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Vajrayana Radiations

When seeking to distinguish Tibetan Buddhism, images of brightly colored complex tapestries, prayer flags and the Dalai Lama may be conjured by the mind. Martin Scorseses cinematographic masterpiece Kundun gives us a peak into various Tibetan Buddhist cultural elements and rituals the meditative making of temporal sand mandalas (concentric meditation diagrams), symbols such as the hand-bell (ghanti) and a strange sort of scepter (vajra: Sanskrit, dorje: Tibetan), the recitation of

Sntideva's Bodhisattva Vow, and droning chants repeating sacred mantras (words or
phrases of power). But what philosophically distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism from other forms of Buddhism? First, we must acknowledge that even within Tibetan tradition, there are a variety of schools with different approaches. Of the original eight different Buddhist schools of Tibet, currently only four remain - Nyingma, Kargyu, Sakya and the largest, Gelug.1 Buddhism, at the present time, can be considered to consist of three main forms

Hinayana, (the Lesser Vehicle), Mahayana (the Greater Vehicle), and Vajrayana, (the
Diamond Vehicle). All of the Tibetan schools are considered to be in the Vajrayana tradition. However, Vajrayana is also considered as inclusive and part of the Mahayana tradition. Each can be thought of as nesting eggs, which increase in size and scope but contain the others, hence, Mahayana includes the Hinayana goal of personal salvation

John Bowker, Beliefs That Changed the World: The History and Ideas of the Great Religions (London: Quercus Publishing, 2007), p. 157

(nirvana) from the cycle of worldly rebirth and death (samsara), but increases the magnitude of its aim to prescribing the liberation (nirvana) of all sentient beings through the bodhisattva ideal. Vajrayana includes both of these goals but uses Mantras and the path of Tantra as a skillful means of method or technique.2 Each of the many distinguishing features of the Tibetan traditions of Buddhism arises out of the focus on either Tantra or Mantra, and often the combination of both. Hence, Vajrayana is also referred to as Tantrayana or Mantrayana. It is thought by the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions that the Buddha

Sakyamuni explained his essential teachings in a form which corresponded to the


capacity of his hearers3 and confided deeper aspects of his teachings to his more advanced disciples to be revealed to the reincarnations of his followers when they had advanced sufficiently to understand the higher teachings. The Nyingma school, for example, refers to its disciples as Tertons, or treasure-finders.4 They believe they remain in direct communication with Padmasambhava, often considered a second Buddha or Enlightened One. Padmasambhava is better known as Guru Rinpoche ("Precious Master") in Tibetan traditions. Among the treasured texts revealed through pure visions of Guru Rinpoche is The Tibetan Book of the Dead.5 From the Vajrayana perspective, their approach has direct lineage from the

Sakyamuni Buddha:
2

Khandro Net, Tibetan Buddhism: Lesser, Greater, and Tantric Ways to Enlightenment, http://www.khandro.net/buddhism_paths.htm. Accessed December 17, 2009 3 th Govinda, Lama Anagarika, Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism, 4 ed. (Great Britain: Samuel Weiser, 1972), p. 36 4 John Bowker, Beliefs That Changed the World: The History and Ideas of the Great Religions (London: Quercus Publishing, 2007), p. 157 5 Ibid.

After his Awakening to full consciousness -- usually referred to as his Enlightenment -- he is said to have given three sermons or "Turnings of the Dharma Wheel" which are understood not only as stages on a path but as different approaches. The first was at the Deer Park when he taught moderation and morality, the second at Vulture's Peak when he taught concerning wisdom, the third Turning concerned meditation and clarity. He is said to have taught a fourth approach assuming the form of Vajradhara in order to do so. That topic and its method is the Vajrayana.6 The first three teachings would be Hinayana as expressed in the Pali Canon, Sutrayana Mahayana, as expressed by the teachings of sunyata (emptiness) in the Prajnaparamita sutras, and Tantrayana Mahayana, as expressed in the teachings of tathagatha-garbha, or Buddha-nature. The fourth, is the transmitted treasure from the Vajradhara, also called the dharmakaya, or the unmanifested truth-body eternal aspect of Buddhanature present in all things.7

Mantras appear to be the foundation of this regions Buddhism. This foundation


was heavily influenced by the prior ancient native religion, Bon (pron. Beun), which can be thought of as a type of shamanistic animism. The original Bon peoples were

resistant to Buddhism, and as Buddhist practices were introduced to Tibet, many of the elements of the earlier religion were incorporated into Indian Mahayana practices.8 Much like the earlier Aryan culture of the Vedas, the Bon Tibetans relied heavily on the power of words and language. The Mahayana Buddhist notion of sunyata fit nicely with

