Chapter 4

From Bon to Buddhism

Tibet's civilization predates Buddhism and although the unique culture that came from Tibet is comparable to other great civilizations in the East or Europe, it was shaped initially by the people of the Bon religion.

The earliest indigenous religion of Tibet was called Bon, a religion based on magic, a magic that was used to reconcile the status quo of humanity in Heaven and Earth.

Bon was a religion based on magic and the belief in demons. It was a form of animism which taught of the existence of tree spirits, water demons, mountain gods, monsters of disease and climate and many, many spirits whose powers dominated peoples lives down to the minutest of actions. Elaborate rituals propitiated, to quell and subdue malevolent forces and in so doing, human life was reduced to horrendous punishments both real and imaginary by the priests of this fundamental necromantic shamanism.

The principal protagonist is Bon was the sorcerer or magician - priest who alone ruled, and was feared by all because of his supernatural powers.

When Buddhism arrived in Tibet, it met with a wall of violent opposition by the followers of Bon who hoped that their sorcerer's demons might be able to prevent Buddhism from gaining an influence or a foothold on the Tibetan people. For many years Buddhism made little or no headway because of this hostile opposition.

King Srongtsengampo

Sometime between 620-650 AD King Srongtsengampo arrived to change forever the Tibet as it was then known. He was virtually the first ruler to be mentioned in the history of Tibet, because before then, there was no known written script for the Tibetan language.

King Srongtsengampo was an inspired and forward thinking ruler. He formed trading links with China and India and even Persia and when he realised that he was able with impunity to go further than any other monarch had gone before him, he began to expand territorially. The king formed a large army and despatched them to the far reaches of his borders and ordered them to claim land that was, at that time part of India, Nepal, Central Asia and China. The Chinese and Nepalese rulers were justifiably fearful that war would break out, so to avoid this happening, they formed an elaborate plan to frustrate and halt the King's ambitions. China provided and dispatched Princess Wencheng to the Tibetan king, Nepal also sent their Princess Tritsun and the two princesses joined the King's already three wives. Because of their astounding beauty and intelligence they very soon became the King's favourites. The two queens were Buddhists and brought with them the Buddhism that would change the direction of Tibet's history forever. Buddhism had officially arrived in Tibet.

King Srongtsengampo's interest in his wives' Buddhism waned, and he seemed to take an actual interest in it only to placate the beliefs and feelings of his two princesses. Buddhism languished, and after his and his princesses' deaths the next rulers banned the practise of Buddhism in exchange for the more colourful and exciting world of Bon which allowed the ruling classes to subjugate the masses, by fear of the unknown forces of evil and divine retribution.

However, during Srongtsengampo's lifetime he had accomplished something that would ensure a sometime future for Buddhism. He had moved his Palace and Court to Lhasa, in fact to the very spot where the present Potala stands, and he erected two small shrines in Lhasa, the Jokhang and the Ramoche, where he placed the Buddhist images that his Princesses had brought with them from China and Nepal.

King Trisong Detsen

When King Trisong Detsen, 755-797 AD, came to the throne he followed some of the ideas of King Srongtsengampo and continued to expand the borders of Tibet to encompass large areas of Central Asia. The king, a devoted Buddhist decided that Bon was a too powerful, cruel and superstitious religion that added to the harsh lives of his people, and added only more pain and enslavement to an already suffering population. He decided to reform Tibet's religion, and make the teachings of the Buddha accessible to the common people, and to improve their lot in life, by removing the insidious and destructive power of the Bon priests to an inferior position in society. He summoned the celebrated and devout theologian Padmasambhava from India. Padmasambhava, as well as being a great teacher of religious philosophy, was also renowned as a powerful and compassionate magician. Armed with his Katvangha (magic wand) he undertook to exorcise the evil spirit-forces from the land, and after a very short time he was evidently successful as many demons were thought to have been banished and vanquished forever.

Padmasambhava realised the people's need for a religion that incorporated supernatural creatures. So, he, in his own inimitable way, managed to absorb these creatures into an utterly unique interpretation of Buddhism. This was, in fact, the beginnings of Tibetan Lamaism, the name deriving from blamha, Tibetan for monk or acolyte.

