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Religion in Tibet

Tibetans have a strong belief that religion is necessary for social cohesion. According to their philosophy, mutual rituals and beliefs help them to achieve social solidarity. They use religious teachings and norms to attain conformity and hold in society.
If you are planning to visit Tibet, you must know about the existing religion there and their beliefs. Like their culture, Tibetans have deep-rooted religions and every religion comes with some distinctive characteristics.
The main religions in Tibet are; Tibet Buddhism, Bon, Chinese ethnic religion and folk religion sect. Let us explore each religion.
Also widespread in the Himalayas and central Asia, the main religion in Tibet is Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism is, however, another extension of Buddhist doctrine. According to the International Religious Freedom Report of 2012, 91% of the Tibet population is confined to Buddhism. So, we can say that it is highly practiced religion at present which is growing rapidly.
Buddhism outspread in Tibet is from 8th century AD, and now it has the strongest roots in Tibet. Buddhism is mostly practiced in historical regions of Tibet including the areas inhabited by ethnic Tibetans.  Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Qinghai, and Sichuan are some of the areas Buddhist believers live.
Buddhism is extended outside of Tibet as well. As the Mongol power owned by Yuan Dynasty continued, the rule of Tibetan Buddhism was also extended. However, history shows that Tibet is not the first religion practiced in Tibet. Before Buddhism, Tibetan people practiced Shamanic and Animistic religion.
Tibetan Buddhism Traditions
Tibetan Buddhism owns four major traditions which are;
Nyingma-The Ancient  
Nyingma is one of the oldest and largest traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The literal meaning of Nyingma is ‘ancient’ or ‘old school’. The history relates this name to the first translation of Buddhist scriptures. These translations were done from Sanskrit to old Tibetan. The whole process took place in the 8th century when unique alphabets and grammar were designed for thorough understanding.
Kagyu- Oral Lineage
Also known as Kagyu, another famous tradition of Buddhism is Kagyu. The main teachings of Kagyu are the doctrine of Mahamudra. In the present era, Kagyu is considered as a sixth main school of Tibetan Buddhism. This tradition gave birth to different sub-schools as well.
Sakya- Grey Earth
The literal meaning of Sakya is ‘grey earth’. Founded by Khon Konchog, Sakya is another tradition practiced by Buddhist believers living in Tibet. The tradition is the holder of all Buddha teachings and has following sub-schools. The school mainly belongs to scholarships and is widely practiced in Tibet since ages.
Gelug-Way of Virtue
The Gelug is the latest addition to the traditions of Buddhism being practiced in Tibet. The founder of Gelug is Je Tsongkhapa. He was not only a philosopher but a religious leader as well. The name ‘Gelug’ is derived from the first monastery, Ganden, formed by Je Tsongkhapa. Since the end of the 16th century, Gelug is widely spread in Tibet and Mongolia. Earlier people used to call it Galuk but with the passage of time, it got modified as Gelug.
Bon- Worship of Nature
Bon is considered an indigenous religion being practiced In Tibet. According to an estimate done by International Religious Freedom, about 12.5% of people in Tibet are practicing Bon. If you go through different aspects of Bon as a religion, you will come to know that it is deeply related to magic, demonic forces and believes in worshiping nature. This religion also includes the practices of blood sacrifices. Although it received much criticism, now it is recognized and legitimate religion in Tibet.
Nine Vehicles of Bon Teachings
Bon has a distinct doctrine and literature. The teachings and terminologies of bon are quite similar to that of Buddhism but still, it is distinguished as a separate religion. It’s teaching feature nine major vehicles as;
· Highest vehicle- Great perfection of Sutra and Tantra with Dzogchen
· Lower vehicle- includes medicine astrology and divination
· Pathway teaching categories- which are with unique characteristics, beliefs, practices, and outcomes.
Chinese Ethnic Religion
Many Han Chinese have occupied Tibet. They are stick to their native Chinese folk religion. They have constructed many temples to practice their religion well in Tibet. The temple is designed by architectures from China and Tibet as well. There is a grand and significant temple named as Guandi Temple of Lhasa. It is considered a holy place where the Chinese God of War is identified.
 Folk Religion Sect
Tibetan folk religious sect in Amdo County was originally discovered in 1981. The Amdo County is now dominated by mostly Tibetan grasslands. The founder of folk religion sect is Sonam Phuntsog who was the incarnation of the legendary hero Gesar. His movement was at a peak in the 1980s and it was the time when this movement attracted a large number of people. However, the movement was banned considering it as Splittist Sect


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