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May 2018
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Monastic Schools in Boudha


The Nyingmapa order is considered the Old School of Tibetan Buddhism and its origins can be traced back to Guru Rinpoche or Padsambhava, the Indian Saint who introduced Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th and 9th centuries. In contrast to the other major sects, Nyingmapa never reached a major centralized power, and the order prospered mostly in rural villages, where it became strongly linked with older shamanistic traditions.


During the resurgence of Buddhist influence in the 11th century Tibet, many scholars from the Nyingmapa order went to study in India, which had a revitalising effect for the Nyingmapa order itself, but which also resulted in the creation of a number of sub-sects. One of these scholars was the famous poet Milarepa (1040-1123), a disciple of Marpa (1012-1093), who became the founder of the main Nyingmapa sub-sect: the Kagyupa order. Although much more mainstream, the original shamanistic background did not completely disappear and Kagyupa monasteries became important centres for synthesising the clerical and shamanistic orientations of Tibetan Buddhism.


With the uprising of Buddhism in Tibet in the 11th century, many Indian Buddhist texts were brought to Tibet and monasteries started focussing on the study and translation of these scriptures. One of the leading figures was Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251), also known as Sakya Pandita, the scholar from Sakya and the new movement resulted in the creation of the Sakyapa order.

Because of the high level scholastic tradition of these monasteries, Kunga Gyaltsen, as well as the abbots who came after him, were considered as incarnations of Manjushri or Jampa, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. During the 13th and 14th centuries the Sakyapa order was closely linked with the Chinese Mongols and with their support the Sakyapa rulers became rulers of the Tibetan kingdom. This made the Sakyapa order very powerful and Sakyapa monasteries were contructed throughtout the kingdom.

There are several sub-schools, among which the Ngorpa and the Tsarpa school are the main ones.


The virtuous school or the Gelugpa order of Tibetan Buddhism, also called the yellow hats, is the youngest of the three major schools and was founded in the late 14th century by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). Tsongkhapa studied at all the major schools of his time, including the much older Kadampa school. There he studied the Bengali teachings of the Indian sage Atisha, which were a combination of Mahayana Buddhism and tantric practices. After a vision of Atisha, Tsongkhapa developed a new doctrine which advocates doctrinal purity and monastic discipline as prerequisites to advanced tantric studies.

Over time, the Gelugpa order grew into the largest and most influential order in the Tibetan world. Gradually it became more and more associated with political power, as it was the main order to deliver the Dalai Lamas.

Last modified on Friday, 29 July 2011 10:24


Hi! I am Pasang, your editor-in-chief and publisher of Vairochana. The Vairochana newsletter is created on a vision to galvanize a sense of community in the Boudha region of Kathmandu.


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