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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Lamaism

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the religion of the people of Thibet. The Delai Lama, "Grand Lama," is at once the high priest, and the visible object of adoration, to this nation, to the hordes of wandering Tartars, and to the prodigious population of China. He resides at Patoli, a vast palace on a mountain near the banks of the Burampooter, about seven miles from Lahasse. The foot of the mountain is surrounded by twenty thousand lamas, or priests, in attendance on their sovereign pontiff, who is considered as the viceregent of the Deity on earth; and the remote Tartars are said to regard him absolutely as the Deity himself, and call him God, the everlasting Father of heaven. They believe him to be immortal, and endowed with all knowledge and virtue. Every year they come up from different parts to worship, and make rich offerings at his shrine. Even the emperor of China, who is a Mantchou Tartar, does not fail in acknowledgments to him in his religious capacity; and entertains in the palace of Pekin an inferior lama, deputed as his nuncio from Thibet. The grand lama is only to be seen in a secret place of his palace, amidst a great number of lamps, sitting cross-legged on a cushion, and decked all over with gold and precious stones; while, at a distance, the people prostrate themselves before him, it being not lawful for any so much as to kiss his feet. He returns not the least sign of respect, nor ever speaks, even to the greatest princes; but only lays his hand upon their heads, and they are fully persuaded that they thereby receive a full forgiveness of their sins. The Sunniasses, or Indian pilgrims, often visit Thibet as a holy place; and the lama entertains a body of two or three hundred in his pay. Beside his religious influence and authority, he is possessed of unlimited power throughout his dominions, which are very extensive. The inferior lamas, who form the most numerous as well as the most powerful body in the state, have the priesthood entirely in their hands, and, beside, fill up many monastic orders, which are held in great veneration among them. The whole country, like Italy, abounds with priests; and they entirely subsist on the rich presents sent them from the utmost extent of Tartary, from the empire of the great mogul, and from almost all parts of the Indies. The opinion of the orthodox among the Thibetians is, that when the grand lama seems to die, either of old age or infirmities, his soul, in fact, only quits a crazy habitation to enter another, younger and better; and is discovered again in the body of some child, by certain tokens, known only to the lamas, or priests, in which order he always appears. Almost all the nations of the east, except the Mohammedans, believe the metempsychosis, or transmigration of the soul, as the most important article of their faith; especially the inhabitants of Thibet and Ava, the Peguans, the Siamese, the greater part of the Chinese and Japanese, and the Monguls and Kalmucks. According to their doctrine, the soul no sooner leaves her old habitation than she enters a new one. The delai lama, therefore, or rather the god Foe or Fuh, residing in the delai lama, passes to his successor; and he being a god, to whom all things are known, the grand lama is therefore acquainted with every thing which happened during his residence in his former bodies. This religion, which was early adopted in a large part of the globe, is said to have been of three thousand years' standing; and neither time, nor the influence of men, has had the power of shaking the authority of the grand lama. This theocracy, which extends as fully to temporal as to spiritual concerns, is professed all over Thibet and Mongalia; is almost universal in Greater and Less Bucharia, and several provinces of Tartary; has some followers in the kingdom of Cashmere, in India; and is the predominant religion of China.

It has been observed that the religion of Thibet is the counterpart of the Roman Catholic, since the inhabitants of that country use holy water, and a singing service. They also offer alms, prayers, and sacrifices for the dead. They have a vast number of convents filled with monks and friars, amounting to thirty thousand, and confessors chosen by their superiors. They use beads, wear the mitre, like the bishops; and their delai lama is nearly the same among them as the sovereign pontiff was formerly, in the zenith of his power, among the Roman Catholics. So complete is the resemblance, that, when one of the first Romish missionaries penetrated Thibet, he came to the conclusion that the devil had set up there an imitation of the rites of the Catholic church, in order the more effectually to destroy the souls of men. Captain Turner, speaking of the religion of Thibet, says, "It seems to be the schismatical offspring of the religion of the Hindoos, deriving its origin from one of the followers of that faith, a disciple of Bouddhu, who first broached the doctrine which now prevails over the wide extent of Tartary. It is reported to have received its earliest admission in that part of Tibet, or Thibet, bordering upon India, which from hence became the seat of the sovereign lamas, to have traversed over Mantchieux Tartary, and to have been ultimately disseminated over China and Japan. Though it differs from the Hindoo in many of its outward forms, yet it still bears a very close affinity with the religion of Brumha in many important particulars. The principal idol in the temples of Tibet, or Thibet, is Muha-Moonee, the Booddhu of Bengal, who is worshipped under these and various other epithets, throughout the great extent of Tartary, and among all nations to the eastward of the Brumhapootru. In the wide-extended space over which this faith prevails, the same object of veneration is acknowledged under numerous titles: among others, he is styled Godumu, or Gotumu, in Assam and Ava, Shumunu in Siam, Amida Buth in Japan, Fohi in China," &c.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Lamaism'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/l/lamaism.html. 1831-2.

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