Tibetan Buddhism

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Samyé Monastery

Tibetan Buddhism is practised throughout the Himalayan region, and, indeed, throughout the world. It dates back to the royal period of the so-called 'Yarlung dynasty', especially the time of King Trisong Detsen, during whose reign great Indian Buddhist masters like Shantarakshita, Guru Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra were invited to Tibet, and the country's first monastery was founded at Samyé. Several schools developed over the following centuries, the foremost among them being the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyü and Gelug.

Four Schools

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains:[1]

Four major traditions—Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug—emerged as a result of the earlier and later dissemination of the Buddhist teachings in Tibet, and also because of the emphasis placed by great masters of the past on different scriptures, techniques of meditation and, in some cases, terms used to express particular experiences.
What is common to all the four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism is their emphasis on the practice of the entire structure of the Buddhist path, which comprises the essence of not only the Vajrayana teachings, but also the Mahayana practices of the bodhisattvas, and the basic practices of the Fundamental Vehicle. In India, based on differences in philosophical standpoint, four major Buddhist schools of thought emerged: Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Yogachara and Madhyamika. All four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, however, uphold the philosophical standpoint of the Madhyamika school, and to that extent, there are no fundamental philosophical differences between them.


  1. Based on a teaching given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Finland, 1988. Published in Dzogchen and Padmasambhava, in the nine yanas chapter.

Oral Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sangha

Edited Teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche

  • Rigpalink December 2005, The Heart of Tibetan Buddhism (available in English, French and German, ordernumber 382)

Further Reading

  • Jamgön Kongtrul, The Treasury of Knowledge, Books Two, Three, and Four: Buddhism’s Journey to Tibet, translated and introduced by Ngawang Zangpo (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010)
  • John Powers, Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1995, 2007)
  • Thinley Norbu, The Small Golden Key (Shambhala Publications, 1999), ‘3. The Origins of Buddhism in Tibet'.
  • Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, Buddhist Civilization in Tibet (New York and London: Routeledge & Kegan Paul, 1987)
  • Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, edited by Harold Talbott (Boston: Shambhala, 1996), 'Buddhism in Tibet'.
  • Sam Van Shaik, Tibet–A History (Yale University Press, 2011)