Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism One of the world’s most complex religions
Tibetan Buddhism It borrows from many faiths. It evolves. It is practiced at many levels. It has no definitive canon of scriptures. It has many branches and spokespersons.
Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism • Buddhism is an Asian religion that has roots going back thousands of years. • For 13 centuries before entering Tibet, Buddhism had absorbed beliefs and practices from other religions. • Because it borrowed so much from other faiths, Tibetan Buddhism became one of the world’s most complex religions. • From Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism spread across Central Asia, from the Himalayas to Siberia (600’s – 1900’s). • In the late 20th century, Tibetan Buddhism has gained adherents and fans all over the world.
Structure: Tibetan Buddhism is like Stew • It has many ingredients. • The ingredients come from many places. • The combination makes something very different than the ingredients alone. • Every region has its own style/blend. • It’s not always easy to know what’s in it. • The ingredients are added over time. • Everyone makes it differently.
Start with the broth: Shamanism • Original religion of Tibet (Bön) • Similar to Shamanistic beliefs elsewhere with particular Tibetan applications and names • Flavors every other ingredient that is added later. • Found in different forms everywhere in the world. • African “witch doctor” • Animism (spirits inhabit inanimate objects) • Revival of interest today
Cosmology of Shamanism: Spirits • The worlds are inhabited by spirits. • Many are disinterested in us. • Some wish to do us harm. • We must appease the spirits to protect ourselves.
Cosmology of Shamanism: The Shaman • Lifelong office - usually involuntary • Performs sacrifices and rituals • Protects the people from spiritual powers • Takes trance journeys into spirit world • Possessed intermittently by a spirit • Gets advice from spirit world to solve community issues (weather, hunting, animals, illness)
Why is Shamanism important? • Built into world view/culture • The “broth” of Shamanism infuses/flavors all of Tibetan Buddhism. • Shamanism is especially strong at the “folk level.” • Uneducated ordinary persons don’t understand the theory. • Many of the practices of Tibetan Buddhism can only be explained by understanding Shamanism.
Shamanistic practices in Tibetan Buddhism • Sacred mountains • Trees (Sacred Groves) • Piles of carved stones • Spirit houses • Springs • Fire offerings • Circumambulation -direction is clockwise • (Bön circumambulation is counter-clockwise) • Drums, chanting • Divination, oracles
Meanwhile meat is being prepared for the stew: Buddhism’s Hindu background • Not one coherent, dogmatic religion • Many scriptures, but no single creed, spokesperson, or leadership structure • As much a way of life as a religion • The practical often outweighs the theoretical.
Hinduism 101The Advaita Vedanta School • Brahman: an impersonal entity which underlies and pervades the universe. All things share this common ground of existence. All apparent reality is an emanation of Brahman. • Since all that is real is Brahman, this philosophy is a monism. • The World as Illusion: Since all is ultimately one, our sense that we exist separately is an illusion (maya).
Hinduism 102Advaita Vedanta cont’d. • Human beings, their experiences, and lives are all a part of maya, the illusion. • Reincarnation: Every sentient being has a soul (jiva), which at death is reborn into another body. • Karma: Natural law that determines your next life. • Good actions – Good Rebirth (e.g., wealthy, high caste) • Bad actions – Bad Rebirth (e.g., low caste or animal) • Present state (suffering or comfortable) results from actions in previous lives.
Hinduism 103Advaita Vedanta cont’d. • Deep inside of us, each of us has a true Self, called Atman. • Atman is identical with Brahman. • Thus, we are all ultimately the one non-dual Brahman-Atman. TAT TVAM ASI Atman = Brahman Atman Brahman
More meat for the stew: The experience of the Buddha • Siddhartha Gautama was born in approximately 560 BC in present Nepal. • He retained many foundational beliefs of Hinduism (karma, reincarnation (in adapted form), need for “release”). • He also reacted against Hinduism.
More meat for the stew: The experience of the Buddha cont’d. • The rituals and deities of Hinduism could not solve the problem of suffering. • Neither living in luxury nor the practice of Hindu asceticism gave answers to the problem of suffering. • He finally found his answer in Bodh Gaya by discovering the “Middle Way” and by denying that there is a True Self, as in the Hindu Atman.
