Vajrayana: The Diamond Vehicle

In the seventh century, a major movement within MahayanaMahayana, the “Great Vehicle,” is a form of Buddhism the originated in India and spread to Central and East Asia, encompassing schools in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Its primary characteristics include a more supernatural view o... BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... arose. This stream of Buddhism, called the VajrayanaVajrayana emerged in the 7th century CE as a subset of Mahayana sometimes seen as the third major stream of Buddhism. This tradition is most prominent in Tibet and its surrounding regions, although forms of it are found in China and Japan. Vajrayana, lite..., is most prominent in Tibet and its surrounding regions, although forms of it are found in China and Japan. The Vajrayana, literally the “Diamond Vehicle” or the “Thunderbolt Vehicle,” understands itself to be an esoteric form of Mahayana BuddhismMahayana, the “Great Vehicle,” is a form of Buddhism the originated in India and spread to Central and East Asia, encompassing schools in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Its primary characteristics include a more supernatural view o... with an accelerated path to enlightenmentEnlightenment means awakening to or realizing the true nature of reality. The term is used with various nuances in the Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu traditions to express the spiritual awakening that is the goal of religious life. “The Enlightenment” also....

This Tibetan tradition sees itself as embodying both the teaching and meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo... practice of the TheravadaTheravada, literally “the way of the elders,” was one of the eighteen earliest sub-schools of Buddhism. Today, the term designates the various traditions of Buddhism most prominent in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Although these traditions differ in i... monksA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord..., as well as the teaching of the “emptiness” of all conditioned things that is distinctive to Mahayana philosophy. Vajrayana is also called Tantrayana, because it is based on the tantras, the systems of practice which emphasize the indivisibility of wisdom and compassion, symbolized as the union of male and female.

Three terms characterize the practice of Vajrayana, each one of which has overt ritual meanings, inner psychophysical meanings, and secret transcendent meanings:

  1. MantraA mantra is a sequence of spiritually-potent sounds or syllables used for meditation, prayer, or to accompany ritual enactments. Mantras are important in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions. The repeated oral or mental recitation of a mantra is said ...—a syllable or phrase for chanting or meditation, containing within it the sacred power and cosmic energies of a BuddhaBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther... or bodhisattvaA bodhisattva is one who has dedicated his or her life to the attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva vows to postpone enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings realize liberation. In some cases, the bo.... The mantra literally “protects the mind” from negative mental states by invoking these divine energies within oneself.
  2. MandalaThe Sanskrit word mandala means circle and, by extension, the whole world. It is used in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions to refer to the symbolic circles that represent the entire world, with all its divine energies, in a microcosm. Especially in the Ti...—a “circle” or cosmic diagram for ritual or interior visualization, representing various realms of BuddhasBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther... and bodhisattvasA bodhisattva is one who has dedicated his or her life to the attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva vows to postpone enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings realize liberation. In some cases, the bo... and their cosmic energies in two- or three-dimensional forms.
  3. MudraA mudra is a ritual gesture made by the position of the hands or body, and signifying the activity or quality of the Buddha or bodhisattva depicted. Common mudras of the Buddha include: the cupping of hands with palms up in the lap in the mudra of meditat...—a “symbol” or “ritual gesture,” made by the position of the hands or body, and signifying the qualities and presence of various Buddhas and bodhisattvas in Vajrayana ritual.

Since the Tibetan uprising in 1959, more than 100,000 Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhists have become refugees in India and around the world. The Dalai LamaDalai is Mongolian for “ocean” and lama is the Tibetan word for “superior,” especially referring to those of superior spiritual attainment. Together the two terms constitute the title conferred upon the head monk of the Gelug school of Tibetan Bud..., Tenzin GyatsoDalai is Mongolian for “ocean” and lama is the Tibetan word for “superior,” especially referring to those of superior spiritual attainment. Together the two terms constitute the title conferred upon the head monk of the Gelug school of Tibetan Bud... is head of one of the four major lineages of Tibetan monks and leads a Tibetan government in exile in north India. Other Tibetan teachers, called lamasLama, the Tibetan term meaning “superior” refers especially to those of superior spiritual attainment. It is a translation of the Sanskrit word “guru” and is used for any venerable monk or qualified spiritual teacher., tulkusTulku is the Tibetan term for nirmanakaya, the “Transformation Body of the Buddhas,” manifestations of which appear in whatever form necessary to aid others. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the term is reserved for those lamas (enlightened teachers) who have c..., or rinpochesIn Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, rinpoche, meaning “precious jewel,” is the honorific title for highly respected lamas (teachers), especially tulkus (enlightened teachers who have consciously taken rebirth for the benefit of others)., settled in the United States during the 1960s and 70s, where they attracted a largely Euro-American following. Only in the 1990s did substantial numbers of Tibetan lay Buddhists arrive in the United States. As a result, America is now a place where a centuries-old Vajrayana tradition encounters a decades-old American convert Vajrayana practice.


X
- Enter Your Location -
- or -