Vajrayana in Sanskrit means "Thunderbolt or a Diamond Vehicle". It is known as Vajrayana because of the ritual use of the vajra, a symbol of thunder and lightning as well as a symbol of an indestructible diamond. Also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantrayāna, Mantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Esoteric Buddhism, Diamond Way, Thunderbolt Way, or the Indestructible Way, Vajrayana Buddhism is widely followed across the Himalayan countries like Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan and also in some parts of Mongolia. It is a form of tantric Buddhism that was originally introduced in India.
Though there are still ongoing debates whether Vajrayana is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism or if it is a distinct path of Buddhism apart from Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, it is generally believed that Vajrayana Buddhism evolved out of Mahayana Buddhism in India in around 6th Century BC. This particular branch of Buddhism spread out of India after its inception and established itself in various parts of the Buddhist world, specifically in Tibet, where it exerted a lasting influence and has become the dominant form of Buddhism. Hence, the Vajrayana Buddhism is often referred to as "Tibetan Buddhism".
The center of Tibetan Buddhism is reserved by a religious figure called the Lama (Tibetan for Guru), thus giving Vajrayana its another name, Lamaism. There have been plenty of chief lineages of Lamas developed. One of the main goals of this practice of Buddhism is to become a Bodhisattva. The practitioner of the Vajrayana Buddhism takes his or her innate Buddha nature as the means of practice. Since we, as humans already have an enlightened mind, Vajrayana Buddhism helps us, the humans, to see the world in terms of ultimate truths. And seeing the world through the ultimate truth can help us attain the full Buddha-hood. Thus, gaining the ultimate truth is believed to be the main purpose of numerous tantric techniques that are practiced in Vajrayana. This also involves advanced meditation practice.
Motivation plays an important role in the practice of Vajrayana. The motivation to achieve Buddha-hood in order to serve all the sentient beings helps one to gain the Boddhisattva path.
Similarly, Newari Buddhism, commonly known as NepaliBuddhism, is practiced by Newars in Nepal. This form of Vajrayana Buddhism is the only of its kind in which the scriptures and religious texts are written in Sanskrit language. The priests of this branch in Nepal do not follow celibacy and are called Vajracharyas.
Distinguising features of Vajrayana Buddhism
The followers of Vajrayana Buddhism in general do not claim or believe that the Theravada and Mahayana practices are invalid. Instead, the teachings from these schools of Buddhism are believed to have laid an important foundation of understanding on which the practices of Vajrayana is built. For the Vajrayana techniques to be most effective, the teachings from each of the two paths must be considered in a detailed manner. Some of the important features of Vajrayana Buddhism are:
- Path of Fruit
- Esoteric Transmission
- Vows and Behaviour
- Tantra Techniques
- Deity Yoga
- Guru Yoga
- Death Yoga
Buddhist arts in Vajrayana Buddhism
Vajrayana Buddhism is well represented in various forms of Buddhist arts across the geographic locations following it. One of the widely used form is Thangkas in Tibet and Paubhas in Nepal. Similarly, Buddha statues of distinct as well as peculiar forms are used to represent various Buddhas in the Vajrayana Buddhism. The miniature Vajra and bell, which are the two of the most important ritualistic tools of Vajrayana Buddhism, are also two of the most widely used Buddhist art in Vajrayana.