Mahāyāna Buddhism first entered Tibet from India in the 7th century. In the 8th century it became "Lamaism" through local developments and absorption of many native religious elements. Several sects came into being. Most of the lamas (bla-ma, "superior") were married and wore red garments, hence the name Red Church. In the 8th century Tibet became a powerful empire, a development helping the consolidation of Lamaism. Contrary to original Buddhist doctrine, Lamaism developed into a theistic religion with many gods and demons, and an elaborate ritual with spells, incantations, and prayer formulas. Under the Mongol dynasty in China (13th and 14th centuries), Lamaism wielded much influence at the court and made its first entry into Mongolia.
Reformed Lamaism. Tsong-kha-pa (1357–1419), a native of northeastern Tibet, started a reformation and restored celibacy of the monks. His sect, d Ge-lugs-pa, "the virtuous," became known as the Yellow Church, because of its yellow garments. It was centered around Lhasa. In 1577 Tsong-kha-pa's third successor was invited to visit Mongolia. On this occasion, a Mongol prince bestowed upon him the title Dalai Lama—"Ocean, or Universal, lama"; he thus became the third Dalai Lama, and his successors have ever since borne that title. He died in Mongolia, in 1588. The fourth Dalai Lama was a Mongol (1589–1616). The most famous one was the fifth, Ngagdbang-b Lo-bzang (1617–82). The 14th Dalai Lama went into exile in India in 1959.
The Mongol journey and the subsequent revival of Lamaism in Mongolia brought added prestige to the Yellow Church in Tibet: in due time it supplanted almost entirely the earlier sects (about 90 percent of the lamas were of the Yellow Church), and the Dalai Lama became temporal ruler as well as supreme religious head. From Mongolia, Lamaism spread into southern Siberia, and with the Mongol emmigration of the 17th century, into southern Russia.
The Dalai Lamas. The Dalai Lamas are believed to be incarnations ("Living Buddhas") of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, "Looking with mercy upon the world." Another hierarch of great importance was the Panchen Lama, a reincarnation of Amitābha Buddha. Theoretically of equal rank with the Dalai Lama, he was often subordinated to him, but after China had established supremacy over Tibet in the 18th century, it was Chinese policy to exploit their rivalry. At one time an important Lamaist hierarch was located in Urga (now Ulanbator), Outer Mongolia.
The sacred writings of Lamaism are called Kandjur (bKa-'gyur ), "translation of precepts," in 108 volumes, mostly from the Sanskrit, and Tanjur (bs Tan-’gyur ), "translation of commentaries," comprising commentaries and various treatises, in 225 volumes.
See Also: buddhism.
Bibliography: l. a. waddell, j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics 13 v. (Edinburgh 1908–27) 7:784–789. c. a. bell, The Religion of Tibet (Oxford 1931). h. hoffmann, Die Religionen Tibets (Freiburg 1956). g. regamey, "Die Religion Tibets," Christus und die Religionen der Erde, ed. f. kÖnig (2d ed. Vienna 1916): 3:307–317.