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Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Vajrayana Buddhist doctrine and institutions named after the lands of Tibet, but also found in the regions surrounding the Himalayas and much of Central Asia. It derives from the latest stages of Indian Buddhism and preserves "the Tantric status quo of eighth-century India." It has been spread outside of Tibet, especially due to the Mongol power of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), founded by Kublai Khan, that also ruled China.
Tibetan Buddhism applies Tantric practices, especially deity yoga, and aspires to Buddhahood or the rainbow body. Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet has four major schools, namely Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug (developed out of Sakya). The Jonang is a smaller school, and the Rimé movement is an eclectic movement involving the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schools. Among the prominent proponents of Tibetan Buddhism are the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, the leaders of Gelug school in Tibet.
Westerners unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhism initially turned to China for an understanding. There the term used was "lamaism" (literally, "doctrine of the lamas": lama jiao) to distinguish it from a then traditional Chinese form (fo jiao). The term was taken up by western scholars including Hegel, as early as 1822. Insofar as it implies a discontinuity between Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, the term has been discredited.
Another term, "Vajrayāna" is occasionally used mistakenly for Tibetan Buddhism. More accurately, it signifies a certain subset of practices included in, not only Tibetan Buddhism, but other forms of Buddhism as well.
The native Tibetan term for all Buddhism is "doctrine of the internalists" (nang-pa'i chos: …of those who emphasise introspection).
There is a "close association between the religious and the secular the spiritual and the temporal"  in Tibet. The term for this relationship is chos srid zung 'brel.
In the west the term "Indo-Tibetan Buddhism" has become current, in acknowledgement of its derivation from the latest stages of Buddhist development in northern India.
Buddhism was formally introduced into Tibet during the Tibetan Empire (7th-9th century CE). Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures from India were first translated into Tibetan under the reign of the Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo (618-649), In the 8th century King Trisong Detsen (755-797) established it as the official religion of the state. Trisong Detsen invited Indian Buddhist scholars to his court, including Padmasambhāva (8th century) and Śāntarakṣita (725–788)), who founded the Nyingma, The Ancient Ones, the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism. There was also influence from the Sarvāstivādins from Kashmir to the southwest and Khotan to the northwest. Trisong Detsen also invited the Chan master Moheyan[note 1] to transmit the Dharma at Samye Monastery. According to Tibetan sources, Moheyan lost the socalled council of Lhasa (793), a debate sponsored by Trisong Detsen on the nature of emptiness with the Indian master Kamalaśīla, and the king declared Kamalaśīlas philosophy should form the basis for Tibetan Buddhism.[note 2][note 3]
A reversal in Buddhist influence began under King Langdarma (r. 836-842), and his death was followed by the socalled Era of Fragmentation, a period of Tibetan history in the 9th and 10th centuries. During this era, the political centralization of the earlier Tibetan Empire collapsed.
The late 10th and 11th century saw a revival of Buddhism in Tibet. Coinciding with the early discoveries of "hidden treasures" (terma), the 11th century saw a revival of Buddhist influence originating in the far east and far west of Tibet. In the west, Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055) was active as a translator and founded temples and monasteries. Prominent scholars and teachers were again invited from India.
In 1042 Atiśa (982-1054 CE) arrived in Tibet at the invitation of a west Tibetan king. This renowned exponent of the Pāla form of Buddhism from the Indian university of Vikramashila later moved to central Tibet. There his chief disciple, Dromtonpa founded the Kadampa school of Tibetan Buddhism, under whose influence the New Translation schools of today evolved.
The Sakya, the Grey Earth school, was founded by Khön Könchok Gyelpo (Wylie: 'khon dkon mchog rgyal po, 1034–1102), a disciple of the great Lotsawa, Drogmi Shākya (Wylie: brog mi lo tsā wa ye shes). It is headed by the Sakya Trizin, traces its lineage to the mahasiddha Virūpa, and represents the scholarly tradition. A renowned exponent, Sakya Pandita (1182–1251CE), was the great-grandson of Khön Könchok Gyelpo.
Other seminal Indian teachers were Tilopa (988–1069) and his student Naropa (probably died ca. 1040 CE).The Kagyu, the Lineage of the (Buddha's) Word, is an oral tradition which is very much concerned with the experiential dimension of meditation. Its most famous exponent was Milarepa, an 11th-century mystic. It contains one major and one minor subsect. The first, the Dagpo Kagyu, encompasses those Kagyu schools that trace back to the Indian master Naropa via Marpa Lotsawa, Milarepa and Gampopa
Tibetan Buddhism exerted a strong influence from the 11th century CE among the peoples of Inner Asia, especially the Mongols. The Mongols invaded Tibet in 1240 and 1244. The Mongols had annexed Amdo and Kham to the east. Sakya Paṇḍita was appointed Viceroy of Central Tibet by the Mongol court in 1249.
