Tibetan Buddhism is the branch of Buddhism characterized by a more mystical nature. It is also known as Vajrayana or Lamaism (The name Lama means master, since this branch focuses a lot on lamas and disciples).
Tibetan Buddhism is a western term. In the eastern cultures, believers don’t distinguish between Tibetan and Indian Buddhism, since there are no differences among these two.
Meditation in this school is richer in stimulus, it integrates the reading of the saddhanas (sacred texts), visual and mental stimulation, and musical instruments. This branch is also known for its unique artistic sense, expressed by paintings, sculptures and other forms of art.
Mahayana: The vehicle of enlightenment
The Tibetan Buddhists follow Mahayana, which means the great vehicle in Sanskrit. This vehicle is used to carry all sentient beings to nirvana, freeing them from pain and suffering. It is an approach that emphasizes specifically four major qualities, which are: love, compassion, joy and equanimity. Additionally, it includes the six perfections, which follow this order: generosity, ethics, patience, energy, concentration and wisdom.
Vajrayana or the diamond way, was originally a ray of Indra, the Indian god of thunder. This “ray” became a diamond on a wand. It establishes a connection between the powers of nature and spirituality.
It also confirms the unique characteristic of Buddhist philosophy, which adapts its teachings to the local culture.
Tibetan Buddhism’s higher representative, the Dalai-Lama, is the supreme leader of the Buddhist religion and spiritual sovereignty of all the lamas. The dalai-lamas are important monks from the Gelug school, the newest in the Tibetan Buddhism. They were also the political leaders of Tibet from the 17th to the 20th century, 1959 to be more precise.
In the Mongolian language, dalai-lama means wisdom of the ocean. In the Buddhist belief, the dalai lamas represent the reincarnation of prince chenrezig. The prince was one of the representatives of Buddhism. He’s known to be the keeper of the white lotus flower (one of the eight major symbols of fortune in Tibetan Buddhism), the symbol of compassion.
The 14th and current dalai-lama is called Tenzin Gyatzo. He was born in Tibet and exiled to India after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. During his 20 years in exile, Tenzin fought for Tibet’s independence, seeking peaceful solutions. In 1989, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, due to his nonviolent campaign to put an end to the Chinese domination over Tibet.
Major symbols of Tibetan Buddhism
There are eight auspicious symbols in Tibetan Buddhism. These symbols represent the gifts offered by the gods to the Buddha Shakyamuni when he reached enlightenment. The lotus flower is a very famous one. It rises from the swamp with graceful beauty.
It represents the idea of purity, which remains untouched even through mundane turmoil. It also means elevation, since this flower manages to grow without proper soil, its roots are deep within the mud. It grows in muddy water, yet remains beautiful and fragrant.
The wheel of the Dharma is one of the most popular symbols of Buddhism, it is a wheel with eight rays representing the eightfold path. It refers to the teachings of the Buddha.
The victory of the Buddha over Mara, the demon that tried to disturb him out of his purpose through luxury, passion, pride and fear, is represented by the banner of the victory. It means the freedom from an illusion created by us and considered as truth.
There is a geometric form made of many knots without beginning or ending, representing infinite continuity. The endless knot represents the idea that whenever something is finished, something new begins. It also represents the endless wisdom of the buddha. Beyond that, the knot also serves as a reminder that time is not linear, but cyclical.
The famous two golden fish, mean complete happiness, fertility and abundance for those who live in the ocean of the Samsara. For Hindus these fish mean good luck. Samsara is the continuous flow of life and rebirth.
The womb, where every creation starts is represented by the treasure vase. It signals a long and prosperous life.
And finally the parasol is a protection against suffering, with its clockwise spiral represents the sound of the Dharma, awakening men out of ignorance. It creates a powerful sound that crosses distances and calls all beings to the practice of good.
How do Tibetans see their own philosophy?
First of all, Tibetans don’t think their religion is at all different in objective, from the originating philosophy. What makes it different from the others is that the Tibetan Buddhism uses all of human energies, including the physical ones, on the spiritual path.
This is why tantra, mantra, mudras, mandalas, are ever present to engage the senses. This allows the participants to become more engaged. This is contrary to other traditions, which would focus purely on the breath.
When singing mantras, we are releasing energy that comes from the heart, the mind, and the lungs. This energy can be cathartic and transformative. It contributes to concentration and it also reaches the environment around the practitioner.
Mandalas are transformed by the eyes and the hands of the one creating them, and touch the souls of the ones admiring them.
When we see it from above, our fingers seem to be receiving messages from the Universe and bringing out specific energies from within us. We become the messengers of beauty.
Tibetan Buddhists practice the flow of physical energies in order to help the evolutionary process towards the nirvana. There is surely a lot to learn from them.