Nearly all Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism, with the exception of approximately 2,000 adherents of Islam and 600 of Catholicism.
Tibetan Buddhism. It is a branch of Chinese Buddhism. In the 7th century A. D., Buddhism was introduced into Tibet from China and Nepal. It first gained acceptance among the nobility, later being gradually embraced by all of society. The conversion of Tibet is usually considered as proceeding in two stages, the first propagation from the 7th to the 9th centuries, followed after a break by the second propagation lasting from the tenth century until the middle of the present century. During this long latter period, a constant stream of eminent Buddhist monks and scholars came from India and Kashmir bringing the dharma. An indigenous religion, Bon influenced the development of the particular form of Mahayana Buddhism known as Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism has its own distinctive qualities and practices. A well-known example is the recognition of reincarnating Living Buddhas, a belief alien to Chinese Buddhism. Many different sects were formed over the centuries, all with the same goal. These include the Nyingma, Sagya, Gagyu and Gelug sects. The Gelug, sometimes referred to as the "Yellow Hats" in reference to the colour of their headgear, was founded by Zongkapa and has been the most influential sect since its beginnings in the early 15th century. Later the order developed its recognition of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni as reincarnating Living Buddhas.
Respecting and Protecting the Freedom of Religious Belief. Respecting and protecting the freedom of religious belief is a basic policy of the Chinese Government. This policy is carried out in the Tibet Autonomous Region as it is elsewhere in China. The policy may be briefly stated as asserting citizens' freedom to believe or not believe in any religion. To abandon a religion he or she followed in the past or follow a religion that he or she didn't follow in the past, and to follow any sect within a given religion.
After the peaceful liberation of Tibet, institutions at various levels in Tibet earnestly carried out the policy of freedom of religious belief and were widely praised. Currently, under the protection of the Constitution and laws, the people of Tibet enjoy fully they freedom of developing normal religious activities.
During the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), freedom of religious brief was seriously violated in Tibetan as elsewhere in the nation. Places of religion and related facilities were seriously damaged. After the end of the 'cultural revolution," the policy of freedom of religious belief returned to Tibet. Institutions doing religious work were restored or newly created one after another. Some of the traditional religious festivals resumed and many new religious sites were added. At present, there are 1,787 monasteries and other places for religious activity in Tibet, satisfying the needs of the masses for a normal religious life. Since the 1980s, the State has allocated over 320 million yuan in special funding to Tibet to implement the policy of freedom of religious belief, and to repair the 7th century Jokhang Monastery, the 8th century Samye Monastery and four famous Gelug monasteries-Zhaibung, Sera, Gandain and Tashilhunpo. In addition, the State invested 55 million yuan for a five-year restoration of the Potala Palace and provided 6.70 million yuan, 111 kg of gold, over 2,000 kg of silver and a large quantity of precious stones towards the renovation of the stupas and memorial halls of the 5th through 9th Panchen Erdeni. In 1994, the Central Government allocated 20 million yuan to further repair the Gandain Monastery. In January 1992, the 20th Panchen Erdeni Qoigyai Gyaincain passed away. The State allocated money for the construction of his stupa and memorial hall in Tashilhunpo Monastery, and held a grand initiation ceremony in accordance with traditional Tibetan Buddhist ritual. With the approval of the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Erdeni, and enthronement of the 11th Panchen Erdeni were done smoothly in 1995.
Independent Religious Activities. The various religious organizations in Tibet independently organize religious activities. The Tibetan Branch of the Chinese Buddhists Association has founded the Academy of Tibetan Buddhism and stared sutra study classed in monasteries of the various sects. Each year it recommends a certain number of Living Buddhas and student monks for further study at the China Tibetan Language Institute of Buddhism in Beijing. in 1984, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region presented the Lhasa edition of the Tibetan language Buddhist classic Gangyur to the Tibetan Buddhists association and opened the Lhasa Sutra Printing House. The Gangyur printed by the printing house are supplied to Buddhist monasteries using the Tibetan language inside and outside of Tibet. In 1990 the Tibetan Buddhists Association began to cut the printing plates for the Lhasa edition of the Dangyur, another Tibetan language Buddhist classic, in Muru Monastery in Lhasa, a project started but not completed by the 13th Dalai Lama. In 1985 the Tibetan Buddhists Association started publishing the magazing Buddhism in Tibet. Currently, there are more than 46,380 monks and nuns in Tibet. Several hundred religious figures have been elected to serve as deputies to people's congresses at various levels, members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference committees at various levels, to the Tibetan Buddhists Association Council and for governmental posts. Delegations from Buddhist organizations and religious figures in Tibet have frequently visited foreign countries for on-the-spot investigations or academic exchange. Tibet has also played host to groups and individuals from dozens of countries who came in pilgrimage, as sightseers or to conduct their own investigations.