Padmasambhava, or Guru Rimpoche as the Tibetans knew him, was able to fuse Tantricism, a much-involved mystical philosophy incorporating sexual union into a sort of short cut to magical rituals. Retaining a central core of Bon beliefs and practices which were shamanistic in essence, he harnessed and amalgamated the best of both worlds.

The Tantras were philosophical writings that emanated from India sometime in the sixth century AD. They were both Hindu and Buddhist, and both taught methods of meditation with the use of arcane ritual. Tantricism depicts the duality of manifestation in its iconography, hence the use of sexual imagery and sexual symbolism. The female of the embracing pair represents feminine wisdom, while the male represents compassionate action. Simply explained, wisdom cannot exist without compassion and vice versa.

The King ordered the many princes and nobles to fund and support the monasteries that he had built. This aggravated the Bon authorities to such an extent, that a virtual war of word and deed sowed the unrest that once again set back the tide of Buddhism in Tibet. Over the next few decades Buddhism floundered and prospered intermittently, but even so, many sacred books and complex religious texts were originated and written.

In 755 AD Buddhism finally seemed to triumph when the King opened Samye Monastery and ordered the training of the first Tibetan monks, so that the doctrines of Buddha and the teachings of Padmasambhava could reach the people.

For the next two hundred years or so, Tibet was once again plunged into a dark internecine war of chaos. The fragmentation caused by wars within wars, and the expansion of greedy feudal lords, filled Tibet with anarchy and devastation. The few Buddhists that were loyal throughout the time to the teachings of Padmasambhava fled to remote areas in Ladakh (Western Tibet) to worship and preserve the teachings of Buddha. Once again, the Bon religion reigned supreme.

The main achievement of Padmasambhava was that he had been able to successfully found a sect (the Nyingma-pa) which utilised all his teachings which were Buddhist in essence. He skilfully blended the many Bon deities into a cohesive Buddhist pantheon. He introduced the practice of mystical meditative prayer and in the fifty years that he remained in Tibet, he so shaped the newly reformed thinking of the Buddhists that when, as legend tells it, he miraculously disappeared, he was deified by the followers of the Nyingma-pa, and images of him proliferated throughout the land, and further, until the present day. (See Photo. No 36)

King Ralpachen

When King Trisong Detsen died, he was succeeded by his son Ralpachen, who was himself a committed Buddhist. One of the first things that the new King was to do, was to heal the wounds with his neighbours, the Chinese. In 815 AD a conference was held and a peace treaty was negotiated and concluded. The main text of the agreement was engraved on three stone pillars, one was in the courtyard of the sacred Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, another outside the Emperor of China's palace and the third was situated at the Chinese and Tibetan border at Gugu-Meru.

At the conclusion of the ceremony and service to sanctify the peaceful union of both lands the King had his priests invoke a procedure in which a Bon ritual of animal sacrifice was paired with a Buddhist ritual in which the sacred unity of the Sun, Moon and Stars were called to witness the peaceful treaty, and with this treaty, relations between both lands relaxed.

In and about 1038 AD another famous Indian Buddhist mystic and teacher arrived in Tibet. His name was Atisha (982-1054 AD). Once again, a reforming scholar of profound knowledge he reconstructed the prevailing Buddhist doctrines and practice and founded the Kadam-pa sect of Buddhist worship. Atisha, who was a severe and strong disciplinarian, and a one-man moral force, raised the level of morality and introduced celibacy to the existing order of monks. Atisha stayed in Tibet for the next fourteen years of his life, and he too merited the ultimate reward of deification by the Buddhist authorities of his time.

During this period, Buddhism functioned throughout Tibet in a fractured network of forms. The area was so large, and communications so difficult, that is not surprising that such a diversity of practice and worship developed, and so as many as twenty or more sects functioned independently of each other until eventually the unifying word spread to the patchwork centres of worship and four very strong principal orders emerged. These four orders were the Nyingma-pa, the Kadam-pa, the Kargyut-pa, and the Sakya-pa.

