(Above photo: Ganden Monastery near Lhasa)


Summer is fast disappearing and it’s time to think ahead and make your travel plans to see you through the winter. A more unusual winter vacation to tell your friends and family about back home is a trip to Lhasa to experience the Tibetan Lunar New Year celebrations, known in Tibetan as Losar (lo means ‘year’ and sar means ‘new’). This is a great time to visit Lhasa if you want a truly memorable and moving experience to come home with from your next trip.

Monk walks past the incense-filled Jokhang Temple in Lhasa

Lhasa comes alive during Losar – the sound of fireworks and smell of incense fills the air, whilst the sight of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims prostrating as they complete the kora (pilgrimage) around the Jokhang Temple is an almost spiritual experience – it’s hard not to get caught up in it all, believer or not. Lhasa is a spiritual place at all times but never more so than at Losar. Tibetans from far and wide travel to the capital sometimes walking vast distances in order to reach Lhasa to celebrate and attain religious merit by visiting the holiest of temples. It’s a wonderful time for people-watching as you are able to see devout Tibetans from many different parts of Tibet and witness their varied dress, features and customs.  

Monks gather around the abbot in a ceremony at the Sera Monastery for Losar

The new year is symbolically about purification and welcoming in the new, thus leading up to the new year people clean their houses, whitewash their homes, wear new clothes and put out colorful new prayer flags. They also burn spontaneous bonfires in the street to burn away the old and the evil and bring good fortune with the new. It’s a vibrant time to be in Lhasa with brightly dressed locals flocking to the temples and monasteries to pray for the coming year and make offerings. Robed monks decorate the temples and special religious celebrations take place. 

Bonfire in Lhasa during Losar to symbolically burn away the old

The 7th of February 2016 is new years’ eve and the 8th is the first day of the Tibetan year of 2143, so it’s best to arrive on the 6th so you can experience the build up to the celebrations. The private tour itineraries will include visits to a number of monasteries such as Sera and Ganden, the famous Jokhang temple and of course the formidable Potala Palace. In the evenings you can retreat to the luxury of the Shangri-La hotel’s oxygen lounge where you can relax, sip local barley wine and recover from the altitude, or if you wish your aches and pains to disappear then you can head to CHI, The Spa for a treatment.  

New prayer flags for Losar against a whitewashed wall of Ganden Monastery

There are some inconveniences to traveling to Lhasa at this time of year that should be noted. There are more people, albeit it being busy with locals rather than Chinese tour groups as in the summer; some places are closed to visitors at certain times during important ceremonies so being flexible with itineraries is recommended; day time temperatures average 10°C or 50°F but of course temperatures at night fall below freezing (it will still be cozy in the hotel though!). However, far outweighing this in our opinion is that going during Losar you are participating in a significant religious and social event for Tibetans which is both incredibly moving and inspiring and which you will remember for years to come.  

You can read the full Lhasa at Losar itinerary here. To book your trip to Lhasa please complete the booking form here or you can contact your nearest China luxury travel agent listed here

The Ganden Sumtseling Monastery (Songzanlin Monastery) is located near Shangri-La, on the Tibetan plateau in China’s south-west Yunnan province. If you’ve been to Lhasa and seen the Potala Palace you may think that this monastery is proof that all Tibetan monasteries look the same – and you’d be half right. The Sumtseling was in fact modelled on the Potala and has been nicknamed the ‘Little Potala’.

This is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in south-west China. All told there are presently over 700 monks affiliated with the monastery which was established in the seventeenth century. That number is but a quarter of the number in its heyday when it operated as a centre of scriptural and spiritual learning and, like many monasteries, also functioned as a center of medicine, literature, and other forms of learning. Unlike many of the monasteries in Tibet which have not recovered their former vibrancy, the atmosphere in Sumtseling sparkles. Being closer to China and further from Lhasa has meant that political tensions are reduced, and the monastery can devote its attention to more traditional concerns.

The monastery is also tied to the community in traditional ways with donations to furthering or upkeep of the monastery, be they financial or in kind, seen as a form of ‘merit making’. In Buddhist thinking, mere mortals such as we, can use the surplus of our good fortune to make this merit. In making merit we can ensure that our future life will be as good as or better than this one, and simultaneously we can aid the present. With the monastery divided into houses, and each house supported by a group of villages the institution truly resembles a microcosm of the community, and accordingly the ties between the surrounding communities and the monastery are strong.

Closer to China proper than many other Tibetan monasteries, the Sumtseling has a history more intertwined with the Chinese than many of its siblings. The Qing dynasty Kangxi Emperor (r.1662-1722) was happy to give his blessings for the founding of the monastery, and to repeat his support when the monastery was involved in the search for the Seventh Dalai Lama. One unfortunate note concerns the modern period. When the Communist general He Long led one section of the Red Army through the area on the Long March in the 1930s, the monks donated needed supplies and helped direct the troops. By contrast, Chinese forces shelled the monastery in 1959 as they entered Tibet. Recent years have seen a return to better relations.

Sumtseling is one of two monasteries outside of Tibet that is highly recommended to visit if you are unable to travel to Tibet proper (the other being the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe, Gansu province). Feeling inspired? Enquire about taking a luxury tour to Shangri-La and the beautiful Little Potala with Imperial Tours now

(Above photo: Pilgrims prostrating in front of Jokhang Temple)


Travelers to China’s skyscraper cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong may think they have seen and done all there is to do in China. Other travelers may even venture beyond to cities like Xi’an, Guilin, and Hangzhou. But those looking to escape the more traditional and explore an incredibly unique destination and culture on a deeper level should definitely consider Lhasa in Tibet. A time of year Imperial Tours recommends for visiting is during Losar, the Tibetan New Year Festival.

Tibetans come to this most holy of destinations during this festival to make their once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimages to Lhasa, and they choose this time of year because many of them are farmers who are unable to work their fields in the winter. These pilgrims come from all across Greater Tibet, for example the Amdo and Kham regions, and therefore dress differently and ceremonially according to their provenance. It’s a terrific time to see and mingle with many different regional types of Tibetans all in one place.

As you can imagine, Lhasa at Losar comes alive with color, vibrancy, and spirituality. Oh, the spirituality…you can feel it in the air and cut it with a knife.  Some of the pilgrims have walked the entire way from their homes, sometimes hundreds of miles away across Tibet, doing full body prostrations with every 4th step to show their devotion. The Tibetans you meet are incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming. The sites you will see are awe-inspiring from the massive Potala Palace to the holy Jokhang Temple. And some of the sights you will see may take you a bit out of your comfort zone, like butchers plying their trade right on the sidewalk or kids throwing firecrackers to scare away evil spirits or bonfires set in the middle of the street (this is a way to get rid of the old in order to make room for the new). But the frenzy of the new year is juxtaposed with the calm of everyday Tibetan life. The sounds of the spinning prayer wheels and the smells of incense and yak butter tea will fully immerse you into the culture and Buddhist traditions. You might even want to have a meditation session with a monk in a chapel on a pilgrimage route overlooking the Himalayas.  

Click here for a glimpse at a sample Lhasa at Losar Itinerary. This itinerary assumes two people traveling but of course, any aspect of it can be customized to suit travelers’ dates and interests. For a longer trip, you may want to add Chengdu, Lijiang and/or Shangri-La.


Image of a Giant Panda Cub from China


Chengdu is a fantastic destination for families. It’s the capital of Sichuan province and home to spicy food, night markets and hot pot. Culture seekers will want to head to a nearby mountain for its Daoist temple where you can learn about fortune telling, alchemy, meditation, and even get to meet a monk and accompany him on his daily routine. For history lovers the Sanxingdui archeological site is not to be missed. First unearthed in 1987, archaeologists discovered a previously unknown, technologically-advanced Bronze Age culture. So much mystery still surrounds the jade, ivory, gold and bronze artifacts excavated here.

Of course, Chengdu’s most famous residents are the Giant Pandas. We recommend visiting the Panda Research and Breeding Centre first thing in the morning when the pandas are feeding; a visit at any other time of the day will afford you a wonderful view of somnolent pandas. Depending on the time of year you visit and the pandas’ breeding schedules, there is opportunity to hold a baby panda, or even spend time in the panda enclosures helping the keepers. What child wouldn’t be excited to spend an hour with pandas!

The Shangri-La Chengdu is offering some wonderful amenities for Imperial Tours clients staying at least 2 nights through the end of August, 2013:


This lecture on the ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi, was given by Professor Wang Bo, Professor of Philosophy at Beijing University as part of Imperial Tours sponsored research into Chinese philosophy and ideas.


The Spirit of Zhuangzi

By Professor Wang Bo


Good evening everybody. My name is Professor Wang Bo and I have been at Peking University (PKU) for about 24 years since 1982. My major is philosophy, especially Chinese philosophy.

Zhuangzi is my favorite philosopher. Generally speaking philosophers should not like things, you know, they should not be anyone’s fan. Well, Zhuangzi is really very special, very cool. So I am just Zhuangzi’s fan, and not anyone else’s.

Tonight we are going to talk about Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi did not like theories – he liked to relax. I hope both you and I feel relaxed. So, let’s begin.

Zhuangzi was a person; however, I have always suspected that he was not human. In Chinese if you say that someone is not human, you are insulting them. However, there is a story about the famous poet, Su Dongpo, during the Song dynasty. Once, when he wanted to praise a girl he started as though he was going to insult her. He said that the girl was not a human. But he went on to say “but rather a fairy descended to the mortal world”. Thus, he created a very strong contrast. Imitating him, I say that Zhuangzi is from heaven. The reason why I say so is because he is too different. Many, including he himself, considered him crazy. Of course this was not due to any mental disorder but because of his understanding of the world and life.

Zhuangzi lived about two thousand three hundred years ago. It is very far from us, especially, from you. To us Chinese he is far in time, while for you there are many other kinds of distances also. However, I believe human beings can share many things. Thus, not only I but I believe also you can comprehend him as well.

During his lifetime, Zhuangzi did many strange things. I’ll give you two examples. The first is that he refused official positions. We know that Zhuangzi was a great scholar. My name is Wang Bo. Bo means abundant. But compared with Zhuangzi, I am like a grain of rice measured against a granary. So you can imagine the extent of his knowledge. Because of his knowledge many people wanted Zhuangzi to become an official in their government, particularly in the Kingdom of Chu. Zhuangzi was offered the position of Prime Minister, like China’s Mr. Wen Jianbao today.

Generally speaking, Chinese intellectuals are convinced that ‘he who excels in study can follow an official career’. So many people seek a position in government. However, when Zhuangzi was invited by the King of Chu he resolutely refused. He told the emissary the story of two animals, a pig and an ox.

The ox had often been used as a sacrificial offering in ancient China. Prior to the sacrifice it would receive very good treatment. It would be placed in a nice pen where it could enjoy good food, hot baths and even wonderful music. However, its destiny was to be butchered. By contrast, although the pig is housed in mud in a poor environment, it lived a longer life.

For Zhuangzi, entering government was like becoming a sacrificial ox. The destiny is very different for the pig: he might live in a bad environment but he leads an unconstrained life. Zhuangzi asked the emissary whether he would prefer to be the sacrificial ox or a pig. For him, the answer was obvious. He preferred to be a pig.

From the story of The Bull and the Pig we can see Zhuangzi’s attitude towards power. He considers power the dirtiest, ugliest and cruelest thing in the world. In Chinese we can describe someone as a ‘Renwu’ – literally a human object. In my opinion, and I believe that Zhuangzi would agree with me, this means a person is turned into an object. In other words, power is so corrupting that it can turn a person into an object.

The second example of Zhuangzi’s peculiarity is related to his wife’s death. In China – I believe this is universal – you should demonstrate sorrow in such circumstances.

Prof. Wu reads out the following excerpt by Zhuangzi:

“When Zhuangzi’s wife died, Hui Shi went to console him. He found the widower sitting on the ground, singing, with his legs spread out at a right angle, beating time on a bowl.
‘To live with your wife’, exclaimed Hui Shi, ‘and see your eldest son grow up to be a man, and then not to shed a tear over her corpse, this would be bad enough. But to drum on a bowl, and sing; surely this is going too far.’
‘Not at all’, replied Zhuangzi. ‘When she died, I could not help being affected by her death. Soon, however, I remembered that she had already existed in a previous state before birth, without form or even substance; that while in that unconditioned condition, substance was added to spirit; that this substance then assumed form; and that the next stage was birth. And now, by virtue of a further change, she is dead, passing from one phase to another like the sequence of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. And while she is thus lying asleep in Eternity, for me to go about weeping and wailing would be to proclaim myself ignorant of these natural laws. Therefore I refrain from it.”

As you can see, Zhuangzi is indeed a very unusual person. It is exactly this peculiarity which makes Zhuangzi so enchanting. He is liked by both friend and foe. Most of the time, it is his wisdom they like. I’ve always felt that Zhuangzi is the most intelligent person in Chinese history. In his book there are many passages which indicate this wisdom.

