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Vajra , main symbol of Vajrayana

Vajrayana ( Sanskrit वज्रयान vajrayāna , Tibetan ("Dorje Thegpa"); also: Lamaism (lamajiao), diamond vehicle , Wajrajana , Mantrayana ("mantra vehicle"), Tantrayāna ("tantra vehicle") or esoteric Buddhism ) is one from the 4th century in India resulting flow of Mahayana - Buddhism , in particular, the Buddhist traditions of the Tibetan plateau , the Buddhism in Tibet itself and the Buddhism in Mongolia coined. To a lesser extent, Vajrayana was also used in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism .


Legend has it that Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 7th century by King Srongtsan Gampo, who had two Buddhist wives. In the 8th century, the Buddhist teachings of Padmasambhava and the Indian monk Shantirakshita were more widely spread. Padmasambhava is said to have brought the teachings of Tantra and Yogacara to Tibet.

Under King Ralpacan (817–836), many works were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. After the Bön priests initially ousted Buddhism again, there was a new upswing from the 11th century. Atisha introduced the Kalachakra system and created the beginnings of the Kadampa school. Marpa founded the Kagyüpa School and Milarepa became the most famous ascetic and poet in Tibet.

Also in the 11th century the Sakya school came into being , whose work was the completion of the Kangyur (Buddhist canon). In the 14th century, the two collections Kangyur and Tangyur were completed. Also in the 14th century, Tsongkhapa appeared, who is regarded as a great reformer . He is considered the founder of the "New Kadampa", which is called Gelugpa , and reintroduced the strict monastic discipline. The third Grand Lama of the Gelugpa is the Dalai Lama .

In history, Tibet is considered to be the largest monastic and papal state that has ever existed.

Philosophical foundations

Lama in Gandan Monastery, Ulan Bator

The Vajrayana is based on the "teaching of the Middle Way" ( Madhyamaka ) on the philosophical foundations of Mahayana . In Tibetan Buddhism , the various Buddhist “yanas” (literally: vehicles ) are differentiated based on their goals or methods. That is, the difference between general Mahayana and Vajrayana is not in the goal - Buddhahood  - but in the way in which that goal is to be achieved. The Vajrayana is therefore also called the “path of result”, while the Mahayana sutra system is called the “path of accumulation” and the Theravada is called the “path of renunciation”.

The cycle of suffering of samsara

From the point of view of Vajrayana, “sentient beings” (cf.: six realms of being ), unlike enlightened beings, commit a fundamental error in the perception of the phenomena. Although the most subtle layer of mental processes is initially enlightened (see: Buddha-nature ), this is not recognized by the perceiving mind. The “sentient beings” perceive the naturally non-dual appearing phenomena as separate from themselves and from one another. A real existence is erroneously ascribed to the phenomena, although they are “devoid of inherent being” from their actual essence (see Shunyata ). Because of this ascription, the idea of ​​an "I" that exists independently of other phenomena arises. With this “I-idea”, the three so-called “ root poisons ” appear: Basic ignorance, attachment and aversion. Actions that cause suffering and which are carried out with the body, speech and mind due to these mental poisons create karma ("cause and effect"). Karma can be described as the cause of mental impressions that have arisen through actions caused by the poison of the spirit, and which as a result bring about painful experiences in the future. The karmic traces in the spirit of an unenlightened "sentient being" therefore cause the emergence of the individual reality of life, such as the various areas of gods, demigods, humans, animals, hungry spirits and hell beings, who are involved in the cycle of suffering ( samsara ) from repeated birth, age, Illness and death are bound.


Vajra and bell

Buddhist practice, especially in Vajrayana, aims to undo this process of the emergence of existence and the attachment of sentient beings to the cycle of suffering. There are two different methodological approaches to this in Vajrayana with regard to the highest teachings:

Tantric Practices

In addition to meditation and visualization , the special tantric means also include the recitation of mantras and other exercises, which include rituals, initiations and guru yoga (becoming one with the spirit of the enlightened teacher). In Tibetan Buddhism in particular, great importance is attached to direct transmission and instruction from teacher to student.

It is important to have a solid knowledge of Buddhist teachings as a starting point for these practices. Without a real understanding of compassion and right view, it is impossible to use these methods. Therefore, the ethical rules of the noble eightfold path , as taught by Buddha, are the basis of the entire Buddhist path, including the Vajrayana. In addition, the Mahayana motivation to "attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings" must be cultivated continuously.

