brug pas they lost their former standing there too, never to recover it.

A Translator's Journey

The last Buddhist mahāpaita to reach Tibet during the second spread was the yogin Vanaratna (13841458) of present-day Bengal. He undertook three journeys to the plateau, where he assumed the role of preceptor of the Phag mo gru family, the rulers of Central Tibet before the Rin spungs pa took over. Vanaratna promulgated tantric transmissions, mainly from the cycles of the Kālacakra Tantra, the Hevajra Tantra, and the Cakrasavara Tantra. Among his Tibetan disciples were two translators, 'Gos Lo tsā ba Gzhon nu dpal (13921481) and Khrims khang Lo tsā ba Bsod nams rgya mtsho (14241482), the former well known as the author of the famous "Blue Annals," a comprehensive historiographical work of Tibetan Buddhism written in the years 1476 to 1478.

Bsod nams rgya mtsho, also called the "Great Translator" (lo chen ), had met Vanaratna during the latter's final journey to Tibet in the years 1453 to 1454 and assisted him on the return trip to Nepal, where Vanaratna had taken up residence in a Buddhist vihāra in Patan. More than ten years later the translator undertook the daring journey to the south on his own in order to receive further tantric transmissions. This journey is a late case of a lo tsā ba 's quest for authentic Buddhist teaching, showing how the natural barrier of the Himalaya was overcome by these motivated travelers.

The mountain chain was approached in the region of Chu bar, close to the Gaurīśankar peak (7,146 m), which is known to Tibetans as the "glaciers of the Goddess of Long Life" (tshe ring ma'i gangs rnams ). This area and its landscape is suffused, like the Kailash region, with the memory of Mi la ras pa, following whose example the translator is said to have appeased the local deities. Two routes could be taken from there onwards to the Nepal Valley. Bsod nams rgya mtsho chose the one passing through Dolakhā, a small independent kingdom to the northeast of the valley. Walking on treacherous paths through narrow gorges, he eventually reached Bhaktapur, the royal center of Nepal, ruled by King Jaya Yakamalla (r. 14241482). In the Govicandra Mahāvihāra in Patan the spiritual relationship with Vanaratna was renewed, and the Tibetan disciple obtained special tantric transmissions revealed to the Mahāpaita. One of these encounters took place in Śāntipura in the surroundings of the Buddhist stupa known today as Svayabhūnāth. After a pilgrimage to the different sacred sites of the Nepal Valley, including a triad of celebrated statues of Padmapāi Lokeśvara located within the cultural boundaries of fifteenth-century Nepal, Bsod nams rgya mtsho then left his teacher and Newar hosts and once again made his way through the dangerous gorges. Later he merely complained that he had not been able to collect medicinal plants growing in the Himalayan valleys in abundance, and compared his difficulties with the ones faced by an earlier Buddhist traveler.

In later times a second route, passing from Chu bar to Listi (to the west of Dolakhā), was normally taken by Tibetan priests making the journey to Nepal. Among these we find the Sixth Zhva dmar pa Chos kyi dbang phyug (15841630) and the Eighth Si tu Chos kyi 'byung gnas (16991774). Like Bsod nams rgya mtsho, in whose footsteps they followed, these hierarchs of the Bka' brgyud pa school were warmly welcomed by Malla rulers, including Jagajjyotirmalla (r. 16141637) and Jagajjayamalla (r. 17221736).

"The Himalayan Experience"

A widely used cultural corridor through which monastic and tantric lineages of the Buddhist religion entered the Tibetan plateau was Mang yul Gung thang, a kingdom in southwest Tibet located to the north of the Nepal Valley. During the time of the so-called earlier spread (snga dar ) from the seventh to the ninth centuries, the great adept Padmasambhava was the most notable person to have traveled through the region, where he subdued mountain gods and local spirits on his way to the court of the Yarlung kings in Central Tibet. The same route was used by Śantarakita, the abbot who introduced the first Vinaya lineage into Tibet. Even Srong btsan sgam po, the first Buddhist ruler of the Yarlung dynasty, is believed to have undertaken a journey from Mang yul Gung thang to the Kathmandu Valley in order to bring back a statue of Padmapāi Lokeśvara to Tibet. This legend accounts for the importance of the Newar culture in the transmission of Buddhist religious and artistic traditions to the north, and points at the same time to the widespread circulation of these kind of narratives centering on Srong btsan sgam po, and their relevance to what has been called "the Himalayan experience" in the diffusion of Buddhism.

