Tibetan Buddhist practices – Schools, sutras & tantras
Apart from classical Mahāyāna Buddhist practices like the six perfections, Tibetan Buddhism also includes tantric practices, such as deity yoga and the Six Dharmas of Naropa as well as methods which are seen as transcending tantra, like Dzogchen.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Classification of Tibetan Buddhist practices
- 2 - Preliminary practices
- 3 - List of well-known practices
- 3.1 - Mandala
- 3.2 - Dakini
- 3.3 - Mahakala
- 3.4 - Kalachakra
- 3.5 - Hevajra
- 3.6 - Jambhala
- 3.7 - Vajrayogini
- 3.8 - Snow Lion
- 3.9 - Pure land
- 3.10 - Yamantaka
- 3.11 - Ekajati
- 3.12 - Mahamudra
- 3.13 - Dzogchen
- 3.14 - Prayer wheel
- 3.15 - Prayer flag
- 3.16 - Guhyasamāja Tantra
- 3.17 - Kapala
- 3.18 - Dharmachakra
- 3.19 - Palden Lhamo
- 3.20 - Rainbow body
- 3.21 - Sand mandala
- 3.22 - Anuyoga
- 3.23 - Samaya
- 3.24 - Namkha
- 3.25 - Butter lamp
- 3.26 - Chöd
- 3.27 - Dream yoga
- 3.28 - Dhvaja
- 3.29 - Rigpa
- 3.30 - Makara
- 3.31 - Six Dharmas of Naropa
- 3.32 - Deity yoga
- 3.33 - Phowa
- 3.34 - Refuge tree
- 3.35 - Black Crown
- 3.36 - Songs of realization
- 3.37 - Kum Nye
- 3.38 - Bardo yoga
- 3.39 - Shurangama Mantra
- 3.40 - Gankyil
- 3.41 - Illusory body
- 3.42 - Dark retreat
- 3.43 - Three Jewels and Three Roots
- 3.44 - Tögal
- 3.45 - Pawo
- 3.46 - Trul khor
- 3.47 - Mañjuśrī-mūla-kalpa
- 3.48 - Drubchen
- 3.49 - Mahāmāyā Tantra
- 3.50 - History of Dzogchen
- 3.51 - Tsok
- 3.52 - Tibetan lucky signs
- 3.53 - Torma
- 3.54 - Trekchö
- 3.55 - Spiritual warrior
- 3.56 - Tsalung
- 3.57 - Cakrasaṃvara Tantra
- 3.58 - Sky gazing (Dzogchen)
- 3.59 - Yuthok Nyingthig
- 3.60 - Refuge in Buddhism
- 3.61 - Namchö
- 3.62 - Karmamudrā
- 3.63 - Lojong
- 3.64 - Sādhanā
- 3.65 - Lung (Tibetan Buddhism)
- 3.66 - Prostration (Buddhism)
- 3.67 - Praises to the Twenty-One Taras
- 3.68 - Mañjuśrīnāmasamgīti
- 3.69 - Cham dance
- 3.70 - Sitting-in-the-bed
- 3.71 - Maha Ati Tantra
- 3.72 - Mo (divination)
- 3.73 - Tibetan monasticism
- 3.74 - Ngöndro
- 3.75 - Nyönpa
- 3.76 - Sur offering
- 3.77 - Death horoscopes in Tibetan Buddhism
- 3.78 - Samten Migdrön
- 3.79 - Sky burial
- 3.80 - Kangling
Classification of Tibetan Buddhist practices
In Tibetan Buddhism, practices are generally classified as either Sutra (or Pāramitāyāna) or Tantra (Vajrayāna or Mantrayāna), though exactly what constitutes each category and what is included and excluded in each is a matter of debate and differs among the various lineages.
According to Tsongkhapa for example, what separates Tantra from Sutra is the practice of Deity yoga.
Furthermore, the adherents of the Nyingma school consider Dzogchen to be a separate and independent vehicle, which transcends both sutra and tantra.
