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Department of the Study of Religions

Tibetan Buddhism

Course Code:
158000050
Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

This course aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. At the end if the course, students will have acquired a sound foundation in the historical, doctrinal and sociological dimensions of Tibetan Buddhism. 

 In addition, by shedding light on the close links that existed between the religious and political authorities in traditional Tibetan society, students will have become sensitised to the religious and political issues that affect the relationship between the current Tibetan authorities and their counterparts in the Peoples Republic of China .

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Students should come equipped with a basic knowledge of the various Buddhist traditions of Tibet , their history, doctrinal differences and manifold socio-political spheres of influence.

The content of this course covers four areas:

  • taking primarily a historical approach
  • Tibetan ritual
  • Tibetan Buddhist doctrines

Scope and syllabus

Four main areas covered:

  • first segment, taking primarily a historical approach, focuses on Indian Buddhist developments that came to influence the Tibetan Buddhist  culture. Particular attention will be given to Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism and to phases in which these found their way into Tibetan religious culture.
  • second segment deals with Tibetan ritual practice and addresses such  topics as ritual structures, ritual typologies, initiations, consecrations and the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon.
  • third area of study centres around Tibetan Buddhist doctrines. It examines, in some detail, the positions of the various schools ad assesses their perspective literary contributions to Tibetan Buddhist thought.
  • in the fourth segment, emphasis will shift to the soci-political sphere, investigating the impact of Buddhism on Tibetan society, in particular with reference to institutional monasticism. Each of these segments will include analyses of some of the more salient features of the Buddhist culture of Tibet, including the practice and concepts of meditation, re-incarnation, spiritual lineage, guru-disciple relationship as well as the social and political manifestations of religious government.

Method of assessment

1 essay (3000 words) (40%), 2-hour exam (60%)

Suggested reading

  • Snellgrove D L (1987) Indo-Tibetan Buddhism , chpt. 3, 4, & 5, London , Serindia Publications.
  • Samuel. G. (1993) Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies , Washington and London , Smithonian Institution Press.