Tibetan Buddhists practice understanding 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 Hinayana:
- Vaibhaṣika (Tib. Jedrag marwa)
- Sautrāntika (Tib. do-depa)
The other two are Mahayana - (Tib. theg-chen):
- Yogācāra, also called Cittamātra (Tib. sem tsam-pa), The Mind-Only school: Yogacārins base their views on texts from Maitreya, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu;
- Madhyamaka (Tib. uma-pa), The Midddle Way school: Madhyamakas base their views on texts from 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 Chandrakīrti.
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.
Buddadharma in Tibet
The Buddhadharma came into Tibet in two main periods: There was the initial spread which started with King Songtsen Gampo in the mid 600's A.D. and was ended by King Langdarma during the late ninth or early tenth centuries. Following that the Dharma almost disappeared from Tibet. However by the eleven century, there was a resurgence of Dharma which resulted in the dharma spreading throughout Tibet and remaining stable there until the communist Chinese takeover in 1959. The first spread of dharma is called The 'ngadar' - ‘early spread’ and the second spread of dharma is called 'chidar' - ‘the later spread’.
The system of Dharma in the early spread of Buddhism in Tibet was organised around a nine fold subdivision or 'Theg-pa gu' : "The Nine Vehicles".
The highlighted titles in the following classification give the names used in the chidar tradition.
- Nyän-thöd-kyi theg-pa - Shravakayanam - ‘The hearer's vehicle’: the practitioners who follow this vehicle, attain Shravaka-Arhat. The teachings of this vehicle and the type of realization they produce are regarded as lower than the teachings and realization obtained in the next vehicle, because the realization of emptiness obtained is less complete;
- rang-gyal-gyi theg-pa - pratyekabuddhayana - ‘The individual buddha vehicle’: sometime called intermediate vehicle for its position between the Shravakayana and the Mahayana vehicles.
- jang chub sem pa'i theg pa - bodhisatvayana - ‘The bodhisatva vehicle’;
- ja wa'i gyüd kyi theg pa - kriyatantrayana - ‘The vehicle of Kriya Tantra’, known as ‘Kriya’;
- chö pa'i gyüd kyi theg pa - caryatantra - ‘The vehicle of the Carya Tantra’, known as ‘Carya’(Conduct);
- nal jor gyi gyud kyi theg pa - yoga tantrayana - ‘The vehicle of Yoga Tantra’; known as ‘Yoga’;
- nal jor chen po’i theg pa - mahayoga yana - ‘The vehicle of Mahayoga’; known as ‘Maha’;
- jey su nal jor gyi theg pa - anuyoga yana - ‘The vehicle of Anuyoga’, known as ‘Anu’;
- shin tu nal jor gyi theg pa - atiyoga yana - ‘The vehicle of Atiyoga’, known as ‘Ati’.