While it is generally held that the practices of Vajrayāna are not included in Sutrayāna, all Sutrayāna practices are common to Vajrayāna practice.
Traditionally, Vajrayāna is held to be a more powerful and effective path, but potentially more difficult and dangerous and thus they should only be undertaken by the advanced who have established a solid basis in other practices.
Preliminary practices include all Sutrayāna activities that yield merit like hearing teachings, prostrations, offerings, prayers and acts of kindness and compassion, but chief among the preliminary practices are realizations through meditation on the three principle stages of the path:
- the altruistic bodhicitta wish to attain enlightenment
- the wisdom realizing emptiness
For a person without the basis of these three in particular to practice Vajrayāna can be like a small child trying to ride an unbroken horse.
The most widespread preliminary practices include: taking refuge, prostration, Vajrasattva meditation, mandala offerings and guru yoga.
The merit acquired in the preliminary practices facilitates progress in Vajrayāna.
While many Buddhists may spend a lifetime exclusively on sutra practices, an amalgam of the two to some degree is common.
For example, in order to train in calm abiding, one might visualize a tantric deity.
List of well-known practices
This is a list of some well-known Tibetan Buddhist practices among others.
A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. In common use, “mandala” has become a generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe.
The concept of the ḍākinī differs depending on the context and the tradition.
A ḍākinī in Hinduism is a demon and in Buddhism is a type of female spirit.
In Japan it is difficult to trace the exact origins of the Japanese Dakiniten cult but it flourished mainly via the network of Inari worship and vice versa.
Mahakala is a deity common to Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. According to Hinduism, Mahakala is a manifestation of Shiva and is the consort of Hindu Goddess Kali and most prominently appears in Kalikula sect of Shaktism. Mahākāla also appears as a protector deity known as a dharmapala in Vajrayana Buddhism, particularly most Tibetan traditions (Citipati), in Tangmi and in Shingon. He is known as Dàhēitiān and Daaih’hāktīn (大黑天) in Mandarin and Cantonese, Daeheukcheon (대흑천) in Korean and Daikokuten (大黒天) in Japanese. In Sikhism, Mahākāla is referred to as Kal, who is the governor of Maya.
The Kalachakra is a term used in Vajrayana Buddhism that means wheel of time or “time-cycles”. “Kālacakra” is one of many tantric teachings and esoteric practice in Tibetan Buddhism. It is an active Vajrayana tradition, one offered to large public audiences. The tradition combines myth and history, whereby actual historical vents become an allegory for the spiritual drama within a person, drawing symbolic lessons for inner transformation towards Buddha nature.
Hevajra is one of the main yidams in Tantric, or Vajrayana Buddhism. Hevajra’s consort is Nairātmyā.
Hevajra has four forms described in the Hevajra Tantra and the Samputa Tantra which are Kaya Hevajra, Vak Hevajra, Citta Hevajra and Hrdaya Hevajra.
Jambhala is the god of wealth.
Vajrayoginī is a Tantric Buddhist female Buddha and a ḍākiṇī. Vajrayoginī’s essence is “great passion” (maharaga), a transcendent passion that is free of selfishness and illusion — she intensely works for the well-being of others and for the destruction of ego clinging. She is seen as being ideally suited for people with strong passions, providing the way to transform those passions into enlightened virtues.
The Snow Lion, sometimes also Snowlion, is a celestial animal of Tibet. It is the emblem of Tibet, representing the snowy mountain ranges and glaciers of Tibet, and may also symbolize power and strength, and fearlessness and joy, east and the earth element. It is one of the Four Dignities. It ranges over the mountains, and is commonly pictured as being white with a turquoise mane.
A pure land is the celestial realm or pure abode of a buddha or bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. The term “pure land” is particular to East Asian Buddhism and related traditions; in Sanskrit the equivalent concept is called a “buddha-field”. The various traditions that focus on pure lands have been given the nomenclature Pure Land Buddhism. Pure lands are also evident in the literature and traditions of Taoism and Bon.
