What is Tibetan Buddhism? Characteristics, Practices and Schools

Buddhism, in its more than two thousand years of history, has spread its teachings to various corners of the world, adopting and adapting to the diverse cultures and traditions through which it has spread. One of the most fascinating systems, rich in symbolism and practice, is Tibetan Buddhism, a tradition that has flourished in the high mountains of Tibet and has profoundly influenced the spirituality and daily life of its inhabitants for centuries.

Like a river that has absorbed tributaries from various streams, Tibetan Buddhism integrates teachings from Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism, as well as elements of Bon culture, a religious tradition that predates Buddhism in Tibet. This fusion has resulted in a unique tradition, replete with rituals, meditations, chants, dances and, of course, the essence of Buddhist teaching: the pursuit of enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.

In this article, we will explore the fundamental aspects of this millenary tradition, its distinctive characteristics, its practices and its different schools.

Characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism

Although it shares common teachings with other branches of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism has a number of unique characteristics that distinguish it from other Buddhist traditions.

Vajrayana

El Vajrayana es uno de los componentes clave del budismo tibetano.

Vajrayana, also known as Tantric Buddhism, is one of the three vehicles or “yamas” of Buddhism, along with Theravada and Mahayana. Although all three schools share fundamental teachings and practices, Vajrayana is distinguished by its esoteric techniques and its emphasis on rapid inner transformation. In Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayana has played a central role in the formation and development of Tibetan spirituality and culture.

Although it has its roots in India, it was in Tibet where Vajrayana found fertile ground to flourish and develop. During the 7th and 8th centuries, Buddhism began to be introduced into Tibet from India and other neighboring regions. With the arrival of great masters such as Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, Vajrayana was consolidated.

Vajrayana is characterized by the use of tantric techniques, which are esoteric methods designed to accelerate the process of enlightenment. These techniques include complex visualizations, mantra recitation, meditation practices and rituals.

Despite its unique characteristics, Tantric Buddhism did not develop in isolation. In Tibet, it was harmoniously integrated with Mahayana teachings, such as the bodhisattva ideal and the understanding of emptiness. In addition, it also blended with the ancient indigenous traditions of Tibet, such as Bon, resulting in a rich and unique synthesis.

The relationship between disciple and master is essential. The master is considered to have the ability to directly transmit realizations and blessings through a special connection with the disciple. This transmission is very important for spiritual advancement.

Tulku

The concept of reincarnation is a central idea in many world religions and cultures. But in Tibetan Buddhism, this notion takes on a unique dimension through the “Tulku” system.

The term “Tulku” comes from Tibetan and refers to a consciously recognized reincarnation of a spiritual master or Lama. It is believed that these beings, through their advancement and perfection in previous spiritual practices, have acquired the ability to control their reincarnation process, choosing to be reborn to continue their mission to benefit all sentient beings. Instead of being trapped in the cycle of birth and death (samsara) by involuntary karmic causes, Tulkus take a conscious birth, driven by their compassion and unlimited commitment.

Although the idea of enlightened beings taking human form is ancient and present in many Buddhist traditions, the formal system of recognition and training of Tulkus is particularly distinctive to Tibetan Buddhism. This system began to develop around the 13th century and has endured to the present day.

One of the most globally known Tulkus is the Dalai Lama, who is considered the reincarnation of the Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. Each time the Dalai Lama dies, an exhaustive search is undertaken to identify his next reincarnation. Once found, the child is brought to the monastery to be educated and prepared to assume his or her spiritual and, in some historical periods, political role.

The identification of a Tulku is a complex and ritualized process that may include mystical visions, signs and dream interpretation. Some masters, before passing away, leave clues as to where and when they will be reborn. These clues are interpreted by other lamas and oracles.

Once potential candidates have been identified, they undergo tests, such as recognizing objects that belonged to the deceased Lama. However, beyond these rituals, the decision is based on the spiritual intuition and discernment of the senior lamas in the tradition.

Mythology

Mitología en el budismo tibetano.

Buddhism arrived in Tibet around the 7th-8th century, and with it came teachings, texts and traditions from India. But Tibet already had its own spiritual and mythological tradition that was deeply rooted in the culture of the highland peoples. As Buddhism began to take root in Tibet, it merged with these local traditions to create a unique form of Buddhism, distinct from its relatives in India, China or Southeast Asia.

One cannot speak of mythology in Tibetan Buddhism without mentioning the Bon tradition. Before the arrival of Buddhism, Bon was the predominant religion in Tibet. Although there have been historical tensions between the two traditions, there has also been significant mutual influence. Many of the mythological and ritual elements of Bon were incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, some of the deities and practices of Tibetan Buddhism have clear roots in the Bon tradition.

Mythology is a distinctive feature of Tibetan Buddhism that sets it apart from other forms of Buddhism. It is not just a set of stories. It serves as a pedagogical tool to convey profound and complex teachings in an accessible way. Stories of deities, bodhisattvas and mythical events often contain symbolism and lessons that can help practitioners understand and internalize Buddhist principles.

One of the clearest manifestations of mythology in Tibetan Buddhism is its pantheon of deities. Although the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is always presented as a human being who attained enlightenment, in Tibetan Buddhism, there are a plethora of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, deities and protector beings who have their own mythology.

These deities are not “gods” in the Western sense. Rather, they represent particular aspects of Buddhist teaching or are manifestations of the enlightened mind. For example, Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is particularly revered in Tibet as Chenrezig. The Dalai Lama is believed to be an emanation of Chenrezig.

Protector deities, such as Mahākāla or Palden Lhamo, have fascinating stories and myths associated with them. They are often fierce and ruthless in appearance, but this is interpreted as a sign of their passionate commitment to protecting the Dharma and helping practitioners on their spiritual path.

Art and Symbolism

Beyond being a spiritual and philosophical tradition, Tibetan Buddhism is also a visual spectacle of unparalleled richness that has developed, over the centuries, an aesthetic deeply rooted in its teachings and Tibetan culture. Its monasteries adorned with intricate carvings, tangkas, colossal statues, complex mandalas and colorful rituals are just a sample of its profound artistic expression. Each element, each color and each symbol, is not only a delight to the eyes, but also carries deep meanings and spiritual teachings. This fusion of art and spirituality is one of the most intriguing features.

Thangka

El Thangka es una manifestación artística única del budismo tibetano.

These are intricate paintings done on cloth that often depict Buddhist deities, historical scenes or cosmic diagrams. Thangkas are not only pieces of art, but also objects of devotion and meditation. Through meticulous attention to detail and the use of vibrant colors, they convey deep stories and meanings. When meditating with a thangka, the practitioner can visualize the deity depicted, which helps them internalize the qualities and teachings associated with that figure.

Mandalas

El mandala es fundamental en el budismo tibetano.

In Sanskrit, “mandala” means “circle“. In Tibetan Buddhism, mandalas are geometric diagrams representing the universe, celestial palaces or the enlightened mind. They can be painted, drawn with colored sand or even represented in three dimensions. These serve as meditation tools, helping the practitioner to concentrate and access deeper realities. One of the most famous is the Kalachakra mandala, associated with advanced teachings and rituals.

Statues and Tsatsas

Tsatsa típico del budismo tibetano.

Statues range from small images that can be held in the hand to colossal masterpieces several meters high. They represent Buddhas, bodhisattvas, protectors and other enlightened beings. Tsatsas are small clay relics, often imprinted with images of deities or sacred symbols. Both statues and tsatsas serve as focal points for devotion, offering and meditation.

Musical Instruments and Ritual Sounds

Campana ritual del budismo tibetano.

Music and sound have a special place in Tibetan Buddhism. Instruments such as bells, drums, conch shells and cymbals often accompany rituals and pujas (ceremonies). These sounds are not just melodies; they are vibrations that purify space, summon benevolent beings and drive away unwanted energies. The recitation of mantras, so central to Vajrayana, is another example of how sound is used to transform the mind and the environment.

Prayer Wheels

El Om Mani Padme Hum aparece en todas las facetas de la cultura tibetana.

These are cylinders containing rolls of paper printed with mantras, especially the mantra of Om Mani Padme Hum, associated with Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. By spinning the prayer wheel, it is believed to release the energy of the mantras into the universe, benefiting all beings.

