1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lāmāism

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LĀMĀISM, a system of doctrine partly religious, partly political. Religiously it is the corrupt form of Buddhism prevalent in Tibet and Mongolia. It stands in a relationship to primitive Buddhism similar to that in which Roman Catholicism, so long as the temporal power of the pope was still in existence, stood to primitive Christianity. The ethical and metaphysical ideas most conspicuous in the doctrines of Lāmāism are not confined to the highlands of central Asia, they are accepted in great measure also in Japan and China. It is the union of these ideas with a hierarchical system, and with the temporal sovereignty of the head of that system in Tibet, which constitutes what is distinctively understood by the term Lāmāism. Lāmāism has acquired a special interest to the student of comparative history through the instructive parallel which its history presents to that of the Church of Rome.

The central point of primitive Buddhism was the doctrine of “Arahatship”—a system of ethical and mental self-culture, in which deliverance was found from all the mysteries and sorrows of life in a change of heart to be reached The “Great Vehicle.” here on earth. This doctrine seems to have been held very nearly in its original purity from the time when it was propounded by Gotama in the 6th century B.C. to the period in which northern India was conquered by the Huns about the commencement of the Christian era. Soon after that time there arose a school of Buddhist teachers who called their doctrine the “Great Vehicle.” It was not in any contradiction to the older doctrine, which they contemptuously called the “Little Vehicle,” but included it all, and was based upon it. The distinguishing characteristic of the newer school was the importance which it attached to “Bodhisatship.” The older school had taught that Gotama, who had propounded the doctrine of Arahatship, was a Buddha, that only a Buddha is capable of discovering that doctrine, and that a Buddha is a man who by self-denying efforts, continued through many hundreds of different births, has acquired the so-called Ten Pāramitās or cardinal virtues in such perfection that he is able, when sin and ignorance have gained the upper hand throughout the world, to save the human race from impending ruin. But until the process of perfection has been completed, until the moment when at last the sage, sitting under the Wisdom tree acquires that particular insight or wisdom which is called Enlightenment or Buddhahood, he is still only a Bodhisat. The link of connexion between the various Bodhisats in the future Buddha’s successive births is not a soul which is transferred from body to body, but the karma, or character, which each successive Bodhisat inherits from his predecessors in the long chain of existences. Now the older school also held, in the first place, that, when a man had, in this life, attained to Arahatship, his karma would not pass on to any other individual in another life—or in other words, that after Arahatship there would be no rebirth; and, secondly, that four thousand years after the Buddha had proclaimed the Dhamma or doctrine of Arahatship, his teaching would have died away, and another Buddha would be required to bring mankind once more to a knowledge of the truth. The leaders of the Great Vehicle urged their followers to seek to attain, not so much to Arahatship, which would involve only their own salvation, but to Bodhisatship, by the attainment of which they would be conferring the blessings of the Dhamma upon countless multitudes in the long ages of the future. By thus laying stress upon Bodhisatship, rather than upon Arahatship, the new school, though they doubtless merely thought themselves to be carrying the older orthodox doctrines to their logical conclusion, were really changing the central point of Buddhism, and were altering the direction of their mental vision. It was of no avail that they adhered in other respects in the main to the older teaching, that they professed to hold to the same ethical system, that they adhered, except in a few unimportant details, to the old regulations of the order of the Buddhist mendicant recluses. The ancient books, preserved in the Pāli Pitakas, being mainly occupied with the details of Arahatship, lost their exclusive value in the eyes of those whose attention was being directed to the details of Bodhisatship. And the opinion that every leader in their religious circles, every teacher distinguished among them for his sanctity of life, or for his extensive learning, was a Bodhisat, who might have and who probably had inherited the karma of some great teacher of old, opened the door to a flood of superstitious fancies.

