Origins Of Tibetan And American Buddhism

Origins Of Tibetan And American Buddhism

Buddhist scriptures suggest that the religion would have begun in 641 CE. In the same year King Songtsen Gampo had two Buddhist wives and they were Princess Bhrikuti from Nepal, and Princess Wen Cheng from China. These princesses were largely credited for introducing Buddhism to their husband. The king was responsible for constructing the 1st Buddhist temple in Tibet. He also employed Tibetan translators to translate the scriptures, which were in Sanskrit.


Also, some of the beliefs of the then existing religion, Bon, were incorporated into Buddhism. Bon was said to be an animistic religion that people of Tibet used to practice. With the amalgamation of Bon beliefs and Buddhist beliefs the people were able to practice the best of both religions.

Around 755 CE, Tibet was under the rule of King Trisong Detsen. He made Buddhism the official religion in Tibet, He called upon famous Buddhist teachers like Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita to come and impart their knowledge in Tibet. The Tibetans addressed Padmasambhava as Guru Rinpoche also known as Precious Master. He was from India and he is responsible for spreading Buddhism in Tibet mainly. He constructed the 1st monastery in Tibet called Samye in the 8th century. Among the Tibetan Buddhism schools Nyingma is the main one and Guru Rinpoche was its patriarch. A legend says that when Guru Rinpoche came to Tibet, he controlled the Bon demons and appointed them as the keepers of Dharma or duty.

King Tri Ralpachen was the king in 836 and when he died, Langdharma, his half brother became the king. However Langdharma suppressed Buddhism and reestablished Bon as the religion in Tibet. In 842, a Buddhist monk killed Langdharma and after that Tibet was divided into two parts under his sons. Over the time, Tibet was divided into several smaller regions and many small kingdoms came into being.
Tibet was in chaos and the only hope came from India which showed a keen interest in Buddhism. Tilupa, an Indian sage developed a type of meditation called Mahamudra, which explored the relationship between the human mind and reality. Tilopa taught another sage called Naropa who was his disciple from 1016 to 1100.

Another Tibetan called Marpa Chokyi Lodro came to India and studied Buddhism from 1012 to 1097. After several years of studying, Naropa was declared as the heir of Naropa. When he went back to Tibet he brought the Sanskrit scriptures on Buddhism and also translated into Tibetan language. So was called Marpa the translator. From then on many schools were founded on Tibetan Buddhism. A significant development in the religion took place after that and it also spread in America in the form of American Buddhism.

Buddhism came to the shores of America with the arrival of immigrants from East Asia. These immigrants were mainly from China and migrated to North America around 1820. However, it was during the famous California gold rush in 1849 that a large number of Chinese came to the US.

As Chinese-American Society called Sze Yap Company was instrumental in constructing the first Buddhist temple in the US. This happened in 1853. The second temple was constructed in 1854, and by the year 1875, the US had 8 temples. In 1900, along the west coast, there were around 400 Buddhist temples. However, the Americans looked upon these temples with scorn, as they did not understand the Buddhist practices. The temples were mockingly called joss houses. When the Chinese Exclusion Act came into being in 1882, Chinese were stopped from entering the US. However, it did not stop the immigration of Japanese into the US. Most of these immigrants went to Hawaii and established temples. But it was in 1898 that the first Buddhist missionary was set up in Hawaii, and thereafter in 1899, the first Buddhist temple was established in San Francisco in mainland US.

It was in 1893 that the Buddhist leaders converged from across the world at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. This was held in Chicago. The leaders used this parliament as a platform to speak about their religion and its belief system. It is claimed that the first Buddhist convert was a Jewish businessman from New York named Charles T Strauss. He converted to Buddhism a few days after the Parliament came to an end.

The popularity of Buddhism in America is quite high. It could be that people were disenchanted with the way their country and lives were going, and were looking for a way out of the mess. Buddhism has always been attractive for such people, as it shows them a way through all the chaos in their lives. Today, there are many celebrities that have furthered the teachings of Buddhism in the US. Perhaps the most popular Buddhist celebrity is Hollywood actor Richard Gere, who is quite open about his Buddhist beliefs. Also, he is an ardent follower of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

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Origins Of Tibetan And American Buddhism

Wikipedia: Buddhism In The United States