Buddhism has been the official religion of Tibet for almost 2,000 years. Originating in India approximately 2500 years ago, it migrated to Tibet in 170 AD, but didn’t take hold until the reign of King Songtsen Gampo, when he declared it the official religion of the country in 641 AD.

The person who is most credited with the spread of Buddhism in Tibet is Padmasambhava, who came to Tibet from India in 774. His method of melding traditional Indian Buddhism with the native religion of Bon helped the Tibetan culture to embrace it as their own. This original branch of Tibetan Buddhism became known as the Nyingma School, which is still extant today as one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism practiced worldwide.

The practice of Buddhism in Tibet has been seriously hindered since it was outlawed by the Chinese government when it invaded the country in 1950. Since the exile of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959, it has taken hold in other countries around the world and is practiced in every continent and country in the world.

Tibetan Buddhism focuses on two major aspects of the religion. One is vajrayana, which is known as the diamond vehicle. It is an aspect of Buddhism that originated in India in around 500 AD. Vajrayana focuses on attaining enlightenment through the practice of esoteric rituals, visualization of certain deities and tantric practices. Tantra includes a variety of practices, but it is primarily used as a way to attain enlightenment through the identification of tantric deities. Tibetan deities are archetypes of certain qualities which are the various natures of human beings.
Tibetan Buddhism is also focused on a phenomenon of reincarnation in which certain very advanced practitioners and teachers of the religion are reincarnated as tulkus. The practice of recognizing tulkus is unique to this religion and is very important towards maintaining the lineage of important representatives of the teachings and monastic culture. The first recognized tulku was the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, who has been continuously reincarnated as a tulku since 1273. The current Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is the 17th incarnation and is the head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The most famous tulku is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is the 14th incarnation of Tenzin Gyatso.
There are four major branches of Tibetan Buddhism being practiced today. They are:

The Gelugpa branch of Buddhism, which has the largest following, and is also called the Yellow Hat School. The His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the head of this branch.

Nyingma is the oldest and oldest school of Buddhism. It is based on the teachings of Padmasambava (‘the Second Buddha’), who is highly revered by people who practice Tibetan Buddhism.

The Kagyupa School is another branch of Buddhism in which the teachings of the Mahamudra and the Six Doctrines of Naropa are the primary focus.

The Sakyapa school of Tibetan Buddhism started in the year 1073. It became very politically influential in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Author's Bio: 

Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture are topics of interest to Sylvia Smelcer, who is the owner of Buddhist websites.