Yamantaka literally means ‘The Destroyer of Yama, the Lord of Death’, is a wrathful form of Manjushri.
According to Tibetan legends, her right eye was pierced by the tantric master Padmasambhava so that she could much more effectively help him subjugate Tibetan demons.
Mahāmudrā literally means “great seal” or “great imprint” and refers to the fact that “all phenomena inevitably are stamped by the fact of wisdom and emptiness inseparable”.
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.
A prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Newari language of Nepal, on the outside of the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. At the core of the cylinder is a “Life Tree” often made of wood or metal with certain mantras written on or wrapped around it. Many thousands of mantras are then wrapped around this life tree. The Mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is most commonly used, but other mantras may be used as well. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.
A prayer flag is a colorful rectangular cloth, often found strung along trails and peaks high in the Himalayas. They are used to bless the surrounding countryside and for other purposes. Prayer flags are believed to have originated with Bon. In Bon, shamanistic Bonpo used primary-colored plain flags in Tibet. Traditional prayer flags include woodblock-printed text and images.
The Guhyasamāja Tantra is one of the most important scriptures of Tantric Buddhism. In its fullest form, it consists of seventeen chapters, though a separate “explanatory tantra” (vyākhyātantra) known as the Later Tantra is sometimes considered to be its eighteenth chapter. Many scholars believe that the original core of the work consisted of the first twelve chapters, with chapters thirteen to seventeen being added later as explanatory material.
A kapala or skullcup is a cup made from a human skull and used as a ritual implement (bowl) in both Hindu Tantra and Buddhist Tantra (Vajrayana). Especially in Tibet, they are often carved or elaborately mounted with precious metals and jewels.
The Dhamma Chakra is a symbol from ancient India and one of the Ashtamangala of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism.
The Dhamma wheel symbol has represented Buddhism, Gautama Buddha’s teachings and his walking of the path to Enlightenment since the time of early Buddhism.
The symbol is also connected to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
Palden Lhamo or Panden Lhamo or Remati is a protecting Dharmapala of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. She is the wrathful deity considered to be the principal protectress of Tibet.
In Dzogchen, rainbow body (Tibetan: འཇའ་ལུས་, Wylie: ‘ja’ lus , Jalü or Jalus) is a level of realization. This may or may not be accompanied by the ‘rainbow body phenomenon’. The rainbow body phenomenon is a religious topic which has been treated fairly seriously for centuries, including in the modern era. Other Vajrayana teachings also mention rainbow body phenomena.
Sand Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from coloured sand. A sand mandala is ritualistically dismantled once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.
Anuyoga is the designation of the second of the three Inner Tantras according to the ninefold division of practice used by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. As with the other yanas, Anuyoga represents both a scriptural division as well as a specific emphasis of both view and practice.
The samaya, is a set of vows or precepts given to initiates of an esoteric Vajrayana Buddhist order as part of the abhiṣeka ceremony that creates a bond between the guru and disciple.
Namkha, also known as Dö; is a form of yarn or thread cross composed traditionally of wool or silk and is a form of the Endless knot of the Eight Auspicious Symbols (Ashtamangala).
Butter lamps are a conspicuous feature of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the Himalayas. The lamps traditionally burn clarified yak butter, but now often use vegetable oil or vanaspati ghee.
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.
Dream Yoga or Milam —the Yoga of the Dream State—is a suite of advanced tantric sadhana of the entwined Mantrayana lineages of Dzogchen. Dream Yoga are tantric processes and techniques within the trance Bardos of Dream and Sleep Six Yogas of Naropa. In the tradition of the tantra, Dream Yoga method is usually passed on by a qualified teacher to his/her students after necessary initiation. Various Tibetan lamas are unanimous that it is more of a passing of an enlightened experience rather than any textual information.
Dhvaja, meaning banner or flag, is composed of the Ashtamangala, the “eight auspicious symbols.”
