Meditation has gone viral. It’s no longer the daily passage of the Buddhist practitioner or the Tibetan Monk – it’s been widely adapted for people both Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. In Western civilization, meditation has taken on different forms – people consider closing their eyes for five minutes while on the train a form of meditation, and really, it is.
However, there are deep set techniques in Buddhist meditation that are used traditionally to obtain pure enlightenment. These mechanisms of mindfulness are different depending on the type of Buddhist meditation being practiced. Tibetan Buddhism is a relatively new tradition and their meditation techniques vary greatly depending on the school of thought. In Buddhism, meditation is used to reach a higher plane of intelligence and intuition about yourself and the world that surrounds you than it is to call upon a superior God. Being mindful is a core focus of meditation, learn more about it in Mindfulness Meditation for Everyone.
People new to Buddhist meditation often believe it’s an exercise used to escape the pains and stress of daily life. However, this is far from the truth. In fact, Buddhist meditation seeks to connect the student with their reality in a more insightful manner by accepting these truths of life. If you are looking to “tune-out” Buddhist meditation may not be type of meditation for you. Buddhists try to “tune-in” by looking deep within themselves to eliminate the delusions of happiness, desires, and suffering – “the ego”. Those who meditate and successfully connect with their reality are said to be “awake”. In traditional Buddhist meditative practices, auditory and visual hallucinations are not the end goal. In more discursive religions like Christianity and Hinduism, meditation seeks to speak with the angels, saints and Gods of the respective religion. Buddhism remains objective and does not wish to manifest the higher being, Buddha, into their meditation session. Instead, they seek ultimate truth, clarity and understanding through the twelve practices prescribed by the Buddha. Tibetan Buddhist meditation, however, seeks a more visual experience resembling that of the aforementioned religions.
Tibetan Buddhism is sometimes referred to as Lamaism and is a form of Mahayana Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism is most well-known for the spiritual teacher the Dalai Lama who is a part of the Gelugpa School of Tibetan meditation. Around 800 B.C., the preexisting Tibetan religion called Bon was incorporated with tantric Buddhism which conceived what we know as Tibetan Buddhism today. Tibetan Buddhists subscribe to a slightly different belief system with different iconic deities as their guides than the traditional Zen or Chinese Buddhists do. The principal aspiration of those who practice Tibetan Buddhism is to experience the indivisible union of bliss and emptiness. It’s important to remember just how many variations of Buddhism truly exist – thousands outside of Tibet and an equal amount within. However, most Tibetan Buddhists believe in the Five Dhyani Buddhas (the God’s of Wisdom) and the Wrathful Deities whom exist to vanquish evil from the world.
Many of the Tibetan traditions differ from tantric Buddhism as they utilize ritualistic practices and symbols to strive towards oneness and enlightenment. These exercises include, religious pilgrimages, chanting, offerings, prayer wheels and Cham, a sacred dance. Cham, due to Chinese occupation of Tibet, is a forbidden ritual. The meditation techniques employed by Tibetan Buddhists include the unique mahamudra, dzogchen, and the Six yogas of Naropa. Traditional yoga differs greatly from modern day yoga as broadcasted around Western nations. Yoga’s true foundation is in meditation and reflection. What is Yoga as Meditation is a course that will teach you about the process of becoming “awake”.
In Tibetan meditation, practitioners use mudras or special hand gestures and mantras which are chanted sacred phrases to aid in full meditation. Again, this differs from traditional Buddhism as silence and introspection are highly revered and considered the path to becoming “awake”. The four chief schools of modern Tibetan Buddhism are Nyingmapa, Kagyupa, Sakyapa and Gelugpa all of which practice a different dominant method of meditation. Read about Meditation poses you can do at home for balance and power in this article.
Nyingmapa, otherwise known as The School of Ancients is the oldest school in Tibetan Buddhism tradition. It is the second largest school and has sincere adherence to the Dzogchen doctrine of meditation. Dzogchen represents great perfection which is considered the highest path of meditation to enlightenment in the Nyingmapa body of teaching. The Dzogchen doctrine focuses on View, Meditation,and Action. The View is the absolute state of the mind, Meditation is the pathway to stabilizing and realizing the View and Action is the physical incorporation of the View into your life. Meditation is the connecting piece between the mind and body and using it as a catalyst for change and understanding is the goal of the great perfection. It’s through meditation and practice that all objectifying disappears and the one meditating can begin to see the nature of life for what it really is without focus on the ego. As once said by a famous Dzogchen master, “the essence of Dzogchen teaching is to not meditate or practice anything with the mind – yet to never be distracted.” This demonstrates the integration of Dzogchen Truth into the whole of a life without considering it a practice to be done to achieve something. Nyingmapa is a part of the Red Hat sect.
Kagyupa, or The Oral Transmission School, is the third largest school in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s within this school of thought that the popular hatha yoga is practiced. The form of meditation, or central teaching of Kagyupa is mahamudra or the great seal. Mahamudra stands for the inseparable nature of the realization of emptiness and freedom from samsara. Samsara is the repeating cycle of birth, life and death, otherwise known as reincarnation. The meditation focus of mahamudra is on the nature of the Mind and the supreme path to Buddhahood. Alongside mahamudra, Kagyupa school of thought embraces parts of the six yogas of Naropa.
Three of the six yogas of Naropa practiced in the school of Kagyupa are dream yoga, clear light yoga and tummo – three of the six yogas of Naropa – are used. Dream yoga is less about tangible teachings through text and more about the transmission of an enlightening experience from teacher to student after proper initiation. As the title indicates, dream yoga is a process of evaluation and realization in the dream state. This is typically done under supervision and involves lucid dreaming. Clear light yoga is to clear the mind of the mind. This is done through freedom of conceptual cognition. Tummo is a breathing method practiced in certain veins of Tibetan meditation. It’s considered the highest yoga tantra and is used to gain ultimate control over the body. The focus of breath during Tummo is traditionally in the sub-navel area, whereas in traditional Buddhist meditation the focus is the upper lip or sub-nostril area. Kagyuapa is a part of the Red Hat sect.
The smallest school of thought in the Tibetan meditation. Sakyapa stands for “pale earth” and these followers are devoted to Lamdre or path and goal sometimes called the Path and its Fruit or the Path and its Result. The primary Dharma system includes the Explanation for the Assembly and the Explanation for Close Disciples. Lamdre is a teaching of Vajrayana that utilizes Buddhist logic. Sakyapa subscribers practice calm-abiding meditation which in essence is imparts the act of observing ones own mind. Through this conscious unconsciousness those meditating can increase their ability to focus, become aware of the body and thoughts, and understand and take control of the mind.
This Tibetan school of thought is the newest, yet the largest of the four. It’s known as the school of the virtuous and also as the Yellow Hats. Gelugpa uses meditation in a more traditional Buddhist manner, focusing on successful concentration and reaching the intuitive plane akin to buddhahood. Learn more about intuition from a doctor and adviser of intuition in the course Enlightenment and Spiritual Transformation. It is the Gelugpa school who has held the position of political leadership in Tibet since the mid 1600’s. The Dalai Lama is the political and spiritual leader of the Yellow Hats. Meditation is used in Gelugpa to attain the spiritual path unique to this school of compassion and insight to wisdom.
Although Buddhism is incredibly diverse in geographical practice and philosophical ideation, the overarching theme is to rid oneself of the ego and to accept and observe the nature of reality. Tibetan Buddhism has many different sects within the four major schools of thought. Each school, and each sect practice their own unique set of meditation techniques and adherence to varying belief systems. Learn more about the goal of meditation and the embrace of spirituality though the course The Spiritual Truth.