A Lesson in the Collapse of the Tibetan Empire
(Minghui.org) The Tibetan Empire (618–842 AD) was an emerging and powerful kingdom when King Songtsän Gampo married Princess Wencheng during the Tang Dynasty 1400 years ago. Its relations with China deteriorated as it grew stronger.
However, the empire didn't collapse because of its wars with China. About 200 years later, the king began to attack Buddhism, and a series of natural disasters ensued. The empire eventually crumbled, yet Buddhism survives to this day.
The Rise of Buddhism and the Strengthening of the Tibetan Empire
Buddhism was introduced to Tibet shortly after King Songtsän Gambo founded the empire. He built Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace. His successors supported Buddhism, and some of the kings and princes that followed him relinquished their titles and became monks. The Tibetan Empire gradually became more powerful with the rise of Buddhism.
The Tibetan Empire became so strong after the death of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty that China was powerless to stop the Tibetan invasion. Tibet extended its military offensive to Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu, and once occupied Chang'an, the capital of Tang. The emperors of the mighty Tang Dynasty--Gaozong, Suzong, and Xianzong--were not able to conquer Tibet.
King Langdarma Persecuted Monks
When the Tibetan King Ralpacan died, according to the New History of the Tang, King Langdarma took over the throne. He was described by the Tang Dynasty messengers as an alcoholic who loved to hunt. He was known as a harsh ruler and did not listen to his aides. Langdarma launched the persecution of Buddhism, which led to chaos within the government.
King Langdarma forced monks to hunt and regarded their willingness to hunt as a renunciation of Buddhism. He killed those who refused to renounce their faith. Langdarma shut down all the monasteries and Buddhist temples. He turned Jokhang Temple into a slaughterhouse and the Ramoche Monastery into a rodeo.
Langdarma mandated that precious mural paintings, relics, and artifacts be replaced by paintings of monks drinking in the temples in order to tarnish the reputation of Buddhism. He had nails hammered into Buddha statues and ropes hung around their necks and had them thrown into rivers.
Natural disasters devastated the Tibetan Empire in 839 AD: earthquakes, landslides in the mountainous regions of what is today Gansu and Sichuan Provinces, water flowing backwards in the Tao River, outbreaks of plague, and people waking up next to dead relatives. Some people heard mysterious drumbeats in the middle of the night in today's Qinghai Province.
King Langdarma died of unnatural causes three years later in 842 AD. Since he had no children, his concubine made her nephew the next ruler, who was killed by a cabinet minister.
Thus, the once powerful and mighty Tibetan Empire was not vanquished by the rulers of the Tang Dynasty (which ruled the adjacent Han regions of China from 617AD - 907AD), but perished at the hands of a foolish king, yet Buddhism became firmly established in Tibet.
Source: “New History of the Tang” - official history covering the Tang dynasty. It is made up of ten volumes and 225 chapters.