Buddhism cannot be categorised. No label suits it.
Buddhism is not a religion, at least not in the sense we generally use the word. In fact, it does not at all presuppose belief in the existence of one or several gods, and in a more general way, categorically rejects the idea that there is anything that one has to believe in without being able to submit it to analysis through reasoning.
Buddhism is not a philosophy either, because it is not limited to an intellectual or conceptual approach. It teaches, in fact, that to understand is not enough. One must also take into one’s experience and eventually “realise” the Dharma. That is the spiritual dimension of Buddhism.
Buddhism is not a cultural, political or social phenomenon either.
Culture, of which one could say that art in all its facets is the superior expression, is rooted in worldliness, whereas Buddhism goes beyond the worldly. Within culture, art is an end in itself, and is the highest accomplishment. Within the framework of Buddhism it is just a mean. Art is minor when compared to wisdom. In other words, Buddhism is timeless and beyond worldliness, whereas culture or art is rooted in a given time and society.
Buddhism is not political, that is, it does not know the limits of frontiers or of groups. It is not based on opposition between people. It does not come “from somewhere”. It transcends continents and groups of humans. Nationality, colour, social class and membership of one party or another etc. do not constitute pertinent criteria in its eyes. On the contrary, all people, and more generally all living beings, share the same fundamental nature, the same emotions, the same aspirations and the same fears.
It is not a social phenomenon either. Buddhism is an individual quest for perfection. It does not aim to impose any rules of conduct or morality to others. The Buddhist message influences, of course, the attitude or the behavior of those who study and practice it, but it does not have a social aim. It does not intend to be a pressure group and does not set out rules about the organisation of society.
Lastly, is Buddhism a science? The sciences are turned towards the exterior world, the diverse phenomena that we perceive. Buddhism is, on the contrary, turned towards “the interior”; that is to say, it is attentive to the mind. That is why it is said sometimes that Buddhism is a “science of the mind”. As with all expressions, it has its limits. Some scientist don’t recognize the mind, they usually consider that all subject of study must be material. Buddhism teaches that the mind is not material.
So, I prefer to say that Buddhism is unclassifiable; that it eludes categories and comparisons.
Historically, Buddhism is the teaching of the Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived in India more than two thousand five hundred years ago. With the passing centuries the teachings was transmitted, translated into diverse languages and enriched by numerous commentaries. In this way, Buddhist literature is incomparably extensive.
More profoundly, Buddhism is the thought or thinking of the Buddhas, which is summed up by two great principles: compassion and wisdom. Buddhism is, therefore, a way of thinking. Buddhists are those who aspire to finding this good way of thinking and train in it. Buddhas are those who have succeeded.
One could also say that Buddhism is a reflection on happiness and the teaching of the causes of happiness. After having shown how much we deceive ourselves, how much we lose our way because of how we misconceive the world and ourselves, Buddhism wakes us up to a new vision. It makes us see things in another way and leads us progressively to the realization of the true nature of phenomena and of the mind.
This realization is precisely at the origin of the cessation of all suffering and of all fear. A Buddhist is, above all, a serene person. He has no fear. He is also a good person, open to others. Theses three qualities –wisdom, serenity and goodness – are, moreover, linked one to the other and come one from the other.
Buddhism is therefore a voyage towards wisdom, serenity and goodness.This text was written in French by Lama Orgyen Chokyi Dorje upon demand of Dzogchen Ranyak Patrul Rinpoche Tenzin Nyima in December 1999 and has been amendedin September 2010 by Lama Orgyen Chokyi Dorje for the purpose of this website.
Tibetan Buddhism is characterized by the fact that it is extremely rich. It kept alive all the teaching of the Buddha up to the present days. This means not only the first turning of the wheel of Dharma (the Hinayana teaching) but also the second (the Mahayana) and third (Vajrayana). In Tibetan Buddhism both sutras and tantras are extensively studied and practiced.
The Nyingma tradition
The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism (the other three being the Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug). "Nyingma" literally means "ancient," and is often referred to as the "school of the ancient translations" or the "old school" because it is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Tibetan, in the eighth century.
The Nyingma tradition actually comprises several distinct lineages that all trace their origins to the Indian master Padmasambhava.
Around 760, King Trisong Detsen invited Padmasambhava and the Nalanda University abbot Shantarakshita to Tibet to introduce Buddhism in the "Land of Snows." King Trisong Detsen ordered the translation of all Buddhist Dharma Texts into Tibetan. Padmasambhava, Shantarakshita, 108 translators, and 25 of Padmasambhava's nearest disciples worked for many years in a gigantic translation-project. The translations from this period formed the base for the large scriptural transmission of Dharma teachings into Tibet. Padmasambhava supervised mainly the translation of Tantra; Shantarakshita concentrated on the Sutra-teachings. Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita also founded the first Buddhist monastery on Tibetan ground: Samye. It was the main center for dharma transmission in Tibet during this age.
Later other monasteries has been founded, among them tradition has held that there are six monasteries known as "mother monasteries" of the Nyingma lineage, although there have been slightly different formulations of the six. At one time they included Dorje Drak, Mindroling and Palri monasteries in Upper Tibet; and Kathok, Palyul and Dzogchen monasteries in Lower Tibet. After the decline of Chongye Palri Thegchog Ling monastery and the flourishing of Shechen, in recent writings some says that the mother monasteries became Dorje Drag and Mindroling in the upper region, Shechen and Dzogchen in the center, and Kathok and Palyul in the lower part of Tibet. Dodrubchen is sometimes substituted for Kathok in the list. Out of these "main seats of the Nyingma" a large number of Nyingma monasteries developped throughout Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and India.
Besides monasteries and monks, there have always been great practitioners and great teachers who were not monks, the so-called "Ngakpas". Those two communities are sometimes referred as the yellow and the white assemblies.