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Buddhism, which arrived in Tibet from India, became the region's state religion in the 7th century, and has since played a paramount role. Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, who lived in Tibet in the 1940s, said: 'In all my years in Tibet, I never met anyone who expressed the slightest doubt about Lord Buddha's teaching.'

But religion has become, by necessity, politicised in modern Tibet, as communist China is suspicious of fervent worship. China also sees the Dalai Lama - the leading spiritual figure of the Tibetan people - as a separatist threat.

The Dalai Lama, or Ocean of Wisdom, is seen as the embodiment of compassion. When a Dalai Lama dies, the search for his next incarnation begins. He is identified by his ability to pick out articles belonging to the previous one.

The current, 14th Dalai Lama, has lived in exile in northern India since the Chinese invasion in 1959. The Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibet's spiritual hierarchy, is presently controversial because China and Tibet disagree over his current incarnation.

The Dalai Lama identified him to be a boy called Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, but the Chinese detained him in 1995 and he has not been seen since. The Chinese then installed their own choice, Gyaincain Norbu, who has been rejected by the Tibetans.

Monks practise debating in Lhasa, 2006

There are some 47,000 monks and nuns in the TAR

Buddhism is non-violent, non-dogmatic and meditative
Not centred on a god
Aimed at gaining insight into life's true nature
Two schools: Theravada (S, SE Asia) focuses on freedom from craving and suffering
Mahayana (NE Asia) emphasises helping others achieve that freedom
Tibetan is in Mahayana school
Distinguished by emphasis on Tantra - powerful visualisation


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