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.
Tantra (Sanskrit: तन्त्र "weave" denoting continuity), tantricism or tantrism is any of several esoteric traditions rooted in the religions of India. It exists in Hindu, Bönpo, Buddhist, and Jain forms. Tantra in its various forms has existed in South Asia, China, Japan, Tibet, Korea, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia and Mongolia. David Gordon White, while cautioning against attempting a rigorous definition of tantra, offers the following working definition:
- Tantra is that Asian body of beliefs and practices which, working from the principle that the universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the Godhead that creates and maintains that universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways.
In Tibetan Buddhist and Indian Hindu/Buddhist traditions, Shambhala (also spelled Shambala or Shamballa; Tibetan: བདེ་འབྱུང་; Wylie: bde 'byung, pron. de-jung; Chinese: 香巴拉; pinyin: xiāngbālā) is a kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia. It is mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalachakra Tantra and the ancient texts of the Zhang Zhung culture which predated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet. The Bön scriptures speak of a closely related land called Olmolungring.
Hindu texts such as Vishnu Purana mention Shambhala as the birth place of Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu who will usher in a new Golden Age (Satya Yuga).
Whatever its historical basis, Shambhala gradually came to be seen as a Buddhist Pure Land, a fabulous kingdom whose reality is visionary or spiritual as much as physical or geographic. It was in this form that the Shambhala myth reached the West, where it influenced non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist spiritual seekers — and, to some extent, popular culture in general.
Kūkai (空海) or also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師), 774–835 CE was a Japanese monk, scholar, poet, and artist, founder of the Shingon or "True Word" school of Buddhism.
Kūkai is famous as a calligrapher (see Shodo), engineer, and is said to have invented kana, the syllabary in which, in combination with Chinese characters (Kanji) the Japanese language is written (although this claim has not been proven).
His religious writing, some fifty works, expound the esoteric Shingon doctrine, of which the major ones have been translated into English by Yoshito Hakeda (see references below). Kūkai is also said to have written the iroha, one of the most famous poems in Japanese, which uses every phonetic kana syllable.
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.