Vajrayana in context

Vajrayana is a Buddhist path. The term covers a body of teachings and practices that developed over hundreds of years in India, Tibet and other Asian countries. It distinguishes a Buddhist approach in contrast to Hinayana and Mahayana. Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning “thunderbolt”. Yana means “path” or “way”. Vajrayana includes Buddhist Tantra, a transormative spirituality, and Dzogchen and Mahamudra, which are both paths of liberation and integration.

Vajrayana is relevant for practitioners who want to apply meditation to daily living with a life-affirming view. Many of its practices are transformative in principle. Tantrikas – Vajrayana practitioners – approach emotions, and all of life, as material to work with. The point of Buddhist Tantric practice is to develop skilful, competent activity in every-day circumstances. Qualities of anger such as clarity and energetic motivation are fuel for effective intervention when they’re experienced without self-justification or peevish vengeance.

The parts of Vajrayana I find most appealing and applicable to contemporary life are the practices and teachings that developed outside monastic systems — that is, the yogic traditions of Tibet. Yogis and monks were never entirely separate in practice. Some monks became wandering yogis, monasteries institutionalized methods from great yogic masters, male and female. Nonetheless, a clear strand of non-monastic, yogic practitioners in the Himalayas is traceable back to early centuries AD in India. I belong to this tradition.

On Vajrayana Now I explore how Vajrayana can adapt to contemporary societies as it transitions from its pre-modern, mostly Tibetan cultural formation.