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Tibetan Buddhism is the body of Buddhist religious doctrine and institutions characteristic of Tibet, Mongolia, Tuva, Bhutan, Kalmykia and certain regions of the Himalayas, including northern Nepal, and India (particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Dharamsala, Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, and Sikkim). It is the state religion of Bhutan. It is also practiced in Mongolia and parts of Russia (Kalmykia, Buryatia, and Tuva) and Northeast China. Texts recognized as scripture and commentary are contained in the Tibetan Buddhist canon, such that Tibetan is a spiritual language of these areas.
A Tibetan diaspora has spread Tibetan Buddhism to many Western countries, where the tradition has gained popularity. Among its prominent exponents is the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. The number of its adherents is estimated to be between ten and twenty million.
Tibetan Buddhism comprises the teachings of the three vehicles of Buddhism: the Foundational Vehicle, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna. The Mahāyāna goal of spiritual development is to achieve the enlightenment of buddhahood in order to most efficiently help all other sentient beings attain this state. The motivation in it is the bodhicitta mind of enlightenment — an altruistic intention to become enlightened for the sake of all sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are revered beings who have conceived the will and vow to dedicate their lives with bodhicitta for the sake of all beings. Tibetan Buddhism teaches methods for achieving buddhahood more quickly by including the Vajrayāna path in Mahāyāna.
Buddhahood is defined as a state free of the obstructions to liberation as well as those to omniscience. When one is freed from all mental obscurations, one is said to attain a state of continuous bliss mixed with a simultaneous cognition of emptiness, the true nature of reality. In this state, all limitations on one's ability to help other living beings are removed.
It is said that there are countless beings who have attained buddhahood. Buddhas spontaneously, naturally and continuously perform activities to benefit all sentient beings. However it is believed that one's karma could limit the ability of the Buddhas to help them. Thus, although Buddhas possess no limitation from their side on their ability to help others, sentient beings continue to experience suffering as a result of the limitations of their own former negative actions.
There is a long history of oral transmission of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism. Oral transmissions by lineage holders traditionally can take place in small groups or mass gatherings of listeners and may last for seconds (in the case of a mantra, for example) or months (as in the case of a section of the Tibetan Buddhist canon). A transmission can even occur without actually hearing, as in Asanga's visions of Maitreya.
An emphasis on oral transmission as more important than the printed word derives from the earliest period of Indian Buddhism, when it allowed teachings to be kept from those who should not hear them. Hearing a teaching (transmission) readies the hearer for realization based on it. The person from whom one hears the teaching should have heard it as one link in a succession of listeners going back to the original speaker: the Buddha in the case of a sutra or the author in the case of a book. Then the hearing constitutes an authentic lineage of transmission. Authenticity of the oral lineage is a prerequisite for realization, hence the importance of lineages.
Spontaneous realization on the basis of transmission is possible but rare. Normally an intermediate step is needed in the form of analytic meditation, i.e., thinking about what one has heard. As part of this process, entertaining doubts and engaging in internal debate over them is encouraged in some traditions.
Analytic meditation is just one of two general methods of meditation. When it achieves the quality of realization, one is encouraged to switch to "focused" or "fixation" meditation. In this the mind is stabilized on that realization for periods long enough to gradually habituate it to it.
A person's capacity for analytic meditation can be trained with logic. The capacity for successful focused meditation can be trained through calm abiding. A meditation routine may involve alternating sessions of analytic meditation to achieve deeper levels of realization, and focused meditation to consolidate them. The deepest level of realization is Buddhahood itself.
As in other Buddhist traditions, an attitude of reverence for the teacher, or guru, is also highly prized. At the beginning of a public teaching, a lama will do prostrations to the throne on which he will teach due to its symbolism, or to an image of the Buddha behind that throne, then students will do prostrations to the lama after he is seated. Merit accrues when one's interactions with the teacher are imbued with such reverence in the form of guru devotion, a code of practices governing them that derives from Indian sources. By such things as avoiding disturbance to the peace of mind of one's teacher, and wholeheartedly following his prescriptions, much merit accrues and this can significantly help improve one's practice.
There is a general sense in which any Tibetan Buddhist teacher is called a lama. A student may have taken teachings from many authorities and revere them all as lamas in this general sense. However, he will typically have one held in special esteem as his own root guru and is encouraged to view the other teachers who are less dear to him, however more exalted their status, as embodied in and subsumed by the root guru. Often the teacher the student sees as root guru is simply the one who first introduced him to Buddhism, but a student may also change his personal view of which particular teacher is his root guru any number of times.
Skepticism is an important aspect of Tibetan Buddhism, an attitude of critical skepticism is encouraged to promote abilities in analytic meditation. In favour of skepticism towards Buddhist doctrines in general, Tibetans are fond of quoting sutra to the effect that one should test the Buddha's words as one would the quality of gold.
