Triple Gem
Chapter Fifteen

Tashi Dhargye

Vajrayana Buddhism

Home | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten | Chapter Eleven | Chapter Twelve | Chapter Thirteen | Chapter Fourteen | Chapter Fifteen | Questions and Answers (1) | Questions and Answers (2) | Articles | Conclusion | Miscellaneous


Buddhism emerged in Tibet in the 7th Century during the reign of Song Tsan Gampo, the first Dharma King of Tibet. Under his royal patronage the scholar Thon-mi Sambhota devised a Tibetan alphabet suitable for the translation of Buddhist works coming from India, Nepal and China. With the ground thus prepared, the flower of Vajrayana became firmly established in Tibet by the efforts of the second great Dharma King, Trisong Detsen, who invited the Bodhisattva Santaraksita to teach the Dharma to his people. Upon his arrival Santaraksita was beset by insurmountable obstacles in the form of wild demonic beings.

Understanding that he could not control these forces himself he suggested to the King that he invite the great master Padmasambhava, who was then residing in India, to pacify the land and clear away the obstacles that threatened to halt the development of Buddhism in the Land of Snows.

Together they built a great monastery at Samye in the shape of a mandala, which became the first institution of Buddhist learning in Tibet. Santaraksita ordained the first monks there and many translators were invited from India to train apprentices to begin the monumental task of translating the Buddhadharma into Tibetan.

It was here also that Padmasambhava, known as Guru Rinpoche, began the Oral Transmission of the Mantrayana tradition. Beginning with twenty-five close disciples, his teaching has been passed down through an unbroken lineage to the present day. Guru Rinpoche and his disciple and consort, Yeshe Tsogyal, concealed many teachings, called Terma, to be revealed for the benefit of future generations.

Guru Rinpoche concealed many teachings as treasures in the mindstreams of his twenty-five closest disciples. In each generation, these disciples manifested as treasure finders, called Terton, who revealed precious texts and teachings from the earth and water, from the sky, and from their own mindstreams. Among the most famous tertons of the 19th century was Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904). He was a body emanation of Kheuchung Lotsawa, one of Padmasambhava's twenty-five main disciples. His incarnation was prophesized for centuries by many sublime beings, including Padmasambhava himself. During his life, Dudjom Lingpa revealed the lineage known as Dudjom Tersar, consisting of a number of texts and twenty-two volumes of teachings. He stated that these teachings were especially profound and appropriate for these degenerate times. Following this fresh and undiluted path, thirteen of his disciples attained rainbow body in that very lifetime and a thousand others attained the level of rigdzin, or awareness holder.

Before passing away, Dudjom Lingpa prophesized the site of his own rebirth, in a province of southeastern Tibet called Pema Kod. This incarnation was His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987). Although he had no formal education, he became one of the greatest and most famous scholars in Tibet. He restored many old texts and terma and revealed many treasures of his own: profound teachings and sadhanas presenting a complete and perfect path for Vajrayana practice.

The Four Principle Schools in Tibetan Buddhism

1. Nyingma (ancient) School
2. Sakya (Scholastic) School
3. Kagyu (Oral Tradition) School
4. Gelug (Tradition of Virtue) School

1. Nyingma (ancient) School

Nyingma-pa Tracing its origin to the Indian adept, Guru Padma-sambhava, who came to Tibet in 817 C.E. at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen (742-797) in order to subdue the evil forces then impeding the spread of Buddhism. This lineage of Buddhism is uniquely Tibetan in that many aspects of the traditional Bon religion are mixed together with more properly Buddhist beliefs and practices to form a unique expression of Buddhist piety. This lineage emphasizes the move towards more advance stages of enlightenment through "preliminary practice" that comprises the beliefs and practices of Buddhism before the advent of Tantra, and through the "higher practices," which involve the attainment of enlightenment through the chanting of magical spells, special hand gestures and mystical diagrams.

It remained the only form of Buddhism in Tibet for nearly two hundred years. Two centuries later, Sarma-pa divided into the Sakya-pa and the Kagyu-pa. Three hundred years later, one of Tibet's revered lamas, Tsong-kha-pa, founded the reforming Gelug-pa.

