CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

Introduction to Buddhism in Seven Topics

María Drolma (Román)
Independent scholar
Contact via: maria.drolma@alumni.uni-heidelberg.de

This paper relates briefly to an Introduction to Buddhism in broad terms, and to Tibetan Buddhism in one final session. This presentation is divided in seven main topics.

It is dedicated to the people who have no sort of prior knowledge about Buddhism and they want to know basically, what is Buddhism in general, what currents are there, how do you meditate, what is karma, what is reincarnation, what is bodhicitta, etc.?

For this we should remember that the theoretical part is presented here, but if one would like to have a better overview, one should also see the practical part (meditation) with introductions as here and also something about rituals, to have a whole picture about Buddhism.


The seven topics in which this whole presentation about introducing Buddhism in general and Tibetan Buddhism are divided as:

Basic history about Buddhism. Buddha Shakyamuni and his life
Meditation: types of meditation (samatha and vipassana)
Refuge in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
Karma: the law of cause and effect
Death (process) and reincarnation
Bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment) and the Bodhisattva vows

And finally, the seventh topic:

Buddhist Tantra: its formation, specialty, and lineages in Tibet

To quickly describe the parts/units, we start with a historical journey about what is Buddhism, how did it begin and extend to the West in the 19th c., and who was the main portrait: Buddha Shakyamuni.

We then see there are principally two types of meditation: calm abiding meditation (samatha) and special insight meditation (vipassana).

In the third place, we have the Three Objects of Refuge basically in which one person should take refuge to become Buddhist and what does each of them mean.

We also analyze what is karma (action) and what positive, negative, and neutral actions exist, and how these affect us.
We will also see how the death process after the Buddhist is and how does reincarnation take place.

Getting on the Mahayana Buddhist practice, we reach its main goal: bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment), and the Bodhisattva vows for approaching to it.

Finally, there is among all currents in Buddhism, the one well known today (and to which I also belong): the Tibetan Buddhism as Buddhist Tantra, its formation, specialty, and lineages in Tibet.

Introduction to Buddhism in seven topics

1. Basic history about Buddhism. Buddha Shakyamuni and his life

In this first topic in the “Introduction to Buddhism in seven topics”, we start with a historical journey about what is Buddhism, how did it begin in India and extend to the West in the 19th c., and who was the main portrait: Buddha Shakyamuni.

Historical survey of Buddhism: from the 6th c. B.C. in India to now in the West

Siddhartha Gautama (approx. 560-481 b.C.), Buddha’s birth name, was born in Lumbini (Nepal) at the palace of his father Suddhodana. He obtained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya (India) when he was 35 years old, and died at 80 years in Kushinagar (India) after having created an order of monks and nuns throughout North India, including even the untouchable (dalits), since there was no system of casts for him to follow.

Buddha revealed his doctrine according to the comprehension capabilities of his disciples, having done such especially in three occasions or “Three Turnings of the (Dharma) Wheel”. His religion or philosophy are universal, therefore. There is also no principle of advocacy, one can never be converted forcefully or intellectually into Buddhism. That is why it has always been a peaceful religion without any intruding agents, such as Christianism, Islam, Jews, etc. As Buddha Shakyamuni said: “(…), just as a goldsmith would test his gold by burning, cutting, and rubbing it, so you must examine my words and accept them, but not merely out of reverence for me.” Faith is important in Buddhism, as in any other cult, but one should not simply trust blind faith, but gain devotion in it through the intellectual and meditational practice of the analogy of the goldsmith.

After the death of Buddha (the “enlightened/awaken”) his doctrine expanded over North India through a century, creating the oldest school the Hinayana vehicle (Inferior Vehicle), which has existed until nowadays as the Theravada (school of the Elder). With Asoka Emperor (304-232 b.C.), the first Buddhist Emperor, from which we have the Dharma (teachings) wheel in the emblem nowadays in India, Theravada Buddhism went to Sri Lanka, the island at the South of India in the 3rd c. b.C., and then further on to Myanmar (Burma) in the 5th c., and from there later to Cambodia and Thailand.

