Have you been wondering what Tibetan Buddhist teachings are all about? Or, do you want to find out what makes the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism unique? Surely, you are about getting all the basic Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Hence, Buddhismzone.org has got you covered on all the information you need on the topic.
Thus, to get started, let us answer some questions about Tibetan Buddhism.
Who Are the Tibetan Buddhists?
Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Buddhism named after the lands of Tibet. Of course, the practice is dominant in Tibet. As a result, there was a general thought that 1 in 6 Tibetan men were Buddhist monks. Basically, since the Chinese conquered Tibet, the practice went into exile. Therefore, it traveled to other places.
Who Is the Founder?
The best-known face of Tibetan Buddhism is the Dalai Lama. He lived in exile in India. In general, he had to flee the Chinese occupation of his country in 1959.
What Are the Tibetan Buddhist Teachings?
Tibetan Buddhism combines the essential teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, with Tantric and Shamanic. Most importantly, it also combines material from an ancient Tibetan religion called Bon. And, its main goal is Buddhahood or rainbow body.
However, most believe that Tibetan Buddhism is identical to Vajrayana Buddhism. But, in reality, they are not similar. Instead, Tibetan Buddhism teaches Vajrayana together with other vehicles.
How Did Tibetan Buddhism Come About?
Buddhism became a significant presence in Tibet towards the end of the 8th century CE. Initially, it came to Tibet from India at the invitation of the Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen. Hence, the King invited two Buddhist masters to Tibet. And, most of all, had important Buddhist texts translated into Tibetan.
As a result, first to come was Shantarakshita, abbot of Nalanda in India. Consequently, he built the first monastery in Tibet. After him, Padmasambhava followed. Specifically, the latter came to use his wisdom and power to overcome “spiritual” forces that were stopping work on the new monastery.
What Are the Groups Within Tibetan Buddhism?
The groups are as follows:
Nyingmapa: Founded by Padmasambhava. In general, this is the oldest sect. Thus, noted in the West for the teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Kagyupa: Founded by Tilopa (988-1069). Moreover, the head of the Kagyupa tradition is the Karmapa Lama. More so, important Kagyupa teachers include Naropa, Marpa, and Milarepa.
Sakyapa: Created by Gonchok Gyelpo (1034-1102) and his son Gunga Nyingpo (1092-1158).
Gelugpa: (The Virtuous School) Founded by Tsong Khapa Lobsang Drakpa (also called Je Rinpoche) (1357 – 1419). Most noteworthy, the head of this tradition is the Dalai Lama.
New Kadampa Tradition: This is one of the primary Buddhist schools in the UK. Furthermore, the founder is the Tibetan-born Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. However, some Buddhists and non-Buddhists regard the NKT as outside the mainstream tradition.
Are There Particular Features of Tibetan Buddhism?
Definitely, there are primary features which are as follows:
Tibetan Buddhist Rituals
Tibetan Buddhist practice features many rituals. Certainly, there exists also spiritual practices such as the use of mantras and yogic techniques.
As a result, supernatural beings are prominent in Tibetan Buddhism. Therefore, Buddhas and bodhisattvas abound. Generally, in Tibetan Buddhism, Bodhisattvas appear as both benevolent godlike figures and wrathful deities.
However, this supernatural setting allowed Tibetan Buddhism to develop a strong artistic tradition. Hence, the practice uses paintings and other graphics as aids in understanding at all levels of society.
How Beneficial Are the Visual Aids to Buddhist Rituals?
Visual aids in understanding are prevalent in Tibetan Buddhism. These include pictures and structures of various sorts. Moreover, public prayer wheels and flags provide an ever-present reminder of the spiritual domain in the physical world.
Tibetan Active Participation in Monastic Communities and Among Lay People
Tibetan Buddhists have a strong emphasis on outwardly religious activities. In other words, they practice rather physically than the inner spiritual life. Thus, there is much ritual practice at temples and pilgrimage sites.
Often, these include many prostrations, and prayers repeated over and over. And, with the use of personal or public prayer wheels and flags. Thus, there are many festivals and funerals which are significant ceremonies.
In addition, these practices encourage lay people to provide physical support to the monasteries. More so, the lay community also rely on the monks to organize the rituals.
Four Central Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism
The four central spiritual teachings of Tibetan Buddhism are:
- Emptiness and
Renunciation implies turning away from something. Put in this case, it means to turn away from worldly pursuits of happiness. And then, turn toward inner and spiritual means of achieving happiness and fulfillment.
As a result, it is the beginning of the spiritual quest. And, it comes after realizing the limitations of wealth, fame, and material possessions in bringing lasting happiness. Most times, it usually involves the creation of new dawn coupled with inestimable joy and solitude.
