Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism (also referred to as Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Lamaism, Lamaistic Buddhism, Himalayan Buddhism, and Northern Buddhism) is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet and Bhutan, where it is the dominant religion. It is also in majority regions surrounding the Himalayan areas of India (such as Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and a minority in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), in much of Central Asia, in the southern Siberian regions (such as Tuva), and in Mongolia.

Inside of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery

Tibetan Buddhism evolved as a form of Mahāyāna Buddhism stemming from the latest stages of Indian Buddhism (which included many Vajrayāna elements). It thus preserves many Indian Buddhist tantric practices of the post-Gupta early medieval period (500 to 1200 CE), along with numerous native Tibetan developments.[1][2] In the pre-modern era, Tibetan Buddhism spread outside of Tibet primarily due to the influence of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), founded by Kublai Khan, which had ruled China, Mongolia, and parts of Siberia. In the Modern era, Tibetan Buddhism has spread outside of Asia because of the efforts of the Tibetan diaspora (1959 onwards). As the Dalai Lama escaped to India, the Indian subcontinent is also known for its renaissance of Tibetan Buddhism monasteries, including the rebuilding of the three major monasteries of the Gelug tradition.

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 that are seen as transcending tantra, like Dzogchen. Its main goal is Buddhahood.[3][4] The main language of scriptural study in this tradition is classical Tibetan.

Tibetan Buddhism has four major schools, namely Nyingma (8th century), Kagyu (11th century), Sakya (1073), and Gelug (1409). The Jonang is a smaller school that exists, and the Rimé movement (19th century), meaning "no sides",[5] is a more recent non-sectarian movement that attempts to preserve and understand all the different traditions. The predominant spiritual tradition in Tibet before the introduction of Buddhism was Bon, which has been strongly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism (particularly the Nyingma school).

While each of the four major schools is independent and has its own monastic institutions and leaders, they are closely related and intersect with common contact and dialogue.


The native Tibetan term for Buddhism is "The Dharma of the insiders" (nang chos) or "The Buddha Dharma of the insiders" (nang pa sangs rgyas pa'i chos).[6][7] "Insider" means someone who seeks the truth not outside but within the nature of mind. This is contrasted with other forms of organized religion, which are termed chos lugs (dharma system). For example, Christianity is termed Yi shu'i chos lugs (Jesus dharma system).[7]

Westerners unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhism initially turned to China for understanding. In Han Buddhism, the term used is Lamaism (literally, "doctrine of the lamas": 喇嘛教 lama jiao) to distinguish it from a then-traditional Han form (佛教 fo jiao). The term was taken up by western scholars, including Hegel, as early as 1822.[8][9] Insofar as it implies a discontinuity between Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, the term has been discredited.[10]

In China, the new term is 藏传佛教 zangchuan fojiao, literally "Tibetan Buddhism."

Another term, "Vajrayāna" (Tibetan: dorje tegpa) is occasionally misused for Tibetan Buddhism. More accurately, Vajrayāna signifies a certain subset of practices and traditions that are not only part of Tibetan Buddhism but also prominent in other Buddhist traditions.

In the west, the term "Indo-Tibetan Buddhism" has become current in acknowledgement of its derivation from the latest stages of Buddhist development in northern India.[11] "Northern Buddhism" is sometimes used to refer to Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, for example, in the Brill Dictionary of Religion.

Another term, Himalayan (or Trans-Himalayan) Buddhism is sometimes used to indicate how this form of Buddhism is practiced not just in Tibet but throughout the Himalayan Regions.[12][13]


Pre–6th century

During the 3rd century CE, Buddhism began to spread into the Tibetan region, and its teachings affected the Bon religion in the Kingdom of Zhangzhung.[14]

First dissemination (7th–9th centuries)

Map of the Tibetan Empire at its greatest extent between the 780s and the 790s CE
Samye was the first gompa (Buddhist monastery) built in Tibet (775-779).

While some stories depict Buddhism in Tibet before this period, the religion was formally introduced during the Tibetan Empire (7th–9th century CE). Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures from India were first translated into Tibetan under the reign of the Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo (618–649 CE).[15] This period also saw the development of the Tibetan writing system and classical Tibetan.

In the 8th century, King Trisong Detsen (755–797 CE) established it as the official religion of the state[16] and commanded his army to wear robes and study Buddhism. Trisong Detsen invited Indian Buddhist scholars to his court, including Padmasambhāva (8th century CE) and Śāntarakṣita (725–788), who are considered the founders of Nyingma (The Ancient Ones), the oldest tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.[17] Padmasambhava, who is considered by the Tibetans as Guru Rinpoche ("Precious Master"), is also credited with building the first monastery building named Samye around late 8th century. According to some legend, it is noted that he pacified the Bon demons and made them the core protectors of Dharma. [18] Modern historians also argue that Trisong Detsen and his followers adopted Buddhism as an act of international diplomacy, especially with the major power of those times such as China, India, and states in Central Asia that had strong Buddhist influence in their culture. [19]

Yeshe Tsogyal, the most important female in the Nyingma Vajrayana lineage, was a member of Trisong Detsen's court and became Padmasambhava's student before gaining enlightenment. Trisong Detsen also invited the Chan master Moheyan[note 1] to transmit the Dharma at Samye Monastery. Some sources state that a debate ensued between Moheyan and the Indian master Kamalaśīla, without consensus on the victor, and some scholars consider the event to be fictitious.[20][21][note 2][note 3]

Era of fragmentation (9th–10th centuries)

A reversal in Buddhist influence began under King Langdarma (r. 836–842), and his death was followed by the so-called Era of Fragmentation, a period of disunity during the 9th and 10th centuries. During this era, the political centralization of the earlier Tibetan Empire collapsed and civil wars ensued.[24]

In spite of this loss of state power and patronage however, Buddhism survived and thrived in Tibet. According to Geoffrey Samuel this was because "Tantric (Vajrayana) Buddhism came to provide the principal set of techniques by which Tibetans dealt with the dangerous powers of the spirit world... Buddhism, in the form of Vajrayana ritual, provided a critical set of techniques for dealing with everyday life. Tibetans came to see these techniques as vital for their survival and prosperity in this life."[25] This includes dealing with the local gods and spirits (sadak and shipdak), which became a specialty of some Tibetan Buddhist lamas and lay ngagpas (mantrikas, mantra specialists).[26]

Second dissemination (10th–12th centuries)

The Indian master Atiśa
The Tibetan householder and translator Marpa (1012-1097)

The late 10th and 11th centuries saw a revival of Buddhism in Tibet with the founding of "New Translation" (Sarma) lineages as well as the appearance of "hidden treasures" (terma) literature which reshaped the Nyingma tradition.[27][28]

In 1042, the Bengali master Atiśa (982-1054) arrived in Tibet at the invitation of a west Tibetan king. His chief disciple, Dromton founded the Kadam school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the first Sarma schools.. Atiśa, helped in the translation of major Buddhist texts such as Bka'-'gyur (Translation of the Buddha Word) and Bstan-'gyur (Translation of Teachings) helped in disseminating the values of Buddhism in powerful state affairs as well as in the Tibetan culture. The Bka'-'gyur has six main categories in the book: (1) Tantra, (2) Prajñāpāramitā, (3) Ratnakūṭa Sūtra, (4) Avatamsaka Sutra, (5) Other sutras, (6) Vinaya. The Bstan-'gyur is a compilation work of 3,626 texts and 224 volumes which basically encompass texts of hymns, commentaries and tantras.

The Sakya (Grey Earth) school, was founded by Khön Könchok Gyelpo (1034–1102), a disciple of the great scholar, Drogmi Shākya. It is headed by the Sakya Trizin, and traces its lineage to the mahasiddha Virūpa.[17]

Other influential Indian teachers include Tilopa (988–1069) and his student Naropa (probably died ca. 1040). Their teachings, via their student Marpa, are the foundations of the Kagyu (Oral lineage) tradition, which focuses on the practices of Mahamudra and the Six Dharmas of Naropa. One of most famous Kagyu figures was the hermit Milarepa, an 11th-century mystic. The Dagpo Kagyu was founded by the monk Gampopa who merged Marpa's lineage teachings with the monastic Kadam tradition.[17]

All the sub-schools of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism surviving today, including the Drikung Kagyu, the Drukpa Kagyu and the Karma Kagyu, are branches of the Dagpo Kagyu. The Karma Kagyu school is the largest of the Kagyu sub-schools and is headed by the Karmapa.

Mongol dominance (13th–14th centuries)

Tibetan Buddhism exerted a strong influence from the 11th century CE among the peoples of Inner Asia, especially the Mongols. The Mongols invaded Tibet in 1240 and 1244.[29][30][31] They eventually annexed Amdo and Kham and appointed the great scholar and abbot Sakya Pandita (1182–1251) as Viceroy of Central Tibet in 1249.[32]

In this way, Tibet was incorporated into the Mongol Empire, with the Sakya hierarchy retaining nominal power over religious and regional political affairs, while the Mongols retained structural and administrative[33][34] rule over the region, reinforced by the rare military intervention. Tibetan Buddhism was adopted as the de facto state religion by the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) of Kublai Khan.[35]

It was also during this period that the Tibetan Buddhist canon was compiled, primarily led by the efforts of the scholar Butön Rinchen Drup (1290–1364). A part of this project included the carving of the canon into wood blocks for printing, and the first copies of these texts were kept at Narthang monastery.[36]

From family rule to Ganden Phodrang government (14th-18th centuries)

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, chief residence and political center of the Dalai Lamas.

