Buddhism in Tibet: Vice or Virtue?

Buddhism is said to have been introduced by King Songsten Gompo during the 7th Century. Tibetans during this time period were a much more warlike people than what they developed into after the spread of Buddhism. During this time Tibet had created an empire that pressed into Western China, Bengal, Mongolia and Central Asia. Tibet had even sacked the Chinese capital of Chang’an during this period and was a dominating force in the Tarim Basin. In fact Tibet was such a force during this time that China had to form a multi-regional pact with ever major state bordering Tibet. This pact was made up of the Uighur Khagnate North of Tibet, Arabs to the West of Tibet, Nanzhao and Hindustan from the South and the Chinese from the East. With this pact China could effectively do what they could not do alone, contain Tibet by having it attacked from all sides to make sure it could not threaten to invade China. This strategy worked since Tibetan forces could not concentrate on China with its enemies attacking from all its surrounding regions. Tibetan power in the region soon declined and collapsed in 866 AD, later on Tibetans adopted an isolationist policy.

So my question is do you think the spread of Buddhism in Tibet was a negative thing for Tibetans that contributed to Tibet’s decline in power since the decline in Tibetan power and the spread of the Tibetan Buddhism seem to have come right at the same moment. Or do you think that in the long run Buddhism spreading into Tibet was a good thing?

Links: http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/index.php?showtopic=18367

10 thoughts on “Buddhism in Tibet: Vice or Virtue?

  1. tsering chopel

    budhism spreading in tibet i think had both positive and negative effects. obvious ones are, we arent much in number, vulnerable to forces like china, no progress materialistically but if it werent for tibetan, budhism wouldnt have spread as well as it is now in western country. so in a sense we preserved budhism in our isolated country and also added on it. we also produced many great lamas. we also had a buffering effect in region around us, for instance mongols were adviced to refrain from doing too much war. with no progress, we kept our environment clean which effects billions of life around our country. so, i think spread of budhism was a positive effect.

  2. Anonymous

    Off the top of my head? I’d have to say a virtue. It would seem that the vulnerability argument doesn’t hold much water; its too simple to condemn buddhism as being the only reason for Tibet’s “vulnerability” to China. Briefly alternative possibilities would be technological backwardness (also being a landlocked country Tibet would be dependent on other countries–China would definately be among the list), small and dispersed population, its increasingly valuable natural resources, small and irrelevant army and weapons, inept policies and at the time rampant corruption within the gov’t and monastic institutions, …etc. Point being Tibet was ripe for the taking. Should the dissemination of buddhism in Tibet have failed, China had many reasons as did neighbouring countries to want to aquire Tibet. The annexation of Tibet during that period was probably inevitable, under that leadership China was overly conscious of its appearance and Tibet was a conquest they felt would redeem them from its ‘past humiliation’…well this is all being brief but..anyways:

    A virtue b/c buddhism has given Tibet an identity on the international stage. Its offered Tibet a voice in its religious leader H.H. the Dalai Lama and a solution to conflict. Tibet has the opportunity to demonstrate to the world a diplomatic nonviolent solution to conflict in todays’ equivocal and violent world, a solution that Ghandi and few others have been successful with but have found lasting peace and have taught humanity invaluable lessons. Buddhism has cast pearls of wisdom for those who have studied it and understand its value, even for those who have not but are indirectly affected by those who practise it. I could go on but it might not be necessary if anyone comes up with anything else I’ll be interested. -PD

  3. Jigme32

    “(also being a landlocked country Tibet would be dependent on other countries–China would definately be among the list)”

    -But what about the many land locked European countries like switzerland and Austria. They are landlocked yet have been able to keep their sovereignty and remain independent historically(for the most part) and presently.

    -“small and dispersed population”

    But Mongolia was a small and dispersed population, just like Tibet, and they were able to defeat and conquer China in 13th century when their population numbered only 200,000 while the Chinese numbered over 120,000,000. Of the 200,0000 Mongolians only 70,000 fought in the army and they were still able to directly or indirectly kill 60,000,000 Chinese.

    I agree with you though that Buddhism was not responsible for making Tibet a weaker state because there are plenty of other Buddhist states who practice Buddhism but were not militarily weak states, like Japan who is Shinto/Buddhist. I think it has more to do with the fact that Tibet chose to adopt a policy of isolation which made them into a weak state since isolationism tends to make states weak.

  4. Anonymous

    Its true Austria and Switzerland have been able to maintain their independence but the entire thing is very situational and contextual. Each of these cases are different and demand for us to see them as such, the policies and the contexts in which they occured have afforded them that opportunity. There is not just one cause that brought about the consequences. For Tibet an accumulation of events, physical geography, lack of allies, bad policies, corruption, etc. and all the forces that weaken a country and destabilize the political climate faciliated Tibet’s usurpation, especially by the cruel aggressive imperialistic and strategic China of the time.

