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Unity in Diversity

Vajrayāna’ literally means the ‘Diamond Vehicle’.  Diamond, being a tough material, alludes to the incomparable strength and ability of the Dharma in cutting through all fetters and defilements. ‘Vajra’ also refers to the thunderbolt – it is thought that a powerful and sudden jolt obtained through special techniques can potentially destroy ignorance in a single lifetime.

Vajrayāna school evolved as a spiritual counter-culture to Mahāyāna scholasticism in early 7th Century CE India. It embraced Mahāyāna doctrines such as Śūnyata (’emptiness’) but transmitted them in special texts known as Tantra. As such, the tradition was also known as Tantrayāna.

Vajrayāna teachings entered Tibet in waves from the 9th to 11th Centuries CE. There, having come into contact with local beliefs, it acquired a distinctive esoteric and mystical character. According to its teachings, obstacles to realization of the Dharma can be removed by enigmatic rituals and through the intercession of an Enlightened being. The ‘power’ to conduct such rituals were transmitted from an adept teacher to a disciple through complex and codified initiation ceremonies.

The Vajrayāna school also adopted the general Mahāyāna pantheon of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, with a few additions of their own, including deities in female (yogini) or wrathful forms. Besides, there is strong faith in mahāsiddhas – saints who possess supernormal powers and are able to intercede to assist others in their spiritual quest; as well as the belief in tulku – a teacher reincarnate.

Although the Vajrayāna school is presently synonymous with Tibetan Buddhism, it is also widely practised in Bhutan, Mongolia, Ladakh and Nepal. It is also being disseminated globally by exiled Tibetan monks and emigrants. Tibetan Buddhism has a significant following in the West due to the practical, contemporary teachings of the 14th Dalai Lama, and other such charismatic monks.

Unity in Diversity

Over the course of twenty-six centuries, Buddhism has evolved into a myriad of traditions and practices. Yet, with all their diversities, Buddhists are united by their faith in the Three Jewels – the BuddhaDhamma and Sangha. All Buddhists accept Sakyāmuni Buddha as their teacher, and the Four Noble Truths as fundamental teaching. What differs is not the ends, but just the means of gaining Enlightenment.