Complete works of Swami Abhedananda

by Swami Prajnanananda | 1967 | 318,120 words

Swami Abhedananda was one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and a spiritual brother of Swami Vivekananda. He deals with the subject of spiritual unfoldment purely from the yogic standpoint. These discourses represent a study of the Social, Religious, Cultural, Educational and Political aspects of India. Swami Abhedananda says t...

(Delivered in America in 1911)

People of America have a very vague idea of Tibet. Its geographical position is known only to a few students in schools and colleges. Others regard it as a land of mysteries situated somewhere north of India. The theosophists consider Tibet as the land of their Mahatmas, or the so-called superhuman masters who repose in solitude and occasionally perform some petty miracles in the civilized world through the medium of their astral bodies. In ‘The Opening of Tibet’, Mr. Percival Landor writes: “* * that the Tibetans know nothing about the Mahatmas of the Theosophists.” The readers of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Kim’ have often wondered where Tibet is, what kind of creature a Lama might be, and what would be his religion.

Tibet is situated on the north of India, being separated from the latter by nature’s huge walls of gigantic range of snow-covered mountains known as the Himalayas, meaning the abode of snow. This range is about 2000 miles in length, and about 500 miles in width, with ice-covered peaks rising in height from 16,000 ft. to 29,002 feet above the sea-level. On the north of this great wall, there is a large plateau covered with mountains, lakes, valleys, rivers and deserts, with scenery which in richness of beauty and grandeur surpasses the famous mountain resorts of the Alps in Switzerland. This plateau is called Tibet. It is bounded on the East by China, on the North by Mongolia and the West by Turkistan and the Kailas mountains. The capital of this beautiful country is Lhasa, which is the seat of its temporal and spiritual government. The whole country is governed by the great Buddhist Pope called ‘Dalai Lama’, who is not only the earthly Lord, but the incarnation of the celestial Bodhisattva called Avalokitesvara which literally means, “The Lord who looks down from high”. Therefore, the Dalai Lama is regarded as the vicegerent of Lord Buddha on earth. Politically, however, Tibet had been a protected state of China since the seventeenth century, but the present political relations between the two countries has converted Tibet into a dependency of China. There is an imperial resident of China in Lhasa who, is at the head of the Tibetan Army. He inspects the frontier lines and supervises the military stores and forces in the different states into which the country is divided. The Amban or the imperial resident is also the medium of all communications between the Tibetan Government and China. The population of Tibet is probably not more than that of London. It may be between four and five millions, and almost all of the inhabitants may be classed as Lamaists, although in eastern Tibet there is a considerable proportion of the adherents of the ancient Bon religion, who still patronize the religion of the Lamas. This Bon religion prevailed in Tibet before the introduction of Buddhism in 640 a.d.[1]

The founder of this Bon religion of Tibet was Senrab Mi-Vo who was born in Shan Shun in western Tibet. He belonged to the royal race of Mu. He learnt various languages, arts, sciences, and medicine. It is said that he had 336 wives and numerous children. After enjoying all the pleasures of the world at the age of 31 he renounced all and took to the life of an ascetic and within a few years acquired many of the super-natural powers. He propitiated the Bon god called Sen-Iha-O-kar (the Bon-god with white radiance) and accepted him as his tutelary deity. The Emperor of China, Kongtse, was converted by him into this Bon religion. For 25 years he preached this religion in China. Bon pronounced as ‘Pon’ which literally means fetichism or is a form of Shamanism. The modem Bon-po priests say that it is the same as Dharma.

In Tibet, he taught his disciples how to invoke the Bon-gods, the white devil dance, the exhortation of the goddess of luck, the offering of drink to spirits, the manner of disposing of the dead, the charms, and how to avert evil omens. He cured leprosy and other incurable diseases. This Bon religion had spread in Tibet, China, Mongolia, Turkistan and other adjacent countries before Buddhism was introduced into them. Senrab died when he was 92 years old. In pre-Buddhist age Bon became the common religion of China. It is said that Senrab was born again in Shan Tung in China as Lao-tze the greatest Chinese philosopher and the founder of Tao-ism which still prevails in China.

