Vajrayana Buddhism is a spiritual and life philosophy that embraces the teachings of Siddharta Gautama Buddha. However, its emergence in the 8th century is often credited to Padmasambhava, the Indian tantric master also known as the second Buddha. This type of Buddhism is closely associated with the Mahayana and Theravada schools of Buddhism, although there are some differences in practice between them. Vajrayana Buddhism is also considered to be the third yana of Buddhism, the Sanskrit word that translates to mean ‘vehicle.’ Specifically, the path leading to the birth of the Vajrayana tradition is believed to have stemmed from the third turning of the ‘wheel of dharma,’ a series of Buddhist teachings and oral traditions generally known as sutras.
Vajrayana Buddhism received its name from the Sanskrit word vajra, which represents the thunderbolt wielded by Indra, the god of war and weather. This word also loosely translates to mean ‘diamond,’ denoting unbreakable strength. As such, Vajrayana Buddhism is often called the Diamond Vehicle and Indestructible Path of Buddhism. It is also synonymous with various other names, including Thunderbolt Vehicle, True Words Sect, Esoteric Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, Mantrayana, and Secret Mantra, among others.
The principles of Vajrayana Buddhism are considered to be the closest to those practiced by Buddha to achieve dharmakaya, or true enlightenment. However, Vajrayanists maintain that Buddha did not share many of these principles since he considered them too esoteric for the non-initiated. Like other Buddhist teachings, Vajrayana is based on tantric doctrine (tantras), which may be accessed by practicing various sadhanas. A sadhana may consist of yoga, meditation, controlled breathing (Pranayama), and the repetition of specialized prayers known as mantras.
Unlike some Buddhist teachings, the path of Vajrayana Buddhism does not dictate that the practitioner should strive to reach Nirvana, a process believed to take many lifetimes. In alliance with the bodhisattvas of Mahayana, the Vajrayana practitioner should seek perfect enlightenment but be willing to reincarnate to assist others on the worldly plane to achieve the same. The belief that the Vajrayana practitioner may attain pure enlightenment in a single lifetime also differs from other teachings. In fact, this is why this type of Buddhism is sometimes referred to as the Short Path.
Progression on the Vajrayana path is achieved by the transmission of knowledge and wisdom from master to student, sometimes via transcendence of the mindstream. This relationship is viewed as a commitment to forge a lineage of tantric masters. In fact, Vajrayana Buddhism is considered the longest surviving school of Tibetan Buddhism. In the spirit of vajra, its teachings have been passed down by a lineage of teachers that have remained unbroken for thousands of years.