Tibetan Buddhist philosophical concepts you must know
In Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism, Buddhist philosophy is traditionally propounded according to a hierarchical classification of four classical Indian philosophical schools, known as the “four tenets” (drubta shyi).
Table of Contents
- 1 - Introduction to the tenet systems
- 2 - Tibetan Buddhist philosophical concepts
- 2.1 - Dzogchen
- 2.2 - Bardo
- 2.3 - Bodhicitta
- 2.4 - Chöd
- 2.5 - Rigpa
- 2.6 - Three Jewels and Three Roots
- 2.7 - Rangtong-Shentong
- 2.8 - History of Dzogchen
- 2.9 - Ground (Dzogchen)
- 2.10 - Five wisdoms
- 2.11 - Terma (religion)
- 2.12 - Eleven vajra topics
- 2.13 - View (Dzogchen)
- 2.14 - Karma in Tibetan Buddhism
- 2.15 - Faith in Nyingma Buddhist Dharma
- 2.16 - Sixteen characteristics
- 2.17 - Spiritual materialism
Introduction to the tenet systems
While the classical tenets-system is limited to four tenets (Vaibhāṣika, Sautrāntika, Yogācāra, and Madhyamaka), there are further sub-classifications within these different tenets.
This classification does not include Theravada, the only surviving of the 18 classical schools of Buddhism.
It also does not include other Indian Buddhist schools, such as Mahasamghika and Pudgalavada.
The tenet systems are used in monasteries and colleges to teach Buddhist philosophy in a systematic and progressive fashion, each philosophical view being seen as more subtle than its predecessor.
Therefore, the four tenets can be seen as a gradual path from a rather easy-to-grasp, “realistic” philosophical point of view, to more and more complex and subtle views on the ultimate nature of reality, culminating in the philosophy of the Mādhyamikas, which is widely believed to present the most sophisticated point of view.
Tibetan Buddhist philosophical concepts
This is a glossary of some important Tibetan Buddhist philosophical concepts.
Dzogchen or “Great Perfection”, Sanskrit: अतियोग, is a tradition of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the natural primordial state of being.
It is a central teaching of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and of Bon. In these traditions, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path of the nine vehicles to liberation.
In some schools of Buddhism, bardo or antarabhāva (Sanskrit) is an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth. It is a concept which arose soon after the Buddha’s passing, with a number of earlier Buddhist groups accepting the existence of such an intermediate state, while other schools rejected it. In Tibetan Buddhism, bardo is the central theme of the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhicitta,, is the mind (citta) that is aimed at awakening (bodhi), with wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhicitta is the defining quality of the Mahayana bodhisattva and the act of giving rise to bodhicitta (bodhicittotpāda) is what makes a bodhisattva a bodhisattva. The Daśabhūmika Sūtra explains that the arising of bodhicitta is the first step in the bodhisattva’s career.
Chöd, is a spiritual practice found primarily in the Nyingma and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Also known as “Cutting Through the Ego,”, the practices are based on the Prajñāpāramitā or “Perfection of Wisdom” sutras, which expound the “emptiness” concept of Buddhist philosophy.
In Dzogchen teaching, rigpa is the knowledge of the ground. The opposite of rigpa is marigpa.
Three Jewels and Three Roots
In Buddhism, the Three Jewels, Triple Gem, or Three Refuges are the supports in which a Buddhist takes refuge by means of a prayer or recitation at the beginning of the day or of a practice session.
Rangtong and shentong are two distinctive views on emptiness (sunyata) and the two truths doctrine within Tibetan Buddhism.
History of Dzogchen
Dzogchen, also known as atiyoga, is a tradition of teachings in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the ultimate ground of existence. The primordial ground is said to have the qualities of purity, spontaneity and compassion. The goal of Dzogchen is knowledge of this basis, this knowledge is called rigpa . There are numerous spiritual practices taught in the various Dzogchen systems for recognizing rigpa.
In the Dzogchen tradition in Tibetan Buddhism ground is the primordial state. It is an essential component of the Dzogchen tradition for both the Bonpo and the Nyingmapa. Knowledge of this Ground is called rigpa.
The Five Wisdoms are five kinds of wisdoms which appear when the mind is purified of the five disturbing emotions and the natural mind appears. All of those five wisdoms are represented by one of the five buddha-families.
Terma are various forms of hidden teachings that are key to Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhist and Bon religious traditions. The belief is that these teachings were originally esoterically hidden by various adepts such as Padmasambhava and dakini such as Yeshe Tsogyal (consorts) during the 8th century, for future discovery at auspicious times by other adepts, who are known as tertöns. As such, terma represent a tradition of continuous revelation in Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism. Termas are a part of tantric literature.
Eleven vajra topics
In Dzogchen, the eleven vajra topics explain the view of the secret instruction series. These can be found in the String of Pearls Tantra, the Great Commentary by Vimalamitra as well as in Longchenpa’s Treasury of Word and Meaning. The String of Pearls Tantra briefly lists them as follows:Although reality is inconceivable, pristine consciousness has three aspects. Though there are many bases of delusion, it is natural perfection and compassion. Abiding within oneself are the kāyas, families, and pristine consciousnesses. The location of buddhamind is in the center of the heart. The path is the four nāḍīs; vāyu causes movement. There are four gates of arising: the eyes and so on. The field is the sky free of clouds. The practice is trekchö and thögal. The gauge is the yoga of four confidences. The bardo is the meeting of the mother and child. The stage of liberation comes first.
In Dzogchen, the view is one of the Three Dharmas of the Path of Dzogchen. The other two dharmas of the path are practice (gompa) and conduct (chöpa).
Karma in Tibetan Buddhism
Karma in Tibetan Buddhism is one of the central issues addressed in Eastern philosophy, and an important part of its general practice.
Faith in Nyingma Buddhist Dharma
In the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist Dharma teachings faith’s essence is to make one’s being, and perfect dharma, inseparable. The etymology is the aspiration to achieve one’s goal. Faith’s virtues are like a fertile field, a wishing gem, a king who enforces the law, someone who holds the carefulness stronghold, a boat on a great river and an escort in a dangerous place. Faith in karma causes temporary happiness in the higher realms. Faith is a mental state in the Abhidharma literature’s fifty-one mental states. Perfect faith in the Buddha, his Teaching (Dharma) and the Order of his Disciples (Sangha) is comprehending these three jewels of refuge with serene joy based on conviction. The Tibetan word for faith is day-pa, which might be closer in meaning to confidence, or trust.
The sixteen characteristics are an extended elaboration of the Four Noble Truths. For each truth, they describe four characteristics.
Spiritual materialism is a term coined by Chögyam Trungpa in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. The book is a compendium of his talks explaining Buddhism given while opening the Karma Dzong meditation center in Boulder, Colorado. He expands on the concept in later seminars that became books such as Work, Sex, Money. He uses the term to describe mistakes spiritual seekers commit which turn the pursuit of spirituality into an ego building and confusion creating endeavor, based on the idea that ego development is counter to spiritual progress.