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Buddhist Tibet: 7th - 8th century AD

The story of Tibet moves in the 7th century AD from colourful legend into the realm of history. The change is the result of two new arrivals - writing and Buddhism.

As with the earlier example of Ulfilas and Gothic, the writing down of the Tibetan language appears to have been the work of one man. In about AD 640 the king of Tibet sends a minister, Thon-mi Sambhota, to study Sanskrit in Kashmir. On his return he devises a new syllabary of 30 consonants and 4 vowels to suit his own entirely different Tibetan language (part of the Sino-Tibetan languages rather than the Indo-European family). Thon-mi Sambhota even finds time to write eight treatises on Tibetan grammar, two of which survive.

The same king of Tibet (Srong-btsan sgam-po by name) has two wives from alliances with neighbouring powers. One comes from Nepal, the other from China; both are Buddhist and both bring with them precious Buddhist images.

The king builds temples in his capital, Lhasa, to house his wives' sacred treasures. This is the first visible foothold of Buddhism in Tibet. Early in the next century the Indian religion receives a further boost when Buddhists from central Asia flee to this remote region to escape the advance of the Muslims. But it is not until the second half of the 8th century that Tibetan kings actively promote Buddhism as their state cult.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.