Tibet was incorporated into the Mongol Empire, retaining nominal power over religious and regional political affairs, while the Mongols managed a structural and administrative rule over the region, reinforced by the rare military intervention. Tibetan Buddhism was adopted as the de facto state religion by the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), founded by Kublai Khan, whose capital is Xanadu (Beijing, China).
With the decline of the Yuan dynansty and the loose administration of the following (Han-Chinese) Ming dynasty, Central Tibet was ruled by successive local families from the 14th to the 17th century, and Tibet would gain de facto a high autonomy after the 14th century.
Jangchub Gyaltsän (Byang chub rgyal mtshan, 1302–1364) became the strongest political family in the mid 14th century. During this period the reformist scholar Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) founded the Gelug sect which would have a decisive influence on Tibet's history. Internal strife within the Phagmodrupa dynasty, and the strong localism of the various fiefs and political-religious factions, led to a long series of internal conflicts. The minister family Rinpungpa, based in Tsang (West Central Tibet), dominated politics after 1435. In 1565 the Rinpungpa family was overthrown by the Tsangpa Dynasty of Shigatse which expanded its power in different directions of Tibet in the following decades and favoured the Karma Kagyu sect. They would play a pivotal role in the events which led to the rise of power of the Dalai Lama's in the 1640s.
The Ganden Phodrang was the Tibetan regime that was established by the 5th Dalai Lama with the help of the Güshi Khan of the Khoshut Mongols in 1642. After the civil war in the 17th century and the Mongol intervention, the Gelugpa school dominated Tibetan Buddhism, and successive Dalai Lamas and Panchans ruled Tibet as regional governance from the mid-17th to mid-20th centuries.
The Qing dynasty (1644-1912) established a Chinese full rule over Tibet after a Qing expedition force defeated the Dzungars (who controlled Tibet) in 1720, and lasted until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912. The Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty supported Tibetan Buddhism, especially the Gelug sect, for most times of their dynasty of China.
The Rimé movement was a 19th-century movement involving the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism, along with some Bon scholars. Having seen how the Gelug institutions pushed the other traditions into the corners of Tibet's cultural life, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and Jamgön Kongtrül (1813-1899) compiled together the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma, including many near-extinct teachings. Without Khyentse and Kongtrul's collecting and printing of rare works, the suppression of Buddhism by the Communists would have been much more final. The Rimé movement is responsible for a number of scriptural compilations, such as the Rinchen Terdzod and the Sheja Dzö.
In 1912, following the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Tibet became de facto independent under the 13th Dalai Lama government based in Lhasa, maintaining the current territory of what is now called the Tibetan Autonomous Region. After the Battle of Chamdo Tibet was annexed by the Chinese People's republic in 1950. In 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama and a great number of clergy fled the country, to settle in India and other neighbouring countries. The events of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) saw religion as one of the main political targets of the Chinese Communist Party and most of the several thousand temples and monasteries in Tibet were destroyed, with many monks and lamas imprisoned. Outside of Tibet however there was a renewed interest in Tibetan Buddhism in places such as Nepal and Bhutan, while the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the Western world was accomplished by many of the refugee Tibetan Lamas who escaped Tibet.
After the liberalization policies in China during the 1980s, the religion began to recover with some temples and monasteries being reconstructed. Tibetan Buddhism is now an influential religion among educated Chinese and also in Taiwan.
Today, Tibetan Buddhism is adhered to widely in the Tibetan Plateau, Mongolia, northern Nepal, Kalmykia (on the north-west shore of the Caspian), Siberia (Tuva and Buryatia), the Russian Far East and northeast China. It is the state religion of Bhutan. The Indian regions of Sikkim and Ladakh, both formerly independent kingdoms, are also home to significant Tibetan Buddhist populations, as are the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh (which includes Dharamshala and the district of Lahaul-Spiti), West Bengal (the hill stations of Darjeeling and Kalimpong) and Arunachal Pradesh.
In the wake of the Tibetan diaspora, Tibetan Buddhism has gained adherents in the West and throughout the world. Fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist Monks now work in academia.
Geoffrey Samuel sees the character of Tibetan Buddhism in the West as
...that of a national or international network, generally centred around the teachings of a single individual lama. Among the larger ones are the FPMT, which I have already mentioned, now headed by Lama Zopa and the child-reincarnation of Lama Yeshe; the New Kadampa, in origin a break-away from the FPMT; the Shambhala network, deriving from Chögyam Trungpa 's organization and now headed by his son; and the networks associated with Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche (the Dzogchen Community) and Sogyal Rinpoche (Rigpa).
