Religions practiced in Tibet encompass Tibetan Buddhism, Bon and folk religion, plus Islam and Christianity. At present, there are some 1,700 monasteries and nunneries of Tibetan Buddhism in the region, with 46,000 resident monks and nuns; 88 monasteries of the Bon religion, with some 3,000 resident monks, 93 Living Buddhas and over 130,000 religious followers; four mosques, with some 3,000 followers; and one Christian church, with over 700 worshippers.
The social influence of these religions varies with the regions. The influence of folk religion can be found only in the remote areas. As a result, it is very often ignored in Tibet as, unlike Tibetan Buddhism, the Bon religion, Islam and Christianity, it lacks theory, special venues for rituals and religious organizations. Tibetan Buddhism and the Bon religion are opposing faiths, although they have long exerted influence on each other, Thus parts of the Tibetan Buddhism can be found in the tenets of the Bon, and vice versa. Both have absorbed the cream of the folk religion, such as worship of certain folk spirits. Islam and Christianity are small in the number of followers and influence in Tibet. They are practiced only in a limited area. However, they do exist and live harmoniously with Tibetan B uddhism and the Bon religion. Folk religion is still iinfluential among thee Tibetan folks.
In the early 7th century, Buddhism made its way into Tubo (the old name of Tibet) from Nepal and China��s Central Plains (the middle and lower reches of the Yellow River). For subsistence and development, Buddhism in Tibet absorbed a lot from the Bon religion and other folk religions. Strongly influenced by cultures of the surrounding areas, Buddhism in Tibet grew to possess voluminous classics, rich scriptural tenets, a sound monatic system, a strict sutra study system and meditation system; later, the Living Buddha reincarnation system emerged, Finally, it became a special branch different from the Han B uddhism and Pali-language Buddhism-Tibetan-language Buddhism also known as Lamaism.
Through long-time evolution, Tibetan Buddhism was split into many sects, and some of these sects exerted profound in fluence on the traditional culture of Tibet and even the history of china as a whole. Major sects of Tibetan Buddhism include the Nyingma (known as the Red Sect), Sagya (known as Colorful Sect), Gagyu (known as the White Sect) and Gelung (known as the Yellow Sect). Of all the sects, Gelug, founded by Zongkapa after his religious reform in the early 15th century, was the most powerful The two major Living Buddha systems, Dalai and Panchen, came from the Gelug Sect. There are people who think the Bon religion should be counted as a part of Tibetan Buddhism as the Bon religion has taken a lot from Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism is practiced mainly in China��s Tibet wa sell as the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces. There are also some who believe in Tibetan Buddhism, such as those of the Han, Naxi, Lhoba and Pumi ethnic groups. It has worshippers also in Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia and Russia as well as Kashmir. It spread to Europe and the United States in the second half of the 20th century.
During the heyday of Tibetan Buddhism, each Tibetan family with more than one child was required to provide at least one member to become a monk or nun. This is why Tibetan monks and nuns made up 25 percent of the Tibetan population in the 16th century and thereafter. In 1951 when Tibet was peacefully liberated, there were 100,000 monks and nuns, or over 10 percent of the Tibetan population in Tibet. After the Democratic Reform in 1959, Tibetan people have since enjoyed freedom to be lamas or resume secular life.
In the 5th century BC, Prince Sinrao Miwoche of the ancient state of Zhangzhong founded the Bon religion on the basis of an existing primitive religion unique to Zhangzhong. It conducted rituals mainly in the Montog area of Gar County, Ngari, primarily to pray for luck and for dispelling evil. It gradually spread to the area drained by the Yarlung Zangbo River, becoming a dominant religious force in the plateau.
When Buddhism spread to Tibet, priests of the Bon religion and Buddhist monks fought each other. For the sake of its own survival and development, Bon was forced to absorb, directly or indirectly, contents of Buddhism. Given this, some say the Bon religion has become merely another sect of Tibetan Buddhism, but the religious figures reject this.
Tibet boasts 88 monasteries of the Bon religion. They include 55 in Qamdo, 23 in Nagqu, six in the Xigaze area, two in Nyingchi, one in Lhasa and one in Ngari.
Islam has been practiced in Tibet for some 1,100 years. Nowadays, there are more than 2,000 Hui residents in Lhasa, most of them Muslims. A small number of Muslims come from other ethnic groups or from foreign countries. All of them enjoy Islamic life to the full in Tibet.
Muslims in Lhasa have adopted the habits of Lhasa in terms of language and garments although they still maintain their own beliefs. While praying, they speak in Arabic first and then in Tibetan.
There are four mosques in Lhasa, including the most famous one in Hebaling, located on Barkor Street South southeast of Jokhang Monastery. Built in 1716, it originally had a constructed area of some 200 square meters. It underwent reconstruction in 1793. In 1959, when the Dalai Lama and his men staged an armed rebellion, it was destroyed. However, it was rebuilt in the following year.
The only Catholic church is found in Yanjin Village of Mangkam County on the Sichuan-Yunnan border. After Catholicism spread to Yanjin in 1865, there were 17 people who served as priests or missionaries. This area is home mainly to Tibetans. Only a small number of the locals are of Naxi ethnic group. About 80 percent of the population (740) follows the Catholic faith. They recite prayers in Tibetan, and the local believers, like other Tibetans, celebrate the Tibetan New Year while taking Christmas as the most important holiday. While celebrating Christmas, however, there is no Christmas tree and no Santa Claus. A priest presides over the mass and gives a sermon. All the Catholic faithful gather in the courtyard of the church to dine and the party ends with Gozhuang and Xuanzi dances. When the nearby Gangda Monastery celebrates its Sorcerer��s Dance, the priest and laity are invited to watch.