Have you heard the parable in which he debates fish’s happiness with his friend? This parable is very popular. One day Zhuangzi and his friend Hui Shi, a logician, took a walk along a river. They stopped at a stone bridge and saw fish swimming in the river. Zhuangzi said, “look at how happy the fish are.” His best friend, maybe his only friend, the logician said “you are not a fish so how do you know if the fish are happy or not?” But Zhuangzi answered, “You are not me, so how do you know that I do not know that fish are happy?” I think from this parable the ancient wisdom of Zhuangzi is clear. Maybe we can glimpse a different kind of logic to that of Aristotle.

I also like very much another idea of Zhuangzi, which is about the nature of debate. It goes like this: suppose I am going to have a debate with this lady sitting in the front row of this lecture hall. If I win and she loses, have I really won? And conversely, if she wins and I lose, has she really won? Zhuangzi said, “Maybe we can find an arbiter, but if this arbiter shares my opinion then he is not qualified to be an arbiter. However, if he shares the opinion of this lady, he is not qualified to act as one either. And if he holds views that are different from either of ours, he is even less qualified to act as an arbiter.”

This story leads us to question if there is an arbiter in the world. We often see in sports events that the umpires frequently make mistakes. The same goes for judges of the court of law. So I have always felt that there is no justice in this world. There is only the fairness of a person.

This is the first impression I would like to give you of Zhuangzi, to draw your attention to Zhuangzi as being very different from others. A person like this of course has a very different way of thinking.

In the second part of our talk tonight, I’d like to introduce how Zhuangzi understands ‘love’. I believe this is a question we, even philosophers, are all interested in. We will first discuss the Confucianist concept of ‘love’. One thinks of Confucius and Mencius as soon as we think of Confucianism. The teachings of the Confucianists are rich in compassion. One should love one’s parents, brothers, friends, neighbors, compatriots and the world. Of course the extent of love is different. One should love one’s wife more than others’ wives. We can find a lot of statements concerning the concrete course of action in Confucianism. The most important is “Dui ji ji ren’ -“Do as you would be done by”.

The Confucianist ‘dui ji ji ren’ seeks to project one’s own aspiration onto others. The underlying conviction is that one and others are similar and that the whole human race shares the same inherent nature. Because of this we can understand each other. From this, the Confucianists advocate many concepts which are familiar to the Chinese people, such as “Do not do to others what you do not want to be done”, or “Establish others just as you wish to establish yourself”, and “Enable others just as how you seek to distinguish yourself”. In other words, if I want to be a billionaire, I’ll help you to become a billionaire. If I want to be a high official I’ll help you to become one. This is the “Do to others what you want to be done” way of thinking of the Confucianists.

Zhuangzi raised doubts about this. He would wonder “am I going to like what you like”? “Would I dislike what you like?” Can this be a true relationship, for example, between President Bush of the USA and President Saddam of Iraq? So the simple deduction of others from oneself can not be established. In other words, this kind of love can bring disaster, even if the starting point comes from good intentions.

Let’s take another parable from the works of Zhuangzi. A bird suddenly made its appearance in the capital of the Kingdom of Lu. The King was very pleased and tried all he could to entertain the bird. Just like the treatment received by heads of states, the bird enjoyed 21 salutes of the cannon, a state banquet, was entertained by the Central Orchestra, and was indulged in all the activities and fashions of which that the King was fond. Three days later the bird died of fright.

Why? Zhuangzi said there are two ways of loving the bird, one is what you like and the other is what the bird likes. For Zhuangzi, the Confucianist type of love offers what you like. The King loved the bird but his love killed the bird.

This also makes us think about romantic love. How should two people passionately in love treat one another? I have seen too many cases where one of the parties tries hard to change the other after their own fashion. They give honorable reasons for this, such as, “I am only doing this because I love you” or “I care for you and this is for your own good”. There can be two outcomes. One is that this effort brings about the rupture of the relationship. The other is that the person you fell in love with has completely disappeared and has been transformed into someone else.

When the Confucianists talk about love and to “do to others what you want to be done” they use a very good term, ‘jiaohua”- to educate and bring about change. It sounds nice as it is a very gentle and soft method. However, in my opinion it is a very terrible method. When someone waves a knife at you, you can feel the intent to subjugate you. But when someone sweet talks you to change you are not even aware of the threat before you are dead. 

Martial arts novels are very popular in China. A female killer in one of the novels is called ‘Wenrou” – gentleness. She always acts very gentle and warm with her adversaries leading them to lower their guard before she gives the fateful stab. I sometimes refer to this as killing by subtle means which is more frightening than killing in a battle field.

There is a very popular song in China which is called “Qiaci nide wenrou” – just like your gentleness. In Chinese, qiaci – just like – and strangle to death have the same pronunciation.

Seeing problems in the theories of Confucianists, Zhuangzi took a different course. The basic spirit of this kind of love is to believe that every person is an individual and independent entity. In other words, every person is unique. No one qualified to be the teacher of the other, and no one should be the disciple of the other. The best is for every person to choose his or her own way.

A famous saying of Zhuangzi goes like this: “When the springs dry out, the fish are left high and dry. They splutter and shake to keep it each other wet, but it would be best for them to forget each other in the rivers and lakes.” Their act of moistening one another is the description of the kind of love preached by the Confucianist. The idea that it would be best for them to forget one another in the rivers and lakes is an understanding of love by Zhuangzi. Certainly, it does not mean that a couple should totally forget one another. It implies rather that although we are married, we are different entities and each should have his or her own life style. For Zhuangzi this would be genuine love. As compared with the Confucianista, Zhuangzi appears to have a ‘cool’ tone. In reading Confucianist works such as the Analects, Mengzi or Xunzi you can feel some ‘heat’. I compare reading the Analects to spring, with Mengzi you are in the summer and Xunzi in autumn: although there are seasonal differences the heat is there. When reading Zhuangzi, you cannot feel any heat. However, you do not feel wintry. Zhuangzi is not that grim. You feel the breeze of cool air.

For Chinese intellectuals a combination of the Confucianist and Daoist philosophies strikes a good balance.

I like to bathe in hot springs. I do not know of a very good one in China, but when I go to Taiwan or Korea I always visit their hot springs. There are usually hot and cold pools in the hot spring. And it is nice to go from one to the other. You do not stay in one for a long time as it is not comfortable; Confucianism is like the hot pool and Zhuangzi is like the cold pool. The best is a combination of the two, like at the hot springs. The best is to place the hot springs in your heart. In my case, each semester I teach two courses, generally one on Confucianism and one on Daoism. That’s the way I like it so that my heart can enjoy this equilibrium.

Let’s read a poem written by the most famous Chinese poet Li Bai. He lived in the Tang dynasty and was also a crazy person. In many ways he resembles Zhuangzi. Indeed he liked Zhuangzi very much.


By Li Bai (701-762)

From a pot of wine among the flowers I drank alone. 
There was no one with me –

Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon 
to bring me my shadow and make us three.

Alas, the moon was unable to drink 
and my shadow tagged me vacantly;

But still for a while I had these friends 
to cheer me through the end of spring….

I sang. The moon encouraged me. 
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.

As long as I knew, we were boon companions. 
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.

…Shall goodwill ever be secure? 
I watch the long road of the River of Stars.

Generally speaking, Chinese drink in one of two circumstances. When we are very happy or when we feel lonely and sad. Here it is the latter. Li Bai is drinking in a very beautiful place where there are lots of flowers. However, he emphasizes the fact that he was alone without a single companion. You can imagine that it would have been very easy for him to find someone to drink with. But he wants to stress the loneliness of human beings. Then he mentions that there are three of them, the moon, his shadow and he. Again, it is not true there are three drinking together. In the same way, for Zhuangzi, the collective does not exist. The collective of a multitude is artificial. So in the poem, after mentioning that there are three, the poet Li Bai goes on to say that the other two do not understand me at all. It is the same for Zhuangzi – the people around Zhuangzi can be friends or strangers but either way they can not take away the feeling of loneliness.

The poem goes on to say that we seem to be together while we are drinking but we disperse when we become intoxicated. I think Li Bai means that when you are drunk you have the illusion that you are with people. But as soon as you get sober you realize that you are alone. In ending, Li Bai implies that if we are in any case lonely why should we become attached but instead wonder freely “on the river of stars”.

Let’s turn to Zhuangzi’s paradoxes on deformity and the usefulness of the useless. Some students have asked me if Zhuangzi was in some way deformed himself, “otherwise why refer to all those deformed people?” For me this question is ridiculous for it misunderstands Zhuangzi. There are two questions on the issue of deformity. The first is its relationship to uselessness. The second issue is that, according to him, we are all deformed in some way. In other words, there is no perfect person in the world.

People assume that a deformity makes someone useless as compared with a normal person. By contrast, Zhuangzi reminds us of the advantages of being deformed. In ancient China, military service and corvee were mandatory.

You may have heard the story of Menjiangnu. Her husband was drafted thousands of years ago to help construct a portion of the Great Wall. When he failed to return, Menjiangnu set out to find her husband. Her wail upon learning of his death toppled the Great Wall. Although this is only a popular myth, it is possible to relate to the pain of losing a loved one through corvee.

In the time of Zhuangzi, the situation was different for crippled people. They could swagger downtown without fear of being conscripted or being drafted for corvee labor. And yet, in times of bounty, when the government was giving hand-outs, they were the first to benefit. Consideration for handicapped is much better in the USA and in Europe. When I went swimming in the States five years ago I noticed the swimming lane reserved for the handicapped.

Zhuangzi also uses the symbol of the deformed tree in his parables to make this point. He and his disciples used to walk in the mountains. There they usually found the straight, handsome trees felled and the twisted, ugly trees unharmed. If there were two water wells, one sweet and the other astringent, the former well would be exhausted first. This is the harm of the useful and the usefulness of the useless.

But even this paradox is not straightforward. One day, after crossing a tall mountain Zhuangzi and his disciples arrived at a friend’s place. The host was happy to see them, and so decided to kill one of his chickens to entertain the guests. His servant asked the host to choose between butchering the rooster which crowed in the morning or the one which did not. The host chose the one which did not. At this, Zhuangzi’s students were completely confused. They asked Zhuangzi what they should think as the uselessness of the trees enabled them to survive whilst the uselessness of the chicken got it killed. Zhuangzi responded by saying that one should remain in a state of equilibrium between usefulness and uselessness, which is of course easier said than done.

The Chinese employ Zhuangzi’s wisdom in life and can navigate between usefulness and uselessness according to circumstance. For instance, when one’s boss invites you to drink alcohol, you should drink. But when the boss does not invite you to drink alcohol, you should not. In other words, you have to have a firm grip of the proper limits.

Lao Zi lived before Zhuang Zi and exercised a profound influence on Chinese peoples’ ways of thinking. His thinking on this matter shows parallels. Lao Zi said ‘guang er bu yao’ – to be light but refrain from shining, literally that if someone is too brilliant, he or she might make it impossible for others to shut their eyes. In other words, the brilliant person makes others uncomfortable. It is as though a very pretty girl would draw the jealousy of other girls. So it is important that you try to hide your own talent and conceal your beauty.

The second implication of usefulness versus uselessness is that no man is perfect. The Confucianists want to mold us into becoming the perfect person – the sage. Actually, it is very tiring to be a sage. I believe that there are two circumstances where the world can produce such a ‘perfect person’. One is in death. In all the commemorations in China one gives the most praise to the deceased. The second circumstance is through hypocrisy. We used to believe that Chinese leaders were perfect people. But clearly they were not.

So, there is no perfect person. In this case, why don’t we bravely and truthfully recognize our own deformity? For Zhuangzi, as long as you have a body you are deformed. For instance, if you are a man then you can not be a woman. Even someone as tall as Yao Ming (the basket ball player) might for example envy my height, especially if he found himself enclosed in a small space. So as long as we have a shape and structure we are doomed to be deformed.

Furthermore, due to the fact that we have a form or structure we have to live in a group. And we have to consider the other forms and structures. For example, when I sit on this chair others cannot sit on the same chair. In other words, we face conflict with other forms and structure. So we should constantly control, restrain, and keep ourselves within bounds.

All around us there are many hunchbacks: when we restrain ourselves we are in some sense hunching our backs. When I meet someone in a higher position to me, I should bow. In ancient China, a person was expected to kowtow. Zhuangzi probably understood this action as a deformation of the body. Indeed, I consider it a necessary deformity. So, we should all be brave enough to accept the fact that we are deformed. Sometimes deformity is a technique for survival. For instance, hiding your talents is a deformity or a technique. But this is negative and passive, whereas Zhuangzi incorporates deformity in the way of life that he seeks.

Zhuangzi calls the kind of person he likes as ‘zhen ren’ – a true person. The most important thing is to be authentic, which is loveable. So the ‘true person’ is one with defects. Which is more loveable, a perfect person or a person with blemishes? Obviously, the one with blemishes is loveable because of his defects. Too much perfection will make us stay at a respectful distance from that person.

So this is Zhuangzi, that’s the way he is telling us to live. There is much more to him, and if you are interested you could get a book on him. I believe you will fall in love with him, but of course in his way of loving.


Questions and Answers

Question: With Zhuangzi is there any particular purpose or aim? 
Answer: I believe that Zhuangzi has no sense of mission or responsibility. Maybe he feels that he has too little power to change things. The only thing he can do is to change his way of thinking. He realizes that when he changes his way of thinking, the world changes as well. The philosophy of Zhuangzi is a biography of how he lived, telling us how and why he lived his life. But he does not force others to lead lives like his. He encourages us to lead our own individual life.

Question: I came across a quotation which criticized Zhuangzi for raising peoples’ interests in a philosophical goal but not providing the means to reach it. The quotation compares Zhuangzi to a travel brochure that offers lovely destinations with no information on getting to them. From what Professor Wang has said he seems to disagree fundamentally with that quotation, as he says that Zhuangzi is prescriptive in offering his own life as an example of the path to follow. When I read Zhuangzi it seems to me that he is saying that it is a good thing to be a sage and that the secret to it is to lose the concept of oneself, to lose the ego.

It seems to me that the best place to go for practical guidance in how to attain is Zen Buddhism for three reasons. The first reason is that Zen suggests attaining happiness by losing the concept of oneself just like the narrative of Zhuangzi. Secondly, that Zen Buddhism is strongly influenced by Zhuangzi. The third reason is that Zen Buddhism has practical methods for achieving this, such as meditation. The professor might disagree with the quotation, but what does he think of the relationship between Zen Buddhism and Zhuangzi?

Answer: This is a very professional question. I am impressed that among the audience there are people who know Zen Buddhism so well. I’d like to start with the world as understood by Zhuangzi. For him our world is constantly changing with no law or pattern. In this sense, he is a pessimist in his world view. Being a pessimist means he does not think there is a fixed goal.

Confucianists believe that the world has a pattern, that it is definite with eternal things and values. So they are very optimistic and believe that humans have natures that are full of benevolence, righteousness, etiquette and wisdom. For Zhuangzi none of these exist. Human beings exist within unknown processes which we can not grasp. We are born unwittingly and will die in circumstances we cannot control. If there is an objective to life, it is to adapt ourselves to this constant change. We can call Zhuangzi a wonderer but one who has no objective. He compares life to a small boat without sail in the ocean. It is carried by the water.

This doesn’t mean that Zhuangzi does not care about anything. He has made a very clear distinction about his own life, which he says is composed of two parts, one of the body and the other the mind. Our body is completely controlled by destiny. We are born good-looking or not, tall or short; none of these can be determined by ourselves. However, Zhuangzi does care about his mind. In the book, Zhuangzi describes beautiful places, girls and butterflies, in short, lots of scenes which exist only in his mind. He doesn’t care what he sees because even the ugliest things, such as garbage, are transformed by him into something beautiful. It is because he has a special mind.

There are many similarities between Zen Buddhism and Zhuangzi. I don’t think that Zhuangzi would admire the idea of sitting in meditation that Zen promotes. He would find this too forced. When a person needs to sit still in order to quiet his mind, he is in a lower state of attainment. One should be able to attain the tranquility of mind even when one is talking, drinking wine, attending a concert or in a very noisy place.

Question: In what way is Zhuangzi the continuation of Laozi? In what way is he innovating?

Answer: The Chinese usually mention the two together. A corresponding pair is to mention Confucius and Mencius together. However the relations between the former are very different from those between the latter. The transmission of ideas amongst the Confucianists pass from master to disciple. That is why Confucius is the teacher of all teachers. But for Zhuangzi, no one can be the teacher of another, not even if that person is Laozi. That is why we can not detect adulation of Laozi in the book of Zhuangzi. They are actually very different.

Laozi cares mostly about the art of rulership. But Zhuangzi is not at all interested in it and finds Laozi vulgar. It is very difficult to say what Zhuangzi has inherited or innovated from Laozi. They do share some ideas but with totally different attitudes. The best is not to put Zhuangzi with anyone else, as all the others are mortals and Zhuangzi is a celestial being.

Thank you.

The transcript of the lecture was translated into English by Prof. I-Chuan Wu. 

The short article, Occult Universe, presents the basic patterns of belief current in China from the third millenium BC. It introduces the Book of Changes , which was as influential in the development of Confucianism as it was in much Daoist doctrine. Yet whereas Confucius expanded this book's social implications, Daoism elaborated on its metaphysical claim – to understand the invariable laws controlling the process of change in the universe. Lao Zi, who founded the Daoist movement with his work, Dao De Jing (Power and Principle), writes, "to know the invariable is enlightenment."

Lao Zi's Ideas

Lao Zi believed that in order to understand Dao – the mystical, all-encompassing power governing the universe – each individual should, through contemplation, master the invariable laws that cause and enforce the processes of change. Realising this ambition is no easy matter however – first, the individual should prepare to receive enlightenment. This requires the observation of "non-action" and the un-learning of all superficial knowledge. Only after rediscovering his/her inner essence can an individual understand and unite with Dao .

1) Detecting the invariable

In the Dao De Jing , Lao Zi sets down the principles of the invariable laws that he has discovered. The most important of these is that "reversal is the movement of Dao ", as introduced above (see "The theory of Yin and Yang" in Occult Universe). Lao Zi writes that since change always moves "to fill the empty or empty the full", to achieve something you should therefore first admit its opposite, i.e. if you wish to be happy, you should first seek to be sad. Secondly, he asserts that change always moves in the direction of the least resistance towards what is simplest and easiest. Thirdly, and controversially, he claims that all forms of Progress create dissension and unhappiness rather than harmony and improvement. He is adamant that if an individual wishes to understand Dao, s/he must first un-learn the spurious knowledge of the supposedly advanced world. The path to understanding Dao begins with the discovery of one's inner essence through "non-action".

2) Practising Non-action

Non-action occurs when a person or thing acts in natural and spontaneous concordance with its inner principle or De ; it is the opposite of all that is arbitrary, learned and artificial. Lao Zi insists that people have lost their essence precisely because they have developed too many desires and too much knowledge. As a result they cannot observe how Dao , the universal invariable power, affects the De or universal principle in all things. Only by reducing their lives to the simplicity of the Dao , can people begin to understand these forces. Thus in the second verse Lao Zi writes, "The Man of Calling. dwells in effectiveness without action. He practices teaching without talking. All beings emerge and he does not refuse himself to them. He generates and yet possesses nothing. He is effective and keeps nothing."

3) Defining Dao

Although it is possible to communicate the purpose of understanding Dao , it is impossible to define Dao itself. This is because Lao Zi, like the Chinese Buddhists, believes that language cannot contain nor express the unearthly experience of Dao . As a result he, like the Chinese Buddhists, only ever describes it through allusions. To give some indication of Dao , we shall quote the famous, introductory verse of Lao Zi's Dao De Jing .

"The Dao that can be expressed is not the eternal Dao . 
The name that can be named is not the eternal name. 
"Non-existence" I call the beginning of Heaven and Earth. 
"Existence" I call the mother of individual beings. 
Therefore does the direction towards non-existence lead to the sight of the miraculous essence, 
the direction towards existence to the sight of spatial limitations. 
Both are one in origin and different only in name. 
In its unity it is called the secret. 
The secret's still deeper secret is the gateway through which all miracles emerge."

4) Conflict with Confucianism

Whereas Confucius wanted to improve the morality of a progressive society, Lao Zi aimed to enlighten the individual through a regressive ideology. As a result their two philosophies came into conflict.

Since Lao Zi conceived of the Dao above all distinctions of good and evil, he concluded that the Confucian values of human-heartedness and righteousness denigrated these higher principles. Consequently he writes:

"When the Dao is lost, there is the De . 
When the De is lost, there is the virtue of human-heartedness. 
When human-heartedness is lost there is the virtue of righteousness. 
When righteousness is lost, there are the ceremonials. 
These are the degeneration of loyalty and good faith and the beginning of Disorder."

This represents the philosophical conflict between Daoism and Confucianism. The two philosophers also disagreed on the role of government. Whereas Confucius supported a progressive Emperor, Lao Zi called on the Emperor to limit government and un-do the effects of civilisation.

It could be argued that Lao Zi's quasi-anarchistic approach might be appropriate for some individuals, but that it is not a profitable pursuit for society at large. However, a later philosopher, Chuang Zi, elaborated Lao Zi's concepts. By using esoteric paradoxes and elusive riddles, Chuang Zi displayed the logical contradictions at play in daily life and language, and thereby succeeded in justifying the possible role of Daoism for everyday society.

Chuang Zi's Ideas

Chuang Zi's most significant contribution was in the identification of relative and absolute happiness.

1) Relative happiness:

Chuang Zi argues for a happy world. He claims that happiness does not conform to any absolute uniformity, but that people are happy, according to their natures ( De ), to different extents. It is a natural law, he says, that people will find their own levels of happiness if they are left to freely express their natural ability. Therefore, to create a society of relative happiness uniformity should be abolished in political and social philosophy. When people are allowed to fully express their natural ability, Chuang Zi claims, there is no need for government, since it is a law of nature that people will be able to find their own levels of relative happiness. Government's role, therefore, should be limited to allowing people to fully express their natural ability.

2) Absolute happiness:

This was reserved for those select individuals, who by transcending the ordinary distinction of things, could melt into life's infinitely changing process. Such a person does not analyse and discriminate between issues. When confronted by opposites this sage sees dynamic partners (Yin and Yang) in a process of ever-fluctuating change. He or she therefore combines contradictions into a unified whole. The sage loses her sense of self and thereby identifies with the infinite. This is absolute happiness. "If we attain this unity and identify ourselves with it," writes Chuang Zi, "then the members of our body are but so much dust and dirt, while life and death, end and beginning, are but as the succession of day and night, which cannot disturb our inner peace. How much less shall we be troubled by worldly gain and loss, good luck and bad luck!"

Unlike Confucianism, which is primarily a social philosphy, Daoism addresses metaphysical problems. It is a philosophy, indigenous to China, that seeks to explain the origins and processes of the universe.

In the introductory article on the Occult Universe we establish the the basic model of Chinese thought which Confucius inherited. His contribution was to imbue this primtive but complex system with a moral value. For Confucius was an innovative conservative. While upholding all the ceremonial rituals of the existing cultural model, he gave them a moral significance of his own making.

In this short article, after introducing Confucius and principal ideas, we outline his significance in Chinese history.


In 551 BC in the state of Lu, Confucius was born to a noble but impecunious house. As a young man he took up government office, in which he rose to a position of relative prominence before being forced out by intrigue. At the age of 50 he became China’s first private teacher, and developed a large following of disciples who wrote up his sayings after his death.

His Principal Ideas

Confucianism contains 3 central ideas: (1) the rectification of names, (2) the relationship between human-heartedness and righteousness and (3) knowing Ming or fate.

1) The rectification of names:

As explained in the Occult Universe, traditional Chinese philosophy presumed that every thing conformed to a universal principle. Confucius strongly believed that society should likewise conform to this law. He called this idea the rectification of names, “Let the ruler be ruler, the minister minister, the father father and the son son” (Analects, XII, 11) If every citizen took on the responsibility of acting in accordance with the natural principle that defines her social position, then there would always be harmony.

Popular culture has often misinterpreted this concept as the strict observance of social etiquette and ritual. But as we shall now see, this impression has trivialised Confucian thought.

2) Human-heartedness and righteousness:

Although every social position carries within it, a defined set of responsibilities or righteousness , Confucius insisted that the fulfilment of these duties should be inspired by human-heartedness , which he defined as “loving others”. (Analects, XII, 22) His values thus complement both the Christian ideal of love and the Buddhist ideal of compassion. Since Confucius believed that humans were social animals, the proper conduct of relationships was vital to him. For it was only in relation to others that one could establish one’s virtuous character. “The man of human-heartedness is one who desiring to sustain himself, sustains others, and desiring to develop himself, develops others; that may be called the way to practise human-heartedness.” (VI, 28)

3) Knowing Ming:

“Ming” in Chinese means fate. “Knowing Ming”, however, does not mean knowing fate. Indeed, it’s almost its opposite. It is the term that Confucius gave to acting without regard to the results of one’s actions. Mindful of fate’s capriciousness, he preached that virtue carried within it its own reward, namely “the wise are free from doubts; the virtuous from anxiety; the brave from fear” (IX, 28). The Confucian should act without regard for the effect of their actions. Acting for profit or self-interest was anathema to Confucius (and explains China’s negative attitude to commerce until recent times). To know Ming, therefore, is to entrust the results of one’s actions to fate, and not to let its possibly negative after-effects deter one from acting virtuously.

The influence of Confucianism in Chinese history

Confucianism rose to greatest prominence during the Han dynasty (200 BC – 200 AD), when Confucius was almost revered as a God and his teachings widely propagated. However, because it does not focus on a metaphysical aspect it would be misleading to consider Confucianism a religion; it was an influential social philosophy.

Since Confucius legitimised and promoted an autocratic social structure, many Emperors turned to Confucian scholars for administrative assistance in governing their empires. From a ruler’s point of view the ingeniousness of a Confucianist society is that it is self-regulating. Because all citizens are required to act in accordance with a pre-established pattern of behaviour, there is no need for a legal or police framework to define or deter unacceptable social actions. Strong, central rule, the lack of a rigorously enforced legal framework and a negative attitude towards commerce are three major, Chinese truisms that trace their history, in part, back to Confucius.