With the decline and end of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, Tibet regained independence and was ruled by successive local families from the 14th to the 17th century.[37]

Jangchub Gyaltsän (1302–1364) became the strongest political family in the mid 14th century.[38] During this period the reformist scholar Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) founded the Gelug school which would have a decisive influence on Tibet's history. The Ganden Tripa is the nominal head of the Gelug school, though its most influential figure is the Dalai Lama. The Ganden Tripa is an appointed office and not an reincarnation lineage. The position can be held by an individual for seven years and this has led to more Ganden Tripas than Dalai Lamas [39]

Internal strife within the Phagmodrupa dynasty, and the strong localism of the various fiefs and political-religious factions, led to a long series of internal conflicts. The minister family Rinpungpa, based in Tsang (West Central Tibet), dominated politics after 1435.

In 1565, the Rinpungpa family was overthrown by the Tsangpa Dynasty of Shigatse, which expanded its power in different directions of Tibet in the following decades and favoured the Karma Kagyu sect. They would play a pivotal role in the events which led to the rise of power of the Dalai Lama's in the 1640s.

In China, Tibetan Buddhism continued to be patronized by the elites of the Ming Dynasty. According to David M. Robinson, during this era, Tibetan Buddhist monks "conducted court rituals, enjoyed privileged status and gained access to the jealously guarded, private world of the emperors".[40] The Ming Yongle Emperor (r. 1402–1424) promoted the carving of printing blocks for the Kangyur, now known as "the Yongle Kanjur", and seen as an important edition of the collection.[41]

The Ming Dynasty also supported the propagation of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia during this period. Tibetan Buddhist missionaries also helped spread the religion in Mongolia. It was during this era that Altan Khan the leader of the Tümed Mongols, converted to Buddhism, and allied with the Gelug school, conferring the title of Dalai Lama to Sonam Gyatso in 1578.[42]

During a Tibetan civil war in the 17th century, Sonam Choephel (1595–1657 CE), the chief regent of the 5th Dalai Lama, conquered and unified Tibet to establish the Ganden Phodrang government with the help of the Güshi Khan of the Khoshut Mongols. The Ganden Phodrang and the successive Gelug tulku lineages of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas maintained regional control of Tibet from the mid-17th to mid-20th centuries.

Qing rule (18th–20th centuries)

Yonghe Temple, a temple of the Gelug tradition in Beijing established in the Qing Dynasty.

The Qing dynasty (1644-1912) established a Chinese rule over Tibet after a Qing expeditionary force defeated the Dzungars (who controlled Tibet) in 1720, and lasted until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912.[43] The Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty supported Tibetan Buddhism, especially the Gelug sect, during most of their rule.[35] The reign of the Qianlong Emperor was the high mark for this promotion of Tibetan Buddhism in China, with the visit of the 6th Panchen Lama to Beijing, and the building of temples in the Tibetan style, such as Xumi Fushou Temple, the Puning Temple and Putuo Zongcheng Temple (modeled after the potala palace).[44]

This period also saw the rise of the Rimé movement, a 19th-century nonsectarian movement involving the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism, along with some Bon scholars.[45] Having seen how the Gelug institutions pushed the other traditions into the corners of Tibet's cultural life, scholars such as Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and Jamgön Kongtrül (1813-1899) compiled together the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma, including many near-extinct teachings.[46] Without Khyentse and Kongtrul's collecting and printing of rare works, the suppression of Buddhism by the Communists would have been much more final.[47] The Rimé movement is responsible for a number of scriptural compilations, such as the Rinchen Terdzod and the Sheja Dzö.

During the Qing, Tibetan Buddhism also remained the major religion of the Mongols under Qing rule (1635–1912), as well as the state religion of the Kalmyk Khanate (1630–1771), the Dzungar Khanate (1634–1758) and the Khoshut Khanate (1642–1717).

20th century

In 1912, following the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Tibet became de facto independent under the 13th Dalai Lama government based in Lhasa, maintaining the current territory of what is now called the Tibetan Autonomous Region.[48]

During the Republic of China (1912–1949), the "Chinese Tantric Buddhist Revival Movement" (Chinese: 密教復興運動) took place, and important figures such as Nenghai (能海喇嘛, 1886–1967) and Master Fazun (法尊, 1902–1980) promoted Tibetan Buddhism and translated Tibetan works into Chinese.[49] This movement was severely damaged during the cultural revolution, however.

After the Battle of Chamdo, Tibet was annexed by China in 1950. In 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama and a great number of clergy fled the country, to settle in India and other neighbouring countries. The events of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) saw religion as one of the main political targets of the Chinese Communist Party, and most of the several thousand temples and monasteries in Tibet were destroyed, with many monks and lamas imprisoned.[50] During this time, private religious expression, as well as Tibetan cultural traditions, were suppressed. Much of the Tibetan textual heritage and institutions were destroyed, and monks and nuns were forced to disrobe.[51]

Outside of Tibet, however, there was a renewed interest in Tibetan Buddhism in places such as Nepal and Bhutan.

Meanwhile, the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the Western world was accomplished by many of the refugee Tibetan Lamas who escaped Tibet,[50] such as Akong Rinpoche and Chögyam Trungpa who in 1967 were founders of Kagyu Samye Ling the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre to be established in the West.[52]

After the liberalization policies in China during the 1980s, the religion began to recover with some temples and monasteries being reconstructed.[53] Tibetan Buddhism is now an influential religion among Chinese people, and also in Taiwan.[53] However, the Chinese government retains strict control over Tibetan Buddhist Institutions in the PRC. Quotas on the number of monks and nuns are maintained, and their activities are closely supervised.[54]

Within the Tibetan Autonomous Region, violence against Buddhists has been escalating since 2008.[55][56] Widespread reports document the arrests and disappearances[57] of nuns and monks, while the Chinese government classifies religious practices as "gang crime".[58] Reports include the demolition of monasteries, forced disrobing, forced reeducation, and detentions of nuns and monks, especially those residing at Yarchen Gar's center, the most highly publicized.[59][60]

21st century

The 14th Dalai Lama meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016. Due to his widespread popularity, the Dalai Lama has become the modern international face of Tibetan Buddhism.[61]

Today, Tibetan Buddhism is adhered to widely in the Tibetan Plateau, Mongolia, northern Nepal, Kalmykia (on the north-west shore of the Caspian), Siberia (Tuva and Buryatia), the Russian Far East and northeast China. It is the state religion of Bhutan.[62] The Indian regions of Sikkim and Ladakh, both formerly independent kingdoms, are also home to significant Tibetan Buddhist populations, as are the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh (which includes Dharamshala and the district of Lahaul-Spiti), West Bengal (the hill stations of Darjeeling and Kalimpong) and Arunachal Pradesh. Religious communities, refugee centers and monasteries have also been established in South India.[63]

The 14th Dalai Lama is the leader of the Tibetan government in exile which was initially dominated by the Gelug school, however, according to Geoffrey Samuel:

The Dharamsala administration under the Dalai Lama has nevertheless managed, over time, to create a relatively inclusive and democratic structure that has received broad support across the Tibetan communities in exile. Senior figures from the three non-Gelukpa Buddhist schools and from the Bonpo have been included in the religious administration, and relations between the different lamas and schools are now on the whole very positive. This is a considerable achievement, since the relations between these groups were often competitive and conflict-ridden in Tibet before 1959, and mutual distrust was initially widespread. The Dalai Lama's government at Dharamsala has also continued under difficult circumstances to argue for a negotiated settlement rather than armed struggle with China.[63]

Kagyu-Dzong Buddhist center in Paris.

In the wake of the Tibetan diaspora, Tibetan Buddhism has also gained adherents in the West and throughout the world. Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and centers were first established in Europe and North America in the 1960s, and most are now supported by non-Tibetan followers of Tibetan lamas. Some of these westerners went on to learn Tibetan, undertake extensive training in the traditional practices and have been recognized as lamas.[64] Fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist Monks have also entered Western societies in other ways, such as working academia.[65]

Samuel sees the character of Tibetan Buddhism in the West as

...that of a national or international network, generally centred around the teachings of a single individual lama. Among the larger ones are the FPMT, which I have already mentioned, now headed by Lama Zopa and the child-reincarnation of Lama Yeshe; the New Kadampa, in origin a break-away from the FPMT; the Shambhala network, deriving from Chögyam Trungpa 's organization and now headed by his son; and the networks associated with Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche (the Dzogchen Community) and Sogyal Rinpoche (Rigpa).[66]


Tibetan Buddhism upholds classic Buddhist teachings such as the four noble truths (Tib. pakpé denpa shyi), anatman (not-self, bdag med), the five aggregates (phung po) karma and rebirth, and dependent arising (rten cing ’brel bar ’byung ba).[67] They also uphold various other Buddhist doctrines associated with Mahāyāna Buddhism (theg pa chen po) as well as the tantric Vajrayāna tradition.[68]

Buddhahood and Bodhisattvas

Samantabhadra, surrounded by numerous peaceful and fierce deities.
The eleven faced and thousand armed form of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

The Mahāyāna goal of spiritual development is to achieve the enlightenment of Buddhahood in order to help all other sentient beings attain this state.[69] This motivation is called bodhicitta (mind of awakening)—an altruistic intention to become enlightened for the sake of all sentient beings.[70] Bodhisattvas (Tib. jangchup semba, literally "awakening hero") are revered beings who have conceived the will and vow to dedicate their lives with bodhicitta for the sake of all beings.

Widely revered Bodhisattvas in Tibetan Buddhism include Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Tara. The most important Buddhas are the five Buddhas of the Vajradhatu mandala[71] as well as the Adi Buddha (first Buddha), called either Vajradhara or Samantabhadra.

Buddhahood is defined as a state free of the obstructions to liberation as well as those to omniscience (sarvajñana).[72] When one is freed from all mental obscurations,[73] one is said to attain a state of continuous bliss mixed with a simultaneous cognition of emptiness,[74] the true nature of reality.[75] In this state, all limitations on one's ability to help other living beings are removed.[76] Tibetan Buddhism claims to teach methods for achieving Buddhahood more quickly (known as the Vajrayāna path).[77]

It is said that there are countless beings who have attained Buddhahood.[78] Buddhas spontaneously, naturally and continuously perform activities to benefit all sentient beings.[79] However it is believed that one's karma could limit the ability of the Buddhas to help them. Thus, although Buddhas possess no limitation from their side on their ability to help others, sentient beings continue to experience suffering as a result of the limitations of their own former negative actions.[80]

An important schema which is used in understanding the nature of Buddhahood in Tibetan Buddhism is the Trikaya (Three bodies) doctrine.[81]

The Bodhisattva path

A central schema for spiritual advancement used in Tibetan Buddhism is that of the five paths (Skt. pañcamārga; Tib. lam nga) which are:[82]

  1. The path of accumulation - in which one collects wisdom and merit, generates bodhicitta, cultivates the four foundations of mindfulness and right effort (the "four abandonments").
  2. The path of preparation - Is attained when one reaches the union of calm abiding and higher insight meditations (see below) and one becomes familiar with emptiness.
  3. The path of seeing - one perceives emptiness directly, all thoughts of subject and object are overcome, one becomes an arya.
  4. The path of meditation - one removes subtler traces from one's mind and perfects one's understanding.
  5. The path of no more learning - which culminates in Buddhahood.

The schema of the five paths is often elaborated and merged with the concept of the bhumis or the bodhisattva levels.


Lamrim ("stages of the path") is a Tibetan Buddhist schema for presenting the stages of spiritual practice leading to liberation. In Tibetan Buddhist history there have been many different versions of lamrim, presented by different teachers of the Nyingma, Kagyu and Gelug schools (the Sakya school uses a different system named Lamdre).[83] However, all versions of the lamrim are elaborations of Atiśa's 11th-century root text A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradīpa).[84]

Atisha's lamrim system generally divides practitioners into those of lesser, middling and superior scopes or attitudes:

  • The lesser person is to focus on the preciousness of human birth as well as contemplation of death and impermanence.
  • The middling person is taught to contemplate karma, dukkha (suffering) and the benefits of liberation and refuge.
  • The superior scope is said to encompass the four Brahmaviharas, the bodhisattva vow, the six paramitas as well as Tantric practices.[85]

Although lamrim texts cover much the same subject areas, subjects within them may be arranged in different ways and with different emphasis depending on the school and tradition it belongs to. Gampopa and Tsongkhapa expanded the short root-text of Atiśa into an extensive system to understand the entire Buddhist philosophy. In this way, subjects like karma, rebirth, Buddhist cosmology and the practice of meditation are gradually explained in logical order.


A depiction of the tantric figures Hevajra and Nairātmyā, Tibet, 18th Century.

Tibetan Buddhism incorporates Vajrayāna (Vajra vehicle), "Secret Mantra" (Skt. Guhyamantra) or Buddhist Tantra, which is espoused in the texts known as the Buddhist Tantras (dating from around the 7th century CE onwards).[86]

Tantra (Tib. rgyud, "continuum") generally refers to forms of religious practice which emphasize the use of unique ideas, visualizations, mantras, and other practices for inner transformation.[86] The Vajrayana is seen by most Tibetan adherents as the fastest and most powerful vehicle for enlightenment because it contains many skillful means (upaya) and because it takes the effect (Buddhahood itself, or Buddha nature) as the path (and hence is sometimes known as the "effect vehicle", phalayana).[86]

An important element of Tantric practice are tantric deities and their mandalas. These deities come in peaceful (shiwa) and fierce (trowo) forms.[87]

Tantric texts also generally affirm the use of sense pleasures and other defilements in Tantric ritual as a path to enlightenment, as opposed to non-Tantric Buddhism which affirms that one must renounce all sense pleasures.[88] These practices are based on the theory of transformation which states that negative or sensual mental factors and physical actions can be cultivated and transformed in a ritual setting. As the Hevajra Tantra states:

Those things by which evil men are bound, others turn into means and gain thereby release from the bonds of existence. By passion the world is bound, by passion too it is released, but by heretical Buddhists this practice of reversals is not known.[89]

Another element of the Tantras is their use of transgressive practices, such as drinking taboo substances such as alcohol or sexual yoga. While in many cases these transgressions were interpreted only symbolically, in other cases they are practiced literally.[90]


A statue of one of the most important Buddhist philosophers for Tibetan Buddhist thought, Nagarjuna, at Samye Ling (Scotland).

The Indian Buddhist Madhyamaka ("Middle Way" or "Centrism") philosophy, also called Śūnyavāda (the emptiness doctrine) is the dominant Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan Buddhism. In Madhyamaka, the true nature of reality is referred to as Śūnyatā, which is the fact that all phenomena are empty of inherent existence or essence (svabhava). Madhyamaka is generally seen as the highest philosophical view by most Tibetan philosophers, but it is interpreted in numerous different ways.

The other main Mahayana philosophical school, Yogācāra has also been very influential in Tibetan Buddhism, but there is more disagreement among the various schools and philosophers regarding its status. While the Gelug school generally sees Yogācāra views as either false or provisional (i.e. only pertaining to conventional truth), philosophers in the other three main schools, such as Ju Mipham and Sakya Chokden, hold that Yogācāra ideas are as important as Madhyamaka views.[91]

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).[92] While the classical tenets-system is limited to four tenets (Vaibhāṣika, Sautrāntika, Yogācāra, and Madhyamaka), there are further sub-classifications within these different tenets (see below).[93] 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.

Two tenets belong to the path referred to as the Hinayana ("lesser vehicle") or Sravakayana ("the disciples' vehicle"), and are both related to the north Indian Sarvastivada tradition:[94]

  • Vaibhāṣika (Wylie: bye brag smra ba). The primary source for the Vaibhāṣika in Tibetan Buddhism is the Abhidharma-kośa of Vasubandhu and its commentaries. This Abhidharma system affirms an atomistic view of reality which states ultimate reality is made up of a series of impermanent phenomena called dharmas. It also defends eternalism regarding the philosophy of time, as well the view that perception directly experiences external objects.[95]
  • Sautrāntika (Wylie: mdo sde pa). The main sources for this view is the Abhidharmakośa, as well as the work of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti. As opposed to Vaibhāṣika, this view holds that only the present moment exists (presentism), as well as the view that we do not directly perceive the external world only the mental images caused by objects and our sense faculties.[95]

The other two tenets are the two major Indian Mahayana philosophies:

  • Yogācāra, also called Vijñānavāda (the doctrine of consciousness) and Cittamātra ("Mind-Only", Wylie: sems-tsam-pa). Yogacārins base their views on texts from Maitreya, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu. Yogacara is often interpreted as a form of Idealism due to its main doctrine, the view that only ideas or mental images exist (vijñapti-mātra).[95] Some Tibetan philosophers interpret Yogācāra as the view that the mind (citta) exists in an ultimate sense, because of this, it is often seen as inferior to Madhyamaka. However, other Tibetan thinkers deny that the Indian Yogacāra masters held the view of the ultimate existence of the mind, and thus, they place Yogācāra on a level comparable to Madhyamaka. This perspective is common in the Nyingma school, as well as in the work of the Third Karmapa, the Seventh Karmapa and Jamgon Kongtrul.[96][97]
  • Madhyamaka (Wylie: dbu-ma-pa) - The philosophy of Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva, which affirms that everything is empty of essence (svabhava) and is ultimately beyond concepts.[95] There are various further classifications, sub-schools and interpretations of Madhymaka in Tibetan Buddhism and numerous debates about various key disagreements remain a part of Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism today. One of the key debates is that between the rangtong (self-empty) interpretation and the shentong (other empty) interpretation.[98] Another major disagreement is the debate on the Svātantrika Madhyamaka method and the Prasaṅgika method.[99] There are further disagreements regarding just how useful an intellectual understanding of emptiness can be and whether emptiness should only be described as an absolute negation (the view of Tsongkhapa).[100]
    Monks debating at Sera monastery, Tibet, 2013. Debate is seen as an important practice in Tibetan Buddhist education.

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.[101] Non-Tibetan scholars point out that historically, Madhyamaka predates Yogacara, however.[102]

Texts and study

A leaf from a Prajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom) manuscript.

Study of major Buddhist Indian texts is central to the monastic curriculum in all four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Memorization of classic texts as well as other ritual texts is expected as part of traditional monastic education.[103] Another important part of higher religious education is the practice of formalized debate.

The canon was mostly finalized in the 13th century, and divided into two parts, the Kangyur (containing sutras and tantras) and the Tengyur (containing shastras and commentaries). The Nyingma school also maintains a separate collection of texts called the Nyingma Gyubum, assembled by Ratna Lingpa in the 15th century and revised by Jigme Lingpa.[104]

Among Tibetans, the main language of study is classical Tibetan, however, the Tibetan Buddhist canon was also translated into other languages, such as Mongolian and Manchu.

During the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, many texts from the Tibetan canon were also translated into Chinese.[105]

Numerous texts have also recently been translated into Western languages by Western academics and Buddhist practitioners.[106]


Among the most widely studied sutras in Tibetan Buddhism are Mahāyāna sutras such as the Perfection of Wisdom or Prajñāpāramitā sutras,[107] and others such as the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, and the Samādhirāja Sūtra.[108]

According to Tsongkhapa, the two authoritative systems of Mahayana Philosophy (viz. that of Asaṅga - Yogacara and that of Nāgārjuna - Madhyamaka) are based on specific Mahāyāna sūtras: the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra and the Questions of Akṣayamati (Akṣayamatinirdeśa Sūtra) respectively. Furthermore, according to Thupten Jinpa, for Tsongkhapa, "at the heart of these two hermeneutical systems lies their interpretations of the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras, the archetypal example being the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines."[109]

Buddhist monk Geshe Konchog Wangdu reads Mahayana sutras from an old woodblock copy of the Tibetan Kangyur. He is seated at a special sutra stool, wearing the traditional woolen Ladakhi hat and robe, allowed by Vinaya for extremely cold conditions.

