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Tibetan Buddhism


Doctrines In the bKa'-brgyud-pa tradition, much of the Mahayana and Vajrayana heritage is held in common with the other Tibetan Buddhist schools.  The particular characteristic of the bKa'-brgyud-pa presentation is its blending of the bKa'-gdams-pa mind training and ethics with the path of the Anuttara-yoga Tantras (especially the Cakrasavara/Varahi cycles) and the Six Doctrines.  The culmination of the Vajrayana is in the practice and realisation of Mahamudra, the "Great Seal" or "Symbol".  Tantra mahamudra is the climax of meditations on Vajrayana deities and yogic practices such as the Six Yogas of Naropa, while Essence mahamudra approaches the goal more directly, emphasising the nature of mind as luminous and empty.  This is realised through the "three doors to liberation", non-distraction, non-meditation (resting in the nature of mind without any meditation object), and non-fabrication (maintaining awareness without a judgemental attitude).  Together with insight meditation practice, these lead to the "four yogas" through which Buddhahood is attained: "single-pointedness", "simplicity" (seeing the empty nature of mind), "one-taste" (seeing the phenomenal world as a manifestation of mind) and "non-meditation".


The bKa'-brgyud-pa tradition stems from the teaching lineage of the Tibetan translator and meditation master Mar-pa (1012-96) who received many Vajrayana teachings in India, especially those of his main guru, the tantric siddha Naropa, who in turn had received them from Tilopa.  Mar-pa passed his teachings on to the Tibetan yogin Mi-la ras-pa, who became famed for his poems expressing the joys, sorrows and fruits of his meditative strivings.  His student, the monk scholar sGam-po-pa (1079-1153), who had received a bKa'-gdams-pa monastic training, founded a monastery in Dvags-po and composed texts integrating bKa'-gdams-pa teachings with mahamudra realisation.  The bKa'-brgyud-pa became well-known for their monastic discipline and scholarship, but perhaps even more so for their emphasis on yoga and their specialised tantric yogins who often resided in hermitages attached to monasteries.  Various autonomous branches of the tradition developed from the teachings of sGam-po-pa's principal students (see Tibetan Buddhism chart, and entries on sub-groups).

Symbols The bKa'-brgyud-pa share much of their ritual symbolism with the other Tibetan Buddhist schools (see Tibetan Buddhism).  All the main bKa'-brgyud-pa schools have the same "lama lineage" of their early teachers which may be depicted on pictorial "lineage trees": the primordial Buddha rDo-rje 'Chang (Skt. Vajradhara) - Tilopa - Naropa - Mar-pa - Mi-la ras-pa - sGam-po-pa.  Their main deity practices are Cakrasavara and Varahi.
Adherents It is not possible to estimate the numbers of followers since the Tibetan Buddhist schools do not demand exclusive allegiance.  The Karma, 'Brug-pa and 'Bri-gung bKa'-brgyud-pa are all now well represented outside the ethnically Tibetan areas and are active in reconstruction efforts in Tibet (see entries on sub-groups).

Main Centre

Three of the extant bKa'-brgyud-pa schools have their own headquarters (see under Karma, 'Brug-pa and 'Bri-gung bKa'-brgyud-pa).  A number of holy mountains in the himalayan region (eg. Kailash, Lapchi and Tsari) also serve as important focal points for the bKa'-brgyud-pa.