This article will provide an overview of topics that have been influential in Tibetan thought and attempt to emphasize topics that are indigenously Tibetan or have been significantly developed by Tibetan thinkers. It is important to keep in mind that Tibetan intellectual culture often treats innovation differently than that of the West. When a thinker comes up with a new distinction, argument, or practice it is likely to be attributed to an older, often Indian, source for various reasons including but by no means limited to modesty, authority, loyalty, or admiration.
The italicized parenthetical terms are Tibetan unless otherwise noted and they are transliterated using the Wylie system.
They are not meant to be essential for understanding the ideas of the article and are provided to avoid the confusion caused by different writers using different English glosses. Though the spoken language of Tibetan in these areas is quite diverse and often mutually unintelligible , they share a common written heritage of literature, poetry, song, and philosophical texts. However, Tibetan philosophy is very much a living tradition with a variety of philosophical views and topical emphases.
Buddhism has had a profound influence on Tibetan thought and culture. Today there are four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The difference between sects is not always purely philosophical but often involves which practices, lineage masters, and texts they emphasize and also which translations they use. The four major sects are:. The Gelug, the sect of the Dalai Lamas, came to hold the majority of the political power from the seventeenth century onward.
Since the late nineteenth century a non-sectarian movement ris med encouraged by the current Dalai Lama has become popular and fostered a more open approach between sects and a mixing of practices. The texts of Tibetan Buddhist Canon are divided into two sections. Unlike Western Philosophy since the Enlightenment, there is no rigid separation between religion and philosophy in Tibetan thought. This does not mean that Tibetan philosophy is essentially non-rational or superstitious in nature and should not preclude philosophical interest; not anymore than references to Apollo in Plato or God in Descartes prevents philosophers from finding interesting philosophical theses in their works.
However, this lack of separation between the religious and philosophical does mean that a modern reader must keep in mind that Tibetan thinkers are likely to have aims and motives outside those usually found in Western philosophy.
Being overwhelmingly Buddhist in nature, Tibetan philosophy has a soteriological aim; one engages in philosophical investigation not only to gain an understanding of the world, but so that such an understanding can aid in eliminating suffering. For Buddhists, all human suffering arises from misunderstanding the nature of the world; through study and philosophical reflection one can come to have a better grasp of the nature of reality —particularly of suffering and its causes. When one understands this, one can avoid much suffering by beginning to act and cultivate dispositions that are in accord with reality.
Modern philosophical theorizing in the West is commonly thought to aim at discovering the nature of reality or of the best way to live. The distinctive form of Tibetan debate rtsod pa plays an important part of philosophical investigations in Tibetan intellectual communities. It is central in the Gelug sect, in particular those earning their kenpo mkhan po degrees, though it is also practiced in other sects to varying degrees. The roles are quite different; the defender must assert a thesis and attempts to defend its truth. The challenger is not held responsible for the truth content of the questions; like someone raising an objection at a lecture, the challenger does not have to assert any thesis, but only aims to show that the defender is mistaken.
This invocation is variously interpreted, but can be seen most generally as a reminder to the debaters that they are aiming at wisdom, at finding out the truth about the subject. The challenger then sets the topic of debate by asking a question to which the defender replies and reveals his thesis. During the debate, the challenger raises questions of a particular form; a complete question is one that contains a subject, predicate, and a reason.
When an element is omitted or ambiguous, the defender is allowed to clarify, but upon receiving a complete question, the defender has three possible replies:. The general idea is that while what we perceive as reality might not have an intrinsic nature, the awareness that we have of the flow of such perceptions does have such a nature. This school is sometimes compared with German Idealism in the West. To say that all phenomena are empty is to say that they are empty of a stable and unconditioned essence — tables have no intrinsic table-ness and selves have no intrinsic self-ness.
Anything else, they contend, would give the impression that they accept the unconditioned essence of any of the topics under debate. This method has been compared with that of Wittgenstein at least the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Skeptics of ancient Greece. Suppose one were to stumble upon a friend watching a Felix the Cat cartoon ask him what is happening.
When pressed, both may well admit that the ultimate truth is quite different; in fact there is no Felix, simply a series of lines organized in a certain way so as to create drawings that bear a resemblance to a cat, which, when shown in rapid succession create the visual illusion of actions, events, and emotions. This is the ultimate truth about what is really happening, but to reply in this way would be both impolite and pragmatically unhelpful.
The view has some affinities with fictionalism in Western philosophy in that both acknowledge some value in claims that are metaphysically ungrounded. One issue of debate in Tibet has been the relationship between the Two Truths. A radical view advocated in the fourteenth century by Dolpopa claims that the Two Truths are completely separate, advocating a doctrine called Emptiness of Other gzhan stong — the ideal that emptiness itself has a stable and unchanging nature.
The prevailing view, advocated by Tsongkhapa and the Gelug tradition, proposes a deep unity between the two truths. This view holds the distinction between the conventional and ultimate reality to be itself merely conventional, a doctrine called Emptiness of Self rang stong. On this view, the property of lacking an essential nature is nothing more than a conventional designation for more on this see Kapstein pp. The idea that emptiness itself is not an ultimately real property — the emptiness of emptiness — is taken to be paradoxical to varying degrees see Garfield pp.
Guanyin, who in thirty-three manifestations meets every need. Sumeru, where Indra rules over his thirty-two devas, who reside on thirty-two peaks of Sumeru, eight in each of the four directons. A hundred. Francis Xavier and Ippolito Desideri with Buddhist cultures, it was not until the 19th century that Buddhism began to be studied by Western scholars. Nirvana is the state of being wherein all clinging, and so all suffering, can be eliminated here, in this very life. He set out on a quest to end this repeated suffering. This finds support in common sense as some false speech is used to obscure reality, as in that of political spinsters, while other false speech is used to illuminate a truth about reality, such as telling a fictional story to teach a truth about human psychology.
