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Introduction to Vajrayana

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Introduction to Vajrayana

Key Words

Tantra A Sanskrit word. Tan means ‘loom’ (the device that creates pattern when one is weaving). Here, the ‘loom’ refers to our store consciousness, which creates the world “pattern” that we perceive around us.

Mantra Mystic formulas used as a method to guard the mind.

Guru One’s special teacher whom one received the tantric teachings.

Dharmapala Dharma protectors.

Samaya vows Special commitments observed by a tantric disciple.

Sadhana Complete text which includes prayers and meditation for a tantra practitioner.

Abisheka Empowerment to practice Saddhana.

Mandala A representation of an Enlightened being or Cosmo.

Vajra A ritual object which symbolizes indestructibility or transformation of ‘ordinary’ mind into Enlightened state.

Lama A realized practitioner (monk or layman) who is qualified to give teachings and empowerment.

Rinpoche A title reserved for very realized lama, usually a reincarnate practitioner who choose to remain in the Samsaric world to help beings rather than going to the Buddha’s pureland.

A. Brief History

Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita introduced Buddhism from India into Tibet in the 8th century, at the request of the Tibetan king Songsten Gampo. Prior to Buddhism, the local folk religion is known as Bon.

Padmasambhava - A great Tantric master who subdue the local spirit to enable the successful installation of Buddhism in Tibet.

Shantarakshita - A great scholar who introduced the Buddha Dharma to Tibet.

B. Four Major Traditions

    Nyingmapa - the ancient tradition, originated with Padmasambhava.
    Kagyupa - from the Indian Mahasiddha Naropa, stress is on meditational approach.
    Sakyapa - from the Indian Mahasiddha Biwarpa, stress is on both studies and meditation.
    Gelugpa - founded by the learned lama Tsongkapa. Stress is on studies and monastic codes.

C. Objects of Refuge

    Like all other Buddhist traditions,
    Tibetan Buddhism also takes refuge in the Triple Gem,
    namely the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
    Vajrayana also stresses the importance of Guru.
    The disciple is supposed to look upon his/her Guru as if the Guru is the Buddha himself.
    Special practice known as Guru yoga is done
    to ensure that the disciple always bear his Guru in mind.

    Therefore, one’s Guru must be a person who is very respected by oneself.
    Recalling one’s Guru is beneficial
    because it makes us bear the Guru’s instruction in mind.

    In Vajrayana, one also sees the various form wrathful deities.
    Certain deities are actually the expression of the Buddha’s powerful activities,
    just as the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is supposed to represent the Buddha’s compassion.
    However, some deities are actually local spirits or demons
    who were subdued by great Tantric masters and
    who then pledges their services to Buddhism.
    They then become Dharma protectors known as Dharmapala.

D. Vajrayana Teachings

The stress is on Bodhicitta
 - the wish to gain Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Complete sets of teachings are written by great practitioners
to allow a Tantric student to progress steadily towards ultimate Enlightenment.
For example Lamdre teaching of the Sakyapa order.

E. Types of Percepts

Pratimoksha – example 5 precepts
Bodhisattva vows
Samaya vows

F. Types of Tantra

    Kriya – suited to less intelligent student. Emphasize on external form such as cleanliness, fasting, ritual etc.
    Charya – suited to middle intelligent student. Emphasize on both outer and inner peace.
    Yoga – suited to intelligent student. Stress on internal meditation.
    Annutara – for superior student who can turn any circumstances into the path of practice.

G. Types of Meditation

Samantha – develop concentration Vipashyana – develop insight

H. AbhishekaEmpowerment to practice

A special ritual where a tantric disciple is introduced to a particular meditation deities and given the instruction on how to meditate as well as chant the Mantra.

The general approach to Tantra is to gain a solid foundation in the Buddha Dharma, starting from the Four Noble Truths etc. This is important because otherwise a student can be easily distracted by the various aspects of Tantra and develop a wrong motivation towards the practice of Buddha Dharma.