Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

Buddhism contains many schools of thought. Like Christian denominations, Buddhist traditions adhere to the same basic teachings while offering different interpretations of ceremony, practice, intent, and goals. Wherever Buddhism has put down roots, it has incorporated native traditions and understandings of what the lessons of the historical Buddha have to teach its practitioners.Because of political events and the popularity of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in the Western world, Tibetan Buddhism has attracted the curiosity of many spiritual seekers. The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism are not limited to the teachings of His Holiness, though he is the temporal and spiritual leader of his people. Tibetan Buddhism embodies a number of beliefs and practices that are both unique to the land of Tibet while being related to the beliefs and practices found elsewhere.

Tibetan Buddhism, unlike some Chinese and Japanese Buddhist schools of thought, does not stress instantaneous realization of the Buddha’s enlightenment so much as a gradual progression of spiritual progress to attain ultimate realization. Through thoughtful meditation and skepticism of received teachings, a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhist teachings is expected to reach ultimate enlightenment under the guidance of a lama. Lamas, in Tibetan Buddhism, are educated masters of doctrine and sutras who are recognized for their own wisdom and mastery of the texts and the teachings that they embody through long practice. While questioning is valued in the Tibetan tradition, every practicing Buddhist is expected to recognize from the outset of study that what he or she is about to receive and incorporate into their lives has already been tested and proven by past generations. The goal is to critically test that truth for oneself to realize its relevance.

Monasticism has a strong tradition in Tibetan Buddhism but it isn’t considered necessary to realize the ultimate benefits of the Buddha’s teachings. Many married householders in Tibet are faithful and devout practitioners who find themselves nourished and comforted by the Schools of Tibetan Buddhism. While monks and nuns are an everyday feature of Tibetan Buddhist life, they serve as examples and role models rather than as ideals.

The various strains of Tibetan Buddhism will reward anyone who chooses to study them critically with an open mind, an open heart, and an open consciousness. The theological doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism can be subtle and esoteric. They can also be direct and hit a seeker in his or her heart.