INTR0DUCTI0N T0 TIBETAN BUDDHISM
(Written in French by Jamyang Khandro according to the teachings of His Eminence Phende Rinpoche, Jamyang Kunzang Cho kyi Jamtso. This was translated into English by Dr Cornelia Weissgunther.)
Our intention here is to offer access to Tibetan Buddhism to the general public, who up to now has had little opportunity to know about this religion. Buddhism, being practiced by millions of people in this world, has for many centuries nourished and inspired almost all the great civilisations of India and the Far East. Today, especially Japanese Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are experiencing a considerable development throughout Europe and North America.
We are therefore offering this text which deals with most aspects of Buddhism, i.e. its philosophy, ethical discipline, meditation practices and so on.
It could also serve as a preparation for all those who, wishing to get more involved, should, according to the tradition, decide to request a lama (master) for instruction in practice. Whatever their school may be, the ultimate aim of all Buddhists is the realisation of Buddhahood (awakening, liberation), and this can only be achieved through the realisation of the true empty nature of all phenomena or "dharmas".
By knowing this, one will understand why all schools of Buddhism put a special emphasis on the practice of various meditation methods which are the training for mastering one's mind and its products, the thoughts, just as a piano player would use the piano keys to gain mastery over his fingers. The term "Buddhism" is derived from "Buddha", a Sanskrit word meaning "the awakened one" (Sanskrit is one of the ancient languages of India). In Tibetan, this term "Buddha" is translated as Sangs-rGyas: "Sangs" means: he who is free from all imperfections and faults", and "rGyas": "He in whom prosper happiness and all qualities of virtue and power." Buddha thus means: "He who is free from any conditioning" and refers to a state which every being can obtain ("Buddhahood") rather than to a particular person.
In Tibetan Buddhism, and in all of the Mahayana or Great Vehicle in general, one talks of Buddhas and not only of the one historical Buddha Shakyamuni (or Shakya Thub-pa in Tibetan).
The Buddhas are free from any conditioning, countless in numbers and able to take all forms and appearances to accomplish the benefit of limitless sorts of sentient beings throughout the infinity of space and time.
Among them, the Buddha Shakyamuni or Shaky Thub-pa is the Buddha who, for the benefit of the human beings of our time, has initiated the teachings one calls "Buddhism". He is neither the first nor the last to come, but the fourth within the succession of 1000 Buddhas of our "Kalpa" or aeon, which is a period of time of inconceivable duration.
It is important to comprehend here that if one talks of the 1000 Buddhas of our Kalpa, this refers to the Buddhas who, like Buddha Shakya Thub-pa "turn the wheel of the doctrine (Dharma)", as the technical term is; or, to put it otherwise, who initiate a new period of transmission of teachings in the human world, after those of the preceding period have disappeared.
At present, we still live in the period of transmission of Buddha Shakya Thub-pa, even though he himself showed the appearance of passing away a long time ago. But, within this same period of teaching by the 1000 Buddhas mentioned above, a much greater number of sentient beings will have become Buddhas, even though they are not being included in these 1000. This point is very important in order to understand Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism (or Vajrayana) interpretation of the life of the Buddha. Therefore, in this tradition, the Buddha is already a Buddha or awakened being when his birth as a royal prince of the Shakya clan occurs. As he is already Buddha, he does not actually attain enlightenment at Bodhgaya, but he only shows the appearance of attaining it in order to set an example to teach beings. Similarly, all other acts of his life are only performed to teach beings.