Treatises of the Indian masters

The study of Indian Buddhist treatises called shastras is central to Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism. Some of the most important works are those by the six great Indian Mahayana authors which are known as the Six Ornaments and Two Supreme Ones (Tib. gyen druk chok nyi, Wyl. rgyan drug mchog gnyis), the six being: Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, and Dharmakirti and the two being: Gunaprabha and Shakyaprabha (or Nagarjuna and Asanga depending on the tradition).[110]

Since the late 11th century, traditional Tibetan monastic colleges generally organized the exoteric study of Buddhism into "five great textual traditions" (zhungchen-nga).[111]

  1. Abhidharma
  2. Prajnaparamita
  3. Madhyamaka
  4. Pramana
  5. Vinaya
    • Gunaprabha's Vinayamula Sutra

Other important texts

Also of great importance are the "Five Treatises of Maitreya" including the influential Ratnagotravibhāga, a compendium of the tathāgatagarbha literature, and the Mahayanasutralankara, a text on the Mahayana path from the Yogacara perspective, which are often attributed to Asanga. Practiced focused texts such as the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra and Kamalaśīla's Bhāvanākrama are the major sources for meditation.

While the Indian texts are often central, original material by key Tibetan scholars is also widely studied and collected into editions called sungbum.[112] The commentaries and interpretations that are used to shed light on these texts differ according to tradition. The Gelug school for example, use the works of Tsongkhapa, while other schools may use the more recent work of Rimé movement scholars like Jamgon Kongtrul and Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso.

A corpus of extra-canonical scripture, the treasure texts (terma) literature is acknowledged by Nyingma practitioners, but the bulk of the canon that is not commentary was translated from Indian sources. True to its roots in the Pāla system of North India, however, Tibetan Buddhism carries on a tradition of eclectic accumulation and systematisation of diverse Buddhist elements, and pursues their synthesis. Prominent among these achievements have been the Stages of the Path and mind training literature, both stemming from teachings by the Indian scholar Atiśa.

Tantric literature

In Tibetan Buddhism, the Buddhist Tantras are divided into four or six categories, with several sub-categories for the highest Tantras.

In the Nyingma, the division is into Outer Tantras (Kriyayoga, Charyayoga, Yogatantra); and Inner Tantras (Mahayoga, Anuyoga, Atiyoga/Dzogchen), which correspond to the "Anuttarayoga-tantra".[113] For the Nyingma school, important tantras include the Guhyagarbha Tantra, the Guhyasamaja Tantra,[114] the Kulayarāja Tantra and the 17 Dzogchen Tantras.

In the Sarma schools, the division is:[115]

  • Kriya-yoga - These have an emphasis on purification and ritual acts and include texts like the Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa.
  • Charya-yoga - Contain "a balance between external activities and internal practices", mainly referring to the Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra.
  • Yoga-tantra, is mainly concerned with internal yogic techniques and includes the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra.
  • Anuttarayoga-tantra, contains more advanced techniques such as subtle body practices and is subdivided into:

The root tantras themselves are almost unintelligible without the various Indian and Tibetan commentaries, therefore, they are never studied without the use of the tantric commentarial apparatus.

Transmission and realization

There is a long history of oral transmission of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism. Oral transmissions by lineage holders traditionally can take place in small groups or mass gatherings of listeners and may last for seconds (in the case of a mantra, for example) or months (as in the case of a section of the Tibetan Buddhist canon). It is held that a transmission can even occur without actually hearing, as in Asanga's visions of Maitreya.

An emphasis on oral transmission as more important than the printed word derives from the earliest period of Indian Buddhism, when it allowed teachings to be kept from those who should not hear them.[116] Hearing a teaching (transmission) readies the hearer for realization based on it. The person from whom one hears the teaching should have heard it as one link in a succession of listeners going back to the original speaker: the Buddha in the case of a sutra or the author in the case of a book. Then the hearing constitutes an authentic lineage of transmission. Authenticity of the oral lineage is a prerequisite for realization, hence the importance of lineages.


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.[117] Furthermore, the adherents of the Nyingma school consider Dzogchen to be a separate and independent vehicle, which transcends both sutra and tantra.[118]

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.[119]


The pāramitās (perfections, transcendent virtues) is a key set of virtues which constitute the major practices of a bodhisattva in non-tantric Mahayana. They are:

  1. Dāna pāramitā: generosity, giving (Tibetan: སབྱིན་པ sbyin-pa)
  2. Śīla pāramitā: virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct (ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས tshul-khrims)
  3. Kṣānti pāramitā: patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance (བཟོད་པ bzod-pa)
  4. Vīrya pāramitā: energy, diligence, vigor, effort (བརྩོན་འགྲུས brtson-’grus)
  5. Dhyāna pāramitā: one-pointed concentration, meditation, contemplation (བསམ་གཏན bsam-gtan)
  6. Prajñā pāramitā: wisdom, knowledge (ཤེས་རབ shes-rab)

The practice of dāna (giving) while traditionally referring to offerings of food to the monastics can also refer to the ritual offering of bowls of water, incense, butter lamps and flowers to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on a shrine or household altar.[120] Similar offerings are also given to other beings such as hungry ghosts, dakinis, protector deities, local divinities etc.

Like other forms of Mahayana Buddhism, the practice of the five precepts and bodhisattva vows is part of Tibetan Buddhist moral (sila) practice. In addition to these, there are also numerous sets of Tantric vows, termed samaya, which are given as part of Tantric initiations.

Compassion (karuṇā) practices are also particularly important in Tibetan Buddhism. One of the foremost authoritative texts on the Bodhisattva path is the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra by Shantideva. In the eighth section entitled Meditative Concentration, Shantideva describes meditation on Karunā as thus:

Strive at first to meditate upon the sameness of yourself and others. In joy and sorrow all are equal; Thus be guardian of all, as of yourself. The hand and other limbs are many and distinct, But all are one--the body to kept and guarded. Likewise, different beings, in their joys and sorrows, are, like me, all one in wanting happiness. This pain of mine does not afflict or cause discomfort to another's body, and yet this pain is hard for me to bear because I cling and take it for my own. And other beings' pain I do not feel, and yet, because I take them for myself, their suffering is mine and therefore hard to bear. And therefore I'll dispel the pain of others, for it is simply pain, just like my own. And others I will aid and benefit, for they are living beings, like my body. Since I and other beings both, in wanting happiness, are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should strive to have my bliss alone?"[121]

A popular compassion meditation in Tibetan Buddhism is tonglen (sending and taking love and suffering respectively). Practices associated with Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), also tend to focus on compassion.

Samatha and Vipaśyanā

A Tibetan Buddhist Monk meditating using chanting and drumming.

The 14th Dalai Lama defines meditation (bsgom pa) as "familiarization of the mind with an object of meditation."[122] Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhism follows the two main approaches to meditation or mental cultivation (bhavana) taught in all forms of Buddhism, śamatha (Tib. Shine) and vipaśyanā (lhaktong).

The practice of śamatha (calm abiding) is one of focusing one's mind on a single object such as a Buddha figure or the breath. Through repeated practice one's mind gradually becomes more stable, calm and happy. It is defined by Takpo Tashi Namgyal as "fixing the mind upon any object so as to maintain it without distraction...focusing the mind on an object and maintaining it in that state until finally it is channeled into one stream of attention and evenness."[123] The nine mental abidings is the main progressive framework used for śamatha in Tibetan Buddhism.[124]

Once a meditator has reached the ninth level of this schema they achieve what is termed "pliancy" (Tib. shin tu sbyangs pa, Skt. prasrabdhi), defined as "a serviceability of mind and body such that the mind can be set on a virtuous object of observation as long as one likes; it has the function of removing all obstructions." This is also said to be very joyful and blissful for the body and the mind.[125]

The other form of Buddhist meditation is vipaśyanā (clear seeing, higher insight), which in Tibetan Buddhism is generally practiced after having attained proficiency in śamatha.[126] This is generally seen as having two aspects, one of which is analytic meditation, which is based on contemplating and thinking rationally about ideas and concepts. As part of this process, entertaining doubts and engaging in internal debate over them is encouraged in some traditions.[127] The other type of vipaśyanā is a non-analytical, "simple" yogic style called trömeh in Tibetan, which means "without complication".[128]

A meditation routine may involve alternating sessions of vipaśyanā to achieve deeper levels of realization, and samatha to consolidate them.[75]

Preliminary practices

Buddhists performing prostrations in front of Jokhang Monastery.

Vajrayāna is believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be the fastest method for attaining Buddhahood but for unqualified practitioners it can be dangerous.[129] To engage in it one must receive an appropriate initiation (also known as an "empowerment") from a lama who is fully qualified to give it. The aim of preliminary practices (ngöndro) is to start the student on the correct path for such higher teachings.[130] Just as Sutrayāna preceded Vajrayāna historically in India, so sutra practices constitute those that are preliminary to tantric ones.

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: renunciation, the altruistic bodhicitta wish to attain enlightenment and 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.[131]

The most widespread preliminary practices include: taking refuge, prostration, Vajrasattva meditation, mandala offerings and guru yoga.[132] 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.

Guru yoga

As in other Buddhist traditions, an attitude of reverence for the teacher, or guru, is also highly prized.[133] At the beginning of a public teaching, a lama will do prostrations to the throne on which he will teach due to its symbolism, or to an image of the Buddha behind that throne, then students will do prostrations to the lama after he is seated. Merit accrues when one's interactions with the teacher are imbued with such reverence in the form of guru devotion, a code of practices governing them that derives from Indian sources.[134] By such things as avoiding disturbance to the peace of mind of one's teacher, and wholeheartedly following his prescriptions, much merit accrues and this can significantly help improve one's practice.

