The LIMITLESS VEHICLES OF THE BUDDHA present the Dharma in many
different ways, all of which are beyond concept. Therefore, it is difficult to find the
power or ability to express these. Nevertheless, briefly and with a few words, I
shall attempt to explain some of the differences here.
The All-Knowing Guide, Lion of the Sakya clan, turned the Wheel of the Dharma
on three successive occasions. The first turning taught the elimination of non-virtue,
the middle taught the elimination of the view of self-identities and the last, the
elimination of all grounds for views.
The subjects of these teachings are the Three Trainings, and the words explaining
these are found in the Sacred Writings (Sanskrit: Pitaka), where they are gathered
into Twelve Scriptural Categories. Some people have said that the Tantra of the
Mahayana should be classified as an inner Abhidharma teaching. However, it has been
taught that it is good to classify the Sacred Writings for Tantric Yogis separately, in
a section of their own.
We find barely more than one hundred volumes of the Buddha's Teachings
translated into Tibetan. But actually, there is no power which could capture the
infinite significance of the Buddha's speech. There are a great many Commentaries
explaining the meanings of these teachings of the Buddha. In the Hinayana, we
find the "Mahavibhasa Sastra" and many others; in the Mahayana, such Scholars
and Pandits as the Six Ornaments of this earth and the Extraordinary Master
etc., all of whom composed a large number of explanations. There is also a great
quantity of sadhanas and commentaries to all the Sacred Writings of Secret Tantra.
All the important advice which exists is beyond the mind's estimation. But due to
the great kindness of these ancient translators and Pandits, more than two hundred
volumes of such commentaries have been translated into Tibetan. It is these texts
(of the Kangyur and Tangyur) which form the foundation for Buddhism in Tibet.
In India, the land of the Noble Beings, there was never any division of Buddhism
into old and new. In Tibet, however, as some translations occurred earlier and some
later, we find such a division. Any translations which came before the time of Rinchen
Zangpo (958-1055 A.D.) came to be called rNying.ma or 'old ones', and texts translated
by Rinchen Zangpo and the majority of translations which followed, came to be called
gSar.ma or 'new ones'.
Almost all of the texts of the Vinaya, Sutra, Abhidharma and of the Secret Tantra's
three outer Tantras (Kriya, Carya and Yoga) were translated into Tibetan during the
early flourishing of Buddhism in Tibet, (in the 'old' translation period). The majority
of the texts of Highest Yoga Tantra, such as Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Kalachakra,
Yamantaka etc. were 'new' translations, although a great quantity of translations of
Highest Yoga Tantra texts wer also prepared during the 'old' translation period.
Some scholars of the 'new' period say that these 'old' translations are invalid
Tantras. But those who are non-sectarian and non-partisan praise these old translations
for their authenticity, and I think their conclusion is in accordance with the actual
facts because these translations convey exactly the profound and vast meaning of
the Buddha's Teachings and their Commentaries. Therefore, they may be placed
upon the crown of your head and respected.
THE NYINGMA TRADITION
The NYINGMA TRADITION, the old Secret Tantra, classifies the Buddha's
Dharma into nine successive Vehicles, collectively contained in the Cause Vehicle
and the Result Vehicle of Tantra. The Cause Vehicle has three divisions: the
Hinayana Vehicle of the Sravakas, the Hinayana Vehicle of Pratyekabuddhas and
the Mahayana Vehicle of the Bodhisattvas. In the Result Vehicle of Tantra there
are two divisions: the three Outer Tantric Vehicles, and the three great methods of
the Inner Tantric Class. All these have a great many definitions and explanations
concerning their view, meditation, action and result, but it is not possible to write
these explanations here.
There are three lineages in the old translations of the Nyingma Tantras: the 'Distant
Oral Lineage' (Tibetan: Ring.rGyud.bKah.ma - from the direct oral teachings of the
Buddha); the 'Near Treasure Lineage' (Tib: Nye.rGud.gTer.ma - from teachings of
discovered treasure texts, written and concealed in holy places by Guru Rinpoche,
Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal and others; for the benefit of future generations), and the
'Lineage of Profound Pure Visions' (Tib: Zab.mo.dag.sNang - from teachings received
by various Saints during visions in meditation and post-meditation).
THE KADAM TRADITION
The SARMA Tradition of new translations of the Tantras is also called the Jowo
KADAM TRADITION. This Tradition had innumerable Dharma holders. These
include Atisha, Gyalwa Dromtonba, the Three Brothers, etc. The old Kadampa
spread into the Sakya and Kagyud Lineages.
THE GELUG TRADITION
Manjushri Tzong Kapa (founder of the GELUG TRADITION), sometimes called
the new Kadampa) firmly established himself in the old Kadampa and propagated the
teachings of the Vinaya, Sutra, Madhyamika, Prajnaparamita, Secret Tantra, etc.
His vast Tradition came to cover the entire earth. He explained his view of the meanings
of the Sutras and Tantras with the aid of his special Deity and his own analytical
wisdom, which came from the treasure chest of very deep wisdom. Many of the unique
qualities of his teachings can be clearly seen in his excellent explanations.
