In this FAQ section we will try to clarify some of the questions from the Vajrayana point of view. We strongly suggest you to seek more understanding from a Lama and further your knowledge by reading books on Buddhism and Vajrayana.
1. What is the essence of Buddhism?
To put it simply, “Do positive action and abandon negative action “Buddha taught that everything depends on the mind. If we incorporate Buddha’s teachings into our daily lives, we will solve our inner problems and attain inner peace. Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.
2. What are the 3 Jewels?
They are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. However in Vajrayana, we have the additional of 3 roots, i.e., Guru, Yidam and Dharma protectors.
3. What is meant by taking refuge?
Here the practitioner commits to the Buddha as an example, the Dharma as teaching and the Sangha as fellow practitioner on the path. This is not a passive action hiding under the 3 Jewels but rather an active process of relying wholeheartedly on the 3 Jewels to inspire and guide us. In addition, in Vajrayana, the Guru represents the root of all blessing, the Yidam the root of all siddhi (attainment or power) and the Protectors as the root of all Buddha activity.
4. Why are there so many Buddhist traditions?
The Buddha gave 84,000 teachings because he does not expect one size fits all and so each of us can find one that suits our metal level and disposition. The Buddha turned the Dharma Wheel 3 times and we relate them to the teachings of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
5. What are the Buddhist traditions?
There are various classifications. In our case, we take it that there are 3 major types in line with the turning of Dharma wheel 3 times by the Buddha. Namely, Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. When Buddha first turned the Dharma wheel, He taught the Theravada tradition (Tradition of the Elders). On the 2nd turning of the Dharma wheel, He taught the Mahayana tradition (Big Vehicle) and on the 3rd turning He taught Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle). Of course, each of these 3 traditions branches in several traditions or schools. After Buddha passed into parinirvana, his monks spread Buddhism southwards, from Bodh Gaya downs to Sri Langka, Myanmar, Thailand and etc. So Theravada is also known as Southern tradition. 500 years later, Mahayana teaching emerges and was spread northwards to China, Korea, Japan and etc. As such Mahayana is also known as Northern tradition. While we know that Buddha first turned the Dharma wheel in Bodh Gaya and the second turning at Vulture Peak. The origin of Vajrayana is a bit obscure as it involves oral transmission and secret teachings.
6. What is Vajrayana?
As the name implied, it is the Diamond Vehicle and some regard it as a branch of Mahayana (Big Vehicle) because it also emphasizes the practice of six perfection (Paramita). However in Vajrayana there is much more. Vajrayana has all the sutras in Mahayana and it has Tantrayana which is unknown to Mahayana practitioners. One important aspect is Deity Yoga where the practitioner visualizes oneself as the deity. Vajrayana practitioners can roughly be group into Sutrayana followers and Tantrayana followers. The former study various sutras deeply while the latter practices Tantra. Here tantra is the Buddhist tantra and not the Hindu tantra although there are some similarities. To add on further confusion, some call Vajrayana, tantrayana or mantrayana. Others just call it Tibetan Buddhism. However calling Vajrayana as Lamaism is totally wrong.
7. What are the different schools of Vajrayana?
The four main ones are Nyingma, Kagyud, Sakya and Gelug school. Each of the traditions does have its own characteristics. It is said that Sakya and Gelug traditions are good at giving explanations of Buddha teachings while Nyingma and Kagyud are experts in practicing them. However the common important path among them is the development of Renunciation. Since sorting out the various schools and subsect is a tedious task we shall concern ourselves with the Karma Kadyud lineage only. The Kagyud is further branched into 4 major and 8 minor schools.
8. What is Kagyud Tradition?
The Kagyud tradition originated from tantric roots starting from its founder Tilopa. The lineage was passed down from master to disciple, mainly, Tilopa to Naropa, Maitripa, Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. It is with Gampopa that the lineage becomes institutional and monastic. The four major subsect were founded by Gampopa disciples and are called Karma Kagyud, Baram Kagyud, Tshalpa Kagyud and Phamo Kagyud. We are of the Karma Kagyud lineage and it is founded by Dusum Khyenpa and thus is known as the first Karmapa. This lineage is unbroken till the present 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje.