I’ve been to Beijing on many occasions and each time, without fail, I’ve visited the Yonghegong Lama Temple, which was what I did again the week before last. I can’t explain what attraction the former residence of Prince Yong, who reigned as the Yongzheng Emperor from 1722 to 1735, holds for me. It’s certainly not the ambience, for this tourist hotspot is heaving with worshippers and visitors most of the time. Neither do I have a special affinity for Tibetan Buddhism, the school venerated in Yonghegong.
Buddhism was established in Tibet during the seventh century, when the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo married Princess Bhrikuti Devi of Nepal and then Princess Wencheng of Tang-dynasty China around 640. From their home countries, the princesses brought sacred Buddhist images and texts into Tibet, introducing that country to their religion.
However, it was during the time of King Trisong Detsen (reigned 755-797) that Buddhism really flourished in Tibet, when there were frequent interactions of Buddhist clergy between Tibet and India, the birthplace of Buddhism.
The Buddhism that developed in Tibet focused on oral transmission and devotion to religious teachers or lamas. Deities native to Tibet were also incorporated. Promoted by the Mongols, who ruled much of Asia, including China, Tibetan Buddhism became popular in China during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Today, it is arguably the most visible form of Buddhism in the West.