There is a general sense in which any Tibetan Buddhist teacher is called a lama. A student may have taken teachings from many authorities and revere them all as lamas in this general sense. However, he will typically have one held in special esteem as his own root guru and is encouraged to view the other teachers who are less dear to him, however more exalted their status, as embodied in and subsumed by the root guru.[135]

One particular feature of the Tantric view of teacher student relationship is that in Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, one is instructed to regard one's guru as an awakened Buddha.[136]

Esotericism and vows

The 14th Dalai Lama praying in the pavilion, closing the Kālacakra mandala and offering flowers, during a Kālacakra initiation in Washington, D.C., 2011.

In Vajrayāna particularly, Tibetan Buddhists subscribe to a voluntary code of self-censorship, whereby the uninitiated do not seek and are not provided with information about it. This self-censorship may be applied more or less strictly depending on circumstances such as the material involved. A depiction of a mandala may be less public than that of a deity. That of a higher tantric deity may be less public than that of a lower. The degree to which information on Vajrayāna is now public in western languages is controversial among Tibetan Buddhists.

Buddhism has always had a taste for esotericism since its earliest period in India.[137] Tibetans today maintain greater or lesser degrees of confidentiality also with information on the vinaya and emptiness specifically. In Buddhist teachings generally, too, there is caution about revealing information to people who may be unready for it.

Practicing tantra also includes the maintaining of a separate set of vows, which are called Samaya (dam tshig). There are various lists of these and they may differ depending on the practice and one's lineage or individual guru. Upholding these vows is said to be essential for tantric practice and breaking them is said to cause great harm.[138]

Ritual musical instruments from Tibet; MIM Brussels.


The reading of the text - the 'lung' - during an empowerment for Chenrezig.

There has been a "close association" between the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the temporal[139] in Tibet. The term for this relationship is chos srid zung 'brel. Traditionally Tibetan lamas have tended to the lay populace by helping them with issues such as protection and prosperity. Common traditions have been the various rites and rituals for mundane ends, such as purifying one's karma, avoiding harm from demonic forces and enemies, and promoting a successful harvest.[140] Divination and exorcism are examples of practices a lama might use for this.[141]

Ritual is generally more elaborate than in other forms of Buddhism, with complex altar arrangements and works of art (such as mandalas and thangkas), many ritual objects, hand gestures (mudra), chants, and musical instruments.[88]

A special kind of ritual called an initiation or empowerment (Sanskrit: Abhiseka, Tibetan: Wangkur) is central to Tantric practice. These rituals consecrate a practitioner into a particular Tantric practice associated with individual mandalas of deities and mantras. Without having gone through initiation, one is generally not allowed to practice the higher Tantras.[142]

Another important ritual occasion in Tibetan Buddhism is that of mortuary rituals which are supposed to assure that one has a positive rebirth and a good spiritual path in the future.[143] Of central importance to Tibetan Buddhist Ars moriendi is the idea of the bardo (Sanskrit: antarābhava), the intermediate or liminal state between life and death.[143] Rituals and the readings of texts such as the Bardo Thodol are done to ensure that the dying person can navigate this intermediate state skillfully. Cremation and sky burial are traditionally the main funeral rites used to dispose of the body.[48]


An elderly Tibetan woman with a prayer wheel inscribed with mantras
Visualizing mantric syllables is a common form of meditation in Tibetan Buddhism

The use of (mainly Sanskrit) prayer formulas, incantations or phrases called mantras (Tibetan: sngags) is another widespread feature of Tibetan Buddhist practice.[136] So common is the use of mantras that Vajrayana is also sometimes called "Mantrayāna" (the mantra vehicle). Mantras are widely recited, chanted, written or inscribed, and visualized as part of different forms of meditation. Each mantra has symbolic meaning and will often have a connection to a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva.[144] Each deity's mantra is seen as symbolizing the function, speech and power of the deity.[145]

Tibetan Buddhist practitioners repeat mantras like Om Mani Padme Hum in order to train the mind, and transform their thoughts in line with the divine qualities of the mantra's deity and special power.[146] Tibetan Buddhists see the etymology of the term mantra as meaning "mind protector", and mantras is seen as a way to guard the mind against negativity.[147]

According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche:

Mantras are effective because they help keep your mind quiet and peaceful, automatically integrating it into one-pointedness. They make your mind receptive to very subtle vibrations and thereby heighten your perception. Their recitation eradicates gross negativities and the true nature of things can then be reflected in your mind's resulting clarity. By practising a transcendental mantra, you can in fact purify all the defiled energy of your body, speech, and mind.[148]

Mantras also serve to focus the mind as a samatha (calming) practice as well as a way to transform the mind through the symbolic meaning of the mantra. In Buddhism, it is important to have the proper intention, focus and faith when practicing mantras, if one does not, they will not work. Unlike in Hinduism, mantras are not believed to have inherent power of their own, and thus without the proper faith, intention and mental focus, they are just mere sounds.[149] Thus according to the Tibetan philosopher Jamgon Ju Mipham:

if a mantra is thought to be something ordinary and not seen for what it is, it will not be able to perform its intended function. Mantras are like non-conceptual wish-fulfilling jewels. Infusing one's being with the blessings of mantra, like the form of a moon reflected on a body of water, necessitates the presence of faith and other conditions that set the stage for the spiritual attainments of mantra. Just as the moon's reflection cannot appear without water, mantras cannot function without the presence of faith and other such factors in one's being.[150]

Mantras are part of the highest tantric practices in Tibetan Buddhism, such as Deity Yoga and are recited and visualized during tantric sadhanas. Thus, Tsongkhapa says that mantra "protects the mind from ordinary appearances and conceptions".[151] This is because in Tibetan Buddhist Tantric praxis, one must develop a sense that everything is divine.

Tantric sadhana and yoga

Chöd sadhana, showing the use of Damaru drum and hand-bell, as well as the Kangling (thighbone trumpet)
A section of the Northern wall mural at the Lukhang Temple depicting completion stage practice

In what is called higher yoga tantra the emphasis is on various spiritual practices, called yogas (naljor) and sadhanas (druptap) which allow the practitioner to realize the true nature of reality.[90]

Deity Yoga (Tibetan: lha'i rnal 'byor; Sanskrit: Devata-yoga) is a fundamental practice of Vajrayana Buddhism involving visualization of mental images consisting mainly of Buddhist deities such as Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and fierce deities, along mantra repetition. According to Geoffrey Samuel:

If Buddhahood is a source of infinite potentiality accessible at any time, then the Tantric deities are in a sense partial aspects, refractions of that total potentiality. Visualizing one of these deities, or oneself identifying with one of them, is not, in Tibetan Tantric thought, a technique to worship an external entity. Rather, it is a way of accessing or tuning into something that is an intrinsic part of the structure of the universe—as of course is the practitioner him or herself.[152]

Deity yoga involves two stages, the generation stage (utpattikrama) and the completion stage (nispannakrama). In the generation stage, one dissolves the mundane world and visualizes one's chosen deity (yidam), its mandala and companion deities, resulting in identification with this divine reality.[153]

In the completion stage, one dissolves the visualization of and identification with the yidam in the realization ultimate reality. Completion stage practices can also include subtle body energy practices,[154] such as tummo (lit. "Fierce Woman", Skt. caṇḍālī, inner fire), as well as other practices that can be found in systems such as the Six Yogas of Naropa (like Dream Yoga, Bardo Yoga and Phowa) and the Six Vajra-yogas of Kalacakra.

Dzogchen and Mahamudra

Another form of high level Tibetan Buddhist practice are the meditations associated with the traditions of Mahāmudrā ("Great Seal") and Dzogchen ("Great Perfection"). These traditions focus on direct experience of the very nature of reality, which is variously termed dharmakaya, buddha nature, or the "basis' (gzhi). These techniques do not rely on deity yoga methods but on direct pointing-out instruction from a master and are often seen as the most advanced form of Buddhist practice.[155]

The views and practices associated with Dzogchen and Mahāmudrā are also often seen as the culmination of the Buddhist path.[156] In some traditions, they are seen as a separate vehicle to liberation. In the Nyingma school (as well as in Bon), Dzogchen is considered to be a separate and independent vehicle (also called Atiyoga), as well as the highest of all vehicles.[157] Similarly, in Kagyu, Mahāmudrā is sometimes seen as a separate vehicle, the "Sahajayana" (Tibetan: lhen chig kye pa), also known as the vehicle of self-liberation.[158]

Institutions and clergy

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, with Freda Bedi (the first Western nun in Tibetan Buddhism), at Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim
A small gompa (religious building) in Ladakh
Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, a tulku and a ngagpa (note the white and red robes)

Buddhist monasticism is an important part of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, all the major and minor schools maintain large monastic institutions based on the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya (monastic rule) and many religious leaders come from the monastic community. That being said, there are also many religious leaders or teachers (called Lamas and Gurus) which are not celibate monastics. According to Geoffrey Samuel this is where "religious leadership in Tibetan Buddhism contrasts most strongly with much of the rest of the Buddhist world."[159] According to Namkhai Norbu, in Tibet, Tibetan lamas had four main types of lifestyles:

those who were monks, living in monasteries; those who lived a lay life, with their homes in villages; lay masters who lived as tent-dwelling nomads, travelling with their disciples, in some cases following their herds; and those who were yogis, often living in caves.[160]

Lamas are generally skilled and experienced tantric practitioners and ritual specialists in a specific initiation lineage and may be laypersons or monastics. They act not just as teachers, but as spiritual guides and guardians of the lineage teachings that they have received through a long and intimate process of apprenticeship with their Lamas.[161]

Tibetan Buddhism also includes a number of lay clergy and lay tantric specialists, such as Ngagpas (Skt. mantrī), Gomchens, Serkyims, and Chödpas (practitioners of Chöd). According to Samuel, in the more remote parts of the Himalayas, communities were often led by lay religious specialists.[162] Thus, while the large monastic institutions were present in the regions of the Tibetan plateau which were more centralized politically, in other regions they were absent and instead smaller gompas and more lay oriented communities prevailed.[163]

Samuel outlines four main types of religious communities in Tibet:[164]

  • Small communities of lay practitioners attached to a temple and a lama. Lay practitioners might stay in the gompa for periodic retreats.
  • Small communities of celibate monastics attached to a temple and a lama, often part of a village.
  • Medium to large communities of celibate monastics. These could maintain several hundred monks and might have extensive land holdings, be financially independent, and sometimes also act as trading centers.
  • Large teaching monasteries with thousands of monks, such as the big Gelug establishments of Sera (with over 6000 monks in the first half of the 20th century) and Drepung (over 7000).[165]

In some cases a lama is the leader of a spiritual community. Some lamas gain their title through being part of particular family which maintains a lineage of hereditary lamas (and are thus often laypersons). One example is the Sakya family of Kon, who founded the Sakya school and another is the hereditary lamas of Mindrolling monastery.[166]

In other cases, lamas may be seen as "Tülkus" ("incarnations"). Tülkus are figures which are recognized as reincarnations of a particular bodhisattva or a previous religious figure. They are often recognized from a young age through the use of divination and the use of the possessions of the deceased lama, and therefore are able to receive extensive training. They are sometimes groomed to become leaders of monastic institutions.[167] Examples include the Dalai Lamas and the Karmapas, each of which are seen as key leaders in their respective traditions.