In Dzogchen teaching, rigpa is the knowledge of the ground. The opposite of rigpa is marigpa.
Makara is a mythical sea creature having a snout like an elephant and the body like an alligator.
Six Dharmas of Naropa
The Six Dharmas of Nāropa, also called the Six Yogas of Nāropa, are a set of advanced Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices and a meditation sādhanā compiled in and around the time of the Indian monk and mystic Nāropa and conveyed to his student Marpa Lotsawa.
The six dharmas were intended in part to help in the attainment of Buddhahood in an accelerated manner.
Deity yoga is a practice of Vajrayana Buddhism involving identification with a chosen deity through visualisations and rituals, and the realisation of emptiness. According to the Tibetan scholar Tsongkhapa, deity yoga is what separates Buddhist Tantra practice from the practice of other Buddhist schools.
Phowa is a Vajrayāna Buddhist meditation practice. It may be described as “the practice of conscious dying”, “transference of consciousness at the time of death”, “mindstream transference”, or “enlightenment without meditation”.
The imagery of the Refuge Tree, also referred to as Refuge Assembly, Refuge Field, Merit Field, Field of Merit or Field of Accumulation is a key part of a visualization and foundational meditation practice common to Tantric Buddhism. Based on descriptions in the liturgical texts of various traditions, Refuge Trees are often depicted in thangkas employed as objects of veneration, mnemonic devices and as a precursor to the contents being fully visualized by the Buddhist practitioner during the Refuge Formula or evocation.
The Black Crown is an important symbol of the Karmapa, the Lama that heads the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The crown signifies his power to benefit all sentient beings. A corresponding crown, the Red Crown, is worn by the Shamarpa. The Tai Situpa wears a red crown as well, whereas Goshir Gyaltsab wears an orange crown.
Songs of realization
Songs of realization, or Songs of Experience, are sung poetry forms characteristic of the tantric movement in both Hinduism and in Vajrayana Buddhism. Doha is also a specific poetic form. Various forms of these songs exist, including caryagiti, or ‘performance songs’ and vajragiti, or ‘diamond songs’, sometimes translated as vajra songs and doha, also called doha songs, distinguishing them from the unsung Indian poetry form of the doha. According to Roger Jackson, caryagiti and vajragiti “differ generically from dohās because of their different context and function”; the doha being primarily spiritual aphorisms expressed in the form of rhyming couplets whilst caryagiti are stand-alone performance songs and vajragiti are songs that can only be understood in the context of a ganachakra or tantric feast. Many collections of songs of realization are preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon, however many of these texts have yet to be translated from the Tibetan language.
Kum Nye and sKu-mNyé are a wide variety of Tibetan religious and medical body practices. The two terms are different spellings in the Latin alphabet of the same Tibetan phrase, which literally means “massage of the subtle body”. Some systems of sku mnye are vaguely similar to Yoga, T’ai chi, Qigong, or therapeutic massage. “Kum Nye”, Ku Nye, and Kunye are also used to transcribe the Tibetan phrases dku mnye and bsku mnye, which are pronounced identically to sku mnye. dKu mnye and bsku mnye manipulate the physical body, rather than the subtle (energetic) one.
Bardo yoga deals with navigating the bardo state in between death and rebirth.
It is one of the Six Dharmas of Naropa, a set of advanced Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices compiled by the Indian mahasiddhas Tilopa and Nāropa and passed on to the Tibetan translator-yogi Marpa Lotsawa.
The Shurangama or Śūraṅgama mantra is a dhāraṇī or long mantra of Buddhist practice in China, Japan and Korea. Although relatively unknown in modern Tibet, there are several Śūraṅgama Mantra texts in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. It is associated with Chinese Esoteric Buddhism and Shingon Buddhism.
The Gankyil or “wheel of joy” is a symbol and ritual tool used in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism. It is composed of three swirling and interconnected blades.
Illusory body is term for one of the Six Yogas of Naropa, also called luminosity. In his commentary, Pema Karpo says that the clear light is experienced briefly by all human beings at the very first moment of death, by advanced yogic practitioners in the highest states of meditation, and unceasingly by all Buddhas.
