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"All that we are is the result of what we have thought." The Buddha. "..Religion without Science is Blind, Science without religion is crippled." Albert Einstein 1879-1955

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Vajrayana Buddhism

Vajrayāna Buddhism (Devanagari: वज्रयान) is also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantrayāna, Mantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Esoteric Buddhism and the Diamond Vehicle. The period of Vajrayana Buddhism has been classified as the fifth or final period of Indian Buddhism. Vajrayana is a complex and multifaceted system which evolved over several centuries and reveals much inconsistency and a variety of opinions. Vajrayana probably came into existence in the 6th or 7th century CE, while the term Vajrayana first came into evidence in the 8th century CE. Its scriptures are called the Tantras. The distinctive feature of Vajrayana Buddhism is ritual, which is used as a substitute or alternative for the earlier abstract meditations.

Vajrayana scriptures say that Vajrayana refers to one of three routes to enlightenment, the other two being Hinayana and Mahayana.


The term "vajra" denoted the thunderbolt, a legendary weapon and divine attribute that was made from an adamantine, or indestructible, substance and which could therefore pierce and penetrate any obstacle or obfuscation. As a secondary meaning, "vajra" refers to this indestructible substance, and so is sometimes translated as "adamantine" or "diamond". So the Vajrayana is sometimes rendered in English as "The Adamantine Vehicle" or "The Diamond Vehicle".

A vajra is also a scepter-like ritual object, which has a sphere (and sometimes a gankyil) at its centre, and a variable number of spokes (depending on the sadhana), enfolding either end of the rod. The vajra is often traditionally employed in tantric rituals in combination with the bell or ghanta; symbolically, the vajra may represent method as well as great bliss and the bell stands for wisdom, specifically the wisdom realizing emptiness or lack of inherent existence.

Difficulties of the academic study of Vajrayana

Serious academic study of Vajrayana is still in its early stages, because of a number of problems that make research difficult:

1.Although a large number of Tantric scriptures are extant, they have not been put into any kind of order.

2.Because Vajrayana was influenced by Hinduism, further research into Hinduism is necessary.

3.Ritual as well as doctrine need to be investigated.

Classifying Vajrayana

Vajrayana as a newly composed teaching

The literature of Vajrayana is absent from the oldest Buddhist literature of the Pali Canon and the Agamas.

Vajrayana claims that its teachings were first expounded by the Buddha 16 years after his enlightenment. Historians have identified an early stage of Mantrayana beginning in the 4th century CE, and claim that assigning the teachings to the historical Buddha is 'patently absurd'.

Only from 7th or the beginning of the 8th century CE, tantric techniques and approaches increasingly dominated Buddhist practice in India.

The first tantric (Vajrayana Buddhist) texts appeared in the 3rd century CE, and continued to appear until the 12th century CE.

Vajrayana as evolved from the local conditions of Medieval India

Although the Vajrayana claims to be as ancient and authentic as any other Buddhist school, it evidently grew up gradually in an environment with previously existing texts such as the mahasannipata and the ratnaketudharani. The basic position of Vajrayana is still the same as the early Buddhist position of not-self: there is nothing which is eternal. The changes that took place agreed with the changing society of medieval India: the presentation has changed, the techniques of the way to enlightenment have changed, the outward appearance of Buddhism came to be dominated by ritualism and the array of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and gods and goddesses.

Classification based on Vajrayana scriptures and commentaries

The tantric scriptures and its commentaries provide three strategies to discuss the theoretical nature of Vajrayana Buddhism:

1.Vajrayana as a subset of Mahayana Buddhism

2.Vajrayana as a fruitional or advanced vehicle (where Mahayana is a prelude to Vajrayana)

3.Vajrayana as the sorcerer’s discipline (vidyadharasamvara)

Vajrayana as a subset of Mahayana Buddhism

According to this schema, Indian Mahayana revealed two vehicles (yana) or methods for attaining enlightenment: the method of the perfections (Paramitayana) and the method of mantra (Mantrayana). The Paramitayana consists of the six or ten paramitas, of which the scriptures say that it takes three incalculable aeons to lead one to Buddhahood. The tantra literature, however, claims that the Mantrayana leads one to Buddhahood in one single life. According to the literature, the mantra is an easy path without the difficulties innate to the Paramitanaya. Mantrayana is sometimes portrayed as a method for those of inferior abilities. However the practitioner of the mantra still has to adhere to the vows of the Bodhisattva.

When viewed as a subset of Mahayana, it is one of two paths of practice: the Sutrayana method of perfecting good qualities and the Vajrayāna method of taking the intended outcome of Buddhahood as the path. Vajrayana techniques are aimed at making it possible to experience Buddha-nature prior to full enlightenment. In order to transmit these experiences, a body of esoteric knowledge has been accumulated by Buddhist tantric yogis and is passed via lineages of transmission. In order to access this knowledge, the practitioner requires initiation from a skilled spiritual teacher or guru.

Vajrayana as fruitional vehicle

According to the Vajrayana theory, Vajrayana refers to one of the three routes to enlightenment, the other two being Hinayana and Mahayana. According to this view, there were three "turnings of the wheel of dharma":

In the first turning Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths at Varanasi in the 5th century BC, which led to the founding of Buddhism and the later early Buddhist schools. Details of the first turning are described in the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta. The oldest scriptures do not mention any further turnings other than this first turning.

The Mahayana tradition claims that there was a second turning in which the Perfection of Wisdom sutras were taught at Vulture's Peak, which led to the Mahayana schools. Generally, scholars conclude that the Mahayana scriptures (including the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras) were composed from the first century CE onwards.
According to the Vajrayana tradition, there was a third turning which took place at Dhanyakataka sixteen years after the Buddha's enlightenment. Scholars have strongly denied that Vajrayana appeared at that time, and placed it at a much later time. The first tantric (Vajrayana Buddhist) texts appeared in the 3rd century CE, and they continued to appear until the 12th century CE.

Vajrayana as the sorcerer’s discipline

Vajrayana teaches that in order to access esoteric knowledge, the practitioner requires initiation from a skilled spiritual teacher or guru.

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Due to this merits,
May I soon,
Attain the enlightened state of Guru Buddha,
That I may be able to librate all sentient beings from their suffering.

May the precious bodhi mind, Not yet been born in me, will arise and grow.
May the birth have no decline, and will increase forever more.

Namu Myo Ho Renge Kyo
Namo Buddhaya
Namo Dharmaya
Namo Sanghaya