Tibetan Buddhism for Beginners
What exactly is Tibetan Buddhism? As the Buddha’s teachings spread globally, and, as many of us seek to practice in the west, this question grows. It is why you are here, at present, on this page, no?
Perhaps your initial encounter with Tibetan Buddhism was while reading the wonderful teachings of the Dalai Lama and now you’re hoping to learn more. Maybe you’ve dabbled in meditation and feel eager to translate Tibetan teachings into a successful practice. Or, you could be exploring your spirituality and taking the initial steps to find your dharma community.
In “A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism” we will provide some of the basics.
Siddhartha Gautama, the first Buddha, was born to a nobel hindu family over 2,500 years ago. A wise sage informed Siddhartha’s father that his boy would either grow up to become a great ruler, or a great spiritual teacher.
Wanting his son to take his rightful reigns of kingly power, his father kept Siddhartha inside the palace walls for most of his early life. He saw to it that Siddhartha enjoyed a life of every luxury and a want for nothing.
But Siddhartha was restless.
In his late 20s, he fled from the palace walls only to discover the inevitable suffering of poverty, disease, and ultimately, death. The latter was something he knew neither king nor palace could shelter him from. So, he vowed to never return home until he found the solution to human suffering.
Siddhartha wandered the earth for six years, learning and listening to his own gurus, and he eventually came to rest under the Bodhi tree. There he sat for 49 days, and in his silence, he “woke up” to reach Nirvana.
The word “Buddha” means “the awakened one.”
Buddha believed that we are all born with Buddha-nature. He believed that by following the Dharma, or “path”, every one of us can attain enlightenment and become a Buddha.
He simply took the walk first and showed us the way.
The first step is to understand The Four Noble Truths:
1. Life consists of inevitable suffering (Dukkha)
2. Suffering arises from attachments and desires (Samudāya)
3. There is an end to suffering by releasing your attachments (Nirodha)
4. To release your suffering, follow the Eightfold Path (Magga)
This path is also called “The Middle Way” — it is the practice of balancing yourself between your desires and your suffering.
The Eightfold Path consists of 8 virtues a bodhisattva must practice:
1. Right View – you see things as they are, not how you wish them to be. You understand the 4 noble truths. right thought – control your monkey mind
2. Right Thought – keep your thoughts and intentions in accord with the path to enlightenment. Let go of greed, anger, and ignorance.
3. Right Speech – don’t slander, or lie, or gossip. Use words of compassion, praise, and altruism.
4. Right Action – live the Dharma through your actions. Act compassionately, do no harm to others.
5. Right Livelihood – your occupation should be one that does not seek to harm people, but instead lifts and assists others
6. Right Effort – Develop positive attitudes and avoid negative thinking
7. Right Mindfulness – be aware of your mind, body, and emotions and seek to remain in the present moment
8. Right Concentration – through meditation, you will find answers, awareness, and peace
The ultimate goal is to achieve what Siddhartha had centuries ago – to follow the Eightfold path and find oneself awake at the end of the long journey.
Buddhism is a quest for awakening — from ego, from suffering, and from the spinning karmic wheel of death and rebirth.
Tibetan Buddhism began in India and is one of three main paths to enlightenment, the other two practices being the teachings of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.
Like other vehicles of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhists seek to ease suffering by following the Eightfold path. They also focus on activities that will eventually allow release from the karmic cycle of rebirth. Atoning for bad karma in this lifetime will help a practitioner reach Nirvana in another.
Doing good works, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and learning with and from a spiritual community are all part of the earthly path for a Tibetan Buddhist.
Ritual is also very important to the Tibetan tradition. Following the ancient teachings known as the Buddhist Tantras, practitioners meditate by focusing on mandalas, mantras, Buddhas or deities, and practice visualizations. These rituals help us to realize our human pitfalls and the marvelous peace one can reach through right concentration.
Guru Disciple Relationship
It is greatly encouraged for Tibetan Buddhists to seek counsel from a spiritual teacher, or guru. Such spiritual teachers are called “Lamas”.
The benefits of the guru are to be in the presence of a spiritual leader who can guide you to the deeper practices of the faith. They will lead the way into areas where you may be blind and show you things you do not see or do not wish to see about what it means to walk the Middle Way. They know the steps necessary for successful practice of the Dharma and will transmit that knowledge to and through you.
When considering a guru, you will want to find one that is a “fit” for you. Do your research and take your time. Some people prefer teachers who are strict and stoic, while others connect better with someone more personal and very accessible. The guru should contribute to the awakening of students’ interest in achieving a daily practice of Right Living as well as nurture students’ interest in spirituality.
The most famous modern-day Tibetan guru is The Dalai Lama, who is not only the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, but is also believed to be the incarnation of a lineage of enlightened bodhisattvas who are born again and again to help the rest of us achieve enlightenment, too.
So where do you go from here? Since you’re visiting the Sukhasiddhi Foundation website, take a moment to check out our upcoming workshops, classes, and events as well as learn more about our wonderful teachers.
There are many fantastic books on the subject of Tibetan Buddhism, but here are a few favorites from which to begin:
1. Pema Chodron, by When Things Fall Apart
2. The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
3. What Makes You Not a Buddhist, by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
4. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, by John Powers
5. Buddhism for Beginners, by Thubten Chodron
And if you’re ground level practice oriented, you can simply start by meditating. Here is the Dalai Lama Himself to guide you.
The sun is rising. It’s time to wake up.