Bon Religion:

The highest aim of a Bon devotee is to attain to the position of the eternal Truth called ‘Gyun Drun’ (Sanatana), and at the same time to retain his personality with a view to work for the good and welfare of all living beings of the world. Whoever endeavours to gain that supreme position must perform two kinds of good works on this earth, viz: those of ordinary usefulness. In these two, there said to exist two kinds of hindrances, one is the obstruction caused by evil spirits, and the other is the obstruction to virtue by poison or moral corruption (Dug). Poison (Dug) consists of attachment to worldly objects. But anger, stupidity or darkness, pride or vain glory, envy and jealousy are called the obstructive influences or poisonous agents in the way to celestial bliss or entrance to heaven and ultimately to salvation.

Those means which effect the deliverance of the sattva by showing it the five wisdoms, and lead it unerringly through the thirteen stages of celestial progress that it may attain the state of unchanging usefulness, are called the means of the greatest usefulness. The means (upaya) and religious ceremonies which are observed by the Bon devotees resemble to a great extent, those rites and practices which are performed by the Tantric sects of the Buddhists in Tibet, but the incantations, charms, and exorcisms used by them are different and numerous. The basic charms are: (1) a sum hum ram dsa sad sa le san ne ya svaha; (2) ayam ram kham brum hdu; and (3) vasvo thun ne lo yo-thium spuns so thad-do then hri. The recitation of these three charms gives one freedom from all kinds of dangers and injuries arising from malignant stars and evil spirits. They can lead to salvation and put an end to miseries and sufferings of earthly life.

There are many other charms and powerful mantras used by a Bon priest to gain control over evil spirits, nagas, demons, demigods, ghosts, hobgoblins and to overcome diseases. The principle Bon deity is called ‘Lha-Chenpo mig dgu-pa’, the great god (mahadeva) who has nine eyes. He is called the lord, the king, the majesty and the supreme pride of the world. Bon deities are of two kinds: (1) wrathful spirits, and (2) mild and peaceful gods. In Bon pantheon the goddesses take precedence over the gods. The chief goddess called ‘Gzi-brjid-mthah yasma’ is the primeval energy. She is represented with white complexion, and with white candles or torches in both the hands, each placed upon a silver mirror. She sits crosslegged on a throne borne by four lions. She seems to be the consort of ‘Lha-Chenpo’ (mahadeva) who is also of a while complexion and holds a silver book in his hand and sits on the back of a bull. There are goddessess of speech, merits and compassion, and of intellect too, all sitting on lion-thrones; the corresponding gods of speech etc. are all seated on bulls. Thus, there are five gods and goddesses in the Bon pantheon.

From the Chinese history of the 6th century a.d. we gather that prehistoric Tibetans were repacious and reputed cannibals, without a written language, and were the followers of this Bon religion which resembles the Taoism of China, especially in the worship of dragons or nagas, and includes animism, fetishism, devil-worship, devil-dancing etc. It is said that Bon-pa or the followers of Bon were used to make human and other bloody sacrifices to propitiate the demons and had no other higher ideals of religion. Some of the old forms of Bon-worship still survive in Lamaism, although in their more humane forms. For instance, instead of human sacrifice the Tibetan Lamas, under, the influence of Buddhism, now sacrifice dough image of more or less elaborate kinds in a human form in order to propitiate the devils whom they fear. This sacrifice has become an essential part of the Lamaist daily service. Devil-dancing, which is a remnant of the Bon religion, is still practised all over Tibet, especially on the beginning of the new year. Vestiges of ancient cannibalism are to be found even now, in the Tibetan practice of eating a portion of the skin or flesh of a dead Lama, and in using trumpets made of his thigh bones and his skull for dinking purposes. In fact, the Tibetans themselves claim their descent from man-eating ancestors. This will give the readers an idea of the Bon religion which existed in Tibet before the introduction of Buddhism in 640 a.d. Now let us see how and by whom Buddhism was introduced into Tibet.