During the Kushana Empire, under Kanishka Emperor (approx. 1-2nd c.), the capital was set then in Gandhara (today Pakistan), and it appeared the Mahayana Vehicle (Great Vehicle), by which the motivation to attain enlightenment as a Buddha was powered by the Bodhisattvas, unlike the earlier, alone for themselves looking for, Arhats. There is an equivalence of lay and monastic people as well. The Mahayana Vehicle grew immense with time and it reached to the North in Vietnam in the 2nd c., and then China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, and Southeast Asia (South Philippines, Borneo Islands).

Great Buddhist masters, which could study in the monastic Universities, such as venerable Nagarjuna (approx. 150-250) also shaped Mahayana Buddhism with scripts such as “sutras”, such as the “Sutra of the Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom”, fundamental and uniquely Mahayana.

During the 6th c. many monasteries and universities were destroyed by the Huns in India. It is this moment in the 6th c. that Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle) or Tantra Buddhism appears as a part of Mahayana, but a different method: the “Resultant Vehicle”. Instead of accumulating merit to reach enlightenment, this vehicle postulates to reveal one’s enlightenment. It reaches the whole Himalayas (Tibet, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan) in the 8th c. and Japan in the 9th c. through China.

It is also the 6th c. the moment of establishment of Mahayana Buddhist school in China from India: Zen Buddhism, that spread to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam in later centuries.

Against the 13th c. the Muslim invasions had destroyed all Buddhism in India, leaving Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the South and Tantrayana in the Himalayas in the North. By this time, Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana had well-developed all over Asia.

To the West (roughly Europe and United States of America) Buddhism spread in the 19th c. and it expanded in the 20th c., especially with the vehicles of Mahayana and Vajrayana from the 1960s onwards. It is also at this point of time that Buddhism began to be perceived as a “philosophy” besides a “religion”.

Buddha teaches universally to all beings in their own languages and according to their mental disposition, as said.

Life of Buddha Shakyamuni

Buddha is a title of respect which means “enlightened, awakened” and Shakyamuni his family name.

There are four main events in the life of Buddha traditionally: his birth, enlightenment, first teaching or “Turning of the Wheel (of Dharma)” in Deer Park at Sarnath (India), and his decease (parinirvana).

After having been educated as a prince, Buddha left his wife and son and his palace to practice austerity for six years. After almost fainting without nourishment, he decided he should follow the “middle way” and reached enlightenment at Bodhgaya. Wondering if he should make others participate of this for a month, he left for Varanasi and gave to his first five disciples the first teachings in Benares Deer Park. Thereafter he set up a male order, a female order, built heritages where to look for shelter and meditate and expanded his teachings notably, until he died in Kushinagar.

Thereafter, his disciples gathered and recorded what Buddha had said and wrote it down in Sanskrit. Appearing thereafter pali, and all other translations.

“All beings have the potential to achieve enlightenment [not only Buddha]”, said Buddha.

2. Meditation: types of meditation (samatha and vipassana)

In this second topic, we will see that there are principally two types of meditation in Buddhism: calm abiding meditation (samatha) and special insight meditation (vipassana). Also, there are “retreats” of meditation as part of the practice as we will see at the end of this topic.

All currents of Buddhism practice meditation in one way or another.

Samatha meditation is the essence of concentration. Vipassana meditation is the essence of wisdom, that is why it is also called wisdom insight. The concentration meditation is common to non-Buddhists as well, whereas the Vipassana is unique to Buddhism.

Here we will not, as I said, deal with meditation practically (we recommend it highly too as an introduction), but theoretically. For meditating, we usually are not normally aware of what our mind is thinking, feeling, etc. This is all our mind.

In Buddhism it is said one has to “study” the teachings. This means, however, something else as we might think: it means listen to the teachings, reflect about them, remember them, and meditate about them.

One should meditate everyday as one’s daily practice. To meditate in the morning is best because one´s mind is less disturbed, but whatever time is also all right.

How do we get in the meditation posture?

The posture for meditating is important. One correct physical posture fosters one correct abiding meditation of the mind.

In Buddhism one can meditate walking or, most commonly, sitting. One can also meditate under whichever state one is. We will see here briefly the sitting meditation.

