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Tantra Classification: Confusions

Tantra Classification Main Page

There are many different systems that classify the Tantra literature of Vajrayana Buddhism. The earliest systems were formulated by Indian scholars. The Nyingma tradition has a nine category system which includes all Buddhist literature. The later Sarma traditions generally have a four category system, the Kriya, Charya, Yoga and Yoganiruttara tantra categories. Both Kriya and Charya have three sub-divisions each called the Tatagata Family, Padma Family and Vajra Family. The Yoga Tantra category only has six principal tantras and no sub-divisions. Yoganiruttara, also known as Anuttarayoga, has two or three sub-divisions depending on the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Video: The Four Tantra Classification & Confusions

Not all of the different Tibetan traditions are the same as to which texts are included in which of the four categories. Some Kagyu and Gelug traditions place the Manjushri Mula Kalpa and Siddhaikavira tantras under the Kriya category. The Sakya tradition places both of those tantras in the Charya category. Various Kagyu traditions include the Namasangiti Tantra in the Yoganiruttara category while the Sakya tradition places it in the Yoga category.

In Yoganiruttara there are two sub-divisions of Method and Wisdom, alternately called the Father and Mother Tantra categories, along with a Non-dual sub-division. The Kagyu, Sakya and Jonang generally follow the three sub-division system. The Gelug school follow the two sub-division system. The Sakyas place the Hevajra tantra in the Non-dual sub-division. The various Kagyu schools and the Gelug place Hevajra in the Wisdom (Mother) Tantra sub-division. The Gelug school places the Kalachakra tantra in either the Wisdom sub-division, or another class called Alternate. The Sakya and Kagyu schools place the Kalachakra in the Non-dual sub-division.

There are many other differences between the various Buddhist schools and traditions with regard to the categorization of Tantra literature. The texts mentioned above are those which are most often referenced along with the corresponding iconographic forms and most commonly found represented in art.

Manjushri Mula Kalpa Tantra & Siddhaikavira:
- Kriya (Kagyu, Gelug)
- Charya (Sakya)

Namasangiti Tantra:
- Yoga (Sakya)
- Yoganiruttara (Kagyu, Gelug)

Hevajra Tantra:
- Yoganiruttara, Wisdom/Mother (Kagyu, Gelug)
- Yoganiruttara, Non-dual (Sakya)

Kalachakra Tantra:
- Yoganiruttara, Wisdom/Mother (Gelug)
- Yoganiruttara, Non-dual (Sakya, Kagyu)

Jeff Watt 3-2021

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).