During the latter part of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth century two other holy personages made major contributions to the Buddhist way of life in Tibet, and were also blessed by being deified, and incorporated into the now vast pantheon of gods.

Milarepa (1038-1122 AD) was perhaps the greatest star in the firmament of saints. He was a poet, a singer of songs, and a magician of awesome power. Milarepa's life reads like a modern blockbuster novel of adventure and romance. Milarepa was an extraordinary character who rose to spectacular fame in Tibet because his early life as a sinner, and a profligate, led him after such dissolute beginning to convert to Buddhism. He was one of the founding fathers of the Kargyut-pa sect and his many exploits are written about and celebrated to the present day. Milarepa is almost always shown in paintings and sculptures as having his right hand to his ear, as if listening to the songs and poems that he abundantly composed. Milarepa's teacher and friend was the Tibetan layman Marpa. Marpa was a translator of texts and an importer of music from Bengal in India. He is credited with having interpreted complex Buddhist prayers and invocations into the Tibetan language, particularly the Mahamudra Doctrine. He was also, along with his pupil Milarepa, one of the founding fathers of the Kargyut-pa sect. Marpa is often depicted as seated in meditation in his monk's robes and writing prayers.

What is not generally known about this period in Tibet's history is, that not only did Indian teachers and mystics visit and stay in Tibet, teaching their various subjects, but Tibetan scholars also went to India for further study, and to learn the languages of the adjoining countries. Nepal had a large community of Tibetans living and studying there, so that the Tibetan influence in their culture is particularly strong. Travel in those days was so dangerous, what with the huge distances of seemingly impenetrable mountain passes, and the constant fear of murder by groups of bandits, it is quite amazing that the Tibetan Buddhist influence spread as far as it did.

At this time in Tibet's history, just as some degree of order was beginning to form from the purely religious occupation of worship a social order was learnt; a social force which transformed and fuelled Buddhism into a renaissance from the political struggles between the many rival sects and the various warring royal families. The religious sects had gained enormous power and became The Power of Tibet, replacing the influences of wealth and nobility with a Lamaist authority based solely on the Buddhist religion.

Although the Tibetans dedicated their lives to the efficacy of prayer - the more the better, it would not help them overcome the invasions of the Mongol hordes.

The Mongols

In 1239 AD the Mongols invaded Tibet, led by the second son of Genghis Khan, Godan Khan. From the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries the Mongols regularly sacked Tibet. Monks were slaughtered and monasteries burnt to the ground. Rumours had spread among the Mongols that the reason why a small copper plate sealed the base of most of the sculptures of gods was to prevent the gold and precious gems inside from tumbling out. As many of these holy figures were gilded and gave the impression of being solid gold, the monasteries came first on the list of the invaders' conquests. On discovering that the sculptures were not solid, they lopped off the heads, arms and legs and prized off the bottom plates in the hope that the treasures inside would be disgorged. Unfortunately, all they found were seeds, bits of cloth, rolls of paper prayers and the occasional clay votive plaque. This explains why some of the earlier bronze still in existence have detectable repaired breaks at the neck, elbow and knee. The mythology of the sealed plate beneath the bronze image, hiding a fortune in gems, has continued down to the present day. It is consequently quite rare indeed to find a figure with its original bottom intact. Throughout history, bottom plates were often replaced and re-consecrated by high ranking Lamas, and with the new consecration, the religious icon became, once again, spiritually active.

Godan Khan installed the leader of the Sakya-pa sect, Sakya-pandita who was the most eminent abbot of his time, as the virtual ruler of Tibet. His choice of Sakya-pandita was deliberate and shrewd. Pandita enjoyed a huge reputation in Tibet as a saint. He was elevated to this high position because the Mongol, Yuan dynasty emperors of China recognised the spiritual power of the Sakya sect of Buddhists. So, an earthly authority with the prestige of holiness began to unite into an authority of rulers.

This relationship between Tibet and the now Mongol emperors of China continued as the Sakya-pa Buddhists provided the legitimacy that was needed by the Mongols to rule over China. In return the barbarian Mongols protected the abbots, lamas and the Tibetan people from harm.