Dark retreat is a solo retreat in a space that is completely absent of light, which is an advanced practices in the Dzogchen lineages of the Nyingmapa, Bönpo, and other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The time period dedicated to dark retreat varies from a few hours to decades. Dark retreat in the Himalayan tradition is a restricted practice only to be engaged by the senior spiritual practitioner under appropriate spiritual guidance. This practice is considered conducive for navigating the bardo at the time of death and for realising the rainbow body. The traditional dark retreat requires stability in the natural state and is only suitable for advanced practitioners. Ayu Khandro and Dilgo Khyentse are examples of modern, if not contemporary, practitioners of significant periods of dark retreat sadhana.
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.
In Dzogchen, tögal literally means “crossing the peak.” It is sometimes translated as ‘leapover,’ ‘direct crossing,’ or ‘direct transcendence.’ Tögal is also called “the practice of vision,” or “the practice of the Clear Light” (od-gsal).
In Vajrayana Buddhism, Pawo is translated hero or warrior. Depending on context, it can refer to the ideal of a Vajrayana practitioner; to living people ; to legendary or mythical figures from the past; or to purely spiritual beings.
Tsa lung Trul khor, known in short as Trul khor “magical instrument” or “magic circle” is a Vajrayana discipline which includes pranayama and body postures (asanas). From the perspective of Dzogchen, the mind is merely vāyu “breath” in the body. Thus working with vāyu and the body is paramount, while meditation on the other hand is considered contrived and conceptual.
The Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa or Mañjuśrī-mūla-kalpa is a text of the Kriyā-tantra class. It is affiliated with the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. It contains violent, sensual and sexual tantric rituals.
A drubchen is a traditional form of meditation retreat in Tibetan Buddhism that lasts for about ten days. It involves a large number of lay and monastic practitioners and is led by at least one High Lama. It is regarded as a very powerful practice, and is said to act as a remedy to the negative forces at work in the world, and to promote inner personal peace, peace within the community and world peace.
The Mahāmāyā Tantra, is an important Buddhist Anuttarayoga tantra or Yoganiruttaratantra particularly associated with the practice of Dream Yoga.
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.
A ganacakra is also known as tsog, ganapuja, cakrapuja or ganacakrapuja. It is a generic term for various tantric assemblies or feasts, in which practitioners meet to chant mantra, enact mudra, make votive offerings and practice various tantric rituals as part of a sādhanā, or spiritual practice. The ganachakra often comprises a sacramental meal and festivities such as dancing; the feast generally consisting of materials that were considered forbidden or taboo in medieval India, where the tantric movement arose. As a tantric practice, forms of gaṇacakra are practiced today in Hinduism, Bön and Vajrayāna Buddhism.
Tibetan lucky signs
The Ashtamangala is a sacred suite of Eight Auspicious Signs endemic to a number of religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The symbols or “symbolic attributes” are yidam and teaching tools. Not only do these attributes point to qualities of enlightened mindstream, but they are the investiture that ornaments these enlightened “qualities”. Many cultural enumerations and variations of the Ashtamangala are extant.
Torma (Skt.: Bali) is dough sculpture, cone-shaped and sometimes elaborately decorated and colored, used as stylised food offerings in Bon and Buddhist rituals and initiations.
In Dzogchen, trekchö means “(spontaneous) cutting of tension” or “cutting through solidity.” The practice of trekchö reflects the earliest developments of Dzogchen, with its admonition against practice. In this practice one first identifies, and then sustains recognition of, one’s own innately pure, empty awareness. The main trekchö instructions in the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo state “This instant freshness, unspoiled by the thoughts of the three times; You directly see in actuality by letting be in naturalness.”
