Major schools and teachings in Tibetan Buddhism

Major schools and teachings in Tibetan Buddhism

In Tibetan Buddhism there are four major schools. A Nyingma began in the seventh century A.D. and was fully established in the ninth century by Guru Padmasambhava, Santaraksita, and King Thrisong Deutsen. Kagyu and Sakya schools were foundend in eleventh century A.D. respectively by Marpa Chokyi Lodro (1012-1099) and Khon Konchog Gyalpo (1034-1102). Gelug was founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) in the fourteenth century A.D. The diferences in the sutra aspects of the four schools are mainly a matter of emphasis on particular scriptures and ways of interpretation. In regard to tantra, the Nyingma school has unique teachings wich were brought to Tibet, translated, and propagated mainly betwen the ninth and eleventh centuries. They are known as the „Old Tantras”. The other three schools have common tantric scripturies wich reached Tibet in and after the eleventh century, and those tantras are knows as the „New Tantras”. The Nyingma is the oldest school and the mother of the other schools. According to Nyingma tradition the entire Buddhist sutric and tantric teachings are classified as „Nine Yanas”:

The Three Sutric Yanas:

  1. Sravakayana, Hinayana
  2. Pratyekabuddhayana, Hinayana
  3. Bodhisattvayana, Mahayana

The Three Outer Tantric Yanas:

  1. Kriyayoga
  2. Caryayoga
  3. Yogatantra

The Three Inner Tantric Yanas:

  1. Maháyoga
  2. Anuyoga
  3. Atiyoga

The unique teachings of Nyingma are the three Inner Tantras, especially Atiyoga (Dzogchen). The various levels of yanas are not a system that presents contradictory theories or leads to fifferent goals: the yanas are all processes for growing in the same path of training. They lead, directly or indirectly, to the ultimate goal and awaken the enlightened state, which is Buddhahood. Because of the differences in intellectual sharpnes and predispositions of trainees, some may start from the lower yanas and progress according to the treght of their experiences. People who have exceptionally brillant minds and strong karmic foundations from the past may directly enter the highest yanas, such as Dzogchen-Atiyoga, and may even attain the result instantly.

The first Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltshen (1570-1662) writes in his Instructional Commentary on Mahamudra:

Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Madhyamaka, Lamdre, Chod and Zhiched, etc. are various designations. But if examined by an expereienced yogi, they lead to the same realisation.

Milarepa (1040-1123) sings his realiasation to Pha Dampa Sangye, illustrating it in terms of pain and death:

From behind I am in pain through Mahámudrá.
From the front I am in pain through Dzogpa Chenpo.
I am caught by the chronic disease of vase-like breathing.
From the top, I am tormented by the fever of primordial wisdom.
From the bottom, I am sick with the cold of absorbtion.
In the middle the fever and cold of bliss and emptiness are on conflict.
My mouth vomits the blood of instructions.
My chest is streched by the bliss of ultimate nature.
I am not only ill but dying…
Bury me in the cemetery of Vajradhara.