Bhutans religion | Buddhism | The development of the doctrine | The Vajrayana | The schools of the Vajrayana

The schools of the Vajrayana

The »Vehicle of Diamonds« consists of various schools – it is better to speak of schools than of sects, as there is no orthodoxy in Buddhism.

The four main forms are the Nyingmapa*, the Sakyapa, the Kagyupa* and the Gelugpa*.

For many centuries there were hefty, partly violent, politically-motivated arguments amongst the followers of the various doctrines. Nowadays, they live in peaceful coexistence with one another.

All of the four main schools and all of their minor sub-schools revere as most important written sources the collections of texts of Kanjur* and Tenjur*.

The Nyingmapa

This oldest school (»nyingma« means »old« in Tibetan) goes back to Guru Rinpoche. Its esoteric teachings were handed on by dakinis and are taken as the revelations of the Buddha Samantabhadra.

Important writings of this school are Terma*, holy texts, which were hidden by great lamas and saints and, as soon as the time was ripe for understanding them, they were found by »treasure discoverers« (tertön*). The Nyingmapa attach a lot of importance to meditative experience and magical and mystic practices.

Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the King of Bhutan, is a follower of the Nyingmapa school.



The Kagyupa

This school, which has had various branches since the twelfth century, was founded by Marpa (1012-1097). The name Kagyu means »uninterrupted, continuous instruction«. Since Buddha Vajradhara revealed this tradition, it has mainly been handed on orally from teacher to disciple. This tantric tradition is thus characterised by secrecy.

The «one hundred thousand songs« of the famous Yogi Milarepa, who has experienced them in meditation, are seen as important source of this doctrine. For the followers of the Kagyupa school, the experience of meditation is often of more importance than pure learnedness.

The founder of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, was a follower of the Drukpa Kagyupa school, a branch of the Kagyupa. It is not least for that reason that today the Drukpa Kagyupa form of Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan.

The Sakyapa

The Sakyapa school goes back to the Tibetan translator Dogmi (992-1072). Its name is taken from Dogmi's home monastery Sakya in Tibet. The Sakyapa were politically extremely influential in Tibet in the 13th and 14th centuries, after their head abbots had formed an alliance with the mongolians. In Bhutan, this school has only very few followers.

The Gelugpa

This order developed in the 15th century as the last major school of the Vajrayana Buddhism and goes back to Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). He introduced strict discipline with the rule of absolute celibacy. The succession of important religious posts was ruled by the discovery of rebirths of important personalities. The most well known are the series of reincarnation of the Dalai* Lama and the Panchen* Lama. The Gelugpas support the treatment of philosophical problems in logical disputations.

This school has no influence in Bhutan.

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Lama hat, silk damask, lining of rough woolen material, cowry shell; H: 27 cm, B: 18 cm; loan from the National Museum, Paro
Head lamas of the Drukpa Kagyupa* school wear such hats at certain auspicious occasions, such as processions.

Lama hat, silk satin with golden paper decoration, silk damask and silk taffeta, starched cotton cloth; H; 29 cm, B: 42 cm; loan from the National Museum, Paro
Hat of the Drukpa Kagyupa school. This school aims for the practical realisation of the yogic teachings to develop a kind of living in accordance with the laws of the universe.

Lama hat, silk damask and silk brocade damask, cotton lining; H: 25 cm, B: 29 cm; loan from the National Museum, Paro
This hat is worn by the lamas of the Nyingmapa school. This »School of the Old« puts its focus on the magical and mystical practices of lamaism.

A monk's tunic (tögag), woolen material with brocade insets; size: 82 cm. x 67cm.; loan from the National Museum, Paro
The tunic is made of fine woollen material died red, with applications of brocade insets. With that a monk wears a wrapover skirt, a vestment and a cape. The fine design points to a high cleric.