Tsong-Khapa The last major sect to be formed in Tibet was the Gelugpa sect. The founder of the Gelugpa sect was Tsong-Khapa (1357-1419 AD), a seminal figure in Tibetan history and culture. Tsong-Khapa dramatically reformed the Buddhism of the Tibetans into a new order.

At an early age Tsong-Khapa decided to dedicate his life to a complete reformation of Buddhism. He founded and built Ganden Monastery, about forty miles from Lhasa and named his new order the Gelugpas which means literally 'The Virtuous Ones'. He tightened up discipline, as the monks were prone to drunkeness, sexual liberties and riotous behaviour in the male-oriented society of the monasteries. He abolished alcohol and reintroduced celibacy, much to the consternation of many monks who left the monastery for the outside world, in disgust. He stopped the performing of many of the magical and shamanistic rituals, and wrote a special set of prayers or precepts which are still used as a basic text for worship.

Eventually the Gelugpa order prevailed over all the rest of the varied sects. Both the Dalai-Lama and the Panchen-Lama are members of this sect. To this day the members of this sect are known erroneously as the 'Yellow Hats', which is a simplistic nomenclature to the colours of the head-dress worn by the various leading sects. The yellow hats were worn by the Nyingma-pas and the white hats were worn by the Kargyut-pa sect.

Tsong-Khapa, who of course was deified as the patron saint of the main school of Buddhist thought is always depicted as seated in meditation. On each shoulder, atop sprigs of lotus flowers, sit the sword and a book, suggesting that the sword is for cutting the bonds of ignorance, so that the teachings of the Buddha can be released and revealed. Tsong-Khapa died at Ganden Monastery and his body is sealed in a casket of solid gold.

The Dalai-Lamas

The next major historical figures to emerge were the Dalai-Lamas, which loosely means 'Precious Protector'. It is interesting to note that the Dalai-Lama, the spiritual and temporal head of Tibet and the "precious protector" of the faith, is named Dalai which means 'Great Ocean'

It was believed that the Dalai-Lama's reincarnated spirit entered the body of a boy child. When the child was found, and rigorously examined to the satisfaction of the Buddhist hierarchy, he was chosen to be the next incarnate Dalai-Lama.

The first of the Dalai-Lamas was Gendun Truppa (1391-1424 AD). He was a pupil of the great Tsong-Khapa. The Dalai Lamas were regarded by all, as the earthly manifestation of the god Chenresi (T) or Avalokitesvara (Sk). Chenresi (the Great Compassionate One) is the patron deity of the Tibetan people and it is his spirit that manifests itself in the life of the Dalai-Lama.

Dalai-Lamas came and went over the next two hundred years, some mysteriously, according to what political chicanery was afoot at the time until, that is, the emergence of the fifth Dalai-Lama, more popularly known as 'The Great Fifth', Lobsang Gyatso (1615-1680 AD). He was not only a great administrator and reformer, he was the first Dalai-Lama to achieve complete control of the whole of Tibet and its people. At this time, the interests of the Mongols had changed and waned. They were having serious difficulties with their own empire. The influence of the Mongols gradually became negligible, so allowing the Dalai-Lama the opportunity to push ahead, unencumbered by outside factors. His rule was ; and he was able to unite all the major forces of chaos and bring a renewal of hope, along with the authority of religious domination back to his people.

Lobsang Gyatso was a visionary, and it was he who built one of the world's greatest architectural wonders, the citadel palace that was called 'The Potala'. When the 'Great Fifth', Lobsang Gyatso died in 1680 AD the hierarchy of the established Gelugpa order kept his death a complete secret for almost twelve years, so that they could insure the continuance of his constructive and peaceful reign.

The Potala

Lobsang Gyatso was buried in the Potala, which contained its own monastery, temple and mausoleum. The Potala is the sacred mausoleum of the previous Dalai-Lamas, and it is also the main residence of the living Dalai-Lama. The Potala is truly an amazing building never surpassed in Buddhist architecture. It took fifty years to build, and when one first sees it, the blinding effect of the solid gold roof over a structure more than twelve hundred metres high is breathtaking. Erected on the site of an ancient fortress, the Potala is about three thousand metres wide from east to west, with walls over two metres thick at its base. It is packed with art and artefacts from the entire history of Tibetan art, religion and culture.

