Introduction to Vajrayana
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.
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.
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
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
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.