Portal:Vajrayana Buddhism

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Vajrayana Buddhism Portal

What is Vajrayana?

A digug dorje.

Vajrayāna ( Bengali: বজ্রযান; Devanagari: वज्रयान; Sinhala: වජ්‍රායන; Malayalam: വജ്രയാന; Oriya: ବଜ୍ରଯାନ; Tibetan: རྡོ་རྗེ་ཐེག་པ་, rdo rje theg pa; Mongolian: Очирт хөлгөн, Ochirt Hölgön; Chinese: 密宗, mì zōng), also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantrayāna, Mantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Esoteric Buddhism and the Diamond Way or Thunderbolt Way, is a complex and multifaceted system of Buddhist thought and practice which evolved over several centuries.

According to Vajrayāna scriptures "Vajrayāna" refers to one of three vehicles or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the Hinayāna and Mahayana. Note that Hinayāna (or Nikaya) is not to be confused with Theravada (a practice lineage); although is sometimes equated to it. Founded by the Indian Mahāsiddhas, Vajrayāna subscribes to Buddhist tantric literature.

Although the first tantric Buddhist texts appeared in India in the 3rd century and continued to appear until the 12th century, scholars such as Hirakawa Akira assert that the Vajrayāna probably came into existence in the 6th or 7th century, while the term Vajrayāna itself first appeared in the 8th century.

Selected article

Thangka showing a mountain deity carrying a sword.

Buddhism in Mongolia derives much of its recent characteristics from Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelug and Kagyu lineages. Traditionally, Mongols worshiped Tenger (the "eternal blue sky") and their ancestors, and they followed ancient northern Asian practices of shamanism, in which human intermediaries went into trance and spoke to and for some of the numberless infinities of spirits responsible for human luck or misfortune.

Although the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty in the 14th and 15th century had already converted to Tibetan Buddhism, the Mongols returned to their old shamanic ways after the collapse of their empire. In 1578 Altan Khan, a Mongol military leader with ambitions to unite the Mongols and to emulate the career of Chinggis, invited the head of the rising Gelug lineage of Tibetan Buddhism to a summit. They formed an alliance that gave Altan Khan legitimacy and religious sanction for his imperial pretensions and that provided the Buddhist school with protection and patronage.

Altan Khan of Mongolia gave the Tibetan leader the title of Dalai Lama (Ocean Lama), which his successors still hold. Altan Khan died soon after, but in the next century the Yellow Sect (Gelug) spread throughout Mongolia, aided in part by the efforts of contending Mongol aristocrats to win religious sanction and mass support for their ultimately unsuccessful efforts to unite all Mongols in a single state.

Monasteries (Mongolian: datsan) were built across Mongolia, often sited at the juncture of trade and migration routes or at summer pastures, where large numbers of herders would congregate for shamanistic rituals and sacrifices. Buddhist monks carried out a protracted struggle with the indigenous shamans and succeeded, to some extent, in taking over their functions and fees as healers and diviners, and in pushing the shamans to the fringes of Mongolian culture and religion.

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

Akong Rinpoche.

Chöje Akong Tulku Rinpoche (25 December 1939 – 8 October 2013) was a tulku in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and a founder of the Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland.

He was born in 1939, near Riwoq, in Kham, Eastern Tibet. At the age of two he was discovered by the search party seeking the reincarnation of the previous (1st) Akong, Abbot of Dolma Lhakang monastery near Chamdo. The search party was following instructions given by the 16th Karmapa.

At four he was taken to Dolma Lhakang to receive an education that included religion and traditional Tibetan medicine. When only a teenager he travelled, performing religious ceremonies and treating the ill. Later he went to the great monastic university of Sechen where he received transmission of the Kagyu lineage from Sechen Kongtrul Rinpoche, one of two tulkus of the first Jamgon Kongtrul. He also received instruction from the 16th Karmapa, who also certified him as a teacher of Tibetan medicine.

In 1959, in the aftermath of that year's Tibetan Rebellion, he fled to India at age 20. Of the three hundred in his party only thirteen arrived successfully in India. They were so hungry after running out of food on the journey that they had to boil leather shoes and bags to make soup.

After spending time in refugee camps he was asked to teach at the Young Lamas Home School in Dalhousie. In 1963, a sponsor paid for Akong Rinpoche and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche to go to Oxford to learn English. As only Trungpa had a bursary, Akong worked as a hospital orderly in the Radcliffe Infirmary in order to support himself, Trungpa and Lama Chime Tulku Rinpoche (who had joined them at Oxford).

Categories

Traditions

Selected picture

Group of statues representing Wisdom Kings, protector deities in Vajrayana.

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.