About 250 B.C., during the reign of the Buddhist Emperor Asoka, who may be called the Constantine of the Buddhist, Buddhism became the state religion of India. His edicts inscribed on rocks and stone pillars are today the most authentic records of the historical facts, that he sent missionaries all over the civilized world, from Siberia to Ceylon, and from China to Egypt (for then, with the exception of Greece, Europe was not civilized), to preach the gospel of Buddha. At that time some Buddhist books were taken to the Emperor of China, but Buddhism did not begin to spread rapidly in China until 61 a.d., when the Chinese Emperor Ming Ti adopted it and sent for more books and missionaries from India. Rev. A. H. Francke has said that the Buddhist missionaries were sent to Nepal, and to the countries north of India, Kashmir, western Tibet (Ladakh), Bactria, Yarkland, Afghanistan, etc., after the third Buddhist Council (272-231 b.c.) held by King Asoka at Pataliputra (modern Patna). The Aryan tribes of Mons and Dards were the first converts into this great religion. They were the first colonizers in the desert of Tibet. “Among the ruins of the settlements of the ancient Mons of Zangskar, I discovered imposing remains of ancient Buddhist art, and more and more the conviction grew upon me that the settlement of the ancient Mons in Zangskar and Ladakh must have had some connection with pre-Lamaist Buddhism.” “The strongest proof of the colonization of western Tibet by ancient Indians are inscriptions in Brahmi characters of about 200 B.C.[2]

In the 4th century a.d. Buddhism became the state religion of China. It was introduced into central Tibet about 400 a.d. But it was not generally accepted till the time of the marriage of the first historical Tibetan King, Sron Tsang Gam-po about 641 a.d. Sron Tsang Gam-po was the son of a warlike king who established his authority over the wild clans of central Tibet. After his father’s death he ascended the throne and harassed the western borders of China by constant attacks and invasions. The Chinese emperor, Taitsung, of Tang dynasty, was at last obliged to come to terms with this Tibetan king, by giving him his daughter to marry in 641 a.d. The name of this princess was Wen cheng. Two years afterwards Gam-po married the daughter of Amsuvarman, the Buddhist king of Nepal in India. Her name was Brikuti. Both of these wives of the Tibetan monarch, being born and brought up in the Buddhist faith, eventually succeeded in converting their barbarous husband into Buddhism. The Tibetan King was so deeply impressed by the sublime teachings of Buddha that he sent his messenger Thonmi Sambhota to India to study Buddhism and bring him the sacred books of this wonderful religion. The messenger Sambhota lived in India a number of years, studied Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy under two Brahmin scholars as well as Buddha’s teachings and his philosophy under Buddhist scholars and then returned to Tibet with several Buddhist scriptures. The so-called Tibetan alphabet which is nothing but the Tibetanized reproduction of the North Indian alphabet (Magadhi or Nagari) used in Magadha (modern Bihar) during 7th and 8th centuries a.d. By the order of this king of Tibet, the scholar Sambhota introduced the Tibetan language to writing and composed a grammar for that purpose.

It is said that the Tibetans derived their alphabet as well as their literature from India. The form of Nagari used in Magadha during the seventh and eighth centuries a.d. bears a striking resemblance to the Tibetan alphabet. Nagari has undergone considerable changes, but the Tibetan characters were preserved by stereotyped wooden blocks which is being in use since the 9th century a.d. The Tibetans also translated all the Indian and Nepalese Sanskrit works which they could get hold of. It is mentioned in the historical and legendary works of Tibet, that most of the Lamas who now appear there as incarnate beings, formerly belonged to India, and particularly to Bengal.

Thus this first Buddhist Tibetan king, Sron Tsang Gam-po, who introduced the written language of the country that exists to-day, became the first patron of learning and civilization, and with the aid of his two wives sowed the seed of Buddhism and its civilizing power on Tibetan soil. He built the temple of Buddha at Lhasa which now exists. For these reasons this great and the most popular king was afterwards canonised by the Lama priests as the incarnation of the celestial Bodhisattava Avalokita, “the looking down Lord”, and his two wives were also canonised as the incarnations of Avalokita’s consort, Tara, the savioress or goddess of mercy. The Chinese Princess Wencheng was deified as white Tara, and the Indian Princess Brikuti as green Tara; and later on they found their places in the Lamaistic pantheon. Their divine nature was confirmed by the evidence that they bore no children to the king.

Here it may be asked what kind of Buddhism was introduced in Tibet in the 7th century a.d. During the ten centuries following its birth, the pure and rationalistic ethical religion of Buddha had undergone various changes; and after coming in contact with the existing forms of sectarian cults with their numerous symbols, rituals, ceremonies and the worship of mythological and nature-gods and goddesses the primitive Buddhism had incorporated them all within its folds, and ultimately it had developed into a system comprising of a mixture of pure Buddhism with all the phases of the superstitious practices of the aboriginal tribes of India and of other adjacent countries. Various Buddhist councils were held in India at different times, to protect the earliest form of Buddhism as it was preached by Buddha, and to keep it separate from the theistic form with the worship of mythological and nature-gods and goddesses which was growing rapidly and gaining popularity in northern India. One of the councils, which was held at Jalandhar in north-western India about the end of the 1st century a.d. under the auspices of the Scythian king Kaniska who established a permanent schism between the primitive and the developed or mixed form of Buddhism. Today, the primitive Buddhism is to be found to a certain extent in Ceylon, Burma and Siam, and therefore, it is called by European scholars ‘Southern Buddhism', while the developed form of Buddhism is called ‘Northern’, because it is the prevailing religion of Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and other countries in Central Asia. Among the Buddhists the southern or the primitive form of Buddhism is known as ‘Hinayana’ or the ‘Small vehicle’ because it confines its salvation to a selected few monks and nuns of the highest order, while the northern or developed form of Buddhism is called ‘Mahayana’ or the ‘Great vehicle’, because it extends salvation to all classes of people.

We find that in the eleventh chapter of the Astasahasrika-prajnaparamita the doctrines of Hinayana are strongly condemned because the followers of this road consider as their sole aim, the control of one Atman, the peace and extinction (Nirvana) of their own Atta or Atman and practise virtuous deeds for the good of one Atman and for the Nirvana of one Atman. But Mahayana school stretches a helping hand to the suffering millions all around him. Hinayana seeks salvation (Nirvana) of one, while Mahayana leads all souls to the attainment of Bodhi and Omniscience. The Hinayana left out is narrow and selfish, while the Mahayana is broad and catholic.

It is the easier and speedier way of attaining to Buddha-hood and the surest conveyance for crossing the ocean of life to reach Nirvana, the goal of Buddhism. The doctrines and principles of these two, however, were at first practically the same. This developed form of Buddhism or Mahayana prevailed in northern India from the 1st century a.d. Its chief expounder and developer was Nagarjuna, who flourished about the latter end of 1st century a.d., and it was he who developed and established the theistic side of Buddhism its objective symbolism, and made salvation or the mystical state of Nirvana accessible to all. The followers of the Mahayana sect or theistic Buddhism idealised Buddha and his attributes created metaphysical Buddhas and celestial Bodhisattvas or potential Buddhas, who are always willing to help mankind and to save the people, eventually introducing into their faith as objects of worship numberless minor devas of the ancient vedic religion as also innumerable demons of the aboriginal cults both of which were condemned by Buddha himself. Buddha did not teach the worship of a personal God, but within a short time after his death He was deified as the Lord of the Universe, ever existent and without beginning, dwelling in the Heaven called Tushita that is ever-joyful from eternity. He was called Amitabha, the Buddha of boundless light and wisdom. The worship of Buddha’s own image was introduced in various forms and different epochs of his life were idealised into various celestial or potential Buddhas. It was believed that human Buddhas were nothing but the material reflexes of the celestial ones. The chief of these celestial Bodhisattvas was Avalokita, The looking down Lord. This gave foundation to the mythology and the pantheon of Lamaism.

