What are the Four Sects/ Schools of Tibetan Buddhism?

4 Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

One of the highly revered forms of Vajrayana Buddhism is Tibetan Buddhism. It is practiced in Tibet and throughout other parts of the world. It adheres to the Buddha's teachings, practices Tantra, and strives for Buddhahood. In the old days, the Mahayana branch of Buddhism was practiced in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia, and every territory associated with Tibet, including Bhutan, the entirety of India's Trans-Himalayan region, and the republics of Thuva, Buriat, and Kalmykya in the modern Russian Federation.

Tibetan Buddhism is divided into four main schools: Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyü, and Gelug. All four schools embrace the concept of world enlightenment since they identify as devotees of the Mahayana tradition, often known as the "Great Vehicle."

All four schools of Tibetan Buddhism adhere to the 'Middle Way philosophy of Nagarjuna', an Indian Buddhist scholar (2nd century CE). All forms of meditation practice correspond to the intricate and profound teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism.

The primary differences between the four schools are: 

  1. The connection between a specific school and a particular lineage of Indian masters
  2. A focus on elements of meditation practices
  3. The use of the particular word and how it relates to Nagarjuna's emptiness philosophy
  4. Their involvement, or lack thereof, in many philosophical and epistemological issues.

The Nyingmapa Order, which dates to the 8th century, is the oldest. In the 11th century, the Kagyupa and Sakyapa orders both emerged. The Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) order was formed in the 15th century as a purer type of Buddhism, as during the time, the other schools of Buddhism were viewed as corrupt. In the 17th century, it rose to prominence.

Nyingma Buddism School (Red Hats): The Old Translation of School

The oldest of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism is the Nyingma. It was established in the 8th century because of the earliest Tibetan-to-Sanskrit translations of Buddhist texts and is frequently referred to as "the ancient translation school." To spread Buddhism among the Tibetan people, the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen invited Guru Rinpoche and Shantarakshita, two Indian Buddhist masters, to the "Land of Snows" in the year 760. Thus started a vast effort to translate all Buddhist writings into the recently developed Tibetan language.guru-rinpoche-thangka-painting

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Practitioners in Tibet consider the Lotus-Born Guru Rinpoche as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. While Shantarakshita, abbot of the renowned Buddhist Nalanda University, oversaw the translation of the sutras (oral teachings of the Buddha), he led the translation of the tantras (the esoteric teachings of the Buddha. The Nyingma sect, whose name translates as "Old School," adheres to older versions of the tantras that date back to King Ralpachen. The Nyingma tradition holds that Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, is merely one of Padmasambhava's eight significant forms, each of which emerges in one of eight different parts of the world. While acknowledging the triyana framework, Nyingma teaching is unique in that it splits the 3 yanas into 9 categories, which serves as the cornerstone of their practice approach.

The Nyingma have a collection of what they refer to as the Nyingma tantras, in addition to accepting the same scriptures as the other schools, the Kangyur and the Tangy. These are roughly 300 Tantric scriptures, which the other schools consider non-canonical and have not been transmitted by the Buddha. Western scholars once believed that these were forgeries, that Tibetans had authored them, and that the purported Sanskrit originals didn't exist. However, several of the Nyingma tantras' Sanskrit sources have recently been found in Nepal, suggesting that at least some are canonical. 9 yanas, or vehicles, make up the Nyingma tradition's division of Buddhist teachings. All schools of Buddhism practice the first 3 vehicles, all schools of Tantric Buddhism practice the following 3 vehicles, and only the Nyingma tradition practices the final 3 vehicles.

Since this practice began in the 1960s, here is a list of the 8 representatives of the Nyingma school:

Dudjom Rinpoche (c. 1904–1987) | Served from the 1960s until his death.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (c. 1910–1991) | Served from 1987 until his death.

Penor (Pema Norbu) Rinpoche (1932–2009) | Served from 1991 until retirement in 2003.

Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche (c. 1930–2008) | Served from 2003 until his death.

Trulshik Rinpoche (1923–2011) | Selected after Chatral Rinpoche declined the position.

Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche (1926-2015) | Appointed head in 2012

Kathok Gets Rinpoche (1954-2018) Passed away ten months after being named to a three-year term as the supreme head of the Nyingma school.

The Kagyu Buddhism School

The origin of the Kagyu ("Whispered Transmission") School can be traced back to Shakyamuni Buddha. The legendary Indian yogi Tilopa (988–1069) is credited as being a key influence on the Kagyu's methods. He came to this realization through the techniques that the Gautama Buddha had taught. It is the 3rd -largest school of Tibetan Buddhism.milarepa-thangka-painting

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Milarepa is the most well-known member of this institution. He is the greatest yogi in Tibet. He was the master of every type of spiritual practice, meditation, and achievement. In addition to being Tibet's finest poet, he was an exceptional teacher. The Milarepa-inspired Kagyu School emphasizes studying Buddhism in practice more than theory. The six Dharmas or Yogas of Naropa are the primary components of Kagyu practices. The first of these is the production of internal or psychological heat. Milarepa could live in the high mountain ranges' snow and ice while wearing just a cotton garment, thanks to his mastery of this. When doing the yoga of psychic heat, Kagyu lamas are still wearing their thick wool robes over the one piece of cotton material they are required to wear. This implies that contemporary conditions differ somewhat from those in Milarepa's time.