The opposing principles of skepticism and guru devotion are reconciled with the Tibetan injunction to scrutinise a prospective guru thoroughly before finally adopting him as such without reservation. A Buddhist may study with a lama for decades before finally accepting him as his own guru.
Vajrayāna is acknowledged to be the fastest method for attaining Buddhahood but for unqualified practitioners it can be dangerous. To engage in it one must receive an appropriate initiation (also known as an "empowerment") from a lama who is fully qualified to give it. From the time one has resolved to accept such an initiation, the utmost sustained effort in guru devotion is essential.
The aim of preliminary practices (ngöndro) is to start the student on the correct path for such higher teachings. Just as Sutrayāna preceded Vajrayāna historically in India, so sutra practices constitute those that are preliminary to tantric ones. Preliminary practices include all Sutrayāna activities that yield merit like hearing teachings, prostrations, offerings, prayers and acts of kindness and compassion, but chief among the preliminary practices are realizations through meditation on the three principle stages of the path: renunciation, the altruistic bodhicitta wish to attain enlightenment and the wisdom realizing emptiness. For a person without the basis of these three in particular to practice Vajrayāna can be like a small child trying to ride an unbroken horse.
While the practices of Vajrayāna are not known in Sutrayāna, all Sutrayāna practices are common to Vajrayāna. Without training in the preliminary practices, the ubiquity of allusions to them in Vajrayāna is meaningless and even successful Vajrayāna initiation becomes impossible.
The merit acquired in the preliminary practices facilitates progress in Vajrayāna. While many Buddhists may spend a lifetime exclusively on sutra practices, however, an amalgam of the two to some degree is common. For example, in order to train in calm abiding, one might use a tantric visualisation as the meditation object.
In Vajrayāna particularly, Tibetan Buddhists subscribe to a voluntary code of self-censorship, whereby the uninitiated do not seek and are not provided with information about it. This self-censorship may be applied more or less strictly depending on circumstances such as the material involved. A depiction of a mandala may be less public than that of a deity. That of a higher tantric deity may be less public than that of a lower. The degree to which information on Vajrayāna is now public in western languages is controversial among Tibetan Buddhists.
Buddhism has always had a taste for esotericism since its earliest period in India. Tibetans today maintain greater or lesser degrees of confidentiality also with information on the vinaya and emptiness specifically. In Buddhist teachings generally, too, there is caution about revealing information to people who may be unready for it. Esoteric values in Buddhism have made it at odds with the values of Christian missionary activity, for example in contemporary Mongolia.
A distinct feature of Tibetan Buddhism is the system of incarnate lamas, but such genuine innovations have been few. A small corpus of extra-canonical scripture, the treasure texts (terma) is acknowledged by some practitioners, but the bulk of the canon that is not commentary was translated from Indian sources. True to its roots in the Pāla system of North India, however, Tibetan Buddhism carries on a tradition of eclectic accumulation and systematisation of diverse Buddhist elements, and pursues their synthesis. Prominent among these achievements have been the Stages of the Path and motivational training.
Tibetan Buddhists practice one or more understandings of the true nature of reality, the emptiness of inherent existence of all things. Emptiness is propounded according to four classical Indian schools of philosophical tenets.
Two belong to the older path of the Foundation Vehicle:
The primary source for the former is the Abhidharma-kośa by Vasubandhu and its commentaries. The Abhidharmakośa is also an important source for the Sautrāntikas. Dignāga and Dharmakīrti are the most prominent exponents.
The other two are Mahayana (Skt. Greater Vehicle) (Tib. theg-chen):
Yogacārins base their views on texts from Maitreya, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, Madhyamakas on Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva. There is a further classification of Madhyamaka into Svatantrika-Madhyamaka and Prasaṅgika-Madhyamaka. The former stems from Bhavaviveka, Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla, and the latter from Buddhapālita and Candrakīrti.
The tenet system is used in the monasteries and colleges to teach Buddhist philosophy in a systematic and progressive fashion, each philosophical view being more subtle than its predecessor. Therefore the four schools can be seen as a gradual path from a rather easy-to-grasp, "realistic" philosophical point of view, to more and more complex and subtle views on the ultimate nature of reality, that is on emptiness and dependent arising, culminating in the philosophy of the Mādhyamikas, which is widely believed to present the most sophisticated point of view.