The interior with its honeycombed maze of over one thousand rooms, mostly bedecked with thangkas (scroll paintings), mystic symbols and Buddhas, some as tall as five metres high, is a splendidly elaborate tribute to a crowded pantheon of both peaceful and hideous, (though protective) gods. Beneath the splendour of the palace, hidden storerooms, granaries, the treasury and carved into the living rock, are the soot-blackened dungeon cellars for the unlucky souls who fell foul of the authorities, or who committed, or were suspected of committing a crime against society. Although Buddhism is regarded by most people as a gentle, lofty moral code of life, a calculated brutality existed in Tibet that was as primitive and barbaric as any of the horrific scenes of spiritual retribution that were so gratuitously depicted in the sculptures and paintings of the pantheon.

The author of this book, in 1987 had the dubious opportunity of visiting the now empty cells deep in the very bowels of the Potala. The visit was legally off-limits and lasted no more than an hour; it was enough! There was a tangible atmosphere of horror and terror that seemed to shriek its agony to one's very being. The walls were crying. No civil law existed in Tibet. Criminals and suspected criminals were punished by landowners who treated the peasants and serfs cruelly and without pity.

Public floggings, amputations, beheadings, eye gouging, the removal of tongues and even being burned alive were staple punishments metered out to the unfortunate. An American academic, Dr Theos Bernard, (Charles Scribner's & Sons, New York 1939) visited the Potala in 1939. "The prison reminded one of a trap to catch a man-eating lion; it was filled with wretched, withered souls, trotting about with shackled limbs. We entered into a conversation with one poor fellow. He told us that he had stolen a couple of charm boxes about five years ago, and he had no idea when he would be released. What actually happens, is, that the government forgets whom they had put in and for how long, which means that once in, always in. Unless one day the government decided to win a little grace by releasing some of its prisoners; and on so auspicious a day any man may be the lucky one. Just as we were about to leave, we heard faint echoes from which emanated from a still lower dungeon, a crying soul was going through the ritual that he might gain happiness in the next life. It turned out to be a friend of Tharchin's who had once been very powerful, and had the reputation of being a fine scholar to boot." (p 29 Bernard 1939)

In the Potala's museum, the author saw severed hands and even more gruesome than anything he had ever witnessed before, flayed skins of little children, mounted under glass. What crimes had they perpetrated? It is very difficult to equate such cataclysmic horror with the loving kindness of the Buddha's teachings, but we must always remember, that human nature is not always amenable to rational behaviour and that the seductive energy of evil often overwhelms the soul of man. Incidentally, the dungeons that the author visited were aptly known as "The Cave of Scorpions".

The upper parts of the Potala are magnificently carved and bracketed into each other without the use of a single nail. The roof-tops are hammered sheets of gilded copper with additions of solid gold finials decorated with hanging prayer-flags and knotted garlands of yak hair that flutter silently in the wind. This awesome building dominates the landscape in Lhasa and can be seen for miles around. Once a powerful symbol of the Buddha's teaching, it is now a mere museum and a repository of history.

The Dalai-Lamas who followed in the wake of the 'Great Fifth's' successes were virtually unable to exert any real contributions to the office of the Dalai-Lama. Also with all the power-politics and womanising that the untouchable role of spiritual and temporal leader held, and air of corruption pervaded the very atmosphere of the Potala, and many of its incumbents disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances. Not until the emergence of the thirteenth Dalai-Lama, Thupten Gyatso, 1876-1933 AD, did things in Tibet begin to change.

International politics became the name of the game. Up until the end of the nineteenth century, Tibet had operated an isolationist policy, and had banned all foreigners from crossing its borders. The wealthy British Empire was making inroads into India and Imperial China was disintegrating from the greed of European and American business tycoons who were eager to exploit the potential of such an enormous market. Japan was also in a state of turmoil and Russia in the north, eager for trade links, was forever manoeuvring into military positions that seemed threatening to the Tibetans. The fall of the Manchu Dynasty in China actually helped Tibet considerably, for as long as there was chaos and strife in China, Tibet felt quite independent and safe.