The term spiritual warrior is used in Tibetan Buddhism for one who combats the universal enemy: self-ignorance (avidya), the ultimate source of suffering according to Buddhist philosophy. A heroic being with a brave mind and ethical impulse. Different from other paths, which focus on individual salvation, the spiritual warrior’s only complete and right practice is that which compassionately helps other beings with wisdom. This is the Bodhisattva ideal, the spiritual warrior who resolves to attain buddhahood in order to liberate others. The term is also used generically in esotericism and self-help literature. Spiritual warrior, “illuminated heart and valiant one”, “enlightenment hero”, “one who aspires for enlightenment” or, “heroic being” has been defined as a bodhisattva.
Tsalung are special yogic exercises. The exercises are used in the Bon tradition and the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Trul khor employs the tsa lung and they constitute the internal yantra or sacred architecture of this yoga’s Sanskrit name, yantra yoga. Tsa lung are also employed in completion stage practices.
The Cakrasaṃvara Tantra or Khorlo Déchok is considered to be of the mother class of the Anuttarayoga Tantra in Vajrayana Buddhism. It is also called the Discourse of Sri Heruka (sriherukabhidhana) and the Samvara Light (Laghusamvara). David B. Gray dates this tantra to the late eight or early ninth century.
Sky gazing (Dzogchen)
In both the Bön and Buddhist Dzogchen traditions, sky gazing is considered to be an important part of tregchöd. Detailed instructions on the practice are provided by the Nyingma teacher Tarthang Tulku.
Yuthok Nyingthig is a tantric cycle composed by Yuthok Yontan Gonpo the Younger. It is a system of Buddhist practice which combines Traditional Tibetan medicine and Vajrayāna practices. These are the primary Vajrayāna practices of Tibetan medicine practitioners.
Refuge in Buddhism
In Buddhism, refuge or taking refuge refers to a religious practice, which often includes a prayer or recitation performed at the beginning of the day or of a practice session. In Sutrayana, refuge is taken in the Three Jewels which are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Namchö translates as the “sky/space dharma”, a terma cycle especially popular among the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was revealed by the tertön Namchö Migyur Dorje, transmitted to Kunzang Sherab and compiled by the Kagyu school master Karma Chagme.
Karmamudrā is a Vajrayana Buddhist technique of sexual practice with a physical or visualized consort. When the consort is a visualised one they are known as the jnanamudra.
Lojong is a mind training practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on a set of aphorisms formulated in Tibet in the 12th century by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje. The practice involves refining and purifying one’s motivations and attitudes.
Sādhana, literally “a means of accomplishing something”, is a generic term coming from the yogic tradition and it refers to any spiritual exercise that is aimed at progressing the sādhaka towards the very ultimate expression of his or her life in this reality. It includes a variety of disciplines in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions that are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives.
Lung (Tibetan Buddhism)
Lung means wind or breath. It is a key concept in the Vajrayana traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and has a variety of meanings. Lung is a concept that Is particularly important to understandings of the subtle body and the Three Vajras. Traditional Tibetan medicine practitioner Dr Tamdin Sither Bradley provides a summary:The general description of rLung is that it is a subtle flow of energy and out of the five elements it is most closely connected with air. However it is not simply the air which we breathe or the wind in our stomachs, it goes much deeper than that. rLung is like a horse and the mind is the rider, if there is something wrong with the horse the rider will not be able to ride properly. Its description is that it is rough, light, cool, thin, hard, movable. The general function of rLung is to help growth, movement of the body, exhalation and inhalation and to aid the function of mind, speech and body. rLung helps to separate in our stomachs what we eat into nutrients and waste products. However its most important function is to carry the movements of mind, speech and body. The nature of rLung is both hot and cold.
A prostration is a gesture used in Buddhist practice to show reverence to the Triple Gem and other objects of veneration.
Praises to the Twenty-One Taras
Within Tibetan Buddhism, Tara has 21 major forms in all, each tied to a certain color and energy.
And each offers some feminine attribute, of ultimate benefit to the spiritual aspirant who asks for her assistance.