We can either sit on a cushion at a mat on the floor or on a chair, but in any case with the back straightened up. Meditation posture does not mean we have to strain ourselves to do “lotus flower”, we must simply sit the best we can straightening or back without forcing us.

Sitting cross legged, the chin should be slightly close to the throat, the tip of the nose in one line with the navel, hands lied one upon the other in the center above the ankles of the feet, and closed or semi open eyes as if looking at one object at one meter distance on the floor more or less.

Calm abiding meditation

Samatha translates in Sanskrit as “calm abiding” meditation and is used to establish concentration. We learn how to pacify our mind, leaving it concentrated on one single point (one candlelight, one object, the breathing, etc.). We usually concentrate on breathing, counting it up and down. At this point, the mind rests without distraction, in peace and at ease. This helps stabilize the mind like the ocean, which is usually agitated by thoughts, feelings, etc. as the waves. When the mind rests in concentration it becomes clear and transparent.

For this reason, we must always start meditating on calm abiding meditation before we progress to special insight meditation.

As Buddha said to a musician who wanted to learn how to practice meditation: “It is like the sitar string, if it is strung too tight it won't play, if it is too loose it hangs”.

There is a very good illustrated example of how our mind is in this samatha meditation, like a wild dark elephant, that becomes tamed and white in color with the help of attention and memory (see “The path of Samatha”).

Special insight meditation

This meditation is, based upon the earlier one, one of analytical meditation, of special insight into the nature of the mind, through direct experience.

When the mind has stabilized it is like the ocean (as just said) and the perception of its nature is like the reflection of the moon upon water, or one can even see the depths of the water of the ocean.

In this Vipassana meditation we direct the mind towards the state of non-conceptualization, where the mind is free from conceptualizing, references, all mental fabrications.

But we must be aware that the mind should always remain transparent, lucid, and clear, following the right instructions.


To be in a meditation retreat is a common and most pleasant experience for the beginner and the “old disciple”, the master, and whoever wanted to stay, if they could, in retreat for the rest of their life.

In this experience, one first begins abandoning all attachment to sensorial objects and activities that distract us (usually goes away to a retreat place), refrains their wishes, begins to be happy with what one has (food, lodging, etc.), bears perfect silence (when one has not done any retreats, it is suggested to start always the shortest, e.g. one weekend), and follow the instructions for meditation given by the master at the retreat.

If you are a perfect retreater, you can reach mental quiescence in only six months!


Since there is no way to practice meditation in this summary course, to show a little about “emptiness”, the distinguishing core about Buddhism, I will simply say that Theravada Buddhists imply a sense of “emptiness of self” and the Mahayana Buddhists go beyond this implying furthermore a sense of “emptiness of phenomena”. This does not mean denying everything (being nihilist): emptiness of phenomena, of objects, it means they do not exist substantially, but they do exist.

3. Refuge in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha

In this third topic we deal with taking spiritual vows that accord to the faith that leads us to the Three Jewels and compels us to start our journey in the Buddhist path. Taking Refuge is not often found in introductory courses, but it is absolutely necessary to understand what these Three Jewels or Triple Gem are in which one person takes refuge to become Buddhist, what do they each mean, and what are the lay vows of having taken such refuge.

Taking refuge until one reaches full enlightenment in the benefit of all beings is a synonym for entering the Buddhist path. It is the basis for practice, for Dharma (teachings).

In Buddhist countries, such as Thailand or former Tibet for example, one is born Buddhist naturally and this is only a ritual for those who are not and want to become Buddhist. However, it is taking refuge the form for anyone in any country where Buddhism is together with other religions.

Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels or in the Triple Gem

From ancient times on, it has been a habit to “take refuge” in the Three Jewels (Sanskrit: triratna) to be free from rebirth in the lower rebirths (see next topics, Karma and Death and reincarnation), and it has been the means to be happy in your (future) life, to have complete trust in the law of cause and effect (next topic).

What are these Three Jewels? The Buddha (instructor or founder), the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (community). They are always called by these Sanskrit names in Buddhism and they are, as it is said normally, like the doctor, the medicine, and the nurse.

