Buddhism started to spread to other parts of Asia in the 3rd century BC and reached the Han Chinese sphere in the early 1st century. The religion was introduced into Tibet a few hundred years later in the 7th century. While Tibetan Buddhism mostly inherited the characteristics of late Mahāyāna Buddhism, which has its origins in India, it also incorporated some elements of Chinese Buddhism and native customs to form a unique belief system.
The different schools of Tibetan Buddhism each developed a system of reincarnation lineage, and the reincarnated spiritual teacher is known as tulku in Tibetan and huofo (living Buddha) in the Chinese world. The tulku tradition, non-existent in either India or China, was gradually established in Tibet over the course of hundreds of years. In the two primary periods of the development of Tibetan Buddhism, the snga dar (earlier dissemination) of the 7th-9th century and the phyi dar (later dissemination) revival in the late 10th century, leadership was transmitted from teachers to disciples or through family bloodlines at all monasteries. In the 13th century, the Karma Kagyu School became the first to adopt the reincarnation system, and by the 15th century the practice had spread to other schools. Today, it is one of the main forms of lineage in Tibetan Buddhism.
In the 15th century, Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) founded the Gelug School, and its lineage was in the early days passed from masters to disciples. However, it later embraced the reincarnation system. In the late 16th century, the Gelug School emerged as the preeminent Buddhist school in Mongolia, and the term khubilghan (the Mongolian equivalent of tulku) appeared. Through the Mongols the Manchus also came into contact with Tibetan Buddhism, and after their conquest of China the Qing empire elevated the Gelug School into a shared faith of the Manchus, Mongols and Tibetans. In addition, the Qing court established a comprehensive official endorsement system for the incarnations of khubilghans by bestowing titles on religious leaders and by accepting their tributes. In so doing the court was putting the Gelug School in charge of political and religious affairs in the Mongolian and Tibetan regions.
This special exhibition presents artifacts relating to the incarnated lamas of the Qing dynasty, and provides a systematic view of the Qing court's interactions with important khubilghans as well as the features of Tibetan Buddhist works of art in the Qing imperial collection.