Manichaeism in Tibet

The following are excerpts from a recent lecture presented in Beijing, China (part 1)

Manichaeism has existed in Tibet since around 260 C.E. Adherents of the Religion of Light in Tibet strictly maintained Manichaean religious ideals all the while within a Buddhist context.

Over the years, Manichaeism began to appear, at least on the surface, like Vajrayana, Mahayana and Pure Land Buddhism throughout Tibet and China. The Religion of Light has had a profound effect on each of these Buddhist schools. At one time almost all of Tibet was practicing Manichaeism.

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Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), who was born around 730 CE in Northwestern India, was understood by Manichaeans to be a reincarnation of their beloved Iranian Prophet Mani, or as he came to be known in China, Buddha Moni. In this form Mani was reverenced again in the flesh as the Embodiment of Light on Earth, the Living Buddha, and viewed as an emanation of Amitabha, Shakyamuni, and Kuan Yin. Yeshe Tsogyal was the consort to Padmasambhava, at times appearing in male and female forms. Padmasambhava arrived in Tibet around 760 CE.

It was not until around 1300 CE that Manichaeans began to practice their religious traditions in secret.

Tibetan and Chinese Manichaeans speak of belief in a “Living Buddha” which they believe to be present in almost every generation of humanity. According to East Asian Manichaeism, this Living Buddha is none other than Mani himself. Manichaeans believe this same Living Buddha is present among them today and is known as “H.H. Moni the Lotus Born.”

Sources indicate that the number of Tibetan Manichaeans is nearly 1,300. Recent arrivals of Manichaeans from Middle Eastern countries may have already caused this number to double or triple. Manichaeans in Tibet told me that all of their communities are migratory.

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Photo by Dvellakat (CreativeCommons, Attribution)