The system of incarnate lamas is popularly held to be a Tibetan alteration to Indian Buddhism.

Another title unique to Tibetan Buddhism is that of Tertön (treasure discoverer), who are considered capable of revealing or discovering special revelations or texts called Termas (lit. "hidden treasure"). They are also associated with the idea of beyul ("hidden valleys"), which are power places associated with deities and hidden religious treasures.[168]

Women in Tibetan Buddhism

Machig Labdrön, a famous female tantrika, teacher and founder of the Chöd lineage
Painting of Ayu Khandro at Merigar West. The seat of Chogyal Namkhai Norbu and The Dzogchen Community in Italy.

Women in Tibetan society, though still unequal, tended to have a relatively greater autonomy and power than in surrounding societies. This might be because of the smaller household sizes and low population density in Tibet.[169] Women traditionally took many roles in Tibetan Buddhism, from lay supporters, to monastics, lamas and tantric practitioners.

There is evidence for the importance of female practitioners in Indian Tantric Buddhism and pre-modern Tibetan Buddhism. At least one major lineage of tantric teachings, the Shangpa Kagyu, traces itself to Indian female teachers and there have been a series of important female Tibetan teachers, such as Yeshe Tsogyal and Machig Labdrön.[170] It seems that even though it might have been more difficult for women to become serious tantric yoginis, it was still possible for them to find lamas that would teach them high tantric practices.

Some Tibetan women become lamas by being born in one of the hereditary lama families such as Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche and Sakya Jetsün Kushok Chimey Luding.[171] There have also been cases of influential female lamas who were also tertöns, such as Sera Khandro, Tare Lhamo and Ayu Khandro.

Some of these figures were also tantric consorts (sangyum, kandroma) with male lamas, and thus took part in the sexual practices associated with the highest levels of tantric practice.[172]


While monasticism is practiced there by women, it is much less common (2 percent of the population in the 20th century compared to 12 percent of men). Nuns were also much less respected by Tibetan society than monks and may receive less lay support than male monastics.[173]

Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhist nuns were also not "fully ordained" as bhikṣuṇīs (who take the full set of monastic vows in the Vinaya). When Buddhism traveled from India to Tibet, apparently the quorum of bhikṣuṇīs required for bestowing full ordination never reached Tibet.[174][note 4] Despite an absence of ordination there, bhikṣuṇīs did travel to Tibet. A notable example was the Sri Lankan nun Candramāla, whose work with Śrījñāna (Wylie: dpal ye shes) resulted in the tantric text Śrīcandramāla Tantrarāja.[note 5][175]

There are accounts of fully ordained Tibetan women, such as the Samding Dorje Phagmo (1422-1455), who was once ranked the highest female master and tulku in Tibet, but very little is known about the exact circumstances of their ordination.[176]

In the modern era, Tibetan Buddhist nuns have taken full ordinations through East Asian Vinaya lineages.[177] The Dalai Lama has authorized followers of the Tibetan tradition to be ordained as nuns in traditions that have such ordination.[note 6]

Western nuns and lamas

Buddhist author Michaela Haas notes that Tibetan Buddhism is undergoing a sea change in the West, with women playing a much more central role.[180]

Freda Bedi[note 7] was a British woman who was the first Western woman to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism, which occurred in 1966.[181] Pema Chödrön was the first American woman to be ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.[182][183]

In 2010 the first Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in America, Vajra Dakini Nunnery in Vermont, was officially consecrated. It offers novice ordination and follows the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism. The abbot of the Vajra Dakini nunnery is Khenmo Drolma, an American woman, who is the first bhikṣuṇī in the Drikung lineage of Buddhism, having been ordained in Taiwan in 2002.[184][185] She is also the first westerner, male or female, to be installed as an abbot in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, having been installed as the abbot of the Vajra Dakini Nunnery in 2004.[184] The Vajra Dakini Nunnery does not follow The Eight Garudhammas.[186]

In April 2011, the Institute for Buddhist Dialectical Studies (IBD) in Dharamsala, India, conferred the degree of geshe, a Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monastics, on Kelsang Wangmo, a German nun, thus making her the world's first female geshe.[187][188] In 2013 Tibetan women were able to take the geshe exams for the first time.[189] In 2016 twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns became the first Tibetan women to earn geshe degrees.[190][191]

Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo gained international attention in the late 1980s as the first Western woman to be a Penor Rinpoche enthroned tulku within the Nyingma Palyul.[192]

Major lineages

The Tibetan Rime (non-sectarian) scholar Jamgon Kongtrul, in his Treasury of Knowledge, outlines the "Eight Great Practice Lineages" which were transmitted to Tibet. His approach is not concerned with "schools" or sects, but rather focuses on the transmission of crucial meditation teachings. They are:[193]

  1. The Nyingma traditions, associated with the first transmission figures such as Shantarakshita, Padmasambhava and King Trisong Deutsen and with Dzogchen teachings.
  2. The Kadam Lineage, associated with Atisha and his pupil Dromtön (1005–1064).
  3. Lamdré, traced back to the Indian Mahasiddha Virupa, and today preserved in the Sakya school.
  4. Marpa Kagyu, the lineage which stems from Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa, practices Mahamudra and the Six Dharmas of Naropa, and includes the four major and eight minor Kagyu lineages.
  5. Shangpa Kagyu, the lineage of Niguma
  6. Shyijé and Chöd which originate from Padampa Sangyé and Machig Labdrön.
  7. Dorje Naljor Druk (the 'Six Branch Practice of Vajrayoga') which is derived from the Kalachakra lineage.
  8. Dorje sumgyi nyendrup ('Approach and Accomplishment of the Three Vajras'), from the mahasiddha Orgyenpa Rinchen Pal.

Tibetan Buddhist schools

There are various schools or traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The four main traditions overlap markedly, such that "about eighty percent or more of the features of the Tibetan schools are the same".[194] Differences include the use of apparently, but not actually, contradictory terminology, opening dedications of texts to different deities and whether phenomena are described from the viewpoint of an unenlightened practitioner or of a Buddha.[194] On questions of philosophy, there has historically been disagreement regarding the nature of Yogacara and Buddha-nature teachings (and whether these are of expedient meaning or ultimate meaning), which still colours the current presentations of sunyata (emptiness) and ultimate reality.[195][196][197]

The 19th century Rimé movement downplayed these differences, as still reflected in the stance of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who states that there are no fundamental differences between these schools.[198] However, there are still philosophical disagreements between the different traditions, such as the debate regarding rangtong and shentong interpretations of Madhyamaka philosophy.[199]

The four major schools are sometimes divided into the Nyingma (or "Old Translation") and Sarma (or "New Translation") traditions, which follow different canons of scripture (the Nyingma Gyubum along with Termas and the Tengyur-Kangyur respectively).

Each school also traces itself to a certain lineage going back to India as well as certain important Tibetan founders. While all the schools share most practices and methods, each school tends to have a certain preferred focus (see table below). Another common but trivial differentiation is into the Yellow Hat (Gelug) and Red Hat (non-Gelug) sects.

The features of each major school (along with one influential minor school, Jonang) is as follows:[200]

School Nyingma Kadam (defunct) Kagyu Sakya Gelug Jonang
Traditions Old Translation New Translation New Translation New Translation New Translation New Translation
Origin Developed from the 8th century onwards Founded in the 11th century by Atiśa and his students. Ceased to exist as an independent school by the 16th century. Transmitted by Marpa in the 11th century. Dagpo Kagyu was founded in the 12th century by Gampopa. Sakya Monastery founded in 1073. Dates to 1409 with the founding of Ganden monastery Dates to the 12th century
Emphasis Emphasizes Dzogchen and its texts, as well as the Guhyagarbha Tantra Emphasizes classic Mahayana study and practice in a monastic setting, source of lojong and lamrim Emphasizes Mahamudra and the Six Dharmas of Naropa Favors the Hevajra Tantra as the basis of their Lamdre system Focuses on Guhyasamāja Tantra, the Cakrasamvara Tantra, and the Kalacakra Tantra Focuses on Kalacakra Tantra and Ratnagotravibhāga
Key figures Śāntarakṣita,
Garab Dorje,
and Longchenpa.
Ngog Legpai Sherab,
Ngog Loden Sherab,
Chaba Chokyi Senge,
and Patsab Nyima Drakpa.
and Gampopa.
the founder Drogmi,
Khon Konchog Gyalpo,
Sakya Pandita
and Gorampa.
his disciple Dromtön,
the founder of Gelug Je Tsongkhapa,
and the Dalai Lamas.
Yumo Mikyo Dorje,
and Taranatha

In his work, The Four Dharma Traditions of the Land of Tibet, Mipham Rinpoche described the four main schools as follows:

Nyingma followers of Secret Mantra emphasize the actual tantra.