It is worthy of note that the new school found its earliest professors and its greatest expounders in a part of India outside the districts to which the personal influence of Gotama and of his immediate followers had been confined. The home of early Buddhism was round about Kosala and Magadha; in the district, that is to say, north and south of the Ganges between where Allahabad now lies on the west and Rajgir on the east. The home of the Great Vehicle was, at first, in the countries farther to the north and west. Buddhism arose in countries where Sanskrit was never more than a learned tongue, and where the exclusive claims of the Brahmins had never been universally admitted. The Great Vehicle arose in the very stronghold of Brahminism, and among a people to whom Sanskrit, like Latin in the middle ages in Europe, was the literary lingua franca. The new literature therefore, which the new movement called forth, was written, and has been preserved, in Sanskrit—its principal books of Dharma, or doctrine, being the following nine: (1) Prajñā-pāramitā; (2) Gaṇḍa-vyūha; (3) Daśa-bhūmīś-vara; (4) Samādhi-rāja; (5) Lankāvatāra; (6) Saddharma-puṇḍarīka; (7) Tathāgata-guhyaka; (8) Lalita-vistara; (9) Suvarṇa-prabhāsa. The date of none of these works is known with any certainty, but it is highly improbable that any one of them is older than the 6th century after the death of Gotama. Copies of all of them were brought to Europe by Mr B. H. Hodgson, and other copies have been received since then; but only one of them has as yet been published in Europe (the Lalita Vistara, edited by Lofmann), and only two have been translated into any European language. These are the Lalita Vistara, translated into French, through the Tibetan, by M. Foucaux, and the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka, translated into English by Professor Kern. The former is legendary work, partly in verse, on the life of Gotama, the historical Buddha; and the latter, also partly in verse, is devoted to proving the essential identity of the Great and the Little Vehicles, and the equal authenticity of both as doctrines enunciated by the master himself.

Of the authors of these nine works, as of all the older Buddhist works with one or two exceptions, nothing has been ascertained. The founder of the system of the Great Vehicle is, however, often referred to under the name of Nāgārjuna, whose probable date is about A.D. 200.

Together with Nāgārjuna, other early teachers of the Great Vehicle whose names are known are Vasumitra, Vasubandhu, Āryadeva, Dharmapāla and Guṇamati—all of whom were looked upon as Bodhisats. As the newer school did not venture so far as to claim as Bodhisats the disciples stated in the older books to have been the contemporaries of Gotama (they being precisely the persons known as Arahats), they attempted to give the appearance of age to the Bodhisat theory by representing the Buddha as being surrounded, not only by his human companions the Arahats, but also by fabulous beings, whom they represented as the Bodhisats existing at that time. In the opening words of each Mahāyāna treatise a list is given of such Bodhisats, who were beginning, together with the historical Bodhisats, to occupy a position in the Buddhist church of those times similar to that occupied by the saints in the corresponding period of the history of Christianity in the Church of Rome. And these lists of fabulous Bodhisats have now a distinct historical importance. For they grow in length in the later works; and it is often possible by comparing them one with another to fix, not the date, but the comparative age of the books in which they occur. Thus it is a fair inference to draw from the shortness of the list in the opening words of the Lalita Vistara, as compared with that in the first sections of the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka, that the latter work is much the younger of the two, a conclusion supported also by other considerations.

Among the Bodhisats mentioned in the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka, and not mentioned in the Lalita Vistara, as attendant on the Buddha are Mañju-śrī and Avalokiteśvara. That these saints were already acknowledged by the followers of the Great Vehicle at the beginning of the 5th century is clear from the fact that Fa Hien, who visited India about that time, says that “men of the Great Vehicle” were then worshipping them at Mathura, not far from Delhi (F. H., chap. xvi.). These were supposed to be celestial beings who, inspired by love of the human race, had taken the so-called Great Resolve to become future Buddhas, and who therefore descended from heaven when the actual Buddha was on earth, to pay reverence to him, and to learn of him. The belief in them probably arose out of the doctrine of the older school, which did not deny the existence of the various creations of previous mythology and speculation, but allowed of their actual existence as spiritual beings, and only deprived them of all power over the lives of men, and declared them to be temporary beings liable, like men, to sin and ignorance, and requiring, like men, the salvation of Arahatship. Among them the later Buddhists seem to have placed their numerous Bodhisats; and to have paid especial reverence to Mañju-śrī as the personification of wisdom, and to Avalokiteśwara as the personification of overruling love. The former was afterwards identified with the mythical first Buddhist missionary, who is supposed to have introduced civilization into Tibet about two hundred and fifty years after the death of the Buddha.

