Portal:Vajrayana Buddhism

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Vajrayana Buddhism Portal

What is Vajrayana?

Vajrayāna, Mantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism are the various Buddhist traditions of Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in medieval India and spread to Tibet, Bhutan, and East Asia. In Tibet, Buddhist Tantra is termed Vajrayāna, while in China it is generally known as Tángmì (唐密, "Chinese Tantrayāna") or Mìzōng (密宗, "church of Tantrayāna"), in Pali it is known as Pyitsayãna (ပစ္စယာန) , and in Japan it is known as Mikkyō(密教, "secret teachings").

Vajrayāna is usually translated as Diamond Vehicle or Thunderbolt Vehicle, referring to the Vajra, a mythical weapon which is also used as a ritual implement.

Founded by medieval Indian Mahāsiddhas, Vajrayāna subscribes to the literature known as the Buddhist Tantras. It includes practices that make use of mantras, dharanis, mudras, mandalas and the visualization of deities and Buddhas. 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.

Selected article

Vajradhara, the tantric form of Shakyamuni, teacher of the tantra.
Mahasiddha (Sanskrit: mahāsiddha "great adept; Tibetan: གྲུབ་ཐོབ་ཆེན་པོWylie: grub thob chen po, THL: druptop chenpo) is a term for someone who embodies and cultivates the "siddhi of perfection". They are a certain type of yogin/yogini recognized in Vajrayana Buddhism. Mahasiddhas were tantra practitioners or tantrikas who had sufficient empowerments and teachings to act as a guru or tantric master. A siddha is an individual who, through the practice of sādhanā, attains the realization of siddhis, psychic and spiritual abilities and powers. Their historical influence throughout the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayas was vast and they reached mythic proportions as codified in their songs of realization and hagiographies, or namtars, many of which have been preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The Mahasiddhas are the founders of Vajrayana traditions and lineages such as Dzogchen and Mahamudra.


Selected concept

Pages 35 and 67 of the Bardo Thodol.

The Tibetan word bardo means literally "intermediate state"—also translated as "transitional state" or "in-between state" or "liminal state". In Sanskrit the concept has the name antarabhāva. It is a concept which arose soon after the Buddha's passing, with a number of earlier Buddhist groups accepting the existence of such an intermediate state, while other schools rejected it.

Used loosely, the term "bardo" refers to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one's next birth, when one's consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one's previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality, while for others it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth.

The term bardo can also be used metaphorically to describe times when our usual way of life becomes suspended, as, for example, during a period of illness or during a meditation retreat. Such times can prove fruitful for spiritual progress because external constraints diminish. However, they can also present challenges because our less skillful impulses may come to the foreground, just as in the sidpa bardo.

Selected biography

Tsongkhapa, 15th-century painting at the Rubin Museum of Art.

Tsongkhapa (Tibetan: ཙོང་ཁ་པ་Wylie: Tsong-kha-pa) (13571419), whose name means "The Man from Onion Valley", was a famous teacher of Tibetan Buddhism whose activities led later to the formation of the Geluk (Dge-lugs) school. He is also known by his ordained name Lobsang Drakpa (Blo-bzang Grags-pa) or simply as "Je Rinpoche" (Rje Rin-po-che).

Tsongkhapa heard Buddha's Teachings from masters of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and received lineages transmitted in the major schools.

His main source of inspiration was the Kadampa (Bka'-gdams-pa) tradition, the legacy of Atiśa. Based on Tsongkhapa's teaching, the two distinguishing characteristics of the Gelug tradition are:

  • the union of sutra and tantra, and
  • the emphasis on vinaya (the moral code of discipline)

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Traditions

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Selected deity

Six-armed Mahakala.

Mahākāla is a Dharmapala ("protector of dharma") in Vajrayana Buddhism, and a deity in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, particularly in the Vajrayana school. He is known as Daheitian (大黑天) in Chinese and Daikokuten (大黒天) in Japanese. Mahākāla belongs to the fourth hierarchy of deities.

Mahākāla is a Sanskrit bahuvrihi of mahā (महत्; "great") and kāla (काल; "time/death"), which means Shiva is beyond the timeline ( past-bhoot kāla, present-vartmāna kāla and future- bhavishya kāla) or death. The literal Tibetan translation is "Nagpo Chenpo" (Tibetan: ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ།) though, when referring to this deity, Tibetans usually use the word "Goinbo" (མགོན་པོ།—the translation of the Sanskrit word Nāth meaning "lord" or "protector") instead.

Mahākāla is relied upon in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. However, he is depicted in a number of variations, each with distinctly different qualities and aspects. He is also regarded as the emanation of different beings in different cases, namely Avalokiteshvara (Tib: spyan ras gzigs) or Chakrasamvara (Tib: Korlo Demchog, Wylie: ’khor lo bde mchog).

Mahākāla is typically black in color. Just as all colors are absorbed and dissolved into black, all names and forms are said to melt into those of Mahakala, symbolizing his all-embracing, comprehensive nature. Black can also represent the total absence of color, and again in this case it signifies the nature of Mahakala as ultimate or absolute reality. This principle is known in Sanskrit as "nirguna", beyond all quality and form, and it is typified by both interpretations.

Mahākāla is almost always depicted with a crown of five skulls, which represent the transmutation of the five kleshas (negative afflictions) into the five wisdoms.

The most notable variation in Mahākāla's manifestations and depictions is in the number of arms, but other details can vary as well. For instance, in some cases there are Mahakalas in white, with multiple heads, without genitals, standing on varying numbers of various things, holding various implements, with alternative adornments, and so on.

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