Tibetan Tantra does not address sexual practices. This is mainly about the spiritual aspect of Tantra, i.e. the union of the male and female aspects of the spirit in consciousness (e.g. ratio & intuition). This generally corresponds to the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which deals little with physical aspects. Except for prostrations and the five vajra positions (extreme yoga-like positions), z. B. hardly any other ritual-meditative physical exercises known. Quite different from Indian Tantra, in which the physical sensory stimuli play an essential role. Sexual practices are e.g. B. Karmamudrā (Sanskrit; "seal of action", Tib. Las-kyi phyag-rgya), a sexual practice with a visualized or physically very advanced consort.

Lama, Yidam and Khandro

In Vajrayana, Lama (Sanskrit Guru ), Yidam (Sanskrit Deva , meditation deity) and Khandro (Sanskrit Dakini ) are important. They are also objects of refuge in Vajrayana .


Since the lama ( guru ) is of central importance in Vajrayana, this form of Buddhism was also referred to by the term lamaism ( lamajiao ) coined by the Manchu rulers of the late 17th century . On the path of Vajrayana, a properly understood and appropriate trust in the spiritual teacher ( lama ) is important, so one must be very careful in choosing a teacher and not rush into this important connection. A good spiritual teacher always acts on an altruistic motivation and never on a selfish motive. In the Tantra Net of Illusion it says: “One who is stable, calm, intelligent, patient, honest (open), without cunning or falsehood and knows the practice of secret mantras and tantras, practices the activity of drawing mandala, is proficient in the Ten principles is, gives all living beings fearlessness and always enjoys the big vehicle: Such a person is called a master. "

In Vajrayana the independence of the student is in the foreground, so any tendencies towards dependency of the student should be avoided. Of course, the student must also be qualified. It must be characterized by impartiality, intelligence (to be able to distinguish wrong from right teachings) and a stable mental attitude of bodhicitta . The lama he confides in should really inspire him and touch him on the deepest level of the heart and not just on the surface.

The title of lama is usually given to the student by the teacher. Depending on the tradition, a traditional 3-year retreat is the rule in Tibetan Buddhism, but this is not mandatory - especially in the important lay and yogi tradition of the Nyingma lineage . In contrast to a Geshe , a lama does not necessarily have to be a scholar of Buddhism.


Vajrasattva . The practice of Vajrasattva as a meditation deity is believed to be particularly effective in purifying negative karmas.

Yidam are meditation deities (see visualization ). Contrary to the European context, in Vajrayana they are not understood as creator gods or beings independent of the practitioner. They are also different from the devas (worldly gods) of Indian tradition. Rather, it is about the form of the state of joy ( sambhogakaya ) of realized beings. With the help of meditation and visualization practices in conjunction with these deities, the practitioner awakens the enlightened nature within.


The Sanskrit word Dakini is usually used in translations instead of the Tibetan word Khandro . Literally, Khandroma (mkha '' gro ma) means "skywalker". Already in the Jatakas , the legends about the earlier births of Shakyamuni, there are references to a class of beings who walk through the air. Dakinis are often described as fairy beings who (thanks to their realization) possess supernatural abilities and powers. By imparting spiritual wisdom to the practitioner, they support the practitioner on the path to enlightenment .

Monastic and lay communities

In the schools of Vajrayana there have always been lay communities of practicing yogis in addition to the monastic communities. Therefore, in addition to many learned masters who have emerged from the monastic schools, there are also a large number of important masters and siddhas who have realized the path of the yogi. Originally, many of the Vajrayâna practices were passed down by yogis in India and neighboring countries. Ultimately, in Vajrayana it is not essential whether a person is ordained as a monk (or nun), but whether he / she is able to break the attachment to samsara that is falsely maintained by one's own mind.

In Vajrayana it is and has been widely recognized that women can attain enlightenment just like men. The four great schools of Tibetan Buddhism are now open to women to the same extent as men. Great realized masters, whose lives are exemplary for many Vajrayana practitioners, include Princess Mandarava and Princess Yeshe Tsogyal , both companions of Guru Rinpoche , the founder of the Nyingma school. Furthermore Niguma, a student of Naropa , who is of great importance in the Shangpa- Kagyu-School, and Machig Labdrön, who became famous through the introduction of the Chöd teachings in Tibet.


