Arunachal Pradesh is the largest state in India’s North East Region (NER) and shares its borders with Bhutan, China and Myanmar. Undoubtedly, the cultural diversity in the state is unimaginable – majority of the population share close cultural and religious affinities with Tibet with over a dozen tribal communities following Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism (around 13% of the total population in the state). The Monpas, the Membas and the Sherdukpen tribes follow Mahayana Buddhism while the Singphos, the Khamtis and Tikhak Tangsas among others follow the Theravada school of Buddhism. It is important to note that while these tribes may follow different forms of Buddhism, they also have their own distinct cultures and traditions.
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Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in Arunachal Pradesh
Mahayana and Theravada are two major traditions within Buddhism, with significant differences in doctrine, practice, and culture. Theravada Buddhism is one of the two major branches of Buddhism, along with Mahayana Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism, also known as “Southern Buddhism,” is the dominant form of Buddhism in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. It is based on the teachings of the historical Buddha and emphasizes individual spiritual progress and the attainment of enlightenment through one’s own efforts.
Mahayana Buddhism, also known as “Northern Buddhism,” is the dominant form of Buddhism in East Asia and is characterized by a greater emphasis on the role of the bodhisattva, a being who is dedicated to helping others achieve enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhism also places a greater emphasis on the use of ritual and devotional practices in the path to enlightenment.
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism is practiced globally and are distinguished by their different approaches to the path to enlightenment while the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism (Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Geluk) are specific to Tibetan Buddhism and are based on different teachings and lineages.
Tawang and West Kameng districts of western Arunachal Pradesh are collectively known as Monyul, a Tibetan-origin term meaning ‘lowland’ (mon means ‘low’ and yul means ‘land’ or ‘settlement’). Previously, Monyul referred to all low-lying territories in the Tibetan borderlands, and Monpa referred to the people living in the lowlands. It was ruled by Tibet for three centuries before the 1914 McMahon Line boundary included it in India. Currently, Monyul is mainly used to refer to the westernmost districts of Arunachal Pradesh. The region is dominated by two of the four orders of Tibetan Buddhism – the Geluk and Nyingma sects.
The Geluk and Nyingma Sects of Tibetan Buddhism
The Geluk and Nyingma sects are two of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Geluk sect, also known as the Yellow Hat sect, was founded in the 14th century by Tsongkhapa, a Tibetan Buddhist monk and philosopher. The Nyingma sect, also known as the Ancient Ones, is the oldest of the four schools and was founded in the 8th century by the Tibetan saint Padmasambhava.
One of the main differences between the Geluk and Nyingma sects is their approach to the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. The Geluk sect emphasizes a systematic and logical approach to study, with a strong emphasis on monasticism and the study of philosophical texts. The Nyingma sect, on the other hand, emphasizes a more intuitive and experiential approach to practice, with a strong emphasis on meditation and the use of tantric techniques.
Another difference between the two sects is their view of the historical development of Tibetan Buddhism. The Geluk sect believes that the teachings of the Buddha were transmitted in an unbroken line from the historical Buddha, through a series of Indian and Tibetan masters, to Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Geluk sect. The Nyingma sect, on the other hand, believes that the teachings of the Buddha were concealed by Padmasambhava in the 8th century and were later rediscovered by Tibetan masters.
Overall, the Geluk and Nyingma sects are two of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but they differ in their approach to the study and practice of the religion, as well as in their view of its historical development.Here we explore some iconic monasteries of these two sects that have survived decades of national border politics, change of socio-religious power and continuous development :
GELUKPA SECT MONASTERIES
Gaden Namgyal Lhatse Monastery in Tawang
IMPORTANT DATES AND CELEBRATIONS:
REACHING TAWANG MONASTERY:
Gontse Gaden Rabgye Lling Monastery in Bomdila
REACHING BOMDILA MONASTERY
Bomdila is 340 km from Guwahati and the nearest airport is in Tezpur, approximately 4 hours away by road. Public transport such as buses and taxis are readily available in all towns connecting to Bomdila.
Thupsung Dorgeylling Monastery in Dirang
REACHING DIRANG MONASTERY
NYINGMA SECT MONASTERIES
Khinmey Monastery in Tawang
Also known as Sang-ngag-choekhorling, Khinmey Monastery was founded by Rev. Kundun Sange Yeshe, the first Thegtse Rinpoche in the year 1440 AD making it the oldest monastery in Tawang. The name Khinmey comes from the Monpa word Khi-Ket-Nyan-Mey, literally meaning a place for listening to the sound of barking dogs. At present, more than hundred monk students from Monpas, Bhutanese and Indian Nepalese communities have been studying both the ancient Buddhist classics and modern subjects under the guidance of the Thegtse Rinpoche, considered he 14th reincarnation of the guru who founded it..