Madhyamaka is the dominant Buddhist philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism and is generally seen as the highest view, but is interpreted in various ways. Shunyata, the true nature of reality, or the emptiness of inherent existence of all things, is traditionally propounded according to a hierarchical classification of four classical Indian philosophical schools. While the classical tenets-system, as propagated by the Gelugpa, is limited to four tenets (Vaibhāṣika, Sautrāntika, Yogācāra, and Madhyamaka), more complicated systems include also the shentong-view of the Jonang and the Kagyu, and also differentiates between the radical emptiness of the Gelugpa-school, and the experiential emptiness of the Nyingma and the Shakya.
Two belong to the path referred to as the Hinayana, but do not include Theravada, the only surviving of the 18 classical schools of Buddhism:
The other two are Mahayana:
The tenet systems are being used in the monasteries and colleges to teach Buddhist philosophy in a systematic and progressive fashion, each philosophical view being more subtle than its predecessor. Therefore, the four schools can be seen as a gradual path from a rather easy-to-grasp, "realistic" philosophical point of view, to more and more complex and subtle views on the ultimate nature of reality, that is on emptiness and dependent arising, culminating in the philosophy of the Mādhyamikas, which is widely believed to present the most sophisticated point of view. Non-Tibetan scholars point out that historically, Madhyamaka predates Cittamātra, however.
Tibetan Buddhism comprises the teachings of the three vehicles of Buddhism: the Foundational Vehicle, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna. The Mahāyāna goal of spiritual development is to achieve the enlightenment of buddhahood in order to most efficiently help all other sentient beings attain this state. The motivation in it is the bodhicitta mind of enlightenment — an altruistic intention to become enlightened for the sake of all sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are revered beings who have conceived the will and vow to dedicate their lives with bodhicitta for the sake of all beings. Widely revered Bodhisattvas in Tibetan Buddhism include Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Tara.
Buddhahood is defined as a state free of the obstructions to liberation as well as those to omniscience. When one is freed from all mental obscurations, one is said to attain a state of continuous bliss mixed with a simultaneous cognition of emptiness, the true nature of reality. In this state, all limitations on one's ability to help other living beings are removed. Tibetan Buddhism claims to teach methods for achieving Buddhahood more quickly (known as the Vajrayāna path).
It is said that there are countless beings who have attained buddhahood. Buddhas spontaneously, naturally and continuously perform activities to benefit all sentient beings. However it is believed that one's karma could limit the ability of the Buddhas to help them. Thus, although Buddhas possess no limitation from their side on their ability to help others, sentient beings continue to experience suffering as a result of the limitations of their own former negative actions.
Lamrim (Tibetan: "stages of the path") is a Tibetan Buddhist textual form for presenting the stages in the complete path to liberation as taught by Buddha. In Tibetan Buddhist history there have been many different versions of lamrim, presented by different teachers of the Nyingma, Kagyu and Gelug schools. However, all versions of the lamrim are elaborations of Atiśa's 11th-century root text A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradīpa).
Atisha's lamrim system generally divides practitioners into those of lesser, middling and superior scopes or attitudes:
Although lamrim texts cover much the same subject areas, subjects within them may be arranged in different ways and with different emphasis depending on the school and tradition it belongs to. Gampopa and Tsongkhapa expanded the short root-text of Atiśa into an extensive system to understand the entire Buddhist philosophy. In this way, subjects like karma, rebirth, Buddhist cosmology and the practice of meditation are gradually explained in logical order.
Being a form of Vajrayana (Vajra vehicle) or Buddhist Tantra, Tibetan Buddhist doctrine also differs from non-Tantric forms of Buddhism in that it affirms the views espoused in the texts known as the Buddhist Tantras (dating from around the 7th century CE onwards). Tantra (Tibetan: rgyud) generally refers to forms of religious practice which emphasize the use of unique visualizations, ideas, symbols and rituals for inner transformation. The Vajrayana is seen by its adherents as the fastest and most powerful vehicle for enlightenment because it contains many special techniques and because it takes the effect (Buddhahood itself, or Buddha nature) as the path (and hence is sometimes known as the "effect vehicle").
These texts also generally affirm the use of sense pleasures in Tantric ritual as a path to enlightenment, as opposed to non-Tantric Buddhism which affirms that one must renounce all sense pleasures. These practices are based on the theory of transformation which states that negative or sensual mental factors and physical actions can be cultivated and transformed in a ritual setting, the Hevajra tantra states:
Those things by which evil men are bound, others turn into means and gain thereby release from the bonds of existence. By passion the world is bound, by passion too it is released, but by heretical Buddhists this practice of reversals is not known.