Again about 500 a.d. the Raja Yoga practices of Patanjali were grafted on to the theistic Mahayana doctrines by Asanga a Buddhist monk of Gandhara or Peshawar. Furthermore, about the end of the 6th century, the worship of Siva and Sakti (Durga) the male and female principles of nature, which were personified by the Tantric Hindus under different names, was incorporated into the Mahayana Buddhism. These introductions and developments turned the simple primitive Buddhism of four noble truths into a huge mixture of metaphysics, Raja Yoga, image-worship, nature-worship and demon-worship. It differed from the Hinayana or small vehicle in the same way as modern Catholicism differs from the simplest form of religion that was preached by Jesus the Christ.[3]

Mahayana Buddhism had to struggle hard for nearly a century against the superstitions of the artcient Bon religion till the reign of another powerful king, This-rong Deutsan, who lived in the middle of the 8th century a.d. and extended his territory as far as Changan, the capital of China. Before his time the whole of Tibet could hardly be called a Buddhist country. He sent to India for the celebrated Buddhist priest Santirakshita to establish Buddhist order in Tibet. In the middle of the 8th century a.d. the Budhist sage Santirakshita was invited by the Tibetan monarch from Nalanda of Magadha to conduct the work of Buddhist propaganda in Tibet and also to supervise the translation of Buddhist Sanskrit works in Tibetan language. He was better known in Tibet by the title of Acharya Bodhisattva on account of his holy character and saintly virtues, and was the son of the King of Zahor (Modem Jessore in East Bengal). He was ordained in the order of Bhikshu by Jnanagarbha and became a professor of the sacred literature in the University of Nalanda. He belonged to the Madhyamika Yogachara school. At his suggestion the king of Tibet invited the Tantric adept of Udyana (Modern Kabul) named Padmasambhava for the purpose of suppressing by his mystic incartations the numerous evil spirits those, according to the popular belief, then infected Tibet. Padmasambhava used to wear the mitre-shaped crown which survives in the Pad-shwa i.e. Padma’s cap, now generally worn by the head Lamas of the oldest of the Red-cap sects.

It is stated that Tantric Buddhism was introduced for enabling royal personages and the lay classes, both men and women, to enter Nirvana by a direct but more difficult and dangerous path without renouncing the world than the round about one of monastic indiscipline. Rai Bahadur S. C. Das written: “In Tantric religion services one class of priests wears flowing locks, ornamental caps and in the case of women tiaras and jewellery”.[4]

Responding to the invitation of the Tibetan King and the Buddhist High priest Santirakshita, who was also the spiritual teacher of the king of Magadha, his eminent co-adjutor the great Indian Guru Padmasambhava, came to Tibet in 744 a.d. The Tibetan monarch received him with esteem honour and appointed him the High priest of Tibet. It was he who introduced that system of Buddhism which was afterwards known as Lamaism in Tibet.

This Guru Padmasambhava, or the Lotus-born One, or Guru Rin-po-che (the precious Guru) as the Tibetans call him, was the founder of the Tantric liturgy of Lamaism and is now deified and worshipped by the Lamas as Buddha himself. Various legends are connected with the life and works of this great founder. He came to deliver Tibet from the hands of the malignant devils as well as from the superstitions and ignorance of the country. Many are the stories telling how he miraculously vanquished the chief devils of the land, made them obey his commands, and bade them always remain faithful defenders of his religion. But in return he guaranteed that they would be duly worshipped and fed by the Lamas. So the offerings to devils have ever since become a part of the daily worship in Lamaism.

