In Himalayas: Once Greater Tibet, Now Tragically Divided

Delhi, India. With its original capital in Lhasa, Tibet and Tibetan influence once reached from India to Mongolia and included Mount Everest. The Tibetan Empire (Tibetan: བོད་ཆེན་པོWyliebod chen po, “Great Tibet”) existed from the 7th to 9th centuries A.D. when Tibet was unified as a large and powerful empire, and ruled an area considerably larger than the Tibetan Plateau, stretching to parts of East Asia, Central Asia and South Asia.

WhereFreeTibetOrgplateaumap_lg

Traditional Tibetan history described the exploits of a lengthy list of rulers. External corroboration is available from the 7th century in Chinese histories. From the 7th to the 9th century a series of emperors ruled Tibet. From the time of the emperor Songtsen Gampo the power of the empire gradually increased over a diverse terrain. By the reign of the emperor Ralpacan, in the opening years of the 9th century, it controlled territories extending from the Tarim basin to the Himalayas and Bengal, and from the Pamirs to what are now the Chinese provinces of Gansu and Yunnan.

Dunhuang_Zhang_Yichao_armySection of mural depicting victory of general Zhang Yichao who
expelled the Tibetan from Dunhuang. Cave 156, Late Tang Dynasty.

The varied terrain of the empire and the difficulty of transportation, coupled with the new ideas that came into the empire as a result of its expansion, helped to create stresses and power blocs that were often in competition with the ruler at the center of the empire. Thus, for example, adherents of the Bön religion and the supporters of the ancient noble families gradually came to find themselves in competition with the recently introduced Buddhism. The empire collapsed into civil war in the 840s.

Tibetan Cultural Area

Songtsen Gampo (Srong-brtsan Sgam-po) (c. 604 – 650) was the first great emperor who expanded Tibet’s power beyond Lhasa and the Yarlung Valley, and is traditionally credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet.

Tibetan_Empire

The Chinese records mention an envoy to Tibet in 634. On that occasion, the Tibetan Emperor requested (demanded according to Tibetan sources) marriage to a Chinese princess but was refused. In 635-36 the Emperor attacked and defeated the Tuyuhun, who lived around Lake Koko Nur and controlled important trade routes into China. After a series of military campaigns between Tibet and the Tang dynasty in 635-8, the Chinese emperor agreed (only because of the threat of force, according to Tibetan sources) to provide a Chinese princess to Songtsen Gampo.

The Chinese Princess Wencheng (Tibetan: Mung-chang Kung-co) departed China in 640 to marry Songtsen Gampo’s son. She arrived a year later. This is traditionally credited with being the first time that Buddhism came to Tibet, but it is very unlikely Buddhism extended beyond foreigners at the court.

AsiaReport_Sources_Maps_East_Asia_Historic_Map-Schematic-Asia_Great_Game-China-Russia-Britain-2A__element742

Songtsen Gampo’s sister Sämakar (Sad-mar-kar) was sent to marry Lig-myi-rhya, the king of Zhangzhung in what is now Western Tibet. However, when the king refused to consummate the marriage, she then helped her brother to defeat Lig myi-rhya and incorporate Zhangzhung into the Tibetan Empire. In 645, Songtsen Gampo overran the kingdom of Zhangzhung.

The soldiers of the Tibetan Empire wore chainmail armor and were proficient in the use of swords and lances, but were poor in archery. According to Du You (735-812) in his encyclopedic text, the Tongdian, the Tibetans fought in the following manner:

The men and horses all wear chain mail armor. Its workmanship is extremely fine. It envelops them completely, leaving openings only for the two eyes. Thus, strong bows and sharp swords cannot injure them. When they do battle, they must dismount and array themselves in ranks. When one dies, another takes his place. To the end, they are not willing to retreat. Their lances are longer and thinner than those in China. Their archery is weak but their armor is strong. The men always use swords; when they are not at war they still go about carrying swords.

The Tibetan Empire’s officers were not employed full-time and were only called upon on an ad hoc basis. These warriors were designated by a golden arrow seven inches long which signified their office. The officers gathered once a year to swear an oath of fealty. They assembled every three years to partake in a sacrificial feast.

SERIES ON/FROM TIBET IN INDIA, SEPTEMBER 2019 IN 20 PARTS

  1. The Dalai Lama & Dr. Kazuko: A 47-Year Friendship
  2. Tibetan Children’s Village: Step One to Success
  3. India: Great Protector of the Tibetan People
  4. With Incredible Tibetan Orphans, Reflecting on How I Got Here
  5. Meet Japanese Grandmother of Tibetan Orphanage in India
  6. Lama Thupten Phuntsok: Tibetan Monk’s Life Outside Monastery 
  7. First Trip to Tibetan Orphanage High in Himalayas
  8. Dharamshala for Americans: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Hometown
  9. Himalayas: From India/Pakistan to Bhutan & Nepal + Chinese Tibet
  10. Himalayas: Once Greater Tibet, Now Tragically Divided 
  11. Meet American Lobsang Sangay, President of Tibet
  12. Dr. Kazuko: Planning Nine Orphanages Globally Through Gaia
  13. Viewpoint: Whatever Faith Tradition, It’s All About Kindness
  14. Orphanage Burns in Indonesia; Matt Luce Pledges to Rebuild
  15. At Fifty, I Gave Away My Wealth; at Sixty, My Possessions
  16. Autumn Elegant Evening to Highlight Charity Efforts Around World
  17. New Look: Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness at Tenth Year
  18. Luce Leadership Experience Looks to Israel after Greece, Indonesia Trips
  19. Charities at Twenty Confer Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Kazuko
  20. New Look: Orphans International Website Refreshed for 20th Anniversary

SERIES ON PILGRIMAGE: FOLLOWING FOOTSTEPS OF BUDDHA ACROSS INDIA IN 15 PARTS

  1. On Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.E. India
  2. Under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya Where the Prince Became The Buddha
  3. Photo Essay of Bodh Gaya, Where Buddha Became Enlightened
  4. Next Step of Indian Pilgrimage: Vultures’ Peak Where Buddha Preached
  5. Touching the Untouchable in a Rural Indian Village
  6. Rediscovering the World’s First Great University in Buddhist India
  7. Buddhism for Beginners: Insights from a Non-Buddhist
  8. Buddhism and the Universal Concept of Social Responsibility
  9. Help Me to Support Education & Orphan Care in Bihar, India
  10. Most-Photographed Man in the World Prepares to Retire
  11. Yoshimitsu Nagasaka Photo Exclusive: The Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya
  12. Varanasi: Holy City of Buddhists – As Well as Hindus, Jainists, Jews
  13. On the Banks of the Ganges: Reflections of a Journey in Time
  14. My Pilgrimage Complete: Life Continues Like a Wheel
  15. Pilgrimage Postscript: Pneumonia and Possible T.B.

SEE ALSO

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

Comments are closed.