There are four main sub-sects within the Kagyu school of Buddhism: Karma Kagyu, Tsalpa Kagyu, Barom Kagyu, and Pagtru Kagyu. In addition, there are eight minor sub-sects within the Pagtru Kagyu. The Drikung and Drukpa Lineages are the most well-known Kagyu sect. The Kaly Rinpoche founded the most recent Shangpa Kagyu. Niguma, Sukhasiddhi, and Khyungpo Naljor are all links in this sect's historical chain that leads back to the Indian teacher Naropa.

The "Five Founding Masters" of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism have the following transmission lineage: 

Tilopa (988–1069), an Indian yogi who received the Mahamudra's original transmission;

Naropa (1016–1100) was an Indian scholar-yogi who developed the techniques for hastening enlightenment outlined in his Six Yogas of Naropa.

Milarepa (1052-1135), the poet and greatest yogi of Tibet, overcame Marpa's reluctance to teach and attained enlightenment in a single lifetime. 

Marpa (1012-1097), the first Tibetan in the lineage, is known as the great translator for his work translating the Vajrayana and Mahamudra texts into Old Tibetan.

Gampopa (1079–1153) combined Tilopa's Mahamudra teaching with Atisha's Kadam teaching to form the Kagyu lineage and Milarepa's most significant disciple.                                                       

The Sakya Tibetan School

Sakya in Tibetan means 'tawny earth' in the fallow or unploughed field. It is also the name of this school's main monastery, known as 'the region of tawny earth.' The school was founded in 1073CE by the great teacher Drokmi, who had spent years studying under numerous spiritual teachers in India. However, Konchok Gyelpo who was a student of Drokmi, is usually noted as the founder rather than a monk.

In the present context, the smallest of the four Tibetan Buddhist schools is Sakyapa. The Sakya ("Gray Earth") monastery in southern Tibet is the source of the name. Sakya Monastery was established in south Tibet in 1073 by Khon Konchok Gyelpo (1034–1022). The Sakya Monastery's abbots were committed to the standardization of Tantric teachings, Buddhist logic, and the transmission of a cycle of Vajrayana central teaching and practice known as Lamdrey, or "path and goal."

The Sakyapa Order came into being in the 11th and 12th centuries during the same time when the monasteries where Tibetan translations of Indian Buddhist texts were being examined and translated to Tibetan. Kunga Pandita (1182-1251), also known as Sakya Pandita (literally, "Scholar for Sakya"), is the most famous member of this group. The Sakyapa Order prefers Tantrism to the clerical-textual aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. Despite being mainly eclipsed by the Yellow Hat and Red Hat commands, it is still in existence today.

The 13th and 14th centuries saw a significant political impact from the Sakya school. Godan Khan and Kublai Khan, two Mongol emperors, were converted to Buddhism by Sakya masters. The Ngor and Tsar lineage are two subsects that emerged from the Sakya school over time. The three schools (Sa-Ngor-Tsar-gsum) of the Sakya tradition are Sakya, Ngor, and Tsar.  

Gelug Buddhism (The Yellow Hats) Tibetan SchoolJe-Tsongkhapa-Thangka-painting

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Gelugpa means "the righteous one." Although the disciples of the other schools were also moral people, the Gelugpas were mainly focused on virtue; it was their focal point of strength. Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), arguably Tibet's greatest philosopher and best-known religious reformer, established the Gelug School. Tsongkhapa was an avid supporter of the Kadam School's focus on the Mahayana ideals of universal compassion as a fundamental spiritual orientation. He was a great admirer of the Kadam teachings. Along with this, he placed a heavy emphasis on developing a profound understanding of the idea of emptiness as advanced by Chandrakirti and the great Indian teacher Nagarjuna in the 2nd century CE (7th century CE).

According to Tsongkhapa, these two facets of the spiritual path, compassion, and enlightened insight, must be anchored in a sincere desire for freedom and driven by a real sense of renunciation. He stated that one must begin the profound Vajrayana Buddhist Road based on these three, which he referred to as the "Three Principal Aspects of the Path."

The Lamrim, or "Stages of the path," which are rooted in the teachings of the Indian master Atisha (c. 11th century) and the systematic cultivation of the idea of emptiness, are the core teachings of the Gelug School. This is combined with the deity yoga meditations of the Highest Yoga Tantra deities, with the primary goal of understanding the unbreakable union of bliss and emptiness. The Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism had risen to prominence by the end of the 15th century, and the Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet since "The Great Fifth" era in the 17th century.

The Dalai Lamas are considered a manifestation of the Avalokiteshvara or the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. The 14th reincarnation is his holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the present Dalai Lama. He was born in 1935, two years after the 13th Dalai Lama passed away. 

To sum it up individual Tibetan Buddhists have different practices since each catered to their requirements and inclination. Tibetan Buddhism encompasses many methods and teachings, from Tantra and the non-dual Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings to the fundamental sutra teachings.

The road of the bodhisattva, or the selfless desire to achieve enlightenment for all creatures, is the spiritual aspiration Tibetan Buddhism embraces as its core of inspiration. The teacher-student relationship is highly valued in all Tibetan traditions.

Tibetan Buddhism also places a significant focus on meditational techniques. Tibet has a rich past filled with fantastic tales of famous yogis and yoginis who had achieved enlightenment and were extraordinarily gifted Buddhist masters. These distinguished meditators and practitioners are proof of the system's efficacy through their lives and teachings.

1 comment

Stanzin Tsewang

Stanzin Tsewang

Really interesting.

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