“The 4 Main Schools of Himalayan Buddhism: Explore the unique traditions, teachings, and practices of Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug. Discover their historical roots, spiritual leaders, and contributions to the rich tapestry of Himalayan Buddhist culture.”

Nyingma: Established in the 8th century, it is the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism. Known for its emphasis on Dzogchen teachings, focusing on the natural state of the mind.

Kagyu: Originating in the early 11th century, this school is renowned for its practices of Mahamudra meditation. It emphasizes the importance of the guru-student relationship.

Sakya: Founded in 1073, the Sakya school is distinguished by its scholarly approach and the Lamdre teachings. It played a key role in the political landscape of Tibet.

Gelug: Established in 1409, the Gelug school is known for its strict monastic discipline and scholarly tradition. It is the school of the Dalai Lama lineage.

The Tibetan Nuns Project supports nuns from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Nyingma or “ancient” tradition is the oldest of the four Himalayan/Tibetan Buddhism schools. Often referred to as “the ancient translation school”, it was founded in the eighth century following the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit to Tibetan.

Around 760, the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen invited two Buddhist masters from the Nepal Bandala (Pharping), Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, to the “Land of Snows” to bring Buddhism to the Tibetan people. Thus began a massive translation project of all Buddhist texts into the newly created Tibetan language.

The legendary Vajrayana master Padmasambhava, who Tibetans call Guru Rinpoche, is considered the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. He supervised the translation of the tantras (the esoteric teachings of the Buddha). In contrast, Shantarakshita, abbot of the great Buddhist Nalanda University, supervised the translation of the sutras (oral teachings of the Buddha).

Together they founded the first monastery in Tibet, Samye, which became the main center for Buddhist teaching in Tibet for around three centuries.

The Nyingma tradition classifies the Buddhist teachings into nine yanas or vehicles. The first three vehicles are common to all schools of Buddhism, the next three are common to all schools of Tantric Buddhism, and the last three are exclusive to the Nyingma tradition. The highest is known as Dzogchen or the Great Perfection.

Unlike the other schools, the Nyingma traditionally had no centralized authority or a single head of the lineage. However, since the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Nyingma school has had representatives.

Here is a list of the 8 representatives of the Nyingma school since this practice began in the 1960s:

Dudjom Rinpoche (1904–1987) served as the head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism from the 1960s until his passing in 1987. He was known for his extensive knowledge, teachings, and contributions to the preservation and propagation of Nyingma teachings worldwide.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–1991) took over the leadership of the Nyingma school in 1987 following Dudjom Rinpoche’s death. Renowned for his profound scholarship and spiritual wisdom, he served as the head until he died in 1991, continuing the lineage’s rich tradition.

Penor (Pema Norbu) Rinpoche (1932–2009) became the head of the Nyingma school in 1991 and led until his retirement in 2003. Known for his dedication to monastic education and the establishment of Buddhist institutions, Penor Rinpoche played a significant role in revitalizing the Nyingma tradition.

Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche (1930–2008) served as the head of the Nyingma school from 2003 until he died in 2008. His tenure was marked by efforts to unify the various Nyingma lineages and promote the study and practice of traditional teachings within the community.

Trulshik Rinpoche (1923–2011) was appointed as the head of the Nyingma school after Chatral Rinpoche declined the position. Serving until he died in 2011, he was highly respected for his spiritual accomplishments and contributions to the continuity of Nyingma teachings and practices.

Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche (1926–2015) was appointed as the head of the Nyingma school in 2012 and led until his death in Bodhgaya in 2015. His leadership focused on maintaining the integrity of the Nyingma tradition and supporting its practitioners.

Kathok Getse Rinpoche (1954–2018) was named the supreme head of the Nyingma school for a three-year term but tragically passed away ten months into his tenure. His short leadership was marked by efforts to strengthen the unity and vibrancy of the Nyingma community.

Dzogchen Rinpoche Jigme Losel Wangpo was selected in January 2019 as the eighth head of the Nyingma school. Chosen by the heads of the principal monasteries, his leadership represents a continuation of the school’s spiritual lineage and commitment to preserving its teachings.

The Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism gets its name from the Tibetan meaning “oral lineage” or “whispered transmission”. While it traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni, the most important source for the specific practices of the Kagyu order is the great yogi Tilopa (988-1069). The cave of Naropa and his guru Tilopa is beside Pashupatinath temple, bank of the holy Bagmati River. Two different caves of Tilopa and Naropa Cave is considered the holy site because the cave is the place where Naropa received training and teaching from his Guru Tilopa and he had visions of Vajrayogini.

The practices were passed orally from teacher to disciple through a series of great masters. The transmission lineage of the “Five Founding Masters” of the Kagyu school of Himalayan Buddhism is as follows:

Tilopa (988-1069), was a revered figure in the Himawat Khanda who received the original transmission of Mahamudra. His teachings laid the foundation for a profound meditative tradition that emphasized direct experience and the nature of the mind.

