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Tibetan Buddhism

The creation story in Tibetan Buddhism

The Lamaic Faith, more commonly known as Tibetan Buddhism, blends the teachings of Buddhism with indigenous Tibetan traditions.

The creation story in Tibetan Buddhism is not a single, unified narrative but rather a synthesis of various myths and legends that reflect both Buddhist cosmology and Tibetan culture.

Buddhist Cosmology

In Buddhist cosmology, Mount Meru is the center of the universe, surrounded by seven concentric rings of mountains and seas. It is the abode of the gods, with the higher realms situated above and the lower realms below.

Surrounding Mount Meru are four continents, each inhabited by different beings. Jambudvipa, the southern continent, is where human beings reside.

The universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, existence, destruction, and emptiness, known as the kalpas. These cycles are driven by karma, the moral law of cause and effect.

Tibetan Indigenous Beliefs

Prior to the introduction of Buddhism, the indigenous Bon religion dominated Tibet. Bon mythology includes tales of powerful deities, spirits, and the sacred mountain, Mount Tise (Kailash).

As Buddhism spread into Tibet in the 7th century CE, it gradually merged with Bon practices. This syncretism is evident in the incorporation of local deities and rituals into Tibetan Buddhist practices.

Creation Myths

A pivotal figure in Tibetan history, King Songtsen Gampo is credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet in the 7th century. His reign is often seen as a turning point where Buddhism started to merge with Tibetan indigenous beliefs.

A popular myth involves the union of a monkey (an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion) and an ogress (representing the untamed forces of nature). Their offspring are considered the ancestors of the Tibetan people, symbolizing the blending of the civilizing influence of Buddhism with the wild indigenous traditions.

Also known as Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava is a central figure in Tibetan Buddhism. He is believed to have subdued the local spirits and deities, converting them into protectors of Buddhism. His legendary journey and miraculous deeds are integral to Tibetan Buddhist lore.

Similar to the Hindu myth, there is a story where gods and demons churn the ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality. In Tibetan versions, this myth is adapted to align with Buddhist teachings.

The nectar of immortality

The story of the churning of the ocean, known as “Samudra Manthan” in Hindu mythology, has parallels in Tibetan Buddhism, though it is adapted to fit the Buddhist cosmological and philosophical framework.

In Hindu mythology, the “Samudra Manthan” is a significant event described in ancient scriptures such as the Bhagavata Purana, the Mahabharata, and the Vishnu Purana. Here are the key elements:

The Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) collaborated in the churning of the ocean of milk to obtain Amrita, the nectar of immortality.

They used Mount Mandara as the churning rod and the serpent Vasuki as the churning rope.

Lord Vishnu incarnated as a giant tortoise (Kurma) to support Mount Mandara on his back.

The churning process produced several miraculous items and beings, including the deadly poison Halahala, which Shiva consumed to protect the world, and finally, the nectar of immortality, Amrita.

Tibetan Buddhist Adaptation

While Tibetan Buddhism incorporates many elements from Hindu mythology, it adapts them to align with Buddhist teachings. The churning of the ocean myth is one such story that has been integrated and transformed.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the story symbolizes the spiritual journey of purification and enlightenment. The churning represents the effort required to transform ignorance and negative emotions into wisdom and compassion.

Instead of the traditional Hindu gods and demons, the participants may be portrayed as bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who assist others on their path to enlightenment) and various deities from the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon.

The ocean often symbolizes the vast expanse of Samsara (the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth) and the process of churning represents the practice of Dharma (Buddhist teachings) that leads to liberation.

In this context, the nectar (Amrita) symbolizes the attainment of enlightenment and the realization of ultimate truth (Dharma).

Detailed Story in Tibetan Buddhism

In Tibetan Buddhist texts, the story might be recounted as follows:

Enlightened beings, realizing the suffering inherent in Samsara, decide to undertake the immense task of transforming negative forces.

The process involves intense meditation, ethical discipline, and the practice of compassion and wisdom. The churning itself may be metaphorically represented by the recitation of mantras, performance of rituals, and the undertaking of spiritual practices.

During the churning, various obstacles arise, symbolizing the internal and external challenges faced on the spiritual path. The poison produced during the churning represents the defilements and delusions that must be purified.

Bodhisattvas and deities intervene to neutralize the poison, symbolizing the role of enlightened beings in aiding practitioners to overcome their obstacles.

Finally, the nectar of immortality is obtained, representing the achievement of enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of Samsara.