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Tibetan Tantra (Vajrayana) is an esoteric practice that sharply distinguishes it from other schools of Buddhism. Unlike other religions which urge followers to suppress or deny one’s primal urges, Tantra acknowledges them and aims to harness their power. Through careful practice and skill, these basic drives such as desire or hatred are cleansed of impurity and eventually come under control. Tantric influence brought in new spiritual techniques (mantras, mandalas), yoga, secret rites of initiation, rich symbology and a certain mystical element into Tibetan Buddhism.
Deities from other religions, bodhisattvas and supernatural beings abound in Tibetan Buddhism, resulting in the development of an art tradition. Indeed, Tibetan Buddhism lays strong emphasis on visual aids for meditation and greater understanding.
Lay Tibetans practice a more externalized form of worship, involving varied rituals such as chanting mantras, prostrating, going on pilgrimages and attending public discourses. Temple ceremonies are a spectacular confluence of color and sound against the backdrop of arrestingly designed temples.
Pictured above: Buddhist Prayer Wheel, available at Buddha Groove