Another element of the Tantras is their use of transgressive practices, such as drinking alcohol or sexual yoga. While in many cases these transgressions were interpreted only symbolically, in other cases they are practiced literally.
Significant genuine innovations in Tibetan Buddhism have been few. Although the system of incarnate lamas[note 4] is popularly held to be an innovation, it is disputable that this is a distinctly Tibetan development. Two centuries before Buddhism was introduced to Tibet, in the fifth century CE, the Abhidharma teacher Buddhaghoṣa was declared by Sri Lankan elders to be a reincarnation of the bodhisattva Maitreya.
Study of major Buddhist Indian texts is central to the monastic curriculum in all four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Memorization of classic texts as well as other ritual texts is expected as part of traditional monastic education. The main liturgical language is classical Tibetan. Another important part of higher religious education was the practice of formalized debate.
Since the late 11th century, traditional Tibetan monastic colleges generally organized the exoteric study of Buddhism into "five great textual traditions" (zhungchen-nga).
Also of great importance are the "Five Treatises of Maitreya" including the influential Ratnagotravibhāga and the Mahayanasutralankara which are often attributed to Asanga and focus on Yogacara topics such as Buddha nature. Practiced focused texts such as the Yogacarabhumi and Kamalaśīla's Bhāvanākrama are the major sources for meditation. The Buddhist Tantras are another class of texts which form a whole other corpus of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition focusing on Tantra practices.
While the Indian texts are often central, newer Tibetan material is also widely studied. The commentaries and interpretations that are used to shed light on these texts differ according to tradition. The Gelug school for example, use the works of Tsongkhapa, while other schools may use the more recent work of Rimé movement scholars like Jamgon Kongtrul and Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso.
A corpus of extra-canonical scripture, the treasure texts (terma) literature is acknowledged by Nyingma practitioners, but the bulk of the canon that is not commentary was translated from Indian sources. True to its roots in the Pāla system of North India, however, Tibetan Buddhism carries on a tradition of eclectic accumulation and systematisation of diverse Buddhist elements, and pursues their synthesis. Prominent among these achievements have been the Stages of the Path and mind training, both stemming from teachings by the Indian pandit, Atiśa.
There is a long history of oral transmission of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism. Oral transmissions by lineage holders traditionally can take place in small groups or mass gatherings of listeners and may last for seconds (in the case of a mantra, for example) or months (as in the case of a section of the Tibetan Buddhist canon). It is held that a transmission can even occur without actually hearing, as in Asanga's visions of Maitreya.
An emphasis on oral transmission as more important than the printed word derives from the earliest period of Indian Buddhism, when it allowed teachings to be kept from those who should not hear them. Hearing a teaching (transmission) readies the hearer for realization based on it. The person from whom one hears the teaching should have heard it as one link in a succession of listeners going back to the original speaker: the Buddha in the case of a sutra or the author in the case of a book. Then the hearing constitutes an authentic lineage of transmission. Authenticity of the oral lineage is a prerequisite for realization, hence the importance of lineages.
A common feature of Tibetan Buddhism is the various rites and rituals used for various ends, such as purifying one's karma, avoiding harm from demonic forces and enemies, promoting successful harvest, and other worldly ends. Traditionally, Tibetan lamas tended to the lay populace by helping them with spiritual and worldly issues such as protection and prosperity. The use of divination and exorcisms are some examples of the sorts of practices a lama might use for this. Tibetan Buddhist ritual is generally more elaborate than in other forms of Buddhism, with complex altar arrangements and works of art, many ritual objects, hand gestures (mudra), chants, and musical instruments.
A special kind of ritual called an initiation or empowerment (Sanskrit: Abhiseka, Tibetan: Wangkur) is central to Tantric practice. These rituals consecrate a practitioner into a particular Tantric practice associated with individual mandalas of deities and mantras. Without having gone through initiation, one is generally not allowed to practice the higher Tantras.
Another important ritual occasion in Tibetan Buddhism is that of mortuary rituals which are supposed to assure that one has a positive rebirth and a good spiritual path in the future. Of central importance to Tibetan Buddhist Ars moriendi is the idea of the Bardo (Sanskrit: antarābhava), the intermediate or liminal state between life and death. Rituals and the readings of texts such as the Bardo Thodol are done to ensure that the dying person can navigate this intermediate state skillfully. Cremation and sky burial are traditionally the main funeral rites used to dispose of the body.
Vajrayāna is believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be the fastest method for attaining Buddhahood but for unqualified practitioners it can be dangerous. To engage in it one must receive an appropriate initiation (also known as an "empowerment") from a lama who is fully qualified to give it. From the time one has resolved to accept such an initiation, the utmost sustained effort in guru devotion is essential.
