Some 2,500 years ago, an Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, sat quietly in a place known as the Deer Park at Sarnath. In this quiet place, before a small assembly he began to offer simple teachings, based on his own experience. These teachings, referred to as the "dharma," meaning "truth," were practical instructions on how to relate to one's everyday experience of life and mind.
Because his realization was profound, he became known as the "Buddha," which means "the awakened one." The teachings he offered came to be known as buddhadharma ("the teaching of the awakened one"), and ultimately as Buddhism. The Buddhist teachings proclaim the possibility of awakening the potential within every human being, and they provide a practical method for doing so. This practical method, passed down from generation to generation, is known as meditation, which is the practice of mindfulness and awareness.
Meditation is a natural process of allowing oneself to examine the nature of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, and to discover the inherent purity of one's being. It is a practice based on direct experience, rather than on blind belief.
Buddhism is taking an increasingly prominent role in contemporary western society as interest increases in this approach to life. A unique quality of the Buddhist teachings is that they can be expressed through existing cultural norms, making use of them rather than destroying or replacing them. This allows many westerners to practice Buddhism today without renouncing their cultural heritage or radically changing their lifestyles.
Origins of Buddhism
The word "buddhism" comes from the Sanskrit word "buddha," which means "the awakened one." buddhism, or buddhadharma, is the proclamation of, and journey toward, an awakening of human potential.
The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born around 560 B.C. at Lumbini, in present-day Nepal. He was brought up as a prince of the Shakya clan and excelled in all the worldly arts. After realizing the truth of impermanence at the age of twenty-nine, he left his kingdom to seek spiritual understanding.
After studying for six years with many spiritual teachers, Siddhartha realized that neither the extreme of worldly success nor of asceticism could lead him to full awakening. He sat under the bodhi tree on the banks of the Ganges and vowed not to rise until he had attained enlightenment. Through examining the nature of his body and mind, he attained complete awakening.
The Buddha's discovery of awakened mind cannot adequately be described as a religion, a philosophy, or a psychology. It is better described as a way of living. The buddhadharma provides a practical method for attaining the realization of which it speaks: meditation, which is the practice of mindfulness and awareness. Meditation is a natural process of allowing oneself to examine the nature of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations and to discover the inherent purity of one's being. It is a practice based on real experience, rather than on blind belief.
A variety of schools of buddhism developed in India after the Buddha's death, or parinirvana. The schools that were prominent earlier, called hinayana, placed primary emphasis on self-liberation through personal discipline. The schools that were prominent later, called the mahayana or "great vehicle," placed greater emphasis on working for the liberation of society as a whole. Both schools -were disseminated from India throughout Asia. The tradition established in Tibet is mahayana buddhism. It is also known as vajrayana, or "the indestructible vehicle," referring to the particularly powerful and direct methods of realization it employs.
The Practice Lineages
There are four major lineages of buddhism which originated in India and flourished in Tibet: Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya, and Geluk. Some lineages, like the Sakya and Geluk, put special emphasis on an intellectual approach to the teachings, training students as scholars and logicians. Others, like Nyingma and Kagyü, put special emphasis on the practice of meditation; they are often called the "Practice Lineages." The founder of the Shambhala community, the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was a holder of both Kagyü and Nyingma lineages, as is the current head of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
The Kagyü Lineage
The Indian mahasiddha Tilopa was the founder of what would later be called the Kagyü lineage. He spent much of his life wandering from place to place and studying meditation with various teachers. Finally, he meditated alone for several years in a grass hut on the banks of the Ganges until he attained realization. He received direct transmission of the mahamudra teachings from the dharmakaya buddha Vajradhara.
One of his most important disciples was the Indian mahasiddha and pandit Naropa. At the height of his career as head of Nalanda University, he sacrificed everything he had accomplished in order to search for an authentic teacher. He found Tilopa and studied with him for twelve years until attaining enlightenment.
One of Naropa's principal students was the Tibetan translator, Marpa Chökyi Lodrö. At exceptional risk to himself, Marpa made three long journeys over the Himalayas to India to study the dharma with Naropa and other great teachers. He transmitted the teachings to the Tibetan ascetic and hermit Milarepa. Milarepa in turn transmitted them to Gampopa, who had already received training in the monastic Kadampa lineage. From that time until the present, the teachings of the Kagyü have been transmitted in an unbroken lineage from teacher to student.
From the time of Gampopa, the Kagyü lineage developed into a number of branches, called "the four great and the eight lesser schools."
The Nyingma Lineage
The Nyingma lineage ("the ancient ones") is the oldest of the four Tibetan lineages, dating back to the ninth century, when its founder, Padmasambhava, traveled from India to Tibet to establish the first Tibetan monastery, Samye.
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche was the leader of the Nyingma lineage in exile until his parinirvana in 1987. His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche assumed that role until his own parinirvana in 1991. H.H. Khyentse Rinpoche was a teacher and close associate of the Vidyadhara; he was also a teacher of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (then the Sawang). The Venerable Penor Rinpoche is the current head of the Nyingma lineage.
The Surmang Tradition
The Surmang tradition was founded by the siddha Trungma-se (circa 1400). Trungmase received mahamudra teachings from deshin shekpa, the Fifth Karmapa (1384-1415). He received the Nyingma teachings of the Khandro Nyingthik ("The Innermost Essence of the Dakinis") from the teacher Menyakpa. Trungma-se himself was not a tülku; he was the teacher of the first Trungpa.
The following is a list of the Trungpa tülkus: (I) Künga Gyaltsen, (II) Künga Sangpo, (III) Künga Öser, (IV) Künga Namgyal, (V) Tendzin Chögyal, (VI) Lodrö Tenphel, (VII) Jampal Chögyal, (VIII) Gyurme Tenphel, (IX) Karma Tenphel, (X) Chökyi Nyinje (1875-1938), (XI) Chökyi Gyatso (1940-1987), (XII) Chökyi Sengay (1989-).
The Surmang Kagyü is especially known for the hearing lineage of Surmang, its practice of Chakrasamvara, and for the performance of the extensive Chakrasamvara dance.