Khandro Net, Tibetan Buddhism: Lesser, Greater, and Tantric Ways to Enlightenment, Accessed December 17, 2009 http://www.khandro.net/buddhism_paths.htm. 7 Khandro Net, Tibetan Buddhism History, Accessed December 17, 2009. http://www.khandro.net/buddhism_paths_tibetan.htm 8 John Bowker, Beliefs That Changed the World: The History and Ideas of the Great Religions (London: Quercus Publishing, 2007), p. 156

these ideas of words of power in a way beautifully described by a modern master of sound interviewed by Alexandra David-Neel in her book Tibetan Journey: ..beings and things are aggregates of atoms that dance, and by their movements produce sounds. When the rhythm of the dance changes, the sound it produces also changesEach atom perpetually sings its song, and the sound creates each moment dense or subtle forms. Just as there exist creative sounds, there exist destructive sounds. He who is able to produce both, can, at will, create or destroy.9 Legends of Tibetan yogis with unimaginable powers, or siddhis, over the physical realm are prominent in this cultures lore. These powers are thought to occur with proficiency in the knowledge of creative sound but the sabda, or the sound of the mantra is a spiritual sound, though it may be accompanied by a physical sound.10 Mantras are thought to have power when they are produced and heard by the heart, directing the power of the mental associations as crystallized vibrations. The Dalai Lama, of the Geluk tradition, concludes his analysis of the famous mantra Om Mani Padme Hum by stating: .. all beings naturally have the Buddha nature in their own continuum. We have within us the seed of purity, the essence of a One Gone Thus (Tathagatagarbha), that is to be transformed and fully developed into Buddhahood.11 Much like Zen/Chan Buddhism, the Vajrayana tradition emphasizes that the enlightened mind lies like a vajra, or diamond hidden in the cluster of human delusion: it is simply there waiting to be found.12 Vajrayana is the Diamond Vehicle
9 th

As quoted in: Govinda, Lama Anagarika, Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism, 4 ed. (Great Britain: Samuel Weiser, 1972), p. 26 10 th Govinda, Lama Anagarika, Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism, 4 ed. (Great Britain: Samuel Weiser, 1972), p. 27
11
12

His Holiness The Dalai Lama of Tibet, Lecture. (Kalmuck Mongolian Buddhist Center, New Jersey) Date Unknown

John Bowker, Beliefs That Changed the World: The History and Ideas of the Great Religions (London: Quercus Publishing, 2007), p. 158

which, like a thunderbolt, is meant to be a path of sudden, immediate access to the enlightened mind which is thought to already exist within. The Vajrachchedika, or Diamond-Cutter Sutra is placed in high emphasis in both Vajrayana and Zen traditions, and while Vajrayana and Zen Buddhism contain schools which seek gradual enlightenment, it is this notion of the already inherent pure perfect Buddha-mind just awaiting discovery that gives some Vajrayana and Zen schools the ideal of direct, spontaneous enlightenment as a primary goal.

Though similar in goal and notions of inherent Buddha-nature, Vajrayana and

Zen take totally opposite approaches. Zen is practical and emphasizes minimalism and
simplicity. Vajrayana is fully decked out in colorful symbols, meant to awaken the truthbody (Vajradhara/Dharmakaya) into full awareness. Zen has a nature of self-reliance which de-emphasizes god-forms and scriptures. Vajrayana has myriads of celestial Buddha-forms, gods, goddesses, dakinis and demons as stations of internal awareness.

Zen emphasizes naturalness and ridding oneself of thought construction. Vajrayana is


concerned with a spiritual alchemy, finding the naturalness as something to be refined from the gross to the subtle, and is filled with complex and elaborate representations of various realms. Zen uses koan to emphasize the inadequacy of language, Vajrayana uses mantra to emphasize the nature of interconnectedness of selves without individuality. Conceivably, these divergent traditions can be thought of as two sides of the same coin, with opposing philosophies of language.

Perhaps the essential distinguishing feature of Vajrayana is this belief in the Buddha-nature inherent in all things, coupled with an intense focus on the Bodhisattva ideal to forego complete liberation from samsara in order to assist and attain liberation for all sentient beings from suffering (dukkha). This leads to an attitude of joyful participation in the pleasures and sorrows of the world of samsara, based on the belief that the ultimate goal is to achieve a sudden enlightenment and liberation from suffering for all sentient beings. This is the original Mahayana Bodhisattva ideal, coupled with the powerful, diamond-cutter mantric resonance of the Vajra the jewel (Mani ) of enlightened vajradhara consciousness.

Tantra can be thought of as the acceptance that samsara, and our physical
bodies, function as vehicles to this goal, and should be refined - not so much through asceticism as through enlightened participation in life. The Dharmakaya/Vajradhara is inherent and accessible. It can shine through, or enlighten our physical bodies and the sensory perceptions, and through sensory perception (vision, sound, touch, taste, smell) we can also send signals and symbols by the most essentially human means which awaken each other to the Buddha-nature within us all. This is the heart of

Vajrayana, the padme lotus which grows from muddy roots into a beautiful blooming
flower on Padmasambhavas lake of bliss. Wisdom and Compassion are two inseparable
currents, balanced in Unity in the Vajradhara. Vajrayana cannot philosophically accept that the end of nirvana is still stuck in belief that there are any one of us individual in identity to achieve nirvana. Its much bigger than that Atman becoming Brahman. Isnt that what Buddhism is all about? Isnt that why we are still here, smiling, laughing, crying, loving and trying not to hate?