The introduction of the Buddha's teaching to Tibet and neighboring Himalayan regions is a recurring theme within the cult of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, to whom is credited the conversion of uncivilized humans to the new religion. Instrumental in this scheme are a group of temples said to have been built during the reign of Srong btsan sgam po, and located for the most part in or near the southern valleys; these temples were held to be able "to tame the borders and areas beyond the borders" and thus secure the center, namely the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, for Buddhism. The whole process of "taming" ('dul ba ) took on a special character when directed toward the Himalayan regions which, according to the Buddhist texts glorifying the deeds of Srong btsan sgam po, were wild and uncultivated. This notion was counterbalanced by authors who looked to the remote Himalayan regions in the south as a sort of earthly paradise, whose hillsides provided an ideal location for monasteries, and which was imbued with all the resources of nature needed for leading a life of Buddhist spirituality.

Both these cultural attitudes of viewing the Himalayan valleys as regions to be tamed andespecially in times of political turmoilas sanctuaries to be sought out were cultivated and refined within the Rnying ma pa school, the followers of the great adept Padmasambhava. One of the most prolific writers in this respect was the "treasure-discoverer" (gter ston ) Rig 'dzin Rgod ldem (13371408), whose texts describe various "hidden valleys" (sbas yul) ranging from the region of Mang yul Gung thang in the west to the Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan in the east. This master acted as preceptor to the royal court of Mang yul Gung thang. Indeed the prophecies of Padmasambhava regarding its future rulers show that the idea of saving this royal branch of the Yarlung dynasty was a theme of central importance in the hidden-valley literature. These kind of texts state explicitly that sanctuaries in the Himalayan valleys are to be searched for during times when foreign armies threaten the security of Tibet. They can thus be understood as a reaction of the traumatized Rnying ma pas to the invasion by the Mongols in the thirteenth century and to their subsequent political dominion.

The supremacy of the Dge lugs pa school in Central Tibet four hundred years later, achieved with the help of their Mongol patrons, resulted once more in an increased production of this kind of literature and a more intense search for sacred abodes in the Himalayan borderlands. During this period, in the seventeenth century, the border-taming temple in Mang yul Gung thang functioned as one starting point for expeditions of Rnying ma pa treasure-discoverers to the south. The diffusion of Buddhist institutions and rites in such neighboring valleys as Glang 'phrang and Yol mo, located in present-day Nepal, must be seen as an outcome of these kinds of practices.

Buddhist Monarchies

The country of Sikkim, now part of the confederation of Indian states, was known to Rig 'dzin Rgod ldem under the name "Rice Land" ('bras mo ljongs ). One of the monasteries that he founded, ruins of which still can be seen today, was within its borders. The greatest propagator of Buddhism in Sikkim appeared later: Lha btsun Nam mkha' 'jigs med (15871650), another treasure-discoverer of the Rnying ma pa school and follower of the Great Perfection doctrine. In the year 1641 he, together with Ka thog Rig 'dzin chen po and Mnga' bdag Sems dpa' chen po, installed the first Buddhist king in Sikkim. The names of the latter two masters allude to the earlier spread of further Rnying ma pa lineages in the country, namely to the Ka thog pa of Eastern Tibet and to the Mnga' bdag pa, who followed in the tradition of the treasure-discoverer Zhig po gling pa (15241583) from Central Tibet. The epitome of the hidden valley transformed into a Buddhist kingdom was Brag dkar bkra shis ldings, a sacred site surrounded in the style of a maala by four miraculous caves in the four cardinal directions; these places continue to be pilgrimage destinations for all Sikkimese Buddhists.