Auspicious Symbols

Dharmachakra o rueda del Dharma es uno de los símbolos más importantes del budismo.

Eight auspicious symbols often appear on Tibetan Buddhist artifacts, textiles and arts. These include: the infinity knot, symbolizing interdependence; the lotus, representing purity; the conch shell, symbolizing the sound of the Dharma, among others. These symbols are reminders of the teachings and qualities of the enlightened mind.

Direct Transmission of the Teachings

Direct transmission of the teachings is a fundamental part of the Tibetan tradition. This transmission does not simply refer to the oral or written communication of the teachings, but to a deeper connection that is established between the teacher and the disciple. It is through this direct, unmediated relationship that the student can fully receive the essence of the teachings and the blessings associated with them.

Tibetan Buddhism is based on a rich tradition of oral transmission, dating back to the time of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. According to tradition, the Buddha did not write down his teachings, but shared them verbally with his disciples. These, in turn, transmitted them to their own disciples, and so on, creating an unbroken chain of transmission. This line of transmission is vital to ensure the authenticity and integrity of the teachings.

There are two main forms of transmission: transmission of words and transmission of meaning. Transmission of words refers to the act of reciting or reading a text, while transmission of meaning involves a deeper understanding and personal realization of the teachings. Both forms of transmission are necessary for the disciple to develop a complete and authentic understanding.

Direct transmission is especially important in the context of the esoteric teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, such as those of Dzogchen and Mahamudra. These teachings are considered so subtle and profound that, without the direct guidance of a qualified teacher, it is almost impossible for the student to understand or practice them correctly. This is why, in these traditions, the importance of finding an authentic teacher and receiving the teachings directly from him or her is emphasized.

This emphasis on direct transmission also reflects the experiential nature of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike some religious traditions that rely on fixed dogmas or creeds, Tibetan Buddhism stresses the importance of personal, direct experience of the teachings. The idea is that, through practice and meditation, the disciple can have direct experiences of the truths of the dharma, rather than simply believing them dogmatically.

The teacher is not seen simply as a transmitter of information, but as a spiritual guide who has the ability to connect the disciple to the deeper truths of the dharma. This relationship is based on mutual trust, respect and devotion. The teacher provides the teachings and blessings, while the disciple commits to practice and follow the teacher’s instructions with sincerity and devotion.

It is important to mention that direct transmission is not an automatic guarantee of realization. The disciple must make a genuine effort to understand, integrate and practice the teachings. Transmission simply opens the door; it is the disciple who must walk the path.

Tibetan Buddhist Practices

From deep meditation to intricate rituals and the use of sacred artifacts, the practices of Tibetan Buddhism mirror the deep interconnection between Tibetan culture and Buddhist teachings. In this section, we will explore some of these practices, delving into their symbolism, purpose and the way they guide practitioners toward a deeper understanding of themselves and the universe.

Meditation

Técnicas de meditación del budismo tibetano.

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition has developed an immense variety of meditative practices, each designed to cultivate specific qualities of the heart and mind. These practices range from simple mindfulness and contemplation techniques to advanced tantric rituals and visualizations that invoke the power of deities and mandalas. Each method, with its unique purpose and technique, offers a different path to deep understanding and liberation from human suffering.

Here we will give just a light touch. If you want to know the different Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices and their characteristics, here is an article on Tibetan Buddhist meditation in which we detail everything in depth.

Mantras

Mantra Om Tare Tutare Svaha de la diosa Tara.

Mantras are sacred sounds, words or phrases that, when recited repeatedly, seek to invoke specific qualities, generate inner transformations or connect with higher spiritual energies.

In Sanskrit, the word“mantra” comes from the root“man“, which means “to think“, and the suffix “tra“, which implies tool or instrument. Thus, a mantra is essentially a “tool of thought“. It is considered a means of transforming the mind away from habitual patterns of perception and thought and toward states of clarity, purity and deep understanding.

