Site Map
Tibetan Buddhism Overview
Section › 12 Set Search Previous Next


Reservations Contents  

Tibetan Buddhism overview and a yellow flower of Coleostephus myconis.

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 recognized 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 and Tantric Buddhism, has spread to many Western countries. Today there are tens of thousands of practitioners in Europe and the Americas.


Tibetan tantra, 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 orders of teachings, also called sects. One of them is the Yellow Hats, the predominant Buddhist order among Tibetans, and the one of the Dalai Lama. Kagyupa (Kagyu) is another order, the one Milarepa entered. In this tradition one dispenses with awkward visualizations and rituals of tantra and focuses on the natural state of mind. And as for what is called Dzogchen, the "great completion", it is practised by all the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its main practice is similar to Zen meditation and 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 by Indian masters. Tibetan religious groups in the West include both communities of refugees and groups of occidentals headed by Tibetans.

Although all Buddhist developments revere Buddha's teachings, not all of them heed his main teachings in all respects or know of them. And the relative, functional weight put on his teachings vary too. But some of us try to incorporate them very well into the fit ways of Vajrayana open to us also. Bluntly put, by going as far back as we can toward the roots of Buddhism, we find good and sensible reasons to dispense with some of its later outgrowths, and may also try to make a synthesis that can function very, very well today.

Buddha leaves room to explore and take up methods - such devises of skilfulness of meditation and life handling, one may add.

We who use methods of Vajrayana need to accept there is much we don't know about their origin and how old they might be. What works, it works. Yet it is 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 methods and corollaries 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 has not endorsed, and which takes freedom away, for example.

Thus, by comparing with the Pali canon - usually thought to be the oldest of the Buddhist recensions - more stress is given to the oldest and most unchanged Buddhism that is found. I do not intend to communicate by this that "What was good enough for Buddha and his direct followers, is good enough for all", but that there may be sensible reasons for dispensing with some later additions in Buddhism. I refer more specifically to the Bodhisattva norms and ideals, following a guru and sect instead of the encompassing original teachings, where there were no secret methods, as pointed out in Buddha's long "Farewell Sutra". So the whole system with secret methods and initiations into them, and split up, dogmatism among a variety of schools, is rather suspect in such a light, where basic Buddhism is honoured and allotted ample space in actual practice too.


Tibetan Buddhism overview, Vajrayana, Literature  

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

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

Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed. 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, 1927.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvesting the hay

On many pages are simple markers, brackets and some symbols. What they stand for and how they are used for academic harvesting is shown on the page that the 'Gain-Ways link below will open.

Tibetan Buddhism overview, of Vajrayana, To top Section Set Next

Tibetan Buddhism overview, of Vajrayana. USER'S GUIDE: [Link]  ᴥ  Gain-Ways: [Link]
© 2007–2017, Tormod Kinnes, MPhil. [Email]  ᴥ  Disclaimer: [Link]