There are four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. All of them follow the core beliefs of Siddhartha Gautama's Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. The post-text 'Pa' can be added to the end of each school's name and means a follower of that school. For example Nyingmapa, or Gelugpa.
Nyingma means ancient. It is the oldest and first school. It was founded by Padmasambhâva, an Indian guru, in the 8th century CE. This school of Tibetan Buddhism classifies its teachings into nine categories. The highest regarded is called Dzogchen and is known as the great perfection. Other schools categorize their teachings into three vehicles, The Foundation Vehicle, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
Kagyu is an oral lineage. This school was founded in the eleventh century by Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa in the 11th century CE. There is one major and one minor sub-sect in this school. This school is emphasizes the experience of meditation.
Sakya means grey earth. It is a scholarly tradition. This school was founded by Khon Konchog Gyalpo, a disciple of the great translator Drokmi Lotsawa. It's lineage is traced to the Indian master Virupa.
Gelug means virtuous, as in the virtuous tradition. This school is also known as the 'Yellow Hats'. This tradition is famous for its logic and debate. The 14th Dalai Lama whose name is Tenzin Gyatso is both the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet. The Dalai Lama is the embodiment of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
If you are following the teachings of a Tibetan monk or lama then you are learning the tradition of one of these four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. If you so desire, please click the link below for more information regarding Tibetan Buddhism.
There is a fifth Tibetan tradition that has grown in popularity. It is not an official school of Tibetan Buddhism but does offer principles of Tibetan Buddhism. Founded by Chogyam Trungpa, wisdom comes from the Kagyu and Nyingma schools. Chogyam Trungpa passed away in 1987. His son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, now leads the Shambala tradition.
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