Buddha developed the ‘Four Neoble Truths’ 2. Suffering is caused by desire—attachment to the thingsof this world. 1. All of life is filled with suffering. 4. The Eightfold Path is the way to be set free from desire and suffering. 3. Freedom from desire brings freedom from suffering.
The Eightfold Path Right Knowledge Right Meditation Right Feeling Right Insight Right Speech Right Effort Right Action Right Living
Steps to Enlightenment or “How do you become a Buddhist?” • I take refuge (“my only hope is”) in: • The Buddha - his enlightenment • The Sangha - the fellowship of Buddhists • The Dharma - the teachings of Buddha
Different forms of Buddhism developed right from the start. • A series of early councils attempted to set the course for all Buddhists. • The councils actually highlighted the contrast between the stews that various Buddhist groups were cooking up. • So, different groups had their own ideas on how to prepare the meat for the stew.
The Theravada School • Meaning: ”Tradition of the Elders.” • Last remainder of several early schools classified as ”Hinayana”—”Small vehicle.” • Enlightenment for the few: the monks. • Laity gains merit by supporting the temples and monks.
The Theravada School cont’d. • Closer than other schools to what Buddha taught. • Anatta (An-atman): There is no self. • Dependent Origination: Impermanence of everything. • Individual efforts, meditation • Long path to enlightenment • Found in Sri Lanka and most of Southeast Asia
Mahayana School: “Greater Vehicle” (for the practice of the many) • Enlightenment becomes available in theory to all sentient beings. • As Mahayana Buddhism spread, it combined with other local beliefs, resulting in various forms. • Found particularly in East Asia
Mahayana Concepts • No inherent existence: Denial of "inherent existence" of anything, thus passing beyond true monism. Everything is Sunyata, “Emptiness. • Rapid enlightenment: • Theravada Buddhism was a strict pathway for the dedicated few, usually requiring many lifetimes to achieve enlightenment. • Mahayana Buddhists claims that one can gain enlightenment in a single lifetime.
Mahayana Concepts, cont’d. • Bodhisattvas. Belief in beings, who function akin to “messianic saints.” They are ready for Nirvana, but have postponed their own final enlightenment in order to liberate other beings from suffering and rebirth • Worship of Buddhas: Multiple Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Hindu gods were added to the Buddhist spirit world • Relative and Absolute Truth: Since nothing exists on its on its own, nothing absolutely true can be said about anything in itself.
Vajrayana: The “Diamond Vehicle” • Vajra can mean “Thunderbolt” or “Diamond.” • It serves to cut quickly through illusion or spiritual obfuscations. • Esoteric form of Buddhism based in Mahayana Buddhism • It started as Tibetan Buddhism , and then was exported by the Mongols to Mongolia, Siberia, and China. From there it spread to Korea and Japan (as Shingon). • Independently, it has found in Nepal, Bhutan, and India.
Add more spice to the meat: Tantrism from India • Originated in7th – 10th centuries AD in Nepal and India • Claimed a short path to enlightenment – one lifetime • Use of chant, sexual ritual, and occult practice (spiritism) • Mudras: Magical gestures that call on deities • Mantra: Phrase repeated over and over (“Om Mani Padme Hum” is used by Tibetans) • Meaning: not important, although different mantras call on different deities • Purpose: to enter an altered state of consciousness (trance-state) to connect with a deity
Tantrism, cont’d. • Mandala: Mystical art form for meditation and communication with spirits • Deity yoga: Practitioners visualize themselves as a particular deity and their surroundings as the deity’s mandala. • They identify with the qualities of the deity and perceive the bliss of the deity. • At the same time they do it all only for the sake of others (Compassion – wishing that all be set free from suffering)
Tantric Tools: • Protector Deities: Spirits that “protect Buddhism” • Thangkas: Images of Buddhas and Boddhisattvas used in visualizations • Human Bone Implements: bowls and others implements used in rituals
Tibetan Buddhism: “The meat drops into the broth” • Buddhism enters Tibet from China and Nepal in the 7th century A.D. • The “meat”: a form of Mahayana Buddhism, seasoned with Tantricism, springing from the teachings of Buddha as a reaction to Hinduism. • The “broth”: Bön, the indigenous, Shamanistic religion of Tibet.
