Vajrayana Buddhism, also called “Thunderbolt Vehicle” or “Diamond Vehicle,” is considered by some to be the third vehicle in Buddhism, the other two being, Mahayana, and Theravada. It is widely believed that this school of thought originated as a reaction to the highly philosophical Mahayana Schools in India in the Nalanda University, one of the earliest universities in the world. ‘Vajra,’ meaning thunderbolt or diamond, is a derivative of the Indian thunder God and represents something indestructible in the human, and ‘yana’ is the spiritual pursuit of that indestructible. The official website of the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism states that, “The “diamond” in the name refers to the supreme clarity of its vision and its crystalline hardness and strength.”
This form of Buddhism is considered to be a form of Mahayana Buddhism, though the Vajrayanist believe it is the original form of Buddhism through which the Buddha attained ‘Nirvana,’ which is a healthy mix of Mahayana and Theravada Schools. Whatever the consensus may be on this issue, Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism is a mixture of the Tibetan Bon religion and Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism is also called esoteric Buddhism because of its heavy emphasis on mantras, symbols, and mandalas. It is the ritualistic form of Buddhism.
Vajrayana Buddhism originated during the time of the mentalistic schools of Buddhism and flourished between 6th and 11th centuries A.D. Some say it originated in Nalanda university in India, whereas others think it originated somewhere in present day Pakistan. Some others believe it originated in Southern India.
The Tibetan Buddhists believes that the origin of Vajrayana thought a mixture of Theravada and Mahayana.
“Tibetan Buddhism draws upon the teachings, meditation techniques, and ordination vows of the Theravada, and the philosophy and cosmology of Mahayana.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica differs from this view.
“Philosophically speaking, Vajrayana embodies ideas of both the Yogachara discipline, which emphasizes the ultimacy of mind, and the Madhyamika philosophy, which undermines any attempt to posit a relativistic principle as the ultimate.”
In the year 742, the King of Tibet was attempting to build a Buddhist monastery. It was interrupted by earthquakes which he believed were due to the activity of the demons. In order to exorcise the demons, he called Padmasambhava, the Buddhist monk from Nalanda University. He came to Tibet and accomplished his mission of exorcising the demons, establishing the monastery and also introducing Vajrayana Buddhism into Tibet.
In the following years, Vajrayana spread to 1. Japan, where it survives in the shingon school of Vajrayana Buddhism to this day 2. Mongolia, where the emperor called the various religions namely Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, and after hearing them decided to become a Buddhist. 3. Indonesia and Malaysia, where they were replaced by Islam later.
1. It is a synthesis of Theravada and Mahayana thought.
2. It uses symbols, mantras, mandalas, yoga , specialized rituals and meditation.
3. It teaches to extinguish desire by fulfilling and experiencing the desire fully so that there remains no more mystery to it.
4. Resolution of polar opposites of emptiness and wisdom.
“In the Tantric view, enlightenment arises from the realization that seemingly opposite principles are in truth one. The passive concepts shunyata (“emptiness”) and prajna (“wisdom”), for example, must be resolved with the active karuna (“compassion”) and upaya (“skillful means”). This fundamental polarity and its resolution are often expressed through symbols of sexuality (see yab-yum).”
5. Accelerating Enlightenment or Fast tracking Nirvana
According to Mahayana thought, it takes incalculable eons to attain Nirvana, after many millions of rebirths. But in Vajrayana, with the help of advanced yoga techniques and elaborate meditation, Nirvana can be attained faster even within one’s lifetime.
Similarities with Mahayana Schools includes
1. Mahayana Sutras or Scriptures
2. The concept of Boddhisattvas
3. The practice of faith by both monks and laity.
The other name for Vajrayana is Lamaism. Lamaism derives it name from the word lama or guru or teacher.
“The center of Tibetan Buddhism is the religious figure called the lama, Tibetan for “guru,”” source of another of its names, Lamaism. Several major lineages of lamas developed, beginning in the ninth century with the Nyingma-pa. Two centuries later, Sarma-pa divided into the Sakya-pa and the Kagyu-pa. Three hundred years later, one of Tibet’s revered lamas, Tsong-kha-pa, founded the reforming Gelug-pa.”
The now famous Dalai lama is from the reforming Gelug-pa lineage. He is both the political and spiritual leader of Tibet, and his exile has help spread Vajrayana Buddhism to different parts of the world.
“Gelug-pa Founded by Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419) as a reform movement within Tibetan Buddhism, followers acclaimed the third teacher as an incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, thus inaugurating the line of the Dalai Lama, the fourteenth and most recent of whom was born in 1935. Emphasis in this lineage is on a strict monastic discipline and on the conviction that the bodhisattva, a Buddha who has foregone final Nirvana out of compassion for all sentient beings, is continually present. This tradition remains dynamic even after coming into exile. “
Origin: Like any Mahayana school whose philosophy and cosmology it has borrowed, Vajrayana does not explain the origin of the universe. It assumes the universe existed infinitely . Compared to this, the Bible explains origin logically and scientifically.
Meaning: In its pursuit to quench desire by fulfilling it, it self-destructs and become the very antithesis of what it was supposed to do. Vajrayana defines life like any Buddhist would – that it is full of suffering and there is nothing meaningful or purposeful except to get out of the cycle of rebirths which subjects man to suffering. Moreover it also claims to fast tract this process through its advanced techniques and rituals, which places an enormous demand and burden on the ordinary Buddhist. The assumption that all of life is suffering is an exaggeration of reality and a very pessimistic idea, belief in which can set a man on the wrong quest to quell craving. Compared to this, the biblical faith provides meaning and purpose through a relationship with God in Christ.
Morality: In a Buddhist universe in which there is no God, the assumption that causees have moral effects and consequences which will affect the subsequent births sounds mythical and illogical. Though the Buddhists believe in a moral law, it is a relativistic one as there is no one one to make it binding or obligatory. It is incoherent. Compared to this, the biblical faith gives a strong basis for objective morality which is binding on everybody and also logically explains moral law as coming from a moral law giver, who is holy and righteous.
Destiny: The destiny of every human is rebirths due to karma or Nirvana according to Vajrayana teachings. There is no way one can know this is true. These are just superstitious beliefs which lack credibility and many have squandered their life pursuing Nirvana and deliverance from rebirth. Though the Vajrayana teachings make it possible to attain Nirvana in this lifetime , the whole idea of Nirvana, either slow or fast, does not make sense as a godless universe would be devoid of moral law and its consequences. In such a state the concept of Nirvana, which is release from the effects of bad karma, becomes obsolete and redundant, as there would be no moral law or rebirths. Compared with this, the Bible gives the best possible destiny to whose who would trust God and enter into a relationship with him. Also God is the ultimate destiny, the great reward, and the ultimate satisfaction is obtained in a loving relationship with him.
Compared with Vajrayana Buddhism, belief in Christ and his teachings are logical, coherent, and fulfilling, giving hope both in this world and in the world to come.