The aim of preliminary practices (ngöndro) is to start the student on the correct path for such higher teachings. Just as Sutrayāna preceded Vajrayāna historically in India, so sutra practices constitute those that are preliminary to tantric ones. Preliminary practices include all Sutrayāna activities that yield merit like hearing teachings, prostrations, offerings, prayers and acts of kindness and compassion, but chief among the preliminary practices are realizations through meditation on the three principle stages of the path: renunciation, the altruistic bodhicitta wish to attain enlightenment and the wisdom realizing emptiness. For a person without the basis of these three in particular to practice Vajrayāna can be like a small child trying to ride an unbroken horse.
While the practices of Vajrayāna are not known in Sutrayāna, all Sutrayāna practices are common to Vajrayāna. Without training in the preliminary practices, the ubiquity of allusions to them in Vajrayāna is meaningless and even successful Vajrayāna initiation becomes impossible.
The merit acquired in the preliminary practices facilitates progress in Vajrayāna. While many Buddhists may spend a lifetime exclusively on sutra practices, however, an amalgam of the two to some degree is common. For example, in order to train in calm abiding, one might use a tantric visualisation as the meditation object.
The paramitas (perfections) is a key set of virtues practiced in this tradition.
The practice of Dāna (giving) while traditionally referring to offerings of food to the monastics can also refer to the ritual offering of bowls of water, incense, butter lamps and flowers to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on an shrine or household altar. Similar offerings are also given to other beings such as hungry ghosts, dakinis, protector deities, local divinities etc.
Like other forms of Mahayana Buddhism, the practice of the five precepts and Bodhisattva vows is part of Tibetan Buddhist moral (sila) practice. In addition to these, there are also numerous sets of Tantric vows, termed Samaya, which are given as part of Tantric initiations.
Compassion (Karuṇā) practices are also particularly important in Tibetan Buddhism. One of the foremost authoritative texts on the Bodhisattva path is the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra by Shantideva. In the eighth section entitled Meditative Concentration, Shantideva describes meditation on Karunā as thus:
Strive at first to meditate upon the sameness of yourself and others. In joy and sorrow all are equal; Thus be guardian of all, as of yourself. The hand and other limbs are many and distinct, But all are one--the body to kept and guarded. Likewise, different beings, in their joys and sorrows, are, like me, all one in wanting happiness. This pain of mine does not afflict or cause discomfort to another's body, and yet this pain is hard for me to bear because I cling and take it for my own. And other beings' pain I do not feel, and yet, because I take them for myself, their suffering is mine and therefore hard to bear. And therefore I'll dispel the pain of others, for it is simply pain, just like my own. And others I will aid and benefit, for they are living beings, like my body. Since I and other beings both, in wanting happiness, are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should strive to have my bliss alone?"
A popular compassion meditation in Tibetan Buddhism is Tonglen (sending and taking love and suffering respectively).
Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhism follows the two main approaches to meditation as taught in all forms of Buddhism, śamatha (Tib. Shine) and vipaśyanā (Tib. lhaktong).
The practice of śamatha (calm abiding) is one of focusing one's mind on a single object such as a Buddha figure or the breath. Through repeated practice one's mind gradually becomes more stable, calm and happy. The nine stages of training the mind is the main progressive framework used for śamatha in Tibetan Buddhism.
The other form of Buddhist meditation is vipaśyanā (clear seeing, insight). This is generally seen as having two aspects, one of which is analytic meditation, thinking rationally about ideas and concepts in a scholarly or philosophical manner. As part of this process, entertaining doubts and engaging in internal debate over them is encouraged in some traditions. The other type of vipaśyanā is a non-analytical, "simple" yogic style called trömeh in Tibetan, which means "without complication".
A meditation routine may involve alternating sessions of vipaśyanā to achieve deeper levels of realization, and samatha to consolidate them.
As in other Buddhist traditions, an attitude of reverence for the teacher, or guru, is also highly prized. At the beginning of a public teaching, a lama will do prostrations to the throne on which he will teach due to its symbolism, or to an image of the Buddha behind that throne, then students will do prostrations to the lama after he is seated. Merit accrues when one's interactions with the teacher are imbued with such reverence in the form of guru devotion, a code of practices governing them that derives from Indian sources. By such things as avoiding disturbance to the peace of mind of one's teacher, and wholeheartedly following his prescriptions, much merit accrues and this can significantly help improve one's practice.
There is a general sense in which any Tibetan Buddhist teacher is called a lama. A student may have taken teachings from many authorities and revere them all as lamas in this general sense. However, he will typically have one held in special esteem as his own root guru and is encouraged to view the other teachers who are less dear to him, however more exalted their status, as embodied in and subsumed by the root guru. One particular feature of the Tantric view of teacher student relationship is that in Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, one is instructed to regard one's guru as an awakened Buddha.
In Vajrayāna particularly, Tibetan Buddhists subscribe to a voluntary code of self-censorship, whereby the uninitiated do not seek and are not provided with information about it. This self-censorship may be applied more or less strictly depending on circumstances such as the material involved. A depiction of a mandala may be less public than that of a deity. That of a higher tantric deity may be less public than that of a lower. The degree to which information on Vajrayāna is now public in western languages is controversial among Tibetan Buddhists.
Buddhism has always had a taste for esotericism since its earliest period in India. Tibetans today maintain greater or lesser degrees of confidentiality also with information on the vinaya and emptiness specifically. In Buddhist teachings generally, too, there is caution about revealing information to people who may be unready for it.
The use of (mainly Sanskrit) prayer formulas, incantations or phrases called mantras (Tibetan: sngags) is another widespread feature of Tibetan Buddhist practice. So common is the use of mantras that Vajrayana is also sometimes called "Mantrayana" (the mantra vehicle). Mantras are widely recited, chanted, written or inscribed, and visualized as part of different forms of meditation. Each mantra has symbolic meaning and will often have a connection to a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva. Each deity's mantra is seen as symbolizing the function, speech and power of the deity. Tibetan Buddhist practitioners repeat mantras in order to train the mind, and transform their thoughts in line with the divine qualities of the mantra's deity and special power.
Tibetan Buddhists see the etymology of the term mantra as meaning "mind protector", and mantras is seen as a way to guard the mind against negativity. According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche:
Mantras are effective because they help keep your mind quiet and peaceful, automatically integrating it into one-pointedness. They make your mind receptive to very subtle vibrations and thereby heighten your perception. Their recitation eradicates gross negativities and the true nature of things can then be reflected in your mind’s resulting clarity. By practising a transcendental mantra, you can in fact purify all the defiled energy of your body, speech, and mind.
Mantras also serve to focus the mind as a samatha (calming) practice as well as a way to transform the mind through the symbolic meaning of the mantra. In Buddhism, it is important to have the proper intention, focus and faith when practicing mantras, if one does not, they will not work. Unlike in Hinduism, mantras are not believed to have inherent power of their own, and thus without the proper faith, intention and mental focus, they are just mere sounds. Thus according to the Tibetan philosopher Jamgon Ju Mipham:
if a mantra is thought to be something ordinary and not seen for what it is, it will not be able to perform its intended function. Mantras are like non-conceptual wish-fulfilling jewels. Infusing one's being with the blessings of mantra, like the form of a moon reflected on a body of water, necessitates the presence of faith and other conditions that set the stage for the spiritual attainments of mantra. Just as the moon's reflection cannot appear without water, mantras cannot function without the presence of faith and other such factors in one's being.
Mantras are part of the highest tantric practices in Tibetan Buddhism, such as Deity Yoga and are recited and visualized during tantric sadhanas. Thus, Tsongkhapa says that mantra "protects the mind from ordinary appearances and conceptions". This is because in Tibetan Buddhist Tantric praxis, one must develop a sense that everything is divine (divine pride).
In what is called higher yoga tantra the emphasis is on various yoga practices which allow the practitioner to realize the true nature of reality.
Deity Yoga (Tibetan: lha'i rnal 'byor; Sanskrit: Devata-yoga) is the fundamental, defining practice of Vajrayana Buddhism involving visualization of mental images. According to the Tibetan scholar Tsongkhapa, deity yoga is what separates Buddhist Tantra practice from the practice of other Buddhist schools.
Deity yoga involves two stages, the generation stage and the completion stage. In the generation stage, one dissolves the mundane world and visualizes one's chosen deity (yidam), its mandala and companion deities, resulting in identification with this divine reality. In the completion stage, one dissolves the visualization of and identification with the yidam in the realization of sunyata or emptiness. Completion stage practices can also include subtle body energy practices, as well as other practices such as the Six Yogas of Naropa.
The views and practices associated with Dzogchen and Mahamudra are often seen as the culmination of the tantric path. These practices focus on the very nature of reality and experience, termed dharmakaya.
The diagram to the right shows the growth of Tibetan Buddhist traditions. The four main ones overlap markedly, such that "about eighty percent or more of the features of the Tibetan schools are the same". Differences include the use of apparently, but not actually, contradictory terminology, opening dedications of texts to different deities and whether phenomena are described from the viewpoint of an unenlightened practitioner or of a Buddha. On questions of philosophy the inclusion (Nyingma, Sakya, Jonang, Kagyu) or exclusion (Gelugpa) of Yogacara and Buddha-nature teachings has been a historical divide between schools, which still colours the approaches to sunyata and ultimate reality. The 19th century Rimé movement downplayed these differences, as still reflected in the stance of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who states that there are no fundamental differences between these schools. The Tibetan adjectival suffix -pa meaning "man" or "person" is translatable as English "-ist", e.g., "Nyingmapa" is "person who practises Nyingma".
