Buddhism came to Tibet in the eighth century from India, but in the ninth century was outlawed by king Lang-dar-ma. He closed monasteries, which was the primary center for Buddhist teachings at the time. However, the practice was kept alive by practice continuing in remote regions.
In the 11th century there was a great confusion over the interpretation of teachings; Sutras and Tantra. It was believed that through the studying and practice of Sutras alone you could achieve enlightenment over many lifetimes, but others argued that through the study and practice of Tantras you could achieve enlightenment in this lifetime through the secret tantric practices.
The king of Western Tibet believed that both Sutras and Tantra could co-exist peacefully. He sent 20 students to travel to India and find great Buddhist masters, at the time this was an incredibly dangerous venture of which all but two students died. Those two students which survived returned and told the king of what they had learned from the renowned master Atisha, that both the Sutras and Tantric teachings were studied harmoniously. The king then wished for Atisha to come and teach the monks in Tibet but in his efforts to attain enough gold to offer for such a visit the king got captured by Lang-dar-mars forces. The kings nephew went to the opposing forces to arrange a deal to allow the king his freedom however when granted a chance to speak to the king he told his nephew not to spare any gold on rescuing him, but to focus on using all of the gold to attempt to get Atisha to visit. The nephew initially refused and tried to reason with the king as this would surely end in death, regardless he offered to buy the king back but his efforts were anyway denied by the opposing forces and he came to accept the kings wish.
The nephew sent word to Atisha and made the kings request, however Atisha was an old man and was concerned of the risks involved to go to Tibet. Atisha was a renowned master and teacher of the Dharma, he risked the knowledge of the Dharma for the entire populace by leaving India but by learning of the kings sacrifice he decided to visit. Upon arriving he wrote a compact, understandable text on the essential path of Buddhism to help the Tibetan people in regaining what was lost.
Early 15th century the Tibetan teacher Tsong-Kha-Pa wrote a book called the ‘Lam Rim’ or ‘Stages of the path to enlightenment’. He elaborated on Atishas texts and teachings and made these integrated teachings more accessible for anyone to practice, allowing Tibetan Buddhism to spread easily.
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