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The Mahasiddha Tradition in Tibet - Page 3
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The Mahasiddha Tradition in Tibet
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When Buddhism was persecuted in Tibet in the ninth century after the assassination of the Buddhist king Ralpachan, it was only the monasteries and the monks that were suppressed. The faction in the government responsible for the coups was not anti-Buddhist as such (a later anachronistic interpretation) but felt that the monks were social parasites and that the monasteries represented too great a drain on the royal treasury at a time when foreign wars needed to be prosecuted to preserve the Tibetan empire in tact. Individual Tantrikas or Tantric practitioners like Nubchen Sangye Yeshe continued their work and teachings privately without government interference. Although historical records a few and scanty, this period, the ninth and tenth centuries. is the seminal age for what subsequently became known as the schools of Nyingmapa and Yungdrung Bon.

Then in the eleventh century there was a revival of monastic Buddhism in Central and Western Tibet, initially under official government sponsorship in the Western Tibetan kingdom of Guge. Inscription there of the royal monks Lhalama Yeshe-od and his kinsman Dawa-od attack and condemn Dzogchen and the Mahayoga Tantras, especially what is called sbyor-grol. sByor-ba refers to the practice of sexual yoga and sgrol-ba to the killing of a living being in a ritual manner without incurring any negative karma. But in general, the Buddhist Tantras, unlike the Hindu Tantras associated with the cult of the goddess Kali, do not involve actual blood sacrifice, although that symbolism may be employed. Both Buddhism and Yungdrung Bon, unlike tribal shamanism, categorically reject and condemn the practice of the red offering (dmar mchod) or blood sacrifice. But sex is a different matter altogether. The Mahasiddhas in India and initially their followers in Tibet practiced sexual yoga, not just symbolically but actually. This however, scandalized many Tibetans who accused these Lamas of fornicating in the temples. When the great Indian Tantric master and scholar Atisha was invited to Guge in Western Tibet in the eleventh century his own chief disciple Dromton forbade his master to teach the Higher Tantras, claiming that the Tibetans would inevitably misunderstand their antinomianism and their sexual symbolism. Dromton founded the first distinct school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Kadampa, which was noted for its stress on the Vinaya or monastic discipline.

The Tibetan disciples of Atisha as well as other Tibetans, some of whom went to India for studies, began building monasteries. In general Tibetans think that Buddhism only exists when there are monks and monasteries, that is, a social institution or church which serves as the base for the transmission of the Buddhist teachings. But outside the monasteries and soon inside them the Mahasiddha Tradition continued to flourish and grow. The principal reason for this was that the Indian Buddhism of the time had become more and more dominated by Tantric practice. It was impossible for any of the Tibetan reformers, despite the new puritanism of the eleventh century to deny that the Higher Tantras were the word of the Buddha. The Higher Tantras were all the fashion in India and were taught to their Tibetan disciples by Indian masters such as Naropa, Maitripa, Atisha, and so on. And so a reapproachment had to be made.