The diagram to the right shows the growth of Tibetan Buddhist traditions. The four main ones overlap markedly, such that "about eighty percent or more of the features of the Tibetan schools are the same". Differences include the use of apparently, but not actually, contradictory terminology, opening dedications of texts to different deities and whether phenomena are described from the viewpoint of an unenlightened practitioner or of a Buddha. On questions of philosophy they have no fundamental differences, according to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama 
These major schools are sometimes said to constitute the ”Old Translation” and ”New Translation” traditions, the latter following from the historical Kadampa lineage of translations and tantric lineages. Another common but trivial differentiation is into "Red Hat" and "Yellow Hat" schools. The correspondences are as follows:
|Old Translation||New Translation||New Translation||New Translation|
|Red Hat||Red Hat||Red Hat||Yellow Hat|
Besides these major schools, there is a minor one, the Jonang. The Jonangpa were suppressed by the rival Gelugpa in the 17th century and were once thought extinct, but are now known to survive in Eastern Tibet, their leader lives in Dharamsala, India near the Dalai Lama. It has been recognized by the Dalai Lama as an authentic living Buddhist tradition of Tibet.
Thuken Chökyi Nyima's Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems is a classic history of the different schools and provides broad and useful historical information.
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Although there were many householder-yogis in Tibet, monasticism was the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet. There were over 6,000 monasteries in Tibet, however nearly all of these were ransacked and destroyed by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Most of the major monasteries have been at least partially re-established while, many other ones remain in ruins.
In Mongolia during the 1920s, approximately one third of the male population were monks, though many lived outside monasteries. By the beginning of the 20th century about 750 monasteries were functioning in Mongolia. These monasteries were largely dismantled during Communist rule, but many have been reestablished during the Buddhist revival in Mongolia which followed the fall of Communism.
Monasteries generally adhere to one particular school. Some of the major centers in each tradition are as follows:
The Nyingma lineage is said to have "six mother monasteries," although the composition of the six has changed over time:
Also of note is
Many Kagyu monasteries are in Kham, eastern Tibet. Tsurphu, one of the most important, is in central Tibet, as is Ralung and Drikung.
Three other monasteries have particularly important regional influence:
Great spiritual and historical importance is also placed on:
Today, Tibetan Buddhism is adhered to widely in the Tibetan Plateau, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Kalmykia (on the north-west shore of the Caspian), Siberia and Russian Far East (Tuva and Buryatia). The Indian regions of Sikkim and Ladakh, both formerly independent kingdoms, are also home to significant Tibetan Buddhist populations. In the wake of the Tibetan diaspora, Tibetan Buddhism has gained adherents in the West and throughout the world. Celebrity practitioners include Brandon Boyd, Richard Gere, Adam Yauch, Jet Li, Sharon Stone, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, Mike Barson and Steven Seagal (who has been proclaimed the reincarnation of the tulku Chungdrag Dorje). Fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist Monks also work in academia (see Ven. Alex Bruce ('Tenpa')).
In Buddhism in China (Princeton University Press, 1965), Kenneth Chen proposed the idea that Buddhism adapts itself to its host culture. A more traditional viewpoint is that the Dharma is like a Yak, able to carry the "baggage" of culture and religion of the societies in which it gains hold, thus giving rise to the various "Buddhisms". Within this view the various "adaptations" Buddhism undergoes are actually nothing more than the unloading and reloading of the "Yak of the Dharma" with different local 'baggage'.
"Adaptations" of Buddhism to contemporary Western culture include Tricycle magazine, the modern notion of a dharma center, and Celtic Buddhism. Buddhist author Michaela Haas notes that Tibetan Buddhism is undergoing a sea change in the West. "Of all these changes that we are watching Buddhism undergo in the West, the most momentous may be that women are playing an equal role."
|English||spoken Tibetan||Wylie Tibetan||Sanskrit transliteration|
|analytic meditation||jegom||dpyad-sgom||yauktika dhyāna|
|devotion to the guru||lama-la tenpa||bla-ma-la bsten-pa||guruparyupāsati|
|fixation meditation||joggom||'jog-sgom||nibandhita dhyāna|
|foundational vehicle||t’ek män||theg sman||hīnayāna|
|inherent existence||rangzhingi drubpa||rang-bzhin-gyi grub-pa||svabhāvasiddha|
|mind of enlightenment||changchub sem||byang-chhub sems||bodhicitta|
|motivational training||lojong||blo-sbyong||autsukya dhyāna|
|omniscience||t’amcé k’yempa||thams-cad mkhyen-pa||sarvajña|
|preliminary practices||ngöndro||sngon-'gro||prārambhika kriyāni|
|root guru||zawé lama||rtsa-ba'i bla-ma||mūlaguru|
|stages of the path||lamrim||lam-rim||pātheya|
|transmission and realisation||lungtok||lung-rtogs||āgamādhigama|
Student film about Tibetan Monks studying at Emory University 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tibetan Buddhism.|
|Wikiversity has learning materials about Buddha oracle#10 The Cosmos (Tibetan Buddhism)|