Confucianism has influenced the development of social thought through much of East Asia. It is important to emphasise that the accent of his teaching lies not on metaphysical but on social thought. For a Chinese philosophy with a metaphysical dimension we should turn our attention to Daoism.

To understand how Tibetan Buddhism differs from other Buddhist schools we need to consider its development from two different perspectives, the first ideological and the second historical. Although these are here considered separately, they of course developed with reference to each other.

Ideological Development

Ideologically Tibetan Buddhism is a derivation of Mahayana Buddhism heavily influenced by Tantrism. To unravel this jargon-cloaked statement, we should take a look at the essential constituents and development of Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and Tantrism.


The term Buddha, meaning “enlightened one”, refers to the spiritual awakening of an Indian prince, named Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in the 6th century BCE. Renouncing the privileges of his royal life, he sought to investigate spiritual truth. On so doing, he passed into the state of enlightenment, known as nirvana , which literally means “without desire”. Soon he inspired many disciples and came to be known as the “Sage of the Sakya tribe” or Sakyamuni. During his first sermon he established the four core principles of his teaching or dharma:

1) All beings inevitably endure suffering (duhka) 
2) The cause of suffering is desire (samudaya) 
3) The cause of desire can be contained (nirodha) 
4) To contain the cause of desire one must follow the Buddha’s path (marga) 

Sakyamuni taught that enlightenment was predicated on nonattachment to the material world. He found that language could not be used to convey the sense of enlightenment, which was described as consisting of neither fullness nor emptiness, being nor nonbeing, substance nor nonsubstance. However, the process of seeking enlightenment could be identified and defined, as suggested by his ascetic life as well as by his fourth law, written above. The seeker needs a lifestyle and environment conducive to purity of thought, word and action. This is the motivation for Buddhist monasticism.

Mahayana Buddhism

Buddha’s teachings motivated many followers in India to follow his example. In his lifetime and after, a minority attained enlightenment. These individuals were named Arhats , or “worthy ones’. However, little moved by the suffering of others, these Buddhist practitioners felt no responsibility to pass on their learning other than by affirming that the Buddha’s path provided the way to nirvana. Though this approach maintained the purity of Buddha’s original teachings, other thinkers considered it lacking in compassion.

As a result a major schism arose in the 6th century between Mahayana Buddhism and the more conservative Theravada Buddhism on the subject of compassion. The Mahayana school emphasised that spiritual life should not merely aim for ultimate wisdom, but consist of wisdom tempered by compassion. In order to reinforce this tenet of compassion, the Mahayana Buddhists developed the concept ofBodhisattvas , who were placed above Arhats in their hierarchy. Bodhisattvas are individuals, who stand on the verge of enlightenment but delay their attainment of nirvana out of compassion for other beings, in order that they may assist them to enlightenment.

Tantrism & Re-incarnation

Tantrism was a later innovation. The first Tantric texts arrived in Tibet in the eleventh century and fuelled the second diffusion of Buddhism there.

According to orthodox Mahayana Buddhism, any individual has the potential to become a Bodhisattva , but this can only be achieved through diligent cultivation over many lifetimes. By contrast the Tantric or Vajrayana school, (“Vehicle of the Diamantine Thunderbolt”), innovated a “rapid path” to nirvana , by which it could be attained within one’s lifetime. This was made possible with the application of a variety of powerful techniques, passed down under the auspices of a guru. Known as tantra , these techniques include the making and contemplation of mandala diagrams, fasting and other penance, the use of prayers and mantras in meditation and the performance of rituals. Execution of this range of intense yogic and meditative disciplines, combined with an understanding of its system of speculative thought, is thought to give access to nirvana .

Earlier in this article, Tibetan Buddhism was introduced as a derivation of Mahayana Buddhism, influenced by Tantrism. The above explanation should have clarified this statement. It should also have shed light on the principle reason behind the monastic movement in Tibet and alluded to the intensity of worship and teacher/student relationships inside those monasteries.

Historical Development

In terms of our modern experience of Tibetan Buddhism, the history of its introduction to Tibet is as important as its ideological underpinnings. Buddhism was introduced twice to Tibet. Both in the 7th and 11th centuries, it met with formidable resistance from the indigenous Tibetan religion. Over time each religion, Pre-Bön and Tibetan Buddhist, for its own reasons synthesised and incorporated the main elements of the other.

Pre-Bön Religion

Although some people call this pre-7th century religion the Bön Religion, we identify it as the Pre-Bön Religion to differentiate it from its later innovations.

Pre-Bön Religion itself was a combination of two movements. On the one hand, at the grass roots level, it was a popular belief-system dating to pre-historic times. Combining ancient prophecies, rites and shamanistic interpretations of the human spirit and its position in the universe, it offered answers for important issues of pre-historic existence. For example, a shaman might mediate with the spirit world – often using animal sacrifice to do so – to cure an invalid, to prey for rain, or to furnish strategic advice for the village chief.

It was animistic, upholding that spirits are to be found within natural phenomena like trees, mountains, springs and lakes, all of which demanded to be propitiated.

With the rise of the first Tibetan Kings at the beginning of the first millennium, this widespread Pre-Bön Religion was co-opted to legitimise kingly rule. A religious institution, comprised of deities, mythologies, and rituals arose around the court. Priests and priestesses, believed to have superhuman skills, were incorporated within a political framework that involved ceremonies and royal burials.

By the time that King Songtsen Gampo tried to introduce Buddhism in the 7th century, the Pre-Bön Religion was popular throughout Tibet and held significant political sway at court.

Tibetan Buddhism and The Rise of the Bön Religion

The introduction of Buddhism in the 7th and 11th centuries heralded changes for both Pre-Bön Religion and Tibetan Buddhism. After the 11th century the Pre-Bön Religion adopted many aspects of Tibetan Buddhist doctrine, such as Tantric meditation techniques and monasticism to become the Bön Religion. To many spectators this now appears to have developed into its own school of Buddhism. Contemporaneously though, Buddhism in Tibet adopted many aspects of the Pre-Bön, indigenous religion in order to achieve greater popularity.

An important example of this process is seen in the incorporation of local deities within the Tibetan Buddhist cosmology. This was done by their “conversion” at the hands of the 8th century saint Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava). The local Pre-Bön gods thereby became protectors rather than combatants of Tibetan Buddhism. Known as Dharma Palas or “Defenders of the Dharma”, these are the fierce-looking deities, often depicted with skull headdresses, surrounded by fire. One such, Yamantaka, is the “Destroyer of Death”.