Mantras work on several levels. First, simply repeating a phrase or sound has a calming effect on the mind. Just as the recurring waves of the ocean can have a hypnotic and pacifying effect, mantra repetition helps calm the fluctuations of the mind. On a deeper level, each mantra in Tibetan Buddhism has a specific meaning and energy associated with it. For example, the famous mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” is associated with compassion and is said to invoke the energy and blessings of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva associated with this quality. By reciting this mantra, practitioners seek not only to cultivate compassion within themselves, but also to connect with the compassionate energy of Avalokiteshvara.

Mantra recitation in Tibetan Buddhism is often combined with visualization practices. For example, when reciting a mantra associated with a specific deity, practitioners may visualize that deity in front of them or even imagine themselves transforming into the deity. These visualizations serve to reinforce the power and intention of the mantra, connecting the practitioner to the qualities of the deity in a more vivid and direct way.

It is not just a devotional practice or a simple repetition of sacred sounds. It is an advanced meditative technique that aims to transform the mind and help the practitioner on his or her path to enlightenment. Through continuous repetition, the mantra becomes an integral part of the practitioner’s consciousness, infusing its qualities into the mind and heart of the meditator.

Deities

Tara, una de las deidades más veneradas en el hinduismo.

Unlike other traditions in which one contemplates an abstract object or focuses the mind on the breath, in this tradition, Buddhist deities serve as objects of meditation and sources of spiritual inspiration. Through visualization, mantra recitation and deep devotion, practitioners seek to merge with the qualities of these deities in order to transform themselves inwardly.

To understand deity meditation, we must first understand how these figures are conceptualized in Tibetan Buddhism. As we have already mentioned, these deities are not gods in the sense in which we usually use the term in the West. Rather, they are manifestations of enlightened qualities that already exist within us. Each deity symbolizes specific aspects of Buddhist wisdom and compassion, and meditating on them helps to invoke and cultivate those qualities in the practitioner.

For example, Green Tara symbolizes compassionate and protective action, while Manjushri embodies wisdom that cuts through ignorance. By meditating on these deities, practitioners not only seek to connect with external beings, but also to discover and manifest these enlightened qualities within themselves.

Mudras

Mudras o gestos simbólicos en el budismo tibetano.

A mudra is a symbolic gesture performed mainly with the hands, which aims to evoke certain qualities or states of consciousness in the meditator. In Tibetan Buddhist meditation, mudras act as a bridge between the body, the mind and the divine, providing a means to connect and manifest spiritual principles. The word “mudra” in Sanskrit translates as “seal” or “sign“. They are gestures that “seal” or consolidate a certain energy or intention in the practitioner. While some mudras are simple, such as placing the palms together in an attitude of prayer, others can be more complex and stylized, requiring detailed understanding and practice.

During meditation, mudras help to anchor the practice and focus the mind. By combining mantra recitation, visualization and the use of mudras, a holistic experience involving multiple aspects is created. This complete integration helps to deepen the meditation and make it more effective.

Although mudras are a powerful technique, they require understanding and respect. They are not simply empty gestures; they represent deep spiritual truths and must be performed with clear intention. In addition, it is helpful to learn them from an experienced teacher or guide, especially when it comes to more advanced mudras or mudras specific to certain tantric practices.

Dharanis

Dharanis are longer recitations than traditional mantras and are said to contain the concentrated essence of certain Buddhist teachings or principles.

Unlike sutras, which are direct discourses or teachings of the Buddha, dharanis are verbal formulas that are considered potent for protecting the mind against distractions and disturbances, for remembering teachings, and for invoking specific energies:

  • Invocation and protection: Before beginning a meditation session, reciting a dharani can serve as an invocation of protection, ensuring that the meditative space is free from negative influences.
  • Concentration and clarity: As with mantra recitation, repeating a dharani can help focus and calm the mind. Its repetitive, rhythmic structure can create a stream of concentration that leads the mind toward clarity.
  • Dharma Reminder: Since dharanis are considered vehicles that sustain the teaching, their recitation can serve as a reminder of Buddhist precepts and principles, reinforcing the practitioner’s understanding and devotion to the path.

Rituals and Ceremonies

Rituales del budismo tibetano.

