The four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism

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The four main schools (Tib. ཆོས་ལུགས་ཆེན་པོ་བཞི་, Wyl. chos lugs chen po bzhi) of Tibetan Buddhism are:

  1. Nyingma (Tib. རྙིང་མ་, Wyl. rnying ma)
  2. Sakya (Tib. ས་སྐྱ་, Wyl. sa skya)
  3. Kagyü (Tib. བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་, Wyl. bka' brgyud)
  4. Gelug (Tib. དགེ་ལུགས་, Wyl. dge lugs)


As His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains:[1]

Four major traditions—Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug—emerged as a result of the earlier and later dissemination of the Buddhist teachings in Tibet, and also because of the emphasis placed by great masters of the past on different scriptures, techniques of meditation and, in some cases, terms used to express particular experiences.
What is common to all the four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism is their emphasis on the practice of the entire structure of the Buddhist path, which comprises the essence of not only the Vajrayana teachings, but also the Mahayana practices of the bodhisattvas, and the basic practices of the Fundamental Vehicle. In India, based on differences in philosophical standpoint, four major Buddhist schools of thought emerged: Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Yogachara and Madhyamaka. All four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, however, uphold the philosophical standpoint of the Madhyamaka school, and to that extent, there are no fundamental philosophical differences between them.


  1. Based on a teaching given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Finland, 1988. Published in Dzogchen and Padmasambhava, in the nine yanas chapter.

Further Reading

  • The Buddhist Traditions of Tibet, Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2015 available here

External Links