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Discussion Questions

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Chapter 1: Background

  1. How was Buddhism established in Tibet?
  2. How did the specific nature of the Tibetan environment and Tibetan society affect Tibetan Buddhism?
  3. What are the main schools and traditions that have developed within Tibetan Buddhism?
  4. What is the role of books and texts in Tibetan Buddhism?

Chapter 2: The development of Buddhism in Tibet

  1. Discuss the role of Buddhism and Hinduism in Indian village society, and compare it with the place that Buddhism eventually occupied in Tibetan village society.
  2. How did the complex imagery of later Indian and Tibetan Buddhism develop?
  3. Discuss the interaction between Śaivas and Buddhists in the evolution of the fierce deities of later Tantric traditions.
  4. Explain the difference between Nyingmapa and Sarmapa traditions in Tibet.
  5. What are terma and what part did they play in the growth of the Nyingmapa and Bon traditions?
  6. How did the development of the system of recognising reincarnations of lamas contribute to the onwards development of Tibetan Buddhism?
  7. What aspects of Tibetan society assisted the maintenance of a large number of local traditions?
  8. How and when did Tibet become incorporated into the People’s Republic of China?

Chapter 3: Tibetan Buddhism as a path to liberation: I. Sūtra teachings

  1. How does Buddhism in Tibet as a system of ideas and teaching compare or differ with Buddhism in other Buddhist societies?
  2. What are the three bodies of the Buddha? How do they relate to the existence of Buddhist deities?
  3. What is involved in the overcoming of dualistic thought?
  4. Discuss the difference between positive and negative understandings of śūnyatā.

Chapter 4:  Tibetan Buddhism as a path to liberation: II. Tantric teachings

  1. What is Tantric practice, how does it relate to yoga and meditation?
  2. How does the Tantric ritual performed in a large monastery temple connect with Tantric ritual as performed by a yogic practitioner in retreat conditions?
  3. Discuss the role of mind–body cultivation in Tibetan Buddhist practice.
  4. What are the Tantric deities? How do Tibetans understand them and relate to them?

Chapter 5: Tibetan Buddhism as a system of knowledge

  1. Compare the relationship between religious and secular knowledge in Tibet with that of mediaeval Europe or of modern science.
  2. How did the Tibetans continue and adapt the knowledge of Buddhist India?
  3. What are the fundamental ideas of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy?
  4. Discuss the relationship between Tibetan medicine and Tibetan Buddhism.

Chapter 6: Ethics and Tibetan Buddhism

  1. How do Buddhist morality and everyday morality relate to each other in the life of ordinary lay Tibetans?
  2. Discuss the various meanings of bodhicitta.
  3. In what ways does the ethical dimension of Buddhism help to explain how Buddhism became part of Tibetan society?

Chapter 7: Lamas and other religious practitioners

  1. What is the difference between a lama and a monk? Why did Tibet develop different kinds of religious leadership to those found in most other Buddhist societies?
  2. Discuss the development of hereditary and reincarnate lamas in Tibetan society. How do their social and religious roles make sense within the specific character of Tibetan society?
  3. Why might a Tibetan become a monk or a lay yogi?

Chapter 8: Tibetan Buddhism as practical religion

  1. How does Tibetan Buddhism combine the provision of practical solutions to everyday life problems with the maintenance of its orientation towards the attainment of Buddhahood and the liberation of all beings from suffering? Consider how these different aspects might be more significant for different people or at different times in their lives.
  2. What do the lamas and monasteries offer to the lay population of Tibet?
  3. Does divination make sense in the contemporary world?

Chapter 9: Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan identity

  1. How significant was ‘Tibet’ for Tibetan identity in pre-modern times? How significant was ‘Buddhism’?
  2. Discuss how ideas about local gods and spirits linked Tibetans to their environment.
  3. How did Tibetan nationalism develop in modern times?

Chapter 10: Tibetan Buddhism, women and gender

  1. Discuss the apparent contradiction between the relatively strong position of women in Tibetan society, and their much weaker position in Tibetan religion.
  2. In what ways has Tantric Buddhism provided possibilities for women to pursue a religious career not open within other Buddhist traditions?
  3. Discuss recent changes in the position of women in Tibetan Buddhism.

Chapter 11: The Bon religion of Tibet: pre-Buddhist survival or variant form of Buddhism?

  1. Discuss the various meanings of the term bon, and the ways in which the term came to be attached to such various religious practices.
  2. What does Yungdrung Bon have in common with Nyingmapa Buddhism? In what ways does it differ?
  3. What aspects of Bon may go back to early Tibetan religion?

Chapter 12: Tibetan Buddhism today and tomorrow

  1. Discuss the possibilities for Tibetan Buddhism as a global religion.
  2. What aspects of Tibetan Buddhism are proving attractive to its new global following?
  3. Which aspects are less acceptable?