Trans-Himalayan Buddhism Of
Although the Islamic influence extends out of the Kashmir valley as far as Kargil in Ladakh, the predominant religion is overwhelmingly the Tibetan, Lamaist form of Buddhism.
As the Kashmiris look towards Mecca, so do the Ladakhis look towards Lhasa and although it may be incorrect to refer to Ladakh as 'little Tibet' there is much evidence of Tibetan influence. This Lamaist influence extends to the use of Tibetan script for the holy books of "Kandshur" and the clear Tibetan architectural influence, particularly evident in the design of the Leh Palace, which bears so many similarities to the larger "Potala" in Lhasa.
Lamaism - The Monastic Side Of Buddhism
Lamaism is a form of Buddhism heavily influenced by the pre-Buddhist Bon religion of Tibet. This is especially noticeable on the stones and banners, which carry pictures and carvings of Bon demons and Gods. At the pinnacle of the Lamaist pantheon is the divine trinity of Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani, but there are an extraordinary number of other Gods and demons. Their pictures totally cover the walls of many Gompas (monasteries) and to further complicate matters there can be unique incarnations only recognised in certain in Gompas!
Lamaism is the monastic side of the religion, the study of which requires long hours of meditation by the monks. This essential basis of Lamaist Buddhism contrasts with the visible rituals, which most Ladakhis observe, such as pilgrimages to Gompas, Chortens, 'Mani' walls, and holy tombs, or turning prayer wheels and chanting mantras. The observance of their religion is an everyday occurrence in the life of the people of Ladakh.
Lamaism probably came to Ladakh around the 10th century. It has been the religion of Tibet since 632 AD under the reign of King Srongbtsan-sgam-po, but had additions made to it under the influence of the magician Padmasambhava.
Main Sects Of Ladakhi Monasteries
Ladakhi monasteries belong to two main sects - the red caps and the yellow caps. The yellow cap is a reformed sect who follows the Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. These sects are further divided with the "Dukpa", "Dekong", "Saskin" and "Nyingma Scholls" wearing red or maroon robes and caps and the "Gyaldon" and "Ludok" schools wearing yellow caps.
An important element in Ladakhi Buddhist society, as elsewhere, Lamas are not solely confined to the priesthood, their main profession, but also work as teachers, physicians, medics and astrologers. Women too are admitted to the order and are known as "Tschomohs". They too have to get their head shaved. Both Lamas and Tschomohs work in the fields of the Gompa. The head lama of any monastery is known as "Khaushak", and next to him is the "Loban".
Faith Behind Reincarnation
Tibetan Buddhism places great importance on the doctrine of reincarnation. When a person dies their spirit may be born again in another body. Both in Ladakh and Tibet it becomes impossible to thoughtlessly kill a fly or squash an insect. In winter the people break the ice in the pools to save the fish before they freeze to death. They believe that the more life one saves the happier is the lot of the soul. Incarnations are created in voluntarily through the forces of 'Karma', or the law of cause and effect. Certain Lamas are incarnations of Buddha and after years of study are entitled to be known as "Rimpoche", or one who comes again and again to show the path to Buddhahood.
Becoming A Monk
Monks are not allowed to have private possessions except their butter lamps and bowls and perhaps an icon or amulet box. Boys enter the monastery as young as three or four, as students, and don the red robe which they will wear for the rest of their lives. After 30 or 40 years of study and passing the final tests, they are then qualified for senior positions as Lamas. Each must pass tests under the control of the Dalai Lama's own teachers.
His Holiness Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama always wears a yellow silk cap at receptions and ceremonies and all the objects in regular use by him are of the same colour. The use of yellow is a privilege he alone possesses. His robes, though, are always the red robe of a monk, once prescribed by Buddha, and differ in no way from that of monastic officials.
The name Dalai Lama is not used in Tibet at all. This is a Mongolian expression meaning 'Broad Ocean'. Normally the Dalai Lama is referred to as "Gyalpo Rimpoche", which means 'precious king'. He represents in his person the return to earth of "Chenrezig", one of the thousand living Buddhas who have renounced Nirvana in order to help mankind. Chenrezig is the patron God of Tibet and his reincarnations are always the Kings of Bo - as the Tibetans call their land.
In Leh it is possible to find families whose members are Muslims, Christians, And Buddhists since the Ladakhis are notably tolerant of other beliefs. As a rule, however, where there are different religious groups in the same area (as between Kargil and Shergol on the Srinagar -Leh road) that live quite separately from one another.