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Tibetan Buddhism and Southern Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism

Also called 'Lamaism', Tibetan Buddhism started in the middle of the 7th century. At that time, King Songtsen Gampo married Nepalese Princess Chizun and Princess Wencheng from Chang'an (currently Xian). Influenced by these two Buddhist princesses, he coverted to Buddhism and built Jokhang Temple and Ramoche Monastery (Xiao Zhao Si). In the middle of 8th century, Buddhism was introduced to Tibet via India. Lamaism was totally formed in the late 10th century. After centuries of development in Tibet, a unique combination of religion and politics with Tibetan Buddhism evolved.

Dai people in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan Province believe in Southern Buddhism. According to records, Pali Buddhism was introduced to Yunnan in the middle of 7th century via Burma but it lasted only four centuries. No temples were built and the sutras were passed on orally. Thus, Southern Buddhism faded and monks fled during the war around the 11th century. The existing Southern Buddhism entered Yunnan from Burma and Thailand after the wars.

With its combination of religion and politics, Southern Buddhism, absorbing Tai culture, has flexible doctrines. Monks can eat meat and can secularize. Women do not become nuns for to do so would break their ancestral line.

Generally, Buddhism is the single religion among Dai people and has a comprehensive influence over their daily life and culture like sculpture, painting and folklores. Young boys must go to the temples and learn knowledge until they become adults. Some remain in the temples and become monks while others return to secular life. In a sense, monks assume the role of imparting ethnic culture.