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Vajrayāna (Sanskrit: वज्रयान), also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Tantrayāna, or Mantrayāna, is a complex and multifaceted system of Buddhist thought and practice. It was founded in Tibet by Indian Mahāsiddhas and has evolved over several centuries. According to Vajrayāna scriptures, the term Vajrayāna refers to one of three vehicles or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the Śrāvakayāna (also known as the Hīnayāna) and Mahāyāna. Vajrayāna subscribes to Buddhist tantric literature.

Traditional schools


Nyingma literally means "ancient," and it is the oldest tradition of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It began after Tibet emperor Trisong Detsen invited Indian master Padmasambhava to Tibet around 760 to introduce Buddhism to the "Land of Snows." He ordered the translation of all Buddhist texts into Tibetan. It is one of the Red Hat sects along with the Sakya and Kagyu.


The Kagyu, Kagyü, or Kagyud school, also known as the "Oral Lineage" or Whispered Transmission school is along with the Sakya and Gelug schools classified as one of the Sarma or "New Transmission" schools of Vajrayāna founded during the second diffusion of Buddhism into Tibet (diffusing the so-called "New Tantras"). It is a Red Hat sect along with the Nyingma and Sakya.

Kagyu begins in Tibet with Marpa Lotsawa (1012–1097) who trained as a translator and traveled three times to India and four times to Nepal in search of religious teachings. His principal gurus were Nāropa and Maitrīpāda, from whom he received the lineages of Mahāmudrā and Tantric teachings.


The Sakya tradition developed during the second period of translation of Buddhist scripture from Sanskrit into Tibetan in the late 11th century. It was founded by Drogmi, a famous scholar and translator who had studied at the Vikramashila directly under Naropa, Ratnākaraśānti, Vagishvakirti and other great panditas from India for twelve years. The first monastery of this tradition and the seat of the Sakya School was built in 1073.


The Gelug or Gelug-pa (Tibetan dge-lugs-pa), also known as the Yellow Hat sect, is a school of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), a philosopher and Tibetan religious leader. The philosophy followed by this school is known as Prasaṅgika Madhyamika. The Dalai Lamas belong to this school. In 1577 Sonam Gyatso, who was considered to be the third incarnation of Gyalwa Gendün Drup, formed an alliance with the then most powerful Mongol leader, Altan Khan. As a result, Sonam Gyatso was designated as the 3rd Dalai Lama. This brought the Gelugpas powerful patrons who were to propel them to pre-eminence in Tibet.


The Jonang is one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its origins in Tibet can be traced to early 12th century master Yumo Mikyo Dorje, but became much wider known with the help of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, a monk originally trained in the Sakya school. The Jonang school was widely thought to have become extinct in the late 17th century at the hands of the 5th Dalai Lama, who forcibly annexed the Jonang monasteries to his Gelug school, declaring them heretical. Recently, however, it was discovered that some remote Jonang monasteries escaped this fate and have continued practicing uninterrupted to this day.

See also

Additional resources