The Buddha (instructor/founder)

If we want to see, what is the meaning of each of these Jewels, we will start with the Buddha, which we came to know in the first topic (Buddha Shakyamuni and his life).

One thing that is important are the qualities by which each Jewel serves as appropriate or fitting refuge vehicles: Buddha means in the first place Buddha Shakyamuni, but it refers to any other Buddhas also apart from that. Buddha freed himself from all dangers, is skilled in liberating others from danger, reacts compassionately to everyone, works for the benefit of others (whether they have helped him or not) and offers protection even when one does not look for it.

The Dharma (his teachings)

These are the immense, universal teachings that Buddha Shakyamuni taught.

The qualities by which the Dharma serves as a fitting refuge vehicle are the Twelve Divisions in scripture: the three baskets or tripitaka, divided into twelve types of forms and context of the teachings, all compiled by disciples who had immediate contact with Buddha. Its good qualities are from where the Buddha emerged, they can be summarized as to subjugate one’s own mind.

When we take refuge in the Three Jewels after one’s own beliefs, we say that Buddha taught the refuge, the Dharma is the refuge, and Sangha helps those who took refuge, like in the case of the doctor, the medicine, and the nurse. Without medicine, there is no cure. For this reason, the Dharma is the Jewel which one must always indiscriminately follow.

The Sangha (community)

This means a group of monks and nuns, of lay people, who live abiding in the Dharma teachings of the Buddha but have not become Buddhas yet, and who are Arya (noble) Sangha.

The qualities by which the Sangha serves as a fitting refuge vehicle are that the Sangha are all noble beings which have the eight good qualities of a freed mind. Their good qualities and incredible merits are those of the Hearers (Sanskrit: shravakas) and Solitary Buddhas (Sanskrit: pratyekabuddhas) in the Hinayana Buddhism, and those of the Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana Buddhism.

When one takes refuge in the Three Jewels one does not affirm another religion.

One will trust the Sangha because it is nearby, one will trust the Buddha, even if one cannot see it, and will trust the Dharma because it shows what one has to do, as it did to Buddha Shakyamuni. For this reason, one takes refuge in the Three Jewels, and not only in one of them.

Lay vows for taking refuge

After a ceremony has been carried out, in which one follows the advice of the Sangha (the verbal commentaries) and takes refuge in these Three Jewels, one is usually also asked to take the five vows for a lay person.

These are, basically following the karma actions that we shall see in the next topic:

Not to kill (persons, animals, any other beings)
Not to steal (not to take what has not been given to you)
Not to lie
Not commit sexual misconduct (bear relation with one´s partner)
Not indulge in intoxicants (alcohol, drugs, etc.)

After this has been done, one is considered to be a Buddhist and the person conferring you refuge your master. Unlike Christianity, for instance, one can take refuge as many times as one wishes to strengthen these vows simply.

4. Karma: the law of cause and effect

In this fourth topic we discuss one main subject of Buddhism: the law of cause and effect, what is karma (action) and what positive, negative, and neutral actions exist, and how these affect us.

Karma means in Sanskrit “(conditioned) action”. Therefore, all activity is understood as the series of causes and effects resulting from these actions. Karmic causality, the law of cause and effect, is the basis of Buddhism, and only the enlightened mind of a Buddha can understand the subtle aspects of such karma.

Like Hinduist, also Buddhist do believe in karma, but not that karma causes us to reincarnate (see next topic) in the same cast as one has been just before and therefore always. It is out of one´s efforts (merits or non-merits). Buddha said: “By birth one is not an outcaste, By birth one is not a Brahmin; By deeds alone one is an outcaste, By deeds alone one is a Brahmin”.

Because of karma the mind experiences several illusions that convert us into beings and surroundings such as the six realms of existence (hell, hungry ghosts, animal, human, demigod and god). These are all subject to defilements and therefore throw us to be reborn again and again in this samsara, which means cyclic existence.

