Is Tibetan Buddhism a product of Chinese Buddhism or is it the other way around?  


This article is response to an article titled as “The process of Sinicization is the main line of the development of Tibetan Buddhism in History” by Solang Dolma, assistant researcher at the Institute of Religious Studies, China Tibetology Research Center.

The article was more or less brought to the fore to fuel and further promote President Xi Jinping’s Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism. Though it is very much clear and evident to all of us how Tibetan Buddhism is only now (since the illegal occupation of Tibet by China) experiencing Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism that too at an accelerated pace and complete disregard to the sentiments of the very people who practice and adhere Tibetan Buddhism. This article is just another example of the plethora of tools and utilities that the Communist Party of China uses to spread their propagandic narratives.

The said article on “the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism” is categorically divided into 6 different stages. Each one of them is filled with vague facts and does not even correlate historical events. This very much indicates how this article instead of genuinely trying to bring new literature is totally a propagandic piece and I will counter each one of these stages lexically to illustrate how there was no such wholesome Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism ever in Tibetan history.

1. The spread of Buddhism in Tibet in the 618-907 Tang Dynasty:

During this period from 7th to 10th century, Buddhism was introduced and prospered in Tibet. This introduction and penetration of Buddhism in Tibet was from the Nalanda school in India. There is no argument over this with the article also mentioning how it was from South Asia that Buddhism was introduced. However, one glaring event from history that is not mentioned here is the debate at Samye monastery (1st Tibetan Buddhist monastery) between Indian and Chinese Buddhist which would decide which form of Buddhism, Tibet would adopt as the state religion. This called the ‘SamyeDebate’ also called ‘Council of Lhasa’ for a period of 2 years (792-794). The scholars from India were victorious and it is their form of Buddhism which Tibetans have adopted. This crucial moment in history which further solidifies the connections between Tibetan Buddhism and the land of its origin – India, yet is completely ignored by the writer in her article.

2. Further localization of Buddhism during the 960-1127 Song Dynasty:

This period was a comeback for Tibetan Buddhism and a very important figure is Atisa Dipankara and his role in the revival of Tibetan Buddhism. Atisa was born Bikrampur, in the Indian Subcontinent, now located in Bangladeshand his omission is yet another slight and a huge modification made to the history of Tibetan Buddhism in the article. Atisa is revered and is included in several prayers and chants in Tibetan Buddhism. This period was not only limited to the revival of Tibetan Buddhism but saw its spread and was adopted and embraced by the Chinese regions bordering Tibet.

3. A relatively comprehensive integration between Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese Culture during the 1271-1368 Yuan Dynasty:

Tibetan Buddhism continued to draw reverence and during this period it saw even the mighty Mongols submit to it. The great Sakya Pandita and his nephew Drogon Chogyal Phagpa were teachers of the mongol leader Goden Khan and Kublai Khan, who later conquered China. The author states how Tibetan Buddhism was further integrated into Chinese culture by spreading to the northwest and continuously promoted the process of Sinicization but infact it was the other way around and the Chinese right from the emperor to the common people had to follow Tibetan Buddhism as it was the state religion in the eastern part of the Mongol Empire. More than Sinicization it was a Tibetanization over the deep-rooted form of Chinese Buddhism.

4. The Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism continued to deepen during the 1368-1644 Ming and 1644-1911 Qing Dynasties:

The golden age of Tibetan Buddhism saw it spread far and wide to it neighbours. It penetrated China so deeply as the author mentions Tibetan Buddhist monasteries were established in Beijing, the capital of the Chinese Empire. However, instead of giving facts and showing the growth and reverence of Tibetan Buddhism, the author claims how Tibetan Buddhism integrated into Chinese Culture, giving it lesser significance. One example is how the Chinese Emperor Qinglong during his rule wanted the Panchen Lama to visit Beijing and grace the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries on his 70th birthday. This reverence shows how even the renowned Chinese emperor knew that it was Tibetan Buddhism that was the real medicine for him and his people. Yet another important event in history that the author intentionally omits.

5. Tibetan Buddhism was deeply rooted in Chinese culture during the period of the Republic of China, and Tibetan and Chinese civilization interacted and complemented each other.

The author mentions here of the ninth Panchen Lama and his role in promoting Tibetan Buddhism in China, but what he intentionally hides is the conflict of the Panchen Lama with the Tibetan Government led by the 13th Dalai Lama. The Panchen Lama would never have ventured to China if there was no conflict with Tibetan government. Secondly, he mentions a great trend of studying Buddhism in Tibet and this is a fact because anyone given the option would like to have the best mentors of faculties offered. And when it came to Buddhism, no one could match what Tibet was offering then. Amidst all this he does not seem to mention the turmoil surrounding China and maybe it was this turmoil and chaos that saw flocks of Chinese not only turning to Buddhism but other forms of religion as well, Islam and Christianity to name a few.

6. After the founding of New China, Tibetan Buddhism opened a new chapter in Chinese history.

This final phase really hit the nail on the hammer because though the author tries his propagandic best in stating that Tibetan Buddhism undergoes much needed reform. It is evident to all of us how Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet suffered and was on the brink of collapse in this period. Not even a mention and footnote of the cultural revolution that aimed to denude Tibet from it religion is a clear indication of what this article is meant to be. Not a wholesome overview of Tibetan Buddhism and how it influenced China, the Chinese people and Chinese way of life but another propagandic piece to align with president Xi Jinping’s Tibetan Buddhism with Chinese characteristics. The killings of monks and nuns, prohibiting the spread of Tibetan Buddhism, order no.5 and countless several other actions have been undertaken by this very Communist government in destroying and eradicating Tibetan Buddhism. This very eradication of Tibetan Buddhism is what we refer and know as the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.

Conclusion: After reading her article one there are two things that is blatantly clear.

1. The goal of the article is to support the general narrative of the current communist regime in China over Tibetan Buddhism even if it means doing away with context and only bringing forth selected events from history.

2. Though she tries her best to convince the reader that Tibetan Buddhism is the product of Sinicization of Buddhism, a reader of this subject comes to the opposite conclusion and that is of how Tibetan Buddhism has influenced and impacted Chinese Buddhism. So rather than Tibetan Buddhism being a product of Sinicization of Buddhism, it is that Chinese Buddhism is a product of Tibetanization of Buddhism. On top of this not mentioning India even once when it comes to Tibetan Buddhism brings to the fore her lack of understanding Tibetan Buddhism, as Tibetan Buddhism always view India as the land of noble because their Buddhism originated from India.

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