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Tibetan Buddhism overview and a yellow flower of Coleostephus myconis.

A Story

There was a very poor man living in the country. Every day he went to town to get food. He didn't have a house, and every night he went to a mountain cave to sleep. He passed his life in this way..

In front of the mountain a yogi had settled to meditate alone for some time. Every day he saw the old man going to town and coming back in the evening. Then one day the yogi got aware that the old man no longer came out of his cave. He looked closer and found the old man lying dead in the cave.

The yogi looked some more, and came across a big diamond in the ground just where the old man had put his head to lay down to sleep. But even though the old man had been in contact with the diamond every day, he had not recognised that is was a valuable stone. If he had done so, he would have known how rich he was.

The story - retold from Teachings of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu - suggests that an undiscovered diamond under your head helps less than a diamond "in your belly". Also, the diamond that is inside you may be taken better care of. That makes a sage.

We can believe something . . ., then discover that it is false tomorrow. What we need is to discover our real nature . . . [T]he most important thing is discovering our real nature of mind, says Chögyal Namkhai Norbu (in Lawless and Allan 2003, viii- ix)

Norbu tells that the diamond is your real nature of mind, or spirit. To uncover it you are told to relax wisely through practice, understand and overcome problems sanely, and get realised or enlightened (Ibid. xii). By that you have discovered a "diamond in your belly". Compare Tao The Ching's chap. 12: "The wise man cares for his belly," if you will. Lin Yutang adds to it: "'Belly' here refers to the inner self." (1963, 36n)

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu tells further in Beyond Words: Dzogchen Made Simple (Lawless and Allan 2003):

The essence is within yourself and you must not be conditioned by externals, by a book or a system . . . Dzogchen practitioners must be aware and free and able to use everything, control everything, without being conditioned by the teachings or by externals (Ibid. 6).

Have a good relationship to the Dzogchen teachings (Ibid. 7).

There are many, many practitioners of Dzogchen . . . You can't observe anything outwardly about them (Ibid. 9).

From The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa (1999):

The experience is as natural as sun- and moon-light;
Yet it is beyond both space and time.

It is beyond all words and description.

(Milarepa 1999, 133)

How to make a looming Self beyond description develop, is a further and very interesting topic.

Discovering a Diamond

Tibetan Buddhism consists of Mahayana Buddhist teachings that incorporate yoga teachings from India from the late 700s CE and some four hundred years on. The specific texts recognised by various sects of Tibetan Buddhism, underwent a final compilation in the 1300s. By those strides Tibetan Buddhism contains doctrine and several institutions that are typical of Tibet and some regions of the Himalayas - northern Nepal, Bhutan, and northern India. Tibetan Buddhists today trace their spiritual roots from Indian masters such as Padmasambhava, Tilopa, Naropa and their Tibetan students.

Tibetan Buddhism, which is mostly of the type called Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle) and Tantric Buddhism, has spread to many Western countries. In Vajrayana is used a rich variety of symbols, terms and images with up to many meanings. The word 'vajra' represents the ultimate nature of things - translucent and indivisible. To know it is to get the diamond under your skin, so to speak. To Awaken, to become a Buddha, is that.

Today there are tens of thousands of Vajrayana practitioners in Europe and the Americas. How skilfully they practice and how sound their ways and means are, may differ.


Tibetan tantra, which is also called Vajrayana, incorporates both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhist teachings. Many Buddhist elements are systematised, and there are many different schools within the all-over tantric framework.

Tantra practices are acknowledged as a path to transcendence. Another practice is based on morality, concentration, and wisdom. The two main approaches are blended. A dominant goal is to act spontaneously and naturally. However, intermediate methods may be helpful.

Tantra serves to transform human desire to advance spiritual growth. Over time and with skill such cultivation seems able to produce good results. The tantric path contains several prerequisites as divided into steps. Using life for something valuable is a part of it. Integrating spiritual understanding and values is vital, and the ability to accept good and bad past experience with some equanimity. To deserve greater happiness, live up to it, may well be taught. One way is to cherish one's self as much as the self of another. To relieve others may work well too, within limits. Developing advanced stages of deep meditation and tranquillity is basic. Basic visualisation and mantra recitation is to be mastered, and one is to go for merit gains.

Ideals and gurus

Guru help may be stressed a whole lot, with a focus on dynasties. However, Buddha taught self-help ways only, and did not deal in secret doctrines, he said in the oldest known sutras in the Pali canon. Various tantra parts and guru dependence in Tibetan Buddhism could be later additions, and the Boddhisatva ideal and pledges surrounding it in the Mahayanic tradition surely are. These things are alien to Theravada, which is generally thought to be the oldest way of Buddhism that has survived. As for dealing with Tibetan gurus, there is an injunction to scrutinise a prospective guru thoroughly - in some cases for decades - before accepting him. As for guru methods, they are kept away from those who are not initiated.

Sound morality, sila is considered very helpful; a proper moral basis is to be firmly built into in one's life - and so is wisdom. One's way of living had better be well-rounded, and there are many traps to guard against for the ones who work on inner perceptions and energies. A way to balance this at times tedious work is to go on being grounded here and now – not neglecting sights, sounds, tastes and thoughts of common experience.

To remain within one's limits may work all right. Going too far and too fast may not be auspicious. "Too much of a good thing is a bad thing" is a proverb. A neat balance is fine to work for. Try to incorporate the best elements into your regular lifestyle of coping, and inner progress may follow. Along with one's experiences of the subtler realms of mind, there is room for being very mindful, so as to escape being cramped and in turn develop a vain, preposterous, and narrow mind. Adhering to the marrow of things tends to counteract such displays of distorted wilfulness.

Three Realms and Enlightenment

In the Tibetan scheme there are three realms to consider: The physical world, the astral realm, and a dimension that is far deeper and subtler, called the Truth Body (part) of the universe. The realms open up as the consciousness of the meditator becomes attuned to subtler strata of consciousness. One focus of meditation (contemplation) is to develop Subtle Insight, also called Inner Wisdom, also termed the experience of Oneself, or Enlightenment, in proficient Zen-like mediation. Along this process Deep Enlightenment may be had.

In advanced meditations one makes use of subtle energies known as winds (also known as prana and chi). By mental focus prana can be harnessed to advance sound(er), mental clarity.

The soul or inner Self enjoys, and soon may become a living entity to the meditator. One is to be attuned to it. The deeper, inner, subtler levels of the soul mouth the Truth Body. Another way of putting it is that the soul's inner side is Essence, also called Deep Mind, which is Truth Itself, also called Reality. "The dear child is called by many names" is a proverb.

A typical feature is that the psychic life is represented by symbolic representations.

In the World

There are many schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Red Hats, named after the colour of the monks' hats at formal occasions, consists of the three oldest of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyu. Some consider only the eldest of them, Nyingma, to be the Red Hat sect. Guru Rinpoche brought Nyingma to Tibet.

Kagyupa (Kagyu) is the school (order) that Milarepa entered. In this tradition one makes efforts at focusing on the deep and natural state of mind.

The fourth school is Gelug, or the Yellow Hats. It is the predominant Buddhist school among Tibetans, and the one of the Dalai Lama.

What is called Dzogchen, the "great completion", it is practised by all the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The main practice of it compares to Zen meditation, mentions Garma C. C. Chang. Dzogchen consists of holding a constant perceptual openness to one's experiences. Some Dzogchen meditations are similar to tantric visualisation and energy practices.

By the 1300s the Tibetans had succeeded in translating all available Buddhist literature in India and Tibet. The Tibetan canon consists of supposedly canonical texts and commentaries originating in India. Tibetan religious groups in the West include both communities of refugees and groups of occidentals headed by Tibetans.

Buddha's teachings

All Buddhist developments revere Buddha's teachings, but not equally. By going as far back as we can toward the roots of Buddhism, we find reasons to go for the skills that Buddha advocates in the early discourses. Try to make a synthesis well is wise. It should be useful to bear in mind some words of Buddha, namely that what is truly beneficial, is excellent in the beginning, excellent in the mid-span, and work excellently in the long run and finally. Some current practices that narrow a disciple's freedom, may give far less boons in the long run than they appear to do initially, and vice versa. One has to take such possibilities into account too, preferably before committing to anything Buddha in the early discourses (sutras) hardly seems to endorse.

There could be all right reasons for dispensing with some later additions in Buddhism. For example, there is the added Bodhisattva norms and ideals to postpone one's Buddhahood for the sake of others is a form of "They take your freedom away". The way of Buddha is different. It is fit to go for getting Enlightened, which is a favourable basis for lending a helping hand to others too. Buddha himself shows it in his life and works.

To adhere to a sect's views over and above the oldest teachings where Buddha says he has no secret methods (in his Final Teachings), is no ideal of Buddha either. Buddha says:

Buddhic I have set forth the Dhamma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; there is nothing, Ananda, with regard to the teachings that the Tathagata holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back. [Mahaparinibbana sutta, ("Last days of the Buddha"), part 2, sutra 32]

A study of the old discourses may show far many different practices and systems differ from his basics. And still Buddha says:

Buddhic He honours me best who practices my teaching best. (In Narada 2010, 157)


Tibetan Buddhism overview, Vajrayana, Literature  

Chang, Garma C. C., tr. 1993. Teachings of Tibetan Yoga. New York: Citadel Press.

Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed. 1968. The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation or the Method of Realizing Nirvana through Knowing the Mind. London: Oxford University Press.

Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed. 1927. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering. London: Oxford University Press.

Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed. 1967. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed. 2000. Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Freemantle, Francesca, and Chogyam Trungpa, trs. 2007. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo, According to Karma Lingpa. London: Shambhala.

Kapstein, Matthew T. 2014. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Milarepa. 1999. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. Tr. Garma C. C. Chang. London: Shambhala.

Moacanin, Radmila. 1986. Jung's Psychology and Tibetan Buddhism: Western and Eastern Paths to the Heart. London: Wisdom Publications.

Sogyal Rinpoche. 2002. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Rev and updated ed. London: HarperCollins.

Thera, Narada. 2010. The Buddha and His Teachings. Reprint ed. Kandy, LK: Buddhist Publication Society.

Thurman, Robert A. F. 1997. Essential Tibetan Buddhism. Edison, NJ: Castle Books.

Yutang, Lin. 1963. The Wisdom of China. London: Four Square Books.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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