When we do something positive, negative, or neutral it conditions our mind: we accumulate positive karma when we do something that comes out from mental positive attitudes, such as love, compassion, altruism, contentment, etc. We accumulate negative karma when we realize something that comes out from tendencies loving oneself and afflictive emotions such as anger, attachment, stupidity, jealousy, pride, etc. We accumulate neutral or unmoving karma when we abandon negative actions and practice positive actions: from meditating, that stabilizes the mind and establishes it in a state of equanimity.

Also, these positive, negative, and neutral karma cause us to be reborn in the different six realms of existence.

If we think, that asking someone else to do the action for us, or that rejoicing at someone else doing it or not having done it, does not imply any results of its karma, we are wrong: it implies the same results as if doing it oneself.

Ten non virtuous actions

First we see these ten non virtuous actions that will create in us negative karma in order to avoid committing these actions of body (3 actions), speech (4 actions) and mind (3 actions), and by which we will create a happy life now and in the future.

These ten non virtuous actions all create us, depending on the action undertaken, to be reborn in the lower realms: as demons in hell, as hungry ghosts, or animals.

3 actions of body:

Kill – as said in the earlier topic, we see that the five lay vows for taking refuge deal with avoiding the first negative actions.
Sexual misconduct

4 actions of speech:

Divisive speech: e.g. when we want to separate two good friends
Harsh talk: hurting another being through words.

3 actions of mind:

Covetousness: wanting others’ properties or amassing one’s own.
Harming intention
Wrong view: one who does not reflect upon the qualities of the Three Jewels or the karma (law of cause and effect).

Apart from these ten non virtuous actions, there are further ten particularly negative actions, such as killing one’s mother, father, spiritual friend (master), etc.

Ten virtuous actions

These are the actions that are the opposite of the above ones, three actions of body, four of speech and three of mind, as well.

These virtuous actions all create us to be reborn, depending on the action undertaken, in the upper realms: as human, demigods or gods.

Neutral karma

These neutral actions all create us to be reborn, depending on the action undertaken, in the most upper realms of the gods: in the eight levels of meditative absorption with subtle form and without form.


About karma in general, the quality of the being towards whom the action is committed is crucial. Therefore, in Buddhism it is always recommended to practice respect towards all beings, because we don´t know who is exactly in front of us.

Also, the production of karma depends much more on the intention or motivation under which one action has been committed, than the action itself.

When you have committed certain negative karma, you can purify it with many practices of purification, but they basically gather under Four Powers of Confession and Restraint: repudiation, applying antidotes, refrain of the misdeed and the base. When negative karma is purified, its negative results are not accumulated.

There is always hope in Buddhism!

5. Death (process) and reincarnation

In this fifth topic we handle an issue crucial to Buddhism: the act of reincarnation, that is quite widespread nowadays, and how the death process occurs to Buddhists, that is unlikely other persons.

First of all, as we have just seen in the topic before, with the karma one does not die and goes to heaven or hell and stays there forever as in Christianity, Muslim, etc.; one does not get reborn in the same status or caste one is in now as in Hinduism. One gets reborn again and again in the six realms of existence according to what sort of merit or non-merit one has accumulated, according to karma, unless one frees from samsara or cyclic existence, as Buddha did and everyone else can accomplish.

What happens at death and how is the reincarnation process?

Death process

One has died or one is dead when one stops breathing and some fluid has come out from our upper holes (crown at the head, nose) or lower holes (sexual conducts) such as blood or white liquid.

It usually takes 49 days (more or less) to find a new rebirth. During these days, the family members or whoever wants to, make recitations, pujas (rituals) etc. for the deceased.

The experience to be dead is a fundamental experience in Buddhism and it is often recalled upon meditation about one’s death, being “buried” as if one were “dead” and so on. It is a moment of time, the real death, where one can experience being enlightened, as it has been the case for many Tibetan masters.

We transmigrate constantly from one life to another, we cannot remember our past lives and cannot see the future ones, although the Buddhas and others with realizations do. Like when we are sleeping, our body dies or decomposes and we “remain” with our mind, which is not permanent at all, but in samsara we believe it is eternal. So, when we are reborn again, we live again like this until we wake up to enlightenment.

At this moment, when breathing has stopped and the body takes up a bit of color and one is dead, Tibetan Buddhists for instance practice the bardo (Tibetan: among two, intermediate state), and practice the passing through the different transmigration process of dying and getting reborn, in this lifetime and in others in general.

On an ordinary being, the mind falls into total darkness, one becomes absolutely unconscious; whereas an extraordinary being can then meditate on the “clear light” (subtle aspect) of the mind.

For an ordinary being, when dead, it is said to be best to leave the person in peace, to not “bother” the person by crying or showing their attachment, but leaving it alone or reciting peacefully.


Although in Theravada Buddhism there is no gap of time between dying and being reborn, in Mahayana Buddhism there is usually the 49 days we mentioned earlier.

After one person has passed away, then there is the time where to the deceased person, the radiance of the pacific aspects of the Buddhas appears and the deceased are like being blinded and turn away from them. For this reason, the deceased usually throw themselves into the duller lights of samsara realms instead.

Then we proceed, because of our karma, with taking rebirth in one of the six realms of samsara. This is the state of “smell eaters”, and so the deceased eat, for instance, the smoke of incense when some is burnt. We can say the person will have many hallucinations and unclarity, if one is going to be reborn in the lower realms (hell, hungry spirits, animal) or will have a whitish path ahead, as if light up by the moon, when one is going to be reborn in the upper realms (human, demigod, god).

We can finally come to experience artic cold and be attracted to a flame, we can experience horrifying fear and hide in one whole, we can perceive a celestial, marvelous palace, or be thrown to father-mother having sex. We will finally be born as a human in the last instance, or as any other of the beings of the six realms of samsara in the others.

In Tibetan Buddhism, one can learn help other beings transfer their consciousness to a “pure land” when one is dying. This is called phowa in Tibetan.


So, once we have learnt about the death and the reincarnation process, even if we do not remember our previous lives, we will make sure to not encounter these lifes again in our future!


6. Bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment) and the Bodhisattva vows

In this sixth topic we have already seen roughly the basics of Buddhist teachings, and proceed to the main goal of the Mahayana (Great Vehicle), that distinguishes it solely from Hinayana (Inferior Vehicle) with the Bodhisattva figure, unlike the Arhat as we said before, and the practice of bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment).

There is one great anecdote that says that when Kashapa (Buddha’s first assistant) was teaching Hinayana Buddhism to sixty monks, that would have gained to become Arhats, suddenly Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, went to them and taught them Mahayana Buddhism. This resulted in a little bit too much for them, so they developed wrong points of view, which then resulted in being reborn in hell. Kashapa asked Buddha for an explanation and Buddha said: “Those were the skillful methods of Manjushri! A wonderful teaching!”

One can develop bodhicitta in two ways: training in bodhicitta and in the Bodhisattva vows.


Bodhi means “enlightened” and citta is “mind” in Sanskrit, but the term is used as such without translation usually, bodhicitta or mind of enlightenment, awakening mind.

Bodhicitta is the base and ground of the Mahayana Buddhist path and it is the one that wishes or aspires to get enlightenment for the benefit of all other sentient beings, before attaining one’s own. It appears, as we said in the first topic (Basic history of Buddhism), linked with the Bodhisattvas, the “beings of enlightenment”, such as Avalokiteśvara (the Compassionate one), Manjusri (the Wisdom one), etc. and many others.

Many books, many chapters, deal alone with bodhicitta and one can encounter it wherever one wants. In fact, it is said that the practice might be Mahayana Buddhism, but if the practitioner, oneself, does not practice bodhicitta, then one has not entered Mahayana Buddhism yet. However, bodhicitta must not become ever an obligation.

Here the starting point to practice bodhicitta is when we recognize the suffering of one person closest to us to whom we can easily feel compassion and good intention. The wish to rescue one such person is the departing point for bodhicitta. Then, the point would be to feel more love and compassion towards all sentient beings, humans, non-humans, friends, enemies, etc. as for such a being alone.

It is because of the enormous positive power that cultivating bodhicitta has, that we can reach enlightenment within this life! It is also the most powerful practice to liberate us from darkness and negativities.

For us human beings, being born from a mother (womb), not just an egg, or spontaneously, or from moisture, it is the most favorable rebirth we can obtain to be able to develop bodhicitta among the six realms of existence.