2. Sakya (Scholastic) School

Sakya-pa The lineage has descended intact up to the present time from Khon Knchok Gyelpo(1034-1102), founder of the Sakya tradition. From the doctrinal point of view the tradition traces its origins to the Indian Yogin Virupa through Gayadhara. His disciple Drogmi Shakya Yeshe (992-1074) travelled to India where he received teachings on the Kalachakra, the Path and its Fruit, and others from many Indian masters and returned to Tibet. Later, Khon Knchok Gyelpo, one of his main disciples, built a monastery in the Tsang province of central Tibet and named it Sakya, or Grey Earth monastery. So the school took its name, Sakya, from the location of the monastery. Succession to the position of head of the Sakya tradition has been hereditary since the time of Khon Knchok Gyelpo. The present incumbent is the 4lst occupant of the Sakya Throne. The central teaching and practice of the Sakya-pa, called Lam-dre (Lam-bras), the Path and Its Fruit, ultimately leads a practitioner to the state of Hevajra. The Path and Its Fruit is a synthesis of the entire paths and fruits of both the exoteric and esoteric classes of teachings.

3. Kagyu (Oral Tradition) School

Kagyu-pa The lineages of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism derive primarily from two sources: Marpa Chkyi Lodro (1012-1099) and Khyungpo Nyaljor (978-1079). The Tibetan, Marpa, journeyed to India in the mid-eleventh century and received the lineage of tantric teachings called the Four Commissioned Lineages - concerning the Illusory Body and Consciousness Transference, Dreams, Clear Light, and Inner Heat directly from Naropa (1016-1100) one of the eighty-four siddhas, or great adepts, who had been given them by his teacher Tilopa (988-1069). Mahamudra, the unique feature of Kagyu tradition, can be explained according to interpretations of sutra and tantra. Both aspects of the teachings are aimed at direct understanding of the real nature of the mind. The approach to Mahamudra, which differs slightly within each Kagyu school, generally follows through the stages of foundation, path and fruit. Tantric practices unique to Kagyu tradition are the Six Yogas of Naropa, Chakrasambhava and Mahakala. In the context of tantric practice, the application of Mahamudra becomes much more profound and sophisticated. The Karma Kagyu was founded by the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193). This tradition has remained strong and successful due in large part to the presence of an unbroken line of reincarnations of the founder, the successive Karmapas.

4. Gelug (Tradition of Virtue) School

Gelug-pa Founded by Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419) as a reform movement within Tibetan Buddhism, followers acclaimed the third teacher as an incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, thus inaugurating the line of the Dalai Lama, the fourteenth and most recent of whom was born in 1935. The Gelug (Tradition of Virtue, sometimes known as the 'Yellow Hat') School came into being in the early fifteenth century as a result of the extraordinary insights of Tsong-kha-pa, who commenced his studies at the age of three. After spending some twenty years studying with Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Kadam (Oral Instruction) teachers, he convened a great council to review monastic discipline, and this provoked a new wave of monastic renewal that affected all of Tibet.

Emphasis in this lineage is on a strict monastic discipline and on the conviction that the bodhisattva, a Buddha who has foregone final nirvana out of compassion for all sentient beings, is continually present. This tradition remains dynamic even after coming into exile.

Towards the end of Tsong-kha-pa life his disciples founded the three great Gelugpa monastic universities of Ganden, Drepung and Sera near Lhasa. The institutions and lineages of both the Panchen Lamas and the Dalai Lamas developed within the Gelug school. The major Gelug monasteries, Sera, Drepung, Ganden, and Tashi Lhunpo monasteries and Gyumey Tantric College have been re-established in various Tibetan settlements in Karnataka, and Gyut Tantric College has been re-established in Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh, all in India.


Tibetan Tantra ( also known as the Vajrayana ) incorporates the major aspects of both the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist teachings. It is basically an esoteric extension on these themes. Theravada and Mahayana are two schools of Buddhist practice that have basically similar goals and techniques but somewhat differing philosophies. For instance, Theravadin Buddhism ( known for its Vipassana meditation ) is a Theravada teaching and Zen Buddhism is a Mahayana teaching. Tantra itself has various schools which can be grouped by the relative emphasis they place on working with exoteric and esoteric practices.


This is also a very advanced teaching whose end result is the same as for the tantric path. Its techniques and emphasis are a bit different. Primarily, Dzogchen underscores direct perception of the fundamental nature of reality. So instead of working to create higher energy bodies such as the astral body, it seeks to ground awareness directly back into the Truth Body. And as mentioned above, this Body reaches the limits of human experience and expression so that its subjective experience is one of all-encompassing emptiness. That is, there is nothing more to be said about this level with the common tools of human experience--words and emotions. The main practice is similar to Zen meditation and consists of holding a constant perceptual openness to all experience. For such practice to lead to more subtle insight, however, a Dzogchen practitioner needs to receive empowerments ( transmission of spiritual energy ) from a qualified teacher. These act somewhat as a self-correcting guidance system to help a meditator to gradually open to the deeper dimensions of reality. Some Dzogchen meditations are similar to tantric visualisation and energetic practices. The basic prerequisites for Dzogchen are similar to Tantra.