Tsetserleg Monastery , Mongolia

The doctrine originally spread in the Tibetan-Mongolian area to Mongolia as far as Buryatia and Tuvinia . It was largely expelled from India , but has been retained in the Hindu Advaita Vedanta teachings with some differences, but tantric teachings have also been introduced in China and Japan . Vajrayana Buddhism is the state religion in Bhutan . A traditionally Lamaist people - albeit with clear differences - live in Europe: the Kalmyks . Since the 1970s and 1980s, Vajrayana communities have spread increasingly in the west. The Tibetan schools in particular are now established in Europe and the USA. Quite a few of them in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Schools of Tibetan Vajrayana

The Buddhism in Tibet is divided into different schools and transmission lines, of which the Nyingma, the Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug are the most important. Even if, from the outside, the Tibetan form of Buddhism has been divided into different schools and the peculiarities of the respective schools are always emphasized by their followers, there has been an intensive exchange of teachings and practices between these schools. It can therefore be said that despite all the differences in development, the similarities outweigh each other.


The Nyingma tradition ("red hats") is the oldest of the four great schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It goes back to the tantric master Padmasambhava . This tradition arose from the first phase of translation of Buddhist scriptures, from Sanskrit into Tibetan, in the 8th century, which laid the foundation for the dissemination of the Buddha's teachings in Tibet. In it the teachings of Dzogchen are of great importance.


After the persecution of Buddhism in Tibet under King Lang Darma , the tradition of the Old Kadam Masters emerged in the 11th century . The Kadam tradition is a forerunner of the three newer main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which emerged from the second phase of translation of Tantric teachings, from India to Tibet. It itself has not survived as an independent school.


The Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism go back to Marpa the translator (1012-1097), who continued the Mahamudra lineage of Tilopa and Naropa. Kagyu means "oral transmission" and special emphasis is placed on meditation.


Sakya is the name of a monastery founded by Khön Könchog Gyalpo (1034–1102) headquarter near Shigatse in southern Tibet. The tantric teachings of the Sakyapa were translated from Sanskrit by Bari Lotsawa in the eleventh century . The Sakya tradition was then founded by the "five venerable supreme masters". They carry on the Mahamudra tradition of the Indian master Virupa .


Potala Palace in Lhasa

The Gelug ("yellow hats") are also known as the "school of the virtuous". Its founder Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) represented the ideals of the earlier Kadampa school and emphasized the importance of the Vinaya rules. That is why the Gelug place great value on monastic discipline and celibacy. The core of the Gelug transmissions lies in the teachings of the ancient Kadampa.


In the 19th century, the so-called " Rime Movement" arose, which collected group-wide teachings from all areas of Tibet and from masters of all traditions. The aim was to overcome the “competition” (sectarianism) between schools in Tibet.


In the context of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition of Bon is another tradition that is close to Vajrayâna. They have similarities with the Nyingma school in their practices and teachings. Bon was the original pre-Buddhist religion in Tibet.

Schools in China and Japan

Vajrayana was transmitted to China from India in the late 8th century. But there are culturally determined differences between the Vajrayana forms in China and Japan on the one hand and Tibet on the other.

In China, Vajrayana Buddhism established itself as Mizong ( Chinese  密宗 , Pinyin Mìzōng ). Its current, modern shape developed mainly under the rule of the Yuan dynasty, which was shaped by Mongolian Buddhism .

In the 9th century, Vajrayana Buddhism came from China to Japan and was known there as Mikkyō ( Japanese ) in particular by the schools of Tendai-shū and Shingon-shū .

See also




  • Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche: The Opening of the Dharma . Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala 1974.
  • Keith Dowman: Skydancer. The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyal . Snow Lion Publ., Ithaca-New York 1996, ISBN 1-55939-065-4 .
  • Longchen Rabjam : The Practice of Dzogchen . Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York 1996, ISBN 1-55939-054-9 .
  • Ngawang Zangpo: Guru Rinpoché. His Life and Times . Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York 2002, ISBN 1-55939-174-X .
  • Ringu Tulku : A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet. The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great . Shambhala Publications, 2006, ISBN 1-59030-286-9 .
  • Snellgrove, David L .: Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Indian Buddhists and Their Tibetan Successors. London: Serindia, 1987.


Web links

Wiktionary: Vajrayana  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Timeline of Buddhist History: Major Events
  2. Lamaism and the traditional social role of the tulkus