Historical Background
Tibet is a country with ancient religious and mystical traditions
that, over the last two centuries, have become the focus
of occult legends. The peaceful accumulation of data on Tibet
was abruptly altered following the Chinese communist invasion
in October 1950, when Tibet lost its independent status. On
May 23, 1951, Tibetan leaders were obliged to sign a SinoTibetan
agreement for ‘‘the peaceful liberation of Tibet.’’
Tibetans had formerly been a separate people with a distinctive
language, culture, and religion, but had been in an uneasy
relationship with China since 1720, when the Manchus entered
Tibet to help drive out Mongol invaders and used the situation
to become overlords. Over the subsequent period, the acknowledgment
of Chinese suzerainty was the price of Tibetan autonomy,
but for practical purposes Tibet was an independent state.
The 1950 invasion was justified by the Chinese as necessary
in order to destroy inequitable feudalism in Tibet and to bring
progress, education, and social justice. In practice, this involved
suppression of the Buddhist religion, destruction of
monasteries and their libraries, and the public humiliation of
priests. Tibet was a theocratic society and any reorganization
of its governmental system would necessarily involve the destruction
of the power held by the Buddhist religious functionaries.
In all fairness, it must be said that these and other reported
violations of human rights were largely paralleled by similar
excesses in China itself in the early period of the communist
revolution and the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. Since
then, however, the age-old Buddhist religion of Tibet has been
largely suppressed and related occult practices replaced by
practical socialism and exploitation of Tibetan resources and
Religion and Superstition
Buddhism came to Tibet from India in the eighth century
C.E. and it pushed aside the earlier polytheistic and magical religion
of the Tibetan people. However, the price of the conquest
was the integration of many of the old deities, beliefs, and
occult practices into the unique form of Buddhism that
emerged in the land. Also moving into Tibet from India was
a form of Hindu tantra, with its emphasis upon the subtle energies
of the body and ritualized sex. Strong superstitions, belief
in ghosts, demons, and magic coexisted with deep mystical
The apostle of Buddhism in Tibet was named Padmasambhava
and entered the country in the 1740s. As Buddhism developed,
it divided into various sects, the degree of acceptance of
the local religion being an important differentiating factor.
The four main groups are popularly distinguished by the color
of the hats their followers wear. The older Red Caps or Ningmapas,
for example, follow the Adi-Yoga or path of the Great Perfection,
founded by the guru Padmasambhava, while the Yellow
Cap sect or Gelugpas follow a Middle Way Buddhism; the Kargyütpas,
or Followers of Successive Order (deriving from the
great Tibetan saint Milarepa, died 1135, successor of the revered
gurus Marpa, Tilopa, and Naropa) follow the way of
Mahamudra or Great Symbol. As with the various sects of Hindu
Thurston, Herbert Henry Charles (S. J.) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
religious philosophy, with their many subtle emphases, the
general overall philosophy of the four groups is the same.
By the fifteenth century a teaching had emerged in Tibet
that the heads of all of the many monasteries were bodhisattvas,
highly evolved beings who were refraining from entering Nirvana
to assist other souls in their spiritual pilgrimage. The monastic
rulers, or lamas, thus attained a unique role in Tibetan
Buddhism as well as significant political power as temporal rulers.
The present spiritual leader of Tibet, the fourteenth Dalai
Lama, who escaped to India in 1959, and the other lamas and
their successors, are dedicated to keeping alive the spiritual traditions
and the political aspirations to independence of the Tibetan
Like his predecessors, the Dalai Lama is claimed as a living
incarnation of the Divine Spirit, and was discovered as such by
traditional search and testing. When a Dalai Lama (or any lama
for that matter) departs from life, priests traditionally conduct
a search for his successor through signs and visions. Selected
children are tested by their ability to recognize objects belonging
to the former Dalai Lama. After identification, the child is
brought to the holy city of Lhasa and initiated as a monk in the
monastery of the Potala, which becomes a power center of the
Divine Spirit, which issues forth from the Dalai Lama over the
whole of Tibet. As Tibetan Buddhism has spread to the west
and lamas have died in the west, the search for successors has
also been conducted in the families of Western converts and
several European children have been ‘‘identified’’ as reincarnated
The title ‘‘Dalai Lama’’ is from a Mongolian term meaning
‘‘Wide Ocean,’’ and is not normally used by Tibetans among
themselves, who prefer such terms as ‘‘Precious Protector’’ or
‘‘Precious Ruler,’’ of Kundun (Presence), implying spiritual association.
The first Dalai Lama was Tsong Ka-pa, born in
Am-do in 1358. His disciples became the Yellow Hat sect, as
distinct from the earlier priesthood of the Red Hats.
In addition to the regular monastic disciplines of complex
prayer, meditation rites, and regular religious festivals, lamas
traveling through Tibet were expected to act as oracles, fortune-tellers,
and healers for the ordinary people. Prayer wheels
with the mystic mantra ‘‘Om mani padme Hum’’ (Om, The
Jewel in the Lotus) and rosaries were in use all over the country,
and groups of prayer-flags fluttered around the villages. In the
monasteries, tankas (complex symbolic mandala banners) became
a focus for mystical meditation.
It is not difficult to understand why Lamaism should be permeated
with demonology in view of the vast and terrifying
grandeur of the Tibetan environment, in which the forces of
nature appear to have the power of supernatural beings. Belief
in magic was once universal.
The Dalai Lama came under attack in 1998 when he publicly
announced that Dorje Shugden practices should no longer
be performed by any sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Shugden has
been regarded as a protector spirit of the Geluk sect, to which
the Dalai Lama himself belongs. However, after studying ancient
texts and consulting the state oracle, the Dalai Lama is
convinced that Shugden is a hungry spirit and therefore incorrect
to worship and regard as a protector for the Buddhist. Due
to the Dalai Lama’s opposing view, he is accused by some Buddhists
for being a religious censor. Since the Tibetan culture
and religion is thought to be near extinction, the Dalai Lama
attempted to set a level of commonality between all sects of
Buddhism. The great controversy that resulted from this attempted
act of unification, may have also been the cause for the
deaths of three monks in the Dalai Lama’s inner circle.
Dissent within the Tibetan culture may be the result of the
larger issues that still exist between Chinese and the Tibetan
government-in-exile. The Chinese government seeks to control,
and ultimately squelch, the Tibetan Buddhism religion.
Ultimately the set-up of the religious hierarchy may become
the demise of the religion itself. The Dalai Lama exists as the
highest, top authority, while the Panchen Lama is the second
in command, and the Karampa is the third in power. Presently
the Panchen Lama, a boy of ten years, will be the one to choose
the next Dalai Lama. However, with the aging Dalai Lama living
in India, the Panchen Lama is still being held under Chinese
supervision. This is a direct example of the Chinese wishing
to control the Buddhist chain of command, and influence
the continuity of the religion. The Chinese government conducted
the search for this present Panchen Lama but the Dalai
Lama announced their discovery publicly before ever having
met him. The boy has never even been in Dharmsala, India.
Thus, the boy has become a political pawn between the Dalai
Lama (Tibetan Buddhism) and the Chinese government.
The Karampa, third in command, has been raised to heed
the Chinese government as well. However, on December 28,
1999, he made his escape from Tibet to India to be united with
the Dalai Lama. The two men met ‘‘ ‘as if a father was meeting
his dear son after a long separation’ ’’. The Dalai Lama reported
his spirit as clear and strong saying after proper instruction
he will be able to make great contributions. The struggle between
Tibet and China continues and therefore the outcome of
the survival of Tibetan Buddhism.
David-Neel’s Psychic Sports
For centuries, Tibet was a forbidden territory to Westerners,
and only a handful of Europeans succeeded in penetrating the
country, usually in disguise. From 1912 on, an intrepid Frenchwoman,
Alexandra David-Neel, began a series of travels
through Tibet over fourteen years. She acquired the rank of
An Oriental scholar, David-Neel learned Sanskrit and Tibetan
and studied the various forms of Buddhism and Lamaism.
She became the first European woman to penetrate the holy
city of Lhasa. Although skeptical regarding the supernatural,
she gained firsthand experience of Tibetan ghosts and demons
and saw the paranormal feats of mystics. In her book With Mystics
and Magicians in Tibet (1931), she revealed how Tibetan mystics
acquired the ability to live naked in zero temperatures by
generating a protective body heat (tumo), how they learned to
float in air and walk on water, and how they brought corpses
back to life or created thoughtforms that had independent existence.
She described such feats as ‘‘psychic sports,’’ acquired by
special mind and body training. Amongst such feats was the
lung-gom training of ‘‘inner breathing’’ and meditation, which
enabled an individual to travel at high speed for days and
nights without stopping, sometimes with the feet hardly touching
the ground. David-Neel herself witnessed a lung-gom-pa, or
swift traveler. She described the special training necessary for
feats of levitation and for thought-reading and telepathy
(‘‘sending thoughts on the wind’’).
She successfully experimented in the creation of a tulpa or
phantom thoughtforms. After a period in isolation following
special concentration techniques, she claimed that she succeeded
in creating a phantom monk, who became a guest in
her party, seen and accepted by the others. But in the course
of time, this phantom form changed from a fat jolly monk, becoming
lean, mocking, and somewhat malignant, and it was
necessary for her to concentrate on special techniques to destroy
a phantom, which was beginning to take on independent
She explained that Tibetans believed that such psychic phenomena
were the result of utilizing natural forces by the powers
of the mind. Her experiences seem to have been the result of
a long and intimate association with Tibet and its peoples in a
period when magic and mystery were more common. Few subsequent
travelers have reported such remarkable phenomena,
and her books survive as a unique record of a Tibet that has
largely been destroyed. However, they helped create the image
of Tibet as a place where the most successful mastery of the occult
arts had been made. The spread of Buddhist masters to the
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. TIBET
west has done much to offer a more mundane picture of Tibetan
Tibetan medicine, the fundamentals virtually unchanged
for 2,000 years, is completely intertwined with Tibetan Buddhism,
in that they are based on the most essential Buddhist
belief, that of karma. Thus, unhealthy human actions, such as,
greed, hatred, and desire can be the cause of disease. Like
karma, disease can be caused from present as well as past actions.
Disease is also thought to be caused by an imbalance of
the three basic humors of the body—air, bile, and phlegm. Diagnosis
consists of three techniques, visual observation, pulse
reading, and questioning. Simply put, Tibetan medicine is
highly holistic in the areas of diagnosis and treatment. Treatments
are usually always of the non-invasive variety. Lifestyle
changes are recommended, medicines are made of herbs, and
‘‘surgery’’ consists of acupuncture, cauterization, hot and cold
compresses, hot springs and vapor treatments.
A lot can be learned from Tibetan medicine by Western
countries, as it and its practitioners listen and are aware of the
individual body, as an extension of religion. The body then exists
as only part of the whole scheme of the universe.
It is still too early to predict whether the upheavals of the
last half of the twentieth century will involve a permanent loss
of spiritual and psychic identity for the Tibetan people. Those
many Tibetans who moved into exile have established strong
enclaves of traditional Tibetan culture and many people have
given of their time, energy, and financial resources to see that
the manuscripts and artifacts taken out of the country are preserved.
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