Praises to the Twenty-One Taras is a traditional prayer in Tibetan Buddhism to the female Bodhisattva Tara also known as Ārya Tārā, or Jetsun Dolma.
The Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti is considered amongst the most advanced teachings given by the Shakyamuni Buddha. It represents the pinnacle of all Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings, being a tantra of the nondual (advaya) class, along with the Kalachakra Tantra.
The cham dance’, is a lively masked and costumed dance associated with some sects of Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhist festivals. The dance is accompanied by music played by monks using traditional Tibetan instruments. The dances often offer moral instruction relating to compassion for sentient beings and are held to bring merit to all who perceive them.
Sitting-in-the-bed is a major religious ceremony in Tibetan Buddhist temples. It is a necessary ceremony for the reincarnated person to formally succeed the living Buddha by the reincarnated soul boy and change the name during the inheritance process of the living Buddha.
Maha Ati Tantra
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 awakening rigpa.
Mo is a form of divination that is part of the culture and religion of Tibet. The Tibetan people consult Mo when making important decisions about health, work or travel. Mo employs dice and there are books written by various lamas on interpretations for the casting of dice. The answers given by the Mo are regarded as coming from Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom.
Although there were many householder-yogis in Tibet, monasticism was the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet. There were over 6,000 monasteries in Tibet. However, nearly all of these were ransacked and destroyed by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Most of the major monasteries have been at least partially re-established, while many others remain in ruins.
The Tibetan term Ngöndro refers to the preliminary, preparatory or foundational practices or disciplines common to all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and also to Bon. They precede the Generation stage and Completion stage.
The term Nyönpa may refer to a group of Tibetan Buddhist yogis or a single individual belonging to this group. They were mainly known for their unusual style of teaching, to which they owed their names.
A sur offering is a Tibetan Buddhist practice in which a mixture of flour, sweets and dairy products, sometimes with additional valuable or aromatic substances, is consecrated and placed in a fire or burned as incense. The resulting fragrant smoke is offered to the objects of refuge and shared with all sentient beings.
Death horoscopes in Tibetan Buddhism
The use of death horoscopes in Tibetan Buddhism is an old practice that still sees application today. There are several types of horoscopes used in this religion, including a birth horoscope, a life forecast, an annual horoscope, a marriage horoscope, and a death horoscope. When casting the death horoscope, Tibetan Buddhists place great importance on the corpse, especially within the first three days following its death. There are several purposes for a death horoscope, and carrying out this practice must be done carefully. Additionally, a death horoscope is intended as a loving act for the dead, and a precautionary measure for the family of the deceased. Many Tibetans believe that when a death occurs within the family, other family members’ lives are jeopardized, so this practice may be considered essential to both the living and dead. Tibetan Buddhists also believe that their deceased loved ones may spend a short period in hell to pay for sins in their past life.
Samten Migdrön is a Tibetan text of historical importance for the historical relationship of Dzogchen and Zen as well identifying the view of its author, Nubchen Sangye Yeshe.
Sky burial is a funeral practice in which a human corpse is placed on a mountaintop to decompose while exposed to the elements or to be eaten by scavenging animals, especially carrion birds. It is a specific type of the general practice of excarnation. It is practiced in the Chinese provinces and autonomous regions of Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Inner Mongolia, as well as in Mongolia, Bhutan and parts of India such as Sikkim and Zanskar. The locations of preparation and sky burial are understood in the Vajrayana Buddhist traditions as charnel grounds. Comparable practices are part of Zoroastrian burial practices where deceased are exposed to the elements and birds of prey on stone structures called Dakhma. Few such places remain operational today due to religious marginalisation, urbanisation and the decimation of vulture populations.
Kangling, literally translated as “leg” (kang) “flute” (ling), is the Tibetan name for a trumpet or horn made out of a human femur, used in Tibetan Buddhism for various chöd rituals as well as funerals performed by a chöpa. The femur of a criminal or a person who died a violent death is preferred. Alternatively, the femur of a respected teacher may be used. The kangling may also be made out of wood.