They pursue the highest view and delight in conduct that is stable.

Many reach the vidyādhara levels and attain accomplishment,

And many are mantrins, whose power is greater than others.

Kagyü followers, the protectors of beings, emphasize devotion.

Many find that receiving the lineage's blessings is sufficient.

And many gain accomplishment through perseverance in the practice

They are similar to, and mix together with, the Nyingmapas.

The Riwo Gendenpas (i.e. Gelugpas) emphasize the ways of the learned.

They are fond of analytical meditation and delight in debate.

And they impress all with their elegant, exemplary conduct.

They are popular, prosperous, and put effort into learning.

The glorious Sakyapas emphasize approach and accomplishment.

Many are blessed through the power of recitation and visualisation,

They value their own ways and their regular practice is excellent.

When compared to any other school, they have something of them all.

Ema! All four dharma traditions of this land of Tibet

Have but one real source, even if they arose individually.

Whichever one you follow, if you practise it properly

It can bring the qualities of learning and accomplishment.

There is another minor sect, the Bodong school. This tradition was founded in 1049 by the Kadam teacher Mudra Chenpo, who also established the Bodong E Monastery. Its most famous teacher was Bodong Penchen Lénam Gyelchok (1376–1451) who authored over one hundred and thirty-five volumes. This tradition is also known for maintaining a female tulku lineage of incarnated lamas called the Samding Dorje Phagmo.

While Yungdrung Bon considers itself a separate religion with pre-Buddhist origins, and it is considered as non-Buddhist by the main Tibetan traditions, it shares so many similarities and practices with mainstream Tibetan Buddhism that some scholars such as Geoffrey Samuel see it as "essentially a variant of Tibetan Buddhism".[201] Yungdrung Bon is closely related to Nyingma Buddhism, and includes Dzogchen teachings, similar deities, rituals and forms of monasticism.

Glossary of terms used

English spoken Tibetan Wylie Tibetan Sanskrit transliteration
affliction nyönmong nyon-mongs kleśa
analytic meditation jegom dpyad-sgom yauktika dhyāna
calm abiding shiné zhi-gnas śamatha
devotion to the guru lama-la tenpa bla-ma-la bsten-pa guruparyupāsati
fixation meditation joggom 'jog-sgom nibandhita dhyāna
foundational vehicle t’ek män theg sman hīnayāna
incarnate lama tülku sprul-sku nirmānakāya
inherent existence rangzhingi drubpa rang-bzhin-gyi grub-pa svabhāvasiddha
mind of enlightenment changchub sem byang-chhub sems bodhicitta
motivational training lojong blo-sbyong autsukya dhyāna
omniscience t’amcé k’yempa thams-cad mkhyen-pa sarvajña
preliminary practices ngöndro sngon-'gro prārambhika kriyāni
root guru zawé lama rtsa-ba'i bla-ma mūlaguru
stages of the path lamrim lam-rim pātheya
transmission and realisation lungtok lung-rtogs āgamādhigama

See also


  1. 和尚摩訶衍; his name consists of the same Chinese characters used to transliterate "Mahayana" (Tibetan: Hwa shang Mahayana)
  2. Kamalaśīla wrote the three Bhāvanākrama texts (修習次第三篇) after that.
  3. However, a Chinese source found in Dunhuang written by Mo-ho-yen says their side won, and some scholars conclude that the entire episode is fictitious.[22][23]
  4. Under the Mulasarvastivadin Vinaya, as with the two other extant Vinaya lineages today (Theravada and Dharmaguptaka), in order to ordain bhikṣuṇīs, there must be quorums of both bhikṣuṇīs and bhikṣus; without both, a woman cannot be ordained as a nun (Tibetan: དགེ་སློང་མ་, THL: gélongma).
  5. Tibetan: དཔལ་ཟླ་བའི་ཕྲེང་བའི་རྒྱུད་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ, Chinese: 吉祥月鬘本續王
  6. According to Thubten Chodron, the current Dalai Lama has said on this issue:[178]
    1. In 2005, the Dalai Lama repeatedly spoke about the bhikṣuṇī ordination in public gatherings. In Dharamsala, he encouraged, "We need to bring this to a conclusion. We Tibetans alone can't decide this. Rather, it should be decided in collaboration with Buddhists from all over the world. Speaking in general terms, were the Buddha to come to this 21st century world, I feel that most likely, seeing the actual situation in the world now, he might change the rules somewhat...."
    2. Later, in Zürich during a 2005 conference of Tibetan Buddhist Centers, he said, "Now I think the time has come; we should start a working group or committee" to meet with monks from other Buddhist traditions. Looking at the German bhikṣuṇī Jampa Tsedroen, he instructed, "I prefer that Western Buddhist nuns carry out this work… Go to different places for further research and discuss with senior monks (from various Buddhist countries). I think, first, senior bhikshunis need to correct the monks' way of thinking.
    3. "This is the 21st century. Everywhere we are talking about equality….Basically Buddhism needs equality. There are some really minor things to remember as a Buddhist--a bhikshu always goes first, then a bhikshuni….The key thing is the restoration of the bhikshuni vow."
    Alexander Berzin referred to the Dalai Lama having said on occasion of the 2007 Hamburg congress:
    Sometimes in religion there has been an emphasis on male importance. In Buddhism, however, the highest vows, namely the bhikshu and bhikshuni ones, are equal and entail the same rights. This is the case despite the fact that in some ritual areas, due to social custom, bhikshus go first. But Buddha gave the basic rights equally to both sangha groups. There is no point in discussing whether or not to revive the bhikshuni ordination; the question is merely how to do so properly within the context of the Vinaya.[179]
  7. Sometimes spelled Frida Bedi, also named Sister Palmo, or Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo



  1. White, David Gordon, ed. (2000). Tantra in Practice. Princeton University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-691-05779-6.
  2. Davidson, Ronald M (2004). Indian Esoteric Buddhism: Social History of the Tantric Movement, p. 2. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
  3. Powers, John (2007). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism (Rev. ed.). Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. pp. 392–3, 415. ISBN 978-1-55939-282-2.
  4. Compare: Tiso, Francis V. (2016). "Leter Developments in Dzogchen History". Rainbow Body and Resurrection: Spiritual Attainment, the Dissolution of the Material Body, and the Case of Khenpo A Chö. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 9781583947968. Retrieved 11 September 2020. The attainment of the rainbow body ('ja' lus) as understood by the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is always connected to the practice of the great perfection [...]. The Nyingma tradition describes a set of nine vehicles, the highest of which is that of the great perfection, considered the swiftest of the tantric methods for attaining supreme realization, identified with buddhahood.
  5. "A Brief History of Nyingma Buddhism". Palri Pema Od Ling. 23 May 2019.
  6. Dzogchen Ponlop, Wild Awakening: The Heart of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, Glossary.
  7. Powers, John; Templeman, David (2012). Historical Dictionary of Tibet, Scarecrow Press, p. 566.
  8. Lopez, Donald S. Jr. (1999). Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 6, 19f. ISBN 0-226-49311-3.
  9. Damien Keown, ed., "Lamaism", A Dictionary of Buddhism (Oxford, 2004): "an obsolete term formerly used by Western scholars to denote the specifically Tibetan form of Buddhism due to the prominence of the lamas in the religious culture. . . should be avoided as it is misleading as well as disliked by Tibetans." Robert E. Buswell Jr. and David S. Lopez Jr., eds., "Lamaism", The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton, 2017): "an obsolete English term that has no correlate in Tibetan. . . Probably derived from the Chinese term lama jiao, or "teachings of the lamas", the term is considered pejorative by Tibetans, as it carries the negative connotation that the Tibetan tradition is something distinct from the mainstream of Buddhism." John Bowker, ed., "Lamaism", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford, 2000): "a now antiquated term used by early W[estern] commentators (as L. A. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, 1895) to describe Tibetan Buddhism. Although the term is not accurate [it] does at least convey the great emphasis placed on the role of the spiritual teacher by this religion."
  10. Conze, 1993
  11. Snellgrove, David (1987). Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Indian Buddhists & Their Tibetan Successors, Vol.2. Boston: Shambala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-379-1.
  12. see for example the title of Suchandana Chatterjee's Trans-Himalayan Buddhism: Reconnecting Spaces, Sharing Concerns (2019), Routledge.
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  22. 敦煌唐代写本顿悟大乘正理决 Archived 2013-11-01 at the Wayback Machine
  23. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Volume One), page 70
  24. Shakabpa. pp. 53, 173.
  25. Samuel 2012, p. 10.
  26. Samuel 2012, pp. 12–13, 32.
  27. "How Did Tibetan Buddhism Develop?". studybuddhism.com.
  28. Conze, 1993, 104ff
  29. Shakabpa. p.61: 'thirty thousand troops, under the command of Leje and Dorta, reached Phanpo, north of Lhasa.'
  30. Sanders. p. 309, his grandson Godan Khan invaded Tibet with 30000 men and destroyed several Buddhist monasteries north of Lhasa
  31. Buell, ibid. p.194: Shakabpa, 1967 pp.61-2.
  32. "How Tibet Emerged Within the Wider Chinese Power-Political Zone". Long Revolution. 18 April 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  33. Wylie 1990, p. 104.
  34. "To counterbalance the political power of the lama, Khubilai appointed civil administrators at the Sa-skya to supervise the mongol regency."
  35. The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art, by John C. Huntington, Dina Bangdel, Robert A. F. Thurman, p48
  36. Powers 2007, p. 162.
  37. Rossabi 1983, p. 194
  38. Petech, L. Central Tibet and The Mongols. (Serie Orientale Roma 65). Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente 1990: 85–143
  39. Berzin, Dr. Alexander. "Gelug Monasteries: Ganden". Study Buddhism. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  40. Robinson, David M. (2008) The Ming Court and the Legacy of the Yuan Mongols. Archived 2016-10-06 at the Wayback Machine in Culture, Courtiers and Competition, The Ming Court (1368-1644)
  41. Silk, Jonathan. Notes on the history of the Yongle Kanjur. Indica et Tibetica 28, Suhrllekhah. Festgabe für Helmut Eimer, 1998.
  42. Patrick Taveirne (1 January 2004). Han-Mongol Encounters and Missionary Endeavors: A History of Scheut in Ordos (Hetao) 1874-1911. Leuven University Press. pp. 67–. ISBN 978-90-5867-365-7.
  43. Emblems of Empire: Selections from the Mactaggart Art Collection, by John E. Vollmer, Jacqueline Simcox, p154
  44. Weidner, Marsha Smith. Cultural Intersections in Later Chinese Buddhism, p. 173.
  45. Lopez, Donald S. (1998). Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 190
  46. Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 165-9.
  47. Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 169.
  48. Kapstein, Matthew T. (2014). "Funeral customs". Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-19-973512-9. LCCN 2013006676.
  49. Bianchi, Ester. The Tantric Rebirth Movement in Modern China, Esoteric Buddhism re-vivified by the Japanese and Tibetan traditions. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hung. Volume 57 (1), 31–54 (2004)
  50. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 108.
  51. Cantwell, Cathy; Kawanami, Hiroko (2016). Religions in the Modern World (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-415-85881-6.
  52. "A Brief History of Kagyu Samye Ling | SamyeLing.org". www.samyeling.org.
  53. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 110.
  54. Samuel 2012, p. 238.
  55. Freedom In The World 2020: Tibet (Report). Freedom House.
  56. "Self-Immolations". International Campaign for Tibet.
  57. "Monk from Tibet's Amdo Ngaba arrested over social media posts on Tibetan Language". Central Tibetan Administration. 5 October 2019.
  58. "China: Tibet Anti-Crime Campaign Silences Dissent". Human Rights Watch. 14 May 2020.
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  60. Lewis, Craig (6 September 2019). "New Images Reveal Extent of Demolitions at Yarchen Gar Buddhist Monastery". The Buddhist Door.
  61. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 109.
  62. The 2007 U.S. State Department report on religious freedom in Bhutan notes that "Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion..." and that the Bhutanese government supports both the Kagyu and Nyingma sects. State.gov
  63. Samuel 2012, p. 240
  64. Samuel 2012, pp. 242–243.
  65. Bruce A (ed). One World – Many Paths to Peace ANU E-Press 2009 (launched by the 14th Dalai Lama) (accessed 11 May 2013)
  66. Samuel, Geoffrey; Tantric Revisionings: New Understandings of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Religion, page 303 - 304
  67. Powers 2007, pp. 65, 71, 75.
  68. Powers 2007, pp. 102.
  69. Cf. Dhargyey (1978), 111; Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 533f; Tsong-kha-pa II: 48-9
  70. Thurman, Robert (1997). Essential Tibetan Buddhism. Castle Books: 291
  71. Samuel 2012, p. 75.
  72. Cf. Dhargyey (1978), 64f; Dhargyey (1982), 257f, etc; Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 364f; Tsong-kha-pa II: 183f. The former are the afflictions, negative states of mind, and the three poisons – desire, anger, and ignorance. The latter are subtle imprints, traces or "stains" of delusion that involves the imagination of inherent existence.
  73. Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 152f
  74. Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 243, 258
  75. Hopkins (1996)
  76. Dhargyey (1978), 61f; Dhargyey (1982), 242-266; Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 365
  77. Thurman, Robert (1997): 2-3
  78. Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 252f
  79. Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 367
  80. Dhargyey (1978), 74; Dhargyey (1982), 3, 303f; Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 13f, 280f; Berzin, Alexander (2002). Hinayana and Mahayana: Comparison
  81. Samuel 2012, p. 54.
  82. Powers 2007, pp. 93-96
  83. The Sakya school, too, has a somewhat similar textual form, the lamdré.
  84. "Stages of the Path (Lamrim)". Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron.
  85. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 52-53.
  86. Powers, 2007, p. 250.
  87. Samuel 2012, p. 69.
  88. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 82.
  89. Snellgrove, David. (1987) Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists and their Tibetan successors. pp 125-126.
  90. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 83.
  91. Shantarakshita & Ju Mipham, Padmakara Translation Group (2005). The Adornment of the Middle Way Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with Commentary by Jamgon Mipham. pp.117-122, Shambala.
  92. Shantarakshita & Ju Mipham, Padmakara Translation Group (2005). The Adornment of the Middle Way Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with Commentary by Jamgon Mipham. p. 26, Shambala.
  93. Cornu 2001, p. 145, 150.
  94. Cornu 2001, p. 135.
  95. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 67.
  96. Shantarakshita & Ju Mipham, Padmakara Translation Group (2005). The Adornment of the Middle Way Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with Commentary by Jamgon Mipham. pp. 27-28, Shambala.
  97. Asanga; Brunnholzl, Karl (2019). A Compendium of the Mahayana: Asanga's Mahayanasamgraha and Its Indian and Tibetan Commentaries, Volume I, Preface. Shambhala Publications, Incorporated.
  98. Cornu 2001, p. 146-147.
  99. Cornu 2001, p. 138.
  100. Cornu 2001, p. 145.
  101. Sopa & Hopkins (1977), 67-69; Hopkins (1996).
  102. Cf. Conze (1993).
  103. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 63.
  104. Samuel 2012, pp. 19–20.
  105. Orzech, Charles D. (general editor), 2011. Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia. Brill, p. 540.
  106. Samuel 2012, p. 21.
  107. Powers 2007, p. 103-104
  108. Luis O. Gomez and Jonathan A. Silk, Studies in the Literature of the Great Vehicle: Three Mahayana Buddhist Texts. Ann Arbor 1989 pgs viii
  109. Thupten Jinpa (2019) Tsongkhapa A Buddha in the Land of Snows (Lives of the Masters), pp. 219-220. Shambhala.
  110. Ringu Tulku (2007). The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet, chapter 3. Shambhala Publications.
  111. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 64.
  112. Samuel 2012, p. 20.
  113. "Yoginitantras are in the secondary literature often called Anuttarayoga. But this is based on a mistaken back translation of the Tibetan translation (rnal byor bla med kyi rgyud) of what appears in Sanskrit texts only as Yogānuttara or Yoganiruttara (cf. SANDERSON 1994: 97-98, fn.1)." Isabelle Onians, "Tantric Buddhist Apologetics, or Antinomianism as a Norm," D.Phil. dissertation, Oxford, Trinity Term 2001. pg 70
  114. Samuel 2012, p. 32.
  115. Samuel 2012, p. 78.
  116. Conze (1993): 26
  117. Powers 2007, p. 271.
  118. Germano, David (1994). Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen). JIABS 17/2.
  119. Samuel 2012, p. 50.
  120. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 45-46.
  121. The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva. Shambhala Publications. Page 122-123
  122. Powers 2007, p. 81.
  123. Powers 2007, p. 86.
  124. Powers 2007, p. 88.
  125. Powers 2007, p. 90.
  126. Powers 2007, p. 91.
  127. Rinpoche & Rinpoche 2006, p. 66, 212f.
  128. The Practice of Tranquillity & Insight: A Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Shambhala Publications: 1994. ISBN 0-87773-943-9 pg 91-93
  129. Pabonka, p.649
  130. Kalu Rinpoche (1986), The Gem Ornament of Manifold Instructions. Snow Lion, p. 21.
  131. Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 649
  132. Powers 2007, p. 295.
  133. Lama is the literal Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit guru. For a traditional perspective on devotion to the guru, see Tsong-ka-pa I, 77-87. For a current perspective on the guru-disciple relationship in Tibetan Buddhism, see Berzin, Alexander. Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship
  134. notably, Gurupancasika, Tib.: Lama Ngachupa, Wylie: bla-ma lnga-bcu-pa, "Fifty Verses of Guru-Devotion" by Aśvaghoṣa
  135. Indian tradition (Cf. Saddharmapundarika Sutra II, 124) encourages the student to view the guru as representative of the Buddha himself.
  136. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 80.
  137. Cf. Conze (1993), 26 and 52f.
  138. Powers 2007, p. 315.
  139. Cueppers, Christoph. "The Relationship Between Religion and State (chos srid zung 'brel) In Traditional Tibet". Proceedings of a Seminar Held in Lumbini, Nepal, March 2008.
  140. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 2.
  141. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 5.
  142. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 81.
  143. Kapstein, Matthew T. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 94.
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  • Brunnhölzl, Karl (2004), The Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition, Shambhala, ISBN 1-55939-218-5
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Further reading

Introductory books

  • John Powers (1995, 2007), Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion Publications
  • John Powers (2008), A Concise Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion Publications
  • Matthew T. Kapstein (2014), Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press
  • Wallace, B. Alan (October 25, 1993). Tibetan Buddhism From the Ground Up: A Practical Approach for Modern Life. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-075-4, ISBN 978-0-86171-075-1

"Insider" texts

  • Yeshe, Lama Thubten (2001). "The Essence of Tibetan Buddhism". Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. ISBN 1-891868-08-X

Other books

  • Coleman, Graham, ed. (1993). A Handbook of Tibetan Culture. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-57062-002-4.
  • Tulku, Ringu (2006). The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet. Shambhala. ISBN 978-1-59030-286-6.
  • Edmundson, Henry, Tales from the Himalaya, Vajra Books, Kathmandu, 2019. ISBN 978-9937-9330-3-2
  • Smith, E. Gene (2001). Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
  • Snellgrove, David (1987). Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Indian Buddhists and Their Tibetan Successors. Vol. 2 volumes. Boston: Shambala.
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