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A Brief History of Buddhism in Pari

Tianzhu (天祝) is also known as Pari in Tibetan, meaning the tribe/place of heroes. According to Tianzhu Zangchuan Fojiao Siyuan Gaikuang (2000), the present-day Tianzhu, which was historically called Liangzhou(凉州) in Chinese, became a Tibetan-populated area after Tibetans occupied it for over a hundred years from 764 to 864. This was the period when Buddhism and Bön began to take root in this area.

In 838, King Lang Darma (glang dar ma)started his campaign to destroy Buddhism and promote Bön. After learning about this, Rapsel (rab gsal), Gechung (dge 'byung), and Mar Shakyamuni (dmar shAkya mu ni), who are known as Three Scholars, fled Ü-tsang (dbus gtsang)with Buddhist scriptures and items, and arrived in Amdo (a mdo). In order to promote Buddhism, they traveled around Amdo and at a point came to the Tianzhu area. Rapsel died at age 84 in 1035 near Maierzangzha (in Huzhu), where Gechung and Mar Shakyamuni meditated previously. His followers built a stupa, which later became Baima Monastery, one of the earliest monasteries in Pari.

The Minyak / Xixia (西夏) kingdom took over this area for over two hundred years and advocated for the spread of Buddhism more strongly than ever before. In 1159, Renxiao di (任孝帝) invited the founder of Kagyü (bka' brgyud), Düsum Khyenpa (dus gsum mkhyen pa), to preach in this area. His disciple, Geshé Tsang Zangpo (dge bshes gtsang bzang bo), came and provided teachings, translated Buddhist texts, and built many temples.

In 1226, Mongols invaded Liangzhou and in 1238 Ogedei Khan’s son, Göden, was stationed here and sent an army to Tibet. However, thinking that military occupation was not the best way to control Tibet, Göden invited famous Sakya Künga Gyeltsen (sa skya kun dga' rgyal mtshan) to Liangzhou for a peace talk. In 1245, Sakya Künga Gyeltsen sent his nephew, Pakpa ('phags pa, Baisiba), and Chakna Dorjé (phyag na rdo rje) to Liangzhou. A year later, in 1246, he himself reached Liangzhou after consulting with the authorities and leaders of other sects. In the next five years, he gave teachings to different ethnic groups, and built temples such as Baita Si (Shatrül Pedé, shar sprul pa'i sde), Jingta Si (Lhowang Dé, lho dbang sde), Xi Lianghua Si (Nup Pemodé, nub pad mo sde), and Bei Haizang Si (Janggya Tsodé, byang rgya mtsho sde). As a result the Sakya (sa skya) sect became influential in this area. In 1251, he passed away at Baita Siin Liangzhou. Even though Pakpa continued to live in Liangzhou, later he met Qubilai and became the teacher of the head of the Yuan Dynasty. Pakpa and Chakna Dorjé continuously served in Baita Si along with Dharmapala (Chakna Dorjé, phyag na rdo rje), Gongga Luozhui, Nanka Jianzan, Gonga Lebei Qiongnei and others. During this period, almost all the monasteries in this area belonged to the Sakya sect. Also, during this period, Kagyü lamas began their missionary activities in Qinghai, Gansu and Mongolia.

In 1256, Karma Pakshi (kar ma pa k+shi, Boxi) received the black hat, the symbol of his sect, from the Yuan Xuanzong (元宪宗) emperor. Beginning with Karma Pakshi, the Tibetan reincarnation system became institutionalized. Many Kagyü lamas were quite active in Liangzhou. Tiantang Si (Chörten Tang, mchod rten thang)was originally a Kagyü monastery, and many monasteries in this area belonged to Kagyü sect.

In 1372, the Ming Dynasty destroyed the Yuan forces in the area and took power. As a way to maintain some sort of control over Tibetan regions, the Ming started giving the lamas titles such as Dugang (都纲), Da Lama (达喇嘛), and Hutuketu (呼图克图). In the early Ming, a famous Kagyü lama named Samlo Lama ([bsam lo bla ma]d. 1414), also known as Hai Lama, received the title Dugang. He left Ü-tsang and went to Kokonor Lake to meditate on the island and later settled down with his relatives in Drotsang (乐都). He then went to the nearby Guanlong Monastery (Gönlung, dgon lung) and meditated there. Afterwards, he went to Liangzhou and became the mentor at Shanglung Monastery. During the Ming, Yunjia Fo (阎家佛) received the Dugang title, and during the Qing Tongkor Lama and Dalong Lama received the Hutuketu title.

In 1407, Tsongkhapa (tsong kha pa) established the Geluk (dge lugs) sect and it spread rapidly throughout Amdo. By the end of the Ming Dynasty, all the monasteries in Pari were converted to Geluk. During the Qing Dynasty, the Geluk rose to prominence. The 5th Dalai Lama stopped in Pari on the way to the Qing court and performed religious rituals here. In 1779, the 6th Panchen Lama (pan chen bla ma) also stopped in the area on the way to the Qing court and was received warmly by the local lamas and authorities. The presence of Gthe eluk sect was firmly consolidated. The 6th Dalai Lama spent many years here when he was in exile. In fact, he served as abbot at Yarlung Turchen (yar klungs tur chen, Shimen Si), which he restored. Moreover, he served as the abbot (mkhan po) for thirteen monasteries in Pari. In 1723, Lojang Tenzin (blo bzang bstan 'dzin, Tibetan spelling uncertain), the Mongol khan in Qinghai, rebelled against the Qing. Since some monasteries in Pari took part in the rebellion, the monasteries such as Yarlung Turchen and Semnyi (sems nyid dgon, Xianming Si) in this area were ruined and burned by the Qing army.

In 1866, the Muslim leader Ma Zhan’ao, who led a rebellion against the Qing, came to Hexi (河西). The Qing court ordered the monks in Pari to fight the Muslims. As a consequence, the Muslims took over Pari and all the monasteries were destroyed. In 1895, another group of outlawed Muslims in Hehuang (河湟) came to Pari and burned some monasteries.


The information presented here is from Tianzhu zang zu zi zhi xian wei yuan hui. Tianzhu zangchuan fojiao siyuan gaikuang [Summary of the Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries of Huare]. Tianzhu Xian: Zhongguo ren min zheng zhi xie shang hui yi Tianzhu Zangzu Zizhixian wei yuan hui. 2000. pp. 11-17.

A Brief History of Buddhism in Pari

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Collection Essays on Places
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Author Gray Tuttle
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