Because, often than not, we think that becoming successful in our career and having abundant wealth will surely make us happy. Right?
Well, of course, people who achieved these measures of success also discovered the ancient truth for themselves. That is to say, these things are not primarily satisfying. And, basically, have no meaning other than what we attribute them.
Sometimes it takes a ridiculously wealthy and successful person like Russel Brand to remind us of this truth:
“Increasingly, I’ve realized; everybody has beauty within themselves, and if you find this and accept this, then you will be happy regardless of external attributes or material things.”
Bodhicitta is a type of great love and compassion that informs and motivates our spiritual pursuits.
Therefore, upon reflection of the general nature of the world. And, the brutal cycle of looking for satisfaction in immaterial things which is unsatisfying at the end of the day. Thus, we can understand that this behavior keeps putting us in a circle of suffering. And, above all, that the suffering can transfer to the next generation.
In line with this, Dalai Lama taught about zero attention to earthly pleasures. More so, he pointed out its positive effects. This teaching gave rise to a type of natural compassion that focuses on helping others. But, then, we must first support ourselves by becoming free of clinging to the world.
On that same note, our wish to be free should be of the most benefit to all other beings. Therefore, it should base on a recognition of the equality of all people around us. Most of all, our freedom should consider also the intimate connection we have with every living creature. As attained through countless lifetimes of interrelating.
Not just that, the shared suffering and the shared pursuit of happiness. Of course, we all want to be happy, and we all want to avoid suffering. But, unfortunately, we are trapped in patterns that weaken our own and other’s happiness.
Does Bodhicitta Affect Our Daily Life?
Definitely, Bodhicitta is, therefore, as humble as it is grand. For example, humbly bowing in respect to all living creatures in deep appreciation of our shared suffering. As we also shared the pursuit of freedom.
You cannot achieve your peace when your brothers and sisters of the world are still in the trap of suffering. Suggestively, it would be like taking all the lifeboats on a sinking ship just for yourself.
Therefore, in our daily lives, we all need each other to survive. Hence, Bodhicitta is the courageous attitude that we are all in this together. Consequently, if we aim to end suffering, it should be for all.
What Of Our Enemies, What Is The Best Way To Treat Them?
The kind of love and compassion preached is a great protector of our mind. However, it is possible to feel hate for someone.
Hence, when we love, it is best to also love our enemies. By so doing, our mind and hearts will transform. Thereby, becoming more flexible to make life more purposeful and meaningful.
As the Dalai Lama jokingly said: “for something indescribable there sure are a lot of books written about it.” He is referring to “sunyata” or emptiness as it commonly translates.
Note that, it is realizing the truth of emptiness that gives rise to the most profound wisdom. And, most especially, the power to purify ignorance and surpass suffering. Therefore, it is probably the most widely practiced meditation and contemplation of Tibetan Buddhism.
In its simplest form, emptiness is the fact that everything changes. Therefore, the concept has no lasting identity or substance. Basically, when we look at anything and label it, that thing is in no way fixed. Hence, what we are marking is the present moment appearance of something that is in flux.
Are There Other Ways Of Looking At Emptiness?
Another way of looking at emptiness is that the map (labels/thoughts) are not the territory. As a result, no matter how good the picture or representation of something is, it is always different from its initial experience.
That is why with mindfulness, we learn to try and be aware of the present moment. At least, in a non-judgmental way. Subsequently, taking in more of reality and less of our opinions about the fact. Moreover, we attain true reality only when we experience things directly without the mediation of language.
According to Seng Tsan, a great Zen master: “If you want to experience the truth simply give up your opinions for or against anything and the truth with reveal itself.”
Usually, meditating on emptiness by seeing things without judgment or labels opens up a whole new mysterious world filled with its deep wisdom, unconditional love, and radiant bliss.
This means the diamond path. Basically, this is usually a practice that comes after the realizations of renunciation, bodhicitta, and emptiness. Then, the void filled with love, wisdom, and bliss will appear to be the nature of all being. Hence, we can sometimes refer to all things as the ground or source of being.
Actually, Vajrayana is a skillful means to directly relate to this underlying reality. And, afterward, bring it into the world through visualization, mantras, and blissful energy.
In practice, there are many different deities or enlightened figures in Tibetan Buddhism. On this note, a practitioner can visualize themselves as these figures. However, this practice mostly involves visualizing and imagining yourself as a fully aware being made of love and light.
Other Tibetan Buddhist Teachings and Practices
Tibetan Buddhism also involves many advanced rituals. But, these rituals are only possible for those who attained a sophisticated understanding of spiritual practice.