Thupten Gyatso was no fool, and soon realised that agreements would have to be made with the Chinese and the British, so that Tibet's independence could continue. The west now regarded Tibet with some interest and concern. The significance of this concern was that the British suspected the Russians of forming a trade alliance with the Tibetans, which would lead to the Russians inevitably having even greater control over the vast areas of Central Asia. The British did not like this one bit. The Dalai-Lama was twice forced into exile, once in Mongolia and later into India, when it was feared that an invasion of his country was imminent.

The British now fanatically eager to conclude a treaty with Tibet before the Russians could, sent an armed expeditionary force under the command of Colonel Francis Younghusband in 1904 to insure that the Dalai-Lama signed a treaty or to force a treaty if necessary.

The British acquired their precious treaty after brutally slaughtering seven hundred monks at Gyantse, by shooting them as they massed outside the monastery. The monks waved staffs, pitchforks and a few single shot percussion rifles were fired. They hurled masses of paper prayers in the direction of the British soldiers, but to no avail. In an act of singular military stupidity Younghusband ordered his troops to open fire and in a few short minutes, some say as little as five minutes, seven hundred monks lay dead. The treaty that the Tibetans signed with the British so alarmed the Chinese that Tibet's borders were virtually tightened to a stranglehold.

The conservative religious elements within the hierarchy of Tibet resisted change, and with good reason. After the horror and debacle of the Younghusband invasion. Incidentally, Colonel Francis Younghusband was eventually knighted for his services to the crown and spent the rest of his long life apologising to the Tibetans for his appalling blunder.

Foreigners were once again banned from entering Tibet, modernisation and twentieth century technology was eschewed and even those few who had been to Europe and had returned with technical and scientific knowledge were explicitly forbidden to impart what they had learned. Before Thupten Gyatso died in 1933, he warned the Tibetan people of the terrible dangers that lay ahead. He was so right, soon after his death, crisis loomed, and the dangers that the late Dalai-Lama had warned of became apparent.

The 14th Dalai-Lama

The fourteenth Dalai-Lama, Tenzing Gyatso 1935 - was discovered in the north-eastern part of Tibet. He was born in Takster, in the district of Dokham. Born of lowly birth, (his words) into a family of farmers, his early childhood was shared with two sisters and four brothers. His mother had given birth to sixteen children, but nine had died while they were very young. After the death of the thirteenth Dalai-Lama, Thupten Gyatso, the search began to find his successor. The state oracle was consulted by the appointed Regent and his learned colleagues as a first step to see if and where a reincarnation had appeared. The communications of Oracles were a remnant of pre-Buddhist history when the various demons demanded propitiation and sacrifice. Just as people throughout the world seek out mediums and soothsayers, the Tibetan people also venerated, feared and sought out gifted psychics. The monastery of Nechung was the place where the State Oracle would be consulted. After a grotesque convulsing spasm of concentration the Oracle could initiate a trance-like state, that would enable the particular god he was trying to communicate with, to speak through him. Violent trembling, hideous fits would wrack his body. Hissing, moaning and howling in voices of extraordinary range and quality, would take hold and his body would rotate as if in agony, as his hands beat out strange unrythmic clatter on his bejewelled and harnessed breastplate. Suddenly, he would seem to collapse into the arms of the scholars who surrounded him. A hush descended and a low curious mumbling would issue forth from his seemingly tortured spittle-covered lips. The mumblings of the Oracle were carefully written down by one of the Lama scribes, and the other high ranking scholars asked carefully chosen questions as to the reincarnated identity of the new Dalai-Lama. Finally, all the gyrations subsided, the Oracle was then carried away in a state of physical collapse to the inside of his quarters to recover from his spiritual ordeal.