Rituals in Tibetan Buddhism are not mere symbolic acts; they are skillful means of channeling the mind toward enlightenment. By performing rituals, practitioners actively engage in their faith, using body, speech and mind to reinforce their understanding of and commitment to Buddhist teachings. Repetition is also a fundamental component. By repeating certain acts and recitations, practitioners are believed to purify negative karma accumulated over countless lifetimes and generate positive spiritual energy, as well as help internalize the teachings and practices, allowing them to penetrate deeply into the practitioner’s psyche.

The invocation of a deity or spiritual teacher may be a typical beginning in a ritual, followed by the recitation of mantras and sacred texts, and then proceeding with specific visualizations and offerings. Rituals are often accompanied by music and singing, using traditional instruments such as bells, drums, conch shells and cymbals.

Rituals can be private, where an individual performs practices alone, or communal, where the community gathers to celebrate a particular event or holiday. Festivals, such as Losar (the Tibetan New Year) or the Saga Dawa (commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha), involve extensive pujas and ceremonies.

Prostrations

This is one of the most basic and common practices in Tibetan Buddhism. Prostrations are a way of purifying negative karma and showing reverence for the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. They can be done anytime and anywhere, but are especially common in temples and sacred places.

Offerings

Torma, ofrenda budismo tibetano.

Offering food, water, flowers, incense and lamps is a common practice at Tibetan altars. It is believed that making offerings purifies desire and greed and accumulates merit. A particularly unique offering in Tibetan Buddhism is the “torma,” a kind of ritualistic cake offered to deities.

Pujas

Pujas are religious ceremonies that may be performed by laypeople or monastics and vary in complexity. They may have specific purposes, such as health, success, removal of obstacles, or to honor a particular deity.

Empowerments (Wang)

These are complex rituals that introduce practitioners to specific tantric practices. During an empowerment, the teacher (lama) grants permission and blessings to the student to practice a particular tantra or sadhana.

Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism is not reducible to a single doctrine or school of thought but rather there are different streams within this branch of Buddhism, which although sharing many common teachings, each has its own distinctive characteristics and practices.

Nyingma

Nyingma fue la primera escuela del budismo tibetano.

The word “Nyingma” literally translates as “the ancients“, and the tradition takes this name because of its origin in the earliest transmissions of Buddhism to Tibet.

Nyingma dates back to the 8th century, when the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen invited the Indian Buddhist master Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, to Tibet to assist in the construction of the Samye monastery. Padmasambhava is central to the Nyingma school. He is credited with converting local forces and spirits to Buddhism and integrating native Tibetan practices with Buddhist teachings. He is also said to have hidden spiritual treasures called“Hot Springs” throughout Tibet, which would later be discovered by spiritual masters recognized as‘Tertöns‘ or treasure discoverers.

The core of the Nyingma teachings is based on the notion of “Dzogchen“, also known as “Great Perfection“. Dzogchen is a direct form of meditation and practice that seeks to recognize the fundamental nature of mind and reality. It is considered the most direct path to enlightenment and is a hallmark of the Nyingma school. Another central aspect of Nyingma is the structure of the “Nine Yanas” or spiritual vehicles, which are progressive paths of practice and study.

Over the centuries, the Nyingma school has established numerous monasteries and study centers in Tibet and later in exile. Some of the most famous monasteries include Mindrolling and Dorje Drak. In contrast to other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma has traditionally had less emphasis on monastic structure and more emphasis on the tradition of wandering yogis or “ngakpas,” who are lay practitioners with family commitments.

A unique feature of Nyingma is the tradition of the Tertöns. These are spiritual masters who have the ability to discover“Tertöns” or spiritual treasures. These treasures, hidden by Padmasambhava and other masters, are revelations that provide teachings and practices suitable for the spiritual needs of specific times. The treasures may be physical, such as texts or relics, or they may be direct revelations in the mind of the Tertön. Some of the most famous treasures, such as the Bardo Thödol (better known in the West as“The Tibetan Book of the Dead“), have been central to the evolution of Nyingma thought and practice.

Kagyu

Escuela Kagyu del budismo tibetano.