The Two Truths are especially important when one keeps in mind the soteriological aim of Buddhist philosophy; it allows a place for teachings that are not strictly speaking true, but benefit the student. The former means simply a mental label for something, a conventional sign for communications, while the latter, kundzob, means something that obscures, hides, or fakes. The distinction suggests two sorts of conventional truth; those that obscure the ultimate truth and those that do not. This finds support in common sense as some false speech is used to obscure reality, as in that of political spinsters, while other false speech is used to illuminate a truth about reality, such as telling a fictional story to teach a truth about human psychology.
This distinction is explained in greater detail at Garfield pp. There are also more meditative practices that allow the meditator to experience the emptiness of phenomena in a more direct way. These practices tend to emphasize first-hand experience and the relationship with a qualified teacher. The core of these practices involves close observation of the mind at rest and during the arising and passing of thoughts and emotions. These mediations are often described with language suggesting spontaneity, immediacy, and ineffability — a non-conceptual and non-dualistic awareness of reality, which is taken to be in some sense perfect as it is.
To many, these features evoke affinities with mysticism that put it outside the purview of modern Analytic philosophy, though epistemological issues like introspection , phenomenology , and the limits of language are relevant. The tales teach a moral by describing the selfless and virtuous actions of the Buddha-to-be and in these tales he is called a bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas, rather than becoming enlightened and escaping the sufferings of this world, choose to forgo their own enlightenment and remain in this world in order to relieve the suffering of others. Modern scholars disagree about the most accurate way to view Buddhist ethics in terms of the standard Western ethical categories.
Buddhist ethics seems to have affinities with all of the major ethical theories in the West. Its emphasis on the elimination of suffering is similar to Utilitarian theories like that of Jeremy Bentham , its emphasis on a universal outlook is similar to the Kantian claims about the categorical imperative, and its Bodhisattva seems similar to the sort of ideal agents imagined in Virtue Ethics.
Fundamentals of Buddhism- The eminent German scholar-monk Ven. Nyanatiloka Mahathera () was the first Continental European in modern times. The Word of the Buddha, published originally in German, was the first strictly less acquainted with the fundamental ideas of Buddhism, a clear, concise and.
Naturally, there are problems with each interpretation. It is also not clear that a Kantian framework can accommodate the central role of compassion and sympathy and given the importance of the consequences of actions given in Buddhist ethics, the Kantian framework seems ill-fitting. The view championed by Damien Keown is a characterization of Buddhist ethics in terms of Aristotelian virtue ethics. For Aristotle , one develops certain character traits so that one may achieve flourishing Greek: eudaimonia.
Similarly, argues Keown, the bodhisattva develops certain traits with the goal of achieving freedom from suffering Sanskrit: nirvana. The argument claims that flourishing and freedom both function as a goal for which the development of good traits is cultivated. But many scholars, famously Peter Harvey, claim that Buddhist ethics cannot be placed entirely in any single Western category. Instead, they see Buddhist ethics as being best understood as having similarities with each, though not exclusively falling into any particular one.
They are in verse form, usually with four line stanzas with seven syllables per line. Commonly studied in schools and memorized, these are very popular among Tibetans and often familiar to non-scholars. The content often concerns the traits and conduct of wise mkhas pa , noble ya rabs and foolish blun po people along with other advice regarding common human problems and tendencies.
The advice is often juxtaposed with a metaphor or similar case from everyday life. Important topics include the best attitude towards achievement and failure, praise and blame, wealth, anger, and work among others. A conceptual frame that became important in Tibet is the idea of stages on the path to enlightenment lam rim. Those of Small Ability can seek only worldly pleasures and are concerned with their own happiness and their future well-being. Those of Intermediate Ability are able to reject worldly pleasures, but seek to end only their own suffering. Those of Great Ability take on suffering in order to end the suffering of others.
This division can be understood as applying to the particular situation in Tibet in which mass monasticism and more esoteric forms of Buddhism could both be found. The teaching of the three kinds of abilities can be understood as a schema for determining whether or not a monk is ready for certain higher teachings and practices. The threefold division can also be understood in a wider sense, applying to people in general and how to gauge their abilities. Aside from the obvious emphasis on altruism, the doctrine exemplifies what Harvey p.
For many ethical systems in the West, normative prescriptions apply to everyone or perhaps everyone who can grasp them regardless of ethical development. In many forms of Buddhist ethics, though some prescriptions like refraining from taking life apply to everyone, others only apply to those with a certain depth of moral or spiritual understanding. Harvey notes that while lay practitioners usually follow five precepts, an ordained monk is subject to two hundred or more.
Even though I am a Buddhist by birth, I never bothered to look into the question of why I was a Buddhist.
When I retired several years ago, I first started reading widely on many subjects, including science, philosophy, and religion. And some of those have been to meditation retreats and have realized that there is indeed a second option compared to seeking material wealth and indulging in sense pleasures. Especially for those people in categories 1 and 2, it becomes clear that indulging in sense pleasures does not have staying power. On the other hand, the sense of well-being achieved via meditation has the staying power, and does not go down as one gets old.
This website got started in early January I am still thinking about how best to present the material, so I may have to change this layout. I have experienced much of what is discussed here, and the reason that I started this website is to share that experience with anyone who is interested. To practice something, one needs to know what to practice. You will see links from any given area to many other areas. Please inform others about this site if you benefit from it. For the past several years, I have been working exclusively on trying to find the essence of the message of the Buddha.
This is the result of that effort, which I wanted to share with the rest of the world.