The saint Padmasambhava was a native of Udyana, in the north-west of Kashmir. Marco Polo says: “Kashmir is a province inhabited by people who are Buddhists. They have an astonishing acquaintance with the devilries of enchanment, in so much as they can make their idols speak. They can also by their sorceries bring on changes of weather, and produce darkness, and do a number of things so extraordinary that no one without seeing them would believe them.”[5] It is said that Padmasambhava had twenty-five disciples each possessing some grotesque magical powers: (1) could mount the sun beams, (2) could change his head into that of a horse (3) could revive the slain, (4) could travel invisible as the wind; (5) could make water run upwards; (6) could catch flying birds, and so on. Under the patronage of the King This-rong-Deutsan, Padmasambhava built in 749 a.d. at Sam-Yas the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, and made Santirakshita the first abbot of the monastery who held his position for thirteen years and who is now entitled Acharya Bodhisattva, that is, the great teacher, the reflection of the Celestial Buddha.

About the middle of the 9th century the grandson of This-rong-Deutsan, King Ralpachan by name, employed many Indian Buddhist scholars to translate the Buddhist scriptures with their commentaries. It was he who endowed most of the monasteries with state lands and introduced the Chinese system of chronology in keeping the annals of his country. Lan Danna the younger brother of King Ralpachan, seeing his devotion to Buddhism, had him murdered about 899 a.d., then ascended the throne and immediately began to persecute the Lamas, by desecrating the temples and monasteries, burning books, treating the Lamas in the most inhuman manner and by forcing them to become butchers. He continued his persecution for nearly three years when he was shot with an arrow by a Lama, Pal Dorje by name.

After Santirakshita and Padmasambhava came to Tibet nearly seventy-five Buddhist scholars from Bengal and a few from Nepal and Kashmir to propagate Buddhist doctrines and to translate the Sanskrit works on Buddhism into Tibetan. The names of some of these scholars were: Dharmakirti, Vimalamitra, Buddhaguhya, Santigarbha, Visuddhisingha Kamalasila, Kusara, Sankara-Brahman, Silamanju of Nepal, Anantavarman, Kalynamitra, Jinamitra, Dharmapala, Prajnapala and others.[6]

The word ‘Lama’ is a Tibetan term meaning the ‘superior one’. It is a title given to the head of the monastery, to the abbots and to the high monks. The Lamas do not call their special form of Buddhism by the name of ‘Lamaism’, but they say ‘the religion’ or ‘Buddha’s Religion’, and there is no Tibetan counterpart for the English term Lamaism. Thus established, and lavishly endowed and patronized by the Tibetan King This-rong-Deutsan and his two successors, Lamaism made steady progress in Tibet.

We may divide the eras of Lamaism into three parts: (1) Primitive or Augustine Lamaism. It was a developed form of Mahayana Buddhism, mixed with the demon-worship of the Bon religion. (2) Mediaeval Lamaism from 1038 a.d. when it was reformed by the great Indian Buddhist monk, the illustrious noble lord Atisha. And, (3) Modern Lamaism, from the 17th century onwards. Atisha was about 60 years old when he visited Tibet. Seeing the corruptions in the religion, he immediately started a reform and became the founder of the reformed sect called in Tibetan ‘Kadampa’ which, after three centuries and a half, became known as Qe-lug-pa or ‘the virtuous order’. This has become the most powerful sect of Lamaism and is today the established church of the country. The reform by Atisha divided Lamaism into various sects, and these have their headquarters in different parts of the country and each of these sects has developed to strong hierarchy since the beginning of the 12th century A.D.

