Buddhism covers various traditions, practices and beliefs. It contains all the three in its philosophy and religion. Significantly, Buddhism has links to Buddha as it depends largely on his teachings. Buddhism has two main sub-branches which are the Theravada and Mahayana. The Theravada stands for the school of elders while the Mahayana represents the great vehicle. However, some classifications recognize a third branch of Buddhism which is Vajrayana (Laumakis, 2008). As a philosophy and religion, Buddhism comprises of re-known teachers such as the Dalai Lama. This paper explores the main characteristics and principles of the three branches of Buddhism. In addition, it explores the life and contribution of The Dalai Lama to Buddhism.

In Buddhism, Theravada is the oldest branch. Essentially, it refers to the ancient teachings or the teachings of the elders. Since it is the earliest school of Buddhism, it is strict and conservative. It has formed the main religion of Sri Lanka for many years. Though, recently Theravada is trying to keep up with modernity by adapting things like Universal inclusivity and the green government. As a philosophy, Theravada deals significantly with Vibhajjavada which in translation means "Teaching of Analysis". It has several philosophical thought although vitally, it relies a lot on the four noble truths. The four consists of suffering, basis for suffering, end of suffering and lastly, the way leading from suffering to freedom.

Theravada has three main characteristics. Firstly, impermanence, which focuses on change and how everything must under go change. Suffering is the second characteristic, and it attributes cravings to be the cause of people's suffering. This is so because people crave for things which are not permanent. The "not-self" is the next concept." it relates to a lack of a constant self. This is because individuals' posses' five aggregates attributed as not self. These attributes are physical forms, sensations, perceptions, consciousness and the mental formations (Laumakis, 2008).

On the other hand, Mahayana originating from India is the largest of the schools of Buddhism. It relies on its traditional teachings and refers to the trail of searching for a complete enlightenment for the benefit of all conscious beings. Mahayana comprises of early stone inscriptions found in the Indian Ocean containing the Mahayana Formulation. In addition, the inscriptions mention Buddha Amitabha. The period of late Mahayana Buddhism resulted in the development of four significant thoughts which are Madhyamaka, Buddha nature, Yogacara and the Logic of Buddha. Mahayana teachings comprises of expansive doctrines which coexist. It has an inclusive tradition having plurality and adoption of new Mahayana Sutras. Mahayana's doctrine comprise of principles which focused on the liberation from suffering. The great vehicle formed that basis. Buddha's existence is also focused on. Their expression of faith is through a person having faith and devoting oneself to the mindfulness of the Buddha.

According to research, Vajrayana is established to be the most multifaceted and complex form of Buddhism. This is so because Vajrayana evolved for several centuries. Vajrayana has several names attached to it, such as the Tantric Buddhism, Esoteric Buddhism, Tantrayana and Diamond Vehicle. All these names refer of the Vajrayana Buddhism. It depends on scriptures referred as Tantras. Vajrayana Buddhism has rituals comprising of skillful means. These rituals help in the substitution of the earlier abstract meditations (Sach, 2006). Vajrayana Buddhism has six topics concerning its teachings. The categories are Vajrayana as a recent composed teaching, its evolving from the local conditions of medieval India, scriptures and commentaries, as a subset of Mahayana Buddhism, as a fruitional vehicle and lastly, as an esoteric discipline. It has a textual tradition exhibiting a wide range of literary characteristics. The textual tradition blends in terms of verse and prose. Vajrayana has six key features. These include Upaya, Two truths doctrine, ritual, goal and motivation, esoteric transmission, vows, and behavior.

In conclusion, with these three sub-classes, Buddhism provides fields for comparative studies. The different texts provide different forms of learning and understanding Buddhism. Though classified differently, the characteristics of these three classes of Buddhism seem closely knit as they represent the same philosophy and religion.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama refers to a Buddhist leader. It has connections to the Tibetan Buddhism. The name comprises of two words bound together, one from Mongolia "Dalai" and the other from Tibet "Lama". The word 'Dalai' means "Ocean" according to Mongolians, while the word 'Lama' means "Chief" to Tibetans. That explains the name referring to the Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Though, religiously the Dalai Lama is believed to be a rebirth of a line of Tulkus while traditionally, Dalai Lama represent the latest reincarnation of a chain of spiritual leaders who reborn to enlighten others. Besides his duties, the Dalai Lama is bestowed with the function of influencing the Gelug School. Dalai Lamas have had considerable influence on the Tibetan government between the 16th and 19th century. Recently, it concerns have arisen as to the position of the Dalai Lama and prospects of the position been abolished are lurking with some suggestions of making the next Dalai Lama, a female.

Research asserts that the name Dalai Lama is traced back to Altan Khan. He was a Mongol ruler and bestowed the name on Sonam Gyatso. This marked the beginning of the title as the next two predecessors were also bestowed the name. The name Dalai Lama is widely known in Tibetan culture as it reflects the embodiment of the Tibetan national character. Unlike in the past, currently, the office struggles for independence and cultural survival. The Dalai Lama also uses peace and compassion in treatment of people around him (Forsthoefel, 2008). This includes his oppressors and his own people. He uses peace and compassion since people consider him as the principal reincarnation of Chenrezig. This makes the Dalai Lama appear as an embodiment of the Tibetan identity, values and culture.

Several individuals have held the position of the Dalai Lama, since its commencement although many of them did not reach their majority. For instance, the eighth holder of the position died at a tender while still in his thirties. Many deaths of tragic deaths of Dalai Lamas followed thereafter but most of them attributed to poisoning by Tibetans for either being not easily manageable or being Chinese. Initially, the Dalai Lamas used to reside in Potala Palace during the winter and in Norbulingka palace during summer. But after the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama sought refuge in India and that is where they are still located (Marcello, 2003).

Research establishes that the Dalai Lama sought help from the guardian of the sacred lake. This is so because she appeared to the first Dalai Lama Gendun Drup, in a dream and promised to protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas. Essentially, the search for the Lamas reincarnation mostly happens after death has occurred and consultation done with the Nechung Oracle. The high Lamas are the ones bestowed with the function of finding the Dalai Lama's reincarnation.   

The future of the position is controversial as the fourteenth Dalai Lama alleged he was going to be the last Dalai Lama. Research establishes that this caused a furor in Tibet, as people did not expect him to utter the words he did. In addition, the Tibetan people thought that it was not the Dalai Lama's decision to reincarnate as the position was for helping the masses and they still needed help from a person in that position. The Chinese government intervened by electing itself to the position of approving reincarnations a move which received an objection from the fourteenth Dalai Lama (Forsthoefel, 2008).

In conclusion, the Dalai Lama is a high-profile position which a person holding it should be of help to the Tibetan people. Many individuals have held the position since it began although recently, outside forces such as the Chinese government have rocked it by trying to impose rules on the selection of individuals to succeed the office. Among other practices of the Dalai Lama is the reincarnation.

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