Lecturer: Robert Thurman
Renowned Tibetan Buddhist scholar and Columbia University Professor Robert A.F. Thurman is joined in conversation by his colleague Isa Gucciardi and UCSF’s Eve Ekman and David Bullard. They explore Buddhist understandings about consciousness and death.
Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet and Bhutan, where it is the dominant religion. It also has adherents in the regions surrounding the Himalayas, in much of Central Asia, in the Southern Siberian regions such as Tuva, and in Mongolia.
Tibetan Buddhism evolved as a form of Mahāyāna Buddhism stemming from the latest stages of Indian Buddhism (which also included many Vajrayāna elements). It thus preserves many Indian Buddhist tantric practices of the post-Gupta Early Medieval period (500 to 1200 CE), along with numerous native Tibetan developments. In the pre-modern era, Tibetan Buddhism spread outside of Tibet primarily due to the influence of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), founded by Kublai Khan, which had ruled China, Mongolia and parts of Siberia. In the Modern era, Tibetan Buddhism has spread outside of Asia due to the efforts of the Tibetan diaspora (1959 onwards). As the Dalai Lama escaped to India, the Indian subcontinent is also known for its renaissance of Tibetan Buddhism monasteries, including the rebuilding of the three major monasteries of the Gelug tradition.
Apart from classical Mahāyāna Buddhist practices like the six perfections, Tibetan Buddhism also includes tantric practices, such as deity yoga and the Six Dharmas of Naropa as well as methods which are seen as transcending tantra, like Dzogchen. Its main goal is Buddhahood. The main language of scriptural study in this tradition is classical Tibetan.
Tibetan Buddhism has four major schools, namely Nyingma (c. 8th century), Kagyu (11th century), Sakya (1073), and Gelug (1409). The Jonang is a smaller school that exists, and the Rimé movement (19th century), meaning “no sides”, is a more recent non-sectarian movement which attempts to preserve and understand all the different traditions. The predominant spiritual tradition in Tibet before the introduction of Buddhism was Bon, which has been strongly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism (particularly the Nyingma school).
While each of the four schools is independent and has its own monastic institutions and leaders, they are closely related and intersect, with common contact and dialogue.