Tibetan Buddhism, Sects and Sub-Sects
Scholars agree that Tibetan Buddhism is best described as Indo-Tibetan Buddhism for the fact that Tibetan Buddhism is what Nalanda University(66bc) used to be. Every Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism can be traced back to an Indian Masters. Tibetan Buddhists have received unbroken oral transmission from Indian Masters.
NU had four different tenets or philosophies in variant refinement or level of subtlety. They are Vaibhasdhika, Sautrantika, Chitamatra and Madhyamika which has two of its own subsets.
How and why different sects began in Tibet
Each Tibetan Buddhism Lineage(Oral Transmission) can be traced, without break, to an Indian Master that gave rise to Sects in Tibet. Later, powerful Monasteries (institutions) also added their social standing and acceptance. This led to further divisions of sects. These different sects confirm authenticity of Tibetan Buddhism vis-à-vis Indian origin and how it was brought into Tibet with Tibetan initiation, commitment, painfully accurate translation and their hard work.
Guru Padmasambhawa, an Indian Maha Shiddha, often referred to as Guru Rinpoche(Precious) was the founder of this sect. It is sometimes refer to as Red Hat Sect for obvious reason. They wear a Red hat.
KunsSangLamaE SheLung (ཀུན་བཟང་བླ་མའི་ཞལ་ལུང་།)
and ZogChen are the core text.
Note: Some ill-informed scholars without understanding history and chronology writes that Zogchen is from Bon, originally a Shamanism who practice animal sacrifices. It is after spread of Buddhism in Tibet that Bon was absorbed into Buddhism. Not the other way round. If it is, then we have a serious issue of authenticity of Buddha’s teaching. Buddha must have copied his teachings from Bon too because Bon(15,990 BC-Ice Age) practice was there before Buddha was born(624 BC). Why ShantaRakshita, Abbot of Nalanda, did not object to Padmasambhawa’s Zogchen teaching, if it is Bon, when both were invited by 34 King Trisong Detsen in 767 AD to Tibet. In fact, his disciple, Kamalashila rectified an erroneous meditation approach by Hans.
Tilopa, an Indian MahaSiddha, is the root Guru. Lineage follows from Tilopa(Indian)to Naropa(Indian)to Marpa(Tibetan) to Milarepa(Tibetan) to Gampopa to Karmapa DoeSumChenPa. Karmapa later gave rise to rest of all Karmapas. Present Gyalwa Karmapa Urgyen Thrinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa. Kagyu has four sub-sects. KamTsang, DreKung, TaLung and DrukPa Kagyu.
and MahaMudra(Tib:ChagyaChenpo) are the root text.
Origin of Sakya sect traces to an Indian Mahasiddha Virupa. He transmitted the Buddhist teachings to his student Drogmi Sakya Yeshe, who in turn taught Khon Konchog Gyalpo. The latter built a monastery in Tibet near land named Sakya(Pale Earth) and the lineage name was derives from it.
Sakya follows Path-Effect(Tib: LamDeas) text.
Lama Tsongka Pa(Tibetan) revived the Atisha(Indian Master) lineage. H.H. the Dalai Lama belongs to this sect.
or Gradual Path is the chief text.
All sects invariably study five major texts Tsema(logic), Uma(MadhiyaMika), Pharchin(Paramitas), Zoe(Knowledge Base) and Duwa(Monastic vows). Many of these are extracts from KaGur(103 Volumes: Buddhist Canon: Derge Parma Publications) and TenGur(225 Volumes). These are original texts from Indian Masters of Nalanda.
Heads of Lineage Sects
Since Institutions and lineages gave rise to various sects and sub-sects in Tibet, new leadership issue vis-à-vis management became necessary.
Gelug head is open to anyone who excels in battery of tests in Buddhist philosophy. Test includes debate, analytical process, memory power, logic, knowledge, mental sharpness, quick response and stability. Tests are held at three different universities, Sera, Gaden and Drepung for days on end. It can last for months.
Gaden Throne is seat of the head of Gelug sect. Anyone with Geshe Lharam degree is eligible to contest. Such open and unbiased rigorous test encourages literacy, wisdom, knowledge and hard work. Since it is open to all including non Tibetans many Mongolians became Gelug head in the past. Such was the tradition of Nalanda University centuries ago.
There is a saying in Gelug, “If you have the knowledge, Gaden throne is yours”. Sadly, it is not true for the rest of the Tibetan Buddhist sects.
NyingMa has number of institutional sub-sects. Each NyingMa sect is headed by a Tulku. Therefore, NyingMa follows an election process amongst the few selected Tulkus as the head of Nigma sect for a period. NyingMa head is a Tulku and not open for scholastic quality.
Kagyu has four institutions, KamTsang, DriKung, TaLung and DrugPa. Each sub-sect is headed by a Tulku. Up until, 2010, Kagyu Head was, at best, in Limbo. Now it is officially based on rotation amongst the four sub-sects. First 3 years (2010- 2012) will be held by KamTsang Kagyu followed by DriKung, TaLung and DrugPa respectively. Kagyu head seat is not open to all monks. It is not based on intellectual accomplishment of Buddhist doctrine and examinations.
Sakya head was traditionally held by rotation by two families; Dolma Phodrang who lives in India and Phuntsok Phodrang who lives in Seattle, US. Therefore Sakya Head seat it is not open to monk, Tulku or academic excellence.