Distinctions Between India, Chinese, and Tibetan Buddhism
DistinctionsBetween India, Chinese, and Tibetan Buddhism
DistinctionBetween Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan Buddhism
Buddhismis a tolerant religion that is founded on practical approaches forcultivating spiritual awareness. It maintains that an individualshould strive to find truth about him/herself. It treasures wisdom,equanimity, loving-kindness, clarity of mind, and compassion(Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, 2016). Buddhism has a therapeuticvalue to its followers since it helps them understand suffering andinitiate the healing and transformation processes as it preparespeople to attain nirvana. Followers of Buddhism entrust theirspiritual wellbeing and growth to Buddha, his teachings (the Dharma),and the teachers such as Lamas, and tulkus (Introduction to TibetanBuddhism, 2016). The religion began in India after Buddha achievedawakening following a long period of fasting. From the beginning, thereligion copied heavily from Hinduism. The religion was spread toother parts of the world, particularly in Eastern and Central Asia.Bodhidharma is responsible for the spread of Buddhism in China andJapan.As Buddhism was being spread to different parts of theworld, it changed from its original version as it adopted thepractices and beliefs of its new believers to avoid rejection and toensure that it garnered a large following (China Highlights, 2016).For instance, in China, Buddhism copied heavily from Taoism as wellas the people’s beliefs and practices. This paper will explore thedifferences between Chinese, Indian, and Tibetan Buddhism.
Buddhismwas promulgated in China by Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of theBuddhist Chan Order. In the beginning, Buddhism was never acceptedin China since some of its features were incomprehensible to thepractical Chinese mind. Indian Buddhism copied heavily from Hinduism,for instance, it inherited a tradition of asceticism (Holt, 2012). For this reason, it was easier for Indian Buddhists to adopt thedelayed gratification prescribed in mediation. On the other hand, theChinese tradition embraces the culture of working towards living afulfilling life (Holt, 2012).As a result of their practicalnature, Chinese people could not see any valuable qualities and ideasthat they could inherit from Buddhism (Holt, 2012). Upon the arrivalof Bodhidharma in China, he studied the people’s culture and foundthat they differed substantially from that of the Indians. Forinstance, the Chinese people held the mentality that it would bebetter if the achievement of Nirvana is done during a person`severyday life. As such, when Bodhidharma arrived in China between502 AD and 557 AD he introduced a new pattern of self-cultivationthat does not emphasize on the practitioner adopting the traditionalIndian Dhyana meditation (China Highlights, 2016). Besides, inChina, ordinary people wanted to practice Dharma but theircircumstance could not have allowed them to become nuns or months. This resulted in the rise of Mahayana Buddhism which allowed peopleto learn and practice the Dharma without becoming monks and Nuns(China Highlight, 2016). This is the form of Buddhism that was spreadto China and all of Eastern and Central Asia. A follower of MahayanaBuddhism must make a commitment to helping all sentient beingsovercome their suffering. Upon doing this, a follower moves towardsachieving enlightenment by letting go of the ego`s illusions.
Besides,in China, the Mahayana Buddhism is founded on the Bodhisattva Vowwhich is a commitment that followers make that they will always putothers before themselves. The practice of Bodhisattva path isfounded on the Six Paramitas or Transcendent Virtues. These virtuesare generosity, discipline, exertion, patience, wisdom, andmeditation (Holt, 2012). When he was introducing Buddhism to China,Bodhidharma emphasized on several principles to guide how thereligion is practiced by its Chinese followers. For instance, ChineseBuddhism does not emphasize on a specific place for conducting Dhyanameditation (Holt, 2012). As such, a person can choose to engage inDhyma mediation in a secular or monastic community. Bodhidharma alsotaught that a practitioner can achieve enlightenment at any momentduring his/her everyday life.
Theteachings of Buddha were introduced to the Tibet people during thekingdom’s first emperor Songsen Gampo (600-650 CE).However, thereligion did not flourish until a century later during the reigns ofEmperors Tri Detsen, Tri Saynalek, and Tri Ralpachen (Introduction toTibetan Buddhism, 2016). During this time, hundreds of Indian textswere converted to the Tibetan language, and many monasteries werebuilt. The faster growth in the number of Tibetan Buddhist was as aresult of the nobility and royalty embracing the religion(Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, 2016). Both the Tibetan andChinese Buddhism include Mahayana and Hinayana practices. However,the Tibetan Buddhism is founded on the Vajrayana practices which aimat the follower overcoming Samsaric activities. The Samsaricactivities include ego-centered ambitions and personal interests. Itis only through overcoming these activities that a follower canachieve enlightenment. While the Chinese Buddhism requires that afollower changes almost all of his/her daily habits, Tibetan Buddhismasks that the practitioner adopts new perspective towards life (Holt,2012).
