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Introduction of Buddhism

With the introduction of Buddhism in the 7th century A.D the real historical period begins.  With this Buddhism plays the pivotal role in the history of Bhutan and in the people’s way of life.

The clear separation of religious and secular powers came in the 17th century when ZhabdrungNagwangNamgyal established the dual system of government.

ShabdrungNawangNamgyal separated the religious and the secular powers, with the establishment of a new dual system of government. Until today the religious institution the monk body is still headed by Je Khenpo the chief abbot, and this institution holds a vital position in the cultural and social structure of the Bhutanese life.

Even though the first and most sacred Buddhist temples, Kyichu and Jambay, were built in the 7thcentury A.D. it was not until the arrival of Guru Padmasambhava the great Indian saint in the A.D. 746 that Buddhism took a firm root in Bhutan.

With the conversion of King (Sindhu Raja) in Bumthang valley by Guru Padmasambhava Buddhism gradually spread to other parts of Bhutan.

Legends say that King Sindhubuild an iron castle in Bumthang containing all the treasures of the world at the end of the 8th century. One day King Nabudara or Nauche (big nose) of the southern Duar plains invaded his territory. King Sindhu prior to the battle performed outside his iron castle a grand ceremony to invoke the local guardian deities for their help, but all in vain. King Shindu’s forces were defeated and his son Taglamebar was killed in combat. The defeated king lost all his faith in his deities and ordered all the temples in his kingdom to be desecrated and destroyed. The deities then deeply offended a the sacrilegious vandalism of the mortal king, grew irate, and misfortune befell on the entire kingdom, and King Sindhu was fatally sick. His life was evaporating as days past by. The people around the kind felt terribly lost and forsaken.

Then the officers of the royal court held a discussion seeking for a solution, and some of the leading astrologers of the kingdom’s suggestions failed. During that time Guru Padmasambhava known for his miraculous powers, happened to be under meditation in a cave called Yangleshoe in Nepal. Messengers from the royal court carrying gifts and cups filled with gold were sent to Guru and seek his help in rescuing their monarch and the kingdom.

Upon accepting the invitation Guru Padmasambhava travelled via Nabjikorphu in the Khen region to Bumthang. He then organized a festival of the ritual dances and, with his magical powers he assumed eight forms of dance to subdue the evil spirits. The encounter culminated with the guru who now transformed into the primeval bird Garuda, retrieving King Sendha’s vital strength from the chief of the local deities, had appeared at the spectacle as a lion and is now known as ShelgingKarpo, chief protective deity of Kurjey temple in Bumthang.

After these miraculous events, King Shindhu and his subjects were converted to the Buddhist faith and they then undertook the responsibilities to propagate their new faith and re built all temples and revive the holy sites.

Guru Padmasambhava’s salient features of his religious policy was the incorporation of the Bon deities into the Buddhist pantheon, as legend narrates, bond them through oaths not only serve the Buddhist faith, but also in the process to become its protector.

A wave of religious persecution and political turmoil swept through northern kingdom of Tibet, with the emergence of the anti. Buddhist King Langdarma in the ninth century. This period in the ninth and tenth centuries witnessed an exodus of monks from the north to eastern Tibet and Bhutan. Then on Bhutan was quickly recognized as a Baeyul, or the scared hidden land of spiritual treasures blessed by Guru Rimpoche. Among the many monks who too refuge in Bhutan, many rose to prominence through their spiritual practices, and contributed  significantly to the latter development of several schools in the Himalayan region – among then the Kadampa, Kagyudpa, Sakyapa and the Gelugpa, that sprang up in Tibet in the eleventh century with the revival of religion.

One of the main highlights of this period is the appearance of Tertons, or Treasure discoverers in Paro and Bumthang, who relieved many predestined texts and scared objects hidden for posterity by Guru Padmasambhava.

A spiritual master called PhajoDrukgomZhingpo (1208-1276) arrived in Bhutan in the frist half of the 13th century. He is the forerunner of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition and a very important figure in the Bhutanese history. Soon after his arrival he came into conflict ith the Lhapas, who were already firmly grounded in western Bhutan. He however won the struggle with the Lhapas and married a woman from Thimphu valley. His then the four sons continued the spread of the DrukpaKagu tradition in the country. The Lhapa School continued until it was fully crushed by ShabdrungNagwangNamgyal in the seventeenth century.