In a simple way, what we call Buddhism, refers to Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings transmitted about 2600 years ago. The Buddha’s teachings, more appropriately designated as Buddha Dharma, are essentially a guide for the path, a map to discover and manifest the complete and absolute freedom from suffering, the Buddha’s state. The Buddha’s nature is intrinsic to all sentient beings, meaning everyone has the possibility to discover such realization.
Discovering the Awakening of the Sleeping Buddha
From the Dharma point of view, our mind is not experiencing its natural or original state, and for this reason, the perception we have of ourselves, of others and of the universe is wrong, confused and delusional. The ultimate aim of the path is to discover the Buddha’s nature, our “saneness”, the original condition, through dissolving these veils of mistaken perception, the ones that Buddhas, the realized beings, call ignorance.
Being sought-after, the Buddha taught in many different ways according to the capacities and needs of his listeners. In this way, various people and groups, received teachings according to their disposition, personality, culture, mental acuity and knowledge
The three Dharma Wheels
The different teachings and methods provided by Buddha gave rise to three vehicles that we use to walk the path towards realization. These vehicles, Yanas in Sanskrit, group together all the Buddhist schools that are nowadays still available. The three Yanas, or vehicles, are: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. The Tibetan Buddhism integrates the teachings and practices of all vehicles, however it is particularly praised for having preserved the Powerful Diamond Vehicle, or Varjayana, the fast pathway to enlightenment.
Who was Buddha?
The historical Buddha was born in India in the 6th century B.C. and was named Siddharta meaning “The One Who Satisfies All Wishes”. His father, the King Sudodana, was the ruler/regent of the Shakyas and was married to the Queen Maya. When Siddharta was still a new-born, astrological studies predicted he would become either a great Imperator or a wise ascetic who would benefit the world. The father, willing him to be his successor to the throne, surrounded him with wealth and pleasures. So, Siddharta, grew up surrounded by young and healthy people and at the age of sixteen, he married the beautiful princess Yasodara.
Breaking the shell
Siddharta, being inspired by various events, insisted to get to know the reality beyond the walls of his palace. The king agreed, but on specific conditions on what he should see: only the good and bright side of life, only beautiful things. Despite the careful strategy, for the first time the Prince would catch a glimpse of the suffering and pain of human reality/condition.
After such experience no one could stop him. He would sneak out from the palace several times and during each inroad he would confront sickness, old age, and a corpse, the hard evidence of death. Such confrontation with the human vulnerability left him disturbed and shocked. At this point Siddharta got determined: finding the ultimate cessation of suffering, the authentic freedom.
Siddharta’s liberation, the Awakening of Buddha
At 29 years old, Siddharta would abandon his wealthy life at the palace and the prospect of a monarchic life. He would turn an ascetic, looking for real freedom and realization. During six years he dedicated himself to austerity following the great masters of India of that time, studying and experiencing their methods. Despite his intelligence, diligence and dedication, and praises from his masters, he could not find the answer to achieve the full freedom from suffering.
Thus, he headed to Gaya, today known as Bodhgaya, an Indian village located in the current state of Bihar. There, he remained in meditation under a tree during forty-nine days and nights. At dawn, eliminating subtle veils of darkness, discovered his, which is also our, true nature: the enlightened state, the Buddha. Since then he is known as the Buddha Shakyamuni.
The Nyingma School
Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings arrived to Tibet for the first time in the 5th century. However, Buddhism would be definitely founded in the Snow Land only in the mid-8th-century, when the Tibetan King Trisong Deutsen invited two Indian masters, the monk and scholar Shantarakshita and the Vajra master Guru Padmasambava, to rebuild the Samye monastery. It is during this first phase of propagating the Dharma in Tibet, that the most ancestral School of Tibetan Buddhism arose, the Old School, or Nyingma School in Tibetan.
The New Schools
Later, during the 11th century, we observe a new flow of Indian masters, the start of more journeys to India and the production of new translations of sacred texts. This led to new practice lineages and to the arising of the three so called new schools: the Kagyu School, brought from India by Marpa, the Sakyapa School, founded by Konchog Gyalpo and the more recent Geluk School, founded by Tsongkhapa in the 15th century. As a result, four main Schools were established and are still present to this day: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelukpa.