(or lamaism). A form of Mahayana Buddhism as practised in Tibet and Mongolia. Introduced into Tibet in the 7th Century AD, it is characterised by a complex symbolic literature and monastic discipline, with surviving features of Bön shamanism. Buddhist elements are explored in their esoteric significance, hence the array of deities, mandalas, etc. The guru is of prime importance; some are held to be reincarnations of previous lamas (called tulkus). Until the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama was both temporal and spiritual head of the state. See also Panchen Lama.

Tibetan Buddhism has four main schools (remaining out of eight):

(See also: Kadam, and Rime schools)

A Brief Overview of Vajrayana Buddhism and the Teachings of the Dalai Lama

The path of Buddhism is divided into two primary vehicles: the Low Vehicle, or Hinayana (as it is often called), and the Greater Vehicle, or Mahayana. The Greater Vehicle is also divided into two vehicles: the Perfection Vehicle, or Paramitayana, and the Vajra Vehicle (Vajrayana) or Mantra Vehicle (Mantrayana). Practitioners whose efforts are motivated by a desire to attain enlightenment for the sake of helping all other beings gain enlightenment are practitioners of Mahayana. Both Mahayana and Hinayana systems are devised to fit different individuals.

His Holiness Ngawang Lobsang Yishey Tenzing Gyatso, the Dalai Lama XIV of Tibet, emphasises that sensible people will analyze themselves carefully to see whether or not they are capable of engaging in a certain practice, and will make concerted effort at what is suitable for them, regardless of what might be higher. Pride is not to be taken into consideration when choosing the correct path. As the Dalai Lama says, "Practical application is the main thing."

A particular person's true path is the one which suits their capacity and the one which they can profitably practice. Others are not true for the individual; it is counterproductive to operate outside of your own capacity. The Lower Vehicle paths seek only to free the follower from cyclic existence, while the Greater Vehicle paths seek to achieve enlightenment for the sake of other beings. This writeup examines the Vajrayana path of Mahayana Buddhist teachings, with reflection and wisdom from the religious leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama.

The Vajra is a symbol of the immutable union of method and wisdom, the unity of compassion for all transmigrators with knowledge of reality, or of compassionate appearance and realization of emptiness. According to the Dalai Lama, conceptual understanding of emptiness is like being struck by lightning. Thus, Vajrayana is referred to as the "Thunderbolt Vehicle" by Tibetans. The principle of emptiness is a complex one to fully comprehend.

Tantra are texts that some followers of the Vajrayana Vehicle use for meditation practice. Tantra users are referred to as followers of Mantrayana, or Tantrists. A Mantrika or Tantrist cultivates the same motivation as a conventional Vajrayana Buddhist, and in addition cultivates the imagination that he or she is a Buddha living amid special surroundings and accompanied by special companions. Instead of entertaining ordinary thoughts about friends and acquaintances, one cultivates the sense that one's companions are highly developed beings. This is a technique for enriching your own mind, as projected qualities become objects of your own mind, forming your consciousness. Meditations that culminate in the actual generation of an altruistic intention to become enlightened for the sake of other beings is manifested in the seven-fold quintessential instructions of cause and effect:

  1. Recognition of all beings as mothers. Understanding that we are all caught in the continual cycle of existence, it stands to reason that everyone you ever meet was once your mother in a past life, or will become your mother in a future life.
  2. Mindfulness of kindness. It is important to be mindful of kindness in all its forms; not only in its recognition, but in its effect on the treatment of others.
  3. Thought to repay kindness. When kindness is extended to you, you must be thoughful to repay that kindness.
  4. Love. Because all beings are past mothers, one must generate a feeling of love toward all beings.
  5. Compassion. The wish that all beings be separated from suffering and the causes of suffering.
  6. The unusual attitude. "I alone will free all beings from suffering and the causes of suffering."
  7. The altruistic aspiration to enlightenment.
Tibetan Tantric Mahayana Buddhism is also know as Lamaism, and reached its definitive form by the end of the 15th century. Lamaism has absorbed many ritual elements and magical attitudes, as well as a whole series of local spirits, all of which had been established in the Land of Snow long before the entry of Buddhism. The Middle Way Consequence school (a viewpoint of the Greater Vehicle) is considered in Tibet to be the highest of all tenet systems, or the final system.

Source Material:
  • Hopkins, Jeffrey. The Tantric Distinction: an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. London: Wisdom Publications, 1985.
  • Gyatso, Kelsang. Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition: a Guide. London; Boston: Routledge & K. Paul, 1984.
  • Paul, Robert A. The Tibetan Symbolic World: Psychoanalytic Explorations. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
  • Gyatso, Tenzin. The Buddhism of Tibet and the Key to the Middle Way. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
  • Koller, John M. Oriental Philosophies. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985.
  • Bell, Charles Alfred, Sir. The Religion of Tibet. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.
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