There are two types of bodhicitta: conventional and ultimate.

The conventional or aspirational bodhicitta is the wish to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, inclusive before oneself, but we cannot do it and pray and wish to do it, as when one prepares to travel somewhere.

The ultimate bodhicitta is to reach truly for the enlightenment of all beings, through the practice of the six perfections (six paramitas) of a Bodhisattva, as when one is definitely travelling somewhere, not only preparing for it. One must develop the six perfections every day.

It is very important here to observe the emphasis laid on familiarizing, habituating, oneself with caring for others as if they were oneself. This is the way to transform and change oneself. I love the concept of “habit” because it works simply: it is as when we take our car and drive out…and we realize we are nowhere but on our way to our job, as usual. This happens even on a different target in the car or any other day. It is a habit!

Bodhisattva vows

We already saw the lay vows for Taking Refuge (topic three) and now encounter the Bodhisattva vows or altruistic vows for attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all other beings. The activity of a Bodhisattva is indeed to develop bodhicitta.

Usually but not always, one receives the Bodhisattva vows when one is taking an initiation in Buddhist Tantra (next and last topic). One says one should study before getting these vows. There are eighteen root vows and forty-six secondary vows, for both monastic and lay people. When one has taken the Bodhisattva vows, one is empowered to practice the ultimate bodhicitta.

When one has failed any of the Bodhisattva vows, one can repair them taking the vows again. If not, one must wait. At least so, the vows are refreshed when taken again and, although the negative karma cannot be stopped, it will at least stop growing.

In the scriptures, it says that wisdom (emptiness of self and phenomena) that lacks media (love and compassion, bodhicitta), and media that lacks wisdom, are both one bondage. Therefore, never abandon any of them.

7. Buddhist Tantra: its formation, specialty, and lineages in Tibet

In this seventh and final topic, to end up our “Introduction to Buddhism in seven topics”, we introduce the formation of Buddhism, which is Mahayana too but the opposite with regard to its formulations: it is the Resultant Vehicle (phalayana) and is well known nowadays everywhere: Buddhist Tantra of Tibet, although there is also some extant in Japan.

What we know nowadays as Buddhist Tantra is Tibetan Buddhism, although it was spread as already shown in the first topic (Basic history about Buddhism) and introduced furthermore to Japan in the 9th c. as well, from China, in the Tendai and Shingon lineages. These two came to form part of the larger spectrum of Buddhist lineages already existent in Japan since the 6th c. and have come together with Shintoism, an autochthone animist religion, to be part of the religions of Japan.

Buddhist Tantra reached Tibet in the 8th c. and became the major religion of the country when Shantarakshita (725–788) was invited, the Abbot of Nalanda University in India, followed by Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche (8th c.), like the Tibetans have come to know him. Then Buddhist Tantra reached a second time with lama Atisha (982-1054), who was abbot at the tantric University Vikramashila in India.

Buddha said one cannot give initiations, not even show the mandala (Sanskrit: circle), to those disciples who do not practice bodhicitta, as to show this type of Buddhism does not differ from Mahayana Buddhism in its goal, but its aspects.

Buddhist Tantra is performed with mantras (like recitations), mudra (hands gestures), some utensils like dorje (diamond or vajra) and bell symbols of compassion and wisdom, several heads, arms, legs of deities. So, what is Buddhist Tantra?

What is Buddhist Tantra?

Buddhist Tantra is no sexual religion or anything similar. It is only up to the fourth grade of Types of Tantra (see below), when one can share with a partner the practice, but this must not be the case (in other types of Buddhism marriage is nowadays allowed).

It is called the Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle), Tantrayana (Tantra, a source other than the sutras, Vehicle) and it proposes to practice the result of everything we have seen: we are not to be enlightened as before, but we are Buddhas with enlightened bodies, everyone around us is also enlightened, the world is pure as a mandala. We also bear, besides this, the perfect blisses of enlightened beings in our minds, when we offer sensorial offerings.