In the year 1206 a.d., Tibet was conquered by the great Mongol emperor Jenghiz Khan who afterwards figures in Indian history as the great Mongol invader and plunderer. His successor Kublai Khan became the emperor of China. He was a very enlightened ruler and his conversion to Buddhism was miraculous. He invited to his court the most powerful Lamaist hierarchy from Tibet, as also the representatives of Christian and of other faiths. He demanded from the Christian missionaries, who had been sent by the Pope of Rome, the performance of some miracle which would prove the superiority of the Christian religion. When the missionaries failed, the Buddhist Lama caused the emperor’s wine-cup to rise miraculously to his lips. Thus convinced the emperor adopted Buddhism and became the Charlemagne of that faith, and created the first Buddhist Pope, in Tibetan ‘Pags-Pa’ meaning Highness, or sublimity. He made Lama of Sakya or the Sakya Pandita as the head of the Lamaist and conferred upon him temporary power as the Sakya Pope or the tributary ruler of Tibet, and bestowed upon him the honour to crown the Chinese emperors. Kublai Khan promoted the cause of Lamaism, and built monasteries in Mongolia and a large one in Peking. Lamaism flourished very storngly under the successors of the Sakya Pope, the first of whom was his own nephew Lodoi Gyal-tsan, and the supremacy of the sect of the Sakya Pope was maintained for some time. Some of the other rival sects of Lamaism, however, were raised to equal rank with it by the later Chinese emperors of the Ming dynasty. Thus a great strife for political supremacy existed among different sects of Lamaism until 1640 a.d. when another Mongol prince, Gusri Khan, conquered Tibet and made a present of it to Nag-wan, the fifth Grand Lama or Pope. In 1650 a.d. this Lama was confirmed in his sovereignty by the Chinese emperor and was given a new Mongol title, ‘Dalai’, meaning ‘vast as the ocean’, but the Tibetans called him ‘Gyalwa Rinpoche’, i.e. ‘the great gem of Majesty’. Thus acquiring the temporal power he became the first priest king of Tibet, brought other sects under his rule and became the head of all the sects and monasteries in the country. In 1645 a.d. he built his palace on Potala, a hill near Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. All the Lamas believe that he was the incarnation of the celestial Bodhisattva Avalokita. His successors also are being recognised to be of divine descent i.e. the veritable Avalokita-in-flesh. The present Dalai Lama named Tuhstan[7] is the thirteenth successor of the first Pope Dalai Lama, or the thirteenth reincarnate Lama, or the same reflex of the celestial Bodhisattva. The Tibetan Lamas believe that the same Dalai Lama reincarnates again and again, and after giving up their old bodies, they take up a new one, remembering every event of the life of the departed Dalai Lama.

This idea must not be confused with the theory of rebirth which is the result of karma, because the latter is never confined to one channel. The present Lama ascended his throne in 1876, and in his 18th year he is now about 58 years (1911). There are other monasteries which have their grand Lamas with titles, but they are like governors under the Dalai Lama of Lhasa. The Tashi Lumpo grand Lamas are considered to be holier than those of Lhasa, as they are not so contaminated with temporal government and world politics.

The size of some of the Tibetan monasteries is immense, containing from 3,000 to 10,000 monks, and it is said that there are over 3,000 monasteries in Tibet. Besides, there are temples, shrines, cathedrals, and other places of worship. There is a colossal temple like the cathedral of St. Peter in Rome, in the centre of the city of Lhasa. It is called in Tibetan ‘Jo-wo kan’; ‘the Lord’s house’. All the main roads of Tibet meet at this common centre. It is the first and the oldest Buddhist temple in Tibet, founded in the 7th century by the first Tibetan king, Sron-Tsan Gam-po. The main building is three stories high and roofed with golden plates. The walls are covered with pictures and frescoes depicting the principal events of the life of Buddha. Upon the main altar, is the image of Sakya Muni or Gautama Buddha. Before the entrance to the left, is the throne of the Dalai Lama, richly decorated; next to it is the throne of the Tashi grand Lama, beside which are the seats of abbots and other Lamas. There are numerous statues of saints, gods and goddesses upon smaller altars in the chapels. Upon these altars are lamps, incensories etc. In the Lamaistic form of worship, there is a great resemblance to that of the church of Rome. The pompous services are conducted by celibrated and tonsured Lamaist monks, dressed in gorgeous vestments. There are candles, incense, bells, rosaries, mitres, capes, pastoral crooks, worship of relics, confession, litanies, vespers, chants, holy water and the rest of the paraphernalia. In fact, most of the symbolism, rituals and ceremonials of the Romanist church are but reproductions of what we find in Lamaism in Tibet. There are seven different stages of the Lamaist form of worship: (1) The invocation of the Lord; (2) Inviting the deity to be seated; (3) Presentation of offerings, sacred cake, rice, water, flowers, incense, lamps and music; (4) Hymns in praise; (5) Repetition of the mantra or the sacred formula like ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, salutation to the jewel of the Lotus; (6) Prayers for benefits present and to come; and lastly, (7) Benediction. This is the general outline of the daily service in the temples, chapels, and monasteries. On special occasions, like the birthday anniversary of Buddha, more elaborate services are held. There is a kind of eucharist among the Lamaist rites. This sacrament, or consecrated wine and bread, is celebrated once a week in large temples, and draws numerous people. It is considered to be a service for obtaining long life and its benefits are sought for in cases of severe illness, or when death is imminent. The chief god addressed at this time is Buddha Amitayus or the ‘God of Infinite life’. This Amitayus is a reflex of Amitabha or Buddha, the infinite Light.

