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Also known as Mantrayana, Tantrayana, Tantric Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism is a form of Tibetan Buddhism, and sometimes identified as such.

Vajrayana is usually translated as Diamond Vehicle or Thunderbolt Vehicle, in reference to the Vajra, a mythical weapon that is also used as a ritual instrument.

The history of Vajrayana Buddhism is unalterably tied to that of Tibet. Sparsely populated and too arid to support cities, Buddhist monasteries served as community centers for wandering Tibetan nomads.

Although Tibetans have received a lot of sympathy in recent years for being attacked by the Chinese, they actually started it by ravaging the Chinese capital in 763 CE, during the Tang dynasty.

In 1721, about a thousand years later, the Chinese declared Tibet to be a vassal state, which it remained until 1911 when the Chinese gave up on Tibet for a period of about forty years.

During this time, the Tibetans created a government, a monetary system, postal system, and a military. However, no foreign country recognized Tibet as a sovereign nation, nor did anyone come to their aid when China took over again in 1950.

The original religion of Tibet was a shamanistic faith known as Bön, which still exists in remote regions of Tibet.

Buddhism came to Tibet in 747 CE through a Kashmiri missionary named Padma-Sambhava, who had been trained in a branch of Buddhism called Tantra. Some Buddhists honor him as the second Buddha.

Following complaints that there was too much sex and drinking going on, another missionary, Atisha, was sent from India to set things right. Atisha argued that Tantra was not right for everyone. In addition to the Theravadan and Mahayanan paths, both of which were active in Tibet, Atisha founded what Tibetans called Vajrayana, the Way of the Thunderbolt, or the Diamond Vehicle.

The Vajrayana path of Tibetan Buddhism is made up of four sects: Red Hats, Kagyupa, Sakyapa, and Yellow Hats (Gelug).

The Red Hats are also known as the Ancient Ones, who trace their heritage back to the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Padma-Sambhava, and still use several Tantric texts, as well as elements of the old Bön religion. For this reason, they are denounced by some of the other sects.

The Kagyupa (Kagyu) school came about in the 11th century, and was founded in Tibet by Marpa, who learned Buddhism from Naropa, an Indian Buddhist. The Kagyupa relies heavily on oral traditions passed from lama to disciple.

The Sakyapa (Sakya) sect also came about in the 11th century, and also focuses on Tantric practices.

The Yellow Hats (Merit System Ones) are the sect that is headed by the Dalai Lama. The Yellow Hats were founded by Tsongkha-pa in the 15th century, but increased in the 17th century.

Although early Mahayana sutras contained some elements that are emphasized in the Tantras, Vajrayana Buddhism developed a large body of texts known as the Buddhist Tantras, going back to the 7th century CE or earlier.

Vajrayana Buddhism is a unique Tibetan form of Tantra, which no more resembles Hindu Tantra than it does Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism holds that the world, as we see it, is projected from our own minds. The only true reality is what is known as clear light, which is a pure consciousness. Tibetan Buddhism holds the disciple responsible for the success or failure of his training.

Like all Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation, which is an essential component of karma. Unlike other Buddhist groups, Tibetans believe that it is possible for a person to know whom one was reincarnated from.

The mandala is an aid to meditation for Indian and Tibetan Buddhists. It is a Sanskrit word meaning "circular," as roundness is an indication of perfection and completeness. Some mandalas are square, triangular, or polygonal, but they are symmetrical. In the center of the mandala is a Buddha figure, usually, who is viewed as Adi-Buddha, the primeval Buddha from whom all Buddhas come. Surrounding the central Buddha are four subordinate deities, each at a compass point. Interspersed between these deities are other divine figures.

Prayer wheels are unique to Tibetan Buddhism and contain holy chants and mantras. Usually, the worshipper turns the prayer wheel by hand, but wind and water are sometimes used. It is important to turn the wheel clockwise, as counter-clockwise turns are believed to be capable of unleashing demons.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol) is a map of the afterworld that teaches the dying how to reach liberation, the state beyond all states.

Lama is a title used for a teacher of the Dharma in Tibetan Buddhism. Not all Buddhist monks are lamas. Monks are considered students, while lamas are teachers.





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