The Four Spiritual Practices of Tibetan Buddhism

Nestled between China, India, Kashmir, and Nepal, Tibetan Buddhism is a unique depository of eastern thought.

Tibet has adopted a lot of elements from different traditions which include Shaivism, Indian Tantra, Japanese Zen, Indian Buddhism, and even elements of the shamanistic tradition of Bon, a tradition which was native in Tibet even before the arrival of Buddhism during the 8th century.

Because of the complex nature of Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan masters gradually summed it into several main categories due to its being an eclectic mix of the orient. These categories have even become a curriculum of stages toward full enlightenment.

The four main spiritual practices of Tibetan Buddhism are Renunciation, Bodhicitta, Emptiness, and Vajrayana.


Renunciation

Renunciation is known to be the type where you are turning away from something. Hardly ever known was that it also means turning toward something. You turn away something from the world to achieve greater happiness and turn toward your inner and spiritual being to fulfillment. This is a spiritual quest that seekers wish to attain upon realizing that wealth, fame, and material possessions are temporary.

Money can’t buy happiness is a cliche, but Buddhism takes over that matter way deeper. With Buddhism, you come to understand that material possessions are never long-lasting.

Everything in this world is temporary, subject to change, constantly changing, and does not have any long-lasting substance. The only constant in this world is change itself. Through meditation and contemplation, this noble truth turns a person away from worldly things, and you begin turning inward for longer-lasting happiness, fulfillment, and eventually enlightenment or freedom from the pursuit of worldly things as a way to satisfy personal desires.

When you have come to accept this noble truth right down to every corner of your being, you are now entering a spiritual path and have ultimately realized the renunciation.

Bodhicitta

This spiritual practice is a type where love and compassion are the motivating factors for spiritual pursuits. When you come to realize the insubstantial nature of the world and that the cycle of looking for satisfaction in undoubtingly unsatisfying objects, we also come to understand that we are causing our suffering because much of the world sees things in a deluded perspective and is constantly desiring of attachment to things that are again, impermanent and insubstantial. This realization, in turn, brings about compassion and a motivation to help others by first understanding within ourselves that lasting happiness can only be achieved through freedom from clinging to the world.

The wish to be free is especially beneficial not for the self alone but also to all other beings that are coexisting because we recognize the equality and intimacy we have with all living creatures through an unlimited experience of interrelation, connection, shared suffering, and even the pursuit of happiness. Every one of us has the desire to be happy, and as much as possible, we try to avoid suffering but are unfortunately trapped in certain patterns and experiences that have, and can undermine happiness.

Bodhicitta is both humble and grand. It is not selfish and recognizes equality as natural as it is. It bows down to all living creatures in deep appreciation of the shared suffering and shared experiences. It is thinking that one cannot achieve inner peace if the other is suffering, like taking the rescue boat for himself while others are drowning. It is unselfish and is in constant humility.

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It is courageous because the thought of sharing the same meaningful experiences and ending suffering is one noble act. It’s an attitude that no man is an island. It’s the character of ending suffering for himself and ending suffering for others.

This is a sure act of genuine compassion and is also a protector of the mind. One cannot love and hate at the same time. When we can love those who may have hurt us, we transform our minds and our hearts into a more resilient and purpose-driven nature. As the Dalai Lama has assured us, “I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion.”

Emptiness

The Dalai Lama once said, “or something indescribable there sure is a lot of books written about it.” Sure enough, sunyata, or commonly translated as emptiness, is what he is referring to. Through the realization of the truth about emptiness, it brings about the deepest wisdom and power to purify ignorance. Emptiness is therefore among the most widely practiced type of Tibetan Buddhism.

To simply understand, emptiness is the fact that there is no permanent in this world. Everything changes, and there is nothing in this world that has lasting identity or substance. When we label something, that is only but a present moment, and there is nothing that goes beyond that. Labels do not change anything.

Another way to understand emptiness is that our thoughts are not the territory. However good the image is represented, it will be different from the real experience. That is how mindfulness teaches us that we need to be aware of the present and observe those that surround us in a non-judgmental way. This allows us to take in more of what is real than being constantly opinion-based.

The great Zen master Seng Tsan said, “If you want to experience the truth simply give up your opinions for or against anything, and the truth with reveal itself.”

Everything that we know, all of our human knowledge, is stored in certain languages and concepts. A huge void then opens up when we give up this intelligence of concepts. This void, the one that has opened up will then transcend the languages and concepts one has accumulated from the direct experience of countless mystics.

The void, in reality, is not empty at all. Those who have directly experienced transcendence report a fullness and astounding interconnectivity as well as a deeper sense of love and peace.

Emptiness meditation sees things without judgment and labels, even with yourself. This opens up a whole new world with its wisdom, love, and constant bliss.

Vajrayana

This spiritual practice in Tibetan Buddhism means the diamond path and is practiced after all other three, renunciation, bodhicitta, and emptiness are realized. The void that has opened up filled with love, wisdom, and bliss is understood as the ground or source of being or the nature of all things and beings.

Vajrayana means directly relating reality to the world through visualization, mantras, and energy.

This practice is founded on the concept of “fake it until you make it.” In Tibetan Buddhism, there are many deity figures that a practitioner can visualize becoming, but it is more important to imagine yourself as an enlightened being, made up of love and light. “What the mind can conceive the body can achieve” is true. There’s great wisdom behind that classic expression, thus, imagining yourself to be an enlightened being that radiates love and bliss is possible and especially beneficial.

For the second stage, Vajrayana uses subtle energy to connect with bliss and access a rather deeper state of consciousness. As a person works with the energy channels and chakras in the body, he then experiences the unity of all beings which then transforms desire into a more powerful fuel that ignites the path toward enlightenment.

This untapped blissful energy that has been within us will come to the surface with Vajrayana.

Lama Yeshe says, “We all have a tremendous energy within us more powerful than an atomic bomb which is a fantastic resource to achieve the highest goal of enlightenment.”

In conclusion, it is recognized that renunciation, love, compassion, and bliss are coexisting completely and eternally. These teachings, known as the Buddha nature, adhere to the notion that reaching an enlightened state means giving up your worldly pursuits and maximizing efforts rather than stagnate in the familiar. Naturally, we are already perfect. We just have to stop all the fabrication and manipulation and instead, rest in the greater and natural state of our being.

The direct approach lets you connect peace, love, and wisdom within. The more you can test yourself in the natural state, the more will its good qualities radiate and shine through. However, only then can we rest in that natural state if we overcome our attachment to material pursuits as we seek happiness and look for love from others rather than genuinely loving them. The daily intentional practice of renunciation, bodhicitta, and emptiness can purify the rigid conditions of the past, and the radiant light will naturally shine through in full blossom. All four spiritual practices go together for the sake of enlightenment, and once you are there, everything will flow naturally.