An Overview of Buddhism

From Khenpo Sherab Sangpo

Generally speaking, the teachings presented in the writings of the Buddhist tradition are extremely vast and profound, both in terms of the way they are expressed and in the meaning they convey. In brief, however, these teachings can be said to offer a systematic approach that beings can use to develop their own minds and how they conduct their lives. One can also understand this approach from the following saying:

In brief, the Dharma is non-violence. This is what the Buddha taught.

The point is that one must give up all activities that harm other beings, whether these acts are physical, verbal, or mental, and in addition one should work for the benefit of others on a vast scale. In other words, at all times one should work towards the happiness of all forms of life and the elimination of suffering.

Of particular importance is precious bodhicitta, a practice that is unique to the Great Vehicle, the Mahāyāna. Bodhicitta is a mindset that is concerned with the welfare of others that essentially means to have a good heart. Any individual in whom this mindset has arisen will be able to benefit others, no matter where they are; there will be no one with whom they aren’t on good terms, and they will be praised and admired by all. In addition, each and every one of their goals and desires will meet with success, effortlessly and automatically. For these reasons, bodhicitta should be practiced by all.

Buddha Shakyamuni

The Buddha Śākyamuni turned the wheel of the Dharma three times.

In the Basic Vehicle of the Hīnayāna, the Buddha taught about the relative reality of the world, about karma and reincarnation, and how to overcome negative actions.

In the Great Vehicle of the Mahāyāna, the Buddha taught about the emptiness of all existence and the self.

In the Secret Mantra Vehicle of the Vajrayāna, the Buddha clarified all misunderstandings that arose from the previous teachings and taught that we each contain the perfect seed of buddhahood and are, in fact, already perfect buddhas.

Khenpo Sherab Sangpo

After the Buddha’s passing, his teachings were passed down through many generations of lineage masters who preserved and organized the Buddha’s liberating instructions into vehicles (or paths) suitable for various types of spiritual practitioners. The Nyingma Lineage recognizes nine vehicles that lead either to a partial state of nirvāṇa or to complete enlightenment.

The Sūtrayāna includes the three paths of renunciation:

The first path is that of the śrāvaka, one who listens to the Buddha’s teachings and who aims to become an arhat. An arhat is a saintly being who has extinguished almost all external impurities and desire, however their goal does not include the benefit of others.

The second path is that of a pratyekabuddha, a solitary realizer, who arises in the world when Buddhism does not exist. These hermit buddhas attain realization but do not teach Buddhism to others.

The third path is that of a bodhisattva who wishes to attain buddhahood in order to benefit others. The Buddha’s disciples were actually bodhisattvas who appeared as arhats in order to aid sentient beings.

The Vajrayāna includes the fourth through the ninth paths (or vehicles) related to the path of purification, the path of transformation, and the path of self-liberation that are related to outer and inner classes of tantra.

The Long Transmission of the Kama Lineage

The origin of this transmission begins with the transmission of the enlightened teachings from the dharmakāya and the saṃbhogakāya to the vidyādharas, holders of awareness, like Padmasambhava, who further transmitted the teachings to people in India and Tibet.

According to Dudjom Rinpoche, King Trisong Deutsen requested the master Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) to come to Tibet in the Iron Tiger year of 810. This invitation was due to the advice of the Śāntarakṣita, the great abbot. He knew that Padmasambhava would spread Buddhism in Tibet and subjugate the malignant forces that were preventing its propagation.

Guru Rinpoche accepted the invitation and under the direction of the king, the abbot, and the guru, the first monastery in Tibet, called Samyé, was constructed.

Padmasambhava, known as the precious teacher, Guru Rinpoche, had twenty-five main disciples, the foremost being Khandro Yeshé Tsogyal. They all accomplished extraordinary abilities and an unbroken line of teachings that continue through lineage masters to today.

In addition, the sutric and tantric teachings were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan by great translators such as VairotsanaKawa PaltsekChokro Lüi GyaltsenVimalamitra and others during this time.


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