During the rule of the next dharmarāja or chos rgyal, a strong connection was established with the teachers of Smin grol gling, an influential Rnying ma pa monastery in Central Tibet, and this led to the foundation of Padma yang rtse, a monastery which later supervised all the Rnying ma pa institutions in Sikkim. 'Jigs med dpa' bo (b. 1682), the second incarnation of Lha btsun Nam mkha' 'jigs med, received his spiritual training under Rig 'dzin Gter bdag gling pa (16461714), the hierarch of Smin grol gling, and following an invitation to Sikkim became the preceptor of the Sikkimese king. His activities at the beginning of the eighteenth century coincided with the suppression of the Rnying ma pa school in Central Tibet due to the Dzungar invasions and an edict of the Manchu ruler Yung chen. In the year 1718 Rje btsun Mi 'gyur dpal sgron (16991769), the daughter of Rig 'dzin Gter bdag gling pa, escaped the Dzungar armies and traveled to Sikkim; there she was welcomed by the king and by 'Jigs med dpa' bo. The "Rice Land," too, thus offered refuge in troubled times to the followers of Padmasambhava.

Parts of northern Bhutan, the modern Buddhist monarchy bordering on Assam, were regarded as hidden sanctuaries as well, as can be seen from the writings of Rig 'dzin Padma gling pa (14501521). It was Zhabs drung Ngag dbang rnam rgyal (b. 1595) who founded a central government and established the borders of the "Land of the Thunder-Dragon" ('brug yul). A member of the Rgya family from Rva lung, from which family Rgyal ba'i dbang po (14281476), the second 'Brug chen hierarch of the 'Brug pa school, issued, he was forced to flee to the southern Himalaya upon claiming to be the incarnation of the fourth 'Brug chen Padma dkar po (15271592). The teaching tradition of the 'Brug pa school had already been introduced earlier to Bhutan, one of its representatives before the unification of the country being Kun dga' legs pa (14551529), the famous "Madman from Bhutan" ('brug smyon ). Later on the country was ruled by a nominal head of state, an incarnate lama, while the secular administration was entrusted to a regent; these persons were known respectively as the Zhabs drung Rin po che and the Sde srid.

The fourth regent, Bstan 'dzin rab rgyas (16381696) was one key figure in the early phase of the 'Brug pa state, which lasted more than two hundred years before being replaced in 1907 by a modern monarchy. It was this regent who created a religious edifice at the famous cliff-side meditation cave of the great adept Padmasambhava at Stag tshang to the north of the Paro Valley (the site had earlier been in the hands of the Ka thog pa), and he was also responsible for popularizing such religious practices as the display of massive appliqué hangings draped from monastery courtyard walls and the seasonal dance festivals dedicated to Padmasambhava. The forty-ninth regent, 'Jigs med rnam rgyal (18251881), is generally remembered for being the father of O rgyan dbang phyug (18621926), the founder of the modern monarchy. The latter's rise to political power was largely due to the encouragement shown and the rituals conferred upon him by his teacher Byang chub brtson 'grus (18171856). This lama from Central Tibet had traveled widely in Kashmir, Western Tibet, and Nepal, and he had conceived a special crown for his disciple: a magical battle helmet, which later became a symbol of royalty. Imbued with the essence of two forms of the great protector Mahākala, it was a conscious allusion to the role played by the raven-headed Mahākala in the first unification of Bhutan by Zhabs drung Ngag dbang rnam rgyal.

Craftsmen and Artists

The legends concerning the enlightened activity of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara as the spiritual protector of the Himalayan region and the Buddhist king as his incarnation formed the ideological basis for monarchies like Sikkim and Bhutan from the very beginning. It is known, for example, that the first ruler of Sikkim held the teaching transmission of the "Hundred Thousand Proclamations of the Mai [Mantra]" (mai bka' 'bum ), a heterogeneous collection of teachings ascribed to Srong btsan sgam po, and that in the seventeenth century prints of this collection were executed in the newly founded state of Bhutan.

This particular version can be traced back to an earlier edition, which is the oldest xylograph of this work after its dissemination in the form of manuscripts for a period of about four hundred years. It was in Mang yul Gung thang that a first block print of the collection had been produced, and the person responsible for this and other large-scale printing projects in that region was a monk of the Bo dong pa school by the name of "The Incomparable" (mnyam med ) Chos dbang rgyal mtshan (14841549). An expert in the field of Buddhist art and craftsmanship, he oversaw the first carved edition of the teachings associated with Srong btsan sgam po at the royal court of Mang yul Gung thang upon the death of his teacher Btsun pa Chos legs (14371521), another influential member of the Bo dong pa community. The workshop of Chos dbang rgyal mtshan produced further xylographs of writings of the 'Brug pa and 'Ba' ra ba Bka' brgyud pa schools, and also carved on wood blocks the oldest edition of the Theg mchog mdzod (a classic of the Great Perfection doctrine) and of the bKa' gdams glegs bam (a collection of texts comprising hagiographical material and the esoteric teachings of the Bka' gdams pa school). Chos dbang rgyal mtshan's legacy to the monastic institutions of the Bo dong pa was a printed edition of a "stages of the path" (lam rim ) manual by Bo dong Pa chen Phyogs las rnam rgyal (13751451), the founder of the school. This project, which occupied sixteen carvers for a period of over six months, was completed in Btsum, a hidden valley located in present-day Nepal. Chos dbang rgyal mtshan became involved in the popularization of this cultural phenomenon by virtue of being a disciple of such treasure-discoverers of the Rnying ma pa school as Rig 'dzin Mchog ldan mgon po (14971531) and Rig 'dzin bstan gnyis gling pa (14801553), both of whose collected writings he executed as block prints. This increased production of xylograph editions of Buddhist classics in southwestern Tibet, including the famous biography and spiritual songs of the great yogin Mi la ras pa, greatly enhanced the spread of these different literary traditions in the Himalayan valleys. It is possible to identify the individual carvers of such block print editions along with the artists who beautifully depicted the deities on their front and back pages.

One main seat of the Bo dong pa school was located in Porong, a nomadic region in the northern part of Mang yul Gung thang ruled by a local whose ancient capital was a place called "Big Tent" (sbra chen ). In the 1960s, after the end of the rule of this family, the Porong area underwent dramatic change, but today the community has reorganized itself, its main monastery has been rebuilt, and the old block xylograph of Bo dong Pa chen has been reprinted.

Female Incarnations

Incarnate religious teachers have played an important role in the Himalaya, as hierarchs of Buddhist schools, as preceptors to royal families, or as "representatives" (tshab ) of the great adept Padmasambhava in troubled times. In contrast to the great number of male "reincarnations" (sprul sku ), the principle of female incarnate lineages seems to have been not very widely accepted. As ākinīs, or "sky-goers" (mkha' 'gro ma ), women are nevertheless held in high esteem, both as symbols of divinity and as religious practitioners, especially among followers of the Rnying ma pa school. Once they achieve the status of holy women, they can thus become the legitimating source of male incarnate lineages; this can be seen, for example, in the cases of Rig 'dzin Padma gling pa, Rig 'dzin Bstan gnyis gling pa, and Rig 'dzin Jigs med gling pa (17301798), all of whom are regarded as reincarnations of female disciples of Padmasambhava (of the princesses Padma gsal, Nu 'byin sa le, and Ye shes mtsho rgyal respectively).

Although the number of female reincarnations has been relatively small, a few cases are still remembered among Himalayan Buddhists. The most well-known one is the so-called Rdo rje phag mo incarnation of Bsam sdings monastery near the lake Yar brog mtsho in Central Tibet. This divine lady is viewed as an emanation of Tārā, who for protective purposes assumed the appearance of a menacing animal, the "Diamond Sow" (rdo rje phag mo ). The first member of this lineage was the youngest daughter of King Lha dbang rgyal mtshan (14011464) from Mang yul Gung thang, who later became the spiritual partner of Bo dong Pa chen Phyogs las rnam rgyal. In 1440 this princess, named Chos kyi sgron me, founded the monastery of Bsam sdings, a convent of the Bo dong pa school, with the support of the local ruler of Sna dkar rtse. The ruling family of this principality also cared for the next incarnation, the "Noble One" (rje btsun ma ) Kun dga' bzang mo (b. 1459). The translator Bsod nams rgya mtsho met her in Sna dkar rtse not long after his return from Nepal. In the following years this female incarnation is known to have actively promoted teaching traditions of the Bo dong Pa chen across the Himalayan region. Her role as a charismatic religious teacher was accepted by the great Buddhist masters of her time, including the second 'Brug chen Rgyal ba'i dbang po and Lha btsun Kun dga' Chos kyi rgya mtsho (14321505), the teacher of Kun dga' legs pa, the Madman from Bhutan. The lineage of the Rdo rje phag mo incarnation continues down to the present time, with its twelfth member still residing at its place of origin.