THE SAKYA TRADITION
The SAKYA TRADITION was established by the Five Great Masters (Tib:
rJe.tzun.gong.ma.lnga), 16 who based their teachings on those of the conquering
Yogi, the Great Virupa. They also followed the teachings of Naropa and Dorje
Denpa etc. and held the Sutra and Tantra lineages of many other great Indian
scholars and Saints. The Sakya Tradition also came to practise some of the
Nyingma 'old' translations of the Tantras, such as Yang.dag.phur.ba (Pure Dagger),
which became part of the Khon Tradition. Similarly, many other extraordinary
and sublime teachings still exist today, their lineages unbroken.
Sakya Pandita, the crown ornament of all the Learned Ones of this earth, is
famous for having defeated Trogje Gawo (the non-Buddhist Indian scholar) in
debate. Except for this outstanding example, no other masters are known for
having done likewise at that time.
There are three Traditions holding the lineage of Sakya Pandita: the Sakya,
the Ngor and the Tshar. From the root of the Sakya Tradition came the three
renowned lineages of Bulug, Jonang and Bodong. From all these, a few minor
differences in their views of the Sutras and Tantras have emerged from their
THE KAGYUD TRADITION
The KAGYUD TRADITION developed from the teachings of Naropa and
Maitrepa. The main founders of all the sects of the Kagyud are the three
Great Masters: Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. From these three Masters
the Kagyud Lineage scattered into the four major and eight minor
Lineages. It was from Gampopa's disciple, Phagmo Drupa that most of these
lineages of the Kagyud Tradition came, spreading in many different directions.
Presently there are four which have not faded and still exist: the Karma Kagyud,
Drukpa Kagyud, Drigung Kagyud and Taglung Kagyud. The Dharma lineages
of the others have become very subtle or thin (having mostly been absorbed
into larger lineages).
The learned Saint, Khedrup Khyongpo Naljor, travelled to India and met the
two Wisdom Dakinis (Niguma and Sukhasiddhi), Rahula, Maitripa and many
other Holy Beings. He received teachings from one hundred and fifty Saints
and Learned Ones and then returned to Tibet and propagated what came to be
known as the Shangpa Kagyud Tradition. Nowadays, however, this Tradition is
no longer held as a separate Tradition by anyone, although its lineages of
initiations and oral transmissions exist in both the Sakya and Kagyud.
Also from India was the Saint Padampa Sangye, who taught the Zhije Lineage
involving regulations for purification. Following him was the dakini Machig
Labdron who started the Lineage of the holy Dharma of gCod, which cuts through
In Tibet there are a great many lineages of Secret Tantra, but these are different
in name only. In their essential meaning there is no particular difference. They all
have the same goal, the accomplishment of Enlightenment.
SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF EACH TRADITION
EACH OF THE TRADITIONS DOES HAVE ITS OWN SPECIAL
CHARACTERISTICS. It is well known that the Sakya and Gedan
(Gelug) Traditions both have the special ability and authority for giving
good explanations of the teachings and the Kagyud and Nyingma are
experts in practising them. Actually, earlier scholars had a saying:
"In the Snow Land (of Tibet), the Nyingmapas pioneered the Dharma,
the Kadampas were the source of one million 20 Dharma Holders, the
Sakyapas spread the complete teachings of the Dharma, the Kagyudpas
have no rival in the path of practice and Tzong Kapa was the sun of
speech, spreading excellent explanations. Jonangpa Taranatha and
Zhalu were two great masters of the vast and deep teachings of Tantra."
This saying seems to really convey the essence of the different Traditions.
HOLY TREASURE (TERMA)
In the Nyingma Tradition, there is the lineage known as TERMA (Treasure),
which comes from the great Master of Uddiyana, Padmasambhava, who, after
coming to Tibet, manifested all the many common and uncommon Dharma
teachings for the King (Trisong Deutson) and his followers. They then gathered
these together in order to protect and preserve the Dharma for the sentient
beings of future degenerate times, and conceal them as mind and earth treasures.
At appropriate times 22 as a source of benefit and happiness for sentient beings
and the Dharma.
There are also many renowned Lineages of Pure Visions and of 'Ear Whispered
Transmissions' existing in both 'new' and 'old' Secret Tantras.
Some scholars have questioned the validity of these Holy Treasures, but they
need to examine the purpose and necessity of Terma. That these Treasures are
the authentic Dharma is established by the three standard criteria of logical
argument. So please be careful, because criticizing the Dharma with anger is a
grave fault and will only cause your defilements to increase, becoming thick and
The "One Hundred Thousand Verses of the Prajnaparamita Sutra" etc. were
Treasures revealed by Nagarjuna. Furthermore, many great Saints discovered
and revealed Treasures of Sacred Writings of the Secret Tantra from the Stupa
of Dhumathala in Uddiyana. And so, even in the Noble Land of India, we find
Treasure revelations (Terma) occurring. There are many logical arguments
concerning this, but I shall not present them here.