The Kagyu school has its roots in the 10th and 11th centuries in Tibet, with the arrival of the vajrayana teachings of the Indian master Tilopa. These teachings were transmitted to his disciple Naropa, who in turn transmitted them to Marpa, a Tibetan translator. Marpa traveled to India in search of spiritual teachings, and after studying with Naropa, he brought these teachings back to Tibet. Marpa’s most prominent disciple was Milarepa, a yogi whose life of transformation from vengeful magician to enlightened saint has inspired generations.

From Milarepa, the lineage passed to Gampopa, who combined the Kagyu teachings with the monastic traditions of Tibet, shaping what is known today as the Kagyu tradition. Over time, the Kagyu school diversified into several sub-schools, with the Karma Kagyu, headed by the Karmapa, being the best known.

What distinguishes the Kagyu tradition is its emphasis on direct meditative experience. The teachings focus on the“Mahamudra” or “Great Seal,” which is a form of meditation that seeks to recognize the fundamental nature of mind and reality. In addition, another essential practice is that of “Tögal“, an advanced Dzogchen technique that focuses on direct insight into the nature of mind.

The Kagyu tradition is especially known for the “Four Ordinary Preliminary Practices(Ngöndro) that prepare the practitioner for more advanced meditations. These practices include the recitation of refuge, the generation of bodhicitta (altruistic intention for enlightenment), purification through the practice of Vajrasattva and the offering of the mandala.

A key aspect of this school of Tibetan Buddhism is the importance of lineage and direct transmission from teacher to disciple. It is believed that true spiritual realization and blessings are passed on in this way, from generation to generation. The Karmapa, leader of the Karma Kagyu sub-school, plays a central role in this transmission and is considered an emanation of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion.

The Karmapa is particularly unique in Tibetan Buddhism because he is the first recognized tulku (reincarnation of an enlightened master) and has a history of unbroken succession since the 12th century.

In the second half of the 20th century, with the Chinese occupation of Tibet and Tibetan exile, the Kagyu tradition, along with other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, spread throughout the world. Masters such as the 16th Karmapa and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche were very important in introducing the Kagyu teachings to the West.

Sakya

Escuela Sakya del budismo tibetano.

The Sakya tradition originated in the 11th century in Tibet. Its name comes from “Sakya“, which translates as “Pale Land“, after the place where the school was founded. This monastery was built by Khön Könchok Gyelpo, the founder of the tradition, and it is here that the Sakya teachings and practices have been preserved and transmitted for centuries.

The Sakya lineage has its roots in the ancient Tibetan masters and in the teachings transmitted by the great pandits and siddhas of India.

It is known for its systematic and scholarly approach to Buddhist teachings. Although it shares many practices and concepts with the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, there are some teachings and practices that are unique to the Sakya tradition.

  • Lamdré (The Path and its Fruit): This is the central teaching of the Sakya tradition and is based on Hevajra Tantra. Lamdré provides a detailed exposition on the path to enlightenment, beginning from preliminary practices to the most advanced tantric meditations.
  • The Three Visions: Correspond to the stages of spiritual development of the practitioner on the path of the Vajrayāna. These are: the vision of impurity, where one sees samsara in its dufrid nature; the vision of experience, where one begins to experience the pure nature of mind and the arising of tantric deities; and the vision of reality, in which one realizes emptiness and the ultimate nature of reality.
  • Dharma protectors: In the Sakya tradition, special importance is given to the relationship with Dharma protectors, especially Mahākāla and Ekajati, to remove obstacles on the spiritual path.

The period of Sakya hegemony in Tibet during the 13th century is especially notable. Under the patronage of the Sakya leaders, especially Phagpa Lama, there was significant political and religious exchange with the Yuan dynasty of Mongolia, led by Kublai Khan. Through this relationship, the Sakya leaders maintained temporary authority in Tibet, and Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to Mongolia, becoming the dominant form of Buddhism in that region.

Although displaced as a political authority by the Gelug school in later centuries, the Sakya influence on Tibetan spirituality and culture persists. There are many influential Sakya lamas and monasteries active in Tibet, India, Nepal and the West. Sakya Trizin, the leader of the Sakya tradition, has traveled extensively, bringing the Sakya teachings to many corners of the world and establishing Dharma centers in America, Europe, and Asia. His scholarship and depth of realization have led to a renewed interest in the Sakya tradition today.

