August 2010

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Praying For Heat in a Spiritually Cold Land:Tibetan Buddhist Peoples in South Asia

by Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD

Dear Praying Friends,

We often think of South Asia as a region divided between Hindus and Muslims, but we forget that there is a large swath of land where Buddhism is the dominant religion. This is the mountainous parts of this region that stretches from northern Pakistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east. It encompasses Bhutan and Nepal, the latter being primarily Hindu.

Buddhist missionaries brought their religion to this land hundreds of years ago, and it blended with the shamanistic bon religion that was already dominant. This blend is what we now call Tibetan Buddhism, which is even more prevalent in many of China’s western provinces.

Tibetan Buddhists look to the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader. In a general sense, he is the one who stands in the way of Christ. If you already have a god-king, you may see no reason to look for the King of Kings. Pray that the Tibetan Buddhist peoples of South Asia will indeed find the King of Kings as we pray this month.


In Christ,


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From the Editor

by Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD

Valleys and Mountaintops: A Brief History of Buddhism in South Asia

Did you know that Buddhism began in South Asia? For a couple of centuries it was the dominant religion of India. Ironically, in the nations to India’s east, Buddhism became much more popular than it was in India. Though Hinduism regained it’s popularity, Buddhism still flourishes in the mountainous parts of this region.

The Rise of Buddhism in South Asia
Gautama was a prince in a small kingdom of northern India. He was born around 563 BC. He had it all: a lavish lifestyle, a beautiful wife and a future kingdom. But when he observed how much his wife suffered with the birth of their first child, he was deeply concerned. When Gautama took a walk outside the palace walls, he saw a man covered with sores, a feeble old man, a corpse being carried to its final resting place, and a begging Hindu monk. As Gautama thought about the suffering he had just seen and the contrasting peaceful countenance of the monk, he decided to leave his life and seek spirituality. He spent the next six years wandering the countryside, almost starving himself. While sitting under a tree, he obtained what he called “the great enlightenment.”

With his Hindu background, Gautama kept the concepts of karma (cause and effect) and reincarnation (rebirth). Within that framework, he wanted to find a way to be saved from karma and the cycle of rebirth. He said that though suffering is universal, the cause of it is desire, or attachments to the goods and pleasures of the world. The cure is the elimination of desire through what is called the “noble pathway.”

Though it spread throughout northern and central India, Buddhism remained a small religion in a sea of Hinduism until the days of Ashoka the Great in the 300s BC. After leading a bloody conquest of what is now Orissa in eastern India, Ashoka was so remorseful that he renounced violence and embraced Buddhism. Ashoka sent missionaries throughout his area of influence and beyond it to nearby areas. About 100 years later, Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka and Burma, two neighboring nations. It also spread to nearby Bengal, Bhutan and Sikkim, some of the places where it remains strong to this day.

The Fall of Buddhism in South Asia
For hundreds of years Hinduism made a slow comeback, partly by military means. Buddhism renounced Hinduism’s caste system and declared all people to be equal, beliefs that are anathema to Hinduism’s powerful Brahmins. But part of Hinduism’s comeback was because it began to re-invent itself. Hindus began to appeal to a personal god, to whom they would worship in a more emotional way. The hated caste system was temporarily weakened through reform movements, permitting many low caste communities to return to this ancient, flexible religion of their ancestors.

From the 9th to the 12th centuries, India suffered a massive invasion of Muslim armies. During this time, the new overlords tried in vain to root out idolatrous practices of both Hindus and Buddhists. Hinduism was so entrenched that it could not be eliminated. Buddhism, on the other hand, was much weaker. The Muslim invaders destroyed Buddhist stupas (places of worship), killed prominent monks, and conquered Magadha, the heartland of Buddhism. With their monastic universities and monasteries in ruins, Buddhism was severely weakened.

Buddhism Survives in the Mountains
However, the Muslims had less control over certain mountainous areas of South Asia. In these regions, Buddhism survived, and is still flourishing today. In the Himalayan Mountains, with Ladakh on the western edge and Tibet in the east, we find the Tibetan form of Buddhism, which arrived almost 1,000 years after the death of Gautama Buddha. This is very different than the Theravada and Mahayana forms practiced further east. In much of East Asia, Buddhism can be more of a philosophy than a religion, with only minor emphasis on the spirit world. Some East Asian Buddhists deny there is a spirit world at all.
By contrast, the Tibetan form of Buddhism places a large emphasis on the spirit world. They spend a great deal of their time and efforts appeasing wicked spirits. Tibetan Buddhism mixes the shamanistic bon religion in with Buddhist teachings. Tibetan Buddhism is lead by the Dalai Lama, who is also Tibet’s head of state in exile.

Ironically, the Tibetan form of Buddhism is very appealing to people in the West, especially members of the Hollywood elite. At a time when Christ’s teachings are being ignored by many in the West, many are looking to the East for spiritual answers. Will Tibetan Buddhists influence the West, or will Christ followers from the West direct Tibetan Buddhists to Christ?

Where will the situation lead in another 100 years? We don’t know, but we know that prayer is effective for those who follow Christ. Let’s not fret over the state of the world; instead pray for God’s direction!


Pray for prominent Tibetan Buddhist leaders to find their way to Christ, and lead others to Him as well.

Pray for a new era where Christ’s Name will be preached and embraced among the many unreached people groups of the mountains of South Asia.

Pray for power encounters that will clearly demonstrate the power Christ has over the wicked spirits now worshipped in this region.