Similarly, there exists also advanced spiritual techniques in Tibetan Buddhism. These include:
- Elaborate visualizations and
- Demanding meditations.
But, have you taught of the implications of these techniques in Tibetan Buddhism? Maybe no. Thus, below are the effects:
Living and Dying
Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes awareness of death and impermanence. Thus, everything is always dying. The cells of our bodies are dying even while we live. Basically, this reminds us of our impermanence. In other words, all the living things around us are dying, too.
This awareness should not produce sadness or despair. Nor, should it cause a Buddhist to start a desperate pursuit of the impermanent pleasures of life. Instead, it should lead the Buddhist to see the value of every moment of existence. Consequently, he should be hardworking in his meditation and other religious practice.
Thus, a Buddhist should have awareness of death, combined with the understanding of the impermanence of everything. In general, this leads the Buddhist to realize that only spiritual things have a lasting value.
Preparing for Death
Tibetan Buddhists use visualization meditations and other exercises to imagine death. As a result, they prepare for the Bardo. Hence, they work towards a general understanding and acceptance of death as an unavoidable part of their journey.
Another way of preparing for death is to take part in helping those who have died through their experience in the Bardo. Generally, this not only aids the dead but enables the living practitioner to gain real knowledge of the Bardo. At least, before they enter it.
Even those who cannot gain spiritual awareness to gain an understanding of the Bardo can get help. Most especially, by achieving a more significant experience of the impermanence of everything.
You May Ask, What is Bardo?
Bardo is the state between death and rebirth. Fundamentally, the different schools of Buddhism have different understandings of this state. However, it generally occurs as lasting for 49 days.
Usually, the experience of a person during Bardo depends on their spiritual training during life. Therefore, an untrained person may pass through this state in confusion. That is to say, they may not even know where they are. And, possibly, may not realize that they have died.
In most cases, people are often unwilling to give up attachment to their previous life. As a result, they hold on to their negative emotions. This may cause their rebirth to be less useful than it would otherwise have been.
How Does Bardo Help a Dead Person?
In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, the dead person can get help through Bardo. This is formally through a lama who reads prayers and performs rituals from the Book of the Dead. Certainly, the ritual involves advising the deceased to break free from attachment to their past life and their dead body.
In some Sects of Tibetan Buddhism, the lama will actively help the dead person to transfer their consciousness from their body, in preparation for rebirth.
Many Tibetan Buddhists believe that it is possible for those left behind to assist the dead persons on their journey. Hence, they achieve this by doing spiritual work that increases the merits of the deceased. Thus, helping them to a better rebirth.
What is The Duration for a Bardo?
It can last up to 49 days. Consequently, during the 49 days, the dead can see clearly into the minds of those left behind. Basically, this allows the living to help the dead by thinking good thoughts. And also, meditating on Buddha and other virtuous beings. Others involve engaging in spiritual practices.
Common Terms Associated with Tibetan Buddhism
A lama is a teacher. In general, they are often a senior member of a monastic community. That is, either a monk or a nun. But, lay people and married people can also be lamas. They are very often reincarnations of previous lamas.
As well as being learned in Buddhist texts and philosophy, lamas often have particular skills in ritual.
The Dalai Lama
Dalai is a Mongol word meaning ocean. And, it refers to the depth of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom. Further, the first living Dalai Lama to bear the title was the 3rd Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso. (The two previous incarnations got to answer “Dalai Lama” after their deaths.)
The Karmapa Lama
Karmapa means “one who performs the activity of a Buddha Tantra”
Tantra much influenced Tibetan Buddhism. And, this has brought in a wealth of elaborate rituals and symbols and techniques.
Tantra originated in India and appeared in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Most of all, it brings Tibetan Buddhism a magical element and a rich portfolio of heavenly beings. Also, it brings a wide variety of spiritual techniques such as mantras, mandalas, ceremonies, and many types of yoga.
Rituals and simple spiritual practices such as mantras are favorite with lay Tibetan Buddhists. Therefore, they include prostrations, making offerings to statues of Buddhas or bodhisattvas. And, also, attending public teachings and ceremonies.
Above all, Tibetan temple ceremonies are often noisy and visually striking. It features the use of brass instruments, cymbals, and gongs. Also, the activities involve musical and impressive chanting by formally dressed monks. And, it takes place in strikingly designed temples and monasteries.
For a Tibetan Buddhist, the four primary spiritual paths are incredibly beneficial and meaningful. Hence, we have in this article detailed what it means to follow these paths. As a result, we encourage the faithful to engage with them to the best of their ability.
Each one contains its wisdom and has its positive effects on our lives. In a nutshell, the best way to grow the experience is by practicing until perfection.