The way was now open to a rapid fall from the simplicity of early Buddhism, in which men’s attention was directed to the various parts of the system of self-culture, to a belief in a whole pantheon of saints or angels, The five mystic trinities. which appealed more strongly to the half-civilized races among whom the Great Vehicle was now professed. A theory sprang up which was supposed to explain the marvellous powers of the Buddhas by representing them as only the outward appearance, the reflection, as it were, or emanation, of ethereal Buddhas dwelling in the skies. These were called Dhyāni Buddhas, and their number was supposed to be, like that of the Buddhas, innumerable. Only five of them, however, occupied any space in the speculative world in which the ideas of the later Buddhists had now begun to move. But, being Buddhas, they were supposed to have their Bodhisats; and thus out of the five last Buddhas of the earlier teaching there grew up five mystic trinities, each group consisting of one of these five Buddhas, his prototype in heaven the Dhyāni Buddha, and his celestial Bodhisat. Among these hypothetical beings, the creations of a sickly scholasticism, hollow abstractions without life or reality, the particular trinity in which the historical Gotama was assigned a subordinate place naturally occupied the most exalted rank. Amitābha, the Dhyāni-Buddha of this trinity, soon began to fill the largest place in the minds of the new school; and Avalokiteśwara, his Bodhisat, was looked upon with a reverence somewhat less than his former glory. It is needless to add that, under the overpowering influence of these vain imaginations, the earnest moral teachings of Gotama became more and more hidden from view. The imaginary saints grew and flourished. Each new creation, each new step in the theory, demanded another, until the whole sky was filled with forgeries of the brain, and the nobler and simpler lessons of the founder of the religion were hidden beneath the glittering stream of metaphysical subtleties.

Still worse results followed on the change of the earlier point of view. The acute minds of the Buddhist pandits, no longer occupied with the practical lessons of Arahatship, turned their attention, as far as it was not engaged upon their hierarchy of mythological beings, to questions of metaphysical speculation, which, in the earliest Buddhism, are not only discouraged but forbidden. We find long treatises on the nature of being, idealistic dreams which have as little to do with the Bodhisatship that is concerned with the salvation of the world as with the Arahatship that is concerned with the perfect life. Only one lower step was possible, and that was not long in being taken. The animism common alike to the untaught Huns and to their Hindu conquerors, but condemned in early Buddhism, was allowed to revive. As the stronger side of Gotama’s teaching was neglected, the debasing belief in rites and ceremonies, and charms and incantations, which had been the especial object of his scorn, began to spread like the Bīrana weed warmed by a tropical sun in marsh and muddy soil. As in India, after the expulsion of Buddhism, the degrading worship of Śiva and his dusky bride had been incorporated into Hinduism from the savage devil worship of Āryan and of non-Āryan tribes, so, as pure Buddhism died away in the north, the Tantra system, a mixture of magic and witchcraft and sorcery, was incorporated into the corrupted Buddhism.

The founder of this system seems to have been Asanga, an influential monk of Peshāwar, who wrote the first text-book of the creed, the Yogāchchāra Bhūmi Śāstra, in the 6th century A.D. Hsüan Tsang, who travelled in the first The Tantra system. half of the 7th, found the monastery where Asanga had lived in ruins, and says that he had lived one thousand years after the Buddha.[1] Asanga managed with great dexterity to reconcile the two opposing systems by placing a number of Śaivite gods or devils, both male and female, in the inferior heavens of the then prevalent Buddhism, and by representing them as worshippers and supporters of the Buddha and of Avalokiteśvara. He thus made it possible for the half-converted and rude tribes to remain Buddhists while they brought offerings, and even bloody offerings, to these more congenial shrines, and while their practical belief had no relation at all to the Truths or the Noble Eightfold Path, but busied itself almost wholly with obtaining magic powers (Siddhi), by means of magic phrases (Dhārani), and magic circles (Maṇḍala). Asanga’s happy idea bore but too ample fruit. In his own country and Nepāl, the new wine, sweet and luscious to the taste of savages, completely disqualified them from enjoying any purer drink; and now in both countries Śaivism is supreme, and Buddhism is even nominally extinct, except in some outlying districts of Nepāl. But this full effect has only been worked out in the lapse of ages; the Tantra literature has also had its growth and its development, and some unhappy scholar of a future age may have to trace its loathsome history. The nauseous taste repelled even the self-sacrificing industry of Burnouf, when he found the later Tantra books to be as immoral as they are absurd. “The pen,” he says, “refuses to transcribe doctrines as miserable in respect of form as they are odious and degrading in respect of meaning.”

