Buddhism is a religion to about 300 million people around the world. The word comes from ‘budhi’, ‘to awaken’. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened at the age of 35. Siddhartha Gautama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal. At 29, he realized that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally found ‘the middle path’ and was enlightened. After enlightenment, he shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance, by way of understanding and the seeing of dependent origination and the elimination of desire.
The Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dharma, or Truth. Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or ‘way of life’. It is a philosophy because philosophy means love of wisdom’ and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:
- to lead a moral life,
- to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
- to develop wisdom and understanding.
The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
- The first truth is that life is suffering i.e., life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death.
- The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion.
- The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained.
- The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
8-fold Path : In summary, the Noble 8-fold Path is being moral focusing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths and by developing compassion for others.
8-fold path factors are as follows:
- Right view
- Right intention
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
There are many different types of Buddhism, because the emphasis changes from country to country due to customs and culture. What does not vary is the essence of the teaching — the Dharma or truth. Three major branches of Buddhism are generally recognized:
1. Hinayana – The School of the Elders literally meaning: the “Inferior Vehicle”, “Deficient Vehicle”, the “Abandoned Vehicle”, or the “Defective Vehicle”, the Buddhist path followed by a sravaka who wishes to become an Arhat. It has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar etc.).
2. Mahayana – The Great Vehicle. Mahayana is found throughout East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan etc. According to the teachings of Mahayana traditions, “Mahayana” also refers to the path of seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called “Bodhisattvayana”, or the “Bodhisattva Vehicle.”
3. Vajrayana—Practiced mainly in Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia and adjacent parts of China and Russia is also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Esoteric Buddhism and the Diamond Way or Thunderbolt Way. Nyingma
Known as the Ancient Tradition from Vajrayana form of Buddhism, the Nyingma tradition dates back to the founding of Buddhism in the 7th century during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo (617-698). It was fully established during the reign of King Trisong Detsen (790-858) through the efforts of the Indian scholar, Shantarakshita, the tantric master, Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), and the scholar-translator Vimalamitra.
Its teachings belong to the Old Translation School, whereas the teachings of the Kagyu (founded by Marpa Lotsawa 1012-1099), Sakya (founded by Kohn Konchok Gyalpo 1034-1102) and Gelug (founded by Je Tsongkhapa 1357 – 1419) belong to the New Translation School. There are three lineages in the old translation school of the Nyingma tantras: the ‘Distant Oral Lineage’, from the direct oral teachings of the Buddha; the ‘Near Treasure Lineage’ (terma) from teachings of discovered treasure texts, written and concealed in holy places by Guru Rinpoche, Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal and others, for the benefit of future generations, and the ‘Lineage of Profound Pure Visions’, from teachings received by various Saints during visions in meditation and post meditation.
Atiyoga (Dzogchen), the highest teaching, has three divisions: Semde, Longde and Mengakde. Semde and Longde are associated with Vairochana and Vimalamitra, while Mengakde is associated with Guru Rinpoche and Vimalamitra. The latter, the direct oral pith instruction of the master to the disciple, is divided into four cycles: Outer, Inner, Esoteric and Innermost Esoteric Cycles. The Mengakde teachings in general, and especially the Innermost Esoteric cycle became known as the Nyingtik, the Innermost Essence (Trulku Thondup).
The general Nyingma inner tantras were transmitted through three lineages: mind direct, by symbol, and oral transmission, the latter being that of teacher to disciple. In addition to the 17 root tantras, the Nyingtik includes many other tantras and teachings discovered by tertöns, revealers of treasure teachings. Of all the treasure teachings, the Vima Nyingtik, transmitted in Tibet by Vimalamitra and the Khandro Nyingtik, transmitted by Guru Rinpoche, which were later propagated through the revelations and writings of Longchen Rabjam (1308-1363) are the most profound and elaborated teachings on Nyingtik.