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PAGES FROM HISTORY: INDIAN INFLUENCE ON TIBET

May 24, 2009

By Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy
Star of Mysore
June 23, 2009

Exactly fifty years ago, His Holiness Dalai Lama
came to India in exile after the Chinese
aggression of Tibet. From then on, the fourteenth
religious leader of Tibet has been living in
India hoping to get back to his motherland when
the congenial atmosphere sets in there.

Actually, Dalai Lama is not a personal name but
it denotes the exalted position like
Shan-karacharya, Jeeyar, Jagadguru etc. In about
1550 AD, a Tibetan guru of Lama faith visited the
court of Mongol Chief Altan Khan. The Khan was
pleased by the scholarship and compassionate
attitude of this Tibetan monk
(Blod-nams-rgya-mto) and gave him the title
'Tale' meaning ocean of knowledge and compassion.

In course of time 'Tale' became Dalai. As he was
following Lama religion, he came to be called
Dalai Lama, and all the succee-ding chiefs
assumed that title. It is believed that Dalai
Lama is the reincarnation of Bodhisatva
Avalokitesvar, like the avataras of the Hindu
religion, to help the people to attain salvation.
Except the one Dalai Lama (Yantan) who was the
great grandson of Altan Khan, all others are of
Tibetan origin. The present Dalai Lama was born
in 1935 and next year he will enter into 75th
year and that will be a great occasion for the Tibetans.

Gampo of Ancient Tibet

Though India welcomed Dalai Lama and extended a
hand of friendship fifty years ago, actually
India's contact with Tibet goes back to more than
1500 years. Tibet was a group of small States and
Gampo united all of them in about 620 AD and the
Chinese king gave his daughter in marriage to
him. Gampo defeated the Hindu king of Nepal and
Nepal became a part of Tibet for sometime. Gampo
introduced Buddhism to Tibet and hence he is
considered as the Father of ancient Tibet. Tibet defeats China

During 6th-7th centuries AD Tibet became so
powerful as to attack China and occupy parts of
that country. Unable to drive the Tibetans out of
their country, the Chinese king agreed to give
fifty thousand rolls of silk cloth as tribute to
Tibet. After sometime, the Chinese stopped this
tribute and immediately Tibet waged a war on
China and defeated it. The Chinese king made a
treaty with Tibet by surrendering huge amounts of
gold and silk and this is recorded on a stone
dated 821 AD which is still available in Lhasa.

Padmasambhava

Then came another important Chief Trison Dexen
who took great interest in the development of
Buddhism. After visiting India many times, he was
greatly impressed by the famous Nalanda
University. There was a famous scholar by name
Padmasam-bhava at Nalanda and Dexen invited him
to visit Tibet and teach Buddhism. Padmasambhava
accepted the offer and went to Tibet. It was he
who started the Lama School of Buddism. Actually
Lamaism is a harmoious combination of Saivism,
Tantric cult and Mahayan Buddhism.

There was a competition in Tibet between the
religious teachers who came from China and the
scholars from India headed by Padmasambhava in
792 AD. The Chinese scholars were unable to
explain Tao philosophy whereas Indian scholars
could explain the tenets of Buddhism in
attractive language and people voted for Indian
Buddhism. Chinese scholars left Tibet. Indian
scholars began translating Sanskrit and Pali texts into Tibetan.

Dipankara

Then came another scholar Dipankara, also called
Atisha, who was the Vice-Chancellor of the
Vikramashila University in India. He built many
Buddhist monasteries and educational institutions
and became a patron of Buddhism. Actually he
stands next only to Buddha and Padmasambhava in religious hierarchy.

The Indian Buddhist scholars gave equal
opportunity for women also in religious matters.
Worship of Buddha, Bodhisatva and other deities
also became popular. These concepts looked
attractive to common people and by this Indian
Buddhist scholars gained an upper hand in Tibet.

Mongol attack

When things were moving in this congenial way,
the notorious Changez Khan attacked Tibet. He
looted Lhasa, killed hundreds of people and
carried all Tibetan wealth to Mongolia. The
Tibetans were happy that Khan did not carry
Buddhist manuscripts. Tibetan Sakya King Godan
explained to his subjects thus: 'Money and wealth
which we have lost at the hands of the Mongols
can easily be earned but the Buddhist works if
lost could not have been replaced or earned
again'. However, the Mongolian influence on Tibet continued.

Panchen Lama

But Indian influence continued in Tibetan
religious and social life as revealed by the stories of Naropa and Tilopa.

An Indian scholar started a monastery at a place
called Samye which had rarest of Buddhist
manuscripts. The Mongolian Gusri Khan died in
1655 AD and his successors did not show much
interest in ruling over Tibet. In the meantime,
Chinese began to interfere in Tibetan political
affairs. Dalai Lama practically became the head
of Tibet. Just to undermine the influence of
Dalai Lama over Tibet, the Chinese appointed
Panchen Lama as the head of Tibet. This
inaugurated the tradition of Panchen Lama in Tibetan history.

The Chinese expected that there would be quarrel
between Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama so that they
could intervene. But they were disappointed as
Panchen Lama accepted the superiority of Dalai
Lama. Even now Dalai Lama enjoys a superior
status. Without any other course, the Chinese
made an aggression against Tibet which resulted
in Dalai Lama coming to India fifty years ago.

I had the good fortune of presenting a research
paper on Indian influence on Tibet at a
conference held in Buddha Gaya which was
inaugurated by Dalai Lama. After listening to my
paper, His Holiness remarked that Indians know
more about Tibetan history than the Tibetans
themselves. He was further happy to know that I
was from Mysore city close to Bylukuppe, the Tibetan colony.

Thus Tibetans are friends of India for the past
1500 years. A long standing friendship indeed!

* Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former Head,
Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore.
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