Tenzing Gyatso was discovered by the indications of the State Oracle and a team of Lama examiners were immediately sent to Takster to investigate. Initially a Lama questioned the nearly two year old boy and was sufficiently impressed to inform his colleagues in Lhasa, that a thorough investigation was worth the effort.

When the first Lama had entered the house he had entered under false pretences. He and another learned Lama, who incidentally dressed in rags, so not to alert any suspicions pretended to be visitors to the area asking for hospitality.

The moment the tiny Tenzing saw the Lama, he went and sat on his lap and began to fiddle with the mala (rosary) that hung from his neck, and asked if he could have it. The child said "Sera-aga" which in the local dialect meant, a Lama from Sera. The Lama then asked "Who was this Lama?" and Tenzing replied, "Losang," he also knew the second Lama and called him Amdo, which was his real name. At this stage, Tenzing's parents did not suspect anything untoward, and the next morning as the visitors attempted to leave they were more than surprised when the child began to cry, and demanded to go with them. The Lamas refused, and left in great excitement.

Several days later a large contingent of senior Lamas arrived at the house, and by now his parents were aware that something very important was happening, especially as Tenzing's older brother had recently been declared a reincarnation of a sacred Lama at Kum Bum Monastery. It simply, however, did not occur to them that their small son Tenzing was being examined as a reincarnation of the Dalai-Lama.

Some children, who are reincarnations, are able to recite prayers that they have never heard and recognise faces of friends and colleagues who were still living. The Lamas brought with them many objects, rosaries, drums and walking sticks, some false, although some of these had been the personal property of the previous Dalai-Lama. The tests further convinced the Lamas, and they were in complete agreement that this child was the rightful heir to the exalted position of Dalai-Lama. The Regent then revealed that he had had a vision, and in that vision he saw three letters floating in a lake, the letters were Ah, which stood for Amdo where Tenzing lived, Ka, which stood for Kum Bum, the local monastery and Ma, which was the tiny monastery perched just above Tenzing's village.

This seemed particularly significant as the late thirteenth Dalai-Lama had once stayed at this monastery and had met Tenzing's father, when his father was only nine years old. The search party was thoroughly convinced, and prepared to remove the child from his home to go to his new home, in the Potala at Lhasa. Things however, did not go so smoothly. The north-eastern part of Tibet where Tenzing's family resided was under Chinese control, and the Chinese authorities sensing something big in the offing, demanded a huge ransom of hundreds of thousands of Chinese dollars. The negotiations went ahead in great secrecy and nearly two years passed before the child could leave for Lhasa.

In the meantime, Tenzing stayed and was looked after at the local monastery and feted as a very special guest! After Tenzing's fourth birthday, he was taken away to Lhasa, the journey lasted over three months. When he was four and a half years old, he was officially accepted as the fourteenth Dalai-Lama, the highest office in Tibetan Buddhism, the spiritual and temporal head of his people.

In 1949 the communists seized power in China and soon made it known to the Tibetans that they intended to liberate and incorporate Tibet into the Chinese organised state. In 1950 the Chinese invaded Tibet in the east, meeting fierce resistance from the Kham Tibetans, but they were able, through the sheer force of numbers to overwhelm and occupy the eastern part of Tibet. In 1951, the Chinese granted Tibet autonomy, but thousands of Chinese soldiers remained. The Tibetans were no match for the might of the Chinese armies, and because the rest of the world had no interest in Tibet or its people there was little or no prospect of assistance from abroad.

Tibet had to adjust to the new order. Repression and resistance continued to ravage Tibet and political agitation angered the Chinese to such a point that in 1956, the Chinese conquering soldiers marched into, and took over Lhasa.

In 1959, the Tibetans could take no more, there was an uprising which was unsuccessful, and fearing the arrest and imprisonment (or worse) of the Dalai-Lama, one hundred thousand Tibetan refugees and their god-king, fled in a diaspora, to live in exile in India, where he and his people remain to this day.

In an effort to maintain their unique way of life and worship, and to continue as a proud and indestructible race, they have managed to survive and thrive in Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The present day Tibetan people in exile, nurture a society that respects, and follows the tenets of their religion via the language, literature, medicine and crafts of its rich and fractured homeland.