Another innovation borrowed from Pre-Bön Religion was in aggrandising the abilities of the guru or lama. The supernatural powers, previously ascribed to the shamans of the Pre-Bön tradcition, were now credited to the Tibetan Buddhist lamas. Some lamas, it is claimed, can leap from peak to peak across mountain ranges. Alternatively, rainmaking ceremonies, the traditional preserve of shamans, were now incorporated within Buddhist monastic ceremonies. Similarly, the gift of prophecy, with which the shaman was privileged, now is ascribed to some lamas. Indeed, the Dalai Lama’s government used prophecy as a guide for determining national policy in the mid-twentieth century.

The form and practice of Tibetan Buddhist worship were equally affected. For example, the animistic aspect of the Pre-Bön religion has been blended into local Buddhist practice. Nowadays, you will see Buddhist prayer flags and cairns topping many mountains. As according to the Pre-Bön Religion, Tibetan Buddhists will still say a prayer before crossing a mountain pass. Similarly, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of making a blessing, dipping one’s finger into water or milk and flicking the liquid skyward, derives from the Pre-Bön era.

Although in many cases Tibetan Buddhism incorporated features of Pre-Bön Religion for its own purposes, in others cases it seems that Buddhist thought was co-opted by the instinctive beliefs of the Tibetan nation. On a high, ideological level this is evidenced by Tantric sects oftentimes having recourse to mystical visualisations seemingly derived from the Pre-Bön Religion.


Buddhism, a comparatively late import to Tibet, was ideologically attractive to the intellectual elite with the innovation of Tantric techniques by which individuals could attain enlightenment within their lifetime. This esoteric doctrine, in large part confined to monastic activities, was made palatable to the general populace in combination with the appropriation of many trappings of the indigenous Pre-Buddhist Tibetan belief system. As a result Tibetan Buddhism amalgamates both elitist and populist traditions to satisfy the different requirements of its two audiences as well as to respond to both religious and mythological dimensions of the Tibetan psyche.

Buddhism is said to have traveled into China along the Silk Road in the first half of the first century AD. Its rise to prominence grew in proportion to the increasing traffic along the Silk Road, so that by the Tang dynasty (618-907AD) when China's capital, Chang'an, was one of the world's most prosperous cities, Buddhist translations were for the first time accessible. It was during this period that a new variant of Buddhism arose, which used elements from Daoism to beget a quintessentially Chinese variation of the Indian import. This new school came to be known as the Chan, or in Japan, the Zen school.

General concepts of Buddhism:

The general principles of Buddhism are evident in Chan Buddhism. That is to say that the world is an illusion conjured up by each individual's mind, that every thought has the power to produce a retributive future result (known as karma ), and that it is this that decides what form we will appear in during our next life. Enlightenment occurs when we understand this, and nirvana is attained when we are emancipated from the endless cycle of life and death to join the Universal Mind. The main Chinese variations within Chan Buddhism are as follows:

1) The Theory of the double truth:

This defines two different kinds of truth, a common one and a higher one, on three different levels. At the heart of this complex theory is an examination of the inter-relationship between existence and non-existence. Truth is complicated by the fact that on the one hand there is physical form or existence and, on the other, everything is said to be illusory or non-existent. In which case, what and where is truth – within existence or non-existence? After considering this, the theory then considers the same question for enlightenment.

2) "A good deed entails no retribution". This idea stems from the Daoist belief in non-action, i.e. that action without effort, which is natural and spontaneous to the essence of the individual, does not entail any future retribution or " karma ".

3) The method of attaining enlightenment is to do things without deliberate effort and purpose and live naturally. This (again linked toDaoism ) prepares the mind for enlightenment.

4) That enlightenment occurs suddenly. Although non-action or living the life of non-cultivation diminishes distracting elements and facilitates contemplation, enlightenment itself is not a gradual process but a sudden revelation.

5) Although words can be a useful tool to explain a thought, they can only ever be an approximation to the idea. Thus, the state of enlightenment can never be described.

6) There is no other reality than this phenomenal world. Whereas the unenlightened only see the physical objects around them, the enlightened in addition to this see the Buddha nature within the phenomenal world.

This brief list of variations gives an impression of the far-reaching influence of Daoism on the synthesis of Chan Buddhism.

Airing of the Buddha at Drepung MonasteryFoundation of the Gelug Sect

Tsong Khapa (1357-1419) founded Ganden monastery in 1409. A graduate of the austere Karmapa order, his doctrine emphasized monastic discipline. This attitude was echoed by his reinforcement of the primacy of sutras – the original teachings of Buddha – over the tantras – later mystical teachings. So popular was his movement that new monasteries were soon opened at Sera, Drepung & Tashilhunpo, and the sect took on the name of Gelug or "Virtuous Ones".


Dalai Lama

During the tenure of the third Gelugpa leader, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), a Mongolian force invaded Tibet. When the Mongol leader, the Altan Khan, met Sonam Gyatso he was so awed as to immediately convert to Buddhism. As part of the ensuing priest patron relationship, the Khan conferred the title Dalai Lama or "Oceanic Teacher" upon Sonam Gyatso, who retroactively applied it to his two predecessors, thereby becoming the Third Dalai Lama.

In 1640, when civil unrest again arose in Tibet, the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682) applied for assistance from his associates, the Mongols. It was after their subsequent pacification of the nation, that the Mongols invested him with complete political control. The Fifth Dalai Lama thereby became the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. So capable was he, in both temporal and spiritual realms, that this Dalai Lama is often referred to as the "Great Fifth".

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, (1935 – ) is the Fourteenth one. Like those before him, he is held to be the reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara. The concept of reincarnation is fundamental to the continued lineage of the Dalai Lama. This is maintained by the discovery of a young child born soon after the death of a previous Dalai Lama. It is believed that the life-spirit of the deceased transfers to the newly found child, who takes on the pre-ordained mantle of the Dalai Lama.

Panchen Lama

In the 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama declared his tutor, the abbot of the Tashilhunpo monastery, Panchen Lama or the "Great Scholar" Lama. This abbot, by retroactively applying the title to the three abbots preceding him, thereby became the Fourth Panchen Lama. As such, he was believed to be the reincarnation of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. Like the lineage of the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama's lineage is preserved through a process of reincarnation. The current Panchen Lama is the Eleventh in line.

For centuries, the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas initiated one another as divine leaders, the older one customarily serving as tutor to the younger one. However, with the rise in influence of the Panchen Lama at certain times he came to be seen as a political rival rather than a partner of the Dalai Lama.