InIndia, Buddhism is based on the four principles of sufferings knownas the Four Noble Truths. The first principle says that sufferingmust exist. According to the teachings of Buddha, suffering comes inmany forms such as old age, death, and sickness (Holt,2012).Suffering emanates from the fact that life is not ideal. Additionally, it is caused by the fact that human beings havecravings and desires that are insatiable. As such, even when a personis not suffering from any illness or bereavement, his/her desiresremains unfulfilled. The second noble truth is that the suffering hasan origin. According to the teachings of Buddha, the origin ofsuffering is desire and greed, destructive urges or hatred, anddelusion and ignorance (Holt, 2012). The third noble truth is thecessation of suffering also known as Nirodha. Buddha taught that theonly way of overcoming desire is for one to liberate him/herself fromattachments. On the other hand, the only way of achieving Nirvana isthrough extinguishing the three fires of hatred, greed, and delusion. The fourth noble truth is the Magga or the cessation of suffering. In Indian Buddhism, the way of overcoming suffering and attainingNirvana is by following the guideline stipulated by the EightfoldPath. According to the Eightfold path, an individual has to developthe right thoughts or motives, understanding, effort, speech, meansof livelihood, mind, concentration, and mindfulness (Holt, 2012).
Althoughin the beginning there were ten major schools of Buddhism in China,only two of them have survived to modern times. These are ChanBuddhism and Pure Land Buddhism. The fundamentals of Chan Buddhismare realization, understanding, faith, and practice (ChinaHighlights, 2016). Faith belongs to the aspects of religion whileunderstanding is philosophical. The last concept is realization whichis akin to enlightenment. According to Chan Buddhism, all the fourfundamental concepts are interrelated which means that one leads toanother. . For instance, a person who has no faith cannot understand,and if one does not practice his/her beliefs there is no way thathe/she can achieve enlightenment (Holt, 2012).
Onthe other hand, Tibetan Buddhism is based on four traditions known asGelug, Kagyu, Sakya, and Nyingma. Tibetan Buddhism is mainly found inTibet and some regions of Northern Nepal, India, Bhutan, andHimalayas (The Buddhist Society, 2017).Nyingma is the oldestschool of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Padmasambhava. On theother hand, the Gelug School was founded by Lama Tsong Khapa, ayogi-scholar and great reformer. Lama Tsong Khapa placed moreimportance on monastic training and practice. Tibetan monastictraining focuses on the main topics of Madhyamika (Buddhistphilosophy), Pramana (Buddhist logic), vinaya (Monastic rules),abhidharma (Buddhist psychology and cosmology) and Prajnaparamita(perfection of wisdom) (The Buddhist Society, 2017).
Thereare some practices of Tibetan Buddhism that are absent in both theIndian and Chinese Buddhism. For instance, the Tibetan Buddhismbelieves in the reincarnation of Panchen Lama and Dalai Lama. Thecurrent leader of Tibetan Buddhism is Dalai Lana. Before beingappointed as the Dalai Lana, an individual must be knowledgeable inall the three schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The head of the GelugSchool is Ganden Tri Rinpoche (The Buddhist Society, 2017). AllTibetan schools place more emphasis on the teacher-studentrelationship which is similar to the Guru-learner method employed bythe Indian Buddhists. Unlike the Chinese and Indian Buddhism,Tibetan Buddhist believes in deities. The deities are not akin togods but are perceived to possess enlightened qualities such ascompassion and wisdom. The head deity of Tibet Buddhism is known asAvalokiteshvara or the Buddha of compassion (The Buddhist Society,2017). .
WhenBuddhism was being spread to China, Theravada practices were replacedwith Mahayana’s ones. This allowed Buddhism to spread to even wideraudience. Chinese pratice Mahayana Buddhism which means the open wayinvolves the practitioner working towards the benefit of others. Theteachings of this form of Buddhism focus on concept such relative andabsolute truth, compassion, and emptiness. As compared to Theravada,the Mahayana Buddhism is more inclusive since it places less emphasison monastic living (Holt 2012). This form of Buddhism focuses on afollower helping all sentient beings attains enlightenment. Mahayanadiffers from Hinayana in that the latter includes the concept ofcompassion. Besides, at this stage, while a practitioner aims atdeveloping bodhisattva, he also seeks to help other people trapped insamsara to attain enlightenment. At this stage, the only way ofachieving bodhisattva is by the practitioner understanding the basicBuddhist practices and teachings. After this, an individualprogresses slowly to a more advanced practice and finally achievesnirvana. On the other hand, Indian Buddhism is more conservativecompared to both Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism. It places moreemphasis on the original Pali language. This is the language that isused in worship. Indian Buddhism also places more importance onarhat which is liberation or nirvana (Holt, 2012).
