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Geography

Historical Map of Tibet II:

From the Late Yarlung Period to the Beginnings of Chinese Expansion into Eastern Tibet


When the Tibetan Buddhist empire of the Yarlung Kings, a dynasty based in the Tsangpo Valley east and south of Lhasa, disintegrated in the 9th Century, many areas of eastern Tibet fell under the control of local lay and monastic eliteís. While a pan-plateau socio-political cohesion, rooted in Tibetan Buddhism ceased to exist, such cohesion nevertheless continued at a more local scale, with local chieftains and warlords taking control of trade and community polity.  Indeed, as recently as the 1940ís many of the Tibetan villages of the fertile Tsong Chu valley of Amdo, just east of the Tso Ngonpo, or Blue Lake, were under the traditional groupings of six chieftains who bore names of Central Tibetan origin. The socio-political organization served to perpetuate a local-scale self-identity, itself rooted in Tibetan Buddhism and mediated by local lamas and monasteries.

Evidence of this identity appeared by the thirteenth century and flourished for over a hundred years in the form of a new Tibetan literature know as ìTreasuresî (gter ma) volumes said to be newly uncovered texts that had been hidden during the collapse of the early Tibetan empire of the Yarlung kings. One of the most important of these texts, the Mani bKaíbum depicts Tibet as a non-Buddhist country civilized by Buddhism due to the acts of the early kings. In particular, Tibet is transformed by the beneficent activities of Avalokiteshvara, the Compassionate Boddhisattva and the patron deity of Tibet. It is Avalokiteshvara who manifested himself in Tibetan history as the king Songsten Gampo, and who, as a boddhisatva, has continued to return to material existence in the from of the lineage of the Dalai Lamas.

After the collapses of the Tibetan empire of the Yarlung kings, self-identity and the daily fabric of a social and religious polity resided at a local scale, in the monastery, or gompa as it is known in Tibet. During this long period, the rugged mountains of eastern Kham and Amdo provided a degree of insulation from the centralizing political authority of both Lhasa and China, allowing local chieftains to rule in concert with the lamas of the local gompas.  Trade and religious pilgrimage continued to provided sustained though less consistent, links across Tibet and into Chinaís Sichuan Basin.

These lines of communication enabled the great Dharma teacher Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), to undertake one of the greatest reform movements in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. While Tsong Khapaís place in Tibetan history has already been well-documented, here his teachings reestablished and strengthened religious ties across Tibet.

In addition, following his death, his disciples founded many of Tibetan's greatest monasteries, from Drepung, Sera, Ganden in the Lhasa Valley region, to Kumbum Monastery located in the far northeast of Amdo in the mountains above the Tsong Chu valley, and but a few miles from Taktser, the birthplace of todayís XIV Dalai Lama. The historical persistence of these monasteries attest to the social and religious coherence that Tibetan Buddhism provided Tibetans across the Tibetan Plateau over 600 years, especially linking Amdo and Kham to central Tibet.


EATERN TIBET [CA 1644]


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