The Lamaist monks and nuns live a very pure and chaste life, study the sacred books of Buddhism, and teach their disciples. They are supported by lay followers of Lamaism. During the last few centuries Lamaism has spread all through Central Asia, part of Siberia and the northernmost states of India. There are thousands of followers of Lamaism in Russia on the banks of the Volga, and they are known as Kirghis and Kalmuka.

Thus we see how Lamaism gradually developed from primitive Buddhism and how it grew into a great power in course of a few centuries. Being protected by the natural walls of mountains, rivers and deserts, and zealously guarded by the priests, the seed of the Mahayana Buddhism which was sown in the soil of Tibet, has now grown into the huge tree of Lamaism, with innumerable branches, giving shelter to millions of souls who enjoy peace and happiness, comfort and consolation in time of distress, and do not covet the riches of other nations. The aggressive European travellers and Christian missionaries have been trying their best to bring discord and misery, quarrel and fighting among those simple, peace-loving and contented people of Tibet. Greed for wealth and for territorial possession at last forced the British Government in India to send an expedition to Tibet under Col. Younghusband. The pioneers of English civilization invaded the country and under the name of civilization brought havoc, destruction, theft, robbery, immorality, drunkenness as they have done in India, and more lately in China. The old brutal law of ‘might is right’ is still the motive power of the so-called civilized nations. Think of the difference between the followers of Christ and those of the illustrious saviour Buddha who have spread blessings, peace, goodwill, morality and righteousness under the name civilization and religion, in whatever part of the world they went.

Footnotes and references:


During the time of this lecture in 1911.


A History of Western Tibet, p. 120.


Archdeacon Ferrar in his lecture on the ‘Development of Christian Art’ states that for three centuries there were no pictures of Christ, but only symbols, such as the fish, the lamb, the dove. The Catacombs of St. Callistus contained the first picture of Christ, the date being 313 a.d. Not even a cross existed in the early Catacombs, and still less a Crucifix. The 8th century saw the first picture of the dead Christ. In 586 a.d. Rabulas depicted the Crucifixion in a Syriac Gospel.—Buddhism of Tibet, p. 12.


Cf. Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet.


Marco Polo, I, p. 155.


Journal of the Buddhist Text Society of India, January, 1893.


During the time of this lecture in 1911 A.D.

FAQ (frequently asked questions):

Which keywords occur in this article of Volume 2?

The most relevant definitions are: Buddhism, Tibetan, Lama, Buddha, China, India; since these occur the most in “lamaism in tibet” of volume 2. There are a total of 99 unique keywords found in this section mentioned 379 times.

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Yes! The print edition of the Complete works of Swami Abhedananda contains the English discourse “Lamaism in Tibet” of Volume 2 and can be bought on the main page. The author is Swami Prajnanananda and the latest edition is from 1994.

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