WhileChinese Buddhism emphasizes on the Bodhisattva path, the IndianBuddhism places more importance on Vibhajjavada which is interpretedas the teachings of analysis. This means that a follower should gainsinsights from his/her own experience, critical reasoning, andapplication of knowledge (Holt, 2012). Indians practiced HinayanaBuddhism which is known as the only way or the individual vehicle.This is the most basic level of Buddhism. At this level, apractitioner’s primary goal is to attain individual enlightenment. However, this is not enough to attain enlightenment since one has toalso pay close attention to the teachings of wise monks and thescriptures as well. In India, Hinayana Buddhism place more importanceon monastic living. Besides, at this level an individual overcomessamsaric activities through meditation.Both the Indian Buddhismshares some similarities with the Indian Buddhism in that they allhave monastic tradition. However, unlike in China, monastic traditionis much stronger in India. For this reason, there is a strongrelationship between lay people and monks/nuns (Holt, 2012).
Onthe other hand, Tibetan Buddhism incorporates both the Mahayana andHinayana practices. However, Vajrayana is the foundation of TibetanBuddhism. This approach maintains that it is possible to transmutesuffering in all its forms such as ignorance, conflicting emotions,passion and aggression into their wisdom nature. Vajrayana Buddhistbelieves that it is possible to utilize the energy of suffering tohelp others attain enlightenment. As compared to Hinayana andMahayana, the Vajrayana is a more difficult and provocative approachto attaining enlightenment (Holt, 2012). On the other hand, theVajrayana just like Mahayana and Hinayana aims at overcomingfixations of attachments, indifference, and ego. However, unlikeMahayana and Hinayana, Vajrayana offer techniques that help apractitioner attain bodhichitta and get enlightened much faster. Vajrayana requires that a practitioner imagines that he/she isalready a Buddha for him/her to achieve enlightenment quickly. Tibetan Buddhism has attracted many Chinese followers since itincorporates many aspects of Chinese history and culture. This formof Buddhism place great emphasis on the relevance of lama who aregiven the title Rinpoche or the precious one. For a person to earnthe title of a lama, he/she must complete a long course of study thatis set to prepare him for the role of a teacher of Tibetan Buddhisttradition (Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, 2016). Individuals whoare qualified to become lamas orient students to specific teachings.They also bestow spiritual energy to learners to enable the lattersuccessfully undertake certain practices. Tibetan Buddhistsbelieve that their lama reappear in a new body form after death afterthe process of incarnation (Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, 2016).
Inconclusion, Tibetan, Chinese and Indian Buddhism differ from eachother depending in the way enlightenment is achieved in each school.Tibetan Buddhism follows the Vajrayana which provides for a fasterway of achieving enlightenment. On the other hand, the ChineseBuddhism follows the Mahayana practices. On the other hand, IndianBuddhists adhere to the Hinayana practices. I have learned thatunlike Indian Buddhism, Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism are veryconservative. This is because as Buddhism was being spread fromIndian to other parts it had to adopt the cultures of its newbelievers to avoid rejection. For example, Chinese Buddhism isheavily influenced by Taoism. This is reason behind the many schoolsand groups of Buddhism in China and Tibetan. For instance, TibetanBuddhism is divided into four schools while Chinese Buddhismoriginally had 10 schools.
ChinaHighlights. (2016). Buddhism in China. Accessed on April 1, 2017.http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/buddhism.htm
Holt,D. (2012). From India to China: Transformation in BuddhismPhilosophy. Accessed on March 31, 2017.https://www.qi-journal.com/Culture.asp?-token.D=Article&-MaxRecords=1&-SkipRecords=0&-Op=bw&Name=From%20India%20to%20China%3a%20Transformations%20in%20Buddhist%20Philosophy
Introductionto Tibetan Buddhism. (2016). Accessed on March 31, 2017.https://www.sakya.org/introtibetanbuddhism.html
TheBuddhist Society. (2017). Tibetan Buddhism. Accessed on March 31,2017.http://www.thebuddhistsociety.org/page/different-forms-of-buddhism/tibetan-buddhism-1
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