Such had been the decline and fall of Buddhism considered as an ethical system before its introduction into Tibet. The manner in which its order of mendicant recluses, at first founded to afford better opportunities to those who wished to carry out that system in practical life, developed at last into a hierarchical monarchy will best be understood by a sketch of the history of Tibet.

Its real history commences with Srong Tsan Gampo, who was born a little after 600 A.D., and who is said in the Chinese chronicles to have entered, in 634, into diplomatic relationship with Tai Tsung, one of the emperors of Early political history. the Tang dynasty. He was the founder of the present capital of Tibet, now known as Lhasa; and in the year 622 (the same year as that in which Mahomet fled from Mecca) he began the formal introduction of Buddhism into Tibet. For this purpose he sent the minister Thumi Sambhota, afterwards looked upon as an incarnation of Mañju-śrī, to India, there to collect the sacred books, and to learn and translate them. Thumi Sambhota accordingly invented an alphabet for the Tibetan language on the model of the Indian alphabets then in use. And, aided by the king, who is represented to have been an industrious student and translator, he wrote the first books by which Buddhism became known in his native land. The most famous of the works ascribed to him is the Mani Kambum, “the Myriad of Precious Words”—a treatise chiefly on religion, but which also contains an account of the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet, and of the closing part of the life of Srong Tsan Gampo. He is also very probably the author of another very ancient standard work of Tibetan Buddhism, the Samatog, a short digest of Buddhist morality, on which the civil laws of Tibet have been founded. It is said in the Mani Kambum to have fallen from heaven in a casket (Tibetan, samatog), and, like the last-mentioned work, is only known to us in meagre abstract.

King Srong Tsan Gampo’s zeal for Buddhism was shared and supported by his two queens, Bribsun, a princess from Nepāl, and Wen Ching, a princess from China. They are related to have brought with them sacred relics, books and pictures, for whose better preservation two large monasteries were erected. These are the cloisters of La Brang (Jokhang) and Ra Moché, still, though much changed and enlarged, the most sacred abbeys in Tibet, and the glory of Lhasa. The two queens have become semi-divine personages, and are worshipped under the name of the two Dārā-Eke, the “glorious mothers,” being regarded as incarnations of the wife of Śiva, representing respectively two of the qualities which she personifies, divine vengeance and divine love. The former is worshipped by the Mongolians as Okkin Tengri, “the Virgin Goddess”; but in Tibet and China the rôle of the divine virgin is filled by Kwan Yin, a personification of Avalokiteśvara as the heavenly word, who is often represented with a child in her arms. Srong Tsan Gampo has also become a saint, being looked upon as an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara; and the description in the ecclesiastical historians of the measures he took for the welfare of his subjects do great credit to their ideal of the perfect Buddhist king. He is said to have spent his long reign in the building of reservoirs, bridges and canals; in the promotion of agriculture, horticulture and manufactures; in the establishment of schools and colleges; and in the maintenance of justice and the encouragement of virtue. But the degree of his success must have been slight. For after the death of himself and of his wives Buddhism gradually decayed, and was subjected by succeeding kings to cruel persecutions; and it was not till more than half a century afterwards, under King Kir Song de Tsan, who reigned 740-786, that true religion is acknowledged by the ecclesiastical historians to have become firmly established in the land.