"The Ancient Ones" is the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism and the original order founded by Padmasambhava (8th century) and Śāntarakṣita (725–788). Whereas other schools categorize their teachings into the three yānas or "vehicles", Hīnayāna, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna, the Nyingma tradition classifies its teachings into Nine Yānas, among the highest of which is Dzogchen. Terma "treasures" (revealed texts) are of particular significance to the Nyingma school.
The Kadam school (Tibetan: བཀའ་གདམས་པ་, Wylie: bka' gdams pa) of Tibetan Buddhism was founded by Dromtön (1005–1064), a Tibetan lay master and the foremost disciple of the great Bengali master Atiśa (982-1054). The Kadampa were quite famous and respected for their proper and earnest Dharma practice. The most evident teachings of that tradition were the teachings on bodhicitta. Later, these special presentations became known as lojong and lamrim by Atiś. adam instructional influence lingered long after the school disappeared.
The "Grey Earth" school represents the scholarly tradition. Headed by the Sakya Trizin, this tradition was founded by Khön Könchok Gyelpo (Wylie: 'khon dkon mchog rgyal po, 1034–1102), a disciple of the great Lotsawa, Drogmi Shākya (Wylie: brog mi lo tsā wa ye shes) and traces its lineage to the mahasiddha Virūpa. A renowned exponent, Sakya Pandita (1182–1251CE), was the great-grandson of Khön Könchok Gyelpo.
The Jonang is a minor school that branched off from Sakya traditions; it was suppressed in 1650 in Gelug-controlled regions and subsequently banned and its monks and nuns converted to the Gelug school in 1658.
The Jonang re-established their religio-political center in Golok, Nakhi and Mongol areas in Kham and Amdo centered at Dzamthang Monastery and have continued practicing uninterrupted to this day. An estimated 5,000 monks and nuns of the Jonang tradition practice today in these areas and at the edges of historic Gelug influence.
However, their teachings were limited to these regions until the Rimé movement of the 19th century encouraged the study of non-Gelug schools of thought and practice. In modern times it has been encouraged to grow by the 14th Dalai Lama, who installed the 9th Jebtsundamba Khutughtu as its head.
"Lineage of the (Buddha's) Word". This is an oral tradition which is very much concerned with the experiential dimension of meditation. Its most famous exponent was Milarepa, an 11th-century mystic. It contains one major and one minor subsect. The first, the Dagpo Kagyu, encompasses those Kagyu schools that trace back to the Indian master Naropa via Marpa Lotsawa, Milarepa and Gampopa and consists of four major sub-sects: the Karma Kagyu, headed by a Karmapa, the Tsalpa Kagyu, the Barom Kagyu, and Pagtru Kagyu. There are a further eight minor sub-sects, all of which trace their root to Pagtru Kagyu and the most notable of which are the Drikung and Drukpa Lineages. The once-obscure Shangpa Kagyu, which was famously represented by the 20th century teacher Kalu Rinpoche, traces its history back to the Indian master Naropa via Niguma, Sukhasiddhi and Khyungpo Naljor.
The "Way of Virtue" school was originally a reformist movement and is known for its emphasis on logic and debate. The order was founded in the 14th to 15th century by Je Tsongkhapa, renowned for both his scholarship and virtue. He was a prominent supporter of the Madhyamika philosophy and formalized the Svatantrika-Prasaṅgika distinction. Its spiritual head is the Ganden Tripa and its temporal one the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is regarded as the embodiment of Avalokiteśvara. After the civil war in the 17th century and the Mongol intervention, the Gelugpa school dominated Tibetan Buddhism, and successive Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet from the mid-17th to mid-20th centuries.
The New Kadampa Tradition is a Buddhist new religious movement founded by Kelsang Gyatso in England in 1991, which branched-off from the Gelugpa school.
In the 19th century the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism, along with some Bon scholars, cooperated the Rimé movement to prevent the loss of many of their teachings and revive their traditions, in response to the dominance of the Gelugpa school.
The four major schools are sometimes said to constitute the Nyingma "Old Translation," and Sarma "New Translation" traditions, the latter following from the historical Kadam lineage of translations and tantric lineages. Another common but trivial differentiation is into the Yellow Hat (Gelug) and Red Hat (non-Gelug) sects, a division that mirrors the distinction between the schools involved in the Rimé movement versus the one that did not, the Gelug.