    At the time Mongolia might have been successful, but even if Tibet had prepared an army and China had lost in one fight, its likely after industrializing and its sudden and extraordinary growth of its armies and weapons they would return. I make that presumption based upon the Chinese leadership and policies at the time and the type of propaganda they used to mobilize the people. As soon as the Chinese realized they would have the ability to take Tibet, they would come not only to exact revenge, but for redemption in an attempt to ‘save face’ and mainly of course, for imperialistic reasons. The point with the ‘small dispersed pop’ is that it exacerbates the ability to communicate btwn the rest of Tibet and random settlements. So, yes I do believe a lack or difficulty in communication as a result of having a small and dispersed population is an issue that has contributed to the vulnerability of Tibet.

  5. Jigme32

    True, but had the Tibetans decided to fight China, victory was still attainable even with all the factors Tibet had against them. Afganistan was able to defeat the Soviets when they attempted to invade Afganistan and their army was superiour to the army that invaded China. Of course they got aid from the US since this was during the Cold War but the US was also willing to supply the Tibetans to fight the Chinese during the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

    When the Dalai Lama told Tibetans to put down their arms and not to fight this stopped any form of united resistance.

    Thus, since the Dalai Lama is a head Buddhist leader, I could see Buddhism to be a vice for Tibet in that way.

  6. Jigme32

    *Sorry I meant to say that the Soviet army was stronger than the Chinese army that invaded Tibet

  7. Anonymous

    Alright so this is what I was referring to in the 2nd paragragh that related to Mongolia:

    So hypothetically say Tibet and China fought and Tibet won, do you think China would have returned? Especially in light of their leadership at the time, obession with power, and the consolidation of its army? Is it not tangible that after increasing their army and weapons X-fold times that China would have returned to Tibet? I mean if not soley for strategic and imperialistic reasons, then simply to exercise its strength over a country that had once done the same to them?

    Realistically, Tibet’s army was tiny esp. relative to the Chinese, was poorly equipped and outnumbered. US aid played a substantial role in the Afghan-Soviet example, in contrast US aid to Tibet was received too late and there were few trained soliders from the Colorado training camps. I do not want to detract from the strength of the Tibetan soldiers, that I believe is uncontested, however the soldier to soldier ratio significantly tilted the scale in China’s favor. Furthermore at the time the Chinese army had experienced recent battles and were becoming progressively familiar and fit for war. So, regardless of whether or not h.h. had asked ‘Tibetans to put down their weapons’, I think the defeat was inevitable.

    On the contary, I would argue that buddhism was the saving grace in that it aided h.h. in deciding upon a nonviolent approach. I think we would have lost a fight were there one and even if we had won one battle, there would be others until China won. Should this have happened, Tibet would probably not have the international support or position that it has today, as it represents the peaceful solution to conflict, the struggle of truth and a recognized center buddhism.

  8. tsering

    i recently listened to h.h the dalai lama’s speech in t.c.v and he said buddhism acted as a unifying factor for tibetan people when rule of tibetan kings declined a thousand years ago. if it wern’t for the buddhism there wouldnt be a tibetan identity left when tibet was divided into so small pieces. he also spoke on the very same topic of buddhism making tibetan vulnerable and tibet being in present condition as we are right now. if anyone want to listen to the speech, its in website of his holliness.

  9. Jigme32

    Well whether or not China or not would have returned if they “hypothetically” lost is something no one will ever know, but if they had the chance of defeating Tibet than of course. I know that Tibetans were willing to fight at whatever cost against the Chinese especially for the Dalai Lama. If Tibetans would have united and fought they would not have been pushovers because a united and determined population can defeat superior armies.

    It also wasn’t that Tibet received arms too late from the US but it was that US decided to stop funding completely once they decided to seek better relations with China once it was obvious the situation in Tibet was not winnable. Had Tibet been united and determined to fight the Chinese, the US would have seen a contender for them to fight and possible defeat an enemy who they saw as a Soviet allied state at the time. Thus the US could have more eagerly given help to the Tibetans since Tibet would have had something to offer them.

    “Tibet would probably not have the international support or position that it has today, as it represents the peaceful solution to conflict, the struggle of truth and a recognized center Buddhism.”

    -But really we’ve gained nothing in the whole scheme of things with our “peaceful solution” so far in regards to the goal of an independent state. When I say this I don’t propose that Tibetans use violence to fight the Chinese because in my mind it seems we’ve missed or passed on that opportunity to fight back in the 1950’s so now we have almost no choice but to choose this peaceful solution.

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