Another female incarnate lineage is that of the Gung ru mkha' 'gro ma from Eastern Tibet, which is known from literary sources but has not survived as a living institution. The reason for this may be sought in unflattering political prophecies that Gung ru mkha' 'gro ma (also known as Lha rtse dpon mo) uttered with regard to the newly founded government of the fifth Dalai Bla ma Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho (16171682); as a result, the Dalai Bla ma expressed doubts about her spiritual authority, as stated in his autobiography. The divine lady was nevertheless credited with all signs of authenticity by Rong po Skal ldan rgya mtsho (16071677), a great master from Amdo. These events should not be interpreted as signs of misogynous behavior on the part of the religious and political head of seventeenth-century Tibet (he spoke without bitterness of the fourth incarnation of the Bsam sdings rDo rje phag mo). In any case, they are suggestive of an atmosphere of religious tolerance prevailing in Eastern Tibet (Khams and Amdo), the border regions of Lho kha and the Himalayan valleys in the south.

Pilgrimages and Stupas

Schools of Himalayan Buddhism developed following the spread of the Buddha's teaching to the mountainous region, and reflected the monastic lineages and tantric transmissions associated with places like Kashmir, Magadha, and Nepal. This process of religious transmission was completed by the fifteenth century, after which a reversed movement can be observed, with the now established religious traditions crossing back over the cultural boundaries to the south. One can trace this transition in the journeys of individual Buddhist travelers and in the practice of large-scale pilgrimages to sacred sites located in the Himalayan valleys. A conspicuous example of the latter is the migration of the Sherpa people from Eastern Tibet to the land south of Mount Everest in the sixteenth century, their search for a hidden valley leading to a permanent resettlement after they were displaced from their home country.

Sherpa Buddhism is characterized, like most local Buddhist cultures in the Himalaya, by foundings of temples and monasteries, the last major ones being under the inspiration of Ngag dbang bstan 'dzin nor bu (18671940), the great abbot of Rdza rong phu. Both this monastery, located on the northern side of the Everest massif, and the well-known Steng po che monastery (founded in the years 1915 to 1919) follow the teaching tradition of Smin grol gling. The rituals of this Rnying ma pa monastery in Central Tibet are kept alive in the Sherpa country through village festivals and the construction of stupas, which latter are recognized by the people as the containers of relics and as commemorative monuments.

Buddhist stupas like the ones of Svayabhūnāth and Bodhnāth in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal have been popular destinations of pilgrims for centuries. In the course of time, the upkeep of these religious shrines came into the hands of Tibetan priests. This led in turn to the construction of administrative buildings near the pilgrimage sites; in the case of Svayabhūnāth and Bodhnāth, these buildings date from the eighteenth century. The exodus of the Tibetan people from their homeland after the revolt in Lhasa in 1959 was one main reason for the subsequent increased construction of monasteries near the stupas. In these places one can witness a revival of the cultural and religious traditions of Himalayan Buddhism. This holds true as well for regions like Ladakh, Sikkim, and Bhutan, where the Tibetan diaspora has found refuge and is able to maintain its religious and cultural identity.

Pilgrimages to sacred sites associated with the life of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni have a long tradition in India, and this cultural practice was also taken up by Himalayan Buddhists. One interesting example is the pilgrimage to a spurious Kuśinagara (the place of Buddha's parinirvāa ) in Assam, as advocated by followers of the 'Brug pa school in the sixteenth century. The archaeological site of Lumbinī, the birthplace of Śākyamuni Buddha, was discovered only in 1896; modern pilgrimages to this spot are a quite recent phenomenon. A stupa of impressive height has just been completed there by the 'Bri gung pa schoola sign of the continuing definition and maintenance of Himalayan Buddhism in the place where its founder was born.

See Also

Buddhism, overview article.


