Religion in Tibet

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The main religion of Tibet has been Buddhism since its outspread in the 8th century AD. Before the arrival of Buddhism, the main religion here was an indigenous shamanist religion, Bön, which now comprises a sizeable minority and which would later influence the formation of Tibetan Buddhism.

There are four mosques in the Tibet Autonomous Region with approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Muslim adherents, as well as a Catholic church with 560 parishioners, which is located in the traditionally Catholic community of Yanjing in the eastern TAR.[1]


Main article: Buddhism in Tibet

Buddhism came to Tibet from India in the 7th — 8th centuries A.D. and gradually, though not without difficulties, started to prevail in this region.[2] With the influence of the indigenous Bön religion, Tibetan Buddhism was formed.

There were over 6,000 monasteries in Tibet, and nearly all were ransacked and destroyed by the Chinese communists, mainly during the Cultural Revolution.[3] Most of the major ones have been at least partially re-established, but many still remain in ruins.


Main article: Bön in Tibet

Bön, the indigenous animist and shamanistic belief system of Tibet, revolves around the worship of nature and predates Buddhism.[1] Although Bön was initially the religion to which Buddha‍ '​s teachings were antithetical, it now has come to be regarded as the fifth of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions.


Main article: Hinduism in Tibet


The letters of Timothy I, who was Patriarch of the Nestorian Church, dated as early as the beginning of the 9th century, is the oldest evidence of Christian missionaries in Tibet.[4] Recent historical research indicates the presence of some form of Christianity in as early as the 6th and 7th centuries in Tibet.

It is not known whether Odoric of Pordenone may have entered Tibet. António de Andrade established a mission station in Tsaparang (Ladakh), but after he left the community of nearly 400 in 1630, Tibetan lamas destroyed the station in 1631.[5]

Work on Bible translations into Tibetan resulted in a Bible in Tibetan script in 1948, but this specific dialect is now understood by very few Tibetans, so new works are in progress. Scripture portions and evangelistic materials ranging from written tracts to the 1979 Jesus film and other video and audio CDs are now being distributed.[6]

There is a Roman Catholic church with 560 parishioners, which is located in the traditionally Catholic community of Yanjing in the eastern TAR.[1]


Main article: Tibetan Muslims

There is a small Muslim population [1]scattered throughout Tibet, many of whom are in Lhasa and Shigatse.

Freedom of religion[edit]

Freedom of religion is not guaranteed since Tibet is a part of the People's Republic of China which restricts the practice of religions. Although in the past there were reports of the deaths of monks and nuns due to maltreatment in prison, there were no known reports of deaths due to maltreatment in prison during the period covered by this report.[when?] Buddhist leaders such as Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and Tenzin Deleg remained in detention or prison.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. China: International Religious Freedom Report 2007.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Firstbrook, Peter (20 March 2008). "Tibetan monks: A controlled life". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  4. ^ van Schaik, Sam (2 December 2007). "Christianity in early Tibet". Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  5. ^ Biographical dictionary of Christian missions - Page 22 Gerald H. Anderson - 1999 "In 1631. lamas opposed to the Tibetan Christian community (nearly 400 members) destroyed the mission station at Tsaparang."
  6. ^ Staff. "Tibetans: Asia’s people groups – the Tibetans of China". OMF International. Retrieved 2010-02-04.