Jonang

Jonang  es una de las escuelas del budismo tibetano antiguas.

The Jonang tradition arose in the early periods of Tibetan Buddhism. Its origin can be traced back to the master Yumo Mikyo Dorje, an eleventh-century yogi. But it was Taranatha, in the 17th century, who consolidated and articulated many of the teachings we now associate with the Jonang school. During his time, Taranatha not only championed the Jonang teachings, but also strove to preserve ancient texts and practices, ensuring that future generations would have access to them.

One of the most notable and distinguishing features of the Jonang school is its adherence to the shentong view (which can be translated as “emptiness of the other”). This view, in its simplest form, holds that while all things are empty of inherent existence, there is one aspect of reality-the Buddha-nature or Buddha-mind-that is “empty of others” but not of itself. That is, this buddha nature is immutable and eternal, distinct from transient phenomenal manifestations.

This understanding of shentong was in part what distinguished the jonangs from other Tibetan schools. Most other traditions, particularly the Gelug, adopted the rangtong view, which holds that all things, including the Buddha nature, are empty of inherent existence.

It is also known for its unique meditation practices, especially Kalachakra. These practices focus on purification of the body and mind, using visualizations, breathing and other techniques to transform subtle energy and achieve higher states of consciousness. Kalachakra Tantra is a set of teachings and practices that focuses on the interplay of time cycles, astrology, subtle body and the nature of time, is especially prominent in the Jonang school, although it is also practiced by other Tibetan traditions.

Despite its rich history and contributions to Tibetan Buddhism, the Jonang school faced significant challenges during the 17th century. Political and doctrinal tensions led to the Jonang tradition being marginalized, with many of its monasteries converted to the Gelug tradition. Over the centuries, the Jonang presence in central Tibet faded, surviving mainly in the eastern regions of Tibet.

Gelug

Escuela Gelug del budismo tibetano.

The Gelug school is one of the most influential and prominent traditions within Tibetan Buddhism. It has played a pivotal role in the religious and political history of Tibet and has influenced Tibetan culture in general. It was founded in the 14th century by Je Tsongkhapa, a Tibetan scholar and teacher. Tsongkhapa was born in the Amdo region of Tibet in 1357. From an early age, he showed great interest in Buddhism and devoted himself to the study of Buddhist scriptures. Tsongkhapa sought to revive and preserve the original teachings of Buddhism in Tibet, which at that time were influenced by various interpretations and practices.

In 1409, Tsongkhapa founded the Ganden monastery, which became the center of the new Gelug tradition. His focus on rigorous scriptural study and monastic discipline became a hallmark of the Gelug school. Tsongkhapa also emphasized the importance of combining intellectual study with meditative practice.

The Gelug tradition follows Tsongkhapa’s teachings and is based on Madhyamaka philosophy, which focuses on the empty nature of all phenomena and the importance of overcoming ignorance to attain enlightenment. It also incorporates the Prasangika-Madhyamaka philosophy, a sub-school that advocates the negation of any inherent nature in objects.

One of the most important texts for the Gelug school is the “Lamrim Chenmo” or “Great Book of the Gradual Path to Enlightenment“, written by Tsongkhapa. This text presents a systematic guide to spiritual development, from the most basic aspects of Buddhist practice to the attainment of enlightenment. The Lamrim Chenmo has become a fundamental work in the entire Tibetan tradition.

Another highlight of this school is its emphasis on logical and philosophical study. Gelug students spend years studying classical texts of Buddhist logic and philosophy, which enables them to deeply understand the teachings and effectively defend their faith. This has led the Gelug school to produce many highly respected scholars and teachers in Tibetan Buddhism.

One of the most iconic figures associated with the Gelug school is the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet and the symbol of Gelug authority. Since the 17th century, the Dalai Lamas have been central figures in Tibetan history, and their influence has extended far beyond the borders of Tibet.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the fourteenth in the line of succession. He has been a tireless advocate of human rights and has carried the message of Gelug Buddhism to the world. In addition, he has been a strong advocate of non-violence and has worked tirelessly for a peaceful solution to the Tibet issue and the preservation of Tibetan culture.

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