What is Tibetan Buddhism?

Understanding the fundamentals…

Buddhism spread from India to several Asian countries. In these countries, Buddhism naturally developed according to the country’s culture and way of living, this is a natural phenomena. This trend will also take place and develop similarly when Buddhism continues to spread in other Western countries in the future. 

Some refer only to external appearance to understand Tibetan Buddhism, and think that Tibetan Buddhism is only about rituals and mantra recitations, tantra practice, making offerings, or meditation… But in actual fact, these are not main practices and only could be regarded as secondary branch practices.

Buddhism was taught by Buddha in order to subdue our mind. Therefore we Tibetan Buddhists regard mind training as the main practice, and continuously observe the states of our mind, the way we talk, as well as physical conduct in our daily lives. We do our best not to harm others, and analyse continuously to avoid inflicting harm. We also try to recognize our own faults and thereafter make efforts to correct our own mind. This is really the main essence of Buddhist practice. Because truly, whether you are human or animals, all sentient beings are inter-connected with one another, including the environment as well. It is totally impossible for us not to rely on others and be dependent on one’s own ability to produce happiness. We need to analyse this and understand that one’s happiness is totally related to the happiness of others. This is the first step.

So, there are two roots to the understanding of Buddhism, one is: dependent arising through dependent imputations, and dependent arising through cause and conditions. These are not the thoughts made up by religious practitioners (in our case, Buddhists), but this is a natural situation. So if we understand these two kinds of dependant arising, we will also automatically understand the causes and conditions of happiness, suffering, their sources, and how we can achieve cessation. This is not a fantasy of religious thoughts, ths is natural truth. If we understand the above, then we will automatically gain belief in Buddha’s words and hence, take refuge in Buddha who showed us this path and the Sangha who followed his words. 

In short, we need to achieve strong belief in Buddhism through only reasoning that one has founded, not just because “this is Buddha’s words“, “these are the words of one’s Master“. Ignorant superstitions is not the way of Buddhist faith. Buddha himself taught us to analyse his words precisely. If you find reliable reason to believe, then accept it. “But my words are not only to respect“, Buddha said. So, we need to analyse Buddha’s words, and we are allowed to analyse. This is religious freedom.

On top of mind training, in order to increase one’s mental power, motivation and enthusiasm, and to accumulate both merit and wisdom, hence we practise making offerings, giving, meditation and so forth. This is considered the second branch of Buddhist practice. However, without having stable fundamentals of the first part, you will not achieve the aim of Buddhist practice. 

Therefore, one should not engage in Buddhist practice because of superstitions, instead one needs to develop faith through understanding. First, you need to understand, and after that you need to be able to analyse through your intelligence. Through one’s analysis, you achieve very firm faith and when you practise, it will be meaningful. Therefore first, one needs to engage in listening and study, and after that you need to think about whatever you have listened. And after contemplation, you obtain understanding and you will be able to further meditate on that. So in all, listening, thinking and meditating – this is the step by step order, and should not be mixed up.

For mind training, there are a vast number of texts and sutras that needs to be studied and put into basic practices. And if it suits your mind and capacity, then you can practice Tantra.  

His Holiness the Dalai Lama divided Buddhist teachings into three categories: Among Buddhist teachings, the two noble truths and the other related basic teachings belong to (1) Buddhist Science; debate on these matters are (2) Buddhist views and tenets; and finally real actual (3) Buddhist practice. This categorization is very meaningful. Whether you are a religious practitioner or not, the former two is necessary and worthwhile for all human beings to understand and learn.

In short, both Theravada and Mahayana-Sutra-teachings belong to fundamental studies of Tibetan Buddhism. And within Mahayana, there is also Tantrayana. Hence we have complete study and practice of Buddhist teachings. Literature which needs to be studied are Buddhist canon texts which have been translated into Chinese, as well as sub-commentaries by the great Panditas and Mahasiddhas from Nalanda University of India (17 Nalanada Masters). These are the main texts, and therefore Tibetan Buddhist traditions such as Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyud and Gelug all relied on the same sources (from Nalanda). Because of this, Tibetan Buddhism is of pure Nalanda tradition. Some people call Tibetan Buddhism “Lamaism“, and divided from Buddhism, but in fact, that is just a name created by those who have lack of understanding.

Dagyab Kyabgoen Loden Sherab