Aris, Michael. The Raven Crown: The Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan. London, 1994. The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and the hereditary monarchy of O rgyan dbang phyug are presented as one of the few kingships to have reemerged in the twentieth century. The narrative is based on the Bhutanese chronicles.

Buffetrille, Katia, and Hildegard Diemberger, eds. Territory and Identity in Tibet and the Himalayas. Leiden, 2002. The articles explain notions of territory and identity in Tibetan and Tibeto-Burman communities using a fundamentally empirical method. Two essays deal with the nomadic principality of Porong.

Cadonna, Alfredo, and Ester Bianchi, eds. Facets of Tibetan Religious Tradition and Contacts with Neighbouring Cultural Areas. Florence, 2002. Results of the latest research in the field of Tibetan religious traditions at the Venetian institute Venezia e l'Oriente. One contribution investigates the theme of female reincarnations and the case of the Gung ru mkha' 'gro ma.

Ehrhard, Franz-Karl. Early Buddhist Block Prints from Mang-yul Gung-thang. Lumbinī, Nepal, 2000. Monograph surveying the history of a number of sixteenth-century xylographs produced by a local school of calligraphy and printing. One of the literary sources is the biography of the monk-artist Chos dbang rgyal mtshan.

Ehrhard, Franz-Karl. Life and Travels of Lo-chen bSod-nams rgya-mtsho. Lumbinī, Nepal, 2002. Assessment of the biographical tradition of a fifteenth-century translator mainly active in Lho kha on the basis of a work written by the Fourth Zhva dmar pa. A list of the translations of Mahāpaita Vanaratna and his interpreters is included.

Gutschow, Niels, Axel Michaels, Charles Ramble, and Ernst Steinkellner, eds. Sacred Landscape of the Himalaya: Proceedings of an International Conference at Heidelberg. Vienna, 2003. Contributions cover the entire range of the Himalaya, from Ladakh to Bhutan, reconstructing the historical topography of the predominantly Buddhist northern region. Contains maps of Mang yul Gung thang as a destination for Buddhist pilgrims.

Gyatso, Janet. Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary. Princeton, 1998. Examines autobiographical writing in Tibet from a comparative perspective. This literary genre is frequently met with in the study of Himalayan Buddhism. The book concludes with a study of the figure of the ākinī in these kind of texts.

Huber, Toni, ed. Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places in Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays. Dharamsala, India, 1999. Collection of essays on narrative, social identity and territory, ritual spaces and places, and hidden lands and holy domains. Two of the essays deal with the search for Himalayan sacred territories.

Klimburg-Salter, Deborah E. Tabo: A Lamp for the Kingdom: Early Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Art in the Western Himalaya. Milan, Italy, 1997. Documentation of the royal monastery of Tabo, founded by King Ye shes 'od of Guge Purang, and still the largest monastery in the western part of the country. Includes a historical introduction to Western Tibet by Luciano Petech.

McKay, Alex, ed. Pilgrimage in Tibet. Richmond, U.K., 1998. Conference papers dealing with pilgrimage as a core element of religious practice in the Tibetan cultural world. Three articles cover Mount Kailash; one describes the opening of the hidden valley 'Bras mo ljongs.

Ortner, Sherry B. High Religion: A Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Buddhism. Princeton, 1989. The founding of Sherpa monasteries is analyzed as a "cultural scheme" by combining social and historical modes of analysis. The book draws no comparisons with other local cultures in the Himalaya.

Smith, E. Gene. Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. Boston, 2001. These famous essays cover Buddhist texts representing all lineages, histories, and biographical and literary artsamong them studies on the diaries of the Eighth Si tu and on secular arts and sciences as presented by Bo dong Pa chen.

Vitali, Roberto. The Kingdoms of Gu.ge Pu.hrang according to mNga'.ris rgyal-rabs by Gu.ge mKhan.chen Ngag.dbang grags.pa. Dharamsala, India, 1996. Translation of the "Royal Genealogy of Western Tibet," written by one of Tsong kha pa's disciples. Part 2 provides details on the diffusion of the different Buddhist schools in Guge Purang.

Franz-Karl Ehrhard (2005)


Buddhism, Schools of: Himalayan Buddhism