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Some Facts about Vajrayana Buddhism
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Acharya Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rinpoche
Published: Sunday Despatch of The Rising Nepal; June 14, 1992
It is a well known fact that the form of Buddhism that has flourished in Nepal since the ancient times has all been Vajrayana. The Newars of Kathmandu Valley follow the Vajrayana school of Buddhism as well as the entire Northern Sector of Nepal and its ethnic groups (like the Sherpas, Manangis, Tamangs, Lopas, Bhutias, Depchas etc.). Given this fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Vajrayana Buddhism has had the strongest effect in the culture of Nepal Valley i.e. Kathmandu specifically.
To deny Vajrayana is to deny the very roots of Nepalese culture, especially if you understand that even the forms of Tantric Hinduism flourishing in Nepal since the ancient times has been strongly influenced by Vajrayana.
Recent renaissance of Theravada Buddhism in Kathmandu Valley has produced an upsurge of some writers who are eager to prove that Vajrayana is a decrepit form of Buddhism and that Theravada is the only true and original form. As part of their weak reasoning, they are always excited to show that the Newari Vajrayana has caste systems etc., alien to Buddhist ethics and the Tibetan Buddhism (also wrongly given the misnomer Lamaism) is influenced by Bon and thus not a pure form of Buddhism.
Needless to say none of these amateur writers have given any solid proof as to why they feel Tibetan Vajrayana is influenced by Bon. In my own studies I have found that it is actually the other way around in that Bon has through the centuries been influenced by Vajrayana to the extent that their dress, rituals etc., have become quite similar (though still different).
Of course I am not saying that Vajrayana was never even touched by Tibetan culture which pre-existed even before Buddhism went to Tibet but then the same can be said of the Theravada of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Burma too. It has been the nature of compassionate Buddhism to accept the cultures of the areas it spreads to without destroying either the culture or itself. So this characteristic is not found solely in Vajrayana but in all forms of Buddhism, be it Zen of Japan, Tien Tai of China or the Theravada of the Laotian mountains.
As far as the basics of Buddhism go, all forms of Buddhism - Zen, Tien Tai, Jodo, Vajrayana and Theravada have the same principles. All forms of Buddhism agree in the concept of Anattma, impermanence, and that conditioned existence is sorrow. The only difference is the depth or subtlety in interpreting these concepts and in the methods of integrating. Since the Sunyata of Nagarjuna is basically talking about the Anattma of the Theravada in a more refined and subtle way and since the basic view of Vajrayana is the basic view of Nagarjuna, Vajrayana does not contradict the basic philosophy of the Buddha in any way whatsoever. It is only in the depth of interpretation and mode of implementation of the Buddha’s teachings that they vary, but not in the teachings themselves. So it is utter nonsense to say that Vajrayana has changed or distorted the teachings of the Buddha.
Also all forms of Buddhism still practice Vipassyana (Pali: Vipassana) and Samatha. It is not true, as some Theravadian teachers have wrongly proclaimed that only the Theravadian form of Buddhism has Vipassyana. All of the various form of meditations found in Vajrayana are Vipassyana. The forms of practices called Mahasandhi, Mahamudra, The Six Yogas of Naropa, The Six Yogas of Niguma, Marga Phalam (Called Lam Dre in Tibetan) etc. are all forms of Vipassyana. The very word Lhag Thang in Tibetan is a technical word for the Sanskrit term Vipassyana. In Japanese Buddhism, it is called Kan, in Chinese Buddhism Kuan. Out of the four mindfulness practices that the Buddha taught, Chittanusmriti (mindfulness of mind) is the form of Vipassyana mostly used in the Vajrayana tradition, whereas the Theravada tradition seems to concentrate mostly on Vedanannusmriti (mindfulness of sensation). Of course you can find all the four forms of Mindfulnesses in all traditions of Buddhism; I am merely explicating the general tendency within the tradition. So to proclaim that Vajrayana is not pure Buddhism, because it does not have forms of Vipassyana meditation is to prove one’s own ignorance and narrow mindedness (to use a classical Buddhist word, Moha).
To claim that since the Newar Buddhists have castes, Vajrayana has caste system and therefore is not a pure form of Buddhism is utter nonsense because no text or form of Vajrayana Buddhism vouches for the caste system. That the Newars have a weird caste system of their own even though they claim to be true Buddhists is a result of Newari culture and not Vajrayana Buddhism. Anybody with even an inkling of Nepalese history knows that the Newari culture was forced to accept the caste system.
Proclaiming that Vajrayana has all sorts of deities and therefore cannot be a pure form of Buddhism is another mistake of the unthinking critics. Firstly, deities like Indra, Braham etc. are found all over the Pali texts which claim that they too became Arhats after receiving teachings from the Buddha. Secondly, all the Theravada countries have one or the other form of deities as their protector of Buddhism, for example Sri Lanka has a festival of Lord Indra where he is considered as the protector of Buddhism. Thirdly, the Abhidharmakosha has Devannuati as one of the meditations. So if Vajrayana is an impure form of Buddhism for the above reasons, then the Buddhism of the Pali texts are also impure, the Buddhism of Sri Lanka etc. are also impure. And fourthly, only amateur writers who have absolutely no idea how these deity practices are used as skillful means for Vipassyana itself write that Vajrayana uses Gods and Goddesses like Hinduism. It is surprising to see how even some so called Vajracharyas think that Vajrayana has made all sorts of Pancha Buddhas and given them wives and children. I would like to advise them to study the significance of Utpanna Krama (Development Stage) and Sampanna Krama (Completion Stage) in deity practices before they give naive interpretations which show their own ignorance. I challenge any scholar to prove how the Utpanna Krama and the Sampanna Krama of deity practice are not the Vipassyana and Samatha of Chittanusmriti of the Buddha.
To make the deity practices of Vajrayana like the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism is to show ones own ignorance about these practices.
Some have even gone so far as to claim that the Vajrayana and Mahayana have substituted the Buddha for God the Creator as in other religions. It must be made clear that neither form of Buddhism has made the Buddha an Ishwar.
The claim of some Theravadian writers that in Vajrayana Buddhism, the Buddha has been made into some kind of Super Human whom they worship like God is totally non-valid. First of all, to claim in Theravada Buddhism that the Buddha was born with the thirty-two characteristics and then to say he was just an ordinary human being is a flagrant contradiction. I would like to ask how many ordinary people are born with the thirty-two characteristics. Secondly, the Buddha is not worshipped as a God in Mahayana but as a Revered Teacher - Guru.
Some writers have tried to point out that the Pali texts talk about a man being reborn immediately after he dies whereas the Tibetan Buddhism talks about a Bardo (Intermediate State in English and Antarabhava in Sanskrit ). They say this is the influence of Bön. But again, they seem to lack enough studies of Buddhist history as many of the eighteen schools of Early Buddhism believed in the concept of Antarabhava.
The Theravad is a true form of Buddhism as taught by the Buddha and there is no doubt about it, but so are Zen and Vajrayana. It is interesting to note that Vajrayana, which is our Nepalese culture, has the openness (Amoha) to say, he who criticizes Hinayana criticizes Vajrayana. The Hinayana is the foundation on which Vajrayana is built.