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.
Shingon Buddhism (真言宗 Shingon-shū) is one of the major schools of Japanese Buddhism and one of the few surviving Esoteric Buddhist lineages that started in the 3rd to 4th century AD and originally spread from India to China through traveling monks such as Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra.
The esoteric teachings would later flourish in Japan under the auspices of a Buddhist monk named Kūkai (空海), who traveled to Tang Dynasty China to acquire and request transmission of the esoteric teachings. For that reason, it is often called Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, or Orthodox Esoteric Buddhism.
The word "Shingon" is the Japanese reading of the Kanji for the Chinese word Zhēnyán (真言), literally meaning "True Words", which in turn is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word mantra (मन्त्र).
The deity Kalachakra with consort Visvamata.
Kālachakra (Sanskrit: कालचक्र, IAST: Kālacakra; Telugu: కాలచక్ర Kannada: ಕಾಲಚಕ್ರ; Tibetan: དུས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ།, Wylie: dus-kyi 'khor-lo; Mongolian: Цогт Цагийн Хүрдэн Tsogt Tsagiin Hurden; Chinese: 時輪) is a Sanskrit term used in Vajrayana that literally means "time-wheel" or "time-cycles". The spelling Kālacakra is also used.
Kālachakra refers both to a tantric deity (yidam) and to the philosophies and meditation practices contained within the Kālachakra Tantra and its many commentaries. The Kālachakra Tantra is more properly called the Kālachakra Laghutantra, and is said to be an abridged form of an original text, the Kālachakra Mūlatantra which is no longer extant. Some Buddhist masters assert that Kālachakra is the most advanced form of Vajrayana practice; it certainly is one of the most complex systems within Tantric Buddhism.
The Kālachakra tradition revolves around the concept of time (kāla) and cycles (chakra): from the cycles of the planets, to the cycles of human breathing, it teaches the practice of working with the most subtle energies within one's body on the path to enlightenment.
The Kālachakra deity represents a Buddha and thus omniscience. Since Kālachakra is time and everything is under the influence of time, Kālachakra knows all. Whereas Kālachakri or Kālichakra, his spiritual consort and complement, is aware of everything that is timeless, untimebound or out of the realm of time. In yab-yum, they are temporality and atemporality conjoined. Similarly, the wheel is without beginning or end.
The Kālachakra deity resides in the center of the mandala in his palace consisting of four mandalas, one within the other: the mandalas of body, speech, and mind, and in the very center, wisdom and great bliss. The Kālachakra sand mandala is dedicated to both individual and world peace and physical balance. The Dalai Lama explains: “It is a way of planting a seed, and the seed will have karmic effect. One doesn’t need to be present at the Kālachakra ceremony in order to receive its benefits.”
Tsongkhapa (Tibetan: ཙོང་ཁ་པ་, Wylie: Tsong-kha-pa) (1357 – 1419), 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)
Green Tara, painting by Prithvi Man Chitrakari, 1947.
Tara (Sanskrit: तारा, tārā; Tib. སྒྲོལ་མ, Drolma) or Ārya Tārā, also known as Jetsun Dolma (Tibetan language:rje btsun sgrol ma) in Tibetan Buddhism, is a deity in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. She is known as the "mother of liberation", and represents the virtues of success in work and achievements. In Japan she is known as Tara Bosatsu (多羅菩薩), and little-known as Duōluó Púsà (多罗菩萨) in Chinese Buddhism.
Tara is a tantric meditation deity whose practice is used by practitioners of the Tibetan branches of Vajrayana Buddhism to develop certain inner qualities and understand outer, inner and secret teachings about compassion and emptiness. Tara is actually the generic name for a set of Buddhas or bodhisattvas of similar aspect. These may more properly be understood as different aspects of the same quality, as bodhisattvas are often considered metaphoric for Buddhist virtues.
The most widely known forms of Tārā are:
- Green Tārā, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity
- White Tārā, also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity; also known as The Wish-fulfilling Wheel, or Cintachakra
- Red Tārā, of fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things
- Black Tārā, associated with power
- Yellow Tārā, associated with wealth and prosperity
- Blue Tārā, associated with transmutation of anger
- Cittamani Tārā, a form of Tārā widely practiced at the level of Highest Yoga Tantra in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, portrayed as green and often conflated with Green Tārā
- Khadiravani Tārā (Tārā of the acacia forest), who appeared to Nagarjuna in the Khadiravani forest of South India and who is sometimes referred to as the "Twenty-second Tārā"
There is also recognition in some schools of Buddhism of twenty-one Tārās. A practice text entitled In Praise of the Twenty-one Tārās, is recited during the morning in all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism.
The main Tārā mantra is the same for Buddhists and Hindus alike: oṃ tāre tuttāre ture svāhā. It is pronounced by Tibetans and Buddhists who follow the Tibetan traditions as oṃ tāre tu tāre ture soha.