After this also, in Buddha’s eyes and in our own as Buddhas, there is no difference between samsara (cyclic existence) and nirvana (liberation), two opposites in conventional reality which are simply “appearances” in the ultimate reality. All this should be non-conceptual. Therefore, one does not accumulate merit or non-merit, but, in its opposite, reveals enlightenment.

In Tibetan Buddhism there are many extraordinary beings with realizations among the monastics as well as among lay people.

In Tibetan Buddhist Tantra there is anew the initiation (Sanskrit: abisheka) which is fundamental to directly receive the true nature of mind. As H.H. Dalai Lama XIV said in the first initiation, I went to see him, he said one should take the initiation (Avalokiteśvara, Tibetan: Chenrezig), if one knows what it is for. If not, better not take it, think you are taking a blessing from the master. This was indeed very wise advice. There is usually some kind of compromise when one takes the initiation that one must respect or be aware of (reciting the mantra etch).

In this Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, it is said one can reach enlightenment even in this lifetime. For this reason, it is said that the inspiration from your lama (master, Tibetan: superior one) or guru (master) and the lineage (we will see now) are what allows one a much quicker recognition of the nature of the mind, other than in other Buddhist paths.

Briefly, we will point out that there are four Types of Tantra in all lineages of Buddhist Tantra in Tibet:

Action tantra (Sanskrit: kriyatantra)
Performance tantra (Sanskrit: caryatantra)
Yoga tantra (Sanskrit: yogatantra)
Highest yoga tantra (Sanskrit: anuttara yogatantra)


There are four lineages in Tibet and their differences lie, beside the founder etc., in the different practices, deities, and texts.

1. Ñigma (“old school”): founded in the 8th c. by the Indian Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche (“precious master”) we saw before, after whom this lineage was made.
2. Sakya (“black earth”): founded in the 11th c. by Khön Könchok Gyalpo (1034-1102).
3. Kagyü (“oral transmission”): founded in the 11th c. by Marpa (1012-1097) the Tibetan translator.
4. Gelug (“virtuous order”): founded in the 14th c. by Lama Tsongkhapa (1357-1419).

Tantric vows

After having seen the lay vows (third topic) and the Bodhisattva vows (sixth topic), we finally find the Tantric vows. These Tantric vows help us avoid conducts and ways of thinking that hinder us from success in our tantric practice. There are fourteen root vows and eight secondary vows.



Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche: Luminous Mind: the way of the Buddha. Wisdom Publications, 1997.
Pabongka Rinpoche: Liberation in the Palm of your Hand. Wisdom Publications, 2006.
Thích Nhat Hanh: Old Path, White Clouds. Walking in the footsteps of the Buddha. Unified Buddhist Church, 1991.
Notes from classes 17/1/9-23/5/10 from Geshe Thubten Chöden at CET Nagarjuna Madrid: “Lam Rim: shine, insight, karma, bodhicitta”. 
Thich Nhat Hanh: Camino viejo, nubes blancas. Tras las huellas del Buda. Ediciones Dharma, 2007.


María Drolma (Román)

I was born in Madrid, Spain, and have studied here Fine Arts (1990-92) before I proceeded to do MA in Japanology and History of non-European Art History, at the University of Vienna, Austria (1992-1997). Thereafter I engaged in PhD. in East Asian Art History, at Heidelberg University, Germany (1997-2002).

I have worked shortly at Heidelberg University as Assistant Professor before becoming Japanese Assistant Professor/Assistant Curator of Asian Art for one year at Kansas University/Spencer Museum of Art, USA (2003-2004). Finally, I worked as Associate Professor of Estudios de Asia Oriental for six years at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain (2004-2010).

I have dedicated to Buddhadharma since December 2007 when I first met H.H. the Dalai Lama at a public conference in Milan (Italy), and took refuge thereafter with Geshe Thubten Chöden at CET Nagarjuna in Madrid, 2009.

Since 2008 I have studied Buddhism with Geshe Thubten Chöden at CET Nagarjuna and I have been the Secretary replacement and Secretary (and translator English-Spanish) since the very beginnings of the Instituto de Budismo Tibetano Hayagriva in Madrid, until January 2020.

I speak four languages (Spanish, German, English, and Japanese).