This monarch again sent to India to replace the sacred books that had been lost, and to invite Buddhist pandits to translate them. The most distinguished of those who came were Śānta Rakshita, Padma Sambhava and Kamala The Tibetan sacred books. Śīla, for whom, and for their companions, the king built a splendid monastery still existing, at Samje, about three days’ journey south-east of Lhasa. It was to them that the Tibetans owed the great collection of what are still regarded as their sacred books—the Kandjur. It consists of 100 volumes containing 689 works, of which there are two or three complete sets in Europe, one of them in the India Office library. A detailed analysis of these scriptures has been published by the celebrated Hungarian scholar Csoma de Körös, whose authoritative work has been republished in French with complete indices and very useful notes by M. Léon Feer. These volumes contain about a dozen works of the oldest school of Buddhism, the Hīnayāna, and about 300 works, mostly very short, belonging to the Tantra school. But the great bulk of the collection consists of Mahāyāna books, belonging to all the previously existing varieties of that widely extended Buddhist sect; and, as the Sanskrit originals of many of these writings are now lost, the Tibetan translations will be of great value, not only for the history of Lāmāism, but also for the history of the later forms of Indian Buddhism.

The last king’s second son, Lang Darma, concluded in May 822 a treaty with the then emperor of China (the twelfth of the Tang dynasty), a record of which was engraved on a stone put up in the above-mentioned great convent of La Brang (Jokhang), and is still to be seen there.[2] He is described in the church chronicles as an incarnation of the evil spirit, and is said to have succeeded in suppressing Buddhism throughout the greater part of the land. The period from Srong Tsan Gampo down to the death of Lang Darma, who was murdered about A.D. 850, in a civil war, is called in the Buddhist books “the first introduction of religion.” It was followed by more than a century of civil disorder and wars, during which the exiled Buddhist monks attempted unsuccessfully again and again to return. Many are the stories of martyrs and confessors who are believed to have lived in these troublous times, and their efforts were at last crowned with success, for in the century commencing with the reign of Bilamgur in 971 there took place “the second introduction of religion” into Tibet, more especially under the guidance of the pandit Atīsha, who came to Tibet in 1041, and of his famous native pupil and follower Brom Ston. The long period of depression seems not to have been without a beneficial influence on the persecuted Buddhist church, for these teachers are reported to have placed the Tantra system more in the background, and to have adhered more strongly to the purer forms of the Mahāyāna development of the ancient faith.

For about three hundred years the Buddhist church of Tibet was left in peace, subjecting the country more and more completely to its control, and growing in power and in wealth. During this time it achieved its greatest The temporal sovereignty of the Lāmas. victory, and underwent the most important change in its character and organization. After the reintroduction of Buddhism into the “kingdom of snow,” the ancient dynasty never recovered its power. Its representatives continued for some time to claim the sovereignty; but the country was practically very much in the condition of Germany at about the same time—chieftains of almost independent power ruled from their castles on the hill-tops over the adjacent valleys, engaged in petty wars, and conducted plundering expeditions against the neighbouring tenants, whilst the great abbeys were places of refuge for the studious or religious, and their heads were the only rivals to the barons in social state, and in many respects the only protectors and friends of the people. Meanwhile Jenghiz Khān had founded the Mongol empire, and his grandson Kublai Khān became a convert to the Buddhism of the Tibetan Lāmas. He granted to the abbot of the Sākya monastery in southern Tibet the title of tributary sovereign of the country, head of the Buddhist church, and overlord over the numerous barons and abbots, and in return was officially crowned by the abbot as ruler over the extensive domain of the Mongol empire. Thus was the foundation laid at one and the same time of the temporal sovereignty of the Lāmas of Tibet, and of the suzerainty over Tibet of the emperors of China. One of the first acts of the “head of the church” was the printing of a carefully revised edition of the Tibetan Scriptures—an undertaking which occupied altogether nearly thirty years and was not completed till 1306.