The correspondences are as follows:
|Old Translation||New Translation||New Translation||New Translation|
|Red Hat||Red Hat||Red Hat||Yellow Hat|
Under the Mulasarvastivadin Vinaya, as with the two other extant Vinaya lineages today (Theravada and Dharmaguptaka), in order to ordain bhikṣuṇīs, there must be quorums of both bhikṣuṇīs and bhikṣus; without both, a woman cannot be ordained as a nun (Tibetan: དགེ་སློང་མ་, THL: gélongma). When Buddhism traveled from India to Tibet, apparently the quorum of bhikṣuṇīs required for bestowing full ordination never reached Tibet.
Despite an absence of ordination there, bhikṣuṇīs did travel to Tibet. A notable example was the Sri Lankan nun Candramāla, whose work with Śrījñāna (Wylie: dpal ye shes) resulted in the tantric text Śrīcandramāla Tantrarāja (Tibetan: དཔལ་ཟླ་བའི་ཕྲེང་བའི་རྒྱུད་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ, Chinese: 吉祥月鬘本續王).
There are singular accounts of fully ordained Tibetan women, such as the Samding Dorje Phagmo (1422-1455), who was once ranked the highest female master in Tibet, but very little is known about the exact circumstances of their ordination.
Buddhist author Michaela Haas notes that Tibetan Buddhism is undergoing a sea change in the West. "Of all these changes that we are watching Buddhism undergo in the West, the most momentous may be that women are playing an equal role." The Dalai Lama has authorized followers of the Tibetan tradition to be ordained as nuns in traditions that have such ordination. According to Thubten Chodron, the current Dalai Lama has said on this issue:
Alexander Berzin referred to the Dalai Lama having said on occasion of the 2007 Hamburg congress:
Sometimes in religion there has been an emphasis on male importance. In Buddhism, however, the highest vows, namely the bhikshu and bhikshuni ones, are equal and entail the same rights. This is the case despite the fact that in some ritual areas, due to social custom, bhikshus go first. But Buddha gave the basic rights equally to both sangha groups. There is no point in discussing whether or not to revive the bhikshuni ordination; the question is merely how to do so properly within the context of the Vinaya.
Freda Bedi (sometimes spelled Frida Bedi, also named Sister Palmo, or Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo) was a British woman who was the first Western woman to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism, which occurred in 1966.
Pema Chödrön is an American woman who was ordained as a bhikṣuṇī in a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in 1981. Pema Chödrön was the first American woman to be ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
In 2010 the first Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in America, Vajra Dakini Nunnery in Vermont, was officially consecrated. It offers novice ordination and follows the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism. The abbot of the Vajra Dakini nunnery is Khenmo Drolma, an American woman, who is the first bhikṣuṇī in the Drikung lineage of Buddhism, having been ordained in Taiwan in 2002. She is also the first westerner, male or female, to be installed as an abbot in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, having been installed as the abbot of the Vajra Dakini Nunnery in 2004. The Vajra Dakini Nunnery does not follow The Eight Garudhammas.
In April 2011, the Institute for Buddhist Dialectical Studies (IBD) in Dharamsala, India, conferred the degree of geshe, a Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monastics, on Kelsang Wangmo, a German nun, thus making her the world's first female geshe. In 2013 Tibetan women were able to take the geshe exams for the first time. In 2016 twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns became the first Tibetan women to earn geshe degrees.
Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo gained international attention in the late 1980s as the first Western woman to be a His Holininess Penor Rinpoche enthroned tulku within the Nyingma Palyul.
|English||spoken Tibetan||Wylie Tibetan||Sanskrit transliteration|
|analytic meditation||jegom||dpyad-sgom||yauktika dhyāna|
|devotion to the guru||lama-la tenpa||bla-ma-la bsten-pa||guruparyupāsati|
|fixation meditation||joggom||'jog-sgom||nibandhita dhyāna|
|foundational vehicle||t’ek män||theg sman||hīnayāna|
|inherent existence||rangzhingi drubpa||rang-bzhin-gyi grub-pa||svabhāvasiddha|
|mind of enlightenment||changchub sem||byang-chhub sems||bodhicitta|
|motivational training||lojong||blo-sbyong||autsukya dhyāna|
|omniscience||t’amcé k’yempa||thams-cad mkhyen-pa||sarvajña|
|preliminary practices||ngöndro||sngon-'gro||prārambhika kriyāni|
|root guru||zawé lama||rtsa-ba'i bla-ma||mūlaguru|
|stages of the path||lamrim||lam-rim||pātheya|
|transmission and realisation||lungtok||lung-rtogs||āgamādhigama|
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