Many varieties of “stew” • There is not “one” form of Tibetan Buddhism • Many different schools have developed
Gelugpa School - “Yellow hats” • Made head of all schools by Mongolians • Leader: 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso • Spokesperson for Tibetan Buddhism in the West • Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize • Lives in exile in India • Reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion (Avalokiteshvara - Chenrizig in Tibetan) • Through the influence of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism has grown in popularity around the world – particularly in the West
Practicing Tibetan Buddhism - Three reasons/ways to “eat the stew” • Gain enlightenment: • This is the goal of only a small group of the elite monks and some western Buddhists. They understand the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism and hope to obtain enlightenment. • Recipe: Lots of meat (Buddhism) and spices (Tantrism)
Practicing Tibetan Buddhism - Three reasons/ways to “eat the stew” • Get relief from supernatural powers that affect daily lives: • The people fear the spirits and must appease them through rituals they perform, or the monks perform on their behalf. Fear of the supernatural drives them. • Recipe: Mostly broth (Shamanism)
Practicing Tibetan Buddhism - Three reasons/ways to “eat the stew” • Gain merit: • Tibetan Buddhists are caught in the great scales of Karma. Karma is a law of nature, similar to the law of gravity that states that what happens to them in this life (good or bad) is determined by what they DID in their previous life. Most Tibetan Buddhists don’t know or understand the complexities of their religion. They know they must gain merit, so as to earn a better life next time. • Recipe: Broth with overcooked meat
Tibetan ‘Wheel of Life’ - Six Realms: • 1. ‘heaven’ • 2. demigods • 3. animals • 4. hells • 5. hungry ghosts • 6. human world
Rebirth and Merit-making • Most Tibetan Buddhists have little hope for “enlightenment” and being set free from the wheel of life • Making-merit activities become important as a means if being reborn into a higher level of existence within the wheel of life (and as a means of overcoming bad karma which would lead to rebirth at a lower level) • Since gaining merit is so important, Tibetan Buddhists have developed a number of innovative ways of gaining merit efficiently
Methods of making merit: • Prayer’ flags (flags on which prayers are written – Merit is increased as one looks at the flags waving in the wind • ‘Prayer’ wheels (large or small canisters filled with ‘prayers’ written on paper) - Merit is increased as one turns the canister • Mani stones (stones onto which ‘prayers’ have been carved). Merit is increased as one views the stones • Pilgrimage: Merit is increased as one makes a pilgrimage to holy places (such at Lhasa)
Methods of making merit: • Prostrations: Merit is increased as one makes prostrations before thangkas or statues of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas or as one is making a pilgrimage • Circumambulation: Merit is increased as one walks around spiritually powerful sites (geographic formations such as mountains and waterfalls inhabited by spirits; stupas containing relics such as the bones of a lama) • Mantra beads: Merit is increased as one chants mantra ‘prayers’ using rosary beads for counting
Protection (physical and spiritual) • Many means are used to seek protection from spirits and from physical harm • Flags on corners of roofs • Gauze scarfs that have been given as a blessing • Khalachakra symbol • Pictures of the Dalai Lama • There are many others
The role of Lamas • High-level monks who hold great power and influence in the community • Communication with spirits through chanting and shamanistic practices • Debates and teaching • Serving the people through the use of ritual (for which they receive financial contributions) • Healing • Naming children • Praying for the dead
Is Buddhism atheistic? • Buddha neither confirmed or denied the existence of deities, but made the claim that enlightenment could be gained without the help of deities • Buddhists do not believe in a God who created all things and is separate from His creation, but rather believe that all is one, except that the one is “sunyata,” emptiness. • Tibetan Buddhists believe in many Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and earth spirits, but believe that they, along with the rest of creation, are manifestations of the same essence, the same oneness, the same nothingness.