Under Kublai’s successors in China the Buddhist cause flourished greatly, and the Sākya Lāmas extended their power both at home and abroad. The dignity of abbot at Sākya became hereditary, the abbots breaking so far the Buddhist rule of celibacy that they remained married until they had begotten a son and heir. But rather more than half a century afterwards their power was threatened by a formidable rival at home, a Buddhist reformer.

Tsongkapa, the Luther of Tibet, was born about 1357 on the spot where the famous monastery of Kunbum now stands. He very early entered the order, and studied at Sākya, Brigung and other monasteries. He then spent eight The Luther of Tibet. years as a hermit in Takpo in southern Tibet, where the comparatively purer teaching of Atīsha (referred to above) was still prevalent. About 1390 he appeared as a public teacher and reformer in Lhasa, and before his death in 1419 there were three huge monasteries there containing 30,000 of his disciples, besides others in other parts of the country. His voluminous works, of which the most famous are the Sumbun and the Lam Nim Tshenpo, exist in printed Tibetan copies in Europe, but have not yet been translated or analysed. But the principal lines on which his reformation proceeded are sufficiently attested. He insisted in the first place on the complete carrying out of the ancient rules of the order as to the celibacy of its members, and as to simplicity in dress. One result of the second of these two reforms was to make it necessary for every monk openly to declare himself either in favour of or against the new views. For Tsongkapa and his followers wore the yellow or orange-coloured garments which had been the distinguishing mark of the order in the lifetime of its founder, and in support of the ancient rules Tsongkapa reinstated the fortnightly rehearsal of the Pātimokkha or “disburdenment” in regular assemblies of the order at Lhasa—a practice which had fallen into desuetude. He also restored the custom of the first disciples to hold the so-called Vassa or yearly retirement, and the public meeting of the order at its close. In all these respects he was simply following the directions of the Vinaya, or regulations of the order, as established probably in the time of Gotama himself, and as certainly handed down from the earliest times in the piṭakas or sacred books. Further, he set his face against the Tantra system, and against the animistic superstitions which had been allowed to creep into life again. He laid stress on the self-culture involved in the practice of the pāramitās or cardinal virtues, and established an annual national fast or week of prayer to be held during the first days of each year. This last institution indeed is not found in the ancient Vinaya, but was almost certainly modelled on the traditional account of the similar assemblies convoked by Asoka and other Buddhist sovereigns in India every fifth year. Laymen as well as monks take part in the proceedings, the details of which are unknown to us except from the accounts of the Catholic missionaries—Fathers Huc and Gabet—who describe the principal ceremonial as, in outward appearance, wonderfully like the high mass. In doctrine the great Tibetan teacher, who had no access to the Pāli Piṭakas, adhered in the main to the purer forms of the Mahāyāna school; in questions of church government he took little part, and did not dispute the titular supremacy of the Sākya Lāmas. But the effects of his teaching weakened their power. The “orange-hoods,” as his followers were called, rapidly gained in numbers and influence, until they so overshadowed the “red-hoods,” as the followers of the older sect were called, that in the middle of the 15th century the emperor of China acknowledged the two leaders of the new sect at that time as the titular overlords of the church and tributary rulers over the realm of Tibet. These two leaders were then known as the Dalai Lāma and the Pantshen Lāma, and were the abbots of the great monasteries at Gedun Dubpa, near Lhasa, and at Tashi Lunpo, in Farther Tibet, respectively. Since that time the abbots of these monasteries have continued to exercise the sovereignty over Tibet.

As there has been no further change in the doctrine, and no further reformation in discipline, we may leave the ecclesiastical history of Lāmāism since that date unnoticed, and consider some principal points on the constitution of the Constitution of Lāmāism. Lāmāism of to-day. And first as to the mode of electing successors to the two Great Lāmas. It will have been noticed that it was an old idea of the northern Buddhists to look upon distinguished members of the order as incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, of Mañju-śrī, or of Amitābha. These beings were supposed to possess the power, whilst they continued to live in heaven, of appearing on earth in a Nirmāna-kāya, or apparitional body. In the same way the Pantshen Lāma is looked upon as an incarnation, the Nirmāna-kāya, of Amitābha, who had previously appeared under the outward form of Tshonkapa himself; and the Dalai Lāma is looked upon as an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara. Theoretically, therefore, the former, as the spiritual successor of the great teacher and also of Amitābha, who occupies the higher place in the mythology of the Great Vehicle, would be superior to the latter, as the spiritual representative of Avalokiteśvara. But practically the Dalai Lāma, owing to his position in the capital,[3] has the political supremacy, and is actually called the Gyalpo Rinpotshe, “the glorious king”—his companion being content with the title Pantshen Rinpotshe, “the glorious teacher.” When either of them dies it is necessary for the other to ascertain in whose body the celestial being whose outward form has been dissolved has been pleased again to incarnate himself. For that purpose the names of all male children born just after the death of the deceased Great Lāma are laid before his survivor. He chooses three out of the whole number; their names are thrown into a golden casket provided for that purpose by a former emperor of China. The Chutuktus, or abbots of the great monasteries, then assemble, and after a week of prayer, the lots are drawn in their presence and in presence of the surviving Great Lāma and of the Chinese political resident. The child whose name is first drawn is the future Great Lāma; the other two receive each of them 500 pieces of silver. The Chutuktus just mentioned correspond in many respects to the Roman cardinals. Like the Great Lāmas, they bear the title of Rinpotshe or Glorious, and are looked upon as incarnations of one or other of the celestial Bodhisats of the Great Vehicle mythology. Their number varies from ten to a hundred; and it is uncertain whether the honour is inherent in the abbacy of certain of the greatest cloisters, or whether the Dalai Lāma exercises the right of choosing them. Under these high officials of the Tibetan hierarchy there come the Chubil Khāns, who fill the post of abbot to the lesser monasteries, and are also incarnations. Their number is very large; there are few monasteries in Tibet or in Mongolia which do not claim to possess one of these living Buddhas. Besides these mystical persons there are in the Tibetan church other ranks and degrees, corresponding to the deacon, full priest, dean and doctor of divinity in the West. At the great yearly festival at Lhasa they make in the cathedral an imposing array, not much less magnificent than that of the clergy in Rome; for the ancient simplicity of dress has disappeared in the growing differences of rank, and each division of the spiritual army is distinguished in Tibet, as in the West, by a special uniform. The political authority of the Dalai Lāma is confined to Tibet itself, but he is the acknowledged head also of the Buddhist church throughout Mongolia and China. He has no supremacy over his co-religionists in Japan, and even in China there are many Buddhists who are not practically under his control or influence.

The best work on Lāmāism is still Köppen’s Die Lamaische Hierarchie und Kirche (Berlin, 1859). See also Bushell, “The Early History of Tibet,” in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1879-1880, vol. xii.; Sanang Setzen’s History of the East Mongols (in Mongolian, translated into German by J. Schmidt, Geschichte der Ost-Mongolen); “Analyse du Kandjur,” by M. Léon Feer, in Annales du Musée Gaimet (1881); Schott, Ueber den Buddhismus in Hoch-Asien; Gutzlaff, Geschichte des Chinesischen Reiches; Hue and Gabet, Souvenirs d’un voyage dans la Tartarie, le Tibet, et la Chine (Paris, 1858); Pallas’s Sammlung historischer Nachrichten über die Mongolischen Völkerschaften; Bābu Sarat Chunder Das’s “Contributions on the Religion and History of Tibet,” in the Journal of the Bengal Asiatic Society, 1881; L. A. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet (London, 1895); A. H. Francke, History of Western Tibet (London, 1907); A. Grünwedel, Mythologie des Buddhismus in Tibet und der Mongolei (Berlin, 1900).

(T. W. R. D.)
  1. Watters’s Yūan Chwāng, edited by Rhys Davids and Bushell, i. 210, 356, 271.
  2. Published with facsimile and translation and notes in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society for 1879-1880, vol. xii.
  3. This statement representing the substantial and historical position, is retained, in spite of the crises of March 1910, when the Dalai Lāma took refuge from the Chinese in India, and of 1904, when the British expedition occupied Lhasa and the Dalai Lāma fled to China (see Tibet).