Naropa (1016–1100), another eminent figure of the Himawat Khanda, is celebrated for refining techniques for accelerated enlightenment. His legacy is encapsulated in the Six Yogas of Naropa, a set of advanced spiritual practices.

Marpa (1012–1097), the first Tibetan in this lineage, is renowned as a master translator. He translated key Vajrayana and Mahamudra texts into Old Tibetan, significantly enriching Tibetan Buddhism with these crucial teachings.

Milarepa (1052–1135), Tibet’s greatest yogi and poet, overcame Marpa’s initial reluctance to teach him. Through immense dedication, Milarepa attained enlightenment within his lifetime, becoming an iconic figure of spiritual achievement.

Gampopa (1079–1153), Milarepa’s foremost disciple, played a pivotal role in the Kagyu lineage. He integrated Atisha’s Kadam teachings with Tilopa’s Mahamudra instructions, solidifying the doctrinal and practical foundations of the tradition.

The Kagyu lineage practices have a special focus on the tantric teachings of the Vajrayana and Mahamudra teachings. Some of the most distinguished works of the Kagyu Tibetan masters are the works of Marpa, the Vajra Songs of Milarepa, the Collected Works of Gampopa, of the Karmapas, of Drikhung Kyöppa Jigten Sumgön, and Drukpa Kunkhyen Pema Karpo.

In the Kagyu school, there are many independent sub-schools and lineages.

The Sakya School of Himalayan Buddhism

The Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism dates to the 11th century. The name comes from the Tibetan meaning “pale earth” describing the grey landscape near Shigatse, Tibet where the Sakya Monastery – the first monastery of this tradition and the seat of the Sakya School – was built in 1073.

The Sakya tradition developed during the second period of translation of Buddhist scripture from Sanskrit into Tibetan and was founded by Drogmi, a famous scholar and translator who had studied under Naropa and other great Indian masters.

The heart of the Sakya lineage teaching and practice is Lamdre, The Path and Its Fruit, a comprehensive and structured meditation path in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.

The head of the Sakya School is the “Sakya Trizin” (“the holder of the Sakya throne”), who is always drawn from the male line of the Khön family. It was previously a lifetime position that rotated between the two branches of that lineage, the Phuntsok Potrang and the Dolma Potrang. The previous head of the Sakya School, His Holiness Ngawang Kunga Thekchen Palbar Samphel Ganggi Gyalpo, was born in 1945 in Tsedong, Tibet and served as Sakya Trizin from 1958 to 2017. It has now become a three-year position that rotates between the next generation of trained male offspring of those two families.

The Gelug School of Himalayan Buddhism

The Gelug school is the newest and largest school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its story begins with Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), one of the period’s foremost authorities of Tibetan Buddhism who studied under Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma masters.

Tsongkhapa, the most renowned teacher of his time, founded Ganden Monastery in 1409 and, though he emphasized a strong monastic sangha, he did not announce a new monastic order. Following his death, his followers established the Gelug (“the virtuous tradition”) school. The Gelug school was also called “New Kadam” for its revival of the Kadam school founded by Atisha.

The Throne-Holder of Ganden (Ganden Tripa) is the official head of the Gelug school, a position that rotates between the heads of the two Gelug tantric colleges. Its most influential figure is the Dalai Lama, who is a monk of the Gelug tradition, but as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet for over fifty years has always represented all Tibetans.

The Dalai Lamas are considered manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have chosen to be continuously reborn to end the suffering of sentient beings.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th reincarnation. He was born in 1935, two years after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama encourages non-sectarianism.

The central teachings of the Gelug School are the lamrim (stages of the path to enlightenment) teachings of Tsongkhapa, based on the teachings of the 11th-century Himawat Khanda master Atisha.

The Tibetan Nuns Project began in 1987 in the Dharamsala area, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a large number of Tibetan refugees.

We initially reached out to assist the nearby nunneries, Geden Choeling and Tilokpur. In response to a large influx of refugee nuns escaping from Tibet, the Tibetan Nuns Project built two new nunneries, Dolma Ling and Shugsep.

Currently, the Tibetan Nuns Project supports these 7 nunneries in the northern Himalayas:

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, non-sectarian,

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, Nyingma

Geden Choeling Nunnery, Gelugpa

Tilokpur Nunnery, Kagyu

Sherab Choeling Nunnery, non-sectarian

Sakya College for Nuns, Sakya

Dorjee Zong Nunnery, Gelugpa

Robinson Crusoe Holidays offers a wide range of travel and tourism activities in Nepal, catering to various interests such as adventure, culture, spirituality, and relaxation. Here are some of the notable activities and tours they provide:

Yoga Tour in Nepal Brief Insight

Yoga physical is a mental and spiritual practice or discipline which originated in ancient Nepal. Yoga is one of the six Astika